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A Sea Change

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Suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange
--The Tempest. Shakespeare.


Part One


Cruising. Surfing. Swept Away. Secrets. Sex.

"Hey, man. Buy you a beer?"

I smiled to myself. Gotcha.

I turned slightly on the bar stool and looked the big-eyed kid over. He was dressed like a hippie, and had a supple leather choker around his neck. Mr. Natural was even better looking close up than he'd been across the room. Jesus, I wanted to kiss those pouty lips. Cocksucker lips. Yep, that mouth was made for sinning.

"Well, Chief. That depends." I drawled the words out and threw in what I hoped was a smoldering glance at him. Then I stood up.

The kid swallowed. He was maybe five foot, seven, in his shoes and I dwarfed him. Strong shoulders, slim body. Not overly muscled, but he'd shown a lithe grace earlier when I'd observed him moving in the bar. He had a mop of curly brown hair with reddish highlights that tumbled past his shoulders. I could see myself gripping his hair, running my fingers through it while I urged him to his knees.

He'd seen me checking him out earlier, like I'd intended him to see. And I could tell he was interested. He'd been waffling for the last twenty minutes, glancing at me, and then taking another gulp of his beer. He'd worked up the nerve to make a pass. If he agreed to my terms, then I'd reward him for that.

The kid answered me like he was following the lines in a play.

"Depends on what? And my name's -- "

I covered his mouth with my palm before he could tell me his name was Billy or Greg. I didn't want to know his name.

"It depends on whether we drink that beer back in my motel room. And if you keep your name to yourself for the night." I bent my head to his ear and whispered what I was in the mood for this evening.

"So, Chief. You in?"

The kid's eyes got even bigger at my invitation. And then I could see doubt start to creep across his face. He lifted his chin to me.

"No ID. Me in your motel room. I'd have to be pretty stupid to put myself in a situation where you could hurt me and nobody would know about it."

I shrugged. I wasn't about to exchange names and phone numbers.

"Take it or leave it, Chief. Unless you've got a better idea. I don't have sex in bar bathrooms, though. Too risky."

He gave a tiny shake to his head and looked apologetic. I sighed. He obviously wasn't into anonymous one-night stands. Too bad. I'd wanted him since I'd laid eyes on him, but he probably would be too nervous to relax, wondering if he'd agreed to have sex with a serial killer.

I smiled ruefully at him, mentally adding him to the-one-that-got-away list, and reached out and ruffled his hair. It felt as silky as I'd hoped.

"It's okay, kid. You're right, you know. You don't know what kind of man I am, and I can't expect you to take my word that I'm a good guy." Then I leaned back over and whispered to him again. "I'd have fucked you senseless. But maybe you should run along home, since you've turned me down. You were the only one in this place I even considered, so I'm leaving. Walk me out?"

The kid's disappointment was evident by the look on his face, but he didn't say he wanted to change his mind. He just turned and headed for the door, with a glance back at me to see if I was following.

I caught up to him at the door and we both went through together, his body brushing hard against mine. Little tease. I should teach him not to play with fire.

The parking lot was at the side of the building and we headed there, me silently, the kid starting to chatter about some of the attractions in the nearby Olympic National Park-- the large herd of elk, the Hoh Rainforest.

"Rialto beach, man. It's only about twenty minutes from here. Have you seen it?" We stepped around the corner into the shadows, and I crowded him into the wall.

"Ugh - what?" It was all he could say before I'd lifted him so that his eyes - dark blue eyes -- were level with mine, my leg in between his, his hands flailing before he grabbed my shoulders for balance.

"You shouldn't make invitations you don't intend to keep, Chief. It's rude. Here's where we say goodbye. I'm going to get in my truck - I indicated the F-150 with a surfboard tied down in the back - and leave. But I want to kiss you first. I want to see if that mouth of yours can do anything besides jabber. But I'm not forcing you, kid. You don't want me to kiss you? I'll put you down. We're right next to the bar. You're safe enough. What'll it be, Chief?"

For an answer he licked his lips. And lifted his mouth up for my touch.

It was sweet, that kiss. He tasted good, and I thoroughly explored his mouth. I kissed him until we both were breathless and I could feel him hardening under me.

"Not too late to change your mind, Chief."

But he shook his head and I let him slide back down till his own feet supported him. His lips were reddened and looked even fuller than before and I liked the dazed look on his face.

I backed away from him and got in my truck. And drove away without one glance backwards.


I got out of the truck and looked out over the ocean, gauging the size of the waves and squinting at the afternoon sun. I had needed this. I had needed to get out of my old hometown and away from the job. The fucking job. I was sick of working in my old department and when I returned from my vacation I would be transferred. I wanted that transfer. And no doubt my ex-co-workers would be glad to see me gone.

I hoisted the surfboard off the back of the truck and balanced it to carry it down to the beach. Vacation time. Time to blow off some steam. To push myself physically. And indulge myself with sex. Like I'd done when I was discharged from the Army. When I'd had that affair with Lila. Affair. That sounded so... polished. Cultured. Sophisticated. What I'd had with Lila wasn't anything so debonair. Primal was a better match. I'd fucked her and she'd fucked me. We were wild together and I had known her down to the bone. And then she disappeared. Taught me a lesson, her leaving like that. It's better not to know the person you're fucking. It's better to know you're going to be walking away, before you walk in their door. It's better to not even know their name.

Like the kid last night. That sweet-mouthed kid. He'd wanted to get to know me. Sit down over a couple of beers, and shoot the shit. Maybe end up in the sheets, sure, and maybe he'd call my name when he came. Names. Some tribes believe that there is power in knowing another person's name. I wasn't going to give some pretty hippie-boy power over me by wanting to hear him call my name.

La Push had a couple of beaches, but this sandy one was the best for surfing, and I found a place to lay down my board. I hustled back to the truck and got the rest of my gear. I intended to surf until the restless energy in me had quieted, since I hadn't burned it out of myself last night by fucking that kid.

The waves were okay. Not spectacular or anything, but better than average. All afternoon, I alternated surfing with peeling out of my full body wet suit and just letting the sun thaw me out. The ocean was fucking cold here in Washington. But I loved it anyway. I had even seen dolphins and seals swimming out past the breakers. Wonder what they had thought of me, a strange black shape on my board.

It had gotten a little windy and I eyed the darkening clouds with a sigh as I stretched out on a beach towel. You just couldn't avoid the rain on the Northwest Coast. I judged we'd have showers later this evening, but I'd be gone by then. The waves had picked up a bit and I thought I'd go in for a last run, before calling it a day and heading out to another bar. Tomorrow I was driving down the coast, maybe end up in Ocean Shores and try out that beach. I had two goals for this trip. Getting laid and surfing places I'd never been before. Sure, I could surf nearer to home. But there wasn't the feeling of doing something new, something a little different. I could have picked up women in my city, too. But sex with men? I preferred to indulge myself where nobody knew me.

The waves were beckoning, and I didn't want to be out at dusk - sharks liked to feed at dusk - so I pulled the wet suit on and headed into the surf. The waves were bigger and I had some very good runs. I heard distant thunder and I decided to call it a day since I was getting tired. I got myself in position and caught my ticket home. The wave shot me towards the beach and I grinned fiercely as I balanced on my board. There wasn't any feeling in the world like doing this. Not even sex.

The wave crashed on the beach and I loosened my ankle strap and jumped off the board. Not as gracefully as I would have liked, but the beach was pretty much deserted by this time, so nobody saw me stumble. Unfortunately, my jump had pushed my board further out from me and I went out in the surf to grab it. And got knocked off my feet by an incoming wave. Fuck, I must be tired, if a wave could sneak up on me like that. I was tumbled a bit, and lifted off my feet by the next wave. Now I was annoyed. I saw that my board had been thrown up on the beach and I put my feet down on the bottom to walk out of the surf.

Except my feet couldn't touch the sand. I tried a few strokes toward shore and then I knew what had happened. A riptide. A fucking riptide current had developed on this beach and it was a strong one. I was being taken out to sea and you can't fight a riptide. Not and live. I would have to ride it out, till it lost the power of its force, then try and swim out at an angle to get myself free. I wondered if anybody on the beach had seen me being swept out. I floated and treaded water and gave swimming parallel to shore a try. No good. This current was too strong yet. I didn't want to exhaust myself. The trick to surviving a riptide was not to panic and wear yourself out struggling against it. It would weaken. And then I'd swim back to shore.

Fuck. To add insult to injury, the skies opened up and it began to pour down. The water was choppy as the wind speed notched up. And I was still caught in the grip of the outgoing current.

I couldn't see very well, between the rain pelting down and the darkening skies. But I tried. I strained and strained my eyes, trying to see towards the beach. I put a lot of effort into listening, also, hoping that I could use the sounds of the surf as a beacon to guide me. Fuck. I couldn't see or hear. And I was still being taken further out into the Pacific.

I told myself to stay calm. I'd been in tight spots before. Hell, I survived a helicopter crash that had killed the rest of my team. I'd been on missions as an Army Ranger that had been dangerous and deadly. I'd been in tight spots on the job, too. I would get out of this. I just needed to rest until I could swim out.

Rain beating on me, thunder and lightning cracking overhead and the cold of the ocean seeping into my bones - but I'd be okay. I was a tough son-of-a-bitch. Ask anybody.

I lost track of time and I wasn't sure how long I'd been trapped, but it seemed like a long time. I tried again to break out of the current and felt I was making a little headway.

So I kept at it, swimming like I'd been taught, angling myself free of the riptide's deadly arms till I was released. And promptly got smacked by a wave that I hadn't seen coming. But I was okay. I could swim now towards shore. In the fucking rain.

I swam and swam, and started feeling a little wacky. And I knew what that meant. Shit. Meant I was getting hypo... hyper... Dold. Cold. I was... somethin'. But I had to keep on swimming, and the beach was that way. Except maybe it wasn't... I should be there by now.

Getting pretty cold and I felt my teeth start to chatter. Good thing my wet suit was on. Not that it kept me dry. My skin under the suit was wet with ocean water. Darn thing was a pain in the butt to put on, but it kept the cold, cold, water from freezing me.

Except not for forever. Which was how long I'd been swimming. Forever. And I was getting really, really tired.

I couldn't see the shore. And I stopped and treaded water and looked three... three hundred... oh, hell, I looked in a big circle in all directions. I couldn't see anything. I was lost. I was stuck out in the ocean and I was lost. I needed a map. If I could just see a map, then I could swim to shore.

But I couldn't just wait. I had to pick a direction and so I picked one. And even though I was about as tired as I'd ever been, I kept swimming.

Shit. I might die out here. And nobody would even miss me. Not my father and my brother, that's for sure. Well, Sally would cry. She'd been the closest thing to a mom to me, even if it was a paid job. And Danny, he'd be mad at me for not following the rules I'd pounded into his head when we went on trips with the Big Brothers. I shouldn't have been swimming alone.

How fitting. I'd lived alone and now I was going to die alone. But I wasn't just going to roll over and let a wave pull me under. I'd fight till I couldn't fight anymore. I mean, I'd swim till I couldn't swim anymore.

Hey! Something was swimming near me. Christ, I hoped it wasn't a shark! The light was dim from the storm, but I didn't think it was dusk yet - dinnertime for sharks. And Great Whites liked to feed in this area. There it was again, and it was even closer. I treaded water, trying to see where it went.

And then it popped up from under me, only inches from my face. A seal. With blue eyes.

I looked at the seal and he looked at me. And then I knew I really was hydro -- hypodermic? Because the seal was kind of talking to me. In my head, not barking like seals are supposed to do. And not with words, but by flooding my head with feelings. The seal was worried about me and wanted to help me. My brain obviously had frozen with hydroponics.

My pal again did his strange communication and I could tell that he was urging me to trust him.

What the hell. Maybe this was a hallucin... hallucination, but at least the seal liked me. I wouldn't die alone.

He turned around and pushed himself up against me and I clasped my hands around his neck. When he started swimming - and not in the direction I'd been going - my body was raised mostly out of the water. I concentrated on holding on as we knifed through the water, the seal skimming the waves.

The seal wanted something from me. The crazy impression I had was that he wanted to know... my name?

"Jim." I said out loud, feeling like an idiot. But an idiot who was thinking a bit clearer than a few minutes ago, since the seal's body was protecting me somewhat from the cold of the ocean.

No doubt I was still in the early stages of hypothermia but I felt like I had a chance to survive.

Thanks to a seal that must have been the reincarnation of Lassie. I was one lucky bastard to have run across a seal that would do this. I'd heard stories of dolphins helping stranded swimmers - but I'd never heard of a seal rescuing people.

"Thanks!" I said loudly to my rescuer.

A feeling of warmth and amusement flooded my brain and I felt a grin breaking out on my face in response.

I'm not sure how long we swam - well, the seal swam. I was just a hitchhiker -- until I started hearing the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.

Jesus, that was a sweet sound that I thought I'd never hear again.

We were picked up by a wave and carried very close to the beach. Judging by the sounds of the waves we were almost out of the surf, although I still couldn't really see much at all. My pal sent feelings of... be careful, watch out, don't worry - and then he twisted under me and I found myself floundering for a long moment before I felt a hand gripping me hard under my arm and pulling me up and along, then two arms were around me, helping to keep me upright. Somebody had me; somebody was steadying me as I staggered into shallower water.

I was freezing cold again and my body moved sluggishly as I struggled for the shore. A wave crashed over me and for a terrifying minute I couldn't get my bearings as the ocean batted me around. Whoever was with me tugged me along and kept me from being thrown down by the next wave, then shouted at me to come on, as I was hauled out onto the blessed beach.

There was a crack of lightning and in the flash I saw clearly who was helping me. He was male, short, and naked.

"C'mon!" He shouted. "Don't stop now, let's get you out of the rain and into your truck! Where's your keys?" Bossy, too. I slapped the pocket on my outer thigh. He unzipped it and fished them out.

The little guy was strong for his size and he helped support me across the sand and up to the parking lot. It had been difficult to walk across the sand, but I'd managed and by the time my truck door was opened and I was helped into it, I felt like I was going to be okay.

Short-strong-and-naked climbed in the driver's side, felt my pulse, and counted my breathing.

"You're doing all right, man. Can you tell me where you are and what today's date is?"

I gave him the right answers, which seemed to reassure him. He started the truck, flipped the heater on, and pushed on the door handle. I stopped him with my arm.

"Thanks for your help. Man, I was caught in a riptide. I'm cold and I need to get warmed up, but I don't think I have to go to a hospital. I can't ask you to babysit me, so if you feel you should call 911, well, okay, but what I'd really like is to go to my motel room. I'd pay you to drive me there. If you don't get arrested first for public indecency, that is."

"There's no cops around here; there's nobody here. I'll take you to your motel - for free, man -- and make sure you're recovered. But if you get worse, then I will call an ambulance."

"Deal."

"I know your skin's wet; I wish there were dry clothes to give you. Just sit tight, and I'll be back." he said as he notched the heater up higher. I pulled my wet suit gloves and hood off, held my hands to the blower, and lowered my face to feel the warm air. He hopped out of the truck and I concentrated on not falling over. I really didn't want to go to the ER. Sometime later, I heard a thump in the back of the truck and realized my little pal was back.

The driver's door opened and short-but-no-longer-naked climbed in, tossing a backpack and my gear on the floor. He then reached over and patted me on my thigh.

"Hang in there, Jim. I've got your stuff, and your board is in the back of the truck. I'll take you to your motel room and then we'll get you warmed up the rest of the way. I don't think you're too far gone into hypothermia, but... maybe I should take you to see a doctor instead?" He looked at me, worriedly, and I shook my head.

"Motel," I said, and shivered.

The drive to my room took about twenty minutes, and we swung through a McDonald's on the way for coffee. It felt good to sip the hot drink. The guy chattered along the way about how we'd get my wet suit off and I could warm up. He also asked me questions that I answered in between bouts of shivering. They were orientation questions. I'd done the same thing when I'd functioned as a medic, when I needed to know if somebody was all there mentally. If I didn't want to go to the ER, I had to tell this kid the right answers. So far I'd passed.

I'm blaming the hypothermia, and the slow approach of night, but I didn't recognize him until we were in my motel room and I got a chance to really look at him in the light.

He was the kid from last night. The one I'd kissed after pushing him up against a wall.

"You - you're..." But the kid just unzipped the front of my damp, clingy wet suit.

"I see you finally recognized me, Jim. Let's get you out of this, okay? Man, I stopped by the beach parking lot and recognized your truck, so I went down to see if you were there just to, you know, say hi, and uh... All right, I was spying on you. You had that board in the truck last night so I was checking the beaches today to see if you were hanging out and then I, um... saw your board on the sand and you in the water and I got you out. How are you feeling now, by the way?"

I was naked and shivering still. I made a motion with my hand indicating 'so-so' and the kid grabbed a blanket off the end of the bed, wrapped me in it, and steered me towards a chair. He rummaged through the tiny kitchenette and came up with a handful of dishtowels. He folded them, held them under the faucet, then stuck them in the microwave. He practically ran into the bathroom and came back with some skimpy hand towels. He took the hot, wet towels and folded the dry ones around them and then advanced on me.

I had to admire the kid's ingenuity. He'd made hot compresses to warm me up. I opened up the blanket and let him settle the blessedly warm towels on my neck, groin and chest. He took my pulse and checked my breathing rate again. He was doing a bang-up job of playing EMT.

"Do you feel warmer?"

"Yeah, Chief. How about you? You were out in the ocean, too, and out in the rain."

"I'm okay, just a bit chilled, and," he ran a hand lightly across his torso, "kind of sandy; I can feel the salt drying on me."

"Take a shower, kid. I'll be fine sitting here while these hot towels do their job. Besides, I'd like to see you naked. Again." I grinned at my rescuer, who shot me a speculative look.

"I won't be long and I'll leave the bathroom door open." The kid handed me his cup of coffee. "Drink that one, too." He skedaddled away and I heard him start the shower. I would have liked to take that shower with him, but it would be dangerous to warm up my limbs and cause chilled blood to return to my heart. Which was why the heat packs were warming up my torso first. Still... I fantasized about how I'd run my hands over his wet skin, turn him so his back kept the water from inundating me while I knelt at his feet, and how his clean, hot cock would taste in my mouth while the steam from the shower kept us warm.

I really was feeling better when he emerged from the john, a towel blocking the best view of him.

He checked my vitals again, then reached under the blanket and felt my arms and legs. His hands were warm and his touch made me feel greedy to have more of him. He withdrew his hands, and contemplated me.

"Jim, I think I should get you into bed."

"Do you see me stopping you? I wanted you in my bed last night, remember?"

The kid looked mock-thoughtful. "You know, I've taken first aid and I think we should huddle together for warmth -- to make sure you're really recovered from hypothermia."

"Okay, Chief." I gave an exaggerated shiver for effect, which had the kid rolling his eyes.

We headed for the bed, me with a blanket draped around me, and the kid with a towel around his waist. He pulled it off and used it to dry his hair, then carelessly dropped it on the floor. I laid the blanket on the bed, and then touched him and trailed my fingers down the side of his face. His choker - the only stitch he had on - was wet.

The kid reached up and felt his choker, and then quickly removed it. He looked around, spotted a backpack that must have belonged to him, and took a step towards it. Before he could move away, though, I caught him, and pulled him closer to me instead. I kissed him and he tasted as sweet as he had the night before. He put both hands around my neck and let the wet piece of leather fall to the floor. I kissed him like my life depended on it. I'd almost died and I felt a powerful urge to feel very much alive. Sex was an instinctive response, and I felt I should go with my instincts.

Once we were in bed, the kid made good on his plan to warm me up. An octopus had fewer arms and legs than one determined guy with a Red Cross first aid certification.

Unfortunately, as I became toasty warm, I also became very, very sleepy. It'd been a hell of a day. After I'd yawned three times in a row, the kid kissed me on the temple and told me to go to sleep. Reluctantly, I did.


I had nightmares.

I woke up with a feeling of dread. I'd dreamed of being swept away again in that damn current, only this time there were people I knew in rowboats waiting and watching as I was helplessly tugged out to sea.

And they didn't care.

Their bored eyes met mine with idle speculation, and I knew it didn't matter to them if I lived or drowned.

I was so tired and I couldn't swim anymore and I went under the water. I couldn't breathe.

I woke up then. I was sweating and shaking and I knew I'd hauled myself out of that dream in the nick of time. My granny had always told me that if you died in your dreams, then you died in real life, too. I didn't want to test that superstition. I vividly remembered that last dream about drowning; my earlier nightmare wasn't as clear. Oh, yeah. I remembered it now. I'd been lost in the jungle after burying my team. Well, that scenario was uncomfortingly familiar; it was one of my regularly scheduled night terrors. Tonight it had ended when Incacha entered my dream to lead me to his village. "Enqueri," he had said, his face calm and untroubled. "Be patient."

"For what?" I'd answered. But the shaman had not told me. I'd had this recurrent dream much too often. And Incacha -- who'd taught me how to survive in the Peruvian jungle a hell of a lot better than the Rangers ever did - would never tell me what I was supposed to be patiently waiting for.

My trembling was under control now, and I slid away from the sleeping man in my bed. I glanced at the alarm clock. 3:30 in the morning, and dark and quiet, with only the sounds of the kid's soft breathing. Unsteadily, I moved to the bathroom to wash this day's bad luck off of me. No danger now from taking a hot shower, and I let the water cascade over me, washing me clean of the stink of fear and the brine of the ocean.

Afterwards, I took a good look at myself in the mirror. Almost dying will tend to make a guy take stock of how he's been fucking up. At work, I'd gotten promotions fairly quickly. But I knew I was considered to be a hard-ass. A good guy to back you up, but not somebody you wanted to invite over for supper. Sometimes I let myself be dragged out with a group to play pool or to drink some joker into retirement. That was about it. My evaluations had me pegged as a loner - I avoided working with a partner - with an authority problem. Luckily, I was good at what I did.

I'd never been married. I went out with women I met at bars - the ones I let pick me up. I prowled for men when I was out of town, under the cover of anonymity. I had some old friends from before my Army stint, and Danny was more like a little brother. But I wasn't the same guy I'd been back then; it was easier to keep him and the few other old friends at a distance. My own brother - we didn't talk. He and my father evidently wanted to keep it that way.

So, I had to ask this tired looking guy in the mirror: What did I want out of life? A worthwhile job? Friends? Family? Sexual gratification? Suddenly I was sick of being so introspective. Yeah, I'd almost died. But I didn't, thanks to a strange blue-eyed seal and a longhaired hippie-boy.

The boy was in my bed now. And I wanted to sate myself in him. Feel his warm hands, kiss his sultry mouth, sink myself into the heat of his body. I'd been so cold; I craved his warmth.

When I walked out of the bathroom the kid was sitting up in bed, looking tousled and sleepy and concerned.

"Jim? You okay? Are you feeling warm enough yet?" I pulled the covers away from him and looked at his body. He shivered and made a move to grab them back, but I kept them out of his reach.

"I want you, Chief. I want us to sweat and I want your heat. I want to fuck you. Will you let me?

The kid lay down on the bed and opened his arms, reaching for me. I lowered myself onto him, stretching my body so I covered him in place of the blankets I'd swept away.

"Here's the deal, kid." I dropped my voice to a whisper. "I keep you warm and you do the same for me. I'm going to fuck you. I want to hear you howl like a god-damned wolf. If you've got any strength left afterwards, you can return the favor. Right now... I want to know your taste." I licked and suckled the sweet spot on his neck, right above his collarbone, then took my time on relishing his mouth.

I mapped that kid and I left a trail anybody could have followed. My stubble reddened his skin, my mouth left love-marks on his neck and chest and thighs and ass. I pinched the brown circles of his nipples up into high little points, then sucked on them until they were red and shiny and wet.

When I swallowed him down, he started babbling, until I had him to the point where he'd lost the ability to speak, when he was panting and half grunting and trying to gag himself with his fist. I wasn't having any of that. I wanted him to lose it -- to see him stripped of that steady competence and confidence. I slipped his dick out of my mouth and ran my fingers lightly down the sweet spot of skin between his asshole and his cock. I pressed hard along the ridge of skin that seamed that very private place on his body. He shuddered and his legs trembled.

"I'm going to fuck you now." I took his fist away from his mouth. I moved his arms until they were tucked right up against his thighs.

"Slide your hands under your butt, Chief. Or I'm going to find something to tie you down to this bed. I want to hear you come. I want everybody in this motel to hear you come. Understand?"

He answered me by complying, using his own body to restrain his hands. His eyes looked black and he licked his lips, waiting for me to move on him. I opened the drawer to the bedside table and roughly grabbed my supplies. I wasted no time in slicking up my fingers, then I settled down to play with him in earnest.

I rewarded him whenever he was more vocal by pressing up into his sweet spot or licking his cock. But just for the animal sounds I wanted from him -- if he talked or held back by gritting his teeth then I teased him without giving him any of the sensation he was craving. He tried twisting on my fingers and thrusting up into the air but I would soothe him down and start again. He caught on quickly and while he muttered one heartfelt "bastard," he was soon sweetly performing for me, losing his inhibitions about being quiet, and when I did enter him he let out a scream of lust.

I had lifted his legs straight in the air, and shoved a pillow under his hips, before I breeched his slick little hole. I settled his legs on my shoulders and I found my rhythm, the age-old rocking that would send me to paradise.

I was very close and the kid was too. I didn't know which one of us would fall over the edge first and I didn't care. A gentleman would have taken care of his partner first, but hell, I never claimed to be overly courteous. The kid's dick was hard and heavy and jerking in its own rhythm as we fucked. I found enough of my own language skills to pant to him that I wasn't going to touch him anymore. And he wasn't allowed to jerk himself off.

"You. You're going to come from dancing. Dancing on my cock... Just from my dick up your ass. Sing to me; let me hear you." I was so close to my own climax and I pushed up my speed, then gave my own shout as that wonderful, pulsing pleasure took over my existence.

The kid's legs tightened around my neck as I shook followed by the involuntary freezing of my muscles. When I could move again, I pounded his ass. He was gripping me so hard that he was almost choking me. Before I had to break his hold, the kid's cock jerked and moved like a runaway fire hose spraying out come, and he howled. Just like I'd told him to. Like a god-damned wolf.

His legs loosened and I held them up for him, while I slowly, slowly pulled out of him and got rid of the condom. He was trembling and sweat-covered and looked glorious. I leaned down over him and kissed him. I fumbled for the towel on the floor and wiped him clean, then tossed it back down. He looked ready to pass out, so I rolled to his side and hunted up the missing blankets.

I covered us up and whispered to him that if he wanted a shot, to go for it. I yawned and decided that until he made a move, I was taking a nap. He turned over and entangled himself with me and was asleep in about five seconds. It took me probably ten seconds to follow him.


I woke up starved from only eating snacks yesterday afternoon and drinking coffee last evening. I staggered out of bed and hit the john, then rummaged around the tiny kitchenette putting together breakfast.

I debated whether I should wake the kid up and feed him too, but decided to let him sleep. He could eat when he woke up. Or when I got bored and woke him up. I made myself some coffee with the midget coffee maker and settled down with it and a turkey and cheese sandwich - which I practically inhaled -- to catch the weather and surfing reports on the news. I wasn't due back in Cascade for another week and I planned on trying a few other beaches further down the coast.

The lump in the bed shifted, becoming somewhat sentient as a plaintive, muffled voice said, "Coffee?"

I poured him a cup, hoping he liked it black, and hauled him one-handedly up from the covers before I pressed his fingers around the mug. He sipped it with sighs of appreciation, looking like a fallen angel with his tangled curls and pretty, pretty eyes. He had blue eyes, but they were nothing like my own washed out shade of blue. His were a darker, deeper shade that made me think of the Mediterranean Sea.

"Want a sandwich, Chief? You need to keep up your strength for round two, you know." I returned to the tiny kitchen and made two more sandwiches, split them between us, then sat down at the table to eat mine.

The kid, having come back to life with the help of a transfusion of caffeine, wandered off to the bathroom and then joined me, snagging the other sandwich off the plate. He was naked.

"Looking good there, Chief."

"Man, you need to lose those sweats and join me. We can pretend we're a nudist colony. Except that people get so used to nudity in those places that it stops being a trigger for arousal. And I am all about arousal this morning." He stuffed the last bit of sandwich in his mouth and looked at me expectantly.

I reached over and lightly smacked his cheek. "So... what'll it be, Chief? Got a plan?"

"Man, I've always got a plan. But for now how about we go with heading back to bed. Other stuff... Well, we can talk about that later."

There wasn't going to be a later, but I wasn't going to pop his bubble right now. I didn't want to distract him from the current plan.

I stood up and waited for him to do the same. Then I slid my arm around his waist, my fingers stroking and feather-sweeping over his belly. He shuddered, his cock starting to take a serious interest in what was going on.

I leaned down and licked the edge of his ear. "All right, Mr. Man-With-a-Plan. I'm not stuck on being the top. The fucker instead of the fuckee. Last night, it was my show. If you want it to be your show this morning, then go for it, Chief. But there's a time limit on this offer. You've got one minute to show me you're up for the job before I decide to be in charge this morning. And if that's the way you want it, me in charge, then that's fine." I started making the sounds from some game show my granny used to watch when she babysat my brother and me.

The kid turned to face me and put his hand over my mouth. "Be quiet, Jim. Last night, you wanted to see how embarrassingly loud and wild you could get me. And it felt good to let go like that. But you. I want to see you struggle not to yell and growl and grunt. And if you can't do it - then I'm going to gag you." I felt my cock harden with his words and I licked the palm over my mouth. Mmmm. His voice -- strong and decisive and so smooth sounding. I could take orders from a voice like that. I nodded my head and he pushed me towards the bed. And I went very willingly indeed.


I'd proved I could follow orders and he'd shown me he could give them, and we both were sprawled out on the bed, and half asleep again. It was kind of bittersweet, this drowsy lull before we went our separate ways. I reached over and let my fingers play with his hair. Maybe I should give my standing rule of no names, no connections beyond a night of sex, an exception. Get his phone number; maybe he lived up my way, maybe he'd be agreeable to meeting again like this.

Then I remembered how well that had worked with Lila. I'd started to build some pretty impressive castles in the air with her and they all crashed when she'd walked out on me. No. I had that rule for a damn good reason. I felt a little lonely, and I thought again of the talk I'd had with myself in the bathroom early this morning. Maybe I did need to start making some changes in my life. Maybe I needed to think about building a real relationship with a woman. Maybe it was time to think about getting married. Have somebody to come home to at night, somebody who I could openly acknowledge as my lover. This boy was sweet, and great in bed. He was easy to talk to and smart and inventive. But I couldn't marry him, so our time here wasn't going to go anywhere.

No, I should pick somebody who already knew me. Somebody who would understand the pressures of my job so I wouldn't have to explain them. Somebody with common sense and educated. I liked smart. And good looking. Pretty shallow of me, for that to be on my shopping list for a wife, but hey, I should be honest with myself.

I wasn't thrilled about dating. I wanted to skip the getting to know you part, because there were too many ways for that to dive bomb. But I had a candidate in mind that I wouldn't have to start at ground zero with. Carolyn was interested in me, from the cool way she would appraise me when I had to coordinate with her department. She knew me, knew my reputation. She didn't know I was bi. That I enjoyed men. Nobody knew that except those one-night stand guys I never had to see again. She didn't need to know that about me, and I wouldn't cheat on a wife. It wouldn't come up.

And she was a tall redhead.

I looked again at the kid's hair, as I lay there in bed next to him. Twirling curls around my fingers. His hair was a beautiful mix of shades, dark and light browns, and red strands. I really enjoyed tracing the reddish highlights and I stopped moving my fingers as my sight sank into the rich tapestry of his hair...

"-kay? Hey, man. Hey, Jim? Jim, you okay? Talk to me, would you? I'm knocking on the door but I'm not sure anybody's home. Jim?"

And I came back from wherever I was vacationing, back to this room, this bed, this kid who was running his hands over my body and leaning over me, warm breath on my face, low voice in my ears. I'd been looking at his hair and... I'd checked out, apparently.

"I'm okay, Chief. Must have dozed off or something."

"You weren't asleep. Your eyes were open. You didn't respond to me at first, and I was getting scared. Does having had hypothermia the night before give you this kind of follow-up reaction? Maybe we'd better get you to a doctor, after all." The kid's eyes were wide and he had a questioning look on his face.

I shook my head. "I'm all right. Sorry to have worried you. And I want to thank you for all the help you gave me last night. You and that seal. I'd buy him some fish if I could find him again. Did you see him when you went into the water to help me, Chief? Out there in the ocean he popped up after I'd gotten free of the riptide. I was getting loopy and he kept me from drowning. He towed me in almost all the way to the beach and then he was gone and you were there." I debated telling him this part, knowing it would make me sound all too loony, but then I wasn't going to ever see him again, so why not?

"That seal was almost human. He communicated with me, uh... in my head. Let me know he was going to help me, to trust him. He saved my life. It was strange, though, that he wanted to know my name. Why would a seal care what my name was anyway? And he had blue eyes, Chief. I thought seals only had brown eyes, but I guess I was wrong..." I looked at him, thoughtfully. "He had blue eyes like yours."

The kid jumped out of bed like a scalded cat. He walked over to where he'd dropped his clothes. "Well, you're talking and you seem to be okay now, although maybe you were kind of out of it when that seal helped you. A seal can't really do the ESP thing, you know."

I shrugged. "Maybe they do and we humans just don't know it. I believe there are a lot of mysteries in the world."

The kid was pulling on his ragged cut-offs. He quickly finished dressing while I watched him. I guess the morning-after awkwardness had caught up with him because he was sure sending out 'Time to Go' signals.

I hauled my ass out of bed and went to him. I put my arms around him to slow him down. And I don't know why I did that. I should be eager to see him heading out the door. But I wasn't.

"You sure you don't want to go for round three?" I rocked my hips into his belly.

He went still and then looked up at me, lip held between his teeth. "Do you want to know my name, Jim? Do you want to tell me where you live? Do you want to ask me anything about my life, other than which position we should fuck in this time?"

I stiffened and moved away from him, no longer touching him.

"Goodbye, Jim. I like you, you know. Not just as a bed partner. I like you. But I don't live in the closet. Not about being bi-sexual." He looked sad and beautiful and I wavered. I really did.

I said nothing.

"Enjoy the rest of your vacation." He headed over towards his beat-up backpack.

I found my voice.

"Wait. Let me get dressed and I'll drive you back to -- what? Your car? This dinky place won't have a taxi service. I assume your vehicle is at the beach parking lot, right? Just... hang on a minute and let me get showered. Do you want a shower too?"

He looked at me somberly and shook his head.

I scrubbed myself clean, remembering how I'd felt when he slid into me, how tender he'd been, the way he'd breathed out my name when I came. And, earlier, how sweet it had been to hear him lose himself and cry out his pleasure. Was I making the right decision by letting him go? I had no answer to that question by the time I opened the bathroom door and stepped back into the bedroom.

He was gone.


I looked for him, of course. It would be a shitty way to repay him to let him hitchhike his way back to the beach. I didn't see him. He wasn't at the beach parking lot and I didn't see any vehicles that screamed out, 'I belong to a hippie!'

No reason to keep debating if I'd done the wrong or right thing by not sharing personal information with him, by not wanting to keep in touch and see where we ended up. It was a moot point. He'd taken off.

I drove back to my cheap motel room to pack. I was feeling lousy; maybe the beating my body took yesterday was catching up to me, because the sun seemed too bright and the glare reflecting off of surfaces gave me a headache.

The motel room walls were thinner than I'd realized because I had no trouble hearing the occupants of the rooms on either side of me as I packed up my food and clothes. Not that I wanted to listen to the bickering from the one couple or boring conversation from the other one. But I couldn't seem to tune them out.

I picked up the towel on the floor by the bed and something dark was lying under it. I plucked it up, looking it over carefully.

It belonged to the kid. It was the choker he'd been wearing yesterday. I felt it, smooth and slick, not like leather, exactly, but more flexible, more like skin. Animal skin.

And it felt good to stroke my finger across it and the rhythmic movement must have been soothing, because my headache lessened into nothing and the neighbors' voices dropped off.

He'd want it back, probably. It was a connection between us and I found that I kind of liked the idea. Maybe I did want to know him.

I didn't want to misplace his property so I wound it around my wrist and fastened it.

I left a message with the clerk when I checked out. I couldn't tell him the kid's name or how he'd lost it, so I just said that I'd found a necklace and if somebody was missing it, they could call the number I'd left with the clerk.

I went back to the bar where I'd met the kid. It was quiet, not a lot of customers. I talked to the bartender, said one of his customers had dropped a necklace the other day and I had it. I gave the bartender my phone number and described the kid, and asked the guy if he knew him, knew his name.

The guy thought about it while he pulled me a house beer.

"I've heard it. It's kind of funny for a guy. Sort of a girl's name. Robin? No. Kim? Dana? Hang on, I'll remember it in a minute." He put the beer down in front of me and walked over to the sink under the bar counter and started washing glasses.

I drank it and thought about names. Mine was an old family name handed down ever since my ancestors had left Ireland. My granny had been fond of telling stories about the family history so I knew that James Joseph Ellison was the name of the guy who'd left the old country. I'd been named for him. I preferred to be called Jim, although I'd been Jimmy when I was a kid.

Jim.

How had the kid known my name? I racked my brain trying to think of when I'd slipped up and told it to him. I couldn't remember doing so and I knew I'd been coherent when he'd helped me out of the water. I thought over every conversation we'd had, and he'd first called me by my name while we were in the truck. Maybe he'd searched my truck before going down to the beach. Yeah, he must have done that, found my registration. No. The truck had been locked. Well, he must have rummaged around when I first got in and I just didn't remember him doing it. Because the only time I'd given my name to anybody - and I'd signed with my initials on the motel registration and paid in cash - was to the seal who'd rescued me.

The bartender walked down the length of the bar and stopped in front of me. "That guy was only in here maybe two times. I got the impression he wasn't staying in this area very long from catching bits and pieces of his yakking with other customers. He was a friendly little guy. I'll give him your message if I see him again. And I don't know his last name, but his first name was Ben or Barney. Something that started with a B."

I thanked him and got out my wallet. I was on my way to the door when he called out to me.

"Oh, hey, I got it. The girly sounding name."

I turned around and looked back at him.

"It was Blair."


Continued in Part Two.

Chapter Text

Arise, and say how thou camest here
-The Tempest. Shakespeare.


Part Two


Legends. Lost-love. Leaving. Lies

The date with Carolyn had not gone well. I'd had another one of my increasingly difficult spells where my senses were out of whack. Carolyn hadn't appreciated my making a scene about the food at the expensive restaurant she had picked out for our two-month anniversary. I'd thought my meal had been poisoned; she'd thought I was imagining things. Again.

She'd been so annoyed with me that she'd called a cab from the restaurant and gone home. No sex tonight. Damn -- it was time to make a date with my hand. I mentally kicked my own ass for overreacting this evening.

I walked to my truck, hearing everything around me, it seemed.

Customers in the restaurant talking about business and pleasure, waiters arguing with the cooks, the clink of pots and pans, the sound of traffic, and a dog walking down the street; all were jumbled sounds that were bombarding me. The smells from the restaurant were overwhelming, and made my gut churn, which didn't bode well if I didn't get in the truck soon and get some relief.

It felt like somebody had put a curse on me, the way my senses had become so over-sensitive. If my granny were still alive, she would have gotten water from one of the Holy Wells of Ireland and dabbed some on my eyelids and my ears, as well as my tongue, nose, and hands, hoping to block the curse.

I didn't believe in the power of the Holy Wells, myself. But I would have let her try to lift the curse, to keep her happy.

Thank God, I did have something that helped me manage my out-of-control senses, and I climbed into my truck and fumbled open the glove compartment. A bottle of aspirin fell out onto the floor as I pawed through insurance papers and the F-150's owner's manual. I found what I needed and gripped it tightly, already noticing the smells receding and the sounds reducing to manageable levels.

I shouldn't have tried to leave it in the truck. I should have known better and kept it next to my skin. But I had thought Carolyn and I would be getting naked with each other after dinner, and I didn't want to explain why I had a leather choker wound around my wrist or my ankle.

God knows nobody would buy me wearing something like that as a decoration.

Blair had worn the plain band of skin openly, though. He'd worn it around his neck, and as I wound the choker around my wrist, I remembered the last time I'd seen it on him.

He'd been damp from his shower, his hair hanging in wet curls around his attractive face. The choker had been the only item of clothing on his golden skin and he'd looked primitive and entirely fuckable. He'd taken the leather decoration off and he probably meant to put it into his backpack - he started towards it, anyway, till I captured him in my arms and he dropped his choker on the motel room floor.

I'd found it later, after he'd left me. There was no easy way to return it because I hadn't even known his first name, till a bartender remembered it. But Blair hadn't contacted me about his strange band of skin, although I'd left my number at the motel and at the bar. So, finders keepers. And I'd discovered through trial and error that wearing it helped to keep my senses manageable; I could make my senses return to normal or I could keep them high, but they didn't hurt me, so long as I wore Blair's charm. I halfway wondered if it was magic, somehow. Actually, I didn't like to speculate on why the thing worked so well. I was just glad that it did.

After I had put Blair's charm back around my ankle, making sure my sock covered it up, I recovered enough so that I was able to drive to a florist's shop. Sent an expensive apology to Carolyn with a note asking her to forgive me for ruining the evening. I had put a lot of effort into dating Carolyn; I didn't want it to be for nothing. She was the one I'd picked out to marry; she was classy and tough, with long legs and red hair. Besides being a handsome woman, Caro was intelligent, and had just been promoted to Department Chief of the Forensic Unit.

The sex with Caro was okay. She was a vanilla kind of girl, but I was working on making her feel comfortable with me going down on her. She had yet to return the favor, but I figured sooner or later I would talk her into sucking my dick.

We hadn't brought up the subject of children. If she wanted them I would go along with her, but I wasn't asking her to bear my offspring. Of course, my father would be in favor of a grandson to preserve the Ellison name. He didn't get a vote. I hadn't talked to him since I joined the army, and I had no plans to look the old man back up.

Sometimes, I did miss my brother. Well, I missed the version of him that was about nine years old. Back then he'd been my shadow and I took care of the little snot. My father's twisted attempts to have my brother and me compete against each other had influenced Steven more than me, and my little brother had learned to play dirty. I'd taken the fall for him when he'd scratched up Dad's classic car. Little bastard had lied and said I'd done it. That was pretty much the last straw and as soon as I'd graduated from college I was talking to a recruiter.

My granny - actually my great-grandmother - had been the only one I'd stayed in touch with while I was in the Army. She had been quite the character, and had taken care of Stevie and me a lot when we were younger. Especially after Mom took off. She'd lived in Ireland till she was seventeen, then had immigrated to Seattle and met and married my great-grandfather. My granny had been a Murphy, and was fond of reminding me that it wasn't only Ellison blood that ran in my veins.

Granny was down to earth and a good cook; there was always a spice cake and sugar cookies for neighborhood kids at her house. I'd been as tall as her when I was ten years old, but her lack of height didn't stop her from calling the shots.

Granny was superstitious and fond of telling stories from her girlhood and I'd grown up hearing about the Sidhe and Pookas and other strange folk. She was a devout Catholic and went to Mass every Sunday. Dad disliked the rituals of Catholicism and had become an Episcopalian, instead. He joined the country club in his efforts to distance himself from our family's working class background. He'd done well in his business and insisted that I participate in horseback riding lessons and dance lessons and other activities the rich kids were expected to master.

Must have really galled him, if he had even bothered to find out, that I'd reverted to my Irish roots and become a cop.

I hadn't particularly enjoyed my last assignment, but luckily Major Crime was run quite differently from Vice. I was more than ready for a change after working in that snake pit, and had started in Banks' department when I returned from my vacation, expecting that transferring couldn't be any worse than staying where I was.

Though, I hadn't returned rested. My crazy senses had been acting up ever since I'd almost died when I'd been caught in that rip tide. My best guess was that becoming mildly hypothermic had set them off. I kept hoping they'd return to normal.

And the rest of my sex and surfing vacation had gone to hell after leaving La Push and Blair. I'd tried to surf again, further down the coast, and I... I couldn't stand to be on my board. I would start to sweat and get dizzy and have to come back to the shore without catching any waves.

A shrink would tell me that I had a phobic reaction because I'd almost died while surfing. Tough titty. I was an ex-ranger and a cop. I didn't do phobic reactions.

Except I did. And it was eating me up to keep walking away from the Pacific knowing that the ocean had kicked my ass. After I came home, I would make plans to go down to the beach and get back up on the horse that had thrown me... and then I would find excuses not to follow through.

A shrink would also say my self-esteem had taken a beating.

Sometimes shrinks were right.

The cruising for guys had bombed out, too. Nobody looked good to me after having fucked Blair, and I found myself turning down interested strangers.

Blair.

Pretty, blue-eyed boy.

I'd never see him again. But I had his choker and I flushed when I thought of how I would use it when I got up to my loft. It wouldn't be long now - I was a block from home - and the sweet tension low in my belly was a sharp reminder of what I would experience tonight.

I showered before climbing the stairs to my big bed under the skylight. My muscles felt relaxed from the warm water as I stretched out on the sheets and took Blair's strange rectangle of leather-skin and wrapped it around my cock. I'd been doing myself like this for the last two months, since I'd inherited this... charm from my one night stand. I wouldn't be able to stroke myself with it and feel that intense sensation once I married Caro. It would be cheating on her, kind of. But I wasn't her husband yet, and this felt too good to stop before I had to.

I pictured Blair, while my hand pressed the choker into my flesh as I made the age-old motions. I'd loved his hair, loved to feel it and twine it around my fingers. Loved to really look at it and see all the colors that each curl held.

I thought about his voice, commanding me to be quiet while he brought me to orgasm. And how he had wailed and screamed out his pleasure when I made him come.

Mmmm... The taste of his mouth, the softness of his lips.

I closed my eyes and rode out my own orgasm. When I could move again, I made a tight bracelet of my only connection to Blair. I fell asleep wondering where he was and if he ever thought about the tall man he'd help rescue from the sea.


I walked through the jungle, the air shifting color in the twilight to a blue hue. I could see the tiny pinprick of yellow ahead and followed the twisting path till I was standing next to the small fire and gazing down at Incacha, where he sat cross-legged by the flames.

"Sit, Enqueri. Open your mind as you look into the fire."

I did. And I knew this was a dream, but you did not ignore a shaman's directives, not in your dreams and not in reality.

After I'd watched the fire burn awhile, I asked him a question. "What is this supposed to accomplish? I've got to be at the PD in the morning to meet with Jack and Banks about a case."

Incacha sighed. It was the kind of thing a teacher might have done when some bone-headed student missed the point of the lesson that had just been explained.

"C'mon, Incacha. At least give me a study guide or something. I know I'm not an A student so how about some help, okay?"

Incacha got up and fed some small pieces of wood to the fire. The smoke became aromatic and I recognized the scent. It was something that translated to 'Holy Wood' and Incacha had used it in some of the ceremonies he'd done to help his people. He kneeled behind me and rested his fingers on my forehead.

His voice was not loud but it was commanding, as he made small circles on my temples. Reminded me of the way Blair had given me orders during our little sex-a-thon.

"Watch the flames dance, Enqueri. Follow the movement and think back, sentinel. You have put away your memories and you have need of them now. Watch the flames, Chapaq, my qari churi."

Watchman, guardian. My son. I smiled to myself. I'd missed him after the Army had finally arrived at the Chopec Pass and taken me back to the good old USA.

I breathed in the sweet, heavy smoke and felt my body relaxing as my old friend continued his massage of my forehead, occasionally shifting to massage my neck and shoulders. "Watch the flames, my qari churi," he whispered.

I did, and felt my heart and breathing slowing down. The flames blurred as I gazed into them; I saw myself as a boy, telling my father how I could see and hear things much better than the other kids. I saw myself crying up in my room after Bud was killed and my Judas-father had lied to the cops about my gifts. I had stopped using them after that; I'd done some trick in my head and they had gone away. They weren't wanted.

I saw myself leaving the helicopter crash site after having buried my team; I was alone and I needed every skill I possessed to survive in the jungle. I remembered how exulted I felt with the return of my extra-special senses - that was how I'd thought of them as a boy - and how miserable I'd also felt when they would turn on me.

Like fire, my senses could be useful and like fire, if they got out of control, they would harm me.

Incacha had made the difference.

I didn't know how he made the difference; I just knew he had made the difference.

Guided by a vision, he had found me; his touch and voice had allowed me to regain control so that the fire of my senses didn't burn me any longer.

I'd become the guardian, the watchman, for the Chopec, and in return, they had helped me with my mission objective - to hold the mountain pass bordering their land.

While I was living with my adopted people, Incacha had told me a watchman required a partner to assist him. He'd assured me he had seen in a vision that I would meet this partner. Being a shaman, he had been able to help me, but he was not a true guide.

We have not bonded, Enqueri. We will not bond. Be patient and wait, Chapaq. Those were the last actual words I'd heard from him. Words I'd forgotten till now. Oh, I remembered my dreams where Incacha would remind me to wait and be patient, but I didn't understand what I was waiting for.

I had been torn when it was time to leave the tribe. Eighteen months I'd been with them, I'd learned, and my former life as a Ranger and an American had grown to seem far away. I had stuffed those months spent in the jungle, and my extra-special senses, deep down into my head and resumed the life I'd had before. I was de-briefed and re-entered civilian life. I'd been a criminal justice major in college -- my father had expected me to go on to law school; I'd joined the Army instead after graduation, sticking it to him - but once back in Cascade I decided that being a cop would be a more fulfilling career than being a lawyer, and I entered the police academy.

My self-imposed repression of life with the Chopec was effective; I found I had few memories of my time in Peru. And until two months ago, my senses had been no more remarkable than the next guy's.

They were out of the box now, and I'd tried to put them back but I couldn't manage it.

Incacha's touch grew lighter on my shoulders and he whispered into my ear.

"Look for your guide, Enqueri. He searches for you -- for you have taken him hostage unknowingly."

"I did? Who is he? Have I met him?"

"His skin touches you even now, Enqueri, and eases your pain. Find him and bond with him." His voice faded out and his touch was gone. I knew he had left. He was spirit walking and needed to return to his own body.

I stared into the flames until I felt my eyes closing... and as I left this dream state and entered a more mundane one I made the connection. Skin... touching me now... Blair. I needed to find Blair.


I waited till Jack and I were alone in his car, chasing down leads pertaining to the new case Banks had dumped in our laps this morning. There was a favor I needed, and if there was ever a guy who could get it for me, it would be Jack. The man knew everybody in the legal system, it seemed, and had a convoluted method for getting and paying back favors. I would owe Jack Pendergrast, but I trusted it wouldn't be something I couldn't afford to pay. The guy was my partner, after all, even it had been something of a shotgun wedding, with Banks playing the part of the wielder of the shotgun.

"Hey, Jack. I could use your help on a little project of mine." I was trying for nonchalant, but Jack had been in the detective game for a long time, and I could see his interest in what I was saying spike into more than casual curiosity.

"So, talk to me, Slick."

"I need to find someone I met a couple of months ago. I've got a description and a first name. I was hoping you might know somebody at the DMV who could do a search for me." I had no basis for going through official channels for this, and Banks and I weren't on good enough terms for him to cover my ass.

"Off the record, right?" Yeah, Jack. Of course off the record, otherwise I'd be filling out the paperwork right now.

"Yeah."

"Donna could arrange it. But, Boyo, as they say... There's no such thing as a free lunch. I handle this for you, then you need to agree to do something for me. Understand, Kemosabe?" Jack took his eyes off the road and glanced over at me. He was smiling.

"I figured as much, Tonto. What've you got in mind?" I answered him a little warily, a little defensively.

"Nothing too painful. I want you to start coming to our poker games; it's a long-standing tradition in Major Crime. You'll take your turn at hosting the game at your place, too. Oh, and lose the attitude. You come across as pricklier than a hedgehog. I know Vice was no bed of roses and you did a good job despite those asshole senior detectives there, but the Lone Ranger act isn't necessary anymore. Stop oozing disrespect to Banks and make an effort to be more of a team player. And Slick? Lose the ball, okay? You sitting there and bouncing it when Banks is trying to talk to you pisses him off. You're a good cop, Jim. And you've got a brain. Don't let the attitude be what people notice about you instead of, shall we say, your better qualities."

Jack grinned at me disarmingly and I had to admire Banks' strategy in pairing us up as partners.

I thought over what he had said. I had carried the anger and disgust I'd accumulated from my time in Vice over to my new posting. But nobody in Major Crime had fucked me over, and though Banks seemed mostly annoyed with me, he'd also been fair with me. Maybe I did need to lighten up a bit.

"Okay, partner. Fair enough." I fingered my ear, where I was wearing a stud earring. Banks had said to lose it, but I frequently wore an earring anyway, to thumb my nose at him. Pretty childish of me, I had to admit. I took the stud out of my ear lobe and held it out to Jack.

"Get Donna to run the search. And Jack? Here you go." I dumped the earring in his hand. "A little present for Banks."

"So, you and Carolyn want to go out to dinner tonight with me and Emily?" Jack gave me a look that said, 'Put your money where your mouth is,' and I shrugged my shoulders.

"Sounds okay to me. I'll give Carolyn a call and see if she's up for it."

"Write down your search parameters, and I'll meet with Donna after we talk to Chen." Jack turned down Baltimore Street and we headed for our reluctant witness's place of business.


Jack delivered the large manila envelope to me as I was leaving for the day. I thanked him for it, and told him Carolyn had enjoyed our dinner together the night before and wanted to know if Jack and Emily would like to go to the horse races some weekend.

Turns out Jack and Carolyn had an interest in common. They both enjoyed gambling and had reminisced about past trips to Los Vegas. Maybe Carolyn would like to get married there. That would be the easy way out for me. I wasn't keen on suffering through elaborate wedding plans.

Jack clapped me on the back and said they'd love to go. I told him to call Carolyn and set up the details. Punching him lightly on the arm, I'd turned to head out of Major Crime for the elevators when I heard my name bellowed.

Banks.

I looked back and my captain was motioning towards his office. Sighing, I went towards him wondering what I'd done now. I'd been friendly with the other detectives the last two days - well, cordial at least, and I was wearing clothes that didn't scream, 'Kiss my ass if you don't like the way I look.' I'd been extra polite to Rhonda, and had even bought her a pastry from the donut girl this morning. Well, I did like her, but I'd been late with paperwork last week, which had made her job harder, and I'd felt I owed her an apology.

So, I didn't know what Banks wanted to slap me down about. Maybe something from the week before that was just now coming to his attention.

He ushered me into his office and pointed at a chair. I sat.

Banks went around his desk and lowered himself into his chair. He fished out a cigar from an inner pocket on his suit jacket and sniffed it appreciatively, then returned it to his pocket.

I sat quietly and reminded myself that I was trying to make some changes in my life, and that included having a more satisfying job. And this man could help or hinder me, depending on how I reacted.

He gave me an assessing look, and I decided to just apologize now and get it over with.

"Sir, I apologize and it won't happen again."

Banks' eyebrows went up.

"Detective, care to explain what you're apologizing for?"

"Sir" -- I tended to fall back on my military language in situations like this - "I'm apologizing for whatever I did that you brought me in here to discuss."

"Ellison, you take the cake. You really do. I called you in here to invite you to the poker game at my house a week from this Friday. Our poker games are the second Friday of the month. Bring your own beer and some kind of snack. Chips or pretzels, that kind of thing. And Jim - I pay more attention to my detectives than you might have realized. Keep up the changes I've seen the last couple of days and you and I will have no problems. Jack says you're a good guy and that he wants to stay partnered with you."

He got to his feet, getting ready to dismiss me. "And thanks for my present."

Banks touched his ear and laughed. It startled me into an answering grin and I felt something inside me shift and open up. I felt a little like I had when my team was still with me, before I'd buried them in the jungle's loam. Like when Incacha and I had sat around the evening fire and listened to the Chopec men telling whoppers - what was it about men and campfires and bullshit? seemed kind of universal - and laughing when the women's banter as they prepared food had occasionally zinged one of the boasters.

I stood and held out my hand. "I'd like that, sir. I haven't played poker for a while."

Banks shook my hand with a strong grip. "Come prepared to be sheared then. And Jim, when we're away from the PD, call me Simon."

I left his office feeling more contented than I had since I'd first walked into the PD as a rookie. The plan for making a better life for myself was working. A decent job, the first steps to new friendships, and marrying Carolyn. There were a couple of loose ends to clear up still. Danny Choi, for one. I had enjoyed being his Big Brother when I was in college; until I'd been sent to Peru, we'd kept up with each other. Danny had gone into the Marines, but I could contact his mother and write him a letter, let the kid know I hadn't forgotten him.

My hand tightened on the envelope as I thought about my other loose end. Will I find your picture and last name here, Sweet Blair? And what will I do with you when I find you?

My dick chimed in with an idea as I rode the elevator down to the parking garage. Carolyn and I hadn't agreed yet to be exclusive with each other. Maybe, when I found Blair, we could have a fuck for old time's sake. Yeah ... I liked the idea of doing the horizontal bop with him again while I tried to figure out what he had to do with controlling my senses. Because his choker did work for me. Possibly because he had worn it for so long that it was drenched in his molecules?

If that was so, then after a while, if I kept wearing it, his scent would wear off and it would just be another strip of leather and useless to me.

I walked across the parking lot and unlocked my truck; I was hungry and decided to stop at The Golden Lion and bring some Kung Pao Chicken home. My senses felt under control today since I was wearing my choker around my ankle, and I relished the thought of eating the spicy peanut and chicken dish. And I wanted to be home when I looked through these records. I wanted to be private.


Taking my eyes briefly off the road, I glanced down at Blair Sandburg's DMV record on the truck seat. His phone had been disconnected, and I figured the fastest way to track him down was to actually go to his home. He didn't live that far from Cascade, and I could make it down and back before my date with Carolyn for our standing Saturday night on the town.

I took the Cloverdale exit off of Highway 99 into South Park, one of the poorer neighborhoods of Seattle. After I'd turned onto South Donavon Street, I located the rundown old house listed on his driver's license.

Feeling some trepidation, I banged on the door. A girl with blue hair and a lot of earrings opened it a crack. She took one look at me and asked if I had a warrant. After explaining that this wasn't official cop business and that I was trying to find Blair Sandburg, she said he'd moved out a couple of weeks ago. I expressed concern about Blair being gone and she warmed up enough to open the door, but she didn't invite me in - I didn't blame her as somebody upstairs was smoking pot. I could hear a number of people in the house - I guessed that this place was sort of an urban commune, and the girl confirmed my hunch. When I asked more questions about Sandburg, she said Blair didn't know himself where he was going. He'd told the other members of this zoo - known to the inhabitants as Harbor House -- that he was going walk-about and when he found where he needed to be, he'd be in touch.

I left my name and number with the girl and emphasized that he wasn't in any trouble, but that it was important that he get in touch with me. If he showed back up, Miss Blue-hair said she'd pass along the message.

I headed back home feeling disappointed and wondering what my next move should be. Putting out an APB on the kid, much as I would like to find him, was out of line. I still wasn't sure what Incacha meant about the whole bonding thing - but I was hoping he meant sex. And that Sandburg would be interested in getting it on.

The girl had said that Sandburg had been a student at the University of Washington. Monday, I would see what I could find out from the University. Fall classes would be starting soon, and if he was registered I could find him in a few weeks.

Waiting wasn't what I wanted to do. 'Patience, Enqueri,' I could hear Incacha telling me again. I stuck a Santana tape into my cassette deck and prepared to listen to Carlos' guitar wail for the hour and a half drive back to Cascade.


Two days later, I was industriously working on my case notes when the desk sergeant downstairs got me on the phone.

"Ellison, I got a kid down here says he's been looking for you. Didn't know your last name, but he described you and your truck. Says his name is Blair Sandburg. You know this kid? Looks like a hippie."

My little wanderer wandered right to me. Incacha, did you send him to me? If so, I owe you one, old buddy. My skin pebbled with arousal and my nipples hardened at the thought I might be fucking him very soon.

"Yeah, Frank. I know him. Tell him to have a seat and I'll be right down." I closed out my report on the computer and let Rhonda know I was leaving for the rest of the day. There was plenty of flex time I needed to take, and I wasn't going to talk to Sandburg at the PD.

The elevator was tied up, so I took the stairs and came out down the hall from where he was sitting in a chair. He couldn't see me and I admired his hair as I walked up to him, my sight allowing me to take in all the variations of red and brown and even golden blond that made up that glorious mop. He smelled good, too, but there were other scents overlaying the one that said 'Chief' to me. Beats me how I knew this, but I could tell he was tired and anxious, just from how he smelled.

I had meant to walk up behind him and lay my hand on his shoulder to quietly get his attention, but as I drew nearer he stood up and turned and faced me.

"Jim," he said, with a look of relief on his face.

I smiled at him. "Blair. Blair Sandburg. We've got some catching up to do," and I motioned for him to come with me. He picked up a beat-up old backpack, followed me down to the parking garage, and got into my truck. He hadn't said anything to me and the anxious scent was increasing tenfold.

"Look, Chief, I'm not mad you tracked me down. Did your housemate give you my message, or did you get the phone number I left for you at La Push?"

He looked over at me in surprise and shook his head. "Why were you looking for me, Jim? I thought one night stands were your preferred modus operandi?"

"They were. Things are different now. But I'm glad to see you and I was looking for you, too. I... just didn't feel right about the way we left each other." I reached out and put my hand on his thigh, stroking the tensed muscle as a new scent filled my truck.

Good. He was interested in fucking, too.

On instinct I decided not to mention his choker to him. I'd see if he brought it up.

"Come home with me, Chief. Let's get reacquainted." Willing him to say yes, I watched Blair bite his lip gently and felt him squirm under my hand.

He closed his eyes, covered his mouth with his hand, breathing out between his fingers, and spoke so softly that I knew he hadn't intended me to hear what he was sub-vocalizing to himself. "This is probably a bad idea. But I need to...

"Okay," he said out loud, and put his hand on top of mine, stilling the stroking motions I'd kept making. "My car is parked on the street. Why don't I follow you home."

"Are you on a meter?"

"No. I'm on a side street."

"Your car will be fine and I'll bring you here tomorrow when I come back to work. Stay the night with me, Blair Sandburg. I've wanted another taste of you ever since you left me in that motel room."

He licked his lips, and I was seized with the impulse to kiss him - right now in the underground parking lot. I didn't, though. There were security cameras here.

"All right. I haven't been able to get you out of my mind since we met. Let's go." And he reached over and cupped my balls right through my jeans. Jesus.

It felt like the very air was heating up between us. Fuck, I needed to do something to cool things back down, or we would end up having sex in the truck. Here, or I'd end up parking somewhere on the drive home. And it would be my luck that some uniform would show up to find out what the hell all the steam inside the F-150 was about.

I lifted Blair's hand off of my nuts and started the truck. And I tried to kick start my brain into a conversation.

"What's your major?" I said, and cringed. Very cool. I sounded like some dorky sophomore at a frat mixer.

Blair shot me a look that said he was well aware of how inane that had sounded, but he answered me.

"I did a double major and graduated with a BS in Anthropology and Folklore, plus a minor in Psychology. Last spring I finished my Masters in Folklore. I'm going for my Ph.D in Anthropology."

"Huh. I figured you for maybe a junior or senior. I know you're barely old enough to drink beer legally."

"I'm twenty-two. Started at Rainier when I was sixteen, and I tested out of as many intro courses as I could, plus I already had some credits from a community college."

"Rainier? I thought you were going to school down in Seattle at the University of Washington."

"I did my Masters there. Their Folklore department is excellent. I... I haven't decided where I'll get my doctorate." Blair squirmed a little on the seat.

"I'm glad you looked me up, Chief, but how did you know to look at the PD?" I knew I'd never told him I was a cop. Or what city I lived in.

"Um... I just had a gut feeling and I went with it." Blair dropped his eyes from mine and studied his hands. 'Gut feeling'? He wasn't telling me all the truth here. If I'd been interrogating a suspect, I'd never have let that go, but I didn't want to spook him off by being confrontational. It could keep.

I noticed that an accident had occurred far ahead of us. A fender-bender, apparently, because while the cars involved were blocking traffic, the people were outside of their vehicles and... I cocked my head and listened. Yeah. They were screaming at each other. I reached for my radio and called it in, then took a side street to detour around the mess. The slowdown in traffic hadn't reached back to where we'd turned off and Blair looked puzzled.

"Jim, I didn't see any accident. How did you notice it? And how would you know that it was just a fender-bender?"

"I've got good eyes." I didn't mention I had good hearing also. That would start to push me into the realm of 'freak,' as my father would have put it. Time to change the subject.

"So, you've got a Masters in Folklore. I didn't know you could study old stories and myths for a degree program. I think the old tales are interesting."

Blair brightened. "Yeah, me too.'

"My granny used to tell me a lot of old stories from Ireland," I offered.

"Cool. I'd love to hear what was passed down to you by your grandmother." Blair was smiling at me. I was enjoying Blair smiling at me.

"My great-grandmother, actually. She was a pretty good storyteller and I remember all the stories she told my brother and me. I guess you know about the Banshee."

"The bean sídhe," he pronounced it a little bit differently from me, "is Gaelic for 'Woman of the Mounds.' She's a fairy woman whose lamenting when she appears announces a death in the family. The tales tell that a bean sidhe will always keen for the dead of certain great families, like the O'Neills or the O'Conners."

"Well, merely being an Ellison, I'm probably safe from hearing the banshee." Probably. Granny's re-telling of the old myth had raised the hackles on the back of my head when I was a kid.

"So, your family is Irish. I was born in Ireland. But I left when I was only a couple of weeks old."

"Sandburg isn't your usual Irish name."

"Nope. It's Jewish. I have my mother's last name; she's American. Back then she was visiting some friends who lived on the western coast of Ireland. I, uh... I don't know who my father is."

I glanced over at him. Should I say 'Sorry about that, must have been tough' to him or just let it go by? Oh, hell. I was curious.

"Well... You found me with your 'intuition.' Have you ever tried to find your father?"

Blair pursed his lips in thought. And my thoughts leapt to kissing him and to seeing those full lips mouthing my cock.

"Naomi - that's my mom -- wouldn't tell me anything about him. But I found out some stuff in an old journal she kept. Yeah, yeah, I snooped. Wouldn't you? I'm not sure it's possible to locate him again, although I think about trying to, sometimes; I think I'd like to meet my father's side of the family. But for that, I'd have to go back to Ireland. And... I'm not sure it would be wise to do that. My mother was scared to death that my father would keep me, but I'm not a child anymore, so I can't see that being a problem now. Finding him would be tough, though. Apparently he's at sea a lot and doesn't have a home on land. And by this time, I'm not sure we have anything in common, aside from a certain family resemblance."

Blair looked wistful and I reached over and squeezed his thigh. We would be at my place in about ten minutes - plenty of time to speak of other things, and I wanted to see a smile on his face again, so I dredged up more memories of Granny's stories.

"Sea stories. My granny told me about St. Brendan and his voyage. I really liked the part where he met the sea monster. She said that St. Brendan and his men made camp on its back before they realized the island was alive and they had to get back to their boat."

"St. Brendan. He's the patron saint of sailors and travelers, you know. I once saw this beautiful stained glass window of St. Brendan at the Naval Academy in Maryland. Did you know there's a theory that he actually sailed to Newfoundland? This guy, Tim Severin, actually built a curragh and re-enacted St. Brendan's travels. Pretty cool, huh, that an old myth might have some basis in reality. That's what I love about folklore. Ferreting out the origins of myths and realizing the reality that the story was spun from." Blair was smiling again, and I felt rewarded.

"Granny talked a lot about selkies, too. You know, the seal-people that would come to land to shape-shift to human form by taking off their seal coats. They were good lovers but the only way to keep them on land was to steal their seal coats and hide them. Granny said the women made good wives and mothers but that they always would pine for the ocean and the other selkies, and if they could find their stolen coat of seal skin, they would go back to the sea, leaving their husband and children behind. She said a selkie-woman would swim up and down the beach to get a glimpse of the children she'd left behind." Blair's eyes had widened a bit when I'd started telling him about Selkies, so I figured it was distracting him.

"If a woman had a hankering for sex - not that Granny put it that way, you understand, but when I was old enough I read between the lines -- she would go to the beach and a selkie-man would come to make love with her. If the woman had a child born from that union, then he would come to her house and ask for the child. Granny used to sing an old song about that. It didn't end well. The woman in the song had gotten married and her husband shot the Great Selkie and her son, when they were in their seal form -- maybe accidentally, maybe out of spite. Hard to tell from the lyrics. Hey, what's wrong?"

Blair's breathing had quickened and his heartbeat had speeded up. His scent was anxious again. And how the fuck was I hearing his heartbeat?

He took a couple of deep breaths and smiled at me. It wasn't a very successful smile. "I just thought of something, but it's not important. How much further to your place, Jim?"

The little shit was being evasive again. What on earth had I said that had set him off? I was just repeating old stories that he must have already known, with a Masters degree in Folklore.

"We're on Prospect now, and it's three blocks away. I live upstairs over a bakery. Hey, do you feel okay? Not getting cold feet, are you?" I reached over and stroked his thigh again. He shook his head and spread his legs a little wider in the truck. With an invitation like that, I let my hand drift between his open thighs and teased him by coming so close to his cock... but not touching him. He grew hard anyway and I smelled his arousal. His breathing became more erratic and as I pulled into a parking place, I laid my hand over his cock, then traced its outline under his well-worn jeans.

"I'm going to suck you off as soon as we get in my door, Chief. I'm going to strip you naked and push you up against the wall and drop to my knees. If you've got any objections state them now, because once you're in my territory, I'm in charge." Then I grinned at him. "I'm in charge till it's your turn to be in charge. You know, like we did back in that motel room. So, you ready?"

He nodded and raised himself up a little under my fingers. Giving him one last stroke, I withdrew my hand and opened my truck door.

"Get your ass out of this truck and inside, Chief. Hurry."

Blair grabbed his backpack and jumped out of the truck, and I felt a grin threaten to split my face. This was going to be so much fun. And later, after we were sated, I'd try and figure out what that bonding stuff was about.


Blair was already upstairs in my bed and sliding into sleep as his breathing slowed; I'd mellowed him out by sucking his brains out through his cock. He'd been a sight, stripped naked and pushed up against the wall, and I'd run my hands over his body till he'd been frantic. I hadn't gotten undressed - I found it sexy for me to be fully clothed and for him to be the yin to my yang -- totally naked when I sucked him off.

Not that I'd hadn't come, too. I'd gotten my zipper down and my dick out and kept time with my mouth sliding up and down his cock while using my hand to do the same thing to my dick.

He seemed exhausted - from traveling, perhaps -- because he had looked like he might just have to crawl to bed after coming out of the bathroom, and I'd pointed to the stairs when he'd stumbled out. In the past, after fucking, this was where I would have parted ways with my anonymous partner, and it felt a little strange to know he'd be here in the morning. I stalled around re-checking the locks and windows and looking through yesterday's mail while he pulled down the bedspread and got comfortable in my bed.

I wanted a shower, but I wasn't just procrastinating about joining Blair. Lately, I could feel the grime of the city on my skin even more than usual, and my clothes picked up odors from everywhere I traveled. It was distracting, and if I wasn't wearing the choker I could get lost identifying the odors that clung to my skin.

Ah, the choker. Did Blair want it back? I wasn't going to bring it up. I needed whatever it was that allowed that small strip of leathery skin to keep my senses under control. If Blair had written it off as a loss... well, like I'd told myself before - finders, keepers. I undressed in the bathroom and unwound the choker from my ankle. I would hide it after I'd cleaned up.

Ah... I had to get control back of my senses. What if the choker stopped working? I thought about Blair being an anthropologist. Plus, he knew a lot of old stories. Maybe I'd ask him if he'd ever heard any about watchmen with very good senses. Maybe he'd heard of ways to deal with out of control senses. Incacha had told me that I wasn't unique; there were others like me who were curve breakers when it came to their five senses. There must be some information out there. But I'd have to be casual about bringing it up. I wasn't eager for Blair to think of me as being a freak.

I let the hot water pound on my neck and shoulders for several minutes before I reached for the soap. In my dream, Incacha had - in his own roundabout way -- named Blair as my guide. And said we should bond. But he never was big on giving out details of things; he would want me to figure out for myself how Blair and I should bond.

Maybe the sex we'd had back in La Push had started something that we hadn't finished. Maybe Blair needed to stick around for more than one night. Tomorrow, I'd ask him if he'd stay with me till next week. That should be enough time for me to puzzle out how to make a bond together. Besides, I knew he'd given up his space at that commune house and I doubted he'd rented somewhere else yet.

I finished my shower and turned the water off. And then it hit me. I'd have to tell Carolyn some story to explain why Blair was living with me. My conscience wasn't pinging me about sleeping with Blair; Carolyn and I weren't at the point of swearing fidelity to each other, and he was just a temporary fuck, anyway. And I was going to marry Carolyn -- I had a lifetime to make love to Carolyn. Blair I would only have for a week.

How to explain Blair staying with me... the kid could be my second cousin's stepson. I'd say he was thinking of going to school at Rainier, and my cousin had asked me to put him up till he found his own place or he decided to go to school somewhere else.

I'd have to pretend he was sleeping on the futon couch in the downstairs bedroom. I'd also have to convince Blair to go along with my story.

I listened to Blair sleeping upstairs - it wasn't even dark yet outside - and decided I'd join him in a nap. Right after I secured my choker. I thought about hiding it in the toilet tank taped up above the water level, but that was a classic drug dealers' hiding place and I just bet Mr. Natural would know to check there. If he was looking. But why would he be looking? Still, better to be careful. Even if he'd accepted that his necklace was lost, finding it here in the loft might make him want to have it back. And I needed it right now. But I made a deal with myself: when I got the senses thing under control and didn't need Blair's choker anymore, I would mail it back to him. I'd write that I'd found it inside the bag where I kept the wax for my board.

I finally stashed the choker in my travel shaving kit. And I put that on the top shelf of the bathroom closet behind a box of Epsom Salts. I could barely reach it, and there was no way that Blair could, without a chair or ladder. You couldn't tell there was anything behind the big box of Epsom Salts, anyway.

And then I joined Sandburg in bed. He stirred when I got in, woke up enough to spread his legs for me, and I gave him a very gentle fuck. After he'd come, and I'd erupted into the condom and slid slowly out of him, I turned him on his side and spooned up against his back and butt. Blair had succumbed to slumber again, and this time I joined him.


I dreamed of the sea. I felt again the wild exhilaration of mastering the wave my board was riding upon, being in balance between the ocean and the wind. I loved it; I loved that feeling of riding an edge and being in control.

Then the dream changed and I found myself once more being swept out to sea on the rip tide, cursing my own stupidity for not being more observant of the way the waves were hitting the shore. I couldn't escape it and I wasn't in control anymore; the sea had me and wouldn't let me go.

In my dream I heard my name being called. The rip tide shoved me to the edge of the current running out towards the horizon, and I swam diagonally out of it towards the voice. It was a nice voice, mellow and smooth, and it commanded me to save myself. The voice guided me as I swam out of the trap and towards it. I knew that voice. It belonged to Blair. Blair was in the ocean, and I was swimming to him because he knew how to help me.

"I know about watchmen, Jim. I've studied about the ancient guardians, and I'll help you learn to control your senses again. Here I am; hold tight and I'll take you to shore."

My dream changed again as the seal that had saved me surfaced next to me and looked at me with his blue eyes. I heard his voice in my head, like I had when he'd rescued me before - and his voice was so familiar. "Don't worry; just hold on to me. I've dreamed of helping a watchman like you. A guardian needs a partner. I let you fuck me, Jim; I'm supposed to be with you."

My dream altered; the seal and I were almost back to the beach. "I've been looking for you, Jim. I was drawn to you when I met you, and after we made love, but now I'm compelled to be near you. Where is it, Jim?" I heard those words in my head and I recognized Blair's voice. And then the seal twisted under me and Blair was standing, hands grabbing me to steady me, his choker around his neck. I stumbled to shore, Blair half holding me up. I reached up and took his choker off of his neck and wrapped it around my wrist.

"You're mine, now, selkie-man. I want to keep you." Blair backed away from me, towards the sea, but stopped his retreat when the waves flowed around his ankles. I walked away from the beach, and Blair gave a cry and followed me. I unlocked my truck and he got in - naked and so very beautiful. We drove away... and then the dream ended.

I felt myself waking up slowly, listening to Blair mutter unintelligibly to himself. I was in bed alone, and the sheets smelled of our lovemaking. I extended my hearing and his whispers became clear as he was opening cupboard doors in the kitchen.

"Where is it? Does he have it? Shit, how the fuck am I supposed to know what this feels like? I want him. I don't believe that has anything to do with it being lost. Fuck, maybe I should just ask him if he found it. Careless, Blair. Careless of you to leave it with him. Maybe you wanted him to hold it, so you could follow him."

The search shifted to the living room, and I looked over the railing and saw him peering under the couch cushions and moving things on the bookshelves. "Maybe it's really gone. You guessed he was a cop. Maybe you're not really being forced to find him, maybe that's a convenient excuse to act like a damn stalker." He went back to the kitchen and started poking around some more.

I remembered my dream -- and fantasy and reality collided. In my dream, Blair was a selkie. Granny had believed in them, but I wasn't a superstitious old woman. He was muttering about finding something he'd lost and feeling like he'd needed to find me again. But he hadn't stood up and announced he was a creature out of old legends. I shook my head. Dreams were usually fucked-up. How could I put much stock in a dream? It wasn't like Incacha had visited me again while he was spirit walking. Last night's dream was just a mish-mash of what had really happened and those old stories. Maybe I was putting together two and two and getting five. I needed more proof before I would believe I'd slept with a selkie. I gave a loud yawn, and then called down to him.

"Sandburg, since you're so interested in what I've got in my kitchen, how about finding the coffee and making us a pot. I'm taking a shower; do you want breakfast here or do you want to stop someplace when we pick up your car?"


Blair had opted for breakfast in the loft and had produced omelets, bacon, and bagels when I emerged from the shower. I'd replaced the choker on my ankle and was curious to know if Blair could tell I was wearing it today. A selkie would know something like that, surely. Maybe he'd been too tired yesterday to figure out his choker had been touching my own skin.

The only flash in his eyes I could see was of appreciation for my bare chest as I walked into the kitchen, my t-shirt in my hands.

"Man, I cannot believe I slept like that. I never go to bed that early, and I'm so starved now from missing supper last night." He started filling our plates with food.

"Chief, this looks great." I pulled on my shirt and sat down at the table. Blair set my plate in front of me and plopped himself in his own chair.

"If this is courtship behavior, Chief, I'm all for it. And kidding aside, I'm inviting you to stay till next week with me. I'm not ready to stop fucking you yet. And you were too tired yesterday to do me, but I'm available tonight."

Blair waggled his eyebrows at me, but then a more serious expression settled on his face. "Is this a sex only deal? Does it have an expiration date in a week's time -- and then you pretend you never met me? Because I'd be willing to see where this leads us, Jim. I've been drawn to you since I laid eyes on you in that little bar at La Push."

I sighed and stalled by finishing my cup of coffee. I didn't want to lead the kid on. I'd let him know what my cards were, and he could stay or he could fold.

"Chief, I told you I wasn't out. I don't want to be out. And eventually, I plan to get married, and there won't be any men on the side after I commit to my intended wife - or cheat with other women. I'm seeing a woman now, at work, but we haven't said we'd be exclusive with each other. Not yet, anyway. She's the one I've picked out to marry, when she's ready to take that step. But I'd like to have you for this week, Blair Sandburg. You're a sweet fuck, and a nice guy. If you decided to get your degree at Rainier, I don't see why we couldn't be friends. If you can stay with the plan, that is."

I gave myself a moment by drinking my coffee. I needed his help, but it was hard to ask for it. "And there's something else I wanted to check with you about. Something that's kind of weird and has to do with the old legends that you're so familiar with."

Blair's heartbeat - what the hell was up with me being able to hear the guy's heart! - had started beating too fast, more like he was running. Something was spooking him, and I wondered what he'd do if I just came out and asked him if he was a selkie.

Probably run for the door. Nope, I couldn't just do that. I was a detective; I'd gather more evidence before I started talking like a crazy man. Hell, if I was wrong Blair could claim I was delusional and I might find myself out of a job and in group therapy at Conover. I might be forced to take anti-psychotic drugs. People would look at me like I was a freak. No, it was too risky for the straightforward approach.

"Do you love her, Jim?" Blair asked me quietly, and I thought maybe the racing heartbeat and the scent of anxiety that was wafting from him had been about him and me.

"I'm planning on loving her, Chief. It will come. She's everything I've been looking for in a wife. But, Blair, this week could be something special for both of us. You know you turn me on, and we're great together in bed. It could be my last hurrah before I pop the question to Carolyn."

I took another long sip of coffee and took the plunge. "And... have you ever heard anything about guardians or watchmen and bonding in your studies?"

Blair was silent for a moment. "You mean sentinels?"

"Maybe. Why don't you tell me about them on the way to the PD? I've just gotten on Banks' --he's the captain in charge of Major Crime - my boss's good side, and I'd like to stay there. I don't want to be late. I can give you my extra key and you can hang out here, or go down to Rainier and see about their doctoral program."

I rose and held out my hand to Blair, pulling him up and into a tight hug when he grasped my hand.

"Please say yes, Blair. Stay here with me for this week at least, and think about keeping in contact with me as friends. I like fucking just fine, but I decided after almost visiting Davy Jones' Locker that I need to make some changes in my life and that includes making real friends. I'd like to have you as a friend."

"I'll... I'll think about it, Jim. And I'll stay for the week. Let me visit the bathroom and then I'll be ready to go."


The rest of the week went by in a blur. Jack and I closed two Major Crime cases, which made Banks call us into his sanctuary on Thursday and offer us some of his flavored coffee after he told us we'd done good work. I was going to decline when Jack kicked me and I found myself agreeing to a cup of Irish Crème coffee. I really hated foo-foo coffee, but Jack's kick made it plain I'd better drink it. He explained later that when Simon offered coffee, an intelligent man drank it and avoided offending the boss.

The other Major Crime guys took their cues from Jack, and I participated in my share of friendly banter. I'm not a practical joke kind of guy, but I've been told I have a dry kind of wit, and I held my own.

When I wasn't at work I was spending every moment I could with Blair. Sometimes we'd talk and sometimes we'd fuck and sometimes we just hung out.

He had been intrigued by my questions Tuesday morning about sentinels, and on the ride in to work and his car, he'd explained what he remembered of the myths. Mostly, he'd recalled a professor lecturing about the Tale of Gilgamesh and Enkidu; there was speculation that Gilgamesh had been a sentinel and Enkidu, his guide. It had been kind of interesting, and I had enjoyed Blair's retelling of the poem and explaining the points of convergence between that ancient pair and sentinels and guides.

Of course, he had been curious to know why I was curious about people with enhanced senses.

I don't know why I didn't just come out and tell him Incacha had named me one. But I didn't. I did tell him a little about my time in Peru, and that the shaman there had told stories about chapaq. His eyes widened when he realized he had a ready-made source who had lived with the Chopec, and he had about a million questions for me.

There was no time to answer the barrage of inquiries before depositing him by his car, and I promised him I'd talk to him after work, and I'd pick up Thai take-out for supper.

I'd returned home with Beef Satay, Shrimp Spring Rolls, and Pad Phew Wan Tofu - I didn't know if Blair was a vegetarian or not: he'd skipped the bacon for breakfast - and found out Blair had made good use of his time at Rainier's library while I was running down suspects in my current cases.

He told me sentinels had originally been documented by Sir Richard Burton and smacked me on the back of the head when I asked him if Liz had been along for the expedition. I had to retaliate after that and held him captive while I gave him a good old-fashioned noogie.

After the Punch and Judy show, he explained what Burton had theorized about sentinels. And guides. And bonding.

According to Burton, bonding was a spiritual and physical connection between sentinel and guide. A form of closeness. Blair said that it didn't have to be sexual but often was, because tradition held that guides and sentinels must touch each other to allow a connection.

Now, that really caught my attention. I definitely was experiencing impulses to touch Blair, but was it because of normal attraction, or this sentinel/guide shit?

Blair was excited about sharing his research, and I was amused at how his hands punctuated his words. Kid looked like he was conducting an orchestra while he explained that the physical aspect of bonding was less well understood, and biological anthropologists could probably do some groundbreaking research into how pheromones and glandular changes affected sentinels.

He said the textbook definition of a sentinel was someone who had enhanced senses plus what he called a genetic imperative to protect the tribe. And then he mentioned guides.

There was very little historical literature on guides. Blair described a guide as someone who would watch the sentinel's back. And probably his ass, I thought to myself. Sentinel and guide pairs had been known to be both heterosexual and homosexual. There were female sentinels as well as male ones. And guides came in both flavors also.

A shaman's examination was the usual proof that a bond existed between guide and sentinel. Sometimes a shaman was also a guide, but Incacha had said he wasn't my guide. He'd still helped me control my senses, though, even if we hadn't had the physical connection common to sentinels and guides. Since he was an expert in dealing with the spirit world, I figured he knew some tricks that had let him guide me without actually becoming my guide.

Of course, if you couldn't get a shaman to diagnose you, Blair said, then shared visions, sightings of each other's spirit guides, or demonstrating shared empathy that allowed one to have a sense of what the other one was feeling, or where he was physically, were all considered proof of a bond. Blair emphasized that a bond had to be really solid for any of that shit to happen. I thought back to when I'd walked up behind him at the PD; he couldn't have seen me but he'd gotten up and turned around before I'd been close enough for him to have noticed me. Maybe that was because we'd bonded in that crappy motel room at La Push?

Turns out that studying sentinels - he was definitely more interested in the guy with the enhanced senses, to the point of showing a little hero worship - was something he decided after his day of research to consider for his dissertation. Making a connection between the legends and modern day sentinels would be Holy Grail time, he said, his eyes lighting up with academic fervor.

Blair explained that these days, Sir Richard Burton - the translator of The Arabian Nights - wasn't exactly seen as a reliable source of information on sentinels, and most modern day studies were of the 'It's a myth, and only a myth' kind. It didn't help, Blair complained, that after Burton's death his wife had destroyed the original book detailing bonding practices. She'd made a bonfire out of his books that dealt with sexual practices, so the only remaining sources were from excerpts that had been copied from the original. There were discrepancies between the different quotations from Burton that cast doubt upon the veracity of Burton's original observations. If Blair studied sentinels with the intention of proving they were real, he was going to catch a lot of flack from other anthropologists.


Blair went back to ransacking the University library for the next several days, and he'd talked to people at Rainier but hadn't made up his mind about entering their Ph.D program. Likewise, he hadn't decided about sticking around after the week was up.

I'd mentioned to Carolyn Wednesday morning that my cousin's kid was staying with me for this week and she'd been a little put out that I wouldn't make any dinner plans with her while he was here. I reminded her that we were going with Jack and Emily to the races on Saturday and told her that I owed it to my cousin to entertain the kid. And entertain him I did.

The sex was great, but there was a tinge of bitter-sweetness to our lovemaking. Neither of us was getting much sleep as we tried to maximize our time together in the sack. I even took a day off of work Friday, telling Jack it was for personal reasons.

Blair kept looking through the loft for his choker when he thought I wasn't paying attention to him. By the end of the week, he seemed to have accepted that it wasn't there. I'd hardly worn it this week, since I had the real source touching me and sleeping with me at night. Apparently, I only needed it if Blair wasn't in frequent physical contact with me. And after I came home from the races Saturday evening, I was going to ask him about staying to be my guide. I'd sit him down and tell him I was a sentinel. I'd make him an offer. If he could guarantee my privacy, I'd let him study me for his graduate work. That was the kind of bait that my little anthropologist wouldn't be able to resist.

From overhearing his mutterings I knew he'd been restless after leaving me in La Push and had felt a vague sense of where I was, which to me was proof that we probably were bonded. Unless he really was a selkie, in which case he'd been compelled to follow me because I had his choker.

If Blair was a selkie, then this choker was his seal coat, somehow shrunk down. My granny had several versions of how a man could steal a selkie's skin, and in one story I remembered that a group of selkie-women had come ashore and their skins had condensed into caps on their heads. The sisters had untied their hats and had concealed them among the rocks. A man had watched them come to shore and had hidden from their sight. Seeing them dance naked, he decided to take the prettiest one home with him; he snuck and stole her hat, and she followed him home, crying all the way. He married her and they had children. I couldn't remember if she found her skin and left him or if they stayed married the rest of their lives. The old tales all said that a selkie could live a full life on land. They just chose not to.

He hadn't asked me about the choker and I wasn't volunteering any information. Especially if he decided not to stay, I would need it in order to stay sane.

He couldn't really be a selkie.


I'd fucked Blair until he was a sleepy, sated pile of submission, then left to keep my word to Jack about coming to the monthly Friday night Major Crime poker games. Once I was at Captain Banks' home, I turned down my senses. Didn't seem fair for me to be able to tell who had a good hand by the changes in their scent. Or who was bluffing by the way their heart rate would pick up.

I still did fine.

Jack took too many risks, and was the first one to bow out from going broke. I remembered his love of gambling, and wondered if he ever got in over his head. Since he was no longer playing he was designated as the go-fer, and, grumbling, he brought over bottles and cans of beer from Simon's refrigerator.

One of the other detectives, Henri Brown, threw out a question to me after taking a good long slug of his Miller Lite.

"Jim, when are you going to cut your cousin loose? Plummer's been out of sorts the whole week since she hasn't been able to get her Ellison fix. Thought she was going to take the report on the Carter evidence and stuff it down my throat when I asked her a reasonable question about when it would be available. Man, you need to take one for the team and get her back into a good mood."

"How the hell did you know that my cousin's - my second cousin's - kid is staying with me this week?" But I knew the answer to my own question. The grapevine. Carolyn must have bitched to somebody at work about Blair taking up all my time this week.

"Babe. Do I really have to explain how information travels at the PD?" Henri's round, brown-skinned face looked pityingly at me, but I could see he was suppressing a laugh.

"It was a rhetorical question. And Blair hasn't decided if he's going to go to Rainier or not. He'll let me know by Sunday, though." But if he needed more time, I'd let him stay longer.

Jack had looked up from his cards when I'd spoken Blair's name. Then he gave me a narrow-eyed stare and I knew he'd recognized the name of the boy I'd been trying to find. Damn. I'd given him the search information in a sealed envelope, but I suppose it had been too much to expect that he wouldn't check it out.

But he wouldn't say anything to the other guys. Jack was good at keeping secrets. His own and other people's.

Then he threw me a curve ball from out in left field.

"Bring him along tomorrow to the races, Jim. He must be bored, being new in town and not having much to do. I'd like to meet him. I have a feeling he'll be a real interesting fellow."

I drank my bottle of Molson's while I worked out how to block his suggestion. I wasn't that keen on Blair getting involved with the guys from the PD.

"Thanks, Jack, but he'd probably feel like a fifth wheel since he doesn't have a date to bring." Not that I wanted to see him with somebody else. He was mine. Till Monday morning, anyway. I finished off my beer and sat the bottle down on the table.

Jack stood and said, "Here, let me" and picked up my bottle, and a couple of other empties, off of the table and took them to the kitchen. That was a deliberate move on his part; he wasn't just being polite. I doubt the other guys as the table picked up on our little interaction, but you get to know a guy when he's your partner. He was dealing himself into my business.

He called back, "I wouldn't want the kid to feel like he was cramping our style, so hey, Simon, would you like to join us? And bring Daryl and Joan, if you want. Anybody else interested?" He directed that to the rest of the players and got a variety of answers that all boiled down to 'No.'

Simon, though, was nodding his head. "I'll come. And I'll probably bring Daryl, but Joan has a baby shower to go to tomorrow afternoon. My uncle will be there, too. He's got a horse that he races there."

Jack handed me the phone. "Call him, Jim. So you don't forget when you get home."

Blair picked up on the fifth ring, right before the answering machine turned on. He was breathless, and I asked him what he'd been up to. Then, with Jack watching me, I invited him to the races.

After I hung up, Jack said, "Well? Do we get to meet your cousin's kid?"

"Yeah. He's all excited about going. Says he's got a system for betting on the ponies. So, break time about over here? I've got time to play another hand or two before I have to leave."

Simon gathered the cards while telling Jack about his uncle's horse. I tuned him out. The reason Blair had been breathless was because he'd gone down to the harbor and had just run in the door to answer the phone. Was he pining for the sea? Or did he just enjoy watching the ocean? I didn't like to think of him watching the waves - not alone; not without me there. I wanted to fuck him tonight and mark him with my teeth; make him remember that for the next two days, he was mine. I guess I looked like I was thinking about something other than jacks and queens, because Brown nudged my arm.

"It's your turn to deal, Ellison."


"So, I'm going to meet your girlfriend. But don't worry that I'm going to spill the beans about you sleeping with me this week. You've been upfront, Jim, that we're not really going anywhere together. I'm... like a detour or something, on your road to marriage."

I rolled my eyes at him and grimaced. "Christ, what you just said sounds like something from a bad romance novel. Don't be so dramatic, Chief. You're not a detour. You're more like... I dunno. A scenic drive instead of the Interstate. And you knew the score about this week; no sense whining about it now. And we need to get a move on to get to the races on time. Now remember, you're my second cousin's stepson. His name is Michael and your mother's name is Linda."

"Jeez, Jim. This sounds like you're briefing me for a spy mission." Blair rose up on one elbow and looked down at me with a mixture of amusement and annoyance on his expressive face.

I reached out and wrestled him on top of me and kissed him. Then I rolled us both over, closer to the side of the bed, and dragged my ass out of the sheets. Blair was damp from our exertions this morning, and his hair was wild looking from where I had run my hands through it and bunched it in my fists.

"Want to stop and eat breakfast on the way?" But Blair shook his head and got out of bed.

"Nope. I want to make pancakes. I bought some whole wheat flour, and yogurt to use instead of maple syrup."

I gaped at him. "No maple syrup on the pancakes? Chief, isn't that heresy or something?"

"Jim, your diet is eighty percent crap. After I'm gone, I know you'll revert back to your favorite four food groups - sugar, caffeine, grease and salt, but for today and tomorrow, I'm cooking healthy."

"You're going to fix me dinner? Will it be edible, Chief? I ate enough twigs and berries when I lived in the jungle."

Now it was Blair's turn to roll his eyes. "Yes, you great big lump of suspicion. It will be tasty."

"No tofu?"

More eye rolling from Blair. Damn, he was cute. "No, no tofu. You'll like it, I promise. Go take your shower and I'll get started so we can get to the races. I want to size up my competition."

"Blair..."

"Kidding, man, I'm just kidding. I'll keep to the deal we made. And I haven't decided to stay in Cascade, you know. I need to meditate about it."

I pulled him to me and kissed him again. I would miss the sex but I would miss his company more, if he left. "Please, stay here, Blair." He startled against me and I hurriedly added, "As just my friend. Please stay in Cascade." I wanted to tell him about Incacha and that I wanted him to be my guide, but there wasn't time to get into it now. Tonight, after supper, we'd talk.

But he wasn't just my friend, yet, and I kissed him again before I left him standing by the bed to go downstairs.


We were a cozy bunch on my truck's bench seat: me behind the wheel, Carolyn sitting next to me, and Sandburg riding shotgun. Carolyn was being polite to Blair, who was busily being polite back to her. And from the scents in the crowded truck, neither one of them liked the other one. I thought to myself that putting these two together was like dumping gasoline onto dry leaves. All it would take would be one little spark and then my ass would fry.

Blair was asking my soon-to-be fiancé questions about collecting forensic evidence. Seems physical anthropologists also had protocols to follow when gathering up their dusty old bones or pottery pieces.

Carolyn started to thaw a little, responding to Blair's curiosity with genuine answers, and the last half of the drive to the racetrack was spent with the two of them deep in discussion about ways to avoid contaminating evidence.

I suspected that Blair could charm the birds from the trees, as my granny would have said. He must have kissed the Blarney Stone before he left Ireland as a baby.

I wanted Carolyn to accept Blair. I wanted to have it all - Carolyn for a wife and Blair for a friend. I'd miss fucking him, but my dick did not rule me. However, I wasn't going to forfeit my last two nights with him; I planned on taking Carolyn home after the races and returning to the loft with Blair. We had unfinished business, my blue-eyed Selkie and me. Although I should stop calling him that in my mind. I'd decided that the dream I'd had was just from stress and that it was ridiculous to think Blair wasn't human. I'd spent almost a week with the man - he was human, not a supernatural creature.

Be damned to what my granny would have said. 'My Jimmy, the Fair Folk can deceive you. Stay far away from them, or they'll cast a charm on you and be-spell you, my boy.'

Blair could be-spell me all right, but it was with strictly human charms. His eyes, his lips, his hair, his intelligence, his sweetness. If he'd been a woman, I'd have had him to the altar by now. But he wasn't. And Carolyn had her charms, too. A cool intellect. Smooth skin. She was a police officer, like me, and knew the challenges and pitfalls being a cop entailed. I would never have to struggle to explain the pressures of the job to her. She was brave and well thought of by her brothers and sisters in blue. In bed, I loved to cup her breasts and make her shudder and cling to me through an orgasm. We would suit each other, and the fondness I felt for her would grow into love. Marrying Carolyn was the best decision. I loved Blair, I realized - but I would have to shift my feelings for him into love for a friend. Probably I was just infatuated with the kid anyway. And infatuations wore off.

I pulled into the parking lot for the racetrack and paid the parking fee. We'd be meeting Simon, and his boy, and Emily and Jack at eleven o'clock, by the entrance to the stands... Jack had orchestrated me into inviting Blair along to satisfy his own curiosity -- I hoped he would leave it at just meeting Blair. We were partners, but that didn't mean he needed to know I was bisexual.

Blair pushed open his door and jumped down. He held out a hand to Carolyn and I quietly drew a breath in through my nose, wanting to know if they'd become more comfortable with each other. Blair's scent was warm and friendly; it looked like he'd decided to accept Carolyn. Carolyn's scent told me she didn't actively dislike Blair - but she hadn't warmed to him, either. There was still a tinge of suspicion and reserve that clung around her. Well, I was confident that given time, Blair would win her over.


I swatted Blair on the back of the head with the racing program. "Don't you know it's bad manners to crow when you win, Chief?"

Emily chuckled, and Jack grinned at Blair. When they'd walked away to place a bet on the fourth race, I'd overheard Em telling Jack that Jim's cousin was kind of kooky, but nice. Jack had gotten Blair to talk about living in South Park, the old house he'd shared with seven other people was just a street over from the Seattle harbor, and the way the neighborhood was revitalizing from community involvement. Jack was good at getting people to relax and discuss things. He usually took the role of the sympathetic cop when we tag teamed a suspect, leaving me to be the hard ass. With witnesses, he would first get them to calm down, before leading them through a series of careful questions that never seemed to come across as an interrogation. And he'd been using those skills on Blair. Blair hadn't said anything that would blow his cover as my cousin's kid, or give away the fact that we'd been fucking, though. Blair might seem like a flake, but he was good at steering the conversation away from too personal a question.

Blair ignored my admonition and jumped up from his seat, doing a little victory shimmy. My eyes were drawn to his ass and I had to look away before Jack caught a clue. Or Carolyn. Caro took the betting seriously and had been pretty involved in watching the races and discussing her bets with Jack, but she wasn't blind. I was really going to have to watch it that I didn't give myself away.

"Dad! Can I go with Blair?" Daryl had gotten up from his seat and was latching onto Blair again. It was cute. Blair had been great with Simon's son; Daryl had been thrilled to be able to talk video games and music with one of the adults, and Blair had given him attention without being condescending. Simon had commented to Blair that he was good with kids, when Daryl had gone with Emily earlier to get some nachos; Blair had explained that he sometimes substitute taught at schools. He'd made a funny story out of telling how he hadn't been allowed to teach at Seattle high schools until he was at least two years older than the seniors. And even now, he frequently was asked for his hall pass, if he was walking down the corridors in between teaching classes.

"I'm just going to get my money, but Daryl can come with me. If it's okay with you, Simon." Jack shot me a look, but I knew in my bones that Daryl would be safe with Blair. I smiled soothingly at Jack.

"Bring me back a beer, would you, Chief?"

Blair promptly stuck his hand out for my money, which made everybody, even Carolyn, laugh.

"What! You're not going to buy me a beer out of your winnings? You're a real cheapskate, Sandburg." I grinned at him to let him know I was just teasing.

"Thrifty, Jim. I'm thrifty. One of the Boy Scout virtues, and I just know you were a Boy Scout. So fork over the dough. I've been saving to go to grad school and it's expensive. Although I think I can afford to buy a couple of textbooks now." Blair looked over at Simon, who gave a little wave for them to go on.

I dragged out my wallet and gave him some cash and he and Daryl walked off, with Daryl talking a mile a minute.

About twenty minutes later, I started to feel very uneasy. I stopped watching the next race being set up and closed my eyes. I had a sense of where Blair was and I listened intently to try to find his voice. It was hard because there were so many noises masking Blair talking. I reached down under my sock and gripped the choker, concentrating on how the slick flexible skin felt to me, while I started ignoring the sounds that didn't matter.

Then I heard a male voice say, "Fuck you!"

Blair answered him firmly, "Back off, man. He's just a kid and didn't mean to make you spill your beer. Here, you can have this one." I listened to the sound of a cup being smacked out of Blair's hand and something splashing on the floor. A second voice, mean and menacing spoke.

"That's not good enough, you damn hippie! You and the nigger brat are gonna get taught a lesson!" A different guy made sounds of agreement.

"Daryl, go get your dad and Jim." Blair said it calmly, quietly, but I couldn't hear Daryl moving.

I opened my eyes and looked toward where I'd heard Blair talking. I could see the opening to the nook past the concession stand, but I couldn't see him. From the racket coming from that area, it sounded like he was cornered by a couple of guys. They were out of eyesight and in an area that was mostly deserted. Nobody was going to notice a problem until they'd been hurt.

I heard him whisper fiercely to Daryl that when he yelled run, Daryl was to take off and get his dad.

I'd heard enough. "Hey -- Daryl and Blair are in trouble. C'mon." and I took off from our seating area at a run, pushing past people in my way. The others were bewildered but they were following me.

I heard Blair tell Daryl to run again and listened to what was happening to them. It was hard to move and listen at the same time and I almost stumbled into a woman carrying drinks and nachos.

When I rounded the corner of the corridor I could see that four punks had rushed Blair and were grabbing at him. Blair was grappling with them, holding onto them, while they were punching at him. He was giving Daryl, who was behind him, a way out of the trap. Daryl took off running and was flying down the corridor.

I passed him, heard Simon behind me in the main walkway meet his son and drop to his knees to hug him and ask what was wrong. I kept running. Blair was getting pummeled, but now that Daryl was out of the way he had broken loose from his attackers and was trying to get around them and out of the dead end.

I reached the group of four men and Blair and yelled, "Police," ordering them to lie on the floor, on their bellies. They tried to run past me, but Blair tackled one and I blocked another one from leaving and ordered him to lie on the ground. He tried to get around me and with great satisfaction I belted him over and over until he sank to his knees on the concrete floor.

Behind me I heard Simon subduing the third man, and Carolyn - long legged Carolyn who I knew had run track in college - had caught up to the fourth man and brought him down. I saw her put a gun to his head and start to read him his rights. She had brought a gun and cuffs to the races. I was astounded. I hadn't brought either. Jack had, though, and went past me to help subdue Blair's perp. My man was starfished on the floor and from what I could hear Security was on its way.

"Jack, cover this clown, will you?" Jack cuffed Blair's man and had him move next to my man. And I went to Blair.

He was holding his side and looking anxiously around. I could hear Daryl with Emily. It sounded like the boy wasn't hurt, just good and scared.

"Daryl's okay, Chief. Are you hurt?"

"Nah. Well, I'm gonna have some bruises, but nothing's broken. Man, Jim, how did you know we were in trouble?"

Fuck. That was a good question. What in the hell was I going to say?

"Later, Chief." I moved next to him and started running my hands over his face and torso. Already I could feel the heat through his clothes where hotspots were developing into bruises. I gently circled the area on his cheek that was going to be a spectacular bruise, and kneaded his shoulders for a moment, trying to loosen up the tense muscles I could feel. When we went home, I'd give him a massage, coax the lactic acid out of those stressed knots.

Blair nudged me and whispered, "Carolyn." I stepped back and turned to his side. Caro was watching us. I patted Blair on the back and for her benefit I added, "You're right, Chief. Nothing's broken, but you should get some ice on those bruises as soon as possible." Then I walked away from him and went to talk to the Security guys who were arriving.

Blair had let his question drop, but from the gaze I could feel boring a hole in between my shoulder blades, I knew the conversation was far from over.

After Security and a couple of uniforms had cleaned up our mess, we called it a day. Simon requested that we all go down to the station and give our statements. I was still thinking about how to explain that I'd heard Blair from so far away. No bright ideas had come to me by the time Carolyn, Blair, and I had reached the truck. We got in and I didn't start the engine.

Blair's voice ended the silence among the three of us.

"Jim, I'm thinking there must have been trick acoustics in that dead end space we were in that must have bounced the sound waves from our voices out to where you picked them up. Does that sound right to you?"

He looked at me and I knew. I knew that he had figured it out. He was a smart guy and he'd put the puzzle together. I could let his story stand, and maybe Carolyn would buy it. It was definitely a good story for the statement I would have to make.

But... I'd already planned to tell Blair tonight that I was a sentinel. There was no point in delaying confirming it to him. And I was going to marry Carolyn. She deserved to know the truth. Probably I would need to tell Jack since he was my partner. And Simon needed to know what was going on with me too, or he'd have too many questions I couldn't answer. Emily didn't need to know. Neither did Simon's kid. The acoustics story would have to do for them.

I sighed and said, "Chief, why don't you fill Carolyn in on what I can do as a sentinel. Carolyn, I hadn't said anything to you before, but after today you're bound to have some questions. And what my guide - yeah, Chief, I'm ninety-nine percent sure that you're my guide - tells you is to be held confidential. If this gets out, it could be turned against me."

Blair turned in his seat and gave me an intense look. Carolyn was tight-lipped; her scent shouted out her anger, and I figured she already knew that Blair and I had something more than a supposed family connection.

I started the engine and began the drive to the PD, listening to Blair explain what enhanced senses were and what Richard Burton had to say about people like me and him.


Carolyn had been skeptical about my abilities but I'd given her enough proof by the time we'd gotten to the station that she believed me. Her former coldness to Blair had returned, though, and while he hadn't told her the whole story about guides - just that they helped sentinels control their senses - she obviously didn't like the idea of me being close to him.

I wasn't sure Blair liked the idea either. I really needed to talk to Blair. As soon as I could get free from the PD, I told myself I would work it out with him. I was sure we were bonded. I'd felt something was wrong and knew sort of where he was, back at the racetrack, before I'd heard his voice. And I wondered if I would have noticed anybody else's voice from that distance.

Jack, Carolyn, and I typed up our statements, and waited in the bullpen for Simon, Daryl, and Blair to be finished. Emily had gone on home. I asked Carolyn if she wanted a uniform to run her home but she said no.

Earlier, when we'd gone up to Major Crime, I had told Jack and Simon I needed to talk to them privately after they'd finished their statements. I made a trip to the john and when I returned, Jack was already in Simon's office. I knocked on the open door and Simon waved for me to join them. Blair was entertaining Daryl on my computer. Carolyn was nowhere to be seen. I shut the door.

"All right, Jim. I know damn good and well that I haven't heard the whole story here this afternoon." Simon glowered at me, and like a prick I started to act defensive, but then I caught Jack's eye and reconsidered. The man had seen his child terrified this afternoon, and I decided to cut him some slack.

I went to parade rest in front of his desk. It was easier for me to be respectful if I put myself back into my 'reporting to my commanding officer' mindset.

"Sir, I need to explain something about myself. But I'm asking you and Jack to keep it private. I only told Blair and Carolyn this on the way to the station this afternoon."

Banks made a 'get on with it' motion with his hands and I continued. Jack was sitting quietly in his chair in front of Banks' desk and watching my every move.

"Sir, I have enhanced senses. They're genetic, but for most of my life they weren't expressed. I had them as a boy, and when I was stranded in Peru. About two months ago, after I experienced hypothermia and almost died at sea, they returned."

I could feel Jack's eyes on me. I wondered if he'd ever noticed how well I could see or hear things. Captain Banks was frowning as I continued.

"Sandburg is a part of this, too. He rescued me from the ocean and I believe he's my guide. A guide helps a chapaq, which translates to watchman or guardian -- although Sandburg tells me another name is sentinel -- to not have his senses overwhelm him. I don't want it common knowledge that I'm a sentinel. I don't want the publicity. I had enough of that when I came back from Peru. I never asked to have my picture splashed all over the media. And I don't want it to interfere with my job."

Jack spoke when I paused. "Sandburg... he's not your cousin's kid, is he?"

I shook my head. "We have a connection - it's something that happens to sentinels and guides. The reason I knew there was a problem this afternoon? I could sense that Blair was upset. It's a two way street - he was able to find me when he didn't even know my full name. He showed up last Monday here at the station with my description and knowing what kind of truck I drove. But he had known my first name and I still didn't recall ever telling it to him.

Simon narrowed his eyes at me. "Who came up with the acoustic trick cover up?"

"Sandburg. He's very smart, Captain, and I'm going to offer to let him study my abilities in return for helping me."

"Sandburg just learned he's your guide? And he doesn't know about this deal you want to offer him, detective?"

"I was going to talk to him about it tonight, sir."

Simon started rubbing his forehead and from the way his eyes were squinting, I was sure he was developing a headache. He looked at me and said, "You're going to be a real pain in my ass, aren't you, Ellison?"

I stiffened, and fought down the impulse to salute him. "Sir, I understand this will complicate things. I'll transfer to another department if that's what you want."

"I didn't say that was what I wanted. No, Ellison, I think you'll be an asset to this department, as long as you remember not to act like an ass. We'll work with you on this senses thing. Weird as it may be. And I trust Jack to kick your ass if you need it."

Simon reached into his pocket and brought out a cigar, sniffed it deeply, and then replaced it. I was catching on that he performed this little ritual when he needed to think about something.

"About Sandburg..."

"Sir?"

"This assistance he's going to give you... if he agrees. Does he need to be with you all the time? Because I can see problems with that. He could have an observer's pass, say he was studying the PD for school - Seattle has intern-observers all the time from the University of Washington, and psychologists or psychiatrists consult regularly in their departments - but he couldn't work with you everyday. When would he go to school?"

"Sir, I'm sure we can work something out, and I think that as long as Blair and I have enough contact I'll be able to manage." I wasn't going to tell him about my choker that had belonged to Blair and how wearing it helped me keep my senses under my control.

"I'll talk to the kid, Simon, and see what he can teach me to do to help Jimbo here manage." Jack stood up and moved next to me. "I'm just getting my partner whipped into shape. I'm not going to lose him now. And if he can use his senses like he did this afternoon - our solved case rate is going to be high as a kite." Jack looked sideways at me and grinned. "Hey -- Simon, can you drop me off on your way home?"

Simon nodded. "Sure, Jack. Give me a couple of moments to finish up here."

Jack punched me lightly on the upper arm. "See you Monday, Slick. Simon, I'll be in the break room. I need a cup of coffee." And Jack walked out of the office, humming "Camptown Races."

I was still in parade rest and Simon looked me over thoughtfully. "Stand down. You're not in the Army anymore, Ellison. Go home."

I left the office and found that Carolyn was sitting at my desk. I didn't know where Blair had gone and I indicated my question with a cock of my head.

"He took Daryl to the bathroom. He didn't think it would be a good idea for the boy to be alone right now." She wasn't smiling. "Jim, he and I had a little talk. And I told him that you were going to take me home. Alone. Simon can run him back to your place."

I had opened my mouth to tell her that maybe it would be better for us to talk later, when she stood up and placed her palm over my mouth.

"Jimmy, if you don't come home with me right now, we are through. You owe me, and I'm cashing in your marker. Don't wait to talk to Sandburg, come with me now."

Guess I'd have to wait to talk to Blair when I got home. Caro didn't sound angry but she did sound determined. I believed her when she said she'd break up with me if I didn't appease her.

We left without running into Blair.


I tried to talk to her on the way, but she said she refused to have a conversation this important in a pick-up truck. So we drove to her apartment in silence. And for my part, in apprehension. I tried to gauge her mood through her scent and picked up on emotions she had hidden with her body language - anger, frustration, jealousy. And sadness.

We had barely gotten in the door before she pulled my head down to hers and kissed me. It was a demanding kiss and I answered it with as much passion as she was showing me.

She pulled away from me and reached up and framed my face with her hands.

"It's very simple, Jimmy. I want to know where you think we are going with our relationship. Because I don't want to waste my time or yours if we're going nowhere." She kissed me again.

"Caro... I know what Blair and I told you was probably something of a shock, but it doesn't really have anything to do with you and me. And I thought we were good together. I don't want to see other women. I was hoping that someday you'd marry me."

She touched her lips to mine in a quiet kiss, stepped back, and crossed her arms. "What about this Sandburg? What does it mean that he's your guide?"

"I only know what Blair and Incacha - he's the shaman of the Chopec - have told me. There is a connection; I will need to spend time with him. He's going to be like... a partner to me. Blair's a great kid, and I hope you two can become friends."

"I've hardly seen you this week, Jim. You've spent all your time with Blair. If we continue to see each other, we need to set some ground rules. I think we should agree to not see other people. I think maybe we should try living together. You say you want us to marry. Well, it's time to put your money where your mouth is. A month from now, I'm going to want to know if you still feel the same way, Jimmy. And if you do, then we're going to set a date.

"And you and Blair will have to... connect with each other during work hours, because I want you at night and on the weekends, Jim." She shook her head. "It almost sounds like we're arranging custodial visitation, but that's my bottom line, Jim Ellison."

Too soon. I wanted my last nights with Blair before things changed. But I wasn't willing to lose Carolyn, either.

"Caro, I want to say yes. I want everything you've said. But I need to finish figuring out what Blair being my guide means to him and me, and I haven't even talked with him about it. I need another day or so to spend with him, and then I can commit to your terms whole-heartedly."

"You can talk to him tomorrow, Jim. I need you now. I need you and I'd better have a higher priority in your life than your guide. Because if it's the other way around, you can walk out that door right now - but don't bother trying to walk back in. I mean it." I could see tears clinging to her eyelashes and it killed me that Carolyn - my tough, beautiful Caro - might break down and cry. I had brought her to this and I felt suddenly remorseful. I couldn't let her stay like this.

I crossed over to where she was standing and pulled her into my arms. I kissed her and ignored the tears. Carolyn wouldn't want me to see her cry. I murmured to her that I wanted to take her to bed. Carolyn nodded, but then added, "Stay till morning, Jimmy."

It was a test. I knew that. She knew that I knew it. I wasn't going to screw this up. Blair would have to wait. And I closed my mind to any further speculation on what Blair was doing right now and what he would think when I didn't return to eat the meal he was cooking for me tonight. And I couldn't call him. Caro would take that as a sign that I valued Blair over her. As I started to unbutton Carolyn's blouse, I repeated to myself, 'Blair will have to wait.'


It was almost noon when I returned to the loft. Blair's car wasn't parked on the street and I listened for the sound of his voice as I jogged up the stairs.

Silence.

The table was set and there was food in pots and pans sitting cold on the stove. I looked around and didn't see any of his belongings. The few things he'd moved into the bathroom had disappeared. I moved slowly upstairs, afraid to confirm what I suspected he'd done.

His backpack was gone. He'd removed all traces of himself from my home. Except for the note on my pillow.

I could feel my stomach clenching as I opened his letter to me.

Jim,

It's one in the morning, and you obviously aren't coming back here tonight. Thinking it over, maybe it would be best if I followed my mom's advice about lovers and detach with love. Leave on friendly terms. I don't think we want the same things. I don't want to hide my sexuality. You do (and I so know you're going to destroy this note when you're done reading it, so nobody finds out that you and I were lovers).

About the guide thing: it explains why I was so drawn to you and why I felt compelled to follow you to Cascade. I didn't tell you I first went south following you when we parted in La Push. It seems you were still on vacation and traveling, but I didn't know that. Really confused me for a while, but I listened to this inner sense that told me if I was coming closer to you. And eventually I pinpointed where I needed to be.

Except I didn't sign on to be a guide. We bonded without realizing it - the sex, I guess. But I can't even see that you need a guide to help you with your senses. Whenever I've seen you using them, you were doing just fine on your own. And you didn't tell me or Carolyn about having any real problems with them.

I think if we are out of contact, the bond will eventually dissolve without us renewing it by touching each other.

You want to get married to Carolyn. She made it plain that she wasn't going to tolerate any interference from me. So, man, I'm history.

I wish things could have been different. I fell for you hard. I love you, you know. I wish I didn't.

Blair.

I read that damn thing three times before methodically tearing it into little pieces.

So Blair was going to bail on me. Irrational anger filled me, and I knew I was out of line to be angry with him. He was right. We did want different things. But he was wrong about me not needing him. If I didn't have his choker to keep me... grounded, I guess was the best term, then at times I wouldn't be able to function.

At least I had it.

I would miss him fiercely. Like him, I wished now that I hadn't allowed myself to like him. Or love him.

This was Lila all over again. Once more, I'd built a pretty castle in the air - Blair staying with me as my guide - and now it was lying in pieces on the ground.

But I consoled myself that I still had Caro.

As I stripped the sheets off of the bed and carried them downstairs it occurred to me that I hadn't felt Blair leaving me. Inside, I hadn't noticed he was gone. Maybe I'd been too occupied with Carolyn at the time, but why didn't I feel him being upset now?

Maybe he was out of range for bonding shit. He'd been gone for eleven hours. You could drive a hell of a long way in eleven hours.

I cleaned the loft, glad to have something to do to keep my hands busy while I adjusted to the fact that I'd lost my guide. Incacha was going to be pissed.

It was dark, and I was sitting out on the balcony, drinking a beer, and caressing the choker in my lap. I felt like I was on watch, and I wondered where Blair was going to lay his head tonight. I ignored the faint sensation of the bond, although, I think I could have followed him; he'd made his choice and I needed to respect that. But I wasn't surprised when I observed his car park down the street. He got out and looked toward my building and I saw him square his shoulders. I stood up and he said softly, "I know you can hear me, Jim. I tried. I really tried to leave. But the more distance I put between us the more terrible and sick I felt about it. So I came back to talk. But I don't want to go into your place. Would you follow me to the beach?"

I waved at him, and went to get my jacket. Blair was already in his rust-bucket of a car when I came out the door. I got in my truck and took a deep breath. I had a chance to salvage this whole guide thing, and I told myself not to blow it.

Blair drove past me and I followed him. We left Cascade and pulled off the coastal highway onto the side of the road. Obviously, Blair knew this area, and I was reminded that he'd lived here before, when he was an undergrad at Rainier.

Blair got out of his car and waited for me to catch up to him. He smelled sad and worried and resigned. I hated what his body was telling me. I pulled him to me in a hug and kissed the top of his head. "I'm sorry," I whispered to him.

"Me, too. But I bet we're not sorry about the same things. C'mon. Let's go down and watch the waves." I didn't need the bright moonlight to see where I was going but he did, since he didn't have a flashlight. He took my hand and I followed him down the beach path till the waters of the bay were visible. We sat down on the beach, holding hands, well out of the range of the grasping waves, and for a while we were silent.

"Did you destroy my letter?"

"Yeah. Tore it up into a million pieces."

Blair snorted. "Were you sick yesterday or today at all?"

"No."

"It must be a guide thing then, because I've never felt so bad in my life, Jim, as I did when I drove away from Cascade. I started to feel physically ill, like I wanted to throw up, and all my muscles were aching. And not from being caught in that fight at the races; this was different. My head was pounding so hard I could barely drive. I've never gone through withdrawal, but I'm guessing it feels sort of like that. And maybe I could push through it, and break the bond, but I started to wonder if my hurt feelings that you chose Carolyn over me were blinding me from realizing what I could have."

I squeezed his hand. "Are you feeling okay, now, Chief?"

Blair nodded.

"I'm sorry you were sick. I'm sorry I can't be the lover you want."

The sad scent from Blair increased and I hurried to offer him what I could.

"But I do want you to be my guide, Chief. I was going to tell you that I was a sentinel last night, after we came home from the races. I was going to tell you that we could maybe do a little deal. You help me with my senses - and at times they are really bad; Blair, you being in my presence helps the damned things behave - and you can study me for your schoolwork. You said you were thinking of doing your dissertation on mythology and legends having a real life origin. You could study sentinels. We could go down to Peru and talk to Incacha. I mean, I talk to him sometimes in my dreams, when he's spirit walking and he's checking up on me, but you could talk to him, too. He knows all about chapaq. There's an old temple he knows about, also, dedicated to guides and sentinels. It's not in Peru, though. I'm not sure where it's at, but Incacha could probably tell us. He's a shaman; remember I told you about him before?"

Blair sighed. "So, that's the carrot, hmm? And the stick is that I have to see you in somebody else's arms. You still want to marry Carolyn, right?"

"Ah, yes, Chief. I do. I wish I could say that being out doesn't matter to me, but it does. Carolyn will make a great wife for me. But I love you, too. Actually, I can't say that I do love Carolyn, but then I'm not making this decision based on hormonal feelings. I think I'll grow into love for her, but I'm letting my head make this decision, not my dick. " I raised his hand to my lips and kissed it. He jerked it away from me.

"And we have to talk about this kind of shit, Jim. If I stay as your guide and you are committed to Carolyn -- you did commit to her last night, right? - then you and I can't do stuff like kissing or sex. Do you understand that, Jim? I'm not going to be your secret lover on the side. This past week was hard enough, but I thought you might change your mind about me." I could scent his tears spilling over and I tried to wipe them away but he stopped me.

"Touching, if I stay, means you can't get that personal with me. Hugs, okay. I hug lots of my friends, male and female. Teasing stuff - like a punch in the arm -- is all right, too. You can skip the noogies on my head, though."

"Oh, I don't think so, Chief. Noogies are definitely in."

He wiped his sleeve across his face, and I regretted that I would be overstepping my bounds to touch him like that anymore. But it was for the best.

"Blair, Banks said you could work with me at the PD, be like an intern, an observer. But, we have to keep my being a sentinel classified on a need to know basis only. Can you do that? Will your professors let me be anonymous?" This was a sticking point for me. I didn't want to be known as a sentinel.

"Yeah, there are protocols to follow for confidential subjects. You're going to have to sign a shit load of paperwork, though, allowing me to do research on you. I'd want to scientifically prove how enhanced your senses are, and that will mean lab time and tests. Still want me for your guide?"

I thought about it, and while I wasn't thrilled about the testing he mentioned, I could live with it.

"Yeah, I'll do the tests and all that crap. Be my guide. I'll do a spit handshake or pinky swear or do a blood brother thing, as long as you'll be with me, Blair."

Blair chuckled. "I should make you do the spit thing, but I won't. But Jim, umm, I was also wondering about something else. I lost something in your motel room, back in La Push. It was my leather necklace and it's important to me. It's sort of a keepsake from my father's side of the family, the only thing I'm ever likely to have that connects me to him and my other lost relatives. Did you pick it up and put it with your stuff? I really need it back, if you've got it."

My mind whirled with choices. Tell Blair the truth and unwrap it from my ankle and hand it to him? God, if he were a selkie, then he'd be free to leave me. And what if the illness he'd felt upon leaving me wasn't because he was my guide but because I held his seal-coat hostage? What if the act of rebelling against the holder of a selkie's skin by leaving triggered sickness? Why didn't the selkies in Granny's stories who were captured ever run away without their seal coats? Shit, if I returned it there'd be nothing to hold him back and give him second thoughts if he tried to leave me again.

Should I lie to him? Crap, why did he have to bring this up when we'd just worked things out?

"Jim? Do you remember it?" He gave me a little nudge, and I made my decision.

"I think I threw it away, Chief. Sorry. If it turns up, I'll let you know."

"Damn. I was really hoping you had packed it up with your stuff. My mother had it with that journal I mentioned that I'd swiped and read. She's doesn't know I have - had - the skin necklace; I left a dummy one in her hiding place. God, how could I be so careless? I've lost a part of my heritage now." He reeked of sadness and I felt like a traitor.

I cautiously asked, knowing I should just let it alone, but I couldn't stop myself, "What kind of leather was it, Chief? Cow or pig skin?"

"Sealskin."

He was a selkie! No, of course he couldn't be, it was just a coincidence that his choker was made of sealskin.

Time to change the subject.

"Any ideas on where you want to live, Blair? I don't think Carolyn will let you stay with us."

Blair gave a hollow laugh. "I know a guy who has some warehouses, down by the harbor. He rents out a section in each one cheap, if you'll keep an eye on his stuff. Less expensive for him than hiring a security guard. I've stayed in one before."

He stood up. "Are we good, Jim?"

I stood up, too. "Yeah. And Blair, thanks for coming back." I gave him a hard hug and I enjoyed the feel of his body against mine. Yeah, I'd be faithful to Caro from now on, now that we were exclusive to each other, but I wasn't made of stone. Blair felt good. But he smelled so sad.

"I'll stop at the PD tomorrow and catch up with you; okay, man? I want to stay here a while and walk down by the water." Blair stepped back from me and walked across the beach to the edge of the ocean; he bent over and took off his shoes and socks and rolled up his pants legs. He gave me a good-bye wave and started walking away, the ocean run up swirling around his ankles and the breeze blowing his hair.

I watched for a long time, as he disappeared down the beach. Was he pining for his ocean home? Was he just walking to help his thoughts settle? I bent down and touched his choker. It felt like it always did, smooth and slick and flexible.

I'd lied to my guide. And I wondered if those fishermen who took home a selkie mate ever regretted what they had done.


Continued in Part Three

Chapter Text

Let your indulgence set me free
The Tempest: Shakespeare.


Part Three


Carelessness. Crankiness. Concealment. Crimes. Confessions.

I wanted to pace in the bullpen, to move, to... to... prowl, as Sandburg would have put it. The florescent lighting was making my eyes feel like they were filled with sand and the air hung with too many unpleasant odors. I wanted to leave, but I had a job to do. No matter how much I wished I was out of the office and out in the late spring air.

I'd felt on edge for a couple of weeks now, and I didn't know why. My irritation level had climbed, so much so that my guide was avoiding me. But maybe that was a good idea. I didn't want to say something to him in a flash of anger that would make his features tighten into his 'Whatever you say, Jim' mask.

Snarling under my breath, I forced myself to file away the case notes on the last investigation Blair and I had closed. These were my copies; I'd already sent Blair down to Filing with the originals, and that had been a good hour ago. Uh-huh, he was avoiding me. Probably down there flirting with Aimee again. They hadn't gone out, not yet, but it was just a matter of time before her name was added to the long list of women Blair had dated since returning to Cascade. Not that it really meant much. Blair would lose interest after a couple of dates and move on. It was as if he was held back from forming a deeper relationship with another partner - male or female. At least out of deference to me, he didn't date men at the PD. No, Rainier and bars were his stomping grounds for connecting with other men, but all the potential lovers he sought - boys and girls -- would shift to just friends or drop him after the brief sexual encounters were finished.

The sound of Brown and Connor play-sparring with each other drew my attention away from shoving papers into the correct folders, and I watched them for a moment until one of Connor's fancy kicks came a little too close to my work space. With gritted teeth, I admonished her. "Connor, go kick Brown's ass somewhere else; you almost knocked shit off of my desk."

"Always the happy camper, aren't you, Jimbo? Where's Sandy? Out flirting again? Drives you right up the wall when he's busy chatting up a girl instead of being your shadow, doesn't it?"

Megan Connor wasn't known for pulling her punches, physically or verbally, and she waited to see if I would poke back at her. I waved my hand for her to disappear and she walked over and gave Brown, who was slouching at his desk, a love-tap on the back of his head before pulling up a chair next to him.

Blair did go out a lot, but at least he hadn't brought any of his dates back to the loft to fuck. I'd made it a house rule -- no Sandburg slash date-of-the-week sex in my loft. He'd agreed to that condition when that crappy warehouse he'd lived in down by the docks had exploded, along with the drug lab next door, and Blair had in desperation asked if he could stay with me until he found a new place. He'd had Larry, his hairy little roommate, to deal with, and believe me, it's not everybody who would let a guy move in with his Barbary ape buddy. But Blair had pleaded with me, and I couldn't stand the thought of my guide being homeless, so against my better judgment I had said he could. He could stay for one week, I'd told him, remembering the first time Blair had stayed with me. I had thought it would be tough to see him in the mornings, sleepy-eyed and tousled, and not want to push past the boundaries we'd established after his decision to stay in Cascade and be my guide. And it was. But it was sweet, too.

Larry had tossed the place twice before Blair finished his research project and returned the little guy. Actually, I had liked Larry. It was kind of fun sharing popcorn with him while he watched the endless rounds of movies Blair subjected him to in order get data on exposure to TV violence. But when Larry moved back to Rainier's labs, I hadn't wanted to let Blair go back to living by himself.

We'd had a long talk, my ex-lover and I. But even though my marriage to Carolyn had fallen apart after eight months of less than wedded bliss and I'd been divorced for a good five months by then, I still hoped to get married again someday. When I suggested he continue to live with me and that we could resume fucking each other, he'd reminded me that I couldn't have my cake and eat it, too. If I was stuck on only seeing women openly, then I wasn't going to fuck him on the side in secret. I'd agreed in order to get him to stay with me. We'd just be friends and roommates, I'd told him.

But I touched him much more than was acceptable between friends. He never stopped me and I wasn't going to quit it unless he told me it was making him uncomfortable. I did try and tone it down while he was with me at the PD. But at home, I often pulled him over next to me on the couch and held him securely against me, reveling in touching my guide. I enjoyed those small indulgences and I knew Blair did too. I was a sentinel, and my guide had taught me to recognize the truth through scent.

I started to close my file drawer, but was caught, as I usually was, by the sight of two case files. I could never see Lash's name without remembering that terrible day when the crazy motherfucker had taken Blair and tried to assume his life. I'll never forget locating my guide in the maze of abandoned warehouses down by the harbor through hearing him taunt the serial killer, or seeing him tied up, helpless but defiant, in that dentist chair of Lash's. My Blair had balls, all right. IA had been a little skeptical as to why I'd shot the bastard so many times, but they couldn't deny the imminent harm to Blair if the fucker had survived. God, I'd wanted so badly to make love to Blair when I got him home from the hospital. But he had said no. He did sleep with me for a couple of days afterwards, but he made it clear that he was there for comfort, not sex. In my bed I had pulled him in tight and whispered to him that he was safe. It seemed to help him relax and recover from that terrifying occasion. Lash was dead and when I saw his name I always felt a sense of relief that he couldn't hurt my guide ever again. Case closed.

I brushed my hand over the other file and decided to pull it out. I opened it and looked at Jack Pendergrast's photo. I'd finally cleared his name, but it was small consolation, considering he had died in that kidnapping case. All the speculation that Jack had stolen the money himself to pay off hidden gambling debts had been laid to rest once his car and his body - with the money - had been discovered in a river, but damn, I missed the man. He'd been my only cop partner in Major Crime; he'd gotten me to shape up and stop being a horse's ass in a lot of ways. Blair had taught him how to bring me out of a zone - it was best if Blair did it, but sometimes Blair wasn't around - and Jack had been able to handle me. I smiled a little, remembering how Jack had gotten Blair to reveal his method of betting on the horse races, in exchange for Jack learning how to deal with my sentinel senses. Jack had believed in 'quid pro quo.' Blair believed in Karma, and between the two of them they used to really shovel the shit during all night stakeouts.

Jack and Emily had broken it off, shortly before he disappeared, and Caro and I had been divorced for a month, when Em and I had made love. It had been awkward, and we both felt like we were cheating on Jack and had decided we couldn't see each other anymore. I believe Emily would have gone back to Jack, if he hadn't been killed. Not knowing what had happened to him had been extremely hard on her.

It had been hard on me, too.

One last time, I touched his picture and replaced it in the folder. Shoving the file back into my desk, I stood up, left the bullpen, and hiked down to the men's room; I needed an excuse to leave and move around, and visiting the restroom was good cover. I stalled for a while after using the john, and after I washed my hands I stared at myself in the mirror. I looked tired and edgy. What in hell was wrong with me?

I hadn't been sleeping well. I'd had some of my vision dreams but all I'd seen in them was a spotted jaguar. Shit, I wished Incacha had shown up in those dreams so I could've asked him about the big female cat, but he hadn't obliged me. And I didn't want to talk to Blair about it because being around him was giving me an unsettled feeling. He... didn't smell right anymore. He hadn't for a couple of weeks. It was driving me nuts, since I kept bouncing back and forth between telling him to move out and wanting to strip him and wash him and then lay myself over him - and fuck him.

I stifled the urge to give myself the finger as I looked at my reflection in the mirror - all I would need would be for Brown or somebody to walk in and the story would be all over the building. I decided to ask Simon if I could take some flextime. Maybe go camping, try and get my head together. Before I'd almost drowned, I would have headed for the beach and the waves, but I hadn't been on my board for three years now. I kept telling myself that someday I'd tackle it again and get over this ridiculous phobia, but so far that day hadn't arrived. Blair, on the other hand, was always clamoring to go down to the ocean. Usually he went alone. Sometimes I went with him, but we only walked or watched the waves. He never tried to swim - well, he would need a wet suit and he didn't have one - but he could sit for hours and watch the ocean swells and the waves crashing on the shore.

At times like those, watching the expression on his face as he gazed out at the sea, I'd wonder again about my half-baked idea that he was a selkie. I never had given him back his choker, although I wore it less and less, especially if he was spending the day with me. Blair's presence and the frequent touches between us would ground my senses and I hardly ever zoned anymore if he was around.

I walked out of the men's room, and on a whim, I headed down to Forensics. Carolyn was in her office when I pushed open the door.

"Jimmy? What can I do for you?" Carolyn smiled at me, and I was very glad that our divorce hadn't been bitter. We both had decided that it had been a mistake to get married. I realized a month or so after our vows were exchanged in Los Vegas that I'd been more enthralled with the idea of being married than with the person I'd actually married. Caro had found out that compromising with a marriage partner wasn't something she wanted to do, not when she wasn't in love with her husband and he wasn't in love with her. Oh, we'd grown to love each other, but we'd needed the head over heels feelings, too, in order to make the marriage work. So we had divorced with a sense of relief and had remained friends.

There'd been a few other women who had caught my eye over the last several years, but nothing had clicked for more than a few dates. Except for Lila, when she'd chosen to look me back up. And she'd died in my arms.

"Caro, I don't know what to do with myself. So, I thought maybe I'd invite you out to dinner tonight, before I leave tomorrow to go camping. If Simon will agree to me using up some of my flextime, that is."

"I don't have dinner plans, so sure, as long as you don't drag me to Wonderburger. Is Blair going camping with you?"

"No. I feel like I need some space from him. And I don't know why; he hasn't done anything recently to get on my nerves."

"Jim, maybe you should talk to him. He's your guide and this could be related to your senses."

I eyed her in bemusement. "That's a switch, you wanting me to spend time with Sandburg." Caro had never really taken to Blair; he knew it, but he said he liked her anyway and just hoped that she'd warm up to him someday.

She looked away for a moment and then met my gaze. "I admit I felt jealous of him, of the way you would mention him all the time, and the enjoyment I knew you had in his company. I didn't like feeling that way and I've been working on letting it go."

'Letting it go?' That sounded suspiciously like one of the hippie sayings Blair was fond of quoting from his mother.

"You've been talking to Sandburg. I recognize the lingo." I pulled up a chair and sat down.

"Well, you know, for a while he was hanging around here a lot, when he and Sam were... dating." She trailed off, probably trying to think of a better word to describe the interactions between the beautiful but demanding lab technician and my partner.

"Yeah, dating doesn't seem to cover the part where she tried to burn his face." I hadn't much cared for Sam before that incident, and afterwards I'd wanted to throttle her for trying to hurt Sandburg. Not that I hadn't warned Blair that messing with her was going to end badly. I'd seen that train wreck coming a hundred miles away. But had he listened to me? Nope, and I'd told him I hoped he learned his lesson from playing with fire.

"That incident cost her a pay raise because of the disciplinary action I had to take against her. But Blair and I ended up having a talk one afternoon - about you. He told me that, anthropologically speaking, relationships don't end just because the judge decrees a divorce is final. And that I would probably always feel a connection to you and that it was okay to feel that way. Oh, I don't know, Jimmy. I'm not sure how he managed it, but I don't resent him anymore, or how well you two get along. I think he'd do anything for you. And I saw how much you cared about him when Lash almost killed him. The way you used your senses to figure out where he'd been taken was, to quote your guide, 'Awesome.'"

I leaned back in my chair and stared at the ceiling. "You're right about talking to Sandburg, but I'll do it after I spend some time alone. Right now, I'm afraid I'll say something to anger him, and since I don't even know what it is that's making me feel so... irritated about him, I'd better figure that out first. I mean, yeah, we'd had words about the first chapter of his dissertation - I wish he'd get over using the term 'fear-based response' as the reason for the choices I've made - but I apologized for reading his introduction when he asked me not to, and we were good again after he agreed I could read his diss before he turns it in. All of that was settled. I don't know why being around him now makes me feel frustrated and annoyed... But never mind me dumping my problems with my guide on you." I rubbed at my temple. "When can you get away from here?"

She glanced at the clock on the wall and back at the paperwork on her desk. "I need to finish up this report on a string of robberies that've been taking place. Although I have a feeling Burglary and Theft is about to toss the case upstairs to Major Crime. This thief has been amazing in the way he or she has gotten around the alarms. Give me a half an hour - without interruptions - and I'll have it completed." She nodded towards the door and I got up.

"I'll go talk to Simon. And then tell Sandburg to take the bus home." He'd ridden one from Rainier to the PD after he'd taught his 101 Anthro class this morning. He was fine riding busses. He didn't need me to chauffeur him around.

"Jim, why don't you go with me and let Blair drive your truck home?"

I thought about it for a moment, but shook my head no. "If I'm not there, I don't want him messing with my stuff. It's... part of this irritable thing. He can catch a bus."

I headed out, with a little wave to Carolyn, but she'd already gone back to working on the computer.

Walking back up to Major Crime, I thought about where to camp for a long weekend. And how to tell Sandburg I needed some time alone.


Dinner with Carolyn was like old times. Too much so, because I had a flare-up of my taste buds going crazy again. At least by now, I knew it was me, not the food, and I managed to not make a scene or accuse the chef of trying to poison his customers. Damn. I'd left the choker in its hiding place on the bathroom shelf and hadn't worn it, since Blair was going to be tagging around after me for part of the day. Of course, I hadn't touched him much today or even in the last several weeks, so I guess I was throwing myself off balance by not connecting with him... I went through the exercises my clever guide had devised to help me through sensory spikes and soon I was able to finish eating. Carolyn brought up some Plummer family news: her screwball sister was about to get married again for the fourth or fifth time and her dad was retiring. More importantly, she told me she'd applied for a job as head of all the forensic labs at the San Francisco PD. She said that she felt she needed to stretch herself, and that it would be a substantial pay raise. She was flying down for an interview next week. I could tell that she was feeling good about making a change and I wished her luck. And told her I would miss her.

We both were feeling kind of nostalgic, talking over some of the better times of our marriage, when she brought us back to the PD parking garage. She had left her briefcase in her office so we both got out of her car and she walked me over to my truck, shaking her head as she always did when she saw my Sweetheart. Caro had no appreciation for my classic '69 Ford. Her own cars had always been the latest models and she traded them in yearly.

"Jimmy, I hope that at least your vehicle insurance is lower since you've been driving this relic."

"As a matter of fact, it is." It wasn't the only reason I drove an older model, but it did help lower my premiums. A guy has a few accidents in the line of duty and the insurance companies jack his rates up sky-high. The bandits.

She laughed, and I felt a flash of the old attraction. I moved closer and kissed her. I put into that kiss all the affection I had felt for her - actually still felt for her -- before I'd realized that it wasn't enough to base a marriage on. She melted into me and passionately kissed me back. When we separated, she touched my face.

"If you'd kissed me like that when we were married, Jimmy, we might still be married." Then she smiled ruefully at me. Compatibility in bed hadn't been enough for either of us, though. It was in satisfying her emotional needs that I'd failed. Or so she'd told me. And told Sandburg, when he'd interviewed her for his diss. It had pissed me off, when I'd read that in his introductory chapter.

She walked away and over to the elevators. As she went inside I said, loud enough so that he could hear me, "You can come out now, Sandburg."

Annoyed, I watched as my partner came around the pillar he'd been hiding behind. I assessed him as he came closer -- Blair had told me cataloging his body when seeing him after we'd been away from each other was a natural thing to do, according to his research -- he didn't look much different from the hippie boy I'd picked up in that little bar in La Push three years ago. Except for his expression. There was wariness on his beautiful face that I knew I was responsible for putting there. And I was sorry for that, but I just couldn't shake this irritability about him off.

"Hey, Jim."

"Spying on me, Sandburg? Thought I told you to take a bus home. Let's go."

After I'd pulled out onto the street, Blair began talking.

"Jim, how are things going for you? You've hardly said two words to me in a row for a while now. Have you been feeling okay? How are your senses?"

And I knew he was just doing his job as my guide, but his scent was making me want to tell him to get out and walk, and I ended up grousing at him.

"What I'm feeling here, Chief, is the need for a little space. And have you changed your soap or deodorant? The way you smell is seriously bothering me."

Blair looked worried. "I haven't changed anything, Jim. Can you tell me more about what's bothering you about me?"

I fought down the urge to tell him 'everything.' It wasn't true, for one thing. I loved Blair, and this was why I'd been avoiding having this conversation. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I'd figure out what wild hair had crawled up my butt and was making me feel so cranky, and then I'd be able to tell him about it.

"Just... let it drop. I'm sure it's me, not you, but I can't be around you right now. Simon okayed me taking a long weekend, and camping sounds pretty good."

He looked over at me eagerly. "Okay, I'm down with that. Where do you want to camp? I'm always up for going to Deception Pass."

I snapped then, throwing away my intention of not hurting his feelings. "You don't really listen to what I tell you, do you, Chief? I said I can't be around you because you bother the hell out of me. I'm going alone to try and figure this thing out. And I'm not interested in camping at Deception Pass; I'd rather skip the beach and go up high into the mountains." I sighed. "Blair, please, we'll talk after I come back."

"Well, can we at least talk about something other than how I smell to you? Jim, I've tried to tell you about this woman I've met--"

"Forget it, Sandburg. I'm not interested in hearing about your latest girlfriend." If Blair didn't shut up soon, he was going to find himself walking home.

"She's not my girlfriend. Jim, I think she's--"

"One more word, Sandburg, and you're walking. You. Have. To. Shut. Up. Now!"

Blair gave me an exasperated look and mimed closing his mouth, locking it, and throwing away the key. At last, he got the message.

We rode home in blessed silence.


I'd left in the morning before Blair had even started doing his morning wake-up rituals. After all this time, I knew them by heart. First, he would start flopping around in bed like a fish resisting being reeled in. But he wouldn't be awake. Then his eyes would start to open, but they'd drift shut again. He still wouldn't be awake, but he would answer you when you talked to him. He never did make any sense, which could be amusing. I liked to tease him sometimes by telling him later what he'd said to me. Chief, did you know that what you wanted for breakfast today was a case of motor oil? In a last ditch attempt to avoid totally waking up, he would start awake, sigh, then put the pillow over his head and try to go back to sleep. After a few moments, though, he would give in to the inevitable and toss the pillow away and stare up at the ceiling. Or at me, if we were in bed together. Back when we'd been having sex, that would be when he would sidle over to me and start caressing my chest, letting his hand roam further south until I got tired of him teasing me, and then I'd roll on top of him. Morning sex with him had been slow and sweet, his body warm and pliable, relaxed from his night of sleep.

Funny how being away from him was allowing me to think of him tolerantly, even allowing me to bring up some cherished memories.

The primitive camping area at Big Grieder Lake was where I'd chosen to set up, and I was able to secure one of the three sites high up the rocky basin. I loved being in the Cascade Mountains; for most of the day I'd hiked, and then fished for my supper till close to dusk. The two bass I'd caught were more than enough for the evening meal and breakfast. After I'd cleaned up, I'd done a lot of staring into the fire, trying to clear my mind before I'd went to bed.

I'd slept well, but didn't remember any dreams, blue ones or not.

The next three days were a welcome repeat of the first day. The weather was good and I could feel myself relaxing. I decided that my crankiness towards Blair had just been the result of my needing a little vacation and that I'd been unfairly dumping my resentment at my responsibilities in life on him. I would apologize to him when I returned tomorrow morning.

When my dream that night shifted to the blue spectrum, I wasn't expecting it to happen anymore. And there was the spotted jaguar again, sleek and dangerous; I felt an impulse to shoot the big female cat with the crossbow I was carrying, but then my attention was caught by another animal. A wolf -- male, and beautiful -- was circling the jaguar. Sometimes she would snarl at him and sometimes she would be still, allowing the wolf to move slowly closer to her, getting down on his belly at times. The wolf wasn't aware of me. But the jaguar was. She looked right at me and let out a roar that I knew was a mating cry. Then she leapt away, leaving the wolf behind. The wolf took a few hesitant, skittish steps in her direction. I didn't want the wolf to go after the jaguar, and I raised my bow and shot him.

The wolf was dying as I came closer to him. And then his body began changing, the fur morphing to skin. With a sense of horror, I realized that I'd shot Blair. He lay on his side, naked on the jungle floor. Dead. I'd killed my beautiful guide.

I woke up sweating, remembering how in my dream I'd been dressed much as I had when I'd lived with the Chopec -- camouflage markings on my face, my worn-out camo fatigues, shirtless, and with the deadly crossbow that I'd used to kill my partner.

This dream was a warning. The irritation I'd felt back in Cascade towards Blair was going to return when I went home. In a fit of anger, I was likely to hurt my guide. He needed to be kept safe, and it looked like the only way to do that was not to be alone with him. He wouldn't be able to go with me to crime scenes or to interview witnesses, for right now, unless I took another detective with me. Connor would do it, and I hoped I could keep from blowing up at her, too. Megan and I were like oil and water. We just didn't mix well. Not since the first day that she'd worked with Major Crime in the officer exchange program with Australia. But she had figured out what I was, after the hints that I was psychic failed to keep her focused on the wrong theory. She was an excellent detective - not that I would come out and tell her that -- and she'd pestered me about the way I just knew things till I let her in on the secret of my enhanced senses. Unlike me and Connor, Blair did get along with her. More than just get along, actually. They acted like a cross between long lost siblings and best friends from third grade. They'd even exchanged some kisses when they were undercover, but it hadn't gone anywhere. Not that they'd told me that. I'd noticed when I'd done my usual daily assessment of Blair that his lips were touched with her scent.

I could always tell when Blair had had sex with someone - and who that other person was, if I'd met him or her. I'd kept that observation to myself from my very own researcher, though. He didn't need to know everything about me.

Shit -- he couldn't stay with me anymore. I'd have to move him out. After working my way free of my sleeping bag, I started packing up the tent. I needed to get back to Cascade as soon as possible.


I had just crossed into the city limits when I caught sight of the spotted jaguar. The animal kept pace with my truck as I drove the streets, and I wondered what the hell was going on. I looked around to see if the wolf - Blair's spirit animal - was tagging along with her, but she seemed to be alone. Coming to a halt for a stoplight, I was startled when the spirit guide jumped up on the hood of my truck, and stared at me. She was powerful, beautiful, and deadly. I sat quietly and watched her - knowing from the times when I'd seen my own black jaguar that I was the only one around who would be able to see any on-the-loose spirit animals. Drawing attention to myself by yelling at something nobody else could see was not the way to go here.

Time ticked away as the cross traffic flowed in front of me, and the spotted jaguar opened her mouth and roared, while her eyes locked onto mine. Just as in my vision, I knew this was a mating call. So what the hell did the owner of this cat want from me?

The light turned green, and before I could hit the gas to cross the intersection, wondering if the cat was going to be my new hood ornament, she jumped off and bounded away.

I sighed. I fucking hated the spirit world.


I was putting the last of Blair's research papers into moving boxes when I came across his cassette tapes and documentation folders for the interviews he'd conducted with Incacha. Suddenly wishing for his counsel, I stuck one of Blair's tapes in the player so I could hear my old friend's voice again. I sat on the bare futon and looked around at the now bleak little room, while I listened to Incacha answering Blair's questions and my own voice translating the answers.

Blair, of course, had been delighted to have a Peruvian Chopec shaman willing to discuss his people's belief system and shamanistic rituals with him. Sandburg hadn't just focused on the watchmen myth or what Incacha knew of the Temple of the Sentinels, although Incacha's wording had translated as the 'Holy Place of the Bond.' No, Sandburg's curiosity seemed to have known no bounds, from which medicinal plants Incacha used for the tribe's benefit to how Incacha would enter the spirit plane.

And Incacha had been just as curious about Blair.

I listened to Incacha talking to Blair.

"You belong to two worlds, apprentice. You could walk between two worlds. When the time is right, come back to me for instruction."

I shut off the tape recorder.

I had questioned my old friend about what he meant by that on the trip back to his homeland. He'd just repeated the words he'd already spoken. Blair had thought that Incacha was referring to how shamans travel from a physical reality to the spirit world and that he considered Blair a latent shaman. Blair had been thrilled and honored, and convinced that Incacha was mistaken about his potential to become a shaman.

I wasn't so sure that Incacha was only referring to shaman stuff, myself. 'You belong to two worlds,' he had said. Incacha was very precise in his choice of words - and not inclined to explain what he meant to others. He liked them to consider his words and find their own meaning in them.

My feelings about Incacha coming to Cascade had been very mixed. I had been surprised to see my old friend from my days of living with the Chopec appear in my city. He and several other members of the tribe had come to Cascade to stop Cyclops Oil from destroying their lands. And during his time here he had gotten a serious wound from being shot by the Cyclops Oil executive responsible for the ravaging of the Chopec lands.

He'd almost died on my couch and had needed several blood transfusions before he'd begun to recover. Blair or I had stayed with him constantly at the hospital, to help him deal with the culture shock of twentieth century medicine and to make sure his needs were understood by the medical staff. Blair didn't speak much Quechua, but I taught him a few essential phrases and anyway, he seemed to have a sort of empathic sense with Incacha. Maybe because Incacha was a shaman. He'd named Sandburg one, too, and had laid his hands on my partner, saying he was passing the way of the shaman to Blair, while I was trying my damndest to keep him from bleeding out on my sofa.

We had escorted Incacha home, when he was healed, and stayed with him for three weeks afterwards. I found that I remembered more of my time with the Chopec, and Blair had been in hog heaven between testing my senses in the jungle environment and observing the culture of the Chopec. Incacha had spoken to the rest of the tribe and named him his apprentice, but hadn't taught Blair to spirit walk. He told him the time was not right. I was relieved. The jungle plants consumed by shamans had to be used precisely to avoid poisoning the partaker, and still made you pretty sick, and I didn't want Blair to take a chance on harming himself.

Incacha had had a few private words for me. He had made me sit with him, in his hut, and as the afternoon wore away, he had softly quizzed me on my senses, and my guide. Then he had held out his hand and said, "Show me, Enqueri."

I'd debated acting dumb, but this was Incacha. He could enter my dreams and communicate with me. He would know if I lied. And I'd known what he was asking to see.

I'd removed the choker from my ankle and handed it to him. He'd felt the texture of the skin, and pulled it between his thumb and forefinger.

"This was not freely given."

I'd shaken my head.

Incacha had handed it back to me.

"You must face your fears, Enqueri."

"Incacha, is Blair... different?"

"Yes, Enqueri. He belongs to two worlds."

But that was all he would say.

Angrily, I finished packing the last of Blair's belongings, and carried the box out to stack it with the other ones near the front door. I knew this was the right thing to do, to save Blair from me, but I didn't have to like it. And the scent of Blair's body in the loft still was not right and the peace I'd gained in the mountains was being slowly leached away from me. Blair should have enough cash to get a new place; he hadn't given me the rent money yet this month. He would be okay. Better than if he stayed with me, and I needed to remember my anguished feelings when the wolf spirit guide had changed to Blair's naked and dead body.

This was Blair's life I was trying to save, and I was going to have to be harsh to get him to leave. I wouldn't even have to act, not really. I just needed to open the floodgates of the irritability with him I'd been experiencing for weeks now.

Once the loft was emptied of Blair's possessions, the visible proof of his entanglement with me, I waited for him to return. I felt like my spirit animal, readying myself to pounce on my victim when he came through the door.

I didn't give Blair a chance to really talk to me, after I told him I wanted him moved out. He wanted to. He asked me to talk to him, but I cut him off and told him I wanted him and his stuff gone by the time I got back.

I left our home, then, with Blair's bewildered face etched into my memory. When I walked back in, hours later, I was relieved that he was gone, that I didn't have to smell that wrong scent about him anymore. I also felt depressed. But I would still see him at the PD, where he would be safe from me. I hadn't told him his ride-along was over, and Blair would be there. He wasn't done with either of his dissertations; the one on closed societies, which was his cover story, or the one on me. Sure as God made little green apples, Blair Sandburg would be at the PD.

I would have to fend off his questions about my actions. And right now, I didn't want to tell him about shooting him on the spirit plane. He might never trust me again if I told him that. If things changed and I felt it was safe for him to come back, then I could tell him it was a sentinel thing that had made me act so crazy.

It would be the truth, after all.


Caro had been right on the money; the case she'd been working on had been jumped up from Burglary and Theft to Major Crime and had landed on Connor's desk. Simon assigned me to partner with her, which suited me fine - although I grumbled about it, knowing it would make Banks and Connor suspicious if I didn't - because now Blair could accompany us safely.

Connor and I watched the security footage from the Oberon warehouse, and the way the thief reacted to the alarm strongly reminded me of the way I reacted to loud noises when my senses were spiking. I had a hunch that I was no longer the only sentinel in Cascade, and Connor went with me to Rainier to pick up Sandburg and get his take on my theory.

He wasn't in his office but a beautiful, tall, blonde was, and as I stared at her - hardly able to put two words together to ask her where Blair was -- she morphed into the spotted jaguar from my dreams and jumped through the stained glass window in the office door and disappeared.

It was all in my head, though, because in reality, she was still in Blair's office.

"Inspector," she said neutrally to Connor.

"Ms. Barnes. You're feeling better, I see."

The woman nodded stiffly, put down the small figurine she'd been holding -- eyeing me in a challenging kind of way, and pushed past me. The scent from her body was familiar and I sniffed deeply, trying to place where I knew that fragrance from because I sure as hell had never met her before today. I may have zoned a little, because Connor grabbed my arm after the woman was gone and gave me swift shake.

"Look, mate, snap out of it. Let's go see the department secretary and find out where Sandy is."

But that wasn't necessary because I listened for him and got a fix on his whereabouts in another professor's office. Blair was talking to him about taking one of the professor's labs for him while the man was out of state at a conference.

"He'll be back in a moment. Connor, who was that woman and how do you know her?"

"About three weeks ago, on my way in to the PD, I saw a bingle, and I came across her sitting on the ground, acting a bit wobbly. I thought she'd taken something to make her act that way. But her tests were clear so I let her go." Connor was looking thoughtful.

"What?"

"What Megan said is that Alex was in a car accident and throwing a fit about the light hurting her eyes. Thinking that Alex had taken some hallucinogen, she had a tox screen run on her; when it came back clean she let her go." Blair had stepped into his office.

He looked tired, but I put that aside to question him.

"Who is she, Chief? Why is she here? Are you dating her?"

He gave one of his mirthless chuckles. "She's not interested in dating me, man. I met her when Megan brought her into the PD; been helping her deal with her senses, just like I do - did - with you. I think she's a sentinel, too -- kind of an atypical one, though, because she's not involved with any of the occupations that are more protective of people. I was going to introduce you to each other, after I ran a few more tests. And if I could get you to listen to me. Jim, I tried to tell you about her, but you kept blowing me off."

I was starting to see red. "You went behind my back, sniffing around another sentinel? I consider that a real breach of trust." I strode over to where he stood inside his doorway. I pulled him close to me and breathed in his scent.

"You stink of her. I've smelled that scent on you for weeks now, and it's been driving me crazy."

"Jim! Are you saying that a guide shouldn't interact with another sentinel? Is she a sentinel? Tell me what you're feeling, man!" Blair was looking up at me with confused eyes and I moved away from him, so Barnes' scent on his body wasn't right in my face anymore.

"Pissed off. And she's a sentinel, all right. Connor, catch Sandburg up on the Oberon heist and what we suspect. I'm going back to the station and run her name. Alex Barnes, correct?"

"Alex Barnes came up clean when I ran her name the night I took her in. Sandy, is that the name you know her by?" Connor was eyeing me, and not in an approving way.

Blair nodded, his expression worried. The woman who'd left this office was a sentinel. I could feel it. My guide had been at the beck and call of another sentinel. I flashed back to my vision of the wolf fawning around the spotted jaguar. I had shot Blair with my crossbow to keep him from following the other sentinel, and I had to keep control of my temper, before I did something to hurt him.

I walked over to the small laughing Buddha on the desk and wrapped it in a Kleenex.

"She was touching this when we came in. I'll see if Caro can expedite a fingerprint search on her. Let's see if she's got another name - and a record for robbery."

"She's an artist. I've seen her work and it's fantastic. Jim, she's been painting the temple that Incacha told us about. The paintings are just like what he described. She couldn't be a criminal; wouldn't I know if she was bad? How can a sentinel act against the tribe? Jim? Wouldn't I know it if a sentinel was doing something wrong?"

I didn't answer him. Not out loud, anyway. I stole something from you, Chief -- and you didn't know it. Blair didn't want to believe that his other pet sentinel had lied to him. Didn't want to believe sentinels could be something other than the heroes he'd always wanted them to be.

My old guilt and my current anger welled up in me. I had never asked to be Blair's hero. I had never asked to be this mythical sentinel. I needed to leave.

"Sandburg, stay with Connor. Barnes could be dangerous. If she's the robber, then she didn't hesitate to shoot a guard and kill him. Connor, I'll meet you back at the PD. See if you can run down any more leads on our artistic Ms. Barnes."

I hadn't told Blair about my visions of the spotted jaguar. Connor knew I was a sentinel, sure, but she didn't need to know the details of just how weird that truly made me. I'd tell him later. He'd be safe with Connor.

Away from me.


I felt increasingly hemmed in as the afternoon waned away, waiting for Caro to get back to me about checking Barnes' fingerprints. She was calling in some favors to get them looked at immediately, and I had promised her a dinner at the best restaurant in Cascade in the way of thanks.

My paperwork was caught up, and I kept obsessively going over the details of the burglary reports we suspected were perpetrated by the same person. The descriptions certainly fit Barnes' physical attributes. I visualized her body - tall for a woman, certainly taller than Sandburg -- the strength that powered her every move. I remembered the look she had given me, challenging and assessing, and my sense memory replayed the scent that had clung to her. Funny, now that it wasn't overlaying Sandburg's own scent, it didn't strike me as being fundamentally wrong anymore. It was... alluring. Criminal or not, Alex Barnes was an attractive woman and... while Sandburg had often told me I was clueless most of the time about dealing with women, I knew she was interested in me. Sexually.

Not that it meant anything. If she was responsible for that guard's death and the thefts from Oberon Securities, then I was going to put her away.

Closing the folders, I replaced them in my file drawer. I'd seen enough. I rubbed my forehead, feeling a headache lurking under my temples. My desk seemed too cluttered to me and I began throwing shit away that didn't need to be there, wondering when Connor and Sandburg would show back up.

Why Sandburg insisted on leaving some of his knick-knacks strewn in my space I couldn't guess, but they were going to be boxed up. His other crap I filed in the wastebasket.

I hesitated at the photograph from the racetrack of Jack and Emily, me, Sandburg, and Carolyn. Simon had taken it one day when we'd all made another trek back to try our luck on the ponies.

Three of a kind and a joker. It was my own private joke -- Jack was the joker, of course, and Em, Caro, and Blair were ex-lovers of mine.

I didn't get rid of the photograph, but I did put it in my drawer; I didn't want their eyes on me. I stood up and went down the stairs to Records to see if I could cadge an empty paper box to dump Sandburg's belongings into.

My simmering irritation zoomed right up into serious annoyance when I returned. There at my desk sat Brown, using my phone, his half eaten sandwich and a case file parked on my desktop.

Well, I'd make sure Brown and the rest of the slobs crowded into Major Crime understood that my desk -- my phone -- my space-- were off limits.


I was pissed that Simon had sent me home just for making it clear to my co-workers that I expected my desk to be forbidden territory to all of them. But I hadn't wasted my time once I was back in the loft. The place had needed a change; it had been cluttered with useless stuff. A man could hardly move through the place without bumping into furniture or coming eye to eye with unnecessary crap, so I had gotten rid of the junk. Stored some downstairs or threw it out.

I checked the doors and window again, to make sure they were secure, then took up my post at the balcony windows. I scanned my neighborhood, and waited while the daylight darkened into dusk. My guide and Connor would no doubt be making an appearance soon. As soon as they showed up at the bullpen Simon would have bellowed at Sandburg to come to his office. He would have demanded that the guide fix the sentinel. I snorted. I didn't need fixing. I was just paring down my life to the essentials. Sandburg should get that - wasn't he always going on about focusing on the important things in life and not letting yourself get distracted by unnecessary stuff? It was why he meditated all the time, staring into a candle. I liked my way better. More productive to actually physically move things until your home, your space, felt right.

Finally the two of them drove past the loft and parked at the first available spot, which was way down the street. I zeroed in on the conversation they were having as they approached the building.

"I hope Jimbo's over the tantie he threw in the bullpen. He's been acting stranger and stranger every day." I scowled. I hadn't thrown a tantrum; I'd been laying down some boundaries with the meatheads I worked with in that office. You didn't see me dropping crumbs and mustard spots on their desks, or stacking up my paperwork on top of their files.

"Megan, we should cut him some slack. I'm probably to blame, coming around him with scent markers from another sentinel - damn, I wish there were more references to sentinels coming together. I'm guessing that it's not really a good thing. I'm Jim's guide and on a subconscious level he must have been feeling rejected by me; he's sure been in a pissed off mood for weeks now. I should have put together the implications before this. And I still don't get how somebody with the gifts Alex has could use them the way she does."

Connor sighed. "Mate, you always want to think the best of people. And I love you feeling that way. But our Alex Barnes is just no good. She's responsible for more deaths than that poor guard's. Still, Captain Banks said it's been a bit dicey, convincing a judge to sign a warrant to search her apartment. Without the fingerprints proving she's not who she says she is, he didn't think he'd have a chance of getting it."

Blair shook his head. "Such a wasted life. You know, she's a really good artist. And I've been to her place and I don't know that we're going to find anything incriminating there. Hell, she might have left the country already. She must have recognized Jim as a sentinel, the way he knew her for one. Why would she stick around?"

"Maybe she's got another job to do? I just hope Ellison gets his head screwed back on straight and isn't a bloody nuisance instead. Oops... Sandy, are we getting in range of Jim's hearing?"

"Yeah. We'd better shut up. He might blow up at me for talking about him out of his presence."

I could see Connor pat him on his back as they walked down the street. "It'll work out, don't you worry. And you're not sleeping at that fleabag motel tonight. If Jim isn't ready for you to stay with him, then you're coming home with me. I insist on it."

They fell silent and I watched them till they entered the building. I anticipated the knock on the door, and when I opened it I saw Sandburg's eyes widen and Connor do a double take.

They both stepped in and Blair started walking around the room, a surprised and worried expression on his beautiful face. Now that I knew what was causing this problem between us, I figured he could set things right. I sniffed him when he passed by me. Crap, he still smelled of the other sentinel. Well, there was no time for a bath now, or to cover him in my own scent. I'd just have to grit my teeth and deal.

"Ellison? Where's your bloody furniture?" Connor got right up into my personal space. She never let anybody intimidate her. I liked that about her.

"It was in the way, so I got rid of it."

"Oh, that was brilliant, mate. Listen, Alex Barnes turns out to be Alicia Bannister, a lady with a long history of breaking the law. We're going to go stake out her studio - Sandy said it's a combination of an apartment and workshop - and when the uniforms deliver our warrant we're going to take a look around. You coming?" There was a note of doubt in her voice, but I ignored it.

I ushered them towards the door, laying my hand on Blair's back to give him a little shove since he kept stopping and looking around the room as if he expected the couch and the coffee table to suddenly appear.

"I think you should take Connor up on that offer for a bed at her place tonight, Chief."

"Jim, you could hear us talking earlier? Without me to ground you?"

I thought to myself that I had been grounded. The sealskin choker had done the job, as usual, when Blair wasn't around.

"All my senses feel really strong, Darwin. C'mon, pick up your feet. Barnes is going down."


I typed up my report on the fiasco that had been this evening's event. And I was feeling sick inside.

I didn't want to believe that my guide could have sabotaged our efforts to capture Alex Barnes, but I couldn't ignore the fact that he'd blinded me with his flashlight when I had her cornered on a fire escape after she'd stolen a laser from the van transporting it. And just how had Alex Barnes known the cops were after her? Could Sandburg have called her to warn her away, in an attempt to save his other sentinel?

I replayed the sequence of events in my mind again.

The three of us, Connor, Sandburg, and I, had just walked out of my building to go stake out Barnes' studio. But I had heard sirens in the distance, and I'd had an eerie feeling that I should check it out. Dispatch had given me the details. A laser had been hijacked right out of a van attacked on the street, but we had a description of the vehicle the perp was driving and Connor and I had responded to the call. I told Sandburg to ride with Connor - he needed to get rid of Barnes' scent before I could have him that close to me in a small space.

We got lucky and intercepted the thief. I had Barnes cornered on the fire stairs - I knew it was her, knew the other sentinel was there - and I'd identified myself as police. I'd pinned down her exact location by focusing in on her heartbeat, and I was ready to shoot her if she didn't surrender.

I'd had my gun cocked and aimed at her - it was dark, but that was no hindrance to me - when Sandburg fumbled with his flashlight and shone it directly into my eyes. I was disorientated by the dazzling light -- like looking at the heart of a star. My eyes teared up and while I was yelling at him for being such an idiot, Barnes went up to the roof and we lost her.

Of course, he'd apologized. And I had taken him at his word. It wasn't until later that doubt about his actions crept into my mind -- after we'd gotten to Barnes' place, and I'd smelled the plastique and I realized Barnes had booby-trapped her studio. I'd had to tackle Connor - who'd gone, warrant in hand, to kick in the door - to keep her from being blown to smithereens. I'd already known Barnes wasn't in there; no heartbeat inside that place.

Had Barnes figured out on her own that she'd been made? Or had a certain sympathetic anthropology graduate student tipped her off? Blair didn't want to believe a sentinel could also be a criminal. Had he deluded himself that everyone else was wrong about Barnes - a.k.a. Bannister - and that he could rescue her?

But I was reluctant to question him. If I was seeing a problem where one didn't exist, then I would be adding to the strained feelings between us. And I didn't want to alert Connor to my suspicions, either. She wouldn't be able to be objective enough to even consider that Sandburg might have made a stupid mistake by trusting Barnes to be innocent. Connor wasn't at the PD anyway, right now; she and Blair had gone to get sandwiches from the deli down the street from the station.

I needed to talk to Simon. I'd ask his advice - and if there was questioning to be done, I'd let him do it and I'd use the tricks Blair had taught me to decide if my guide was lying or not. I hit the print button on my computer and walked over to the printer, waiting for the machine to spit out my report. Then, report in hand, I knocked on Simon's door.


I never even got a chance to eat my roast beef sub before Connor and I'd had to leave the bullpen to investigate a break-in at Rainier's HazMat Research Lab. Two canisters of nerve gas - incredibly deadly stuff - had been stolen.

Connor and I were sure Barnes was the thief. It all fit. Rainier used Oberon Securities, and a mostly destroyed portable hard drive with a disk in it was found in the bombed out studio. Forensics had called us while we were at Rainier to confirm what I had guessed from feeling the letters 'Ober' on the disk -- it had been stolen from Oberon Securities. And the partially recovered data had contained the plans for the HazMat Lab's security.

Unfortunately, at the time their office had been broken into, Oberon had refused to contact the companies that they had consulted for to tell them a security compromise was possible. They didn't know which particular security system plans had been stolen and didn't want to lose customers by alarming them. And without something else to narrow it down, there was no way the PD could stake out every company on Oberon's client list on the chance that a robbery would take place.

But a robbery had taken place, and the final step in the heist had been the use of a high-powered laser - like the one Barnes had stolen from a van earlier today.

It was kind of ironic that Rainier had stepped up its security after the last theft from the lab -- ironic because Sandburg and I had been involved back then, too. Lee Brackett had stolen a vial of Ebola virus and blackmailed me into stealing a prototype plane from the Air Force for him -- or he was going to release that lethal disease to harm the people of my city. Sandburg and I had worked together to stop him.

But Sandburg wasn't with me on this part of the investigation. Simon had listened to my concerns, and decided that the possibility of Blair sabotaging the case needed to be looked into. He and I had both been cops long enough to know the lengths some otherwise smart and law-abiding people would go to - if their principles or their hearts were involved. Why, just last week, in California, a woman who'd been running a dog-training program at a prison had helped a convict escape. In love with the clown, I guessed.

The call from Dispatch stating there was a break in at Rainier - nothing reported stolen as of yet -- had come in shortly after Connor and Blair had returned from their food run, and when Blair put his jacket back on, wanting to go with me and Connor, Simon came out of his office and told Blair he needed to talk to him and that he wouldn't be doing any more observing tonight. Megan intercepted him, gave him a house key, and told him to let himself in and that we'd be tied up till the wee hours of the morning. She hugged him and expressed that he looked like he needed to get some sleep. And I made some noise about him having classes to teach in the morning, seconding her suggestion to get some rest. He did look like he was running on fumes; he probably didn't sleep well after I'd kicked him out of the loft.

We left then, with me listening to Simon ushering Blair into his office, telling him to first finish his meal, and then he wanted Sandburg's report on what had happened during the attempt to arrest Barnes this evening. No chance now to listen in and decide if Sandburg was lying about Barnes.

It was way past the wee hours of the morning before Connor and I parted to go to our homes. We had alerted the airlines to watch for a woman with Barnes' description and briefed the FBI on the case. We'd also put the word out on the street that any information on Alex Barnes and anybody connected with her would be welcomed with the legal tender. And FBI agents had bigger expense accounts than an inspector from Australia and a detective from Cascade; we felt no guilt in waving the FBI's money around.

I had felt strange all night -- uneasy. I'd called Simon at his house around midnight and he was short with me; he'd said he'd talk to me in the morning and that Sandburg had gone to Connor's place about a half hour after we'd left the bullpen. He did say that Sandburg had brought up fumbling the flashlight and took responsibility for Barnes getting away. Told me to go home and get some sleep.

So I went back to the loft, and being in my own space did make me feel better. I'd moved the bed to the basement, but I dug out my sleeping bag and camping pad and fell right into a blue vision.


Before I told Connor the truth about being a sentinel, Blair and I had let her believe I was psychic. Well, she had come up with that idea, and we hadn't corrected her about it. But I was beginning to think maybe there was more of a psychic part to being a sentinel than Sandburg or I had known.

In the morning, the ringing of the phone woke me up. And the wrong feeling was back. Intensified. I stumbled down the stairs and picked up the receiver as the voice on the other end was beginning to leave a message. For Sandburg. Who had apparently missed teaching his ten o'clock class and his department head wanted to know why.

I let the secretary give her message without actually talking to her. Then I called Sandburg's office. No answer. I called his cell phone. No answer. I called Connor. And found out that he hadn't slept at her apartment last night after all -- she'd assumed he'd either made up with me or had gone back to the motel room. She told me the name of the place, and I winced. It was one that was popular for prostitution and drug deals. The rates were very, very cheap for a reason.

The manager was used to the cops making inquiries about his clientele and, with a grunt of exasperation, gave me the room number and rang the room. No answer. I called Connor back and arranged to meet her at the motel room.

Blair was in trouble. And maybe of his own doing. I couldn't help but wonder if he'd met up with Barnes and left with her. But could he have hidden that kind of thing from me? Wouldn't his very pores have signaled his betrayal? And would he become ill, like he had before when he'd left me? And if he'd left with her, he knew nothing about the nerve gas she'd stolen. Blair would never do anything that would cause other people to come to harm. But he could have been taken in by a story she might have fed him.

I thought back to the conversation between Connor and Blair I'd overheard yesterday. Connor had said something about Blair wanting to believe the best of people. And Blair thought sentinels were the best example of humanity there was to be found.

I knew different. I knew sentinels could be devious and underhanded. If it suited them. And I wasn't talking about Barnes.


There was nothing to be found at the motel room, except that Blair had come for his things apparently sometime in the night. He hadn't bothered to check out; had left the key locked in the room. Connor and I banged on the neighboring doors but nobody had noticed when he'd come and gone. Half of the motel's denizens would have been too drunk or stoned to notice a parade outside their window, let alone a quiet guy who probably had been in and out in less than fifteen minutes.

I called his office and his cell phone again. Nothing. Connor followed me to Rainier and I figured he wasn't there because his car wasn't in the parking lot. We walked up to Hargrove together, to check out his office, and I decided it was time to fill Connor in on my reluctant theory that Sandburg had gotten himself entangled with Barnes and had left with her. She didn't buy it.

"Sandy knows her record. There's no way he would join up with her. You're dead wrong, mate." There was so much firm conviction in her voice that it made feel ashamed that I doubted Blair.

"I hope so. I really hope so. But where the hell is he? It's not like him to blow off his teaching responsibilities. He would have gotten a sub for his class if he knew he couldn't be there. And I'm not getting any sense at all of where he is and usually; if I try, I can get a kind of directional feel regarding his whereabouts. This is all so screwed up. It has been for weeks, ever since my guide started messing around with another sentinel. He should have told me."

Connor gave me the hairy eyeball and I amended my statement.

"Yeah, you're right. I should have listened when he tried to tell me about the woman he'd met. You see, I thought she was just another one of his fly-by-babes, and I'm tired of hearing about the revolving door of his love life."

"Do you ever wonder why Sandy doesn't settle in with somebody? Ever think it might be because he's in love with someone else, someone who he dreams someday might love him back? Even though it's probably hopeless? You really should think about that, Ellison." Connor sounded... pitying. Of me?

I didn't like where the conversation was going. It sounded like she was saying that Blair was in love with me... and of course we loved each other. He was my guide; I was his sentinel. But he'd stopped us from having a sexual relationship years ago and... no. He couldn't be waiting for me to change my mind about openly acknowledging him as my lover. He knew my closet door was shut. I'd told him a long time ago how it was with me. He couldn't expect me to change. If he was... Oh, Blair. God, I hoped Connor was wrong, because that was just heartbreaking to think he was... We really needed to talk.

I didn't respond to Connor's comments, just pulled out my phone and called Simon. Sandburg hadn't checked in at the PD, but there was a report that a woman who could be Barnes had flown to Colombia last night. The FBI had alerted the authorities in Bogota, and were awaiting confirmation that Barnes and the nerve gas were in custody. Simon would call us back as soon as he heard anything.

We entered Blair's building and went downstairs to his basement office after stopping to get the key from the department secretary. I knew he wasn't there. No voice, no heartbeat. And my unease and certainty that something was wrong increased tenfold as we opened his office door.

There, waiting for me, was the spotted jaguar. Barnes' spirit animal was on Blair's desk and looked straight at me and roared the mating call again. I stared stonily back at it, sending the message that I wasn't interested. And why the hell was the jaguar here, in Blair's office?

"Jim... Hey, Jim. Ellison, tell me you're not in one of those zones Sandy warned me about. Ellison!"

I was intent on watching the spotted cat and I ignored Connor until she gave me a shove, which was a far cry from the way Blair would have brought me out of a zone. I muttered to her that I hadn't been zoned, and then I moved toward the spirit animal.

The jaguar -different from my own spirit animal but yet similar -- jumped then. Jumped straight through me and I shuddered as a flood of feelings bombarded me.

"Ellison! What the bloody hell is wrong with you, mate?" Connor's anxious voice penetrated the daze I'd gone into from the impact with Barnes' spirit guide, and I felt her hard hands on me again. She gave me a vigorous shake, and I looked around for the spirit guide that had briefly merged with me. It was gone.

I shook my head to clear it, and held up a hand to ward off Connor's version of first aid before she left bruises on me. She stepped back, then, as I found my voice.

"Barnes was here. Uh... she left me a kind of message. You know..." And I gave a vague flutter of my fingers to indicate meta-physical crap.

"Well, are you okay now? What, ah... can you tell with your sight? Damn, this is a lot harder than Sandy makes it seem."

Connor was right; I needed to focus with my senses and learn what I could from any clues that had been left in Blair's office.

But before I could get started, I noticed the envelope with my name on it, in Blair's handwriting, in plain sight on his desk.

I slipped on gloves and carefully untucked the flap; he hadn't bothered to seal it. I read it through and showed it to Connor, then slid it into an evidence bag.

"You don't believe him, do you, Jim? You can't believe he went with her of his own free will?"

Trust.

Did I trust Blair or not?

I closed my eyes and felt for him. But it was like there was heavy static on the sentinel-and-guide-bond channel.

I flashed on all the ways Blair had helped me over the last three years. All the accommodating he had done. All the love he'd shown me... And the love he'd tried to hide from me. Damn. He had never stopped being in love with me. I'd just been willfully blind to it because... oh, hell. This was not the time or place to figure out what Blair and I could be, should be to each other. Instead, I let my feelings of trust in Blair swell up - like the tide, like a tsunami.

He was gone.

But he hadn't gone willingly.

"She took him." I looked around the room. "There's no sign of a struggle." I opened up my senses, which I had protectively dialed down when the jaguar jumped me. And that had been the message -- Barnes wanted to jump my bones. Not likely, lady. And taking my guide wasn't the way to my heart. Why would a crook want to have any dealings with a cop, anyway? Didn't make sense. Unless... Maybe her spirit animal wasn't on the same page as the criminal? Maybe her spirit guide was influencing her despite what her sense of self-preservation would be screaming. Huh... I wished I could have Blair's take on her motivations. Well, the sooner I found him, the sooner I'd be able to ask him.

I catalogued the room, noting the scent of gun oil, and Blair's scent, which was heavy with fear, anger, and anxiety; Barnes' scent stank of satisfaction, of cruelty, and of arousal. She had gotten off on making Blair do her bidding -- or on thinking of me finding this note. But she couldn't think that this pathetic scribble was going to stop me from looking for Blair. Or keep me from bringing her to justice.

I pinpointed where the arousal smell was heaviest and pulled an unmarked envelope from the top shelf where the university's artifacts were stored. She'd held the letter down to her crotch, evidently, letting her woman's scent permeate the thing. I opened it gingerly.

To normal eyes it would have been a blank piece of paper, but she'd taken something, a toothpick maybe, and written me her own letter.

I swore and had to keep myself from balling the letter up. She was blackmailing me.

"What is that, Ellison? What's going on?"

Connor already knew I was a sentinel, and Blair had explained to her that we were bonded -- making sure to tell her that bonding could be accomplished by just a lot of touching, not just through sex, and letting her assume that our bond was the G-rated version. And Megan was a friend; besides -- she adored Blair. I made the decision to tell her.

"The bitch thinks I'll just hand over Blair and let everybody think he left with her on his own. Listen; this is what she's scratched on this paper."

I read it out loud to her.

"Ellison, your guide has been a careless, careless boy. He's left both of our names in his research about sentinels. Expect proof that the boy betrayed you.

"Now, I don't care if the world recognizes my powers, but you don't want yours made public. And it's all in Blair's notes -- which are in a safe place, where nobody will read them. Unless I'm arrested, or I end up dead, then the world will know all about you. All of dear Blair's years of research would be published. It would be a media circus. Oh, I'm sure you'd deny it, but the damage would be done, wouldn't it.

"So easy to avoid: you don't come after me and I keep Blair; he's a pretty boy and while he's not really my type for fucking- I like large, strong men -- I'm sure he'll learn to do things to please me. And he has knowledge I need. You don't appear to want him anymore - he told me about you throwing him out of your home -- so this should be an easy deal for you. You know, Ellison, you are my type; if you do find me, there are other things we can do besides play cops and robbers.

"Of course, my little professor is coming with me because he thinks he's saving his sentinel. I was considering killing him, since I don't like leaving loose ends, but this way works, too. He's safe, as long as he behaves. And you behave. Welcome to the jungle, lover."

I choked on that last sentence.

"Does she really think the rest of us are going to ignore what she's done? Even if she does make it seem like Sandy left with her willingly? And she didn't have to take him - she could have blackmailed you with just the material. What does he know that she needs?" Connor was angry, her hands had kept bunching up into fists while I'd read Barnes' note to her.

"There's... the guide stuff. How to avoid zones and spikes and how to piggyback your senses." And I rubbed my hand over my face. But Blair had already been teaching her that kind of thing for weeks now. At this point wasn't it mostly practicing what he'd taught her?

"Does she want to bond with him? Is she going to force him to have sex with her?"

Connor sounded sick, and knowing Blair was Barnes' hostage made me want to hit something so badly. And Shit, I really didn't know what would happen to our bond if Barnes made him have sex, or even if she just touched him a lot. I looked in dismay at Connor and then closed my eyes. My Blair, being raped - I was going after Barnes. Maybe the threat was a bluff. Yeah, Blair had said everything in his research would be confidential. There wouldn't be anything to connect me to the sentinel he had done the research on. But I didn't want to show this note to the Feebs. I'd let Simon know the whole story and to others I'd say the wording in the letter Blair had left convinced me that he'd been coerced into leaving.

Actually, we only had Barnes' word that Blair was agreeing to the blackmail. I could smell gun oil in the room. She'd probably held a weapon on him, maybe handcuffed him and gagged him.

And she'd probably had at least one accomplice. This was a big undertaking for just one operator. But so many people trooped in and out of Blair's office daily that no other scents jumped out at me as Barnes' stooge.

I opened my eyes and started to pace around the dimly lit basement room. What did she need Blair for? To be her guide, to bond with her? Unlikely. They'd been meeting for weeks and Blair had indicated there was nothing sexual between them. To keep showing her how to use her senses? Maybe. And if that was the case, Blair would become a loose end again, when she caught on about how to work the dials or whatever he'd come up with to help her manage.

And she took care of loose ends.

What else might Blair know about that Barnes wanted enough to drag a hostage with her?

My eye was caught again by some paintings that had been placed on the back of his ratty couch, leaning against the wall. I'd seen them earlier and dismissed them, but after a second look they were... intriguing. And very familiar... I went closer and stared at the vibrant artwork -- I had seen this statue before. And that symbol, too.

I was aware that Connor was calling Simon, filling him in on what we'd learned, asking that an APB be put out on Blair's car. I could hear Simon telling her that the woman who had been thought to be Barnes had been confirmed to be an innocent passenger. I was aware of all that, but my mind was on those paintings.

And then I touched the one with the statue.


Simon came to the door of his office and caught my eye -- he knew that I knew the Feebs were in there. I'd been afraid they were going to want to talk to me. Damn FBI. And I only had half-truths to tell them. I couldn't say that I'd had a vision when I touched Alex Barnes' painting - that her obsession with the Temple of the Sentinels had come through loud and clear. And I'd made the connection to the real reason she took Blair with her. He knew the location of the Temple. Well, close enough, anyway. He had Incacha's information, and he'd been corresponding with an archeologist whose research was complementing Blair's own work and who'd found some corroborating evidence regarding the temple from a ruin in the Yucatan. Hell, Blair and I were planning on collaborating with him on an expedition to study the temple, providing Blair could scare up some grant money. And there would be grant money, even if I had to funnel it to him myself under the cover of a donation.

Blair probably had talked to Barnes about the temple, in awe of her ability to tap into the spirit world and show her connection in the form of her paintings. And I'd remembered after touching her painting that I'd dreamed of the temple last night. I hadn't recalled it till I'd traced the jaguar statue's outline with my finger.

In my dream, in the endless blue twilight that was the spirit plane, I had been my spirit guide and I'd circled the Temple of the Sentinels. In the depths of the jungle, I heard the mating call of the spotted jaguar and an answering roar tore out of my throat. I paced around the entrance to the temple, waiting, waiting. Finally she approached. The female of my kind. And she was accompanied by a wolf. He whined and she snapped at him. He lay down obediently between us and rolled so his stomach was bared. Then, looking at me, the spotted jaguar raked his belly with her claws.

Blood welled up in the deep scratches and the spotted jaguar stepped over the wolf toward me. And I was paralyzed between wanting to mate with her and wanting to lick the blood from the wolf's wounds.

That was as much as I remembered; although, given my track record for repressing unpleasant memories, I knew there might have been more to the dream. Fuck. Thinking about the bright blood that had marked the wolf, I was worried sick for Blair.

At least my little trip to Psychic-ville had resulted in another lead. In a succeeding vision from touching her paintings, I'd seen Barnes with a man. Intimately seen her with this man, and she loathed him. But it didn't stop her from having sex with him and enjoying the sheer physical release he gave her body. Somehow I knew his name was Carl, and he was her partner. So I'd had an artist's sketch done and from there we'd located him in our records. Carl Hettinger. International weapons trafficker with recent ties to Mexico and South America. The FBI's information had him traveling twice to Sierra Verde in the last three months. That was Carlos Arguillo's territory; he was a nasty customer who was the probable buyer for the stolen nerve gas.

But I didn't want to have to explain to anybody just how I'd come up with Hettinger's name or how I knew he was connected with Barnes.

Simon had let me stall for a few more moments, but now he waved his hand in a sharp movement for me to join him. Fuck. I did not want to do this.

I walked into his office and practically saluted.

"Sir."

"Have a seat, Jim. You met Agent Nickols and Agent Harriman last night, I believe. They want to discuss Sandburg's involvement."

I sat down ramrod straight in the chair Simon pointed at, and tried to keep from bristling at the Feds.

"Blair Sandburg is a victim, kidnapped by Barnes because she's got an obsession about some old ruin and thinks he knows where it's at. He was forced to write that note. She obviously dictated it to him; it's not his usual writing style at all."

The older of the two men, gray-haired, tired looking, said mildly, " And you know that because you would be familiar with Sandburg's writings? From him making grocery lists, or leaving notes about phone messages? We're aware Blair Sandburg lives with you, Detective. Or to be more accurate, did live with you. I believe you asked him to leave several days ago? Why was that, Detective Ellison?"

I went with the truth, short and sweet. "Because I was being an asshole. Look. Blair's a great kid; he's a consultant for the department and is doing a dissertation on police work. He met Barnes here, after she was brought in following a traffic accident. He heard her complaining about a health problem he had some knowledge about and offered to help her with it. That's all. He wasn't dating her; it was a professional kind of thing. He didn't have a clue she was as crooked as they come."

The gray-haired guy, Nickols, sighed and said, "Barnes is a very attractive woman; Sandburg is a young man, and from what I've learned, quick to flirt. They met, they formed a bond -"

"They didn't have a bond. I'm telling you, Blair met with her out of kindness but he wasn't dating her. I asked him." Hearing the Feds coming up with the same wrong theory that I had held earlier was disturbing. I had to make them believe it was a totally crap assumption.

Harriman chimed in. "It's a shocking concept, but perhaps he didn't tell you the truth, Ellison. Let's say she charmed him. Let's say that he felt something for her, didn't want to see her go to prison. Maybe he got in over his head. Maybe she talked him into helping her with the robberies; maybe he made sure that when she was cornered, she could escape. We've read your own report, Detective. It was his fault Barnes got away on the fire escape. And she tumbled awfully quickly to the fact that the cops were on to her. Perhaps her new friend gave her a quick call? And why was he at his office at Rainier last night? From statements given by, well, your own captain, for one," and he nodded toward Simon, "Sandburg said he was going to Inspector Connor's residence to sleep. Instead he ends up at his office. What's your theory on that, Detective?"

I ignored his last question. I was still trying to come up with some reason Blair had gone to Rainier myself. Connor and I had wondered if he'd been coming to join us at the HazMat Lab, despite our strong suggestions to get some rest, but the lab wasn't anywhere near Hargrove Hall.

"When I find Blair, I'll ask him for you. And you can forget trying to tie him into the robberies. He was with Connor and me when the laser was stolen and when the nerve gas disappeared. And he was taking a night class when Oberon Securities was broken into; the professor will alibi him."

"We're not saying he's wanted for anything at all, Detective. But he is going to be listed as a person of interest and if he's found, we will be talking to him. He wouldn't be the first man to do something stupid because of a woman." Harriman studied his fingernails while he spoke.

I stood up. "We done here? My partner's life is in serious danger, and you're wasting my time. Sandburg was taken by that bitch and I'm going to find him. And the nerve gas. Shit, if you knew even a little bit about the kind of man Blair Sandburg is, then you'd know he'd never be involved with something that would kill a single innocent person, let alone the countless numbers who would die from exposure to a toxin like that gas. Anything else you need? Captain?"

Nickols again. "Interesting connection to Carl Hettinger you made. Care to share with the class?"

Crap. "Sorry, no can do. Confidential informant. Has the FBI been able to put Barnes with Hettinger from any other sources?"

"Yes, and we're looking at the two of them for a few other unsolved robberies. We'll send you the information we've got. And you'll do the same; won't you, Detective? You'll let us know if you have any more... informants wanting to share."

Simon spoke up. "Jim, you can go. And yes, Agent Nickols and Agent Harriman, we'll copy you on any leads we develop."

I grabbed onto Simon's words like a lifeline, and with a nod to the FBI, left his office. Could have been worse. At least an arrest warrant hadn't been issued for Blair. I wasn't sure, though, what was going to happen with his job. I'd tried to do damage control with his department head; told him that the PD was considering it a kidnapping when I'd called him earlier, but the FBI agents had also been around to talk to the guy, and they probably had insinuated he was Barnes' accomplice.

I wished that I had paid more attention to Blair's discussions with Incacha and that other guy, the one who kept emailing and calling Blair about getting an expedition together to discover the temple. Santiago, that was his name. I decided to go home and call him, ask him to send me all the information he and Blair had put together about where the temple might be found. Without it we would be up shit creek without a paddle. Barnes hadn't been kidding about stealing Blair's research -- I'd looked through his office and his tapes, his notes, and his files were all gone.

She would make her way to the temple. I knew it. And I could set a trap for her there. But she would have done the deal with the nerve gas first, and recovering it had to be my first priority.

I left the PD, turning over the legwork of checking back in with our informants to Connor. Simon was putting together the Hettinger and Arguillo dossier. We would have no jurisdiction in Sierra Verde, and there was a good chance the local law enforcement was in cahoots with the drug lord; by rights we shouldn't be going at all. But we would. The nerve gas had been stolen from my town, under my watch. I felt responsible for not figuring out Barnes' plans earlier.

And she's taken my Blair. I was going to get him back. And then try and make it up to him for how I'd acted the last couple of weeks. And maybe the last couple of years.

I drove my truck in tense silence and thought about the most recent time Blair had driven home with me. I'd made him shut up, and now I'd give anything to hear him chattering away about his studies, or devising tests for me to take.

I walked into my building and got the mail. I hadn't checked it in a couple of days and I started flipping through it while I climbed the stairs to my apartment. I swung the door open; the place didn't look uncluttered to me anymore. It looked... sterile. Bare. With no indication that anybody even lived there. It looked so wrong, and I felt a sense of disgust that I'd allowed myself to get hijacked by the weird-ass sentinel shit.

But at least the irritation I'd felt towards Blair was gone. And by that, more than anything, I knew Barnes had left town. I set the mail down, having only partly gone through it, and went to the phone. Santiago had called not too long ago and I hoped his number was still listed on the memory log. Otherwise, I'd have to search through the boxes I'd packed for my address book.

I was in luck and called the man. I told him what had happened to Blair, and he agreed to fax to Simon all the research on the temple's location he had. He asked me to please let him know when Blair was rescued.

My only other task was to pack, and I accomplished that swiftly. I found my passport and went through the rest of the mail, so I could leave.

And that was where I found a cassette tape and a photocopy of some of Blair's notes. And was dismayed to learn that Barnes hadn't been bluffing about Blair leaving our names in his research after all.


Blair's voice filled the truck cab. "-- face off in some territorial rivalry? Now if in fact my secondary subject does turn out to be a sentinel, I'm going to have to bring them together in a carefully controlled situation. So at the present time, I've decided not to tell Jim Ellison or Alex Barnes about one another..."

I shut my tape deck off. Jesus Christ, Blair! If I wasn't so worried about his safety, I'd be enraged that he had been so sloppy - throwing my name around like that in his research. As it was, I couldn't deal with my feelings about this... exposure right now. I had to concentrate on the mission.

But when he was safely back with me, then Mr. Sandburg and I were going to have a little chat regarding confidentiality and keeping promises. I shoved any thoughts of the fallout if Barnes released her little bomb of information to the back of my mind. What was important right now was finding Blair and the nerve gas.

My cell phone rang and I answered it, barking out "Ellison" into the receiver. I listened to Simon telling me that Sandburg's car had been found, and that he was calling the techs to come and check it out. At that point I made an illegal U-turn and flipped my lights on as I raced to the address.


"What in the blue blazes does he think he's doing?"

"Shut up, Ricco. This guy's got some kind of mojo when it comes to figuring shit out. I've seen him do it on other cases. He'll be done soon and then we can start bagging evidence. Go get the fingerprint kit ready, okay?"

I didn't bother to let the two men waiting to check out the Volvo know I'd heard them. Why add to the 'mojo' mystique if I could avoid it? But hey - if Barnes' booby trap did get sprung everybody and his brother was going to know what I was capable of doing. Then Ricco and McDonald could say they'd seen me doing my weird-ass sentinel shit. And I wasn't supposed to be thinking about that now. Focus, Ellison.

I could smell Barnes' scent mixed in with Blair's. They'd been together in the car. And Blair had been scared. No doubt the bitch had continued to hold a gun on him; the gun oil scent was too strong for the weapon to have been concealed. And for that knowledge I could thank Blair for testing me on similar situations.

Most of Blair's belongings were thrown in the back of the car, but his backpack was gone. His cell phone was on the passenger floor and I slipped gloves on before I carefully picked it up. I checked his messages and his received calls list. And wasn't that interesting. Somebody had phoned Blair around midnight... from his own office phone.

Blair must have driven to Rainier because of whatever he'd learned from that last phone call. Barnes had set a trap for him. He wouldn't have gone if she had just asked him to meet her there in his dingy basement office... Not without police backup. Blair had been observing the PD for over three years now. He wouldn't have made such a rookie mistake. So, she wasn't the one who had phoned him. Maybe she'd had Hettinger make the call. And I wondered how on board her lover was with taking a hostage with them to Sierra Verde.

I didn't find anything else useful in the car, and I turned it over to the waiting techs. For a messy kind of guy, Blair did keep his car fairly neat - to impress his dates, I figured. But anybody who spent much time with Sandburg soon realized that neatness was not a natural trait of his. I'd spent years working on him to just follow a few simple house rules.

And my stomach muscles clenched when I thought that I might never again get the chance to yell at him about wet towels on the floor or... Shit, Blair. Please be all right.

I checked out the surface of this rundown parking lot behind the decrepit warehouse for any indication of the vehicle that they'd switched to, and found some footprints and tread marks. I called McDonald over to point them out. Maybe it would help find the current vehicle they'd been driving.

All the airports, commercial and private, were being monitored. I figured they'd had a plane waiting at a small landing strip and by now were in Mexico. I tried to see if I could feel where Blair was, sort of a guide GPS system, but it was still no good. Whatever Barnes was doing with Blair was fucking it up.

Simon called me on my way back to the PD; a flight to Mexico City was leaving in forty-five minutes, and he and Connor were heading to the airport. I put on my lights and siren and thought of how much I wanted Alex Barnes -- Ms. Alicia Bannister -- to be safely back in prison where she belonged.

And Blair back with me, where he belonged.


The police in steamy Sierra Verde had a surprise waiting for us when we arrived at the local comisaria. After showing them a snap shot of Blair, emphasizing that he was a kidnap victim, and mug shots of Barnes and Hettinger, we were told that Carl Hettinger's body was in the morgue.

Ortega, the police chief, escorted us to view the body, and he made noises at Simon indicating that really, he had heard nothing about any nerve gas, and no, no, Senor, no arms dealer used his town as a base of operations. Of course he was familiar with the name Carlos Arguillo, but the man didn't conduct his business in Sierra Verde. However, there were other men who might be potential buyers, middlemen who would resell the gas. He would meet with us at the hotel at four o'clock and bring us any word on potential contacts. And if he learned anything about Senor Sandburg, he would make sure we would know immediately. He left then, wishing us luck in our search, and assured us that we had the cooperation of the policía of Sierra Verde.

Total bullshit, of course. You didn't have to be a sentinel to hear the lies in his words.

Once we were alone in the morgue, I dialed up my senses to examine Hettinger's body. The police chief said the coroner thought Hettinger had died from an accidental fall, but I could see the marks on Hettinger's throat where he'd been choked. And I could detect the scent her body had left on her ex-partner. I touched his lips and felt the slick texture of Alex's lipstick. She had kissed the man and then snapped his neck; she was violent, and not afraid to use her own hands to kill. I felt cold sweat break out on my face; Blair was with her, and he had a way of being defiant to people who had the means and motive to hurt him. I hoped and prayed that he was safe.

I touched Hettinger's lips again and felt the power of the second sight overwhelm me.

I saw Barnes and Hettinger, on a stairwell, saw her kiss him and then twist his neck. She watched his body fall down the steps of the motel. Then she went inside her room and came out with Blair. He stared, shocked, at the body lying at the foot of the stairs, and tried to jerk away from her grip, but she pulled him to her and hissed at him to cooperate or her 'friend' would go ahead and send the media the very interesting information she had left with him. Blair looked at her with an expression I'd never seen on his face before, and I realized with a jolt that it was hate. Blair hated Barnes for what she was threatening to do. But then he allowed himself to be hustled down the stairs and into the waiting car. My vision ended after that.

Simon grabbed my arm, and pulled me away from the naked body on the exam table.

"Jim, get it together. Did you just have another one of those image-things? What did you see?" he said to me in a low voice.

I was a little dizzy and I welcomed his strong hand on my arm. "Granny would say that I've got the second sight now. Shit. But it's been useful so far, or I wouldn't know that Blair was here, in a motel with Barnes. They left shortly after she killed Hettinger. She kissed the son-of-a-bitch, and then she broke his neck. And she's still threatening to blow the sentinel shit sky high, to get Blair to cooperate."

Simon gave me a small push towards the door and Connor stepped up beside me.

In a matter of fact voice, she said, "Let's go and refuel. We need to brainstorm about who Barnes sent Sandy's research off to, to hold for her. And I want to go over what you saw, Jim. You know I've worked with psychics before, in Australia."

I nodded. It couldn't hurt and I wanted to try and visualize the car I'd seen in my brief dream. Maybe we would end up with a useful solid lead for tracking down my missing guide.

Barnes was playing her own hand now, having dealt Hettinger right out of the game and into a grave. And I could feel the sense of her again. And the memory of how her jaguar had jumped through me made me shiver; I felt my dick grow hard. Oh, no fucking way.

She was so fucking dangerous, and not just because she'd stolen the nerve gas, or had taken Blair. I was afraid she was dangerous for me.

Back in Cascade my instincts had taken over the driver's seat. And look at how I'd emptied my place of all my furniture, and how I'd treated Blair. I didn't want to fall under some sentinel spell that would have me wanting to have sex with her -- a killer, a kidnapper, a cold-blooded criminal.

No. Fucking. Way.


Working out of my motel room, the three of us came up with the short list of who to investigate for retaining Blair's research for Barnes.

It would have to be somebody she could rely upon to not cheat her and steal the information, which pretty much eliminated anybody she'd worked with on a business level. So, no fences, no partners in robbery. Those guys would be all over this mysterious package, and Barnes would have known that. Look how she treated Hettinger, her own partner and lover. No trust or love lost there, that was for sure.

Close personal friends? I seriously doubted that she had any, but that was one line of investigation to pursue. Family members she could count on? Maybe. But she'd seemed solitary to me. Wasn't really sure what I was basing that impression on, but I was dubious that she had any close family.

No, I thought it most likely that she'd contacted a lawyer, probably one she already knew. And where do criminals mostly meet lawyers? In court. With her long history of involvement with the legal system, she must have been represented by quite a few. Her lawyer would be bound ethically to follow Barnes' wishes, not that there was any guarantee her lawyer would be the ethical sort. But following client's instructions was something that money could buy. And the lawyer could truthfully claim he didn't know there was stolen property in the package; his function was to deliver it to the TV stations and newspapers.

Simon called Joel to pass on our hunches to him, because the big man had a soft spot for Blair and was discreet; he said he'd get right on it. He'd call the prisons Barnes been incarcerated in and find out who'd had visitor privileges. He'd get a subpoena to compel her former lawyers to turn over the research, if they had it; after all, it was stolen goods.

We left it in his capable hands, and Connor walked me through what I'd seen in the vision. Simon phoned in a description of the car to the policia, and asked for an APB to be put out.

Again we were assured that the local cops were nothing but cooperative with us norteamericanos; he description of the car would be circulated immediately to their officers.

And again, I had qualms. Something about the tone of voice of Police Chief Ortega made me think he was blowing smoke up our asses.

I became convinced of it when a tank rolled down the street and shot up the little café while we were meeting with Ortega to get his list of possible middlemen buyers in the late afternoon. He slipped away as tables were exploding and windows breaking from the rounds fired from the tank. A tank! Who but an arms dealer is going to be able to lay his hands on a fucking tank? Arguillo was warning us off of his territory. And Ortega would hardly be the first cop to make a truce with the local gang leader in order to have some kind of peace in his town.

Luckily, none of us were hurt but we opted to leave the motel; instead we stayed at a small Catholic church for the night. The pews were hard, but sanctuary was an ancient concept that we hoped was still respected here. Simon and Connor fell asleep fairly quickly, Simon's snores echoing through the church.

Staring at the rows of small, lighted candles in the nearby nook, I felt unsettled. I tried to get some sleep, but I missed Blair and I wished he were with me right now. He'd be telling us about the origins of the concept of sanctuary, and probably throw in a couple of stories to boot. Still, I closed my eyes and tried to rest.

I guess I did fall asleep because I dreamed I saw Alex walking on the beach as the sun was rising. I saw myself meeting up with her and the two of us falling to our knees in the sand, kissing each other passionately.

I woke up with a start and realized it was only a dream. I was hard, and I cursed my unruly dick for having absolutely no sense of propriety; I mean, sure, she was beautiful, but that hardly made it okay for me to want her. She'd taken Blair; she was playing around with thousands of lives with that nerve gas. I closed my eyes and felt for Blair once again with the internal guide finder, but like every other time I'd tried since he'd been taken, I couldn't get a sense of where he was. Sighing, I awkwardly turned sideways on the hard pew; I told myself that my dick did not rule me, and went back to sleep.


I was dreaming again, the same damn dream, where I was drawn to Alex on the beach. We met and stared at each other, and without a word she was in my arms. Her lips were so soft, her skin so warm against mine. I felt... elemental. My senses were singing and I was a part of the wind, a part of the ocean. The sand was cool as I sank to my knees, bringing her down with me. My mate. The female of my kind. I had never met another, and I ached to rut inside of her.

She slipped my unbuttoned, long sleeved shirt off, freeing my arms, and I began to touch her under her clothes, to pull at her clothing to free her breasts. I wanted to lick and suck on them. I wanted to taste her skin.

And then her hands were hot on my body, pushing me onto my back, moving the hard object away that was poking me as I lay down on the shifting sand. She was kneeling next to me and running her hands possessively down my chest, and reaching under my undershirt to trace the muscles there. I trembled under her hand, my eyes closed, and her touch felt so good. She moved her hands down my legs, a sensual massage that made me lose myself in the pressure of her hands against my pants. She covered my ankle with her hand and I felt a distant concern, but when she stroked my erection with her other hand, making it strain against the fabric of my khakis, I shifted my attention to what her skillful fingers were doing to my dick.

I don't know how long we stayed like that, my hands caressing her breasts and hers teasing my dick... until we were abruptly interrupted.

"Jim, Stop! What the hell are you doing, man?" I knew that voice. It belonged to my guide. My one-time lover. My friend.

Who was missing.

Fuck! This was no dream.

I opened my eyes, really opened my eyes, and saw that Alex was standing up about eight feet away from me.

She had my gun.

She was pointing it at Blair.

"Alex, put the gun down and you won't be hurt. C'mon, now." She looked disorientated to me, and I guessed that she had felt the same dreamy impulse to meet on the beach that I had felt.

I saw her shake off the remaining confusion. She slowly backed away from me even further, becoming more alert. But Blair seemed paralyzed, until he jerkily migrated a few feet towards Barnes, stopping with a confounded look on his face.

I slowly gathered myself to stand up so that I could leap for her, trusting that Blair would drop to the ground when I did. He was my partner; he'd know my intentions. Alex interrupted my movements.

"Don't move. I'll shoot him before you can reach me. And I can feel it now, Jim. Can't you feel it, too? We're being drawn to it, like we're being drawn to each other." Her heartbeat was steady; she was breathing quietly. And when she spoke it was still with a tinge of the dreaminess that earlier had come over both of us.

"I don't need Blair anymore. Do you want him, Jim? Do you want him to suck your cock? His tongue's agile -- I put it to better use than him talking. Oh, he cares for you, Jim. He was a good little hostage and did everything I told him to, so I would keep your secret. But I don't need him anymore. He's a... loose end."

She licked her lips, the lips that I had kissed. and I felt sick. What in the fuck had been wrong with me! Damn the sentinel shit, always fucking up my life.

She smiled at me. "It's time to tie up my loose end."

And she shot him. I heard the bullet impact his skin, tear through the muscle under his shoulder. I leaped at her but she had stepped back as swiftly as I had come up from my crouch and she held the gun on me. Her eyes were cold, hard, and I knew that the criminal was back in control, not the sentinel. She would kill me without a second thought.

Blair had fallen to the sand. But he was shifting, crab-crawling towards the ocean, his right arm hanging limply. I could smell his blood in the air and see the trail of crimson liquid he was leaving in the sand. I felt a murderous wave of anger at her, and made an urgent motion towards him, but Barnes said flatly, "Budge an inch and I shoot you. And I'll aim for your spine. I'll make you a cripple if you don't do exactly what I say, and you know I've got the sight to do it. So freeze. And if you decide to be a hero, I'll shoot him again, after I do you."

Alex and I watched Blair reach the waves and fall face first into the ocean. She watched him calmly, still holding the gun on me, and I watched him with dread. I was afraid he had lost a fair amount of blood, and I needed to help him. Barnes must have sensed my decision to try and overpower her, now that Blair was in the ocean and not such a target, because she said, "Your choice, Jim. You can try to take this gun away from me - and I won't hesitate to shoot you - or you can go to your guide. He's still alive, but you know what? I don't think he's breathing. Your choice."

I chose. And I ran for Blair, away from Barnes. Damn it, she had shot Blair for a distraction so that she could get away. I raced down the beach, to where he'd entered the water.

And I didn't see him making any attempts at breathing. He was floating face down, the waves pushing him towards shore and pulling him back.

Oh, God! He wasn't breathing. I waded out to him and rolled him over, supporting him in the waist-deep water. Blood was still pumping from his wound. He had a heartbeat, or blood couldn't drip from him like that. But he wasn't breathing.

I dragged him to the beach and laid him down on the sand, the sunrise sending a red tinge over his skin. I listened for any breathing, my ear to his mouth. Nothing. Right.

Start rescue breathing.

Angle his head back. Cover his mouth with mine. Breathe into his mouth and watch his chest rise. Breathe. Watch. Breathe. Watch. Breathe. Watch. Breathe. Watch...

Time seemed to slow, the waves acting as a metronome for the rhythm of my actions. There were only two actions that mattered. Breathe. Watch.

Breath. Watch. A tremor. Inhalation. Watch. Inhalation. Watch.

It wasn't a fluke, he was breathing on his own. And coughing. I rolled him to his side in the rescue position and put pressure on his bullet wound.

He was alive -- but unconscious and bleeding heavily below his shoulder and from the exit hole on his back. He needed to get to a hospital. I stripped off my undershirt and used it for a makeshift pressure bandage, tearing part of it into strips to bind the bandage to his shoulder. His arm needed to be splinted, to keep it immobile, and I worked his pants off of his body and used them to achieve that task.

I would have to move him myself -- there was nobody on this beach who could go for assistance. I crouched beside him, working my hands under his shoulders and knees. Heaved him up and stood, glad for every hour I had sweated in the gym, glad for the strength in my arms and legs.

He was dead weight, limp as I staggered through the sand with him. Focus on finding help. Don't think about the fact that he almost died. That he had been drowning. Bleeding. He'd gone to the ocean. Why? Had he thought he would be safer in the water? Had he had an instinctual response to danger, to dive down deep and swim away? Don't think about what that means. But if he'd been wearing his choker maybe he'd have been safe. If he'd transformed... Maybe the process would have healed him? But he'd been a selkie without his skin. No, don't think about this now. Find help.

Focus.


"Jim. He's going to be all right. C'mon and sit down. You heard what the doctor said. He's lucky the bullet missed that major artery and nicked a smaller one instead. Some new blood and stitches and he should be fine. So, come on, settle down."

I ignored Simon; I kept standing at the door of the small waiting room and extending my hearing so that I could keep tabs on Blair. And listen in case that crazy bitch showed up to try and finish killing him; he hadn't seen her kill Hettinger, but he could place her at the scene. Blair was right down the hall, and nobody could get to him without passing us.

This hospital was so small, compared to Cascade General, and I wondered if they really knew what they were doing. Blair'd had emergency surgery to repair the damage done below his shoulder, and I was both relieved it hadn't been worse and angry that he'd been hurt in the first place.

I'd had to tell Simon the reason Barnes and I were on that beach when Blair was shot, and it had been humiliating to see the look in his eyes when I explained the lack of control I'd had over myself. And I felt a hot flush of shame again as I thought of what Blair had seen when he followed Alex to the beach. Her. Me. Having sex. We hadn't gotten very far along, thank God, but he would have seen her stroking me and me playing with her breasts. God. I fucking hated the sentinel stuff sometimes. And the worse part of all of it was that I knew he'd forgive me when I explained that I'd been under a compulsion to find Alex and mate with her.

He shouldn't forgive me. He should be angry with me. For a lot of reasons.

Blair was in recovery and probably would be out of it for hours yet. I didn't want to leave him alone; I wanted to see him and prove to myself that he was still breathing. I was listening to his inhalations and exhalations but I wanted to watch his chest rise and fall. I knew I was being a little bit nuts but I'd almost lost him. Maybe I could talk the doctor into letting me see him.

Well, here was my chance. The doctor was headed our way.

I stepped back as the doctor opened the door. He was a short man, gray peppering his black hair, and he looked tired. Not surprising, since this emergency at dawn had probably shortened his sleep.

"Senor... Ellison, and..." He looked at Simon and gestured inquiringly with his hand.

"Captain Simon Banks, Cascade, Washington; Sandburg is a consultant with my police department. Thank you for coming back and giving us an update on how he's doing."

The doctor smiled at us. "He is young, strong, and should be fine. He needs rest, and to watch for infection in wound, and to look out for the pneumonia, since he drown. We give him blood and still for days the antibiotics. And he is on the oxygen, of course. But his breathing is good."

"When will he be awake?" My voice sounded hoarse to my own ears.

"Yes, I understand you were police officers from America and the young man is taken from your country. You have need to examine him, to question him. But he will not be... um, sense, sensible for several hours, even if he seem awoke."

"He's my partner and my friend. I don't care about questioning him: I just want to see him." There was a note of pleading in my voice that even I could hear and the doctor patted me on the back.

"Yes, for fifteen minutes you sit with him. You go with him in the ambulance, yes? He die and you gave him life again? I understand. God answered your prayers but it will not be real until you see the young man for yourself. Come." He motioned for me to follow him and gave a nod to Simon. "Senor."

I shot a look at Simon as I turned to follow the doctor and he said, "Go on, Jim. I'll be here and when you get back, we'll talk."

I followed the doctor down the hall, through a set of double doors and into a room where Blair was lying on a gurney, IVs dripping blood and saline into him, and a canula inserted in his nose to give him oxygen. The blip-blip-blip of monitoring devices blended into the background noise. Oh, Blair, buddy - I wish it had been me she shot, rather than you. The doctor startled me out of my thoughts when he handed me medical gloves and a gown to slip over the pants and shirt Simon had brought for me.

He patted my shoulder and said, "Fifteen minutes, Senor," then left the room.

I walked up close to Blair. God, he looked pale. I could hear his heartbeat and it was steady, but I wanted to feel it, too. I bent over him and placed my hand on his chest.

I could feel the drumming vibration of his heart, sense the pulsing journey of his blood through his body. I watched his chest rise and fall with a steady rhythm and I felt something inside me relax and stand down.

He was going to be okay.

And I had a confession to make.

I sat down in a chair next to the gurney and picked up his lax hand. "Blair, I'm so sorry. Sorry that you saw me like that with Barnes. Sorry that I treated you like shit these last couple of weeks. Sorry I read the first chapter of your dissertation."

I swallowed. He'd almost died, damn it. I had taken something that I knew belonged to him and maybe it was only a sealskin choker and maybe my granny was right and selkies do exist, and I'd stolen his coat. Whatever that leather necklace meant to him, it was his.

I pictured him again, falling into the ocean, looking for safety from the predator on land. And I thought of how we'd met, how he'd saved me from the cold waters of the Northwest Pacific, how we'd bonded together as sentinel and guide.

How he'd stayed in Cascade even though I knew I had broken his heart when I told him I couldn't openly be his lover. I loved him; I did. And maybe I should re-think my stance on not coming out. God knows, maintaining that I was only heterosexual hadn't brought me what I wanted in life.

He stirred in the bed and I felt his hand tighten in mine. His eyelids fluttered while he was coming awake. Raising them slowly, he looked at me, his blue eyes hazy and confused.

"J'm."

"Yeah, Blair. I'm here. You're going to be okay; you're in the hospital."

"Z'hos'tal?"

"Yeah, the hospital at Sierra Verde. You were shot, but the doc fixed you up. Go back to sleep, babe -- when you wake up again things will make more sense to you."

"Dreamed. Swimmin'... Go down deep, deep. Ocean's so beautiful. So lonely. Jim..."

He sounded sad, and a little panicky when he said my name. I hushed him and he closed his eyes.

"Jim..."

"It's okay, Blair. You're safe. And I'm sorry for so many things. We'll talk when you're better."

"I don' know the real name of m'father. I don't know what his people call themselves. I wanted to know... I can't find them now. I lost it, Jim. I lost it and I can't be like them no more. And I lost you. You don't want me, either. Alex?... No!... Jim?"

"Hush, Blair; you got me. Don't worry about anything; go back to sleep. And Alex can't hurt you anymore."

"Alex... need to find her, now. Don't want to."

"Go to sleep. I'm so sorry, Blair."

He sighed and his breathing deepened into sleep. I held his hand and indulged myself by stroking his curly hair, till a nurse came in to check on him and sympathetically told me in Spanish that my time was up.


Blair's condition improved, and he was moved into a regular hospital room several hours after I'd seen him. By that time, Connor and I were out doing recon for the mission. Connor had gotten her hands on some surveillance equipment from the Australian embassy in Mexico City -- supposedly state-of-the-art -- and while Simon and I had been waiting to hear how Blair's surgery had gone, she also had hunted down the address of Arguillo's compound. We were hoping we'd be able to learn where he would meet with Alex.

Unfortunately, my ability to track the other sentinel wasn't a big help. I could sense Barnes, but not with the accuracy that I generally had with finding Blair's location. Maybe if I let myself go into a trance or slept again and dreamed, I could do it better... but I was worried I'd lose any control I had over myself if I let my subconscious into the driver's seat.

While Connor and I were checking out Arguillo's place, Simon had stayed behind to coordinate information from Major Crime and the FBI and to keep an eye on my partner. But probably Alex wouldn't try and kill Blair again. Probably. Nobody wanted to take that chance, and Simon had set up shop right outside of Blair's hospital room.

It turned out that Arguillo's equipment to keep snoopers out of his business was better than Connor's listening devices; the feedback squeal had been like an ice-pick into my eardrum So we did it the old-fashioned way -- she distracted the guard by driving right up to the compound entrance and pretending to be lost. While she was flapping a map in his face and asking for directions to somebody else's land, I was able to infiltrate the house. At the most, I'd hoped to overhear Arguillo talking to one of his men about the buy, but instead, I was there when Alex herself called him. She doubled the price for the toxic gas and brokered a meet tomorrow afternoon at five o'clock, at a set of coordinates on the riverbank. She was asking for a lot of money, but Arguillo agreed without trying to barter her down. And that made me suspicious about a double-cross.

Connor had long ago left and I cautiously maneuvered through the house and the grounds, glad that my sentinel senses could actually be of some use on this trip. Arguillo's compound was at the edge of the jungle, and hearing and smelling the tropical rain forest made me think of Peru... and Inchacha. I would have liked to talk to my old friend about Alex. I'd gathered from him and Blair that sentinels didn't stay together; they lived with different tribes. "Relocating scarce resources for maximum efficiency" or something like that, was what Blair had said. Neither of them had talked about this mating drive, or the need to find the Temple of the Sentinels. Although Alex was more obsessed with it than I was.

I met up with Connor without any trouble, and we went back to the hospital to see how Blair was doing and exchange information with Simon. He had checked in with the FBI and Major Crime; Joel was still doing legwork on tracking down the recipient of the stolen sentinel research, and the FBI still wanted to talk to my partner. Maybe, since they knew that Barnes had shot Blair, they would drop the theory that the poor kid had come with her willingly.

Blair was asleep, but Simon said the doctor was pleased with his progress. Simon had gotten Sandburg's statement; I read it over and the sparseness of it bothered me. I concluded that Blair had told the truth - but not the whole story. And Simon said the FBI was sure it was bullshit.

Connor took the evening shift guarding Blair, and gave me the late night one, so Simon and I went back to the church to get some rest. Father Castillo fed us enfrijoladas and enchiladas and let us use his small bathroom to clean up in. We gave him a donation for the church and he supplied us with blankets for the night, again, as he had the night before. He was a good guy, Father Castillo.

I was tired and hoped I could drop off to sleep, but first I needed to get Blair's choker out of my bag and put it on as a safety measure against my senses going wonky from the long day. And because I was going to give it back to him tomorrow, and I wanted to feel it against my skin one more time. I hoped he would forgive me for keeping it. And I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't admit that I'd considered lying to him about just where it had been for the last three years. I had thought about telling him that, yeah, I had found it in the bag with my sex wax, and brought it down to him: I hadn't touched my surfboard in the last three years, so it was a plausible lie.

But I was done lying to him.

He might never want to see me again. I couldn't claim ignorance about the importance of his sealskin choker to him. He had told me, the night he decided to stay in Cascade and be my guide.

So, a deliberate lie from a lousy thief.

I was not proud of myself. Yeah, being out of control with my senses scared me. And I'd latched onto his choker like a drowning man grabs a life ring. But my comfort could have cost him his life. Transforming might have healed... No. I needed to keep my ridiculous speculations that he was a selkie to myself. It was a keepsake from his father's family. Maybe something they would use to identify themselves with, like some families or clans used tattoos. Just because he'd been high on the anesthetic this morning and had babbled about swimming in the ocean and about something being lost and his father's family, it didn't mean what I kept trying to make it mean.

This was the twentieth century, almost the twenty-first century. There were no selkies. No mermaids, no were-wolves, no Sidhe, no hollow hills.

But there was violation of trust. And I'd almost lost Blair today. Now, I had a second chance to do the right thing by him, and that meant handing his choker to him tomorrow along with an apology.

I'd rummaged all through my bag while I was thinking about what to say to him tomorrow and I hadn't felt it.

I took everything out, carefully, shaking each item of clothing and setting them in a neat pile. I inspected the empty bag, reached in all of the corners.

I searched all of the pockets on the bag. Then I checked my clothes and my dirty pants pockets.

I scrutinized the floor and the pew where my things had been. Simon asked me what I was doing and I told him that I was looking for something that belonged to Blair, a leather choker that I'd had with me. He hadn't seen it, either.

I went outside and hunted through the beat-up rental car for it, then I slumped down on the church steps and looked out at the brilliant stars hanging over the ocean. I could hear the sound of waves and smell the brine-scent in the air.

Clearing my mind, I reviewed the steps for the exercise my guide had taught me in order to bring hidden memories out where I could examine them.

I started with last night. I'd been wearing the choker when I'd lain down to sleep. I moved forward through my recollections to the dream I'd had of meeting with Alex on the beach, and then to waking up in the church. It'd been on my leg at that point.

I had worn it when I'd grabbed my shirt and gun and left the church to go to the beach. I'd felt it wrapped around my ankle when I'd met with Alex and we had dropped down in the sand, kissing each other.

It was there when she'd been touching me, touching my chest, and legs and...

I felt her hand on my ankle, warm and covering the choker. Then her other hand was stroking my dick and I was distracted while she...

She unwrapped the choker from my ankle.

God damn it. Alex Barnes had taken it from me. Why? There must be something about it that called to a sentinel -- maybe the texture of the leather? Shit, what difference did it make why sentinels were attracted to Blair's choker; what was important was that I couldn't give it back to him.

'And if he's a selkie, he's now bound to her, not you,' my God-damned superstitious mind supplied.

And I felt a chill go through me when I remembered what he'd said before falling asleep again after his surgery.

'Alex... need to find her now. Don't want to.'


Blair woke an hour before dawn while I was standing guard outside his door. I let myself into his room quietly and turned on the light.

"Blair, you doing okay? Can I get you anything?" I said to him softly as I approached his bed.

He shook his head and sat up in bed, wearing a sling on his right arm. He was still on oxygen and saline, but the bag of blood had been removed and he no longer was attached to any monitors, except for the pulse oximeter on his finger. He moved the covers off of his legs and planted his feet on the floor.

"Bathroom?" I asked.

"Yeah." And he pulled off the finger monitor, removed the canula and laid it on his pillow, then stood up and pushed his IV stand toward the bathroom.

Obviously he was feeling stronger. That was good. It also meant I didn't have an excuse to avoid telling him what a monumental jerk I'd been.

He pulled the door shut with a click and I went and sat on his bed. I probably shouldn't have listened to him in the bathroom, but I told myself that it was because he might get shaky and need help. Then I called myself a liar.

I was listening to him because today might be the last time Blair Sandburg was ever going to be in the same room as me. I would treasure every last sound he made, even if it was him flushing the john or brushing his teeth.

Blair looked straight at me when he came out of the bathroom and there was no hint of a smile on his face, and that lack made me realize how much I did associate a grin, a smirk, a smile, or a laughing pout with him.

I got up when he shuffled to the bed, ready to help him back in, but he shook his head. He sat down on the mattress and looked up at me.

"I know what you're going to say, Jim. And you're right. There is no excuse for my actions. I've let you down; I've acted unprofessionally, and I'll do whatever it takes to make it right again."

He looked down at his bare feet while I shifted gears mentally to catch up with what he was telling me.

"Blair..."

"Even the kidnapping was my fault. If I hadn't handed Alex such a key for blackmail, I could have gotten away from her. Well, maybe. Maybe not. She might have just shot me earlier, in my office. Except for a while she figured I could take her to the temple. I could be useful to her, she said. Guide her to the Temple of the Sentinels, and... and... service her on the side. After she killed that guy, Carl, she was really horny. Made me bring her off three times that night. I guess that was part of my Karma, for not safeguarding the sentinel material better - sentenced by my own stupidity to be her whore."

His words rocked me back on my feet. I was all set to confess my wrongdoings, and Blair thought he had deserved being raped, being sexually assaulted by that bitch? Oh, no, no, no. I couldn't let that crazy thought fester in his head.

I knelt down in front of him and said softly, "Blair, look at me."

He slowly raised his eyes until we were making eye contact. Good. "You're not a whore; you didn't ask for or deserve what she did. She coerced you; that makes it rape, Blair. Do you get it? Because I'm just going to keep repeating that it wasn't your fault you were raped until you believe it."

Blair stared at me, and I could see his eyes getting brighter. Not with happiness or anything like that. Nope. Those were tears, and I reached out and patted him on his thigh.

He swallowed and scooted sideways, away from me, then stood up and walked over to the window, pushing his IV pole with him. I got up from my knees and walked closer to him, but not close enough to send him scuttling away from me. He smelled so wrong still; traces of Barnes, the ocean, medicine, blood, and sick despair. I supposed he found something fascinating to watch out in the parking lot, because he wouldn't turn around when he began talking to me.

"I thought you'd be yelling at me by now, Jim. Guess I made myself sound too pathetic, and you're afraid I'll fall apart if you tell me what a putz I was. You can't tell me that you didn't want to throttle me when you got Alex's secret decoder ring message on that blank piece of paper. She told me what she wrote, you know. Laughed about it and then made sure you'd notice where she hid the envelope in my office."

He scrubbed his hands through his hair. "Jesus, Jim. There's really no excuse. I just got lazy with my notes. I kept meaning to go back and secure everything; it was all on my to-do list, but I hadn't got around to it yet. Just like I meant to really organize my office, and do a hundred other projects to get my shit together. God, has the story broken yet?"

"Not that we've noticed. And we've got Joel helping us out; he's looking into where the blackmail material ended up. Do you have any idea where she sent it? Anything she said in boasting or gloating that would give us a clue?"

He shook his head. And I resisted my desire to go to him and pull him into a hug. Right now, he wanted distance. I'd give it to him - for a little while, anyway, until he felt comfortable with me touching him again. The poor kid.

"Blair..."

He gave a little hiccup of a laugh, and then covered his mouth with his hand.

"You keep calling me Blair. Shit, Jim. You only do that when something's wrong. What haven't you told me?"

I took a step closer, then stopped. I was going to covert ops his personal space until he was in my arms. I wanted to try and make him feel safe. And loved. Other... things could wait.

"Blair... Do you need to be tested for STDs?" If so, the sooner the better.

He replied very softly, "Uh... I guess I better... She made me go down on her. She's crazy, Jim. And she's going through with selling the nerve gas. I thought maybe I could talk her out of it, but she doesn't care who gets killed. I knew I had to get away, and try and get help to stop her. Even if it outed you and you hated me."

Another step. "I could never hate you, and I'm so sorry she hurt you, Bl- Chief. But in your statement you left out being forced into doing oral sex on her. When we take her into custody, we can bring her up on charges for sexual assault."

He shook his head and said tiredly, "It would be my word against hers. And you can't tell me that people wouldn't look at her and then at me and ask what was I complaining about -- a nerdy little guy like me getting to have sex with a blonde goddess like her? I'd just get a lot of shit about the whole thing, so why put myself through that? And if you can arrest her, she's going to go down for a lot worse than what she did to me. Karma will catch up to her, and that will have to satisfy me. So, yeah, I didn't tell Simon. Don't you tell him, either. Or Megan."

I took another step towards him. "All right. But you talk to me, buddy, if you feel shaky because of it, or start thinking anything she did to you was your fault, okay?" Another step. "Tell me, when she left you alone and went down to the beach, why did you follow her? Why didn't you run for help?"

He turned and looked at me, his eyes a window that revealed everything he felt for me.

"I didn't follow her, Jim. I didn't know she had gone to the beach. I was running to you, man. I was coming to you. And then I saw..." Anger crept into his voice, and I welcomed it.

"Christ, I'm sorry you saw us like that. I... I was compelled to meet her. I wasn't in control of myself, Blair. It was more like a dream, and I had a dream vision earlier when I was asleep that I was on the beach with her. And then later I really found myself with her, just like my vision, when your voice broke the spell. And I don't think she could help herself, either. It's as if we're two sentinel dolls and some power is making us act this way." I tightened my fists. "I fucking hate not being in control because of some stupid instinct. You've got to help me figure out how to keep it from happening again, okay?"

By now I had positioned myself right next to him, and I tentatively put my arm around his waist. He didn't move away or tense up, so I snugged him up against me.

"I've got a lot to tell you about, Blair. For one, the reason I kept bitching back in Cascade and why I threw you out of the loft. The visions I had, too... in the blue jungle, I saw your spirit animal and I kept seeing Barnes' spirit jaguar there, also, and all over Cascade, before I met her. I haven't been honest with you about a lot of things, and I want to come clean. Will you listen to me, Blair?"

He nodded, but I could feel him shivering. "Let's get you back in the bed, okay? You need to rest."

Blair let me help him fix his oxygen line and get him back under the covers; he scooted over so that I could sit next to him. I arranged the pillows to support his hurt shoulder. Then I turned off the light, not to make him more comfortable but to make it easier for me to confess.

We were touching, my hip to his side, my hand clasping his. And I told him plenty about the strange shit that had been happening in Cascade that tied in with Barnes. How in a blue dream I'd seen a wolf with a spotted jaguar and how I didn't want the wolf to be around her - so I shot the poor beast. And the horror I experienced when the wolf changed shape into him. Naked. Dead.

Blair was mostly quiet, taking in what I was telling him, but he stopped me when I'd recounted how scared I'd felt at seeing him dead on the jungle floor.

"And that was why you kept pushing me away? Never letting me stay with you alone? Kicking me out of the loft?" His heartbeat started picking up and his breathing did also.

I smoothed his hair with my free hand, wanting to keep him calm. "Yeah, I was afraid I would hurt you. Physically, you know. I knew you were wondering why I was being an asshole to you, but you just smelled so wrong to me. It kept coming down to either staying away from you, or hustling you into the bathroom and washing you myself, then dragging you to bed and making sure my scent was on you - inside and outside. And I couldn't fuck you without screwing up our agreement. And I didn't want to tell you about the crazy shit that was going on with me. We'd just gotten back on track about me reading the first chapter of your dissertation. I didn't want to derail us again. I knew you hadn't done anything wrong; it was all me. That was why I went camping, to try and figure out why I was being so on edge about you and cranky as hell about everything else, too.

Blair let out a long, soft exhalation... And his heartbeat had dropped back to normal. "But all of that was my fault, Jim. I should have made you listen to me when I tried to tell you I found a woman who might be a sentinel. I let you shut me up, and that's not like me. I should have done a tribal dance around you till you agreed to let me tell you. Hell, I should have threatened to make fried tofu sandwiches until you caved."

I tugged on a curl I held between my fingers. "You shouldn't have to do outrageous things to get my attention. No, Darwin, it was my fault. You've told me and told me I need to let you know when things feel strange, and both you and Incacha should kick my butt for not telling you about the dream visions I was having."

Blair gave me a small, forgiving smile. "I'll give you a pass, but you're on your own with Incacha." I felt that smile go through me like Cupid's arrow. He was such a great guy, and I was coming to believe I'd been a fool about more than the sentinel shit.

Footsteps coming down the hall alerted me to get up off the bed and I cracked the door to see who was coming. It was the nurse who had checked on Blair a couple of hours ago, and I stepped out of the room while she took care of my partner.

Blair said, "Jim?" quietly, under his breath, and I re-entered. The nurse, a thin woman who was tapping her foot and who also smelled irritated to me, was removing the saline IV from his arm, capping it off.

"What's up, Chief?" I asked.

"I told the nurse you'd stay in the bathroom with me while I take a shower. Please, Jim. She's in a hurry and was just going to run a washcloth over me, but I want a real shower. She said I could if you agree to help."

The nurse told me in Spanish that she was going to get plastic to wrap around Blair's shoulder and hurried out the door. I wondered if maybe there was a little more to it than Blair not wanting to settle for a half-assed bed bath. Maybe he didn't want to be touched intimately by a woman right now.

"You need me to help you wash up?" I eyed the mop on top of his head. "I don't think you can get your hair by yourself, Chief."

"I'll try, and if I get stuck, you can come to my rescue." He smiled at me, a little shyly for Sandburg. "You're good at the rescuing. Thanks, Jim. You saved my life."

I slowly stretched my arm out and gave him a light noogie on the top of his head and we waited for the nurse to come back.


After watching Blair drop his towel while trying to dry his wet hair, I picked the terrycloth up and wrapped it around his head, and grabbed a second one to absorb the water droplets on his clean skin. He smelled so much better, just his own unsullied scent and soap, but there was something I wanted to add to that bouquet.

When he was mostly dry, I put my arms around him and pressed us close together. I was shirtless, since Blair had needed my help with his mop, and he was naked. Blair startled a little but I rubbed my hand up and down his back and he relaxed.

"I want... uh. I want -- no. I need to do this, Blair. I... oh, shit. I don't know how to explain it."

Blair smiled against me. And used his good arm to hug me back. "Want me to give it a shot, Big Guy?"

"Be my guest, Sandburg." And I dropped a kiss on the top of his head. Kisses between us had been on the not-allowed list, but I figured just this one time, we could ignore that restriction; it wasn't every day that Blair almost died.

"Well, I've been through a tough time, being kidnapped and shot and all, and I probably need a hug. Alex used my body, and yeah, it was rape - I kept telling myself that at the time, but sometimes, I dunno... I guess I wigged out a little and went with the old 'It was my own fault' screwed up explanation. Anyway, maybe you're trying to replace her bad touch with good touch. But Jim, I wouldn't let just anybody touch me right now. Only you, man. And you went through a bad time, too. I wasn't breathing and you had to breathe for me. You had to carry me off the beach to get help. So maybe you need a hug, right?"

He pulled away for a moment and looked up at me.

"And maybe there's something a little more primal at work here. I'm your guide; I belong with you. Not belong to you, with you. See the difference? But then I started smelling like Alex -- because, yeah, sometimes she would kiss me on the cheek to thank me for helping her, and she would stand too close to me, or she'd take me by the arm to show me her latest paintings - and, well, I see now that her scent on me bothered you. More than bothered, you, actually. I was your guide but I was marked with another sentinel's pheromones and smell. I was betraying you, according to your nose."

He laid his cheek on my chest, and swayed a little.

"So I'm thinking that you're making it clear to anybody who can tell that I'm back with you. You want me to smell like you, and I'm okay with that. And I'll tell you a secret, Jim. After we'd made love, years ago, I liked smelling you on me and me on you. You don't have to be a sentinel to feel territorial, man. So..." He looked questioningly up at me, and I smiled ruefully back. "How'd I do? Did I nail it?"

I gave him a hard squeeze and stepped backwards. I handed him a clean gown and helped him get his arms into it and replaced his sling. "You've earned a gold star, Chief. But you're getting tired. The nurse left fresh sheets; let's get you back into a clean bed. And I've got more to explain about. A lot more and some of it you're not going to like, Blair. You're not going to like it at all."


After I'd made Blair comfortable in his hospital bed, I dragged a chair over next to him and described the visions I'd had from touching Barnes' paintings, and how I'd fingered Carl Hettinger as Barnes' accomplice. I had to keep him from sitting up in excitement about how I seemed to have gained the second sight. His enthusiasm made up for my own lack of elation about the whole damn thing, although I conceded that it could be useful in a pinch. If it continued.

He lost the pleased and intrigued look on his face, though, when I reluctantly told him he was under suspicion by the FBI of helping Barnes to steal the gas. As his face tightened with apprehension, I assured him that it was a ridiculous theory and that he shouldn't worry about it.

"Crap, easy for you to say, Jim. I did write that note saying I was running off with her. But you would have told them she made me do it, right? So what else are they holding against me?"

"My own report, for one thing," I replied glumly. "Sorry, Chief, but the Feebs are speculating that your butterfingers with the flashlight that let Barnes get away on the fire escape was deliberate. And that your innocence is questionable since you met with her in your office when you'd said you were going to Connor's place to get some sleep. They think that you're a young guy who had a big crush on her and that she used your interest in her to get you to help her with the robberies. It's all speculation, your supposed involvement, there's nothing that can stick. And she shot you -- that's got to make them realize that you were kidnapped."

Blair bit his lip and looked up at the ceiling. "Or, they're going to say that we had a falling out and she shot me because of that. Hell, she's even got a track record for killing her boyfriends - look at that asshole Carl."

I tapped him on the nose. "Don't worry about it, okay? You've got alibis for all the robberies she did in Cascade. And just to verify what you told Simon -- a man who identified himself as a security cop from Rainier called you from your office. He said that I asked him to contact you, that I needed you to come get me because I was sick and was going to lie down on your couch till you came, is that right? Were you worried that I'd had a zoning spell and wasn't quite recovered from it?"

"Yeah. I was concerned about you; I had stopped at the motel and picked up my things and I really was going to go to Megan's place..."

A slightly shifty look crossed his face and I interrupted him.

"After you had swung by the HazMat lab to see if I needed any help, right?"

Blair made a face at me, and I bent over him and kissed him on the forehead. "It's okay. You've been the best friend, the best guide to me, even when I've acted like an asshole, and I don't deserve what you do to help me. So... Alex, and Hettinger, her thug, were waiting for you in your office?"

Blair nodded and made an unhappy drone of agreement. "Carl - I wasn't told his last name -- wasn't happy that she took me hostage, but he went along with it. She told me she had confiscated my research, and that if I didn't cooperate it would be released to the media and you would be outed as a sentinel. And she bragged about stealing the nerve gas, and I thought maybe I could talk her out of her plans, appeal to her as a tribal guardian. Oh, man - she did not want to listen to me at all. She said that the only reason she didn't kill me was that I was meant to lead her to the Temple of the Sentinels."

He rolled over onto his side, facing me. "She made me drive my car to a warehouse down on Harbor Street, and then we switched to Carl's car and went to a little airstrip about half way to Seattle and flew down here." He laughed a little, but it wasn't a happy sound. "Jim, she's not like you. I don't know what went wrong with her but she's a sociopath with sentinel senses. She really doesn't care what happens to other people."

He looked puzzled. "I can sense her, Jim. I can tell what direction she's in and if she's close or far away, and I've got to find her. I guess because she needs to be stopped. I don't know. This is kind of new, I didn't know I could do this before I saw her on the beach." A sick expression crossed his face. "Jim, what if I've bonded to her? God, I don't want to, and I don't care how ill it makes me feel if I go away from her; I'm not going to be her guide. But I feel as strong a compulsion to find her as I did to find you after I'd met you at La Push. Yet I still feel bonded to you, too."

He closed his eyes, and I replayed in my mind those hesitant steps he'd taken toward Barnes, on the beach, before she'd shot him. She'd had the choker. Was that why he felt drawn to her now?

He opened his eyes and looked at me with relief. "I can feel us, Jim. I couldn't when I was with her; it was like the signal was jammed. After she left me alone in that beach house, I could sense you again. I was so happy to know you were here, except I knew you had every right to never want to see me again, because of my fuck-up with the research. But I wanted to be with you, with my sentinel who would never harm the tribe. Even if it was only until you decided to break our bond. I wouldn't blame you, you know. You trusted me and I let you down."

I kissed him again on the forehead. I was reluctant to destroy Blair's faith in me -- the trust he was talking about was a two-way street and I'd lied to him ever since he'd come to Cascade.

An aide coming down the hall delivering breakfast gave me an excuse to latch onto. Blair was going to be upset when I finally told him the truth about his choker. He should eat first; he needed the food to help recover. I'd tell him when he was done with his meal.


Before Blair had finished his coffee, I heard Simon coming down the hall, which was going to give me another reprieve from having to admit what I'd done. I knew I couldn't keep putting it off much longer, though.

I opened the door for Simon right before he could reach for the doorknob and ushered him in. He huffed a little; it was his pet peeve with me that I always opened doors before he could knock. Sitting down in the room's only chair, he gruffly asked Blair how he was feeling and when the doctor thought he could be discharged. Simon informed us that he'd hired a driver, a man who Father Castillo recommended as being reliable and honest, to take Blair to the nearest airport when he felt well enough to travel.

Blair protested that he needed to stay with me, and not go back to Cascade, but Simon and I both vetoed that idea. I wanted to put as much distance as possible between my guide and Barnes.

In a low voice, Simon shared that the CIA had contacted him and they were taking over the retrieval of the nerve gas. Connor, Simon, and I would be allowed to join with them to ambush Barnes at the meeting with Arguillo this afternoon, and that an agent would be here in about thirty minutes to interview Blair. My partner wasn't happy to hear that at all.

"Simon, do they think I stole the nerve gas, too? That Alex and I were partners and that I should be arrested?"

I could see Simon debating whether to soothe Blair or tell him the truth. He opted for the truth.

"They haven't said anything like that to me, but it's certainly possible that they might ask you some hard questions. I'm sure the FBI alerted them as to their suspicions. Just tell them what you can, and make sure they know about her obsession with that temple. Tell them she wanted you to take her to it, but she decided she didn't need you after all, and shot you."

He leaned over and patted Blair on the arm. "You didn't do anything wrong, Blair, and you're not in any trouble. I think this interview should clear things up, but if you want to have a lawyer represent you, then just tell them that and they can wait and talk to you back in Cascade."

"God, if Naomi knew that the FBI and the CIA were trying to hassle me, I'd never hear the end of how my Karma from working with the cops was coming back on me." Blair was trying to grin, but I could tell he was really worried.

Simon sighed, "Actually, Sandburg, your mother knows already, at least about the FBI. They contacted her when you were kidnapped. Apparently, they ran their theory that you'd stolen the nerve gas by her, and she's been driving Joel right up the wall demanding that he make the FBI leave you alone. I imagine she gave agents Nickols and Harriman an earful. She'll probably be in Cascade by the time you go home; she told Joel she was coming. And she's been informed you escaped from Barnes and were shot, but that you're expected to make a full recovery."

Blair groaned theatrically, but I could tell he was pleased that his mother would be visiting. I just hoped she would leave my furniture alone this time, then I remembered that there wasn't anything left in the loft for her to shift around, anyway.

Simon stood up and walked to the door. "Jim, we need to leave to meet with the CIA soon -- I've been given a location out of town -- and the agent coming by will also do guard duty, until either Sandburg is discharged or we return here. I'm getting some coffee before the guy shows up; you want any?"

Almost absentmindedly, he asked me, "Hey, did you remember to give the kid back his necklace -- that leather choker you said belonged to him?" To Blair he added, "He was looking all over for it last night; didn't know he concerned himself so much with your jewelry." I didn't respond - knowing that it was time to face the music. Simon shrugged and walked out the door.

I looked at Blair, at his confused face, and I waited for him to say something.

"What's he talking about, Jim? I don't have any leather chokers."

Quietly, I said, "Yes, you do, Blair. You lost it years ago, back in La Push."

The light dawned and he looked so happy. "Jim! You found it? Man, I can't believe you found it after all this time. This is really great; I can't wait to see it again. Remember, I told you it was my connection to my father's family? This is so cool; I thought I'd never wear it again. Where is it, Jim?" And he held out his hand.

I shook my head and sat down heavily in the seat Simon had vacated. "Blair, I'm really sorry. I've done an absolutely shitty thing to you. I didn't just find the choker recently; I've had it since you left it in the motel room at La Push. I kept it because it made me feel better when my senses were acting up. I wore it before you came to Cascade. Later, when you showed up, I was afraid you might leave and if I gave it back, then I wouldn't have anything that could help me keep from zoning or my senses from spiking. But that's no excuse. You asked me if I had found it, when you came back to Cascade, and I lied to you, Chief. I knew it was special to you and I lied and kept it anyway. I'm sorry. I really am. But I don't have it now."

Blair stared at me, his eyes wide. "You kept my choker. You lied to me. You... you stole it from me? Because wearing it helped you control your senses? Oh, Jim, you don't know what you really did. And if you don't have it, then where is it? Don't tell me you lost it!"

"It was taken from me, Chief. I'm so sorry; I didn't realize that till I was looking for it to give back to you. I made some decisions when you almost died, and giving your choker back to you was one of them."

Blair paled. "Who took it, Jim? Who has it now?"

Tiredly, I said, "Barnes took it off of me when we were on the beach. When we were... uh, you know. Right before you found us. She's got it now."

He whispered to himself, " Oh, no. No, no! Oh, my God. Alex has it. Oh my God!" Then he looked at me, his eyes full of hurt and anger.

"Guess I got a lot of things wrong about sentinels, man. You stole something I valued, Jim. You don't even know what it really means to me. You don't know what you've done, what I have to do now."

He pushed away the bed table with the remnants of his meal and lay back down in the bed, and said, flatly, the life drained out of his voice. "Go away, Jim. Just go away. Alex isn't anywhere nearby, and I don't want you here. Go away, man."

I rose from the chair and went to the door. I said, "Blair, I'm so sorry. I'll get it back from Barnes, okay? I'll get it back for you. I'll make this right. I'm sorry."

And then I granted his wish, and left him alone in his room.


The CIA guys Simon, Connor, and I met with were dicks, all six of them, and they didn't hesitate to let us know they considered us to be a bunch of amateurs. Still, we had the location of the buy, and Simon had levered that into an agreement for us to be able to be there and arrest Barnes for her crimes in Cascade. The Mexican government had agreed to allow immediate extradition; they were eager to get their hands on Arguillo, but were willing to wait their turn to take a crack at Barnes.

I'd listened in for as long as I could to Michaels, the guy sent to baby-sit and question Blair, before we left the hospital and drove to the CIA's hangout. He was being rough on my partner, flat out telling him that they knew he and Barnes had taken the nerve gas together, and then killed Hettinger when he got in the way. Blair wasn't caving, though. He stuck to the story he'd told him -- that he'd been kidnapped and coerced at gunpoint, and that Barnes was crazy. He was fervent on that point, and kept bringing up her obsession with the temple. But he didn't tell them it was a place for sentinels to come to, to explore the depths of their senses.

The FBI and the CIA could keep slinging their shit theory around; it wasn't going to stick. There was no tangible proof for any of their accusations. They were just trying to strong-arm the kid into blurting out a confession. But Blair could talk rings around them any day. I had stopped listening when he began to lecture on the probable origin of the temple, that the Olmec people who predated the Mayans had built it. Michaels was going to find himself drowning in a sea of information. I hoped he choked on it.

At the small house the CIA was using as their base, we got the tactics worked out for the takedown late this afternoon. After the mandatory chest beating and posturing had taken place, of course. Sandburg would have been whispering to me about primate studies, if he'd been there, and I'd have had a hard time keeping from laughing at his comparisons. God. If he left me it was going to tear me up. He was wrapped around every bit of my life, and I hadn't realized how damn much until I had pictured his absence from it on the drive over here.

I would have to let those thoughts and fears - yeah, okay, Incacha; I'll be facing my fears soon enough, won't I - alone for now. I needed to get in the right headspace for this mission. Barnes was going down and I was getting back Blair's choker from her. She couldn't have him; she'd hurt him. And I ignored the small voice inside of me that mockingly sang to me, 'And you've never hurt him; have you, Jimmy, my boy?'


I had fucked up, Jesus, how I had fucked up. And now I had to try and make it right.

We'd arrived at our position down from the riverbank where Barnes had told Arguillo to meet her, and had hidden ourselves. Hours ago. And I was feeling strange again, the smells and the dampness of the jungle like sandpaper on my senses. The choker would have stabilized me, but I needed to learn to do without it. I couldn't do without my guide, though, and I knew worrying that Blair would call it quits was helping to fuck up my control.

Finally, Arguillo, along with one of his goons, had shown up, riding in on ATVs and making enough racket to drown out the howler monkeys and the noisy calls of the different species of parrots.

I was listening, but not at the level I could when Blair was touching me, or I was wearing his choker. Then I heard in the distance the sound of a helicopter, and I extended my hearing, not just out in the direction of Barnes' sky chariot, but out in all directions. Trouble was, I overextended myself, and between the noise of the copter and identifying the other sounds near the river, I zoned. I could feel myself falling into it, but I was helpless to stop it.

Connor brought me out of it by some God-damned vicious pinches that I was sure had drawn blood. By the time I'd recovered I'd realized two things.

Barnes had landed and was meeting with Arguillo, exchanging a case for a satchel.

And there were men hidden at the river's edge, men who'd probably floated into position after we'd arrived. I could hear their heartbeats. And the sound of guns being readied to be fired. It was a trap.

And I stood up and warned the bitch. Fucking hijacked sentinel instincts.

All hell broke loose then. Arguillo's men moved up from the river, shooting at Barnes. She'd dropped the case that presumably held the nerve gas, and had grabbed the satchel -- retreating towards the helicopter and firing off shots. Arguillo and his bodyguard were shooting at her, too, but she was fast and made it safely back to the helicopter, which took off like a bat out of hell.

The Mexican and CIA operatives with us moved in then, firing shots at the fleeing Arguillo, who had grabbed the case of nerve gas and was using an ATV as a getaway vehicle.

The agents followed Arguillo, some on foot, others running to where the two jeeps that we'd arrived in had been hidden. I could hear them cursing me, Simon's mutters of consternation, and Connor's opinion of my intelligence level. I couldn't believe that I'd blown it like that.

But I just couldn't let her be gunned down. I couldn't.

Miller, the head CIA honcho, yelled at us to stay put and somebody would return to pick us up, as one of the jeeps skidded next to him and the other agents still in our vicinity. They scrambled in while Simon hollered agreement, and then the three of us were alone, sounds of gunfire and vehicles fading in the distance. I turned and looked at Simon, not knowing what I could say or do to make this right. Jesus.

"Jim, just whose side do you want to be on?" Simon wasn't exactly angry with me; I think he had bypassed that emotion into feeling just tired puzzlement. He slumped down onto a log and rubbed his face with his hands.

"It won't happen again, sir." I hoped. But this was the second time I'd fucked up with Alex. I couldn't guarantee there wouldn't be a third time and by the look on Simon's face, he knew that.

"Do you have any idea why you warned her like that?" Connor dropped down next to Simon. She wasn't mad, but I bet she had decided my dick was doing the thinking for me. And that was a wager I wouldn't be able to win against.

"I came out of the zone and realized she was going to be gunned down and I... got protective. God, I hate the sentinel stuff sometimes."

They didn't ride me about it, but I was sure the CIA agents' comments would more than make up for my friends' silence.

I couldn't just join them as they rested, I felt too weird, too restless, so instead I checked out the area. And I found something very interesting. I bent down and swiped my hand on the ground, and after sniffing the liquid I had smeared on my fingers, I wiped my hand clean on a large fern, and called them over.

"Sir. Connor. Look at this -- fuel. The copter was hit; she might have to go down." I started walking, sniffing the air, and found a breadcrumb trail of fuel. That bird was bleeding out pretty heavily, and I was certain Barnes wasn't going to make it out of the jungle before the pilot was forced to land.

I touched more fuel that had landed on a waist high plant, and then had to lean against a tree as a vision overwhelmed me. Barnes and the pilot were arguing and I knew what Alex was thinking and feeling. And, fuck, she hadn't turned over the real nerve gas. She'd handed a dummy case over to Arguillo. She'd planned to push the real nerve gas out of the helicopter as she made her escape -- a little insurance in case the deal went bad. She wanted the pilot to fly deeper into the jungle, but he was trying to head to the coast, yelling at her about the fuel loss. She took the gun and held it to his head and with her other hand pointed in a different direction. He swore at her in Spanish, sweat beading up his forehead, but he turned the copter east.

So very clearly, I could feel her intense desire to find the Temple of the Sentinels. And I had to find her. It was all kind of melding in my head, needing to find her because of the nerve gas, needing to touch her again and lose myself in her body, and needing to rip Blair's sealskin choker away from her.

The vision faded as Connor walked up to me and I held up a hand before she could belt me in the name of bringing me around.

"I've got to follow her. She's still got the gas, and she's going to the temple. I can find her." I started to stride away, but Simon caught up to me and grabbed my arm.

I looked determinedly at him and he rolled his eyes. I could guess what he was thinking -- sentinel crap again -- but he resignedly said, "Connor, go with him." He took something out of his pocket and handed it to her. "GPS locater. I'll bring the hired help with me when they show back up."

I nodded, and Connor darted to where we had hidden our supplies and grabbed two backpacks. She hustled back and thrust one into my arms; I shrugged it on and turned and started at a fast pace to follow the fuel trail. She called goodbye to Simon and fell in behind me.

I could feel the compulsion to be with Alex stealing up on me, like the way the hypothermia I'd fallen victim to in the ocean had robbed me of my ability to think clearly. And Blair wasn't here to rescue me this time. I was drowning with the need to find her, to find the temple. She would be there.

When I saw the black jaguar pacing besides me, I felt myself going even deeper into the obsession. I had a last thought of pity for Connor, hoping she could keep up with me, that I wouldn't lose her in the jungle, and then my only focus remained on Alex.

Beautiful, strong Alex. The panther beside me gave a roar, a loud mating roar, and I followed him, followed the trail of fuel drops that would lead me to my mate. A faraway concern was trying to rise to the surface of my mind - what of your guide, Sentinel? - but it swiftly sank again.

Alex. My mate. The female of my kind.

And I moved through the jungle, intent on finding her.

She would be at the temple.

I would find her.


I ignored Connor, for the most part, while we hiked through the jungle, but she kept up with me. The compulsion - and my spirit animal - had disappeared after a couple of hours; I was able to talk to Connor instead of grunt, and when it got dark we made camp. I was relieved that I was able to act like a rational human being again, and I hoped I could maintain control when I saw Alex. Connor assured me that she would shoot me herself if I looked like I wanted to root around with Barnes. We ate, and talked about moving my furniture from my basement back upstairs and how Blair'd probably had the CIA guy who'd interviewed him bleeding from the ears by the time he was done with him, until we both dropped off to sleep beside the small campfire.

And in my dream I saw a welcome sight. Incacha was sitting cross-legged by a large pool in the blue jungle.

I sat down in front of him and bowed my head respectfully. Incacha grasped my shoulder and squeezed it.

"Enqueri, what do you fear?"

"What do you mean?"

He didn't repeat his question or rephrase it; instead, he just stared steadily at me. Incacha would have been a hell of an interrogator if he'd been a cop.

I didn't like thinking about my fears; it was as if thinking about them made them more real, not something I could ignore. But ignoring them apparently hadn't worked all that well. And my fear of not being in control of my senses had been the reason I'd kept Blair's choker. Well, at first it had been. The superstitious delusion I kept holding onto that he was a selkie had played its part, too. He couldn't reject me or leave me if I held power over him by keeping his seal skin.

I cleared my throat and said quietly, "Losing control. Of a lot of things. Relationships, my senses. Of the façade that I'm normal and not a freak. Surfing , even - I don't want to get swept out to sea again. And I don't want to fuck Barnes but it's like I don't even get a say in it. You have to help me, Incacha. I'm being drawn to her and the temple. And I've told Blair the truth about his choker and I'm afraid he's going to leave me now. I can't blame him."

"And when your control is lessened or stolen from you - do you face your fears, Enqueri?"

Well, that was a damn rhetorical question.

Incacha stood and I looked up at him. He laid a hand on my head and gave me a blessing in Quechua. Then he added, "Face your fears, Enqueri. They grow larger if avoided. There are answers waiting for you, if you will look for them."

"Shaman, what can I do about the female sentinel? Do you know about her?"

Incacha took a step back from me. "The spirit world has brought you together, but cannot make you mate if you will resist. She is dark, and her spirit heavy with corruption. You carry a light within you, Enqueri. Use it as a shield."

I started to feel way out of my depth. What the hell was he talking about, a light within me?

"Incacha, what the hell does that mean?"

"You must face your fears. And go alone. A trial of your will, Enqueri."

He pointed past me and I stood up and turned around. Light blazed down and I saw in the distance the Temple of the Sentinels. I'd dreamed of that place, of the statue of the jaguar, of the vines and overgrown vegetation that mostly obscured the ruin. And Alex had used paints and pigments to re-create the structure she'd seen in her mind. Alex Barnes would be there. She needed to be stopped. And I needed to know I could resist losing myself to her.

"I have a light within me, and if I use it, I can control myself?"

"As I have said, Enqueri. The knowledge is there, if you will but see."

Incacha patted me on the shoulder again, then walked away down a jungle path. I sat back down at the beautiful blue-green pool and prepared my body to relax - the way Sandburg had shown me - and thought about what I had admitted. It was true - I did avoid dealing with the things that would strip me of my control of them, if I could.

The senses - I'd repressed them as much as possible, and Lord knows I'd been reluctant to deal with learning about them, and I'd kept Blair's choker as a cheat for control.

Surfing? My board hadn't been wet in the last three years. The ocean ensnaring me wasn't something I had been willing to take a chance on again.

Relationships were tricky. I'd wanted a wife, but when I had one, she didn't fill the need in me like I'd thought she would. I never seemed to be able to let go and really be myself with the women I'd dated and that pretty much soured any blossoming romance fairly quickly. Men - I'd lost interest in cruising after Sandburg came on the scene.

Blair. Telling the truth to him had placed control of our friendship in his hands. And that was frightening. But I couldn't lie to him anymore. I loved him and I'd almost lost him and it was about damn time that I put his needs before mine.

I loved Blair. But I hadn't wanted to be out with him. And why was that? I had to admit that it was because I didn't want other people to see me as different. Having a male lover would prove to the world that I was strange, a freak, not right. But I didn't feel that Blair was a freak, and he'd never hid from me that he was attracted to men. And I didn't feel that way about the gay men I'd met. I'd kind of lumped the sentinel thing in with being bi, or gay, I guess. And I think my father instilled in me the reaction I had to being outed as a sentinel.

Okay, if I came out of my bisexual closet I would get some strange looks, some rude comments, maybe even harassment or abuse. Some of that was a serious concern. Backup from my brothers in blue, for one thing. One advantage about the sentinel senses, though, was that I would be able to tell if there was real harassment in store for me from overhearing other cops conversations... plus their bodies couldn't lie to me about acceptance or hate. I could get around any harassment. Maybe.

Ah, I just didn't know.

And then I was waking up and found the campfire had died down, and Connor was still asleep. She wouldn't understand Incacha's instruction for me to go alone, that this was a trial for me to prove I could face Alex and not succumb to the compulsion to mate with her. I just hoped I could figure out what my secret weapon, the light that was supposed to keep her darkness away from me, was on the hike to the temple.

I got up and stealthily lifted my backpack and quietly moved out of the camp, following the still pungent trail of helicopter fuel. Connor would be okay. She had the GPS locator, and Simon would be coming to get her. She'd have a few words for me when we met up again, I was betting. I'd probably have to make a note of whatever Aussie insult she'd be throwing at me, for looking up later.

I was in control right now. I was going to the temple because I wanted to, not because I was being compelled to meet my mate there.

I crossed my fingers that it would stay that way.


Hours later, I came upon the downed helicopter. The pilot was dead, but he hadn't died in the crash. Alex had shot the poor bastard; suicides don't shoot themselves in the back of the head. Jungle insects were already buzzing and crawling around the body, and I backed away from the scene intent on stopping her before she killed anybody else.

I shuddered as I realized how close Blair had probably come to being killed while being held hostage. Alex was out of control and I suspected that finding out she was a sentinel was fueling her feelings of power. She was a sociopath and she was escalating into taking out anyone who was in her way. And the thought of the toxic nerve gas in her unstable hands was frightening.

I had no trouble following her trail, and my own sense of where the temple was located sharpened the closer I came to it. I was on alert, but I couldn't use my senses the way I could if Blair was helping me or if I was wearing the choker. I suspected I must be confused, because as I made my way cautiously past the worn-down jaguar statue and toward the ruined structure that I had dreamed about and had seen in Alex's paintings, I thought I caught Blair's scent. But he was probably in Cascade by now, safely away from Alex.

I edged up to the temple's entrance, gun in my hand in the approved position, and for a split second I was in shock.

And in that moment when my attention had been drawn to the man gagged and tied against the wall opposite the entrance, I felt a prick in my neck, numbness racing through my body, and I dropped my gun. My last sight before I felt myself sliding into unconsciousness was of Blair's terrified eyes staring at me.


Cool water surrounding me. The air smelling damp and rich with the scents of old stone, and moss and jungle plants. And Alex.

With difficulty, I opened my eyes. Alex was kneeling beside me. She smiled eerily and slowly circled her finger around my mouth. There was a bitter, herbal taste left on my lips after she had touched me. And I was in some kind of shallow trough; the water I was lying down in was up to my neck. Alex must have lifted me into it. She was strong, a good quality in a mate.

Alex purred, "Welcome to the jungle, lover. Too bad I can't have you just yet. The dart I shot you with will keep you paralyzed for a while. But don't worry; you won't be bored. I have a special drink I've brewed that I'll be... bestowing on you soon; we'll share the visions and multiply the strength of our senses. Till then I thought it would be fun to play a little with your guide. You don't mind me borrowing him back, do you?" She chuckled, amusement on her face. "You don't keep very good control of him, Jim. I caught him trying to sneak up on me, and since the boy just couldn't keep away, I thought I'd find a use for him."

Blair. God, I remembered now seeing Blair for an instant before Alex got me. And we both probably had been shot with a dart. Some of those jungle plants or poisonous amphibians' secretions could drop an elephant in its tracks.

With an effort, I turned my head enough so that I could see my guide. She'd moved him next to me, on a stone slab of a low table. He was still gagged, and his hands were tied together with a makeshift rope made of cloth. The line extended down from his hands to his feet, which were also tied together. He didn't have a shirt on, and his wound was oozing blood through the bandage over it.

Alex climbed on top of him, her weight settling down on his groin. She slid the gag down and untied it, humming a little.

"Jim, you okay?" His voice was choked and raspy sounding.

"He needs water," I said urgently.

"He can have a little of my drink. I wonder what effect it will have on a guide. And what effect seeing me tasting him will have on you, Jim. Will it make you hard?" And from the floor she brought a stone bowl up to her lips and swallowed a mouthful. Then she took Blair's face between her hands and lowered her mouth to his. He kept his lips closed, I guess, because she moved one hand and punched him in the ribs, and deeply kissed him when his mouth opened in shock. He coughed and spluttered and then went limp.

She ran her hands over his chest, playing idly with his nipples. And I could see, wrapped around her wrist, his choker.

"Guide," she crooned to him.

I watched Blair looking at her, and his eyes were dilating. She'd drugged him. And I guessed I was next.

"Tell me, little guide; if I ask, will you lick me till I come?"

Blair's voice was slurred but I heard him answer yes. Oh, Blair. Why are you here? What were you thinking, traveling here alone? Alex was wondering the same thing, apparently.

"Are you bound to me, guide? Have we a bond now?"

"Sort of. Had to find you. Hate you." Blair sounded drunk; the potion Alex had given him was affecting him.

Alex took the gag and used it to blindfold Blair. "You hate me, little guide, and you're going to hate what I do to you. Too bad. I hated what they did to me but did they stop? Did they ever stop? You'll get used to it. I did."

Then she kissed Blair again and bit his lip so hard that bright drops of blood welled up where her teeth had punctured it. He made a pained sound, and I tried to get up and help him. But I couldn't.

"Alex, leave him alone." I thought of hostage negotiations and decided to try and get her to talk to me. "Who hurt you, Alex? Can you tell me about it?"

"Oh, no, Jim. We're not going to play therapist and patient today. Talking in my therapy group in prison was boring. I'd rather do this instead."

And she picked up a sharp-edged rock, some kind of ancient tool, and cut a line down Blair's bare torso from his nipple to his navel. Blood welled up again. It was a shallow cut, but I was afraid she would keep going deeper.

I wanted to distract her; maybe she'd stop hurting him. "Alex. Sentinels are protectors. We protect the tribe. C'mon now, look deep into yourself and you'll know it's true. You don't have to do this to him."

She ignored me and made another cut on his belly. And then another one. I kept pleading with her and she kept ignoring me. Blair made gasping, distressed sounds, and I imagined that blindfolded like that he wouldn't know where she was going to hurt him next. The anticipation had to be as torturous as the cuts themselves were.

Alex started moving against Blair, against his groin, as she made many more long cuts on his torso. Then she dropped the tool and leaned over him, squirming wildly, and kissed him. She moaned into his mouth and I could smell the scent of her orgasm. She slumped forward, dropping her weight on him while her body trembled with aftershocks from coming so hard. Languidly she sat up, her shirt streaked with his blood.

"You're very sweet, little guide. You taste good to me. Except I don't feel a bond to you, so I don't know if I should bother keeping you. But... I would like to see you suck Jim's cock." She turned to me and I couldn't see any sanity in her eyes. "Jim, shall we keep him to play with later?"

"Don't hurt him anymore, Alex. Yeah, keep him so we can play later."

She took off the blindfold - a strip of cloth from Blair's own shirt, I realized - and gagged him again. She climbed off of him and refilled the stone bowl with liquid from a larger bowl. And then she came over to me.

"Alex, c'mon, what is that stuff? It could be dangerous to take."

"I made it, Jim. I read the ancient language on this wall and I knew what it said, and I recognized which plants to use. This place is for sentinels, like you and me, to come and lie in these chambers and take this drink. It will increase our senses. I did it last night, and it was like flying among the stars. I heard you coming long before you could have heard me. Join me, Jim. I need a mate. I want a mate."

I shook my head and tried to roll my shoulders in the water. The effect of the dart was starting to wear off, but not fast enough. If I could just keep stalling her... "Alex, you don't know what this stuff can do to you. It might poison you. I'll help you, okay?"

She stood over me and smiled. "You'll understand soon, Jim. And it will be like we're on the beach again, only this time we won't stop. I want to feel you inside me. Your guide can watch. He loves you; I can smell it on him. I could back in Cascade, only I didn't know back then what I was noticing. I'll let you keep him, until we're tired of him. But first, let's fly to the stars."

She kissed me passionately and I could taste Blair's blood on her lips. Then she held my chin and poured some of the drink in my mouth. I tried to spit it out, but I ingested enough that I stopped struggling against her. She made me swallow the rest and then filled the bowl up and drank it down. She refilled it and carried it with her to the other stone chamber and climbed in. I gazed intently at Blair, trying to make a connection with our eyes, and almost as if the force of my stare was attracting his attention, he turned his head and locked his eyesight with mine.

With great difficulty, I whispered, "I love you," to him, and then the visions began.


I saw some of the worst moments of my life. Visions of the people who had rejected me, abandoned me - my mother, Lila, my father and brother, and more heartbreakingly, the people who had left me through death - Bud, Danny, Jack; Ben Sarris and my team dying in agonizing pain from the crash in Peru. My friend from the academy who was shot during a routine traffic stop. Blair on the beach, not breathing. The other times those close to me had suffered -- Blair in Lash's chair, drugged and helpless; Incacha almost dying in my apartment; Daryl being dangled out the window by Kincaid and Simon's agony at seeing his son at the mercy of a racist terrorist. All of them terrible memories I had always tried to wall away. More followed, a lifetime's worth of pain...

And I saw myself gripped by the riptide that had relentlessly pulled me out to sea, saw myself slowly dying from hypothermia as I listlessly swam in aimless directions. Remembered the dream where I'd been swept past bored people in boats, none of them caring anything about me.

My fears flooded through me - fear of being different, not normal; of the condemnation in my father's eyes for showing the world I was a weirdo. Fear of being found out that I enjoyed the touch of men. Fear of people knowing I was a sentinel, and the attention it would draw to me. I didn't want to be the geek in the circus - a freak forced to bite the head off of a live chicken and swallow it while people stared and laughed at me.

It was too much and I cried out for Incacha to help me.

Like an echo from meeting Incacha on the spirit plane during my last blue dream I heard his words again.

"You carry a light within you. Use it as a shield."

My light, what was my light? What made me feel shielded? Who made me feel shielded?

And that was the key. Who made me feel shielded, who protected me?

Images of Blair flooded me. Blair concocting bullshit stories to explain my strange behavior with my senses to others. Blair doing his damndest to come up with ways for me to cope. Talking to me. Hanging out with me. Giving me pleasure. Making me feel comfortable with who I was. Finding me when I was lost in a zone.

Hauling me out of the ocean. Saving my life for the first time. Caring for my needs. Blair loved me. He would never let me drown within his reach, like the people in the boats would have. He loved me!

Blair was the light within me. I focused on him, in my mind, and then I was able to see with my eyes again.

Blair was looking at me, his blue eyes wide and drugged, bloody lines decorating his skin. As I gazed at him, another shape seemed to cover him, bulky and dark, but his eyes stayed the same. I blinked and he was himself again.

And then I didn't exactly hear him speaking to me, but I felt from him emotions of love and concern and terrible anxiety, distress that I was going to lose myself.

I tried saying "Chief" and marveled when I was successful.

I tried the miracle again.

"Chief. Thank you. Thank you so much."

Now puzzlement overlaid the other emotions emanating from him. "I'm sorry for so much, Blair. I know now. I know you're my light. And I'm not going to let her hurt you anymore."

I moved my arms gingerly. Then my legs finally responded to my silent directive to stand up. Awkwardly, I hauled myself out of that strange bathtub. My senses were ten times more powerful than they had ever been when I'd worn Blair's choker or when his touch had grounded me, and it was a heady feeling. Kind of like walking a tightrope. Just don't look down or start to get too involved with one sense, I reminded myself. Surely zoning at this level would be incredibly dangerous.

Staggering, muscles trembling, I went over to Alex. I wanted to free Blair, but I needed to secure her first. She was lying in the shallow trough of water, with a look of ecstasy on her face. I took my handcuffs off of my belt and reached into the water to cuff her hand.

The spotted jaguar leapt out of her, and onto the temple floor, roaring her call to mate. The spirit animal gazed intently at me and then in exactly the same motion I'd witnessed in Blair's office -- she jumped straight through me.

I dropped my handcuffs on the floor. And I felt the lust for this beautiful woman, this female of my kind, returning. Lust and tenderness. She was damaged, yes. She'd been twisted by life, and I saw a young child who'd been hurt and made to suffer. I saw a girl who'd learned to barter her body for protection and to get what she wanted. A woman who'd lost her way a long time ago, but who found joy in painting. I could heal her. I could save her, love this dangerous and damaged woman and teach her the right path to travel as a sentinel. I could redeem her.

I lifted her up into a sitting position in the water and she opened her eyes. They were shining with the wonder of her visions. I kissed her and it felt so good, so intense. I wanted her to leave this watery cocoon and make love with me. She was my mate, and I wanted to touch her skin with eager fingers. I tugged a little on her shoulder but she didn't try to boost herself out of the water.

Instead, she looked all around the temple and said, "I'm home. I can feel the vibrations of the earth itself. I can hear the clouds moving in the sky. I can see the molecules in a drop of water. I want to share this with you."

I was both tempted and alarmed. That was way too deep into the sentinel senses. But it sounded mystical, what she was experiencing, and for a long moment I thought about allowing myself to be seduced into that level of sensation. But just for a moment, then I focused on coaxing her to agree with me. She needed to come down from tripping, and I was eager to help her transform herself into the sentinel she was meant to be. And I was aching to embed myself into her warm body.

Gently, I told her, "Alex, this isn't home. It's time to go now. The right thing to do is to give the nerve gas back. We've got to protect the people. And Blair needs help."

Saying his name brought up his face in my mind, so I looked over at him, and saw he had almost pushed himself off of the low stone table. I started to walk over to him, to my guide and friend, who stunk of fear and blood and was gagged and bound. He was hurt, and I could tend to him before Alex and I made love.

"Jim, you need to see as I see," Alex said in a dreamy voice, like the way she had sounded on the beach when we were touching each other.

I turned around. She was holding one of the nerve gas canisters in her hand.

"Alex, no. Put it down; if you open it we all die." Behind me Blair fell, and I could hear him grunt in pain as he tried to slide along the stone floor.

Towards me.

I kept my eyes on Alex; she was misguided, she needed me -- to help her understand what the right thing to do was, to show her the correct path for a sentinel to travel.

I felt again Blair communicating with me; not exactly in words, but I could understand his message. He was telling me to use the power of my spirit animal, that Alex was dangerous and needed to be stopped, and that if I fucked her I would regret it. I saw an image of us - him and me - on the roof of my apartment building and of how he had coached me to invite the power of my jaguar spirit to fill me, to aid me when I needed to find the lost Chopec warriors. And I had. Because I followed my guide's words of wisdom.

And I flashed again on Incacha's words to me. "The spirit world has brought you together, but cannot make you mate if you resist. Blair was my light, my shield, my guide. And I should listen to my guide.

I asked for help. And I received it. My big black cat materialized and roared a challenge at Alex, and then jumped into me. And my mind cleared of the haze of lust that had fogged it. My senses were up, off the scale of the dials Blair and I had worked out, but joining with my spirit animal allowed me to keep control.

Alex was speaking to me. "Once I've cleansed the world and you've left your flesh behind, maybe then you'll understand what I've seen."

God, Alex was trying to open the canister. I strode quickly over to her and laid my hand over hers. I didn't dare wrestle it away from her, in case it became damaged and opened. She was too high to know what she was doing.

I tried to reach her, to connect with the part of her that at least was interested in self-preservation. Striving for a calm voice, I said, "Alex, look at me. This isn't you. This isn't the real you. That lies deep within you. Listen to that voice deep inside of you and let it guide you. You wanted to unite our vision." I held out my other hand. "Let's do it together. Give me your hand. Come on."

I knelt and kissed her; she was bent, broken, but maybe not damaged beyond repair, and I held out my hand to her like a lighthouse sends out beams of light for lost ships. She released the canister into her lap to take my hand.

And we shared a vision. Her vision. It was terrifying. She would not use her senses to guard the people; no, she would continue to use them to prey on them. And she would continue to act out her revenge on those who had abused her, by abusing others.

With a gasp, I separated from her and sadly picked up the canister while she collapsed, panting, back down in the water.

I took it to the other water-filled chamber and placed it inside; the water would provide an extra protection against accidental discharge. I would have to find the other poisonous container of nerve gas and secure it also. Right after I put Alex in custody.

I walked tiredly back to Alex, bending over to pick up my handcuffs. This farce was over. Whatever motives the spirit world had had to push us together didn't matter anymore. I was back in control of my actions, and as a police officer I was arresting this woman for the many crimes she had committed. I grieved for the hurt child, the lost girl, the damaged woman, but she could have made the choice to change. She didn't want to change.

Alex looked at me, her eyes dazed and still adrift somewhat in the sensations of having her senses so highly elevated. She knew she'd lost me during our shared vision. And I felt confident that no matter if her spirit animal jumped through me fifty times in a row, I wasn't going to be influenced to fuck her again.

Alex groped around next to her chamber and picked up the stone bowl. Before I could snatch it away from her, she'd drunk down the contents.

And started screaming in pain.

She sobbed that her skin was on fire and her eyes were being stabbed. I tried to soothe her, to hush her. I didn't know how to help her.

She arched up in pain, then blessedly, she became still. Rigid, but quiet. Not passed out; her eyes were open, but she was gone. I lifted her out of the water and carried her outside, hoping a change would revive her, give her some relief. It didn't. I made her as comfortable as I could in the shade. But I still handcuffed her to a small tree. Just in case.

Then I went to Blair where he had collapsed on the floor, and kneeling beside him, freed him from the makeshift ropes and took the gag out of his mouth. I pulled him against me and put my arms around him. He hugged me tightly back. Once again he smelled all wrong to me; Alex had marked him with scent and touch. But I could control my reactions now. He was my guide and I wouldn't reject him. He was non-verbal, probably traumatized and now allowing himself to react. And I was still sensing his feelings -- he wanted to wipe out the taste of Alex on his lips and the feel of her hands on his skin.

I kissed him. I ignored the dried blood on his lips and the stink of terror that clung to his skin. I kissed him and I told him I was so sorry, and that he was safe now and he was the best guide in the world.

Blair was lethargic, passive, and when he didn't say anything or kiss me back, I started to really worry about him. Blair Sandburg silenced was never a good thing.

"Chief, let's get you up. There's got to be a spring in here; how about a drink of water and getting those cuts cleaned up." And remove the smell of Alex off of his skin.

He let me help him up onto the stone table where Alex had sexually assaulted him. I located a clean vessel and the spring, and he drank his fill. Poking around, I found his backpack and my own where Alex had tossed them, and got out what clothes I could cobble together from our packs, first aid supplies, his pills from the hospital, and some power bars. I took a good look at his eyes, and the pupils were almost back to normal.

He let me clean him up, and tend his lip and cuts. He ate methodically, dully, like it was his duty, but he still hadn't said one word to me. So I talked to him, explaining about warning Alex about the trap during her meet with Arguillo, the compulsion I'd felt to find her and the temple, tracking the helicopter from the spilled fuel, my dream with Incacha, ditching Connor in the jungle, and how I'd done what he said to do; I'd called my animal spirit to aid me.

He looked a little surprised at that part, but didn't respond. He watched me while I searched for the other canister of nerve gas, then deposited it in the chamber with the first canister, and found my missing gun. I ducked out to re-check Alex, but there was no change in her condition. She was zoned, I thought, and wondered if she would be able to come out of it when the potion wore off. Nothing I did seemed to help her. I went back inside the temple and found Blair staring in the dim light at the wall covered in lines, dots and squiggles. Alex had said she could read these glyphs, but I couldn't make heads or tails out of the script.

He stood up and was a bit wobbly on his feet, so I helped support him as he moved toward the entrance of the temple. We went out together into the sunshine, and then he gently pushed away from me and made his way over to Alex, who hadn't moved so much as a finger from when I'd secured her to the tree.

He stooped down next to her. He unwrapped his choker from around her wrist and then straightened. He turned and shuffled away from her, towards me. It was funny; I thought he'd be happy to finally have his choker back, but he just seemed weary, instead.

"Blair, are you okay? Maybe you should sit down; I'm going to build a fire so Simon can locate us. And buddy, I've got some questions for you, if you feel up to talking. How in the hell did you get here, for one? Are you feeling any more effects from the drink Alex forced into you?"

Blair didn't answer me. But he did ask his own question.

"Where did you wear my choker, Jim? Obviously, I never saw it on you when you'd stolen it from me."

Okay, clearly I had a lot of fence mending to do.

"Uh, mostly on my ankle. I didn't want to explain why a guy like me was wearing something like that."

Blair nodded thoughtfully. "Okay, that's pretty good thinking. I used to wear it around my neck, because I liked how it looked. But not anymore. I don't want anybody to notice it."

And he wrapped it around his ankle and let his pants leg hide it from sight.

He did sit down then, and watched me gather dried wood for a signal fire. He looked terrible. There were dark circles under his eyes and his normally honey colored skin had a pale cast to it. I'd managed a fresh bandage for his shoulder wound and had doctored his numerous slashes on his torso. He was still bare-chested; I hadn't had a clean shirt for him, but I'd washed mine for him to wear when it dried.

I had the fire going, deliberately making it smoke, when he stopped his silence. "I'm staying here. When you leave, will you contact Feliz for me and give him the coordinates of the temple? Tell him to drop everything and come now. Oh, and remind him to bring the supplies he and I have talked about."

Feliz? "Santiago? The archeologist you've been talking to about this joint? Blair, you need to go back to the hospital, get some medical care. We can come back later, after we take Alex back to the states. And I heard your mother was traveling to Cascade to see you."

He shook his head. "I called Naomi from the hospital and told her I wasn't coming back yet. I'm okay, Jim. I'm tougher than I look, you know. And this is my chance to finish the dissertation; Feliz can provide outside verification that the Temple of the Sentinels does exist."

Then he looked at me. Warily. Sadly.

"I'm so sorry, Jim, for being careless. And I can't believe you haven't blown up about my research being out there ready to expose you as a sentinel, because man, you have every right to do so. And you say you're sorry for stealing my choker. I understand all of that. But I need some time; I need to process. You kissed me in there, Jim. What the hell am I supposed to think about that? I told you I'm not going to be your secret lover. Laying kisses on me is dirty pool, man, dirty pool. So you take her back and you make sure she's put somewhere where she can't hurt anybody ever again. And let me hide here for a while, okay, and document this place. Maybe If I'm out of sight the FBI will forget about wanting to talk to me. And I'm probably already fucked about not teaching my classes. I might not even be able to keep my TA status, but another week or so won't matter now. So go on home, Jim."

He sighed. "And stop kissing me, man. Go out and find a girlfriend, one who doesn't want to shoot me."

I walked over to him and dropped down next to him. "Chief, I don't think I want to stop kissing you. So if you really don't want me to do this, tell me no."

His eyes widened, but he didn't tell me to stop, so I hauled him into my lap and kissed him breathless.

And this time he kissed me back.

"I'll give you your time down here, if you really want me to leave you alone, but Chief, I'd be happy to stay with you. And when we're both back in Cascade, I'm going to take you out on a date."

He hid his face in my neck and muttered, "Going to a sporting event is not a date, Jim, unless we act differently than we usually do. Are you saying that you want to come out of your well-locked and guarded closet? Because I don't believe you. And I'm thinking this is going to end up hurting me a whole lot when you change your mind." He pushed himself off of my lap and stood up, not looking at me. But he had some color in face now.

He checked on Alex, made sure she was as comfortable as was possible for somebody in a catatonic state. I was amazed that he could stand to be near her, after what she'd done to him, but Blair is kind. Even to the only person I've ever heard him say that he hated. He started doing all the sorts of things he would do with me to try and bring me out of a zone, and he tried for a long time, but he didn't get any more reaction from her than I had except that he was able to get her to swallow more water.

He came back and sat down by me, a pensive expression on his face. "She really lost her way, didn't she, Jim."

"Yeah, both a long time ago and in drinking all that potion. Are you okay dealing with her? You gave it a good try about waking her up, but I think she's still under the influence of the drugs she took. She took that crap at least three times, maybe more. It made me hallucinate, besides zooming up my senses, which, by the way, are still elevated. Did you take any trips from the dose you got, buddy?"

"No. I just felt really stoned for a while." He stared into the fire, poking at it with a stick. "Fuck. I don't like hating her. Man, I can just about feel the negative energy settling into my soul, you know? I need to work on letting it go, for my own sake." I reached out and gently squeezed the back of his neck, before standing up and throwing some more leafy branches on the fire, sending more thick smoke spiraling up.

"You know, for a moment back there, I was tempted to take my senses to the level she was talking about. But I didn't. And you really helped me get my control back, Chief."

Blair looked puzzled. "You said I told you to use the power of your spirit animal, so that you could resist Alex. But Jim, I never said anything. I was gagged, remember? You must have imagined it."

"Nah, I didn't make it up. You told me; you just thought it towards me, instead of talking."

His eyes got big again. "Jim, you're talking about an ability I don't have. You must have just imagined it was something I told you. You were high on whatever that concoction was; I've never been able to communicate like that."

Sometimes, Blair forgets what being a sentinel means. He has sort of a blind spot, thinking my abilities don't really focus on him. The truth is that I focus them mostly on him.

So, I knew he was lying to me. But I didn't call him on it. Not now. It could keep. He'd had a rotten time, and I wasn't going to push him on this. I decided to throw him a bone.

"Want to hear about the visions I experienced taking that crap? After you explain how the hell you managed to drag yourself out here?"

He looked a little suspicious, I guess because I was offering instead of him having to drag it out of me, but he wasn't going to look this gift horse too closely in the mouth.

"Well, the driver who was supposed to take me to the airport was agreeable to driving as close as he could to where I thought Alex was, out here. And it seemed like the right area for the temple, according to my sources. You said you followed the helicopter's trail of fuel? Man, I think you must have taken the long way around." He stood up and stretched, then poked me in the side. "Now, hold up to your end of the bargain."

I motioned for him to sit down next to me, and I put my arm around him and spilled my guts while I watched the fire, monitored Alex, and listened for our backup to tramp through the rainforest. He blushed when I told him how Incacha had said that the light within me would be my shield against Alex's efforts to seduce me, and that the visions had shown me just who that light, that shield was. In retrospect, it had been kind of a 'duh' moment. How could I have missed seeing what Blair was to me all these years?

He told me then how he felt about what Alex had done to him, and that the fear and anger he'd experienced was now tinged with pity for the woman lying so still. He asked me to try and use my animal guide's power to revive her, and I did try. I let him handle the fire and I went and stood next to Alex and called for help from the spirit world. My animal guide responded, and I felt the power thrumming through me, but when I touched her and called to her, there was no response. I moved her limbs and gave her more water; if Simon didn't find us by tomorrow, I'd have to try and see if she would eat if food was placed in her mouth. I wanted to bring her back to herself so she could pay for her crimes... and because I couldn't just dismiss her plight, not after knowing what had influenced her to be the person that she'd become. Mostly, I thought it a terrible shame that she had evolved into such a dangerous sociopath, and sad that she had rejected the chance to change. I kept her handcuffed, though. I didn't want her to revive and be able to hurt Blair anymore, like in some horror movie's cheesy plot.

I came back to him, picking my now dry shirt off of a bush to hand to him. We sat side by side, my hand firmly holding his, and stared at the fire, each lost in our own thoughts. And as time passed, I finally heard the sounds of our rescue party - Simon, Connor, and it sounded like some of the CIA clowns - heading our way.

Blair wanted some time to process. I'd give him that. And hell, I could use some time to 'process' things, too. I'd learned information about myself in those visions -- and maybe about Blair. I'd seen a strange shape overlying Blair's body while he lay on that stone table. And he had communicated mind to mind with me. Just like that seal did when it rescued me from the ocean.

He had his choker back, but if he was a selkie, then a certain innocence had been lost. He'd been forced to be with two people, two captors, because they had held his choker - his seal skin. He wasn't going to display it openly anymore. Which lent more weight to the theory that it wasn't just a decoration to him. I doubted that he would ever feel as safe about it as he did before I met him in La Push. And his ability to find Alex in the jungle? We were talking about the guy who normally couldn't find the correct exit off of the highway, let alone track somebody through a Mexican rainforest. He'd said in the hospital that he was experiencing a compulsion to find her, like he'd felt to find me after we'd met. But he didn't know back then that I was the owner of his choker; he'd figured it was a sentinel and guide thing. And Alex had said she didn't feel the bond with him although he'd felt something towards her. Another clue to the selkie mystery - if I wanted to speculate about something so... fey.

But... he'd kissed me back when I'd laid that last kiss on him, and there had been nothing compelling him to do so. I pulled him to me and kissed him again, enjoying the feel of his mouth opening for me.

He cocked an eye at me, after I'd taken my time smooching on him.

"What was that for?" But he was relaxed and he smelled good. Hopeful.

"For luck, Blair. It was for luck."


Continued in Part Four

Chapter Text

I would not wish any companion in the world but you. The Tempest: Shakespeare.


Part Four


Trouble, Truth, Trust, Traveling, Tears

I stood near the wall at Gate 37 at the Cascade airport and checked my watch again; the flight from Mexico City was late coming in. But finally, the plane taxied up to the terminal and shortly afterwards passengers appeared down the walkway.

It didn't take sentinel-strength senses to locate my guide; anybody with decent eyesight could've spotted the smallish curly-haired guy exiting into the waiting area. I studied my partner, who was trudging along, his head bowed slightly, his bursting-to-the-seams backpack slung over one shoulder. Sandburg seemed exhausted, and given the frantic pace of the last two weeks for him, I wasn't surprised one bit.

The kid had almost plodded past me when he stopped; he raised his head and caught sight of me standing away to the side. I wondered how my presence had registered with him - was it something to do with our bond, or had he noticed me earlier and his brain was just now catching up?

He stumbled towards me, mumbling, "Jim, man, I'm glad to be back in Cascade, but I said you didn't have to come get me. Jeez, it's really late; I was going to catch a cab."

"Nah, Darwin; it's no trouble." I took the backpack and made a show of almost dropping it. "What's in here? Half of the temple?" I lifted it to my shoulder. "Hey -- you hungry? We can stop on the way home, if you need to eat. My treat."

Blair grinned, the tiredness on his face momentarily dispelled. "Is this the big date you've been promising me? The drive-through window at Wonderburger?"

I grinned back at him, slipping my arm around his shoulders, and prodded him a little to start him moving. "Yep. I'll even let you super-size your order. Nothing's too good for my baby."

He snorted, and we strolled down the wide corridor shifting sideways occasionally to avoid panicked idiots who were so intent on getting to their planes that they weren't watching where they were going.

Blair had no other luggage, and for once he seemed too tired to jabber much. He opted to skip ordering anything here or on the way home and just eat at home.

We'd just come through the automatic doors into the damp night, my arm still slung around him, when we ran into a snag.

Two of them.

Agents Nickols and Harriman stepped in front of us, and we halted. I mentally sighed. Obviously, the FBI was still on a kick that Blair'd had something to do with the theft of the nerve gas. I hoped they were here to just set up a time for Blair to come in to talk to them, but I had a sinking feeling they were going to pick him up for questioning right now.

"Detective Ellison. And Mr. Sandburg, I believe?" Harriman said it with a sneer in his voice that I entertained a brief fantasy of silencing. But just for a moment. It would help Blair more if I played nice with the Feebs.

"Chief, meet Special Agent Harriman," I nodded towards the younger of the pair, "and his partner, Special Agent Nickols. They're FBI, and have been investigating Barnes' theft of the nerve gas."

I heard Blair exhale a tiny groan. He'd already been through this with the CIA. Twice. They'd grilled him at the hospital in Sierra Verde and again at the temple, when Simon and Connor had brought the cavalry to track down Barnes. Crap, I'd hoped my report would satisfy the Feebs and they would leave Blair alone. Apparently not. And nobody'd been able to interrogate Alex Barnes; she was still in a potion-induced catatonic state and had been transferred to a state psychiatric hospital.

"Man, I understand that we have to talk, of course you want to know what I saw after she'd kidnapped me, but I'm wiped out here. I'll go over the details later, okay? And you should check with the CIA - hey, maybe what I've already told them will work, if you get their report or transcript or whatever. So, Jim's got your number, right? I'll call you tomorrow."

And Blair tried to push past them. I moved, too, but I didn't think his little end run was going to work.

Nickols laid his hand on Blair's chest, stopping us from walking away, and said, "Blair Sandburg, the FBI is conducting a preliminary investigation into possible terrorist activity and criminal charges involving the theft of nerve gas from Rainier University. We have the legal right to interview you," he looked hard at my partner, "at our convenience, not yours. Don't give us any trouble, boy, or we'll be doing this with you in handcuffs." His eyes shifted to me. Judging me. "Ellison. Turn your partner loose." He made partner a synonym for whore.

I flashed on how it must look to the two of them -- Blair standing so close to me, my arm held tightly around him. They must think we were lovers. And I cursed myself for a coward as I immediately dropped my arm and stepped away.

I'd thought I was ready to be open about being with Blair, but this feeling of shame I was experiencing was giving me a reality check. Shit, the first time somebody who knows me insinuates that I'm enjoying touching a guy, and I pull back. Way to go, Ellison.

I tried to put my arm back around Blair, but the damage had been done.

He pushed away from me, and spoke up. "Hey, you want to get this over with tonight, I guess I've got nothing better to do. Let's go, already." I could hear the hurt tone in his voice, and I cursed myself for that knee-jerk reaction.

"This yours, kid?" asked Harriman, indicating the backpack I was holding.

Blair reached out to take it from me, and our eyes met. I hoped he could read the apology in mine; his expression of tired satisfaction had faded away into bleakness.

"I'll drive him; where do you want to do this at? We can go down to the station," I offered. Maybe being in familiar territory would make it easier for Blair.

"We're going to FBI headquarters in Seattle. And you're not invited, Ellison," Nickols said smugly, taking Blair by the arm and tugging him towards the curb. Harriman snagged the backpack away from Blair, and Nickols sneered at me, "Go home. If we release your little sweetheart, you can pick him up in the morning. If he's arrested then we'll notify you, since you're Banks' pick as the 'liaison' between our agencies."

Nickols pushed Blair into a black Crown Victoria blatantly parked in the pickup lane, Harriman put the backpack in the trunk, and then both of them got in the vehicle. Blair half turned and stared at me when they pulled away, and I saw him shake his head.

What? Was he shaking his head in disappointment that I'd wilted during the first test of putting my money where my mouth was about having an open relationship with him? Or was he telling me not to follow him, to just go on home.

Fuck that! I hurried to my truck and climbed in. I was going to Seattle.


"Okay, kid. Let's just go over this once more. Are you currently affiliated, or have been in the past with any environmental or political groups?" Nickols sounded a little heated.

"I know what you're getting at and I'm not some kind of eco-terrorist! And what kind of lame brained, murderous stunt would that be anyway, to kill off so many people and animals in the area where you opened that nerve gas shit!" Blair's voice was rising, the annoyance he was feeling plain to hear.

"Answer the question, Sandburg." That was Harriman. He and Nickols had been taking turns with having a crack at my partner. I rubbed my eyes and popped another Life Saver in my mouth, a multiple-sense precaution to keep myself from going to la-la land while I eavesdropped on Blair's interrogation. I really missed Blair's choker; I wouldn't have had to work to keep from zoning if I was still wearing it. It was getting uncomfortable being in my truck. I yawned and stretched; I'd been listening to this crapola for hours, waiting outside the FBI regional office. It was standard interrogation shit - they were trying to wear Sandburg down, hoping he'd say something they could pounce upon as proof he'd been Barnes' accomplice.

Blair huffed out his opinion of this line of questioning. "Like I already told you... and told you and told you... the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Environmental Defense, and the Coastal Ocean Institute. And I had a grant one summer from the Blue Ocean Institute, to study the myths and stories of the native coastal peoples relating to the Pacific Ocean and connecting waterways of the Northwest coast." There was a pause, then I heard him continue. "Oh, yes. There was another group, very small, practically a cell, you know. But you can quit looking so alert; I was eight years old and my friends and I started a club. We called it 'The Environmental Fun Club,' and we made posters about animal rights and wrote songs and picked up litter." Blair's voice rose in volume again. "Give it up, you guys. I'm not a terrorist; I didn't help Alex Barnes steal the nerve gas. I was a victim; I was kidnapped and she shot me, for Christ's sake." His voice trailed off, and I knew he must be so exhausted.

"You weren't kidnapped, Sandburg. We have the note you left for Ellison, telling him about leaving with Barnes." Assholes. I'd told them back in Simon's office that Blair had been coerced into writing that piece of fiction.

"She held a gun on me. She forced me to travel to Sierra Verde with her and Hettinger. And she was whacko - nuts, crazy, obsessed, whatever you want to call it. She'd fixated on the temple and was convinced that I could find it. That's why she made me go along with her."

"Right. Sandburg, the CIA report stated that you had your passport with you in Mexico. No kidnapper stops and picks up their victim's passport, for Christ's sake!" I tightened my hands on the steering wheel when I heard Nickols explode in anger at my partner.

"Oh, man - don't even start with that crap. I had my passport in my backpack, because Ellison asked me to leave his apartment. Almost everything important to me was in it or my car! I had my birth certificate, financial papers, school documents, my observer's pass, my laptop - all of that stuff was in my backpack. And she let me bring it with me to Mexico." I cringed when I heard him say my name; yeah, he was still angry with me.

"All right, tell us again about what you and Barnes and Hettinger were doing in Sierra Verde. Did you have sex with them both, or just Barnes? Was Hettinger jealous of you? And repeat your statement about how you got away from Barnes, just to end up right back in her vicinity on the beach. Interesting, isn't it, how you showed up again at that temple where she was found with the nerve gas? For a kidnapped victim, you sure weren't trying very hard to get away from her, were you?"

That was Harriman, taking his turn at wearing Blair down. And I was betting that Blair had given something away -- a twitch, a small jump, a look on his face -- when Harriman put the words 'sex' and 'Barnes' into the same sentence. I'd kept in touch with Blair while he was in Mexico; I knew he was still dealing with having been raped. And Harriman and Nickols would be on any indication of a sexual connection like a bird on a grasshopper.

"I didn't know she was down the beach; it was just the way I went to get help. It was my bad luck that she had gone that way, too. If Detective Ellison hadn't been there, I would have died from - well, take your pick, drowning or bleeding to death. And I knew she'd go to the temple and I needed to stop her before anybody else got hurt. And okay, it was stupid, all right! I freely admit that it was a fuck-up on my part. I should have waited and hooked up with Megan or Simon or Jim before heading into the jungle. She captured me - used a blow dart with some kind of knockout stuff -- and tied me up. If Jim hadn't come, I'm sure she would have killed me. She's not sane."

There was silence for a while. I always thought of that as letting the suspect simmer. And I knew that Harriman or Nickols would be hammering Sandburg again with more questions, probably just when the kid thought they were finished. Blair had sat in on interrogations before, but it's different when it's your ass in the hot seat; I'd experienced that during IA investigations.

I'd called it; they let him sit there until he asked if they were done and could he leave now. Then they pounded on him for two more hours. And they kept on asking him about having a sexual relationship with Barnes or Hettinger. They kept bringing up Hettinger, and I wondered if their poking around in Blair's background had revealed he was bi. He didn't date men from the PD, although he did have brief flings with guys he met other places. But not anymore. He wasn't going to be having sex with anybody but me from now on.

All the Feebs had was a bunch of speculation. But they weren't stupid; no doubt they felt he was hiding information. There were gaps in Blair's story and he had tap-danced around answering the questions about Barnes or Hettinger having had sex with him.

I knew he didn't want to admit he'd been raped. I could tell the Feds what they wanted to know, but before I'd left him in Mexico, he'd asked me not to say anything about Barnes sexually assaulting him in the temple. That was the only assault I'd witnessed, but he'd told me in the hospital about the other times. However, that was hearsay and the agents would want Blair to confirm the attacks. Coming clean was his decision to make, though.

Harriman and Nickols pulled out of the interview room, jabbered for a while, and decided to end the questioning for now. I gladly left the truck, tired of being in it all night, and went inside the building, since it was now open to the public. Finally, Nickols escorted him into the lobby where I was waiting. I was determined not to let Blair down this time, and I held out an arm, inviting him to take shelter under it.

Instead, he handed me his backpack. "Jim, my shoulder's pretty sore. Would you mind..." and he gestured at his pack.

Okay. Blair didn't want me touching him in public. I hoped he wasn't going to feel the same way about it in private.

Nickols admonished me as we turned from him to head out the door. "Ellison, you're too closely involved to be handling this case. I'll be informing Banks that we need a liaison who doesn't have a... personal relationship with the suspect."

I angrily responded. "As far as Cascade PD is concerned, this case is already closed. Hettinger's dead and Barnes is in custody at the state hospital in Lakewood. If she ever recovers, then she'll stand trial. We have no intention of bringing charges up against Sandburg."

Nickols stopped glaring at me to glance over at Blair. "This isn't over by a long shot. We'll be in contact, kid; don't leave town." Blair sighed and started walking towards the entrance. Nickols gave me another hard stare before I turned to catch up with my partner.

And I could feel Nickols' eyes on me, boring a hole in my back, as we walked out the door into the morning light.


"You okay, Chief?" I was going to suggest stopping for breakfast; he had to be starving by now.

A soft mutter came from where he was sitting, staring pointedly at the scenery rolling by outside the truck window. "No. I'm not fucking okay. The FBI is going to arrest me and my ass is going to rot in jail."

I took one hand off of the steering wheel and laid it on his thigh. He didn't fling it off, apparently he was either too tired to care, or he wanted some comfort despite being pissed at me.

"Blair, I was listening the whole time. Believe me, they've got nothing on you. But they've probably figured out you aren't telling them the whole story. It's making them twitchy. If you told them what she did..."

Blair slouched down and let his head fall back against the top of the seat. "No. I'm not telling them that she raped me. It's not important, and they wouldn't believe me, anyway. I just don't want to deal with them harassing me about it."

He sighed deeply and then barked out a disbelieving laugh. "And, man... they brought up Naomi's involvement with a bunch of activist groups, my own membership in similar or the same groups, me fumbling the flashlight that night, when Barnes got away, and writing the note that said I was leaving with her. They think she shot me because of a lover's quarrel, and I went to the temple to make up with her and get my share of the loot. Or, I helped her steal the nerve gas so I could make an eco-terrorist statement with it, and she double-crossed me. I swear, my head is spinning; they've got so many conspiracy theories they're throwing at me."

I rubbed his leg in sympathy and glanced at him, my tired, beautiful, hippie guide - and hoped I could repair the damage I'd done to this new thing between us when I'd rejected him last night. I took a breath and let it out slowly. "I'm sorry about what happened at the airport. It was just a reflex, that's all. I've done a lot of thinking about what I want in a lover, a partner, and you're it, Blair. I'm ready to come out of the closet; I'll do better, I promise."

Blair breathed out a sound of hurt resignation. "You jumped back from me like a scalded cat, and they didn't even really say anything. What are you going to do when it's a friend like Simon who sees you holding me or kissing me? I don't believe you're as ready as you say you are, Jim, and I'm thinking I'd be a fool to get my hopes up, only to have you change your mind. Just let it ride for now."

"I don't want to, Blair. I want to prove to you that I can take it, that I can make this shift to being openly lovers with you." But was a tiny, treacherous part of me glad he wanted to stall for now? I was going to have a stern talk with my subconscious; I needed all of me on board the train to being out with Blair.

He sighed again. "You're trying too hard, Jim. And I'm afraid you're going to end up resenting me in the end, when people you care about realize you haven't exactly been straight with them." He paused, then laughed. "Not being straight with them, Jim. Get it?"

I could kick my own ass for stepping away from him at the airport. Now I was going to have to convince him I was ready to make this change in my life. And the lack of sleep was catching up with him, because he'd latched onto that half-assed joke and was starting to cackle like a loon.

I pulled over and put the truck in park, the engine idling. I undid his seat belt and hauled him over to me, turning in the seat so I was partially facing him. He was still laughing, so I covered his mouth with my hand until he ran out of steam and quit braying like a demented donkey.

I turned his face towards me and kissed him. I kissed him several times, till he was looking a little dazed. "I'm going to prove to you that I really want you, and I also want the people I care about to know you're not just my guide but my lover. Okay, Sandburg?"

Blair lost a little of the misty expression on his face. "I'm not going to sleep with you right now, Jim." He threw that out almost like a dare.

"You're saying you aren't going to have sex with me until you're sure I can handle having an open relationship with you. I hear you, pal, I hear you. But let's compromise. How about you sleep upstairs in my bed, and I promise not to molest you. But you can touch me, Chief. Anytime you want."

He looked tired, and confused, and a little sad.

"Blair, I'll just hold you. C'mon, what about all the lectures you've given me about the healing power of touch. And we've been apart for two weeks and I missed you. Tell you what, let's stop at House of Pancakes, and then go home and sleep the rest of the day away." I threw in a bribe. "I'll give you a massage and dial up my sense of touch. There won't be a single knot in your body when I'm done."

He studied me, and I could see him wavering. "A massage. Man, after that plane ride, and being up all damn night stuck in a chair, that sounds pretty good."

"My bed is nicer than your futon," I offered.

He laughed again, but he'd lost the hysterical tinge I'd heard in his voice earlier.

"Okay. I'll let you wine and dine me -- and bribe me. I want whole-wheat pancakes with strawberries and blueberries. And this does not count as our big date."

He fastened the middle seat belt around himself and leaned against me. I eased back out into traffic and headed for Cascade.

Keeping Blair with me was worth making a change.

I'd adapt.

How hard could it be?


I unlocked my front door and walked in, Blair close behind me. He dropped his backpack and pushed it against the wall with his foot, and then proceeded to walk around the entire living room, like he was on patrol. He ended up stretched out on the couch, and I could see that I'd better get him up and into bed before he conked out right there.

"C'mon, Sandburg. Get your shoes off of the couch, and anyway, why don't you head up to bed? Or maybe you'd like to hit the shower first?" I walked over to give him a hand up.

He looked up at me with half-closed eyes. "Jim, man. It's great to see everything back where it belongs. It was seriously weird to see the loft so empty - you know, like the last time I was here and you'd moved everything out."

"Yeah, well, I was seriously weird, thanks to the seriously weird sentinel shit. And go look in your room. There's something there I know you want to see." I reached my hand down, but he didn't grab it.

"Nah, I'm comfortable. I think you're just trying to move me off the couch so you can lie down." He grinned up at me, smug and sassy; eating a plateful of pancakes had put him in a better mood.

That little shit. I was really tempted to haul him up anyway, and march him to the bathroom and then up to bed, or over to his bedroom and then upstairs, but I could outfox him.

"Okay, I thought you'd want to check over your research, make sure it's all there, but if you don't care about it..."

Worked like a charm. Blair rolled off the couch and made a beeline for his bedroom. I was tempted to lie down on the couch, just to irk him when he came out. Instead, I followed him into his room, where I'd piled all of his stolen papers and disks on his bed.

He was already putting things into piles, and mumbling under his breath, but he stopped long enough to hug me.

"I was so relieved when you told me last week that Joel had located my stuff, but I was afraid it was going to be locked up as evidence. This is so great, and I can't wait to tell Joel how much I appreciate him tracking it down. I was scared stiff that Alex was going to make good on her threat to sic the media on us. Good thing her lawyer was such a procrastinator and put off contacting the papers, right?"

My hunch - checking with lawyers Barnes had known -- had panned out; when the shyster who'd last represented her in court had been told he was holding stolen goods, he'd been only too happy to give Blair's research to the cops.

"It was a close call, Darwin. A really close call, and I hope it was a wake up call for you." I stopped him from picking up another one of his journals of raw data on me, and he turned and looked guiltily up at me.

"Jim, I promise I'm going to go through all of this, and my diss, to make sure I've taken out your name and any information that could identify you. I promise, okay? As a matter of fact, I'm still on medical leave from being shot so I can do it right away, and afterwards I'm going to use the time to put the final touches on my dissertation. I added a lot about the temple while Feliz and I were doing the initial fieldwork, after you left the site. What a lucky break it was that my laptop was in my backpack, and my spare batteries; I've done a shitload of work in the evenings for the last two weeks."

His eyes widened when I touched his face, cupping his cheek and chin, and he locked eyes with me. "I'm holding you to that promise, Blair. Don't let me down; I won't be so forgiving if you screw up again."

He nodded, and I had another thought. "Sandburg? If you're on medical leave from Rainier, how are you going to explain working at an archeological site when you should have been taking it easy?"

He hand-waved away my question. "If it comes up, I'll figure out something creative to tell the university."

"Creative. You mean you'll come up with another BS special, don't you?" I slid my arms around him and pulled him closer.

"Yep, a Blair Sandburg special. Works every time." He laid his head against me and it felt so good to hold him. I wanted more, though.

"No, Darwin. BS as in bullshit. Listen, you can go through this stuff later; you've got a massage coming, remember? Why don't you grab a shower - but leave me some hot water - and go lie down on my bed. Thank God it's Saturday, and I don't have to work, so we can take it easy the rest of the day."

I dropped a kiss on top of his head, and Blair gave a small, blissful-sounding sigh. I released him then, and gave him a small push towards the door. He was ready to crash; the adrenaline he'd drummed up during the interrogation had receded, leaving him drifting towards sleep. I followed him out of his bedroom and shut the door. He disappeared into the bathroom and I went to the kitchen to warm up some olive oil to pinch hit for massage lotion. Jesus, it had been such a long time since I'd touched and mapped Blair's body.

Mmm... going to sleep with Blair in my arms was going to be sweet. And now I had a shot at getting this open relationship thing with Sandburg right. I wasn't going to blow it again.


"Ellison." Simon stood expectantly at his door and motioned for me to join him in his office.

He pointed to a chair and I sat down. Then he handed me a cup of coffee -- regular coffee. Ut-oh. It was well documented - by Sandburg, who'd done a survey of the Major Crime department - that if Banks offered you Folgers, instead of exotically flavored coffee, there was bad news headed your way. I sighed, wondering what Simon was about to tell me that would fuck up this week. To quote Blair, 'Mondays sucked monkey toes.'

"Jim, this morning I had a call from the Bureau, asking that you step down from the Barnes case and that another detective be assigned as the liaison to the FBI. What's got their panties in a twist?" Simon walked around his desk and eased into his chair, carefully setting his coffee down on the desk.

"Sir, they're still rolling with the idea that Sandburg was tied in with Barnes, and with her in a catatonic state it's Blair they want to hang out to dry. They questioned him all night last Friday, and objected to me working with them when I said that we had no intentions of bringing Sandburg up on any charges. Oh, and because Sandburg and I have a 'personal relationship.'"

"Because he's observing here and they know you let the kid rent your spare room?"

Banks had opened the door with that question, and I could tell him the truth; namely, that I seriously wanted Blair and that if things worked out for me, we'd be lovers. Again. I could tell him that we'd gone from lovers to friends and were now headed back down Lover's Lane. I could do all of that.

Instead, I opened my mouth and agreed with him. "I guess so, sir. They think I'm not objective enough about Sandburg and that he's conning me, I suppose." Chick-en, I told myself.

"How's the kid dealing with everything? And consider yourself removed from liaison duty; I'll ask Joel to take over." Simon swallowed more of his coffee.

I sat my mug down on his desk. "He's been pushing himself too hard; his shoulder isn't healed up enough yet, and I'm sure he overdid it at the temple. He's on medical leave from Rainier and he wants to finish up his dissertation this week, so don't expect to see much of him around here. And he's worried about the FBI arresting him, but it's all speculation on their part. However, I'm not sure he believes me about that."

I'd picked my coffee back up and was ready to drink it when I thought of something else. "Oh, and he was miffed that his mom had to leave before he could see her. She's coming back in a few days, and he's looking forward to that."

I took a gulp of coffee and thought about what I wasn't saying. Again, I could be adding that he'd agreed to go out with me. Instead, I was making like a clam. Shit, this coming out of the closet was tough. Maybe I should tell Connor first; take her out for a beer after work and explain what Blair meant to me. I was pretty certain she wouldn't react badly. As for Simon, I wasn't sure what he'd do or say. We'd been friends now for years and he might be concerned I wasn't the person he thought I was, or he might be ticked off that I hadn't told him a long time ago -- or, hell, maybe both.

Simon took a folder off of his desk and skimmed the contents, then handed it to me to read when he got up. He opened his door and requested loudly for Connor to join us.

Megan turned down the offer of coffee from Simon, and I passed her the file. I wasn't quite sure why this had landed in our laps; it seemed like a detail for the uniforms to handle.

"Captain, why --"

"Because the Chief ordered his best department to handle this, that's why. Which would include the Cop of the Year," he interrupted. Giving me a sardonic look, he added, "Not to mention the other detectives from Major Crime. And one exchange inspector from Australia. You two'll be concentrating on tracking down the death threats made against Jack Bartley."

"Connor," Simon swiveled his chair towards her, "he's a union leader working on uniting the longshoremen, and his politics have made him a target; he's not well loved by the shipping companies."

He addressed us both. "The Chief is pulling some of the uniforms out of Patrol to assist with security - you can get the details from Mendez at South Precinct. Coordinate with him; oh, and if you need them, Brown and Rafe are available."

"Sir." And I quickly finished my coffee. Megan stood up, the file in her hand.

While Connor and I were walking out, Simon added, "Jim, I'll see if I can get the Bureau to lay off of Sandburg."

"I appreciate that, Simon."

Connor stopped me after I closed the door. "Is Sandy being bothered by the FBI?"

"Yeah, fuckers grilled him pretty good the other night. Let's grab some lunch on the way over to South, and I'll fill you in." I felt my heart speed up a little at the thought that I was also going to confess to her that Blair and I were 'seeing' each other. And I told myself that it was time to stop being a wuss about it. I was who I was, and anybody who didn't like what they learned about me -- well, that would be their problem, not mine. And I could let Blair know tonight that I'd told Connor, and that would make him realize I was serious about changing.

"Right, mate. I fancy that seafood place two blocks over. Want to see if Sandy can join us?" She handed me the file.

I shook my head. "He's hard at work on his computer, and you know how he gets - he probably wouldn't even notice the phone ringing."

She frowned. "You make sure he's taking care of himself, Ellison. He's had a rough go these last couple of weeks."

"Yeah, he has. But we can gang up on him if he needs it." We separated to get our jackets and I waited for her by the elevator.

Standing there, preparing to out myself to Connor, I flashed on something my granny used to tell me: 'Fortune favors the brave, my Jimmy; fortune favors the brave.'


I could hear Blair's music as I walked down my hallway, and I was sure half of the neighbors could, too. Earth music. That's what Incacha had called it, when he'd heard the throbbing sounds, and his naming it that had delighted Sandburg no end. I opened my door to find my partner stamping his bare feet in time to the low thrumming notes of the didgeridoo and the rise and fall of melodies that made me think of my experiences in the rainforest of Peru. He didn't see me come in, and I watched while he danced in front of the balcony windows.

Blair was lost in the music, eyes closed, body totally in tune with the rhythmic pulsing of this mix of ancient instruments and voices mimicking animal cries. He once had made an allusion to me being a throwback to pre-civilized man, which I had taken for an insult at the time, but seeing him like this made me picture him as the pre-civilized one. I fantasized him dancing naked, firelight flickering on the designs painted on his body, the beads braided into the strands of his thick, curly, long hair swinging to the beat of the drums, and the choker around his neck drawing my eye to the curve of his throat. He would look wild, and free, and so enticing... I could feel my dick harden as I gazed at him. Maybe he would do it for me, would let me paint Chopec symbols on his skin and would dance for me, until I couldn't just watch him anymore and would have to pull him to me and push him to the floor and... I closed my own eyes, lost in my vision.

The music softened in intensity until there was silence; when I opened my eyes Blair was looking searchingly at me and breathing deeply. I could smell my own arousal - and his.

And I did pull him to me, our mouths meeting in a fierce kiss. He tasted of lust and sweetness, and a sense memory of how it had felt when he'd last allowed me to enter him swirled up from remembrances of years past.

We conveyed frantic signals back and forth, our lips the messengers, negotiating a surrender to the feelings we'd had for each other since Blair had made that first offer to buy me a beer back in La Push.

He drew back from me, and started to unfasten the buttons on my shirt.

"You sure," I said to him, my voice rough with desire.

He nodded, and began murmuring in a desperate tone. "Nothing's sure in life; I'm starting to figure that out. But right now, yeah, I want this. I want your hands on me; I need your hands. I need to wipe out - make me remember us, Jim, and not..."

I stopped his fingers from tugging my shirt free from my jeans. I closed my hand around his wrist and turned, pulling him with me towards the stairs.

He came willingly; he came freely. And I vowed to make it good for him, to honor him for giving me this trust.


I left Blair sleeping in our bed and went downstairs to fix us something to eat. Blair's laptop was set up on the kitchen table; I saved his work and put it in his room, then put on water for spaghetti noodles before I showered.

When I came out of the bathroom, my partner had dumped sauce into a pan and was adding in black olives and mushrooms. He yawned and pointed to the high cupboard where the booze was kept, and I reached up and got out the cheapo red wine he used to add flavor to his cooking.

"Thanks, man. I didn't feel like climbing up on the counter." He poured in a good dollop and set the bottle down.

I drew him to me and he snuggled up against me, yawning again. "Sandburg, are you going to be awake enough to eat?"

"A shower will wake me up. I still have some work to do on my diss for the night. I was kind of stuck earlier, couldn't figure out how I wanted to word some things. That's why I was dancing, to try and get my head into a better space; in a way it's almost like meditating, only with movement instead of being still. And I really love listening to the didgeridoo."

He stepped back, reluctantly, I thought, and I impulsively kissed him. This felt both familiar and new, us futzing around in the kitchen, but we hadn't been lovers for over three years and I felt such a wave of love and affection for him. We had always touched much more than mere friends would, but now I would be holding him like this for the rest of my life.

The rest of my life? Yeah. I wanted the right to embrace him intimately for the rest of our lives. Blair was really mine now. Not just my guide and partner, my friend. He was my mate. My lover. And I wouldn't keep him in that dark, secret place in my heart anymore. Nope, I was coming out of this closet I'd stuck myself in since puberty, and I wasn't going to be ashamed about who I loved.

We kissed for a few more moments, before Blair stepped back with a sleepy sigh and meandered over to the john. I hummed to myself and measured out the noodles, using the round gizmo that gave you exactly two servings. Sandburg, on the other hand, would've just dumped half of the box into the boiling water.

The phone rang as Blair stepped back into the kitchen, hair damp and dripping a little on his sweatshirt. I had my hands full pouring the spaghetti into a colander, so he dashed over to get it.

I heard him suck in his breath after he cheerfully said hello. I dialed up my hearing, and groaned to myself when I heard what Nickols was saying.

Blair listened for a minute, said okay, and then hung up. He turned around and looked at me, cocking his head toward the phone.

I nodded, indicating that I'd listened in on the conversation. "I'm sorry, Blair. Simon even called the Bureau to see if they'd quit hounding you. Do you want to get a lawyer?"

He chewed on his lip for a moment, and then shook his head. "I don't want to pay for a lawyer, and you said they don't have anything on me. They're just bluffing, and I can wait it out till they get tired of hassling me. I'll just go back down to Seattle tomorrow, like they've asked, and let them waste my time for a couple of hours. And you don't have to camp out in the truck listening in, Jim. I'll be fine."

Brave words, and I wished I could believe he was as confident about the FBI interrogating him as he sounded.

Blair sometimes forgets that I'm a sentinel. And that I mostly focus my senses on him.

He smelled worried.


"All right, Jimbo. Spill. What did Sandy say when you told him you told me that you were interested in him?" I worked through that convoluted sentence she'd just said and then the light dawned. This was the reason Connor had been giving me the fisheye all morning while we were in the bullpen running down phone leads about Jack Bartley's potential whackers.

We had just left the building to interview Bartley where he was being guarded; in a port town like Cascade anything that affected the shipping and transportation of goods was volatile stuff. Bartley was advocating that the Longshoremen make a pact with the Teamsters, and the shipping companies were against it. No wonder the guy needed police protection.

I hadn't even backed out of my parking space before she'd ambushed me with her question.

I considered giving her a flippant reply but thought better of it; I'd started talking about this Sandburg-and-me stuff with her, so it was only fair that I answer her question.

"He said that he'd told you about him being bi a long time ago, and he was, uh, proud of me for taking this first step." There. That was enough to end this conversation. "Say, Connor, how do you want to handle Bartley when we get to the safe house? Mendez said he's a prick."

"Don't change the subject. Is he going to start up with you now? And he told me he was bi but that he wasn't out at the station." She thumped me on the shoulder. "He never told me he was crazy about you. But I could tell. Hell, anybody with half an eye could've figured it out." She sighed. "He's special, Jim. I really care about him, and you'd better treat him right."

"Because you're an Aussie and kick like a kangaroo?" I looked over and smirked at her. Kangaroo jokes always got her steaming.

She bared her teeth back at me; you couldn't really call that display of teeth a smile. "Brilliant as always, Ellison. So, mate, you'd better be good to him. Now, if you want to be lovers with him again..."

I must have given something away because she stopped talking and stared at me. "I see. You and Blair..."

"A gentlemen doesn't kiss and tell, Connor."

She snorted at that. "Sandy will give me the details, wait and see." The expression on her face became serious. "Jim, I know you love him. Be careful with him, he's had such a terrible time lately. I don't know how he'd take it if you were to change your mind about people knowing you're a couple."

"I'm not going to change my mind. He almost died in my arms, Connor. I'm dense, sometimes -- yeah, don't bust a gut laughing or anything." I waited till the snickering died down. "I almost lost him and something like that makes you do some serious thinking. I've got everything I want in a partner, domestic and otherwise, waiting for me at home. Why keep looking somewhere else? I should have figured that out years ago. I'm lucky he chose to be my guide and stick around."

I speeded up the truck to make it through a yellow light before I filled her in on my other news. "Oh, and the Feds asked him to come back down to Seattle to clear up 'a few questions.' He went there this morning. Christ, I wish they'd drop it."

"They can be right bastards, can't they? I hope Sandy makes them chase their tails, like he did those CIA goons."

I made a left turn onto Miller Street and didn't say anything else.

Connor gave me a friendly punch in the shoulder. "This Bartley character -- Mendez sure doesn't sound too fond of him. After we talk to Bartley, let's spread the word around that we're looking for information on a hit being put out on the man. I estimate that half of the death threats I've checked out were just pissed off people venting, but he really is in danger. Good thing he's staying at a safe house."

"Mendez said he's been making noises about leaving. Something about speeches he's supposed to give to the rank and file of his union. If he does leave, that's going to make our job that much harder. Hey, you want to be the hard hitter, and I'll be the one patting him on his shoulder? That work for you, Connor?"

She nodded, and I turned right onto Atlantic Drive. Connor switched on the radio, and we listened to a classic rock station as we drove the rest of the way to the safe house.


"Ellison, Connor."

Simon was standing in his office doorway, beckoning us into his inner sanctum. Megan held up a hand, indicating that she'd heard, then continued to talk on her desk phone. I entered his office and took a seat when Simon waved his hand towards his desk area. He got out one of his cigars and took a deep, ardent sniff, then returned it to his suit jacket pocket.

"When Connor gets in here I want a report on the Bartley situation." Simon sat down in his chair and somehow made that shift he does from boss to friend. "How's the kid doing, Jim?"

"He's been working on his dissertation ever since he got off the airplane, except for when he's being hauled over the coals by the fucking FBI. Twice now, they've questioned him pretty hard, and even last night he got another phone call from them telling him not to leave town, in case they want him to answer a few more questions. Simon, can't you talk to Harriman's and Nickols' boss again, and see if they'll call this witch-hunt off?"

Simon frowned. "I'll do that. How's his shoulder?"

"Better, but still sore."

Connor knocked on the door, then entered and took a chair next to me.

"All right, Detective. And Inspector. Talk to me about Bartley."

"He's a blooming jackass, Captain, and I might be tempted to shoot him myself if he tries to grab my boobs one more time. But I just heard from the safe house where he's been stashed; he's insisting on giving a speech at a union hall in an hour and a half." She nodded towards me. "Ellison and I will be coordinating with security during the speech. I've eliminated a good many of the death threats he's gotten as not being serious, but he's stirred up a lot of people. If the union votes the way he's asking them to, it's going to really hit the shipping companies. We should take a hard look at Gunderson Shipping; they'd be the biggest losers if Bartley gets the union boys and girls to vote his way. And they've recently been indicted by the FBI for extortion and strike breaking." She gave an exasperated sigh. "The man's still in need of police protection, at least until after this vote."

I added, "The union votes in four more days. And my informants say that there's a contract out on him. There's a rumor that a pro's involved but I've gotten no names yet, sir."

"Keep me informed. Connor, do you want out? I can put Brown in."

"No, sir. I can handle a yobbo like him."

I made a note to myself to ask Blair what a yobbo was, although I could give a pretty good guess.

Simon made a dismissive gesture, and I managed to beat her to his door so I could hold it open for her. She hated it when I did stuff like that and she stepped on my foot as she passed me. Just another expression of her affection for me, and I was grinning to myself as I headed for my desk. When I answered my cell phone a moment later, my grin widened; it was Blair.

He talked for a minute, telling me that he was 'done, done, done' with his dissertation, at least the first draft, and that he was going stir-crazy from being holed up in the loft for the past two days, ever since he'd come back from that last fun trip to Seattle. And that Naomi was there, but she was going to meditate for a while, and he wanted to tag with me.

I told him where to meet us and turned the phone off.

Naomi was back in Cascade... just in time for a meaningful conversation with her son about me. She'd crossed the country to be here when Blair had been kidnapped, alerted by the FBI's checking to see if she knew where he was. She'd taken it pretty well when Blair decided to stay in Sierra Verde, and she'd left to see old friends or had gone to a New Age retreat or something along those lines. Blair would be pleased to spend some time with her, and it would make him happy to tell her we were together. I couldn't see her having a problem with Blair having a male lover. Having a cop for a lover... well, she might have more trouble swallowing that.

I'd ask Blair about telling her tonight, when we returned home.


"Excuse me, excuse me... sorry."

I watched Blair make his way through the union hall crowd that was gathering to hear Bartley's speech, and I told the floor security to let him join us in Bartley's office. The pain-in-the-ass was getting a Kevlar vest fitted and ogling Connor at the same time. He noticed Sandburg when he came in the room, called him a hippie, and started riding him about staying out of the camera's way - unless Blair would shave his legs. Stupid son-of-a-bitch. He probably thought he sounded all macho and mocking towards my partner, who'd let the jerk's insults roll right off his back, but I could smell the truth on Jack Bartley's skin. He was interested in Sandburg. Sexually. But he probably buried that attraction under a bunch of insults because he didn't want to admit the truth to himself. Or he was just an asshole.

I explained that Sandburg was a consultant to the department, and when Blair came over next to me, I patted him on the shoulder. Nothing I hadn't done a million times before, but now it felt like shorthand for how I intended to touch him later tonight. Blair grinned at me when I growled - because he was late -- that it was nice of him to join us. When Bartley's back was turned he blew a kiss at me. The little shit. I'd had to fight back a grin myself when he had done that.

Bartley was busy now, talking to other union reps in the back room where we'd stashed him, and Connor and I did some perimeter sweeps, Blair grounding me with his hand on my arm. I saw nothing unusual.

It wasn't until Bartley went out on the platform and I scanned the surroundings again that I realized we had trouble. A sniper. The crowd saw me aiming my rifle at him and started moving away and making a lot of noise which I tried to tune out, Blair's hand on my back. I focused my vision on the sniper's scope and shot at it, while Connor hustled Bartley off the stage and into a waiting van.

Then Connor, Sandburg, and I ran to where the sniper had been set up. We found a broken scope, the result of my shot. I'd gotten a good look at the sniper's features, and I'd recognized him. I grimly passed along what I'd learned.

"The sniper is Zeller; looks like the Iceman is back in business. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the guy is supposed to be serving a life sentence in a German prison! We're going to need more help; let's go and fill Simon and Mendez in on the good news."


Blair parked his Volvo two spaces down from my truck, and I waited for him to catch up to me before we started walking towards the loft. Simon had been thrilled to learn that Zeller was gunning for Bartley, and he'd ordered more of the Major Crime detectives to work in three-man teams in eight-hour stints, with the uniforms, to bolster Bartley's security. I had the ten o'clock shift and Blair had volunteered to go with Connor, Brown, and me, but Simon had told him he couldn't.

Blair was still grousing about it in the elevator as it creaked its way up to the third floor.

"Look, Junior. You're still on medical leave and Simon thinks you need the rest. He wasn't exactly happy that you were there at the union hall this afternoon."

That was an understatement. When Blair ducked out of the meeting about Zeller to take an urgent phone call, Simon had come down hard on me for letting Sandburg tag along. He'd said the kid looked exhausted and should be at home taking it easy. And I'd had to agree with him after Blair returned to Simon's office. He'd looked pale and his heartbeat had been jumpy.

He still didn't look okay - he had a kind of sickly look on his face.

"Chief, I think maybe Simon's right. You should visit with your mom and get some rest. You're sure Naomi is okay?" That phone call he'd received had had something to do with his mother.

"She's been a very busy bee this afternoon, but she's fine. And I'm up to coming along," he grumbled.

I pushed the stop button on the elevator and slipped his backpack off of his shoulder. I pulled him into a hug and after I could feel some of the tension in his body leaving, I bent down and kissed him. He blinked at me when I slowly moved my thumb along his bottom lip.

"Babe, do you want to tell your mom about us tonight?"

He pursed his lips for a moment, then shook his head. "There's some other stuff I've got to clear up with her, and Jim... I need to talk to her alone. Confidentially -- no listening in with sentinel ears. Anyway, you'll have to leave in a couple of hours, and when we do tell her we're together -- I want you around for moral support." He sighed. "She likes you, Jim. But she already thinks I'm too involved with your world. I think she's been counting down the days until I get my Ph.D. and stop riding around with cops."

I took his hand and squeezed it. "I can't really blame her. Marrying a cop is tough on the partner. Although, you know, you're practically a cop yourself. So it'll be hard on both of us at times."

Blair looked solemnly at me. "Are you saying that you consider us married, Jim?"

"Of course I do. Don't you, Chief? We're exclusive, right? We agreed on that last night, in bed." He nodded. "And we're planning on being together for the rest of our lives, right?" He nodded again. "So, Blair Jacob Sandburg, to me, that's being married." He looked kind of shocked.

"Jim, I believe you really think that, right now, but, man..."

"You're afraid I'll act like a putz again, and push you away in public. I may screw up, but I'm telling you now I'm trying to get over myself. So if I do relapse, understand that it's just from habit and I don't mean it. You're braver than I am, Blair. You've always been open about your orientation; I know you only kept a lid on it at the station because of me. You're my guide: I'm going to follow your lead about coming out."

He smiled then, a big, wonderful smile that lit up his whole face.

"Wow! I got married! I'm a married man; I have a husband. This is just so... Wow!"

I had to chuckle at him, and then I kissed him again.

"C'mon, we should stop making out in the elevator and go home. Your mother came to see her kid, and I hear it's not good to piss off your mother-in-law. Let's go see what Naomi's done to my furniture this time."


For a change, Naomi hadn't smoked up our home with stinky sage or moved our belongings around. It really didn't matter that much to me if she did rearrange the living room during her visits; I could thank my sentinel sight that I wouldn't be taking a tumble in the dark no matter where Naomi stuck the furniture. And Blair might grumble to me about walking into the table or falling over the couch in the middle of the night, but he still let Naomi indulge her feng-foo-foo-ing.

She was bubbly and gave me a hug, then hugged me again and made some lame comment about how I'd been working out. She had always halfway flirted with me, and I wondered if she would stop when Blair told her we were a couple. Naomi was a trip, according to my own hippie's definition of the word.

She wanted to blabber about something to Blair, but he kept cutting her off; then he asked me if he could talk privately with his mother, reminding me -- in his own very unsubtle way -- not to eavesdrop on them.

I put on headphones and listened to some music till they came out of Blair's old bedroom, Blair trying not to look angry and Naomi pouting a little. Whatever was going on between mother and son, I decided to stay well out of it.

I left for my shift guarding Bartley an hour after we'd thrown together a quick stir-fry and eaten it. I didn't mind chowing down on just vegetables with them; I figured I'd stop at Wonderburger before heading to the safe house.

It was a long night, and there was no sign of Zeller. Bartley was scheduled to give another speech tomorrow at a different location and wouldn't call it off. Since he was in protective custody now, not just accepting voluntary protection, it was the PD's decision to let him give it or cancel it. The speech wasn't till the evening, anyway, so for now we let it ride. Maybe Zeller would be in custody by then, but I doubted it.

When I got home in the early morning hours, Naomi had returned to her current abode - some old lover's place -- and Blair was asleep in our bed. I tiredly stripped off my clothes and slid under the sheets. He was stirring a little so I pulled him in next to me, tightened my arm around his chest, and hooked my leg over his legs. I breathed in the scent from his sleepy body, and he relaxed back into dreamland. And I drifted off to blessed sleep for a few short hours before I went back to the job.


The flash of cameras and the word 'sentinel' being shouted into my truck window shocked me and I sat there, stunned, the ignition key in my hand. One glance over at Blair's guilty-looking face and it all became so clear to me. He'd outed me somehow. Furious anger roiled up through me as I ignored the reporters' questions and drove away from them.

He'd fucked up. Again. He started to say something to me and I held up my hand. "Just shut up, Sandburg. I'll deal with you later."

He pleaded, "Jim, I'm so sorry!" But before he could continue I'd jerked the truck over to the side of the road.

"Your choice, Chief. Either you shut your yap up, until I'm ready to hear whatever sorry-ass excuse you've got for fucking me over, or you can get out. And stay out." I looked pointedly at his door and he looked back at me, trying with the tragic eyes bit to get me to soften up. Not happening this time. He'd been warned and warned to take care that my name wasn't connected with his research. I tightened my hands on the steering wheel and, when he didn't say anything or get out of the truck, I re-entered traffic.

We drove in silence to the PD, and at least there weren't any reporters there yet. We rode up in the elevator wordlessly, and my fury was settling from the hot burn of my first reaction to a cold, deep anger. He'd screwed me over but good. And what made it so much worse was that he should have learned his lesson from Barnes stealing his research. He knew, dammit, my feelings about the close call we'd had just a few weeks ago. He'd promised me that he would safeguard my name.

He'd promised me.


Simon sighed when he saw Sandburg, but waved him into his office along with Connor and me to hammer out the details of the trap for Zeller. Bartley had been loudly insisting that nobody was going to run him, and that he was more than willing to act as bait to draw the Iceman out of the shadows. I was confident that we could keep him from getting killed, and we decided to take the guy up on his offer.

Sandburg was quiet for a change, and left Simon's office when his cell phone rang. By the time Sandburg stepped back into the room, we had already hammered out a plan to use a dummy as a stand-in for Zeller when Bartley gave his speech this evening. Sandburg diffidently broke into our conversation about security positions, and when he had our attention, he apologetically informed us that Channel Nine was going to run a story on my sentinel abilities on their noon edition of the news.

I was too angry to talk about what Sandburg had done, and I walked out. I deliberately dialed down my sense of hearing. I didn't want to hear whatever fairy tale he was going to tell Connor and Simon. No doubt he would paint himself as the innocent party and not take responsibility for his own damn carelessness.

I left the building after asking the desk sergeant to pass a message to Simon that he could reach me at home - I needed more sleep before tonight. Besides, I wanted some privacy since I was going to have to watch that damn newscast, just so I could be prepared to handle questions from the brass. Keeping my mouth shut as much as possible was my goal, and it would be a cold day in hell before I talked to the press. Sandburg might let himself be interviewed, though.

Sandburg - what to do about Sandburg? I'd stranded him, but I didn't care; he could just cool his heels at the PD. Or he could catch a ride back with Connor, or take a bus. His transportation needs were not my priority right now.

I hit the steering wheel while I waited for the light to turn green. I had to get myself under control, had to try to calm down about this fiasco, although I doubted that I would be able to sleep after watching the broadcast. But I was going to try, because a tired cop is one step closer to being a dead cop.

Once home, I grabbed the remote and jabbed at the control until I reached Channel Nine, and waited for the local news stories to air. I paced around the room while reports of traffic accidents, school board meetings, and the danger of high cholesterol droned on and on. The attempted assassination of Bartley was yesterday's news, and without something new to spark it, it didn't merit a mention on the noon show. Damn. This was a slow news day, which meant that there would be more airtime for whatever information Sandburg had given them.

When I saw my own picture, that damn one from the cover of Time after I was taken out of Peru, I balled my hands into fists. They stayed that way while the reporter explained just why and how my senses were so enhanced. He quoted chapter and verse from Sandburg's thesis. And they showed images of Blair, too, citing his work with the Blue Ocean Institute in researching folklore, and a mix of Rainier photos and ones taken of the two of us working cases.

Some enterprising soul had really dug into his research, because the anchor brought up the Juno case -- where my testimony had been thrown out for claiming to see Tommy Juno shoot Danny Choi from a distance from which anybody with normal eyesight wouldn't have been able to see a damn thing.

God, Danny.

Blair's betrayal made all the other losses I'd had suddenly painful again. Ben Sarris and my other teammates who I'd buried in the jungle; Lila, trapped in a web of intrigue and unable to take a chance on getting free of it with the soldier that she'd just met. Lila, dying in my arms years later. Hector, my friend from Lima, dying at his daughter's baptism because I guessed wrong about when an assassin would make his move. Jack. My God, Jack. Jack got me to start acting like a decent human being again, after being in the snake pit that was Vice. Jack had liked Blair. Had told me I should hang onto the kid.

Guess you gambled on a losing proposition once again, Jack.

I turned the TV off, and suddenly feeling tired, more tired of the way life sucked than physically tired, I went upstairs to my bed to lay down... then got back up and stripped off the sheets. They still held Sandburg's scent and right now I wanted nothing to do with him. Going down to the basement, I stuffed them in the rapidly filling washer and added soap - I needed to wash away any scent reminder of him right now. Too bad I couldn't do the same thing so easily with my mind. I closed the lid and slowly went back upstairs and remade the bed with sterile sheets.

Sleep was slow in coming, but finally I felt myself drifting into a doze. And then my alarm was going off and it was time to head back to the PD and meet up with Connor and Brown. We had a snare to set for the Iceman.


Connor and I arrived early at the union hall on 12th Street and set things up for how we wanted to watch for Zeller's appearance. When Bartley was delivered from the safe house, we made him hole up in an office. Connor fitted him with a Kevlar vest, like the last time, and like the last time, he kept calling her babe. I could see the struggle on her face not to 'accidentally' knock him on his ass.

She'd tried to talk to me about Sandburg, telling me that he'd been summoned to the Chancellor's office at Rainier after I'd left the PD, but I asked her to can it. I told her after we got Zeller squared away I'd speak to Sandburg - to chew him out, although she probably thought it would be to make up - but that right now I needed to concentrate on the job. She understood that and dropped it. Every cop knows how dangerous it can be to not have your full attention on your assignment. And I did need to pay heed to my surroundings because it was going to be more difficult to find Zeller without relying on my guide to ground me.

For a dark moment, I even wished that the last three years with him hadn't happened. That after leaving, he hadn't returned. He'd found out I was a sentinel and he was my guide and he wasn't sure he wanted that with me. I remembered the night when he'd cooked for me and I never came home. The night when he'd realized that I'd chosen Carolyn over him. Maybe it would have been better if he had stayed away; I would've had his choker and it would have kept me grounded without having to have a relationship with him.

I stuck that thought away to deal with later. And, maybe, we could survive this fuck-up. I hadn't stopped loving him, even though I was mad enough at him to spit nails. Maybe I was madder at him because I did love him. But right now, I really did need to focus on identifying Zeller before he made his move on Bartley.

We caught the six o'clock news at the union hall, and there was more baloney on it about me being a sentinel. And a brief follow-up story where they'd tried to interview Blair at Rainier. He looked gob-smacked at the questions, and the smart-ass reporter made some crack about his good fortune making Sandburg speechless. My jaw dropped when the story announced that he had a million dollar book deal with Berkshire Publishing and that he was being considered for a Nobel Prize.

A million bucks! A God-damned Nobel Prize? I felt like I'd been dropped down the rabbit hole and any moment some whacked-out playing card would be screaming to cut off my head.

Suddenly I was very eager to talk to the little bastard. Book deals don't happen overnight. And Nobel Prize nominations weren't a dime a dozen. It suddenly occurred to me that all of his panic over Barnes taking his research must have been because if she had released the information early, then it would have fucked up his book deal. He must have been planning this for quite some time. And I felt a bleak despair overtake my anger. It was over. This was the kind of betrayal you didn't come back from. Christ, I would never have pegged Blair as the kind of guy who could stab you in the back while he was smiling at you.

Live and learn.

The next step would be where he'd tell me it just wasn't going to work out with us, and while he would always care for me, he couldn't live with me anymore.

He probably wouldn't spring that on me just yet, though. He'd want to try and talk me into being agreeable; to just accept the fact that of course he'd had to include my name in his thesis for documentation. Maybe try and talk me into going on the talk show circuit with him, doing tricks for the audience; be his pet sentinel.

Well, fuck that! I was going to ask Simon to work alone again. Blair's ninety-day ride-along pass was way past due to be cancelled. And why would he want to tag along and put himself in harm's way, now that he'd achieved his objective. He'd said it not long ago at all - he had enough information for ten dissertations. He was probably already planning the sequel to his first best seller.

I had to admit he was a good storyteller and writer. He could weave in old legends with scientific observations, all with a poetic, deeply riveting style. If the damn thing wasn't about me, I would've probably shelled out cash to read it, even if I'd never met Sandburg.

Connor came over to me and gave me a thump on the back. "You okay, mate?" Thumping me was Connor's way of showing tender loving care.

I gave her a tired half-smile. "Let's just get Zeller nailed. I don't have the time to deal with... other stuff right now."

Simon arrived a few minutes later and we went over all the precautions for Bartley's safety. My attention was seduced away from talking to Simon when a familiar feeling grew stronger inside me. I was so used to tuning in to Sandburg when he was approaching me that I did it automatically... whatever that bond or sense we had about each other was, it had kicked in, so I knew he was coming closer to where I was.

And sure enough, he came slinking into our de facto headquarters, big eyes fixed on me. I stayed away from him and he didn't try to talk to me. When the time came for me to go back out and search the crowd for Zeller, he didn't try to follow. But I heard Simon tell him to go after me and to help me.

He came up to me and nervously started off with some of his usual patter, and I sharply told him that I knew what to do. I left him behind during the time I moved through the crowd, and he had the good sense to stay back.

And then I heard the click of a gun being loaded and I honed in on the sound. But suddenly there were lights going off in my face from cameras. The fucking press had recognized me and reporters were clamoring for my attention.

I was dazed for a couple of moments, but Sandburg rushed over and started manhandling the reporters away from me.

And then Zeller, somewhere in the crowd, shot his weapon, and I was hearing cries of "He's been hit."

It was pandemonium for a while with people screaming and trying to get away, and with cop lights madly twirling out their blue and red beams into the night. In the confusion, Zeller slipped away. We had prepared for this possibility and had set up roadblocks, but I was betting Zeller had an escape route that would bypass any police obstructions.

I was livid. Zeller had been here and had taken his shot, and if the fucking paparazzi had left me alone he would be handcuffed and on his way to a holding cell by now.

Sandburg asked me if I was okay, but I turned away and ignored him. He sounded shaky, but he was not my concern right now. I made my way back to the room where Bartley had been stashed, where security was tight, and was let in. Sandburg had followed me, and was stopped by the officers. I could have okayed his entry, but I didn't. He could wait out where the press could catch up with him, since they were his own personal fan club.

Inside the dingy and poorly lit room, Bartley was sitting on the floor next to the dummy that had taken the bullet for him. And as usual, he was complaining. Connor was explaining to him why he was going to crawl into a body bag and be carried out to the meat wagon.

"We want everybody to think you're dead, Mr. Bartley. You'll be transported to Cascade General, where you'll walk out of the back of the ambulance in an EMT's uniform and will be taken to a safe house again." Connor sounded reasonable but I could tell she was enjoying seeing him uncomfortable.

All in all, it took a while for the charade to go down. When everybody had cleared out, I figured it was time to collect Sandburg and hear him choke out an explanation. I wasn't going to make it easy for him.

He wasn't around, and I asked the uniforms if they'd seen him leave.

And they'd noticed him leaving all right. Kind of hard to miss when the FBI shows up, handcuffs a guy in front of them, and throws him into the back of a black Crown Victoria.

Nickols and Harriman again, no doubt.

Well, Sandburg was a big boy. He'd shown he was able to cut deals with a major publishing house and get himself noticed by the Nobel Prize committee. I decided he could handle a couple of Feebs without my interference. They didn't have anything on him, anyway, so he'd be released in a couple of hours again.

And then I was going to hear why he'd decided to screw me over and go for the brass ring.


It was very, very late by the time I walked into my apartment and noticed the blinking light of the answering machine. I checked the messages and deleted the one wanting to sell me a time-share in Florida. I also deleted all the ones from various magazines, TV stations, and newspapers wanting to interview Sandburg and me. I wasn't his fucking secretary and I wasn't going to bother passing those messages along to him.

The one from his mother I kept. She sounded upset and wanted him to talk to some guy named Sid. Well, I wasn't going to call her and tell her that her baby boy was cooling his heels at the regional FBI headquarters. It would only worry her, and I liked Naomi. She was a butterfly, and you don't torment such a beautiful creature by pulling off its wings. Besides, she was probably asleep, and Sandburg would be back tomorrow.

Reluctantly, I listened to the message from my father, who was upset that reporters were calling him. He said he blamed me for not taking more care to keep my secret safeguarded. He accused me of having bad judgment in rooming with Sandburg, said he could tell he was trouble when they'd met, and that I should have kicked him out a long time ago. Steven had called also, but just said that he was giving no comment out when the reporters asked him about me. He sounded ticked off, too. Great. But I couldn't blame Steven or Dad for being pissed. Sandburg had sicced the tabloid hounds on them.

I fell into bed after letting the day's frustration flow off of me and down the shower drain. Tomorrow we'd regroup and figure out how to get that bastard Zeller off the street. We were on a countdown, since Bartley swore that he was going to come back from the dead in time to influence the union rank and file to vote for his initiative. If we hadn't nabbed Zeller by then, he'd be a prime target once again.

I tried clearing my mind, the way Sandburg had taught me, but that backfired. Instead, my anger at him rekindled. But sleep did come, finally. And with it strange dreams.

I was stretched out on the couch, in the loft, watching a National Geographic special on the sealing industry - Blair's idea, not mine - waiting until the Jags game came on. My partner came back from the kitchen, handed me a beer, and plopped himself down next to me.

There were images flashing on the TV screen - seals being clubbed with some wicked-looking long hammer, seals being shot with rifles, dead seals tangled in fishing nets - and then Blair was asking me to tell him the story my granny had told about selkies.

Instead of doing that, I started to hum and sing the old song about selkies she used to sing, though I forgot most of the words; 'I am a man upon the land... I am a selkie in the sea...'

I stopped singing and drank half of my beer. When I put the bottle down on the coffee table I realized that Sandburg had disappeared. I looked at the TV screen and it had gotten much larger, and I wondered when I'd gone to the store and bought one of those home theater screens and how much it had set me back. And then I looked more closely at the footage of seals being clubbed.

Sandburg was there, lying naked on the beach, stretched out comfortably, and snoozing in the sun. I walked up to the screen and yelled at him to get his ass up, he needed to come back home before he got himself killed. He didn't react, and I sighed and jumped through the screen so I could get him up like I'd done just about every morning since he'd moved in with me.

I found myself on a rocky beach, the ocean throwing waves halfway up it, and the hunter nearest me raised his club and smashed in the skull of a young seal, and then he moved towards Sandburg. I couldn't understand why he would want to hurt Blair, and I caught his arm to stop him.

It was Lash, crazy eyes and demented smile, and he said to me, "Who am I now?" I took his club and shoved him away. I turned back to Blair, wanting to save him from Lash, and all I saw were seals.

I screamed out his name and then I felt his emotions, as I had when I had been caught in the riptide, as I had when Barnes had gagged him in the temple; he was scared of me, scared I would hurt him because I was holding the club, and I dropped it and felt the regret coming from him about taking the deal with the publishing company.

I got mad when he reminded me about it, and I turned and walked away. I didn't look behind me to see if Blair was back to human form or still clothed in his seal coat.

I met Harriman and Nickols when I strode away down the beach. They had rifles in their hands and they stopped me. They wanted to ask Sandburg some questions about stealing that nerve gas, they said, but since they were here they might just shoot him instead because he had such a beautiful seal coat.

He was up the beach, I told them, and pointed out that he'd be the only seal with blue eyes. He could take his chances with the FBI, because if he'd really loved me he never would have sold me out. And then I jumped back through the screen and sat down and changed the channel to the Jags game, and knocked back the rest of the beer. I didn't want anything to do with Sandburg right now. He deserved to be punished.

And then I went upstairs and lay down on my bed, and Naomi came in, carrying some tongue sandwiches and Blair's photo album, and we looked at his baby pictures and school pictures and photos of expeditions. He was such a cute little guy, and such a beautiful man. Wistfully, I wished that he hadn't fucked everything up.

Naomi then took some sage out of her pocket, lit it and waved it around, and told me that I needed to cleanse myself of my anger towards her son, that maybe things would never be the same between us but that I should detach with love. Let Blair go because he was a child of the open sea and shouldn't be tied down to a human lover.

I woke up coughing and sneezing, and I realized that I actually did smell sage burning. Damn. Naomi was in the loft.


I was still sneezing occasionally as I drove back to the PD, wondering if Naomi's spick and span spiritual treatment was going to keep me from being able to stay at my own place tonight. She had outdone herself this time, but in the face of such an earnest plea to, 'Cleanse the negative energy and purify this dwelling, Jim,' I had caved. I did ask her to air out the place before she left.

But I hadn't stuck around and talked to her for very long; instead, I'd thrown some clothes into a gym bag and decided that I'd grab some breakfast away from home, then head for the PD locker room to clean up.

She'd wanted to know where her son was, since he hadn't answered his cell phone -- probably confiscated by the Feds -- and I'd borrowed a page from his book and slid around the truth. I'd told her he'd had to go to Seattle last night, but I thought he'd be back sometime today. I'd also said she could stay put and wait for him, if she wanted to -- she'd probably rearrange the place, but I really didn't care at this point.

Next, she'd told me how sorry she was to see the changes in our auras from being in such discord, and that she'd hoped we could work things out, because she'd never seen Blair so upset before. I'd left then, before the holy sage could wear holes in my lungs.

I wondered about that last comment of hers, and about my dream, while I drove through the Cascade streets. Probably, I decided, he was upset that he'd killed the goose that had laid the golden egg with that book deal going public too early. He'd no doubt thought he could first talk me into going along with his plans, especially since we'd become lovers.

But my dream bothered me, bothered me that I visualized him as a selkie again, and that I walked away and left him being hunted.

I let out a long sigh as I made the last turn before the station. He must have realized by now that going public with my name had probably cost him our relationship, and maybe he was having regrets, but he would have all that acclaim and money to comfort him. Still, his actions hadn't killed my love for him, even though I was furious and couldn't see how we would ever get past his betrayal. But I couldn't help being concerned about him, and I would call the Feebs and find out if they'd released him yet.

And I'd talk to Simon about damage control and dropping Blair's ride-along pass. I wanted to go back to just being a good cop - without the senses. I could do that. Incacha would disapprove, but then he wasn't here dealing with reporters screaming in his face. If being a sentinel was going to hamper me in my job, then there was no place for it anymore. When I did talk to Sandburg, I'd ask him to help me turn off the senses. He owed me that much, anyway.

There was no point in jumping down his throat. I was glad that I'd waited to talk to him, to let the first flush of anger die down. I'd tell him to go for it, to grab that brass ring and hold on, to welcome fame and fortune.

He wanted that more than he wanted to hold onto me.

I'd take the high road, and just wish him well. Hell, I wouldn't even ask him to move out. I wouldn't have to do that; he'd do it on his own. And I guessed that when he left, our bond would fizzle out. But since I was going to dump the senses, I didn't need a guide anymore, so it would work out.

Must be Karma.


I spoke with Nickols and I wasn't pleased to hear what he had to tell me. Sandburg had cooperated with the round of questioning last night until the two agents decided to soften the kid up some more by throwing him in a holding cell and taking another whack at him in the morning.

"I don't know what got into him, but when we took his personal effects, he lost it. Didn't want to give us some leather do-dad of his that he'd had on his ankle. At least, that's what I was told. Kid had to be restrained to get it off of him; although I understand that once it was out of his sight he calmed down." I shook my head. That damn choker of his was still causing problems. Or more to the point, his attitude about it was causing problems.

"Are there charges against him?" He wasn't exactly under arrest when he'd been picked up, but now they could make a case for obstructing a federal officer in the commission of his duty.

"We haven't decided. Look, Ellison. Or should I say, Sentinel Ellison." From the tone in his voice I guessed he was rolling his eyes. "He's not telling us the whole story. You're his... friend. Get him to really talk to us, if he's as innocent as you keep saying. Harriman is interviewing him right now. I'll go in and tell the kid that you want to talk to him. Maybe you can get him to spill, so we can all get off of this merry-go-round. And as a courtesy to another officer, if we charge him I'll let you know. I'm putting you on hold." If Blair talked to me, I'd tell him to tell the whole story - the sentinel angle was out there now, and if he explained about the sexual abuse the whole story would hang together. It would get them off of his back.

A half hour later the Muzak was about to give me a blinding headache. I was tempted to hang up but Nickols had been halfway accommodating for a change, and I didn't want to trash the slight rapport we had going.

Finally, the strains of a butchered Neil Diamond song ended and he picked up. "Ellison, the kid refuses to talk with you. Said he'd been enough of a pain in your life. If we charge him, we'll let you know." He ended the call, and I placed the phone back in its cradle.

There wasn't anything I could do about Sandburg, so Connor and I hit the streets to check with our informants and to serve a warrant on Gunderson Shipping for their files. We sent back boxes of documents for Brown and Rafe to comb through for any connection to Zeller.

We saw a robbery-in-progress after meeting with one of our snitches; without too much effort, Connor and I collared the dunce. He recognized me from the news and actually wanted me to sign his tattoo, so that he could brag when he went to jail that he'd been taken down by 'The Sentinel.' I declined. Was this what I could look forward to for a while? I could ride out the interest until other news stories took center stage, but one of the reasons I'd kept quiet about my abilities all along was because I could be attacked through my senses. Experiments with dog whistles had shown Sandburg and me that the pain could immobilize me and leave me vulnerable. If the crime element figured out how to screw with my senses, I wouldn't be able to work on the street. And I'd resign before being steered to a desk job.

It was late afternoon when we returned to the station, and I had to listen to Brown and Rafe making annoying but predictable jokes about my sentinel abilities.

Simon called me into his office and I updated him on the case. Then he told me he'd been stalling all day, but the brass were demanding a full report on the situation; they were asking some pointed questions about Simon's prior knowledge. He also said that it looked like the Review Board would be auditing my files and convictions. And that meant IA would be involved. Great. I couldn't wait to get torn to shreds by them.

I heard Sandburg enter the bullpen and listened to him head straight to Simon's office. The bond, I guess, because he didn't stop to talk to anybody. He knocked on the door and came in at Simon's invitation.

"Chief." I glanced at him and heard him catch his breath. He looked like shit. "You might as well hear this, too." I shifted towards Simon. "Captain, I'm going to end the sentinel stuff. I was a good cop without it, and frankly, it's now more of a hindrance than a help. And I want to end Sandburg's ride-along."

I looked back at my lover. "You got what you wanted. The brass ring is yours now. And your research is done, so why don't you just let us go."

Blair begged, "Jim, let me explain. I never meant --" But I cut him off.

"It's over, Sandburg. And I've got a killer to catch, and you're not a part of this anymore." I sighed tiredly. "Go home. Your mother wants to talk to you. And speaking of family, my father and brother called. The reporters are bugging them, too. Imagine how thrilled my father is right now, and just when it looked like we might actually start getting along."

"Jim, I want to tell you what happened --"

"When this thing with Zeller is finished, you can spin me any fairy tale you like. You're good at telling fairy tales, aren't you, Chief? But I don't think this one is going to end with a 'happily ever after.'"

Blair gave me another hurt look, but after the last couple of days I was immunized against the Sandburg eyes.

He turned and left the office, but Connor stopped him from leaving the bullpen. The clowns I worked with decided to give him some shit and started jumping him about a TV show based on him and me, with themselves as cast members. Then they started this chant about how they weren't worthy - to be in his presence, I guess.

Simon cleared his throat and drew a picture out of a file on his desk.

"Jim, before you decide to stop using your senses, I think you should see just how close you were to stopping Zeller yesterday before your paparazzi got in the way." He pushed the picture towards me, and I bent over to study it.

And that was when all hell broke loose.


The memories from the night before were eating at me, as I drove to the PD through the morning traffic.

Simon's and Connor's blood, screams, the whine of the bullets from Zeller's gun, the sick despair of knowing that I was responsible for this carnage because I should have caught the murderous bastard the previous night. I'd been so close before those God-damned camera lights had blinded me, which was what the photos Simon had given me had proved.

And it should've been me who'd been hit, instead of Simon and Connor, and be in serious condition after surgery. The Iceman had been aiming at me; bending over to look at the photo on Simon's desk had saved me. And had put Simon in the line of fire. The bullet had torn through his chest and had entered Megan's shoulder.

Klaus Zeller had a reputation for getting revenge on law enforcement agents who tried to stop him; he'd killed several overseas in the past. We should have been expecting him to try something like this. I tightened my hands on the steering wheel and wished it were Zeller's neck.

From the trajectory of the shot, Zeller had fired through the outside window into Simon's office. And Jesus, Blair had barely missed getting shot -- he had been standing right next to Megan. Both of us had ended up covered in gore while we tried desperately to keep our friends from bleeding out.

Simon and Connor been rushed into emergency surgery and the hospital had asked for department volunteers to give blood. I'd finished donating and had returned to the waiting room when I overheard Sandburg reciting his blood-donor information to the clerk. Sighing, I waved Joel over before he headed down for his turn. I'd asked him to inform Sandburg that he wasn't allowed to give blood. And to let the clerk know in case the kid tried an end run; Blair'd had surgery himself just a few weeks ago and his body needed to keep every drop he had. Joel had promised to stop him. He hadn't asked how I knew what was going on two floors down; I guess he was a believer in the sentinel senses.

I clenched the steering wheel, thinking about the carnage I'd witnessed the previous afternoon. Thank God that both of our friends were going to live. But Simon being out was going to throw things into semi-chaos, even with Joel filling his shoes until Simon recovered.

I waited at a red light and remembered lying alone in my bed last night thinking about how Blair had barely skirted past the Grim Reaper yesterday afternoon. And I'd had a little epiphany. It had flowed from feeling relief that Blair hadn't been killed, to thinking about how I would feel if I had lost him to death. From there it was only a short slide to realizing that if I lost him for any reason, I would grieve. Hard. And there was this growing uncomfortable comprehension that so far I'd only heard one side of the story - from the press - concerning his released research. I'd been lashing out at him, and, yeah, I had every right to be angry - Blair had promised me confidentiality - but given what we were to each other, I should've heard him out. Because Blair couldn't have been undercover with me all these years - pretending not to be a cold-eyed, screw you over kind of guy. He just couldn't have been. I'd have picked up on it from the unconscious messages only I could read from his body.

Fuck, this was probably just a huge mess that he didn't mean to happen. And when I tracked him down, I'd tell him I was ready to listen to his explanation. He'd taken off from the hospital and gone to the loft - the bloody clothes in the hamper were my proof -- but had disappeared before I came home. And he hadn't come back before I left for the PD this morning. Well, if he didn't show up at the bullpen pretty soon, I'd call him.

The light turned green and I hit the gas. If traffic didn't start moving at a better pace, I was going to flip my lights on. I knew I was on edge -- I didn't like feeling on the defensive with Zeller; I wanted to hunt him down and stop him before he hurt anybody else I cared for.

My cell phone rang, and I hoped it was Blair, asking me to talk to him. Instead, it was Joel, telling me to meet him at a gun shop near Little Russia, at the intersection of State Street and Porter Avenue. They'd gotten a tip on Zeller. I ended the conversation and put Blair out of my mind. Time to concentrate on the job, and only on the job.


"Yo, Ellison." I looked up as Brown entered the break room and headed for the pot of coffee. "I heard about the explosion at that gun shop. The word is out that the Iceman was toasted during the fireworks. Has Dan ID'ed the body yet? I hear there wasn't much left for him to work with. Man, I hope it's true and that right now the Iceman's ass is frying in hell." Brown finished pouring himself a mug and sat down facing me at the table.

I took a swallow of my coffee before answering him. "What we know is that Zeller walked into Roger Haber's shop about two minutes before the whole thing went kablooey. And that was no coincidence. Haber may have set Zeller up to take the fall and gone on the run with Zeller's money from Gunderson Shipping's payoff. Haber was the middleman, the contact between Zeller and the company, and we traced an awful damn big payment to him. We planned to pick him up for questioning. He's the one who was most likely to roll over on both the execs from the shipping company and Zeller."

I finished the rest of my coffee and stood up. "Or, Zeller wants us to think he's dead, and that crispy critter down in the morgue is Roger Haber. Zeller might have offed him to tie up his loose ends in this city. Somebody called that tip in saying Zeller would be there, maybe so we would witness him entering that building. And we can't find Haber."

I rinsed my cup and headed out the door, giving a little wave back to Brown when he called that he'd catch me later. Tiredly, I went back to my desk to finish writing up the case notes; If Sandburg didn't show up pretty soon, I'd track him down. We had a lot to talk about and we might as well start clearing the air.

My report was finished, and I was debating eating lunch out of the snack machine, or going out, when Rafe hustled over to my desk.

"Uh, Ellison." His voice was curious, the expression on his face one of speculation. "Sandburg is coming up on the noon news, something about a press conference he gave at Rainier. Thought you'd want to know." He jerked his thumb towards the corner of the bullpen that held the TV; several officers were gathered around it watching. Rafe walked over to join them, and he turned the sound up. The commercial about cat food ended and the news anchor started giving background on Blair's research, and identified me as a sentinel. Crap. When the hell would this story become yesterday's news and bore the shit out of everybody. I hated the speculative looks I was getting - again - from the other guys watching the news.

I started feeling angry once more with Blair and was tempted to just stomp over there and turn the God-damned TV off, but then the picture switched to my partner stepping up to a podium, with the Rainier seal behind him. It was all very official-looking, but Blair looked tired and out of place in his leather jacket and flannel shirt. I guessed he was going to say how honored and surprised he was to be considered for a Nobel Prize and announce when the book would be out. Maybe Rainier had offered him a professorship, and he'd be mentioning that also.

I let my anger die down. Blair was brilliant. Why shouldn't he get the recognition he deserved? And if I couldn't hack it as a street cop anymore, due to being outed, maybe I'd become a forest ranger. Go out to the wilderness to get away, and... maybe he would go with me.

Sandburg was speaking now, his voice strained and trembling a little as he went on about the joys of publishing research. He said that the sections of his dissertation detailing ancient sources and mythology and the recent discovery of the Temple of the Sentinels were accurate and could be validated by other researchers.

I moved closer to the group of detectives - some were Blair's friends, others weren't -- watching the broadcast, feeling mesmerized by the sight of my lover's subdued expression. There was a definite sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, and Blair's expression became stricken; I pushed up my vision to catch a glimpse of tears welling up, before he dropped his eyes down to his notes. Something was seriously wrong. Blair hesitated a moment, then looked up and spoke strongly, directly into the camera.

"However, my desire to impress both my peers and the world at large drove me to an immoral and unethical act. My thesis "The Sentinel" is a fraud. While my paper does quote ancient source material, the documentation proving that James Ellison... actually possesses hyper-senses is fraudulent. Looking back, I can say that it's a good piece of fiction. I apologize for this deception. My only hope is that I can be forgiven for the pain I've caused those who are close to me. Thank you."

I stood there stunned as the camera followed him as he stumbled away from the podium and headed for the door. Chancellor Edwards, her face pinched in frustration and animosity, stepped in front of him while he was trying to leave. And I saw Naomi hurrying across the room to catch up with her son.

Edwards hissed something to him that was too faint for the listeners to catch, but I heard it. She was throwing Blair out of the university, ordering him to clean out his office, giving him shit for disgracing Rainier.

Blair didn't say anything to her, his face set like stone, and he pushed past her. He'd almost made it outside the room when Naomi stopped him with a hand on his arm, but then the footage ended.

My heart was thudding in my ears; I stayed transfixed while the two anchors added to the story by saying that graduate student Blair Sandburg had been barred from the doctorate program and that Berkshire Publishing had given their own statement that the offer for the three million dollar book deal had been rescinded. There was head shaking and speculation on lawsuits and criminal charges of fraud.

The last juicy item was a mention that it had been confirmed by the FBI that Blair Sandburg was also a person of interest in the ongoing investigation of the theft of deadly nerve gas from Rainier University's HazMat lab earlier this spring. The newscasters recapped that story, ending with old scenes from Barnes' return to Cascade in an ambulance, and told the viewers she was in custody at Western State Psychiatric Hospital and listed as being in a coma.

They reported that it had been confirmed by FBI sources that Sandburg had been with Alex Barnes when she was taken into custody. The broadcast ended with a statement from the FBI, announcing that the case would be closed in the near future. The implication was that Sandburg was going to be arrested.

I turned blindly away when the commercials started back up and walked out of the bullpen.

Well, fuck.

Blair had... he'd... The realization was really hitting home now, what he'd done. He'd lied, and in doing so had thrown out his research, his Ph.D., his professional integrity. He'd done it for me.

For me.

I needed some time alone.

I wanted to inhale air that wasn't tainted by perfume, and aftershave, and the other hundreds of scents that could overwhelm me in a place stuffed with bodies. And the sound of voices and machines in the bullpen was like the tide crashing noisily on the beach; I couldn't think in here.

I went up to the roof, to look over my city and to breathe in the mixture of ocean scent, traffic, and the different odors exhaled by Cascade. I stood there, watching traffic flow down the arteries of this urban landscape, and thought about how Blair had cut his own throat.

Shit, he must feel like he was bleeding out.

My anger at him had evaporated. Gone away. Disappeared.

Whatever fuck-up had occurred, he'd taken responsibility for it and fixed it. But at too high a price.

Should I accept his sacrifice... or admit that I was a sentinel?

I heard footsteps on the stairs and had shook off my introspection when Brown stuck his head out the door. "Sorry, man. That asshole Bartley is here, and he's making noises about giving another speech to the union. Joel wants you to try and talk some sense into him about returning to the safe house."

He sighed, his usually cheerful expression regretful. "And it sucked to watch that news show. Why would Sandburg do such a thing?"

I shrugged my shoulders, wondering if H meant why had Blair outed me or why had he called himself a fraud, but didn't speak. But one answer to H's question was in my mind while I followed him back down to the bullpen.

He had kissed goodbye his work, his academic life, because he loved me. And I'd pushed him, by not listening to him, into showing his love by immolating himself. Rainier colleagues, other anthropologists - his whole academic world -- were going to crucify him.


Bartley was his usual charming self, making sexist comments about our secretary, and planting himself in Simon's office for the duration of the afternoon. He was like some invasive plant taking over a garden -- Joel and I had let him borrow the captain's phone and the next thing we knew he was running his whole campaign from behind Simon's desk. He'd made plans to speak at eight o'clock at another rally, after hearing on the news that Zeller was dead from that explosion at the gun shop. I pointed out that it wasn't confirmed that it was Zeller's body but that didn't stop him. Bartley was staying at the PD until time for his speech, so I took a break and drove to the hospital to check on Connor and Simon.

On the way, I tried to reach Blair again. He wasn't answering his cell phone, and if he was at home, he was letting the machine pick up. I knew he wasn't at his office at Rainier; the secretary had said he'd been there earlier and had cleaned out his things. Wherever he was, he was ignoring the messages I'd been leaving him. Or maybe he hadn't gotten them.

I called Harriman, wondering if the FBI had picked him back up for another round of questioning.

"We don't have him. When you catch up to him, you tell him that he's going to remain a person of interest until we hear the whole damn story from him. And to just come in and get it over with. Look, Ellison. If this case gets audited, it'll be our asses on the line for not nailing down the holes in his current story."

He sighed into the phone. "To tell you the truth, I don't think he was in cahoots with Barnes, but I can't put down in my report that the agent in charge's intuition said Sandburg was just a kidnap victim."

I could hear the annoyance and frustration in his voice. "We only put that story out on the air to provide some incentive for the kid to come clean. Look... I'll even bend regulations and let you stay with him while he fills in the blanks. But he's got to talk to us so we can close this case. Barnes is still in a coma, and her doctors aren't holding out any hope she's ever going to wake up. We need the rest of his statement. You tell him we'll keep picking him up till he spills his guts. Good luck, Ellison. That kid's a stubborn son-of-a-bitch."

He hung up, and I parked in the visitors' lot at Cascade General.

Connor was asleep, still in serious condition, but the nurse said she would probably be upgraded to fair by the evening since her vitals were stabilizing. I'd found a toy baby kangaroo in the gift shop and left it for her. She'd probably throw the stuffed animal at my head when I returned tomorrow, but I knew she'd be amused by it.

Simon was groggily awake, but his son and ex-wife were sitting with him so I just said something banal about being glad he was doing so well - he looked like shit, actually -- and told him I'd be back tomorrow. I was walking down the hall when I heard light footsteps running toward me. It was Daryl. I waited, preparing myself to give him some good, uncle-like words of wisdom about his father pulling through and how proud he was of Daryl. I wasn't expecting him to ask about Blair.

"Detective Ellison -- Jim. Mom and I saw the noon news, but Dad didn't -- he'd dozed off -- and my mom said he didn't need to worry about anybody but himself right now and not to mention it. But Blair said he'd cheated, and the news guys think he's going to be arrested by the FBI. Is that true?"

Daryl was a teenager now, but he and Blair were friends despite the age gap between them. I'd had a lot of fun teasing Blair about how he related so well to kids because he was still a kid himself, but Blair wasn't immature. He had the knack of talking to youngsters without being condescending, and he truly valued what they had to say. And I couldn't let his lie kill the respect Simon's son had for him.

"The FBI just wants him to complete his statement from when he was kidnapped. Uh... you know about that, right?"

He nodded, his brown eyes thoughtful. "I remember the first day I met Blair, at the race track, and those big guys were going to hurt me because I bumped into one of them and made him spill his beer. Blair, he kept me from getting my ass kicked, and then Dad and you, and Detective Jack and Mrs. Ellison, you guys found us and arrested those creeps. I was just a kid then, but I'm not one anymore." He straightened his body and I could suddenly see Simon in his posture. "You heard us and knew we were in trouble. And now I understand why you were able to find us even though we were too far away for you to hear what was going on. Blair didn't lie about you in the book he wrote. You are a sentinel, just like he said. Why'd he say he did something wrong?"

"He has his reasons, Daryl. But yeah, he told the truth in his book. It was supposed to be kept secret, and he lied to fix the mistake he made when the story got out. I'm asking you to keep it to yourself. I can't work and do my job, as a police officer or a sentinel, when people can use my senses against me."

He fell silent, thinking, I guessed, about what I'd said. Then he looked up at me with worried eyes. "Is the man who shot Daddy dead, like the news story said?"

"We'll know when the body is identified. You take good care of your dad, okay? I need to get back to the station. And Daryl, thanks for believing in Blair. I'll tell him you spoke up for him."

He hugged me then, a man-child in need of reassurance, and walked swiftly back to his father's room. I followed him with my eyes, feeling helpless to really do anything to make him feel better.

I hated that cops' kids grew up all too fast.


I returned to the station and was disappointed that Blair hadn't come in. He was probably lying low trying to avoid the questions reporters and people he knew would throw at him. I left more messages on his cell phone and at home. I didn't like it that I hadn't been able to talk to him. He needed to know I was over his fuck-up in releasing my name; obviously, he hadn't meant to do it or he wouldn't have taken such drastic steps to try and make things right.

Bartley was still enthroned in Simon's office, making grandiose plans for the rally tonight. He quit yelling into the phone long enough to tell me no way was he putting his plans on hold just in case Zeller was still out there. He went back to his screaming, and I left when he started arguing about what kind of fireworks to set off.

Joel stopped me on my way back to my desk from an illicit trip to the vending machines. If Blair had been with me, he'd have lectured me on artificial ingredients and empty calories. I missed that. I missed him.

"Jim, think I can evict Bartley from Simon's office anytime soon? Simon's paperwork is all in there." Joel sounded glum. I didn't blame him. I would never want Simon's job for the paperwork reason alone.

"He's still ranting. You want him to move into the conference room? There's a phone in there - and a door."

My own phone rang as Joel sighed, and I set my two Snickers bars on my desk to answer it. I held up a hand for Joel to wait as I finished talking to the coroner's office.

I dropped the phone into its cradle and shared the bad news with Joel. "They've ID'ed the body found in the gun shop. It was Haber."

Joel grimaced. "Rally's off, then. We need to get Bartley back to a safe house, and he's going to be pissed." A half smile crossed his face. "Maybe there are some perks to being in Simon's shoes. How about you break the good news to him, Jim?"

I gave him a sloppy salute. "Yes, sir."

Bolstered by Joel's orders, I duly walked into Simon's office and took the phone out of Bartley's hand and hung it up. Bartley looked like he wanted to take a swing at me, but I jumped in with an explanation before he could explode. "Mr. Bartley, we have confirmation that Klaus Zeller--"

I grabbed him and forced him down to the floor, yelling at him to stay down. I'd spotted Zeller entering the bullpen with two machine guns. A split second later the deafening noise of gunfire rang in the air, along with startled screams and yells and the sound of bodies hitting the floor.

I made Bartley get under Simon's desk and told him to shut up and stay put. Then I crept up to the window for recon, ready to try and shoot the bastard. Zeller was striding through the bullpen, firing erratically in all directions. He was bellowing, "I want Bartley; I want Bartley."

How the fuck had he known Bartley was here? There was a God-damned leak somewhere. Zeller ducked back out into the hallway, and I shouted again at Bartley to stay the fuck down. I could hear Joel yelling if anybody had seen me, and I went out the other door in Simon's office as Zeller reentered the bullpen and started shooting again. Son-of-a-bitch must have ducked out to reload. Shit, Joel was right in his way, but Rafe shoved Joel out of the line of fire. I heard the bullet enter Rafe's body. He was clutching his arm and he and Joel scuttled behind a desk as Zeller started his baying again.

I fired off shots at him and he went down, but the bastard must have been wearing Kevlar, because he got up seconds later and started laying down a spray pattern of bullets for cover. I heard him roaring," Ellison," with hate in his voice, and I made for the door, hoping he would follow me to get his revenge and leave the rest of the bullpen in peace.

He charged after me, shooting like a madman. I listened when he came out into the hallway to reload, and I turned the tables on him, firing at the crazy asshole, till he made for the doorway up to the roof.

I followed him, and by the time I got up to the roof and took cover behind a grill, Zeller was at the edge of the roof, attaching himself to a rope.

I taunted him. "You missed Bartley again."

"You're lying," he snarled back.

I aimed at him and said, "You might want to consider another career. Toss your weapon away and lie face down. You can't get away; you must've been insane to try this here."

For an answer, he tightened his finger on the trigger, and we exchanged fire.

Pain, sharp and bright, exploded in my leg - he'd hit me. For a moment I couldn't do anything except react to that agony, and he went over the roof's side like some demented rock climber.

I dialed down touch, which dulled the shooting bursts of pain, and lurched over to the edge. Zeller spotted me and fired off another shot.

And all I could think of was Blair expounding on Karma as the bullet the Iceman fired severed his own rope, and he fell ten stories to land with a horrible sound on the top of a car. Good riddance to the S.O.B. But I couldn't spare any more thoughts for the irony of a hit man offing himself by accident, because the excruciating pain in my leg was back, taking over my concentration.

I heard Joel calling my name from several floors below, and I sank down, putting pressure on my wound. It was going to lay me up for a couple of weeks, at least, but it wasn't life threatening. It hurt like a mother-fucking-son-of-a-bitch, though.

People were approaching the rooftop stairwell, and I shouted that all was clear.

H opened the door, gun held ready, and I yelled to him that it was safe -- that Zeller had managed to kill himself by falling.

He came to my side, pried my hand away from my leg, and took off his flannel shirt to help make a pressure bandage.

He patted me on the shoulder and went back to the stairwell, hollering down that Ellison was shot and medics were needed on the rooftop. He hurried back to me and I asked him who else was hurt. Nobody had been killed, but Rafe and Wong and Petrov were injured. However, they would live; thank God.

I looked up at Henri and grunted, "Tell that pain-in-the-ass Bartley that the rally is back on. At least we won't have to put up with the prick anymore. And call Blair. He hears about this on the news and he's gonna freak. Let him know we're okay."

"Sure thing, Ellison, my man; you just relax now, and I'll let Hairboy know you went to the hospital. Hell, he'll probably beat you there."

But he didn't beat me to the ER. He didn't come at all, not when I had surgery, or when I was laid up for two days before being released to go home. I was worried about him. The FBI said again that he wasn't in their custody, and I ended up asking my brother to check if Blair was home or not. He didn't see any sign that my guide had been there recently, except that he had left his laptop on the kitchen table. Steven assumed he wouldn't have gone very far without it and tried to reassure me Sandburg would probably be back soon.

"Maybe he's at that monastery you told me about, the one you and he stayed at before? He's got friends there, doesn't he?"

But when I called Brother Marcus, he hadn't heard from Blair; I dialed up my hearing and didn't detect any signs of lying in his voice or heartbeat over the phone.

Steven chauffeured me home and saw that I made it safely into my apartment. He asked if I wanted him to stay, but I needed some privacy. And I was okay, basically. I couldn't drive for a few more days and I'd have to take the elevator, but I could fend for myself.

I played through the messages on the machine - the majority of them reporters -- and felt even more concern when I realized Naomi had lost contact with Blair after his press conference, too. Her last message had been left only an hour ago, and I called her back.

We agreed that if either one of us heard from Blair or learned where he was staying, we'd get in touch with the other. Naomi was worried; she might go off on a whim, seeking new experiences, and drop out of sight - she'd done it a number of times since I'd known Blair - but Blair was a lot more responsible. He'd never disappeared like this before; always he had left a number for his mother to call, or a message to relay to her about when he would return.

I looked at his laptop sitting abandoned on the kitchen table. With trepidation, I gimped over and opened it up.

And there, on the screen, was a Post-It-Note with my name on it, a file location, and instructions for figuring out the password.


I called Simon shortly after shutting down Blair's computer. I tersely relayed that Blair was gone, and hadn't left a destination or indicated when he would return. Simon was concerned but was more inclined to think Blair was just taking some time to think things over and would come back when he'd gotten some perspective on the whole mess.

"Jim, he probably needs to... let's see, how does the kid phrase it... oh, yeah. Process. He needs some time to process. And Jim, he left a note saying he was leaving. This isn't going to be a missing person case, and you can't put out an APB on him."

"He left his car here."

"Well, there you go. He loves that car; he wouldn't abandon it."

"He signed the title over to me. And wrote that he was giving me his laptop, too, because it held his notes on me."

"Look, Jim. Why don't you call around? See if he's holed up with a girlfriend, or if some of his other friends know where he is. But I'm telling you, he's just off licking his wounds, and he'll be back to be a pain in my backside again. Just don't worry so much, okay? I'm betting you'll be getting a phone call from him soon."

But the day wore on, and I didn't hear from Blair.

I called Naomi again, told her he'd left a letter saying he was leaving, and we compared notes on who we should check with to see if he was staying with old friends of Naomi's or borrowing couch space from some of his Rainier buddies. She was relieved to hear that he'd left a message and, like Simon, thought he'd be in touch in a few days.

"Maybe he's been bitten by wanderlust, Jim. After all, there's nothing in Cascade to hold him now. He'll get in touch with me when he's calmed himself and re-found his center. He's my son; I'm the only family he's ever had, and why would he close off our connection? Still, I'll put the word out on the grapevine that I want him to call me. I promise I'll let you know he's okay when he turns up. But Jim? If he doesn't want to see you, I won't betray his confidence and tell you where he is. Just so we're clear on that."

But the grapevine had nothing to report, and his friends and colleagues hadn't seen him. A few gave me some harsh messages for him along the lines of they didn't want to be friends with somebody who could falsify his research.

I didn't know what to say to those people. Part of me wanted to shout to them that Sandburg wasn't the fraud; I was, for hiding my abilities. The other part of me stubbornly insisted that my reasons for keeping quiet about my senses were valid, and that Sandburg hadn't safeguarded my confidentiality. It was a terrible price for him to pay, but it was his to pay. It was his responsibility to keep to the bargain we'd made years ago on the beach, when I'd given him permission to study me; to study a sentinel - a legend existing in modern times.

When I kept striking out on finding Blair, I even called Nickols and told him Sandburg was gone. He had no problem with the FBI putting out an APB on Sandburg, since he was still listed as a person of interest in their ongoing investigation. I kind of felt like a rat, doing that to my partner, but I was getting desperate to find him. Nickols said he'd call me when the kid turned up, and that I could stay with Blair when he was questioned again. That was a concession, a bargain without spelling it out, that I would convince Sandburg - well, try and persuade him anyway -- to make a complete statement in exchange for being there with him. I could, of course, give them the information they wanted, but I still felt it was Sandburg's story to tell. Unless he couldn't speak of the abuse he'd suffered. Then, if he agreed, I'd relay what had occurred to him and he could just say yes or no when asked if that was what had happened.

Four days after I was released from the hospital and could drive again, I took Blair's picture around to local truck stops. It had struck me that he might use his CDL as his way out of town. Nothing. I took out ads in the personals of all major newspapers across the country - 'Chief, call your mother or me. We love you. Jim.' But we didn't hear from him.

I made up posters and plastered them around town, and then I drove to Seattle where I did the same in his old harbor neighborhood and on the University of Washington's campus. I stopped at the urban commune Blair had stayed at, and, surprisingly, Blue-haired girl was still there. Her hair was now pink, but she hadn't heard from Blair.

"We weren't that close, Officer. Blair was friendly and he did his share of the chores, but he really wasn't what you'd call friends with anybody here. But I hope you find him - he's a good guy."

A few private detectives called, because they'd seen the posters, but there wasn't anything they could do that I wasn't already checking on.

I was worried, and, yes angry too, that he'd disappeared -- angry with him and angry with myself. Okay, I'd been pretty harsh on him after the sentinel story was made public, but I hadn't packed up his things and thrown him out of the loft. I wished he'd had a little more faith in me, that I would cool off and we'd work things out.

One week stretched into two, and by the end of three weeks I was back at work. Simon and pretty much all of Blair's friends at the PD weren't sounding so positive that Blair Sandburg would be bopping back into Major Crime anytime soon. Naomi's assurances were sounding a little thin, too. She even decided to consult some psychic weirdo friend of hers about Blair's whereabouts. She flew to where the guy was holding some kind of new age bullshit retreat, armed with pictures of Blair and some of his fetishes and small carvings that I'd let her take from his bedroom. I did some checking on the guy and it seemed to me that Charlie Springer was mostly in the psychic business to make money, but hell, it couldn't hurt. God knows, after my own bouts of the second sight, I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the supernatural.

I had developed a ritual since Sandburg had disappeared. Every night, after checking phone messages and emails, I would boot up his laptop and type in the new password he'd left for me as a riddle - "what is the name of the Chopec shaman plus the number of Blair's favorite basketball player?" The computer would accept the name Incacha and Orvelle's number and I would click on the letter he'd bequeathed to me. I would read it slowly, all the way to the end, then read it again before closing down his computer and putting it in his old room.

And then I'd go to bed, and in the dark, which was never really dark to me, I'd bring up the memory of those words.


I'm sorry, so sorry that I broke my promise to you... No excuse for not taking more stringent precautions... I printed out my dissertation, the one that should have gone to Rainier, for you to read. It's in a box under my bed. Don't worry, that copy doesn't have your name or identifying information on it. Maybe it will help you; I won't need it anymore. All my notebooks of original data are in the box, too. I blacked out your name. You have no reason to believe me, but I did that before my diss was sent to Berkshire Publishing... Everything is wrong now, and that union leader was killed and Simon and Megan were hurt so badly -- and it's my fault. You would have nailed Zeller at the rally if the press hadn't interfered... Signed the Volvo over to you - consider it back rent... Keep my laptop...


I've seen your scorn; I couldn't stand to see your hate... You didn't even want my blood to be donated for Simon and Megan.


No future for me as an academic... I watched the newscast... The FBI is going to arrest me... Rainer is going to sue me for fraud. You can't have a partner and lover you don't trust... Tell my mother I'm sorry but I can't stay, not even for her.


It's better this way.


Blair

I'd lie there, in my bed, our bed, and stare up at the skylight. 'Where are you, Blair? Are we still bonded? I can't tell from our bond where you've gone. Although maybe I could tell before because I was holding your choker. Are you wearing it now? Or are you hiding it, so nobody else steals it away?'

Just before falling asleep, sometimes I'd remember our first meeting when he'd been there in the surf, pulling me away from the clutches of the ocean.

And crazy, crazy thoughts would enter my mind. Bits of the old selkie stories from Ireland that Granny had told me. Her reading Kipling's The White Seal to me. Picturing how Blair had stood on the beach when I first met him -- wet, and naked, except for his sealskin choker around his neck.

But he doesn't wear his choker around his neck anymore, does he? Oh, Blair. Is your seal skin the leather bracelet you hide on your ankle? Do you keep it there so nobody else steals you away?

Where the hell are you, Chief? Are you living in a small town or a new city?

Or did you go back to your other world, Child of the Open Sea?


My senses I kept mostly dialed down these days, except when I needed them for work. Experience during the first week Blair was gone had taught me that if I didn't, the sensory spikes would ambush me. At least I hadn't zoned on anything; probably because my guide had drilled it into my thick head that I should always keep at least one of my other senses somewhat focused on something else while I dived deeply into whatever I was checking out. Could be as simple as popping a Tic Tac into my mouth while I used sight to look for fingerprints at a crime scene.

But I was home, not on the job, so it wasn't until I heard the knock on my door that I used my senses and found that Simon was standing on the other side.

I ushered him in and asked if he wanted a beer. But I knew this wasn't a social call, an impromptu act on his part to swing by and see what his old pal Jim Ellison was up to this Saturday night. Simon always called first, before making plans, and the grim look on his face confirmed that he wasn't bringing me good news.

He waved off the suggestion of alcohol and said, "Come and sit down in the living room, Jim."

"You've got news of Blair?" I could feel my heartbeat's cadence increase.

"Come and sit down." Simon spoke the words gently, and my stomach flipped. If he'd used his normal loud tone of voice, I'd have known everything was okay, that he was going to say Sandburg had been off living in a commune in Vermont, or had been hiking the Appalachian Trail, or had joined the circus, but soon would be returning to be a pain in Simon's backside once again.

Numbly, I sat down on the couch and waited. Simon lowered himself onto the love seat and fixed his eyes on mine.

"I've already called Sandburg's mother and told her. Naomi's catching a flight here tonight; her plane comes in at ten thirty. I can pick her up, if you don't feel up to it, Jim." He sighed, and there was grief in the sound.

I steeled myself.

"Blair's backpack was found this afternoon by some kids poking around the edge of Cascade Beach. It had been hidden under a cairn of rocks, but apparently some of the stones had fallen over, exposing part of it, and they dug it out. It contained some clothes, and his wallet and observer's pass. His driver's license, his credit card, and his emergency one hundred dollar bill were in his wallet, along with about fifty bucks in other bills. There was no letter. This wasn't a robbery, Jim."

Simon continued to talk in that horribly gentle tone. "He didn't own a wet suit, did he?"

I shook my head no, taking in the implications of what Simon had said.

"Jim, I'm so sorry, but everything is leading us to believe Blair committed suicide by swimming out into the ocean. We've alerted the Coast Guard, and other coastal towns and cities, in case his body is found. But it's been a month now since he disappeared and we may never be able to recover it."

He was silent for a moment, struggling with his own emotions. In his own way, I knew he loved Blair, too.

"Jim, you'd mentioned to me that Blair left you a letter telling you he'd gone. I need to see it, probably need a copy of it for the file."

Like a zombie I got up and stumbled into Blair's room and carried out his laptop, placed it on the kitchen counter. I opened it and located the document Simon wanted to see, all on automatic pilot. Simon thought Blair was dead. Thought he'd given up and swum out into the cold ocean until hypothermia dragged him under and he drowned, his body swept out to sea.

No! I couldn't believe that was true. Blair wasn't the type to just off himself! But a rational voice in the back of my mind was reminding me that he'd been under enormous pressure, had felt alone and forsaken, had felt guilty about letting me down, and responsible for Simon and Megan's injuries. Hell, he'd even thought it was his fault Bartley had died at the rally; he hadn't known that it was a dummy that had been shot, and not the union leader.

Maybe in a dark mood he'd hitchhiked to the beach and left his stuff and just done it, just given in to the impulse to make the world a better place by leaving it. If he'd waited another day, even a couple more hours, probably the mood would have lightened and the suicidal impulse would have faded. But if he'd acted while caught in the tangled web of illogical and hopeless thoughts suicidal people experienced -- God, he could have done it.

Simon moved next to me, carefully -- like I was fragile and any vibrations from him stomping around might shatter me.

He turned the laptop around so that he could read the screen. Watching him, I concentrated silently on everything he had told me -- searching dazedly for another explanation.

He sucked in his breath and our eyes met, a surprised expression on his face that melted into one of pity.

"Jim, I didn't know. When did you two - never mind. It's not important now. But I'm so sorry, Jim. He was a good kid, and I always knew he loved you. I just didn't know you were together."

What he said was confusing to me and it must have shown, because Simon indicated the letter. And then gave me a concerned look. "Sit down before you fall over." I shakily obeyed, and Simon quietly added, "His words gave it away, Jim. He called you his lover."

He shook his head sadly. "This letter - in it he passed on his possessions, and apologized for the step he was going to take when he got to the beach. I'm so sorry, but you know as well as I do that people with suicidal impulses often leave messages like that." Simon laid his big hand on my shoulder and squeezed. "Between this letter and how he left his backpack, I think we've got enough evidence to know what he did."

He removed his hand from my shoulder and idly brushed his fingers against the counter. "Jim... I'd understand if you didn't want this letter to go into his file. Or if you deleted the part about being his lover."

I clenched my fists. "I don't care anymore what people think about me. I was ready to come out of the closet when Blair and I became lovers for the second time. I'm not going to deny what he was to me." And when I heard myself use the past tense, like I believed he was really dead, I rebelled and pushed away from the table and stood back up.

"I'm not accepting he's dead, Simon. Not until I see his body! And... And, why hide his backpack? If he was going to swim out to his death, why would he care about hiding it from other people's sight?"

"No." I shook my head emphatically. "He meant to come back. Or he was leaving the door open in case he decided to come back." I looked away, out the balcony doors, and focused my sight on the harbor. "Maybe he left in a boat?"

Then a thought hit me so hard that my knees almost gave way, and I leaned against the table. Suddenly I had to know. It was very, very important that I know.

"What about his choker, Simon? That sealskin bracelet he always carried with him, the one I gave back to him. Was it in his backpack? It wasn't, was it?"

"No, Jim. It wasn't. But that only means he was wearing it when he went into the ocean. It wouldn't have made any difference. Jim, you used to surf! You know what the water temperature is like at that beach. He wouldn't have survived in just his skin!"

I gripped his arms. "I'm not giving up on him, Simon. And I'll pick up Naomi. I... I really have to talk to her."

It was time for all the secrets to be called forth.


Naomi is a tall woman, taller than her son. But she felt small to me, folded in on herself, when I hugged her at the airport. Her eyes were swollen, and the lightness of movement I associated with her was gone. She moved heavily and the scent of sorrow exuding from her body told me that, like Simon, she thought Blair had drowned himself.

She seemed exhausted, and I was unwilling to start any important conversation in the middle of the airport. I shepherded her to my truck and stowed her two large suitcases in the back. I opened the passenger door for her, and she took a deep breath and climbed in.

When I stuck the key in the ignition, she laid her hand on my arm.

"Jim..." Another deep breath, that she let out slowly. She was centering herself. Blair used to do it all the time, and I realized that she must have taught him how to do it. Taught him to meditate, to do Yoga. Taught him to explore the world, and to travel lightly. Taught him to value the earth, and the sea. She'd been his only parent and tonight I was going to ask her why he had no father.

"I want to go to that beach. The one he... the one where dear Simon said his backpack was found. I need to say goodbye to my boy. I brought candles with me. Will you take me there tonight?"

I had planned on bringing her back to the loft, to make her some of Blair's tea, add honey to help with the shock I knew she was experiencing, before I asked her to tell me her secrets.

But maybe being on the beach, hearing the sound of the waves, would be better. Would bring back to her that time when she was too young to be a woman and too old to be a child. When she'd met someone and he'd given her his baby.

And I prayed to my granny's God, and every deity that I'd ever heard Blair mention, that the wild tale I'd been concocting in my head was the truth. For Blair's sake, I needed to know that legends and myths could be real, and that they could leave fantasy and walk in the mundane world.

I drew her into my arms and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. Her scent - her usual scent - was partly like Blair's own and it was bittersweet to tease out that familiar aroma from the rest.

"We can go down to Cascade Beach; that's where... And there are things I need to ask you, Naomi. About Blair. I don't think it'll be easy for you to answer my questions, but it's very, very important that you tell me the truth. No matter how difficult it is or how much you think I won't believe you. I promise you; I won't think you're crazy or making anything up."

I released her and started the truck. She gave me a confused look but nodded slightly.

If I was right, if Naomi told me the story I hoped was hers, I could believe that Blair was alive.

And I needed to believe he was alive.

God, Blair. Be alive.


Once Naomi had lit her candles - twenty-five small votive flames flickering in the wind, sheltered by the wall of damp sand we had built around them - I didn't know how to ask her what I needed to learn.

She sat down cross-legged on the old blanket I'd brought from the truck and held out her hand. I grasped it and lowered myself to sit beside her. We were silent, holding hands, listening to the waves roll up on the beach, and gazing at the candles that symbolized each year of Blair's life.

"He was such a beautiful child - my friend Gina used to say he had an old soul - and he became a beautiful man. Inside, I mean. He was kind and generous and so brilliant. His soul will be re-born, but oh, how I'll miss my son." I smelled brine, but it wasn't from the ocean.

"Naomi... I think he's still alive."

She raised my hand to her lips and kissed it. "Oh, Jim. It's hard to accept, I know. But I'm not surprised that he chose to go into the sea. He was always drawn to the ocean, and the impressions Charlie had from touching Blair's things were of a beach, and water, and sadness. I hope he gained peace before he... died."

"No. I don't believe that he committed suicide." The breeze blew one of the candles out and I let go of Naomi's hand and I stretched to relight it. For Naomi, the candles were a way of honoring Blair's years on this earth. But not for me. For me, they were a beacon, a light for him to find his way home.

I grabbed her hand again and squeezed it. "He told me a story once. He didn't tell me all of it, though. I'm hoping you will, Naomi." I took a deep breath - Sandburg had taught me how to do that centering thing - and let it slowly out, picturing Blair's face. "Please listen to me, and tell me the truth."

I could see Naomi's face clearly in the moonlight and there was sorrow and pity in her expression. "Jim, sweetie. I hear you. I know you were close to Blair. He loved you, you know."

"And I loved him. I still love him. He was my lover." I felt the involuntary jerk of her muscles. "Are you surprised?"

She shook her head. "A little, I suppose. I'm sorry, Jim. You must feel so alone right now." She was right, but I didn't want her pity. I wanted answers.

"Blair told me that he took something from you. Something that belonged to him, that you had hidden away. He said he'd read your diary and he knew it came from his father's side of the family. It was a sealskin choker, and he left another one in its place, so you wouldn't know he'd taken it back." It was time to ask the real questions. "Where did that choker come from? And who was Blair's father?" I willed her to be truthful.

"Did you call a selkie from the sea, Naomi?"

She was dumbstruck and stared at me with wide, confused eyes.

I gripped her by the shoulders. "Was Blair's father a selkie? Don't you see? Blair went into the ocean wearing his choker. If he's a selkie, then he's not dead... he's just left one world for another."

I breathed out my desperate hope.

"And I can try to bring him home."


My hands released her and Naomi found her voice. "Blair discovered his seal skin... Does he know how it works, how to use it? But if he's shifted to his seal shape, then I've still lost him. And Jim, honey, you have, too. The midwife who took it from Blair told me that if he ever transformed and went into the ocean, he would choose the sea over land. He might come ashore for brief times but he would always, always return to the ocean. She said it was the way of the selkies. That's why I hid it, to keep him safe."

Very gently, I asked, "Please, tell me everything. I am a detective and you never know what information will help break a case. I want him back, Naomi. And he's had his skin since he was a teenager, and still made his home on land. I realize now that the first time I met him he was in his seal form." I looked out towards the beach where the rising tide was sending greedy fingers of salt water towards us. "He changed practically under me, when he towed me back to the beach. I had been swept away by a riptide and had gotten hypothermic and lost my sense of direction. One minute this seal was talking to me in my head, and telling me to hold on to him. And then, when I could stand up in the water again, the seal disappeared and Blair was there, helping me out of the surf. He was naked, except for that choker."

Naomi made a small sound of wonder. And then reached up and wiped away the tears drying on her face.

"I haven't wanted to admit it, because it seems so crazy, but crazy is looking pretty good right now. My granny was from Ireland; she told me about selkies when I was a boy. And over the past three years, there've been times when I allowed myself to wonder if my partner and friend was a selkie. I... I had found his skin, in the form of the choker, shortly after we met, when we..." Christ, Naomi was Sandburg's mother and I found myself reluctant to tell her I'd fucked her son just hours after meeting him.

I decided to gloss over the sex part of the story. "Well, anyway, he'd dropped it and I picked it up. I held on to it because, oh, hell - you know that I'm a sentinel, right? That Blair told the truth about me in his dissertation? He's my guide, we're connected, and something about him keeps my senses stable. Otherwise they can be hard to deal with - I get spells where everything is too overwhelming or I can lose myself studying something. I found out by accident that wearing his choker kept everything on an even keel."

I sighed. "At first I didn't mean to keep it from him. I didn't know how to contact him, although I did finally figure out his full name - ID'ed him from his driver's license picture. But he found me before I tracked him down. Now I realize that was because I had his choker. The old stories my granny spun all said that to keep a selkie with you, first steal his or her skin and hide it; the selkie must follow you then, and can't leave until the skin is taken back by the selkie. And if you want your captive to be your mate, then he or she will lie with you. I don't think a captured selkie can tell you no to sex if it's demanded."

She looked horrified. "Oh, Goddess, did you -"

"I hope not. I'm clinging to the fact that I asked him to stay lovers with me, years ago, and he told me no. Maybe you have to make it a command in order to compel a selkie into your bed? I always invited; I never pressed him for sex."

Naomi was listening intently and I continued. "He asked me if I'd found his leather bracelet and I lied. I told myself it was for insurance, to keep my senses sane in case he ever left me. I said I hadn't seen it, but I was wearing it when I told him that. I withheld the truth from him until Alex Barnes stole his choker from me. You remember, she was the woman who kidnapped him? Well, she took it and Blair was compelled to follow her. I told him what I'd done, and I'm so very lucky that he forgave me. He took it back from Barnes and he had it in his own possession when he came here. He was free to transform." I made a frustrated sound. "But how do you call a selkie out of the sea?"

"You told me that he never admitted to being a selkie, right?"

"No. Guess he thought I'd think he was delusional, or some scientists would want to make a lab animal out of him. It's what I would be worried about if I was in his flippers." I gave her an apologetic half-smile. I missed Blair so much just then; he would've laughed at my attempt at a little joke.

"I never told him the truth about how he was born." She studied her hands for a moment and said, "Jim, I was sixteen, and I'd left home. I hooked up with this guy and he had friends who had a communal house in Ireland. I can't say that I was in love with Joseph but he asked me to go with him, and I thought it would be groovy. The house was on the western coast and right next to the sea. It was so very beautiful there, and the people living in that old farmhouse were artists and writers and musicians; there was such good talk and music. I thrived on it."

Naomi smiled in memory, then sighed. "But Joseph decided to move on and dumped me. He left, and that night I was so angry. It was the first time a relationship that had meant anything at all to me had ended. I wanted to get even with him for leaving me and finding another woman. Brighid, she told me that if I wanted a lover for the night I should cut my finger and give seven drops of blood to the sea, and wish with all my soul for a lover to come to me. And to stay on the beach for the night."

I waited for her to continue, but she was lost in thought for a few moments. "So, I took a bottle of whiskey Joseph had left, and a blanket, and I went down to the shore. I was going to get drunk and sit and watch the ocean. I didn't really believe seven drops of blood would bring me a lover, but after I'd had a few slugs from the bottle, I decided I would try it. I cut my finger with a sharp bit of shell and waded out to my knees and squeezed those drops of blood out of my body and watched them fall into the ocean. And I wished for a man to come and make me forget the feel of Joseph's hands on my skin. I... I might have yelled it. I was angry and crying and it was cathartic for me. After a while the coldness of the ocean chilled my rage, and I went back to my blanket. I sipped a little more from the bottle, and then, I guess I went to sleep."

The moon was casting light on the ocean and on Naomi's face. She seemed lost in the past, remembering the night her son was conceived.

She changed her posture, from cross-legged to drawing her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs. "I stirred from sleep and there was a man sitting next to me, touching my temples. He was so lovely and so kind. I never even felt concerned that I was alone with him. Of course, that could have been from drinking. I could feel the comfort he was offering to me, but later, I could never remember if he ever actually said a word to me. He wanted to know my name and where I lived, and I told him. He let me know that I was beautiful and he wanted to make my body sing. His hands felt so wonderful... well, we made love the rest of the night." She fell silent, evidently recalling that night of sex and sensations. And I wondered if she'd never settled down with one man because none of her later lovers could match what she'd felt for her selkie man that night.

Naomi shifted and relaxed her legs back down into a simple meditation pose. "Blair inherited his hair and his eyes," she confided with a wistful look. "I've always loved Blair's curls because of that."

She smiled. "My lover kissed me so sweetly afterwards and held me as I fell asleep. He was gone when I woke up. I would have been tempted to think he was just a whiskey dream, except for the evidence of our lovemaking on my body. And the evidence that came later, as I realized I was pregnant."

I patted her on the shoulder, seeing a young girl, heavy with pregnancy, with no partner to help her and no parents to care for her.

"You stayed at that house by the sea, didn't you? Blair told me he was born in Ireland."

"I did. My friends were welcoming, and everybody thought my baby must be Joseph's child. But I knew the truth. I never for a moment thought the man I'd slept with was a selkie, though. I didn't know the legends, and Brighid hadn't told me the lover I wished for would come from the sea."

"How did you find out?"

"Blair was born in that house. An old woman, the local midwife, delivered him. And while I was in labor - when I could spare the breath to talk - she asked me who the father was. I didn't lie to her - I didn't want Joseph's name on the birth certificate, so I said I didn't know. She got the whole story out of me, and it seemed to worry her a lot, that my baby's father was a stranger and nameless. But she didn't make me feel like I'd been a slut. She was kind, too -- as kind as Blair's father, in her own way. She sent one of the men down to the ocean for a bucketful of seawater, and set it away in the adjoining room. Why she did that I didn't know and I soon didn't care as my labor intensified. And then my baby was born and it was truly a transcendental experience."

Her voice became dreamy. "Even now, I can bring back that feeling of being at the crossroads of life and death as my baby left my body and drew his first breath. And when I held him, I was so amazed that I had sheltered this tiny, perfect human being within me. I was so happy."

"And then the midwife took him from me, after his cord had been cut, and my contractions had pushed out the placenta. She carried him into the other room. I didn't want to let my baby out of my sight, so I made myself get out of bed. She didn't know I followed her. I watched her kneel down by that cold bucket of seawater, and I screamed when she pushed my child into it so that the water totally covered him."

Naomi shuddered at the memory. "I thought she was drowning him, drowning him because he had no father. The old woman looked back at me, told me to hush, and to come see for myself what my child was. I was already moving; I was going to save my baby, but when I reached down into the pail to pick him up, he was gone.

"What I saw in that bucket was a tiny, white-furred baby seal, so sweet. And I was scared, and I'm afraid I started yelling and crying that she had stolen my baby. She ignored me and lifted the seal pup from the water. There was a blurring, which happened so quickly that I wanted to rub my eyes, sure that something was wrong with my vision, and there was my baby boy in her arms. The midwife sat right down on the floor and laid him in her lap. She pulled and worried at the skin on his head - I could see that it wasn't baby hair - and she slid off a handful of it. She shaped his pliant skin into a strip about an inch wide and dropped it into the bucket of seawater. Then she stood up, holding my baby.

"I was in shock, and she took me by the arm and led me back to the bed and helped me get in. I was bleeding and she wrapped the baby up and set him down on the foot of the bed while she tended to me. Then she picked up my child and held him while she told me exactly what I'd done the night I'd had sex with my stranger on the beach."

"She told you about selkies."

"Yes. And she told me that if I couldn't love and care for this child, she would take him to the convent in the next parish, where the sisters would make sure the baby had a good home far away from Ireland and the sea. The sisters would keep his skin safe for him. And Blair wouldn't have been the first selkie baby she'd taken to them. She said that if I kept the boy, I should leave soon. When the child was no longer a nursing babe his father would come for him, if I lived here on the coast. And I wouldn't be able to keep myself from giving the boy to his father because a selkie in possession of his skin holds power."

"I know you kept Blair and left Ireland. But I'm confused about his choker. If you held it, then how come you didn't get suspicious when he was able to leave you to travel and go to college?"

"Maeve, the midwife, explained that since she'd forced Blair to change within an hour of his birth his seal skin didn't hold the connection to his body it would when he was older. Anybody could be in possession of it and Blair wouldn't have to go to them, to be their pawn and captive. God, Jim. I should have told him, should have warned him not to ever, ever touch it back to his own skin and go into the ocean and change form. You see, as a newborn, his seal skin was neutral, but now it's not. Not since he took it back. I wrote down what had happened and kept my journal, with his skin, in a secret place. But not secret enough, since he found it."

She worried at her lip and I could see her eyes glisten with tears.

"Oh Jim, the day of Blair's birth I promised Maeve that I would keep my child and love him. She put him back in my arms to nurse at my breast, and I swore I would never lose him to the sea."

Naomi began to cry softly. "But I have. Maeve said that once a selkie child born to a human woman goes into the sea, they never choose willingly to stay for long on land. And it's been a month since he left this beach. He won't come back, Jim. Not for me and not for you."

I held her as she grieved for her lost son. But I wasn't ready to give up hope.

I'm going to do everything I can to call you back to me, my Child of the Open Sea.


Naomi had one more revelation for me, which I didn't learn from her until she had packed to leave the loft and Cascade on Tuesday morning. We'd spent most of the last two days at Cascade Beach - me walking up and down the shoreline, trying to send out mental messages to Blair to come home, and Naomi meditating, sending out her own invitation for her son to return. We each dripped blood into the sea, and I for one felt like an idiot doing it. But Blair didn't come back and Naomi was convinced that our actions were futile. She opted to leave.

I came downstairs from getting dressed and found that Naomi was up, her bags by the door; she was sitting at the kitchen table with Blair's laptop.

She was frowning at it. "Jim, Blair's usual passwords aren't working, and I want to read his goodbye letter one more time."

I reached down and turned the laptop towards me, typed in the correct wording and brought up the file for her again.

Then I went down to the bakery to give her some privacy. When I returned, bearing whole-wheat bagels and carrot juice, she had closed the computer and was standing looking out through the balcony windows.

I placed my booty on the table and went to her, laying my hands on her shoulders, my thumbs touching her neck.

"I'm not giving up, Naomi."

"I hear you, Jim."

Translation: she didn't agree with me, but she acknowledged my right to feel that way. Blair had provided an interpretation on Naomi lingo during her first visit after he moved in with me.

"You don't know how many times I've wished I hadn't sent his dissertation to Sid."

"You sent it? Why?" After he'd disappeared it seemed unimportant to keep picking at that whole mess with his thesis.

She turned around to face me, surprise in her eyes. "Blair didn't tell you? Why didn't he tell you?"

"Uh... probably because I never gave him the chance to talk to me. I was too furious, and by the time I wanted to hear his explanation, he was gone. So what do you mean, you sent it to this Sid?"

"Blair said he was finished writing his dissertation, and I wanted to see it. But he said it was just a rough draft and not good enough yet. He had printed out a copy, locked it in a box, and made me promise not to read it while he was gone. I just wanted to help him; he's always been his own worst critic, and I was sure his thesis was wonderful. I thought if Sid would look it over and tell him he'd done a great job, it would give him a real boost. Sid is an old boyfriend of mine, and a senior editor at Berkshire Publishing."

I remembered she'd said she'd tried Blair's passwords this morning. Oh, surely she didn't...

"You knew Blair's password for his computer?"

"Well, yes, I figured it out. I'm his mother, Jim. I know my son. I just typed in words important to him until I found the password. And I kept my promise to him; I didn't read a word of it. I located his file by doing a search for a document with the word thesis in the title. He told me later that he'd made a copy of his thesis, then removed your name. He changed the working title from 'Thesis' to 'The Sentinel', and then dumped the old document into the trash bin file. And that was the one I emailed to Sid."

I groaned. Blair had taken every reasonable precaution for security and had taken my name out of his dissertation. But why had Berkshire been so pushy about releasing parts of Blair's work?

"Naomi, is there more to explain?"

"I wanted to surprise him. I never dreamed that he wouldn't want his thesis - his book - to be published. All authors want to be published. That's when Sid contacted the media, after I sent back the release form that I signed for my son. I'm so sorry, Jim. I brought such chaos to your lives. I also sent a copy to another friend, a massage therapist, because of his connection to one of the men on the Nobel Prize committee. He agreed to show Blair's work to his client. Blair was absolutely dumbfounded when he'd found out what I'd done."

She started to cry again. "I hate to think that he decided to go into the sea because of what I did."

I pulled her to me and hugged her. And thought hard about the nature of butterflies.

"No, no, Blair loves you; I'm sure it wasn't what you did that pushed him into disappearing. It was me. Blair's the most forgiving person I've ever met and he would not have held your trying to help him against you. I rejected him; it's my fault he left."

She regained her composure and walked into the bathroom. And I had my own turn at staring out at the bay.

Blair hadn't betrayed me at all, not out of greed, as I'd first assumed, and not out of carelessness, either. He'd done as I'd asked and made his work secure. It wasn't his fault that Naomi had been so relentless in her desire to help her son.

Blair had evidently inherited from her his curiosity and resourcefulness.

And, I reminded myself again, as Blair's mother returned to the living room, the tears splashed from her face, you don't pull the wings off of butterflies.


After a week of practically living on Cascade Beach, except for the minimal hours I put in at work, I was getting discouraged. I traversed the beach over and over and called up my memories of Blair, asking him in my mind to once again forgive me for being such an asshole to him and to come home.

I tried to imagine my thoughts as being arrows and that I was shooting them out into the ocean But I felt and heard nothing in response until the Sunday after Naomi had flown away to a retreat in Sedona, Arizona -- something about the ley lines converging out there in the desert. She truly didn't believe Blair would ever come back.

But that Sunday evening, as I let the cold water wash over my ankles, I felt a response in my mind, a few seconds of surprise and then sadness.

I shouted out his name. With real words, not just in my mind. And I cranked up my vision and scanned the Pacific. I saw nothing at first; then, far out past the breakers, I saw a seal surface. Once again, there was a fleeting moment of sorrow and despondancy, and then the seal dove and I had no more contact that night.

I was elated. Sandburg was alive. He was alive and out there, and he'd recognized my thoughts. The world was full of mysteries and my lover was one of them.

I waited all night for him to come out of the sea to me.

But he didn't return.

And for the next week, I would catch glimpses of my selkie lover, as he patrolled the stretch of ocean that bordered Cascade Beach. He was always alone. And gradually, he increased the length of time he would return my thoughts. He never spoke in words in my head, but I could understand what he was communicating.

He was amazed that I had realized he was a selkie. He was lonely. And he thought I should move on; find somebody else to be my guide. He loved me and missed me - he couldn't disguise his emotions - but he still thought he'd made the right decision. He was sad and in despair that his actions had caused such damage.

I finally was able to make him understand that Simon and Megan were all right, and had returned to work. That Bartley hadn't died and had won his vote. That his mother loved him and wanted to see him again.

I sent apology after apology to him and promises of everything working out and being okay. I begged him to leave the sea and return home with me.

But he never got close to shore, and would only communicate with me for short bursts of time; I could tell that it tired him out, for one thing. But my being there every evening on the shore was keeping him anchored to this area. I got a clear sense that he felt tied to his old life, but unable to resume it. He thought he'd crossed a line and couldn't go back.

This stalemate had to end. I remembered the stories my granny had told of the selkie women who'd escaped back to the sea. Their children and human husbands would wander the shore, calling to the selkie wife and mother to return to them. And she would swim near them to glimpse her loved ones, but would never return to the land.

I didn't want our fairytale story to end like that. And if Blair wouldn't come to me, then I would go to him.


I considered renting a boat, but in the end I decided it was too impersonal, too far away from the water. No, I knew what would get me closest to Sandburg. It made me break out in a cold sweat when I thought about taking my surfboard out into the ocean again, but it also felt right. This whole chapter of my life had started with surfing, after all.

I made sure my wet suit was still in excellent shape and I spent some time applying Sex Wax to my board. It was still early in the season for there to be much activity on the shore - for the most part I'd had the beach to myself during the last week - and the shore was deserted when I returned in the late afternoon after working on one of my current cases.

I doubted that anything else but my intense desire to be closer to Blair would have gotten me over the hurdle of paddling out on my board. I sweated with reaction, and sternly told my body to shut up. I was doing this. No going back; no second thoughts. My heart was beating fast, but I hadn't lost my skill at surfing.

Once past the breakers, I cleared my mind of my anxiety, and focused on sending out image after image of Blair and me from our life on land. I remembered the taste of his skin, the touch of his hands on my body, the joking around with each other, the fear I'd felt when his life was in danger, the sound of his voice bringing me out of a zone.

As my board rose and fell on the swells, I unclipped a knife from my suit and pricked my finger. I let each of the seven drops of blood fall into the sea, and I wished with all my soul for Blair to be my lover again. To come and lie with me on the sand; to let me taste and touch him again.

To stay with me.

I tried to make him realize how much I loved him. He was out there, I could sense it; maybe our bond had adjusted to him being in selkie form -- I didn't know, really, but he was nearby.

And swimming closer.

I felt his incredulity that I had come out so far from the shore. He knew I'd become phobic about surfing and here I was coming to find him. I felt a scolding from him, a sense that I was a dumb shit for dumping even a tiny bit of blood in the ocean - something about sharks and prey. And joy, that I was close enough for him to see.

He surfaced a few feet from my board and I looked into those blue, blue eyes of his and I spoke to him and told him I loved him. I loved him and wanted him and I would do whatever he said to make things right with him. That I was a jerk but that the day he'd disappeared, I'd been ready to listen to him. That the sacrifice of his career had been the most potent expression of love anybody had ever made for me, and that I was so, so sorry he'd had to make that decision.

He swam closer, until I could reach out and touch him. His skin felt dense, the fur smooth. Panic resonated from him, that I would find him deformed, strange, and be put off by his seal form.

I shook my head and said, "I love you, Blair, no matter what your shape is. I'll love you when you grow a potbelly and have only three strands of hair left on your head. I'll love you when you're eighty years old and your face is wrinkled and your ass is sagging. Please, Blair. Come to the beach with me. I want to make love to you. I've missed you so much the weeks you've been out here."

He looked searchingly at me and I could feel his desire, his great longing to have again what he'd given up.

"Please?"

A tidal wave of affection and love and agreement flooded me, and he turned to swim slowly toward the shore, staying near me. I maneuvered my board back to where the swells were pumping. After a few minutes I had a good prospect and I paddled hard to match the speed of the wave.

The billow surged toward the beach and I did a pop-up, balancing on the deck, riding ahead of the white water as I surfed to the beach. Blair'd been near me, but before the tube had formed and I'd entered it he'd disappeared from my sight, diving under, I thought, where he wouldn't be tumbled.

Surfing was like flying, and I laughed, pleased that I'd faced down my fears. I felt ecstatic; Blair was coming back to me.

I rode the lip up to the beach and jumped off, grabbing my leash and dragging the board out of the reach of the soup. I took the leash off and scanned the surface. I saw a dark shape streaking under the water and then after another wave crashed on the shore, Blair stood up and waded through the swash and the backwash to stand naked on the sand. He waited, his usually busy hands silent and still, and whispered my name.

My love. My lover. My selkie lover.

I swept the beach for prying eyes, but we were alone.

I started stripping off my wet suit, dropping the gloves and the cap on the sand as I advanced toward him.

The sun wasn't ready to set but it was riding low in the sky, and the clouds were a brilliant pink and red color. Blair stood so still when I reached him, almost like a statue except for the deep shuddering breaths he was releasing.

I touched his face, his beautiful face. I stroked the choker around his neck, and he moaned. I kissed him then and tried to put into it everything I felt. And he responded eagerly, as if some permission had been granted, and I felt his body relaxing.

We kissed and kissed, until if I didn't get that fucking wet suit the rest of the way off it was never going to get past the pole in my pants. I broke away from him and grunted out something about a blanket I had on the beach.

He smiled at me, his face flushed with joy, and we careened together back up the beach to where I'd laid out my blanket and a cooler and other supplies.

He dropped to the blanket and leaned back on his elbows, legs spread, and grinned at my clumsy attempts to unzip my suit. Finally the damn thing was off and I pushed down my long Speedo. I'd checked again and we were alone. But hell, I don't think I would have cared if there had been other people near us.

"Want me to wax your board, Jim?" He quit looking up at me and dropped his eyes to my erection.

"Sandburg..." I mock-growled at him, but I was grinning. My Sandburg was here. The funny, sexy, sweet man who could make a stupid joke one moment and save my life the next. The dorky, brilliant, walking encyclopedia who didn't get fazed when I lost my temper and who bullied me into eating things I never intended to try and fixed me smelly medicinal brews when I was sick.

I dropped to my knees and settled myself heavily on top of him. He gave a slight oof, but he was sturdy. He could take it. I circled his lips with my finger, his mouth opening and his eyes growing black with arousal -- I'd discovered that hotspot of Blair's the first time we'd made love, back in La Push. I wanted to kick my younger self's ass, for thinking back then that anonymous sex was the only pleasure I could ever have with a man. This man was mine. This man completed me. If he chose to go back to the sea after lying with me, here on this beach, it would break me.

We touched and licked and sucked and thrust until we both had reached completion. Dazed, I rolled off of him and stared up at the clouds -- to be able to touch him like this, to make him shudder from pleasure - God, I wanted this for the rest of my life.

The sweat we'd generated was chilling on our bodies from the breeze and Sandburg started shivering a little as he lay splayed out on the blanket.

I stroked his flank. "You don't have a nice undercoat of blubber to keep you from the cold, Child of the Open Sea. Come here and let me warm you." He rolled compliantly against me and I wrapped my arms and legs around him.

"Why does that sound familiar, calling me Child of the Open Sea?"

"It's from a story my granny read to me as a kid. Kipling wrote it. I think it was called, uh... The White --"

"The White Seal. Yeah, I read it, too. I remember the story now; the White Seal saved the other seals from being slaughtered by the hunters. It influenced me a lot, made me want to join Greenpeace when I was older. Naomi didn't read it to me, though. Thinking back, she pretty much avoided the topic of seals in general. And she didn't like my interest in the ocean at all. After I found her diary and read about how I was born, it all made more sense to me." His teeth worried at his lip. "Is she okay?"

"No, Chief. She's not. She's convinced that you'll never stay on land again, that you'll chose to live your life out in the ocean."

I hesitated. But I had to know. "Blair, I love you and I can't join you in the water. Will you stay on land and live with me, and love me? I can't tell you how sorry I am that I was too mad to listen to you when Naomi sent your thesis to her old boyfriend." He jerked a little in my arms. "Yeah, she told me. She's quite the hacker, isn't she? But I swear to you, I was getting over blowing up, and I was even going to ask you, if I left the PD, if you would go with me to somewhere else. Maybe find a place more out in the wilderness. I dunno, I was thinking maybe about joining Search and Rescue or checking into being a forest ranger. Doing something where it wouldn't matter if it was known about me being a sentinel."

I buried my face against the back of his neck, tasted the salt from his sweat and the salt from the ocean. "Please, Blair."

He was silent. I waited, too afraid, really, to say anything else.

"I love you, Jim. I've never really loved anybody like I love you. Part of me wants to stay with you. Part of me is scared about what happens the next time you're sure I fucked you over. Part of me wants to stay in the sea, where life is so much simpler. And it's so incredibly beautiful. But it's lonely being there -- I've looked and I haven't found anybody like me. No selkies, I mean. I'm not really a seal when I'm wearing my seal coat. I'm still me, still think like me. The seals I've seen are animals to me, not family, not potential mates."

"I'm your family, Blair. I'm your mate. We married each other, remember? I know I can be dense sometimes -- but I give you my word that I've learned I've got to listen to you before making assumptions. And you made some assumptions, too, you know. Like at the hospital when I had Joel stop you from giving blood. That wasn't because I thought you weren't good enough to contribute, you dolt. It was because you were recovering from surgery and your own blood loss."

There was a small 'oh' from him.

"Do you realize everybody but Naomi and me thinks you've committed suicide? Your friends have been devastated. And you do have friends, Blair Sandburg."

"I've got trouble, too. The FBI is going to arrest me. Jim, if it's a choice between being in prison and being in the ocean, then I pick the ocean. I could still come ashore and visit with you, if I was careful."

"No, Blair. They aren't going to arrest you. They made you think that so you'd cave and tell them what you've held back. They said I could be with you while they interview you again. If it's too hard for you to verbalize what Barnes did, I'll say it for you and you can just say 'yes' when they ask you to confirm the statement. I swear, if you tell them the truth they'll close the case and clear you. Even Nickols hasn't been that much of a prick lately, and Harriman let me know they believe you're innocent."

Blair made a disbelieving sound. "Yeah, I know. They did push you hard. From what I was told that's because they're mostly worried about getting a poor rating if the case is audited, if they don't fill in the gaps of your story."

Blair said incredulously, "They're worrying about the fucking paperwork! They make me think I'll be going to prison, and raped again, and it's all over the fucking paperwork?" He untangled himself from me, climbed to his feet, and ran his hands through his wildly curling hair. Then he paced around the blanket, muttering uncomplimentary things about Nickols and Harriman. "They took my choker away, you know, when they tossed me in the holding cell for the night. And all I could think about was that I was going to be a slave again to whoever held it. I'd have to go to them. I'd have to have sex with them if they told me they wanted it. I can't say no. I don't know why I can't, but that's a common theme in all the selkie folklore. I went a little crazy on them, until the choker was out of my sight. Then it was as if I'd been hit with a shitload of Valium. Jim, I'm scared of being so vulnerable."

I got up and enfolded him in my arms. "I don't have answers for you, buddy. But I love you and I know you love me. I'm asking you to trust in our love and we'll work through the problems."

"I don't know what I'm going to do for a job. And I can't get my Ph.D. now. But I'd give it all up again in a heartbeat, Jim, if it would keep you safe."

I kissed him. "I know. You're so brave, Blair. You... you gave up everything for me. Jesus, when I watched that newcast..." I kissed him again. "You know, it made me feel about two inches tall when I realized I had misjudged you. I'm sorry -"

Blair hushed me by placing his hand over my mouth. "Ultimately, it was my responsibility - and my decision. Quit beating yourself up, okay?" He dropped his hand and I picked it up and kissed his palm.

"Trust me, please? I don't have all the answers, but I'm asking you to be my partner and we'll give it a shot together."

He looked up at me again. "Jim... okay. I'll come back with you. But I'll need freedom to return to the ocean, because I really love it, too. I won't stay for long -- just day trips. Because I love you more."

Taking several steps backwards, he pointed a finger at me. "And I want it in writing that I have a week -- a week, man -- before you decide I've fucked up about something, and you damn well better listen to me during that week. I deserved better than being shunned by you, even if it was totally my fault that the diss was released. I don't deny you had the right to be angry, Jim. But it really hurt me that you wouldn't talk to me about it."

"I'm sorry. If you think it will help you can have 'one week' tattooed on my ass so I don't forget it."

He started to laugh then, mirth that was cleansing for the soul. "Your ass? You planning on admiring it in the mirror to see the words?"

I turned him around and lightly smacked his own ass. "Speaking of butts, we've got to rustle you up some clothing. I've got a pair of jeans and another shirt with me... you can wear the Speedo and my t-shirt. Are you ready to go home, Chief?"

He picked up my blue swim Speedo, and shook the sand out of it. "You broke through your fear of the ocean and came after me, Jim. That means a lot to me. Yes, I'm ready. Let's go home, and tomorrow or the next day, we'll tackle the FBI, and just take it one day at a time." I rummaged in my bag and threw him a t-shirt. After he was dressed, he opened the cooler and fished out two water bottles; he gulped his while I changed into clothes, and then tossed one to me. Afterwards, he folded the blanket and carried it and the cooler to the parking lot. I managed my board and we stowed everything away in the back of the truck.

We got in and I started the truck. I pulled out of the parking lot and Blair stared out the window at the ocean as I turned toward the city. A flash of longing crossed his face, heat lightning that flared silently and was gone. I reached over and laid my hand on his thigh, anchoring him to the land.

And while I rejoiced that he was choosing me, choosing to live his life on land, there was a small, worrying voice in my head that asked, "How long will he stay?"


On the drive home, with Blair's permission, I called the place where Naomi was staying and left her the good news that her son was home again. Simon was next, and when I stumbled through explaining that Blair was alive and sitting next to me, he let loose with a heartfelt 'Thank you, Jesus' before he demanded to talk to Blair.

Blair was a little tentative sounding when took the phone and said hello. I listened in without any self-recriminations. My lover knew very well what I could do with my hearing and if he didn't want me to know what was being said, he'd have motioned for me to turn it down.

"Son, are you okay?"

"Yes. And I'm sorry; I didn't think anybody would really care if I left."

I don't know why you took off like that - everybody but Ellison was sure you'd killed yourself - but if you ever, ever feel like disappearing again, you come and see me instead. I'm your friend, too, Sandburg. You talk to me about whatever's got you wanting to run, understand? I suppose Ellison is listening, so Jim, pay attention here, too. God knows, I'm no expert on marriages, and my own fell apart for a variety of reasons, but maybe Joan and I would have made it if either one of us had had the guts to talk with somebody who could have given us some perspective about our problems. My door is open to both of you. That means you, too, Sandburg. And don't bother to protest that you and Jim are just friends. Jim's already let me know the truth. And actually, I think you two are good together.

"Now, just where the hell were you?"

Blair said simply, "At sea."

"Well, you've got some apologizing to do around here. You made Connor cry, you know. I'll let you two have tomorrow to get reacquainted, and then I expect to see you both back at the PD."

Pulling down Blair's hand that was clutching the phone for a moment, I hit the speaker button, then let go of him. "Sir, Blair and I will be down in Seattle the day after tomorrow; he's got to finish up with the FBI and get them off his back."

"Count it as a work day, then -- and if I were you, Blair, I'd be giving Connor a call right after we hang up. Our inspector is one tough lady, but believing you had drowned yourself really hurt her. She just hasn't been herself at all. You call her, and while you're doing that I'll let the rest of the bullpen know you're back."

Simon paused before continuing in a gentler tone of voice. "Remember what I said to you, kid, okay? I meant it."

Blair dropped the phone down on the seat and scrubbed his hands over his face. "God, Jim. I feel like such a shit. I guess I thought everybody would figure I'd just left town. My backpack was discovered, I suppose?"

I nodded. "Kids."

"When I went into the sea, I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do. And once I was in seal form, time felt different. It's one of the things that's always appealed to me about changing into a seal's shape. You live in the present, mostly." He shot me a glance. "Your thoughts about our past were the only thing that kept me near that beach, I think. And I never thought it through that other people would be worried about me not being around."

I took my right hand off the steering wheel and tugged at him to slide closer to me, which he did, after moving the phone and undoing his seatbelt.

"You've made mistakes. I've made mistakes. It's not going to help anything for you to keep beating yourself over the head about them. Let's acknowledge that we're a pair of dumb fuckers, apologize to the people we've hurt, and try to fix what we screwed up."

He sighed, and laid his head on my shoulder. I asked him, "Do you want privacy for calling Connor?"

He nodded, and I spotted a grocery store coming up. I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes later and parked.

"We're out of just about everything. I'll get the groceries; you call Megan and make things right with her. Tell her I'm sorry, too, for being the catalyst in your decision to leave like that. Are you sticking with just telling people you were at sea?"

"Yeah. It's the truth. They'll think I was working on a fishing boat or something, and I'll be vague about the details. It'll be a bit of a subterfuge, but not an outright lie."

"Another Blair Sandburg special. But I agree. If you tell them you're a selkie and would be taken for a seal if they see you, you'd be at the funny farm in no time." I changed my tone to a more serious one. "Blair, you are okay with coming home, aren't you? I love you so much, and I would like to tell you I'll never hurt you again, but I know myself too well. I'm sure I'll say or do something that makes you feel like shit, but what I can promise is to listen to you and put your needs first. The weeks when you were gone... Well, I've had a lot of time to think about making changes in how I treat you. I don't want to be a selfish bastard. You make me want to be a better man than that."

Blair stopped me then by kissing me; so completely, so trustingly, so lovingly, that when he moved away I felt warmed. The fear that he'd change his mind and go back to the sea eased. I slid out of the truck and then stopped and looked back at him when he whispered my name.

"Get some tofu, will you?" And then he laughed, the little shit.

I went back to the truck, opened the door, and kissed him one more time.

"For you, babe, I'll gladly eat tofu. But promise me you'll disguise it, okay?"

"Better get soy sauce, too. I'm going to cook something that isn't fish for supper. I've kind of had my fill of seafood lately, you know."

I walked away, whistling to myself. Blair was back and my world had righted itself. For him, I'd learn to tolerate tofu; I felt that relieved and that happy.

That old midwife probably didn't know what she was talking about.


There was tear-scent in the truck when I reopened the door after loading the groceries in the truck bed; I guessed that Blair had gotten hold of Connor. His eyes were rimmed in red, and there was still a slight hitch to his breath. I opened my arm to him as I started the truck, and he nestled himself snug against me.

"Hey, Chief. Look, it's been a long day for both of us. We've been up and down the escalator with our emotions and I'm thinking you're exhausted. I know I am. If you want to wait and eat tofu tomorrow, I will gladly buy you a pizza tonight."

He gave a small, tired chuckle. "Okay, Wimpy. 'Gladly,' eh? At least you didn't try to get me to actually eat at Wonderburger. Can we call the pizza in now, and pick it up? 'Cause now that you've mentioned pizza -- man, I really want a slice of pie."

"Sure. Hit the speed dial, Junior." I waited till he called in a black olive, mushroom, and sausage order, then added, "We'll take it easy tonight and tomorrow. Get reacquainted; catch you up on the PD news. Your mother will probably call. And I want to know about your other life, Child of the Open Sea. I've got a lot questions. Like... when Alex - she's still in a coma, by the way - shot you, you crawled to the ocean. Did you forget you didn't have your choker and couldn't transform to get away from her? And if you had changed to seal form, would your wound have been healed right away?"

Blair made a contemplative noise; I'd just pushed his academic curiosity button. "None of the folklore I've read has suggested that shape shifting would cure any kind of injury. A lot of the ballads and stories include a selkie being injured and even dying; I don't imagine changing shape could fix a bullet hole. And I'm afraid I wasn't able to reason very well at all when I was shot. I... yeah... my overwhelming urge was to get to the water, but I believe I was just going on instinct. I can't remember thinking anything about my choker being lost. I just hurt so bad and I don't guess I really knew what I was doing."

I squeezed his shoulder and took a right turn onto Harbor Street. "Yeah, bullet wounds hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, don't they? When Zeller shot me--"

"What! Jim, why didn't you tell me? You managed to make me understand that Simon and Connor were okay, when I was swimming around. Didn't you think I would want to know that -- You. Were. Shot!"

"Honestly, Chief, I didn't think about it. But now I'm glad I didn't tell you because I wouldn't have wanted to guilt you into coming home. But after we're back at the loft and have eaten, I'll show you where he got me; I guess you didn't see my scar when we were on the beach. My leg was hit; maybe you could kiss it and make it better?"

He muttered something about closemouthed sentinels; I pulled into the parking lot and untangled myself from him. Before I went inside I kissed him again, ignoring the teenagers hanging around in the parking lot, but Blair sputtered and I laughed when one of the girls yelled at us for me to kiss him again.

And I realized I didn't care who saw me being affectionate with my lover. I just didn't care.

Being out was going to be okay.


Blair was nervous as we drove to Seattle. He rubbed his hands on his jeans a lot and chattered on about nothing much at all. Finally, I called him on it.

"Buddy, I know doing this is hard. How can I make it easier for you?"

He shrugged. And went back to rubbing holes in the denim fabric.

"Do you want to practice? Talk to me about what happened?"

"No... not really. I think I just want to say it once. I guess I'm mostly worried that they're not going to believe me. There's still a stereotype that guys can't actually be raped by other guys, and saying a woman's raped a man... What if they think me admitting there was sexual contact between Barnes and me really means that we were partners? God, if they arrest me... Jim. If they arrest me, I want you to take my sealskin. You wear it and keep me safe, okay? Because I never again want to feel compelled to follow someone and agree to have sex with that person when I don't want to. In the temple, before you got there, she made me have sex with her again. I wasn't even tied up and she made me go down on her. She didn't have to threaten me with releasing the sentinel information. She just told me what to do and I did it. I felt so hopeless." He shook his head and snorted. "Looks like maybe I did need to talk about it with you."

I was disturbed by the implications of what he'd said. And I had to know if I'd... "Chief, did you ever feel compelled to have sex with me when you didn't want it? Because if I did that to you, I am so, so very sorry."

His eyes widened. "No... oh, no, Jim. It was always, always consensual with you! Remember the night I came back after I left, the night you told me you were going to marry Carolyn? You wanted to kiss me there on the beach, and I told you no. If you'd wanted to override my will, you could have. I would have done it, done anything you asked me to do - kissed you, let you fuck me, fucked you - but you didn't attempt to make me do anything I said I didn't want to do. You didn't rape me, Jim."

I let out a sigh of relief. "I'm so glad to hear that, Chief. Listen. Tell the FBI everything. Tell them you were blackmailed into coming along because of trying to keep me safe from exposure as a 'sentinel.' You don't have to lie to them if they ask if your research was true. After Oliver and Brackett, I must already be known at some level as a guy with enhanced senses. But I don't think they'll bring attention to it because that's not their focus for this interview. And they sure don't want to add anymore headaches to this case." I glanced over at him and smiled. "I'll be right there with you, and if it gets too hard, I'll state what happened and you can just confirm it, okay?"

He took my hand off of the steering wheel and held it tightly.

"Okay." And the worry scent pouring off of him lightened.


The interview was grueling, but Nickols and Harriman didn't make any attempts this time to browbeat my partner. And true to their word, they allowed me to be present. I flatly told them that Blair was my domestic partner, and I sat next to him and held his hand. Nickols rolled his eyes, but didn't insult us.

They went back over his earlier testimony, and Blair confirmed that what was read to him was a truthful statement. Then he answered their questions regarding his interactions with Barnes and Hettinger. He explained about being blackmailed, as well as reiterating that they'd held weapons on him. They ignored the part about me being a sentinel, just accepted that it was information that at the time of Blair's kidnapping was not appropriate to be released. Frankly, I didn't think they cared anything about me supposedly having enhanced senses, except for how it related to Blair's actions.

He quietly told them about having to perform oral sex on Barnes and I confirmed his statement about the temple, where I'd witnessed her cutting him and rubbing herself against him in order to orgasm. He kept his eyes averted from their faces, and held my hand in a death grip, but when they didn't badger him or scoff at his story, I could feel him start to relax a little. Harriman asked Blair if he wanted something to drink, and Nickols made small talk with us while his partner got Blair a bottle of water. I was glad they had ditched the hard line approach now that Blair was co-operating.

After that small break, Harriman took over the questioning. The really tough question was why had he followed her to the temple? Blair did one of his subterfuges as an answer. He told them that she'd stolen a priceless - to him - keepsake from his father's family, the only thing he had ever been given that had come from his father. When they asked what it was, he described his choker. Harriman asked if it was the same piece of leather jewelry he'd made such a fuss about giving up when he'd been placed in the holding cell. He admitted it was, and told them that he'd been able to take it back after I'd subdued Barnes at the temple.

And that was it. We waited while his statement was typed up, and after he signed it Nickols told him he was free to go, that he was no longer a person of interest to the FBI and that there would not be any charges brought up against him.

While we were waiting for Harriman to bring the statement for signing, Nickols and I had talked when Blair had excused himself to the restroom. Nickols said he personally didn't give two flips if I had good eyesight or not, or if I could smell a fart two blocks away, but he also figured it was my business, not the FBI's. So there was no need to make this interview about me, it was about Sandburg's connection to Barnes. And he and Harriman were satisfied that Sandburg had been coerced into going with her.

I shamelessly listened in to the two agents' conversation as we walked away, and was gratified to hear that they did believe him, and even Nickols considered him to be a victim. Harriman was sorry that Sandburg hadn't felt able to talk about the abuse before now. They'd done an extensive investigation into Barnes' past and had heard talk about her sexual activities from other informants, so Blair's story fit into Barnes' profile.

And Nickols sneered that he was one stubborn kid, and that I'd have my hands full with him as a boyfriend. And vice-versa. Harriman laughed and agreed that we were quite a pair. Harriman sounded okay about it; Nickols was his usual obnoxious self.

After we left the building, I told him the Feebs believed we deserved each other. He snorted a little but didn't react otherwise. He seemed very tired. The whole experience had been draining for him, I was sure. We were expecting Naomi this evening; she had called and begged Blair not to go back to the sea until she could see him. He'd agreed, but now he asked me if we could stop at Cascade Beach on the way home.

"Are you going to visit your other world, Child of the Open Sea?"

He shook his head. "I promised Naomi I wouldn't do that right now. I just want to walk along the beach, and smell the ocean. I miss it, you know.

His words brought a chill to my heart. "Blair. Are you regretting coming away from the sea?"

"No. No, I want to be with you. But I can't deny that I feel a craving to be around the ocean. I think just seeing it again will help me feel more settled."

But if anything he seemed more restless after we left the shore and went on home. He apparently realized he was jitterbugging around more than usual, and set out his candles and meditated till I heard Naomi entering the building. I grabbed my keys and told Blair I'd be back in an hour. I felt he and his mother deserved to have some privacy for this reunion.

There were traces of tears on both of their faces when I came back laden with take-out from Blair's favorite Indian restaurant. But after Blair and I had demolished the Chicken Vindaloo and Naomi had pecked at her Vegetarian Korma, and he had made us all some chai tea, she brought up her fear that Blair would eventually chose the sea over land. He assured her that, while he would visit the ocean, he would live on land. With me. And that he and Naomi of course would see each other often.

She didn't argue with him, but her scent told me she didn't believe him. A few private, quiet words with her explained why she told us she had to leave so soon after coming. It was too painful for her to stay and watch Blair succumb to the sea. She was grateful that she had been able to say a real goodbye to him, but she didn't expect to see him again.

She did urge him to keep on meditating, since he'd told her it had helped calm him tonight when he'd felt restless and had wanted to drive back to the ocean. They said their farewells - with Naomi fiercely hugging him before she stepped back and gave me a goodbye hug as well.

After she left, Blair relit his candles and meditated again before we went up together to bed.

It seemed to help. He was calmer and an attentive lover with me that night, entering me so tenderly, and I used my mouth and hands to convey my care for him. My love for him, as I licked his nipples and kissed my way down to his cock.

But the old midwife's words to Naomi played their own tune in my head. A selkie will never choose to stay willingly on land for long.

And I hoped with all my heart that Naomi was wrong and that Blair's love of the ocean wouldn't turn into an unbreakable compulsion to return to it.


Summer became a time for damage control for both of us. Blair decided to appeal being kicked out of the doctorate program, and since he hadn't actually turned in his thesis, the academic advisors whose opinions he sought thought there was a good chance he could be reinstated.

He was busy for a week or so, in case his grievance was granted, lining up his ducks so they would all quack the same note when he met with his dissertation committee. He wanted to divide his dissertation into two parts, Part A being the folklore, the history, the sensory testing of individuals with some enhanced senses, and the discovery of the Temple of the Sentinels. Part B would be sealed after he proved the truth of his research to the committee members. Part B would be his documentation regarding his research subject, a full five senses sentinel.

Part B would be about me.

I would do some parlor tricks for the men and women who had the power to give Blair his Ph.D., and they would sign confidentiality agreements not to release any information regarding my name or my abilities until I was retired - or maybe even dead. Thirty years seemed like it would cover both contingencies.

Blair also did damage control with the other guys in Major Crime with some earnest apologizing for causing people to worry about him. And he had a serious talk with Simon about working as a consultant to the PD. He'd been passed off as one for so long, albeit an unpaid one, that Simon thought he could back up a request for a part-time consultant with the stats showing the increase in solved cases since Sandburg's brainpower had been added to the departmental resources. Blair's calling himself a fraud was going to be explained as a ruse, to keep the nosy reporters from interfering with the Iceman case, and that his mother had sent documents he'd trashed to her old boyfriend, who made a big deal out of them to make her happy. He truthfully could tell them that what was sent wasn't the thesis he had planned to turn in to Rainier.

As for me, I worked hard to show Blair the depth of my commitment to him. We went places as a couple. And I would take his hand while we were out, grab him for a quick kiss if we were clowning around at the grocery store, and introduce him as my domestic partner when I ran into people I knew. Sure, sometimes we'd get hateful looks or comments thrown our way by stupid fuckers - I heard much more of that than Blair did - but we didn't let the bigots spoil our enjoyment of each other.

I called my father and let him know that Blair, who he'd known as my roommate, was now my significant other. There was a long silence on the other end, and I struggled not to just hang up the phone. My reconciliation with my old man still had its rough spots, and if Dad couldn't accept Blair then he'd be seeing very little of me in the future.

But he managed to do the polite thing and congratulated me. And invited us both over for Sunday dinner.

The day after I called dad, I swung by Steven's office and broke the news to him. My brother asked a few more pointed questions than my father had, mostly about why the hell hadn't I ever mentioned I was gay, or bi or whatever, before now? But he had liked Blair when he'd met him before and told me he wanted to take us out to dinner and give Blair his condolences on landing me as a boyfriend. We'd tussled around after that, and I gave him a noogie. After he was finished calling me a dick, he hugged me and wished me happiness. He said he'd call his girlfriend and see when we could all get together. Maybe go to the racetrack first, and afterwards head for O'Sullivans, a nice pub and restaurant in walking distance. I left feeling that it had been a good day when Steven and I had put aside our childhood resentments and gotten close again. Of course, Blair had been the one to talk me into giving Steven, and my dad, another chance.

For the next few months, we suffered through Sunday dinners with Dad and gradually we all relaxed. I even overheard my father referring to Blair as his son-in-law to Sally, when he would consult her about something in the kitchen. My brother and Susan were accepting, and it tickled Blair that Steven treated him like a little brother.

And for the first summer since he'd started the doctorate program, Blair wasn't tied down with teaching responsibilities. He also didn't have a job, and while I wasn't concerned a bit about that, he was.

But in typical Sandburg fashion, he came up with a plan that would let him research myths in his first interest, folklore, and would keep him close to the ocean so he could swim and continue to search for any others like him. He'd been doing a small study on legends involving sea creatures, funded by the Blue Ocean Institute, when I'd met him in La Push, and he managed to finagle the institute into a promise of more grant money for another study this summer. He wouldn't actually receive any of the funding till the fiscal year rolled over in July, but he was excited to be back out in the field.

Because we were worried that he might slip back into the 'living in the present' mode, and be seduced into staying in selkie form, he promised me he wouldn't go into the ocean unless I was there with him. I would surf, if the beach conditions were good, or just stay on the shore and send out my love and thoughts to him.

The six weeks he'd spent in his seal coat were the longest he'd ever stayed out in the ocean. Before that, he'd only spent hours at a time swimming and experiencing ocean life and looking for any other selkies. I was afraid that the increased time he'd spent as a selkie had cemented his 'addiction' to his other life.

And I could see the need build up in him, when he'd been deprived of his ocean fix for too long; going down to the beach to walk or wade in the water didn't stop the craving. But at least he was open with me, admitting to how he was feeling.

For his study, he would drive to coastal communities and speak to the old people - retired sailors and fisherman, and Native Americans from coastal tribes -- about the stories that'd been handed down regarding the sea. And I would join him sometimes in the late afternoons or during the weekends; we would find a secluded place and my selkie lover would undress, trusting me to watch over his clothes, and with my kiss on his lips, he would walk naked into the ocean and disappear from my sight.

Of course, I worried about the dangers the ocean contained, but Blair had countered any dangers I listed, such as sharks, with dangers he'd experienced on land, such as serial killers.

He had a point.

And it was his choice. I wasn't going to try and control him. He'd had enough of that to last him for a lifetime.

Lots of times we would make love on the beach, when it was dark and deserted and he had returned to me, wet, with his hair dripping down his back. I'd wrap him in a large towel and warm up his cold human limbs, and we would eat - sometimes fresh fish, if I had done a little surf fishing while Blair was in the ocean - and Blair would tell me what he'd seen and felt while living his other life.

His voice would become dreamy as he described the colors of the marine life he'd seen, and how he loved exploring and diving down into the water. But I'd hear the disappointment in his voice when he would tell me that he had no sense of any others of his kind.

Blair hypothesized that the telepathic trait he possessed had evolved to foster communication between selkies. After all, in seal form they couldn't speak to each other in words. He also thought it probably helped selkies who came to land to quickly learn human language.

Normally, he couldn't use it much to communicate with me, unless he was in seal form. And he thought that the potion Alex had forced down him had enhanced that telepathic empathic part of his brain while he was in the temple. He was sure that enhancement had disappeared as the potion worked its way out of his body. I didn't agree; I thought he'd shown an increase in his empathic skills since then. Blair always had been strong that way, but now he excelled at getting people to really warm up to him and spill their guts. I noticed it when I observed him doing his research study and also when we met up with the guys for poker night or if he stopped by the bullpen.

After we'd had our supper and the talk between us had quieted into staring at the campfire, then we'd move to a blanket and touch each other. Sometimes he'd fuck me or take me in his mouth. And I would do the same. There was never any keeping track, of counting who had topped and who had bottomed this week. We just made love according to our moods and our needs.

The sound of the waves was always there, on those nights. And sometimes, after we'd finished and I'd dozed off, I'd wake to find him walking on the beach, looking out at the wide expanse of water. I'd go to him then, wrap my arms around him.

Anchoring him to me.

Because the sea is treacherous and, as my granny used to say, many a man has been lost to its dark waters.

And I didn't want Blair to be one of them.


It was the middle of August when Blair wrapped up his study. And I had a gift I wanted to give to him; I told him that I was finally ready to take him out on that big date I'd been teasing him about since I'd kissed him at the Temple of the Sentinels.

I knew he was expecting to find some really good seats for the upcoming basketball season in the envelope I handed to him, but what he pulled out was tickets of another kind.

"Jim?"

"Yes, my little guppy?" And I gently lifted his chin back up to where it belonged.

"We're going to Ireland? Wow, but shoot, I can't afford it right now. I mean, I've always wanted to go; I was saving up to travel there before starting my doctorate, but then I met you and I decided to enroll right away at Rainier and so I didn't, you know, go check out my birth country. But I've wanted to explore it and the ocean there for a long time." Blair's hands were excitedly waving around, and I watched him with amusement. "I used to be kind of scared, too. Because of what I'd read in Mom's journal when I'd found my seal skin. She was really convinced that if I came near my father he would keep me. But man, this is expensive and I can't accept such a generous gift." He had gone from surprised to excited to disappointed.

"'For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,' remember? I have the money, Blair, and more importantly -- I was able to get approval for three weeks vacation time. And Simon thinks that sometime after October he can swing the part-time consultant's position for you. And you told me that the grievance committee meets in September about your case, and once your dismissal is overthrown, then you'll defend your thesis. So now is a great time for us to go."

I pulled him to me and kissed him.

He started another token protest, but I could see the longing on his face. I kissed him again to shut him up. The art of managing Blair Sandburg relied heavily on kissing.

Not that it always worked.

"Jim, man, I've never let anybody do something like this for me before."

"That's because nobody has ever loved you like I do, Chief. We agreed to not keep scorecards, right? Not to nitpick about who paid for groceries last or who was on the receiving end of the last blowjob, correct?" He nodded. "You want to go to Ireland. I want to go to Ireland. My granny made me promise that I'd go someday, and you wouldn't want me to break my word to my old Irish granny, would you? So we don't have a problem anymore, except that we need to get ready to go. The plane leaves the day after tomorrow. So are you with me, Sandburg? Or do I need to thumb wrestle you into submission?"

"Ha, you wish you could beat me. All the typing I do, I'm better than you on thumb strength. But... Okay. I see your point, and wow, I'm going to Ireland... Hey, let me express some gratitude." He grabbed me around the neck and pulled me down to do some serious smooching.

When we stopped, his lips were swollen and pouty-looking. He smelled so good, so right. I started tugging us towards the stairs, and once we were naked and in bed, Blair removed his choker from his ankle and held it in his hand, smiling impishly at me

"What have you got in mind, Child of the Open Sea?"

But I knew. I'd told him what I'd used his choker for, those nights years ago, before he came to Cascade.

Blair didn't disappoint me. He wrapped my cock in his sealskin and proceeded to bring me to heaven. He was so good; it was almost unbearably erotic the way he touched me. But I managed to stand it.

And then it was my turn, when I could move again, to tease and torment him by dialing up my sense of touch so that I could find every spot on his body that would make him quiver with arousal. When he become unable to speak coherently, I pulled him to me, lifting his ass onto my thighs, and played even more with loosening him up. Finally, when he was begging me with his eyes to make him come, because all his mouth was saying was gibberish, I bent him nearly double and fucked him till he exploded. And I had a brief moment of savage pride that I had done that to him, because after my cock entered him I hadn't directly touched his dick, and then my own orgasm took away my thought processes.

And afterwards, I took his choker from where it lay on the bed, and slid it around his neck. "Beautiful selkie boy," I murmured to him, and then I collapsed next to him and held him as we both eased into dreams.


Shortly after midnight I woke up, and saw that Blair wasn't in bed with me. I listened for a moment for the sound of him in the bathroom or the kitchen, but I only heard silence. Except for his heartbeat. Alarmed, I hoped he wasn't doing what I'd found him doing more and more often the last three weeks after we'd gone to sleep.

Quickly, I moved downstairs and went to where he was standing out on the balcony, facing the bay.

His eyes were open but nobody was home. "Blair?"

He didn't answer but continued to stare unseeingly towards the ocean.

He was naked, and cold - God, how long had he been out here this time -- and I opened the robe I'd hastily put on before leaving the bedroom and pulled him to me, bundling him in it, so that my body could warm his.

"Blair?"

He didn't answer me. He never answered me when I found him like this, and after a few moments I freed him and took him by the arm and led him back into the loft, and back into our bed.

I pulled him protectively to me and wrapped my arms and legs around him, both to warm him and to keep him secure so that he didn't sleepwalk again.

He would pass into normal sleep and would wake up with no memory of what had happened. Of course he'd researched sleepwalking when I'd told him what he was doing, and he'd decided that he'd try more meditation and getting to bed earlier. But I felt more and more that the pull of staying a selkie and his battling against it were the underlying causes; his body was being kept in a state of stress.

Blair thought that spending more time in the ocean would appease the craving he was experiencing.

I was afraid that it was just like feeding an addiction. And my worst nightmare was that he would succumb and leave me. Blair swore he wouldn't, that he wanted to stay with me. He was determined, he said, to achieve a balance between his land and sea lives.

I hoped going to Ireland, where we knew selkies had existed twenty-six years ago, would resolve some of Blair's turmoil. He wanted so badly to meet another selkie. And I had to trust him, not lash out in fear that meeting beings of his own kind would result in his deciding to stay with them, and not me. It was hard, very hard for me not to want to clutch him to me, and take back his choker, ensuring that he had to stay with me. But I couldn't do that to him. I wouldn't do that to my lover.

But when we returned from Ireland, if he was still sleepwalking, then I was putting an alarm on the balcony doors. At least that was something I could do to keep him safe.


We flew from Cascade to L.A., and from there to Dublin. We had debated taking a bus or a train across the middle of Ireland to Clare, the county where Blair had been born, but in the end we decided to rent a small, cheap car instead, as it would give us more flexibility for traveling.

Blair was determined to take advantage of our trip and do a comparison study between the legends about sea-folk from the Northwest coastal communities and the stories of selkies and mer-people told on the West Coast of Ireland. He planned to split his time between interviewing informants, sightseeing with me, and going into the ocean and searching for his own people.

I intended to tag along with him and do some fishing or surfing - if possible - while he was in the ocean. I hoped for his sake he would find other selkies, maybe even his father or other relatives. I hoped for my sake that he wouldn't be seduced into staying a selkie with them. But I tried my best not to let my fears poison this trip with Blair. I needed to show him I trusted him when at night, after making love, he would whisper to me that he would always stay with me.

Ireland is a beautiful place, with its tall, imposing, rocky cliffs, and green fields lined with stone fences, the lovely ocean coastline and the traces of a much older culture left in stone buildings and structures. And after traveling around sightseeing near the West coast for the last two weeks, I could better understand Granny's songs about sad emigrants lamenting the need to leave their homeland.

And the pubs we visited in the afternoons and evenings were fun. We enjoyed trying out different Irish beers: stout and porter, red ales - my favorite was Smithwick's -- Harp Lager and Kilkenny Cream Ale. They were even better when I dialed up my sense of taste a bit. And we listened to sessions played by musicians who would drop by later in the day and stay till late. Blair never wanted to leave before the barkeep called last orders.

Blair. Blair worried me even as he laughed and clapped his hands to the beat of the jigs and reels. He seemed almost frenzied in his quest to enjoy all things Irish. And he talked the ear off of anybody who was willing to tell old stories of the sea. He also begged introductions to some of the older folks, the ones who weren't up to coming out to pubs anymore. He was very professional and explained his background in folklore and anthropology, but it was his enthusiasm for hearing the old stories that endeared him to the people he talked to. I knew, because I could hear them talking about him after we'd leave to head back to our own little stone cottage on Aughinish Bay.

And I only forgot and drove on the wrong side of the road the one time, not that Blair was going to let me ever forget it, as every time I got behind the wheel he reminded me to pay attention.

He mostly divided his mornings and afternoons between doing his research and spending time in the ocean while I stayed on the shore or rode the waves. It was no hardship; there were some great surfing beaches located in Clare. One of them, Fanore, was fairly close to our thatched roof cottage in the Burren, and pretty isolated. Blair and I liked that one the best. But the beaches at Lahinch and Spanish Point were nice, too. The waves I caught were, for the most part, tamer than the ones I'd ridden on the Pacific Northwest beaches. That was okay. It allowed me to concentrate on my partner while I was paddling out on my newly bought board - cheaper than renting one every day - in my wet suit. And the water was cold, but I was used to surfing in chilly water.

I'd keep in sporadic contact with Blair after he would alter himself, our minds finding each other, and I would concentrate on sending him feelings of love and desire and safety. He'd sometimes swim next to me while I was bobbing up and down, waiting for a wave. I liked that. I wanted him to be thinking of me when he was in his seal form.

But he was unsuccessful at locating any other selkies. And as our vacation came to the halfway point, and he'd spent so many hours trying to contact selkies, he became more and more discouraged. He confided that, even though he was in the ocean every day, his craving to plunge back into the salt water as soon as he transformed back to human was becoming more and more intense. But he insisted he could handle it. However, unless he was focused on things like music, or typing up the story of how the Conneely family had descended from a selkie, or telling me how an old midwife had repeated Naomi's midwife's explanation that the way to check for a selkie babe was to place the newborn in cold seawater - not that this midwife ever had to do it, but that was what she'd been told - he was restless, and would gravitate, I noticed, to the window or door closest to the ocean.

He would make love with me frantically, urgently. Slow, sweet touches didn't interest him. He wanted me to fuck him fast and hard. Or he would put his own hand over mine when I was fisting his cock, speeding up the tempo. And he was sleepwalking most nights. I made sure the doors were locked, and I purchased several small door alarms to go off if he tried to leave in the night. We were only a half-mile from the sea, and the beach access was only a quarter of a mile further down a steep path. I didn't know what would happen if he went into the bay in his sleep. Probably he would just wake up, but I had a fear that if he transformed in that state, he wouldn't remember his life on land.

So far, I'd woken up shortly after he'd gotten out of bed, or the alarm had brought me out of sleep.

And I thought to myself that something had to change. He enjoyed his life on land. He loved me; he wanted a future as my guide and mate. He relished researching things like the selkie legends and sentinel myths. He wanted to work at the PD as a consultant, and teach classes. Damn it, he did. But I was afraid he wouldn't achieve the balance he sought for his life. He denied it, but I could see it happening. He was being pulled towards the sea. Maybe when we returned to Cascade, I'd talk to him about moving away from the coast. If he couldn't see it or smell it, maybe the ocean would lose its hold on him. But he would hate that, too.

And if he chose to go into the sea for the rest of his days, it would shatter me. But I hoped I would have the strength to let him go, if that would make him the happiest. I'd told him I would put his needs first, over my own. I meant it, no matter what the cost to me.


"Chief, before we leave for Dublin tomorrow afternoon, is there anything in particular you'd like to do?"

Blair looked up, tousled and tired, from where he was pushing his eggs around on his plate, and I poured him another cup of coffee without asking him if he wanted a refill. Then I joined him at the kitchen table, sipping from my own mug.

"Let's go to Black Head tomorrow morning and climb up to see the old stone fort. I hear the view of Galway Bay is awesome. We could also check out Corcomroe Abbey since it's not far from there and, well, could we stop on the way back to Dublin and see the house where I was born? I've asked around and some folks remember when the hippies lived there. It was sold a long time ago, over twenty years by now. Anyway, I'd like to see it, even if it's just the outside of the place. But we can ask the owners and maybe they'd let us take a look inside."

"Sure, partner. Did you ever find out if the midwife who delivered you is still living?"

"She passed away fifteen years ago." He drank down his coffee in two gulps.

"Do you need to talk to any more folks for your study?"

"It's wrapped up. I've interviewed fishermen, old midwives, musicians, grannies and grandpas. I've got a ton of data to sort through." He got up from the table and started towards the door, talking as he walked. "And I think we've checked out every beach up and down this coast where the stories said selkies were taken or called from the sea. There are no recent sightings. Oh, people named families that were said to have selkie blood - the O'Conners, the O'Shaughnessys, the Macafees - but it's all in the ancient past." He opened the door and stared out towards the ocean. "Lets go to Fanore this morning and then come back here for lunch. And since this is our last day, let's walk down to the beach here for the afternoon and evening."

He darted outside, and I washed up our dishes and packed up water and snacks and my surfing supplies. Blair had sleepwalked again last night. And for the past week, he would go from being lethargic to being jumpy, like he had this morning. Right now, he was pacing up and down the driveway waiting for me. And the stress he refused to acknowledge was taking its toll; I could tell that he was exhausted.

As I tied my surfboard to the roof of the car, I asked Blair a question, trying to sound casual about it. "Hey, those families, the ones with a selkie ancestor? Did any of the selkies stay willingly on land?"

Blair shook his head and scuffed impatiently at the gravel driveway. "The families named to me were all descended from captive female selkies. Their skins were stolen, each and every one, and they married the men who'd taken them. But if they recovered their seal coats - sometimes their children found their skins for them - they kissed their children goodbye and swam away. In some cases, as the years went by, the children and husband would go every day to the shore and see a seal out in the water, watching them, and knew it was the selkie. I'm thinking that if the family didn't come to the water and send out their longing for their mother and wife to return, the selkie would eventually drift away from them. It's hard to remember your land life when you've been out in the water for a long time. Jim, if you hadn't come to the beach and looked for me, I'm not sure I would have come back on my own. But maybe our bond as sentinel and guide allowed us to be more connected."

I motioned for him to get in the car and opened the driver's door. I didn't trust Blair to drive anymore; he was too restless. He plunked himself in his seat and turned to me.

"Jim, you know I'll always come back to you, don't you?"

"I know." But how long can you stay tormented like this, Chief? How can you teach or consult or guide me when all you can think about is when you'll return to the ocean? I love you so much... and I'm afraid you won't be able to keep fighting your desire for the sea. I'm afraid I'm going to lose you.


Blair tried to act upbeat, telling me over lunch of the beautiful pink jellyfish he'd seen this morning, and jewel-colored anemones that swayed in the currents as he swam past them. He'd met a dolphin, who'd seemed very curious and had swum in circles around him. He wondered aloud if that intelligent creature had been able to sense he was a selkie, not a true seal.

But I could tell he was forcing himself to act lighthearted. I decided to call him on it.

"Chief, song and dance time is over. I know you haven't been sleeping well, and your energy is low, isn't it? You're tired, but you still keep jumping around like a squirrel on speed. Why don't you meditate for a while or try to take a nap before we walk down to the beach? I worry about you not being as alert as you should be when you're out there in the ocean without any backup from me."

Blair sighed and deflated like an old inner tube. "I can't find them. Where did they go, Jim? Where are all the other selkies? And... okay, I'm beat. I'll try meditating, and if that doesn't put me to rights, I'll try and sleep. But on the beach -- I want to listen to the waves; they make a good lullaby."

Three hours later, after falling asleep with his head on my thigh, he stirred and pushed himself upright. He scrubbed at his face and then stood up, dropping the light blanket he'd wrapped around himself, and looked around the shore. I put down the book I'd brought and once again cast my senses out to see if we were alone. There were people far down the strand, but they wouldn't be able to see him.

"You're cleared for take off. Just be careful out there, okay?"

He dropped to his knees and kissed me. "I'll be back after dark. Make a campfire, would you? I'd like you to light my way back tonight."

And then he stood and stripped off his shirt and shorts and walked naked into the sea, his choker around his ankle. He turned and waved at me, and then dove into a breaker. I sharpened my sight and watched him surface far away from the beach, a seal with blue eyes.

I sent a burst of love towards him and then walked the beach, looking for dry driftwood to build my lover a beacon so he would return safely to me.


The moon was a pale sliver in the sky, edging towards the sea, before Blair finally trudged out of the surf. He came straight to me and I wrapped him in a towel, before pushing him down to sit on the blanket near the modest campfire I'd built.

I sat down beside him and offered him a sandwich. He shook his head. "I had sushi." His brief attempt at humor fell flat, though, dragged down by his utter exhaustion.

"Did you...?"

"No." He started rocking back and forth on the blanket and I pulled him to me, to quiet his body. His hands shoved under my shirt, demanding that I respond to him with similar urgency. I laid him down but instead of giving in to his driving need to be hastily fucked, I instead slowed down my touches, sucking him unhurriedly, tenderly playing with his skin, his balls, his nipples. I gave him comfort, and when he had reached his climax I moved his legs apart and slicked us both with lube, keeping to the leisurely pace I'd started.

When I entered him I went very slowly; I chose to move languidly because Blair had been burning himself out for weeks now, and needed a counter-balance so badly. And every time he tried to fuck me instead, to move upon my cock, I would hold him still, until he subsided. We used the language of touch alone, and when he'd come again, so very powerfully, I allowed myself to also climax, and to collapse on top of him. Holding him to me. Anchoring him.

He slept then, muscles loose and his face relaxed. And I shifted myself so that I nestled against him, my arms and legs holding him close.

I had awakened and was watching the stars when Blair stirred. He wiggled under my limbs till he was facing me and kissed me.

"Jim. I need to spend some time alone. I've got a decision to make and I need to meditate, and really ask myself some hard questions. I'm going to stay here on the beach. You should go on up to the cottage and get some rest."

"Chief, why don't you let me stay. You might drop off and sleepwalk your way back into the ocean, and that worries me. I won't interfere with your vigil."

But in the end I ceded to his wishes and walked back up the narrow, steep, winding path to the cottage. However, I wasn't going to bed; I was a sentinel, a watchman, and I would use my senses to guard Blair against himself. If he fell asleep, I would return to his side.

I sat outside the whitewashed walls of our cozy cottage and trained my sight on him. He was staring out at the water. Then he built up the fire and settled himself on the blanket in his meditation pose, his back to the ocean.

He'd said he had a decision to make. And I had to stifle the small voice inside me that whispered to me of my strongest fear. He wasn't going to abandon me and choose the life of a selkie instead of life with me. He wasn't. He couldn't.

Time passed. The stars wheeled their way through the heavens and the moon was lost to the sea. Blair stretched and did some Yoga positions for a while. Then he got up, threw more wood on the dying fire, and stood for a long time watching it as it blazed up, sending sparks shooting into the sky.

He looked like he was in his own version of a zone, and I wondered if I should go down and check on him. Then he sank back down to the sand and became still again.

The meditation - and sex -- must have done him some good, since he wasn't moving in that over stimulated manner anymore.

The sky was lightening in a pre-dawn glow, and I decided Blair would appreciate some coffee. He'd had the rest of the night to be alone and it was time to check on him. I went inside and brewed a strong pot of java and poured it into a thermos. I grabbed two mugs and carried it all outside.

And dropped everything when I felt a profound shock go through me. I almost fell to my knees, before I was able to straighten back up. And I knew, somehow, that there was nothing wrong with me.

Something was wrong with Blair.

I looked towards the strand and a horrible sense of deja vu flooded me as I saw Blair crawling slowly towards the ocean.

I ran. I ran like I'd never run before. And I opened my senses looking for whatever had hurt Blair. He was moving more feebly and then I saw him go into a seizure when he reached the water's edge.

The beach was three-fourths of a mile away. My fastest time for running that distance was five and a half minutes. But that was on flat ground with no twists and turns. Even with fear driving me, I wouldn't get there in under six or seven minutes. A lifetime away. And if Blair, who was partially in the water so that waves were rocking his convulsing body, were to be swept out into deeper water, he'd drown again before I could reach him.

I flew down the path, losing precious time with every curve. I was closer now to the beach and a noxious stink was in the air, originating from the campfire. I could barely make out a twisted shriveled scrap of something burning, but the odorous smoke wafting into the air was coming from it.

And like a hammer smashing into my brain, I knew what he'd done.

Oh, God. He'd burned his seal skin. And a long-ago memory was compelled forth under panic. I flashed on Stevie asking Granny why the fisherman who'd captured a selkie bride didn't destroy her seal skin with fire, instead of leaving it hidden where she might find it. My Granny had replied, "Ah, no, Stevie lad, you must hide a selkie's skin, not burn it, or you'll kill the poor dear."

I burned my hand flinging the sealskin out of the fire and I cursed myself as I reached the waves and took back my lover from the sea. Why hadn't I remembered that before? Why hadn't I told Blair about it?

I was panting as I positioned him on the sand. God, no pulse, not breathing. Not again. Not again. I started CPR.

But he hadn't drowned this time. He'd been face up in the water, his body bobbing, and the white-crested waves were crashing over and around him, but he had been in a position to breathe if he was able.

He'd died from another reason. Because he'd destroyed his seal skin. The shock of burning away the other half of himself must have been too much.

No pulse, no breathing. I left him and ran back to the campfire. I picked up the remains of his choker and sped back to the ocean and swished it through the water, then plastered it against his neck.

Nothing. No change in him at all. He wasn't a selkie any longer. The connection between his natures was gone.

I was losing him. I needed power; I needed help. Blair's soul would be leaving his body, if it hadn't already gone. Souls - death - power - shamans? Incacha, help me! My guide, my shield - use the power of your animal spirit!

Blair had willed to me to use the power of my animal guide when he was trapped in the Temple of the Sentinels.

I placed both of my hands on the sides of his face and I called on my panther for aid. I stared down at Blair's open, unanimated eyes and felt myself shift into a different body, all muscled and sleek, saw the beach change into the blue jungle.

I roared out my urgency to find my mate and there, a distance away on a sandy beach bordering the jungle, I could see the wolf - Blair's spirit guide - nosing at an unmoving tan-spotted seal on the shore. He gave a mournful howl, a death dirge, as I was dashing to him, then he turned away from the dead body and started loping towards the jungle.

But not towards me.

I ran faster, leaping over logs, hurtling towards the wolf, but he seemed oblivious to my roars. And I mentally launched my love, my desire, my delight in his being my mate towards him.

God, would he be able to feel my emotions and stop moving away from me? I'd kept him from drifting away from his land life all those times when he'd been in the ocean; would I be able to anchor him now?

The wolf stopped and paused, then slowly turned around, and I, in my spirit guide form, kept sprinting towards him. He started to walk carefully towards me, then began to trot, and finally he was running as fast as I was.

We met in a blinding crash as our bodies collided, and merged with each other; I knew Blair and he knew me. Our souls, which had been tied together before by our bond, blended.

Soul mates, guide and sentinel, lovers, partners - I could see the future ahead of us and we would be all of these things.

And the jungle was gone now, and there was only my human body kneeling beside Blair's lax form on this sandy beach as the sun broke over the hills behind us and sunlight flooded his face.

And I saw the breath rise and fall in his chest; I felt tears stream down my face.

I checked his pulse; I counted his breathing - all good.

I pulled him to me so that he was cradled against me, his back to my chest. I rocked him and told him I loved him and to please, please, open his eyes and talk to me.

Because how long had he been without oxygen? What if he was brain-damaged? My brilliant lover, unable to think for himself ever again? I would cherish him and he'd never want for anything, but please, Blair, be all right.

Blair opened his eyes. "Jim?" he whispered.

He turned so he was facing me, sitting up on his own steam. He touched the tears on my cheeks, and I grabbed his wet hand and kissed his palm, tasting the salt from my body.

"Blair, you were dead. You were dead, God dammit! Would you cut this shit out! I mean it, Blair. I'm going to keel over with a heart attack if you pull this stunt ever again!"

And then I kissed him. I needed to taste him, to feel him breathe into my mouth, so different from when I'd given him the kiss of life.

When I could drag my mouth away from his, I made him do some quick neurological tests. He passed. He was orientated to time, place, person. He knew his birth date - and mine, and his mother's.

His choker - what was left of it -- had fallen into the sand, and I picked it up and passed it to him. Then he grasped my other hand. "This is a burn. Shit, it looks bad. Jim, how did... Oh. You grabbed my skin from the fire. I'm sorry, Jim. I never meant to scare you or hurt you. I, I thought all night about choices and paths and decisions."

He stood up then, and I did, too. He looked out at the ocean, sighing. "I couldn't keep on being the way I was, Jim. I think I hid it from you, mostly at least, but it was becoming almost impossible to not stay in the sea. I thought about it constantly. If you hadn't been here with me... Well, Naomi's old midwife would have been proved right. All this time, I've wanted so badly to find another selkie. I wanted to meet my father. But I realized I might never find him -- and did I want to turn my life into a quest that might never be fulfilled? If I couldn't find selkies here, then where?"

He took my unburned hand and squeezed it hard. "I have a family. I have you, and my mother. And since it had become painfully clear to me that I couldn't have any balance between my sea life and my land life, I chose you. You, Jim. I gave up the sea for you. But I still had to deal with the craving to transform and stay a selkie. God, the sea was singing to me in my very blood."

He stopped then and kissed me. I felt humbled by his choice. And so glad that I'd taken him for my lover again and asked him to be my mate. If he hadn't felt bound to me, I would have lost him forever.

"I thought about giving you my seal skin and telling you to hide it from me. I would belong to you then, and I'd have to stay with you. But... what if I found it later? Would the craving come over me then? Would I surrender to it? And I gathered from the folklore that a selkie whose skin was hidden was never truly happy on land."

He bit his lip. "When you held my seal skin before, I wasn't unhappy but I was fascinated by the sea; I loved living near it and spending time on the beach. But I understand now that I hadn't spent enough time in the sea to be truly a selkie at that point. And thinking it over by the campfire last night, I decided that you and I couldn't be real partners if you were my keeper. Besides, what if somebody else took my choker from you? Or found it? I'd have to go to them. I'd have to fuck them or open my mouth or legs for them, if they wanted sex from me. And after Alex, I didn't want to leave myself so vulnerable ever again."

I drew him closer against me, my arms around him, and felt his body release some of its tension as he leaned against me.

"So I burned my choker - my seal skin. I thought it would free me. Some sources I'd read stated that if you burned a selkie's skin then they had to stay on land because they couldn't ever transform again. Huh. They stayed on land all right, because they were buried there. Oh, mannnn... I almost died again." He shook a little as the shock finally hit him about what he'd done.

I tightened my hold on him and let him have some time to process another near miss - no, not near, he'd been dead, all the way dead. And for a while neither of us spoke.

"Ah, Blair. I'm sorry. I didn't remember it until after I'd realized what you'd done, but my granny told Stevie once that burning a selkie's seal coat would bring death to the selkie. I wish that memory had come back to me earlier."

"Not your fault, Jim. And maybe if I'd told you what I was thinking about doing, you would have remembered her words."

Then Blair said, his voice rough with emotion, "At first nothing happened when I tossed my choker on the fire. And I started to walk down to the water, to say goodbye to my other life. And then - oh God, Jim, the pain was excruciating. I... I don't really remember much after that, except I had a kind of dream, where I was a wolf but I was dead, too, in my seal body, and I was lying on a beach and then, then... I was going to go on a journey, go somewhere else, and you came and called to me, only you were a big black jaguar -- your spirit animal, I suppose -- and hey, I guess I was mine, too, because I was the wolf. Anyway, you made me remember that I loved you, and so I came back and we crashed together and I was you and you were me, just for a moment, and then there was nothing until you woke me up and were giving me a lecture about not dying anymore. Which I am totally down with, by the way."

I turned him around in order to look him in the eyes. "It wasn't a dream, Blair. I used the power of my animal guide, and came after you. I'll always come after you, Chief, until we're ready to take that journey together."

I pulled him back to me, hugging him. "I'm so sorry that you had to choose, Child of the Open Sea."

And when he heard me call him that, something broke in him. I held him tightly while he grieved; he mourned for his lost sea-life, for his lost chance at finding other selkies or knowing his father.

Keeping him safe against me, I looked at the sea, at the waves surging onto the beach, and thought about how my life had changed since my selkie boy had saved me from drowning years ago. I wasn't the same guy anymore, wasn't that sarcastic asshole who kept to himself and kept his sexuality secret. I was happy now with who I was, proud of who I loved. Not afraid to master the waves, not scared anymore of being found out as a sentinel, either. I wouldn't announce it, but I would make Blair's dissertation committee understand that he had told the truth about me. And if being a sentinel interfered with being a cop, well, then my guide and I would find another way to protect the tribe.

Blair grew quieter, with only occasional sobs shaking his body.

"Hey, buddy, are you going to be okay?"

"Jim, I... I think we should leave now." And he pushed away from me and looked at what was left of his seal skin clutched in his fist. Then he walked to the water's edge and waded into the surf until he was waist high in the water. He held out that poor, twisted, burnt piece of himself and plunged it into the ocean, and when he raised his hand again, it was empty.

He turned his back on the ocean and stumbled onto the strand, his eyes fixed on me. I moved to meet him and he took my hand; together, we exhaustedly trekked back to the campfire. We dumped sand on the flames, gathered up our things, and slowly climbed the path back to the cottage.

And it didn't occur to me until we were leaving Ireland, flying over the Atlantic Ocean, that he had never answered my last question to him before he'd given his burned, dead seal skin back to the sea.

The End


Beta'ed by T. Verano. Written for My Mongoose Ezine.