Due to length, this story has been split into four parts.
Single White Fillies
By James Walkswithwind and Wolfling
Author's homepage: http://www.jbx.com/~gila/hks.html
Feedback: Yes, please! Please let us know if you liked it, hated it, need tapes of HK to find out who these guys are....
Disclaimer: No infringements of copyrights are intended by this non-profit posting of fiction.
Archivist note: This story is part of the Houston Knights - Horses of Different Colours series. You can find the rest at the author's webpage.
Single White Fillies - part one
A Houston Knights/The Sentinel Alternate Universe
By James Walkswithwind and Wolfling
If there was one thing Joe LaFiamma hated about being a cop it was paperwork. For every moment of real police work he did, he seemed to spend ten filling out reports on it in triplicate.
He always put it off for as long as possible so when the time came that he couldn't put it off any longer, it always seemed to be on the verge of developing life and devouring him. Or so he thought in his more fanciful moments.
Hey, it could happen. His partner was a centaur after all; if something like that could be true why couldn't the pile of paperwork develop a sudden appetite for Italian cops from Chicago?
Staring down at the report he was currently working on, Joe admitted that he might be getting just a touch stir-crazy. Definitely time for a break.
His partner chose that moment to walk back into the bullpen and slap a folder down on his desk.
Levon looked surprised at the fierce glare he got.
"That better not be more paperwork you're trying to foist off on me, Lundy," Joe growled at his partner, turning his glare onto the innocent looking file folder. He didn't reach for it though. After all it might snap. Joe blinked mentally at the thought. Forget stir-crazy, this stuff was driving him plain crazy.
"Joe?" Levon was now looking at him, curiously. After a moment his husband nodded. "You look like a man who's ready for lunch. Out."
"Yeah." Joe pushed back from his desk and stood up. "Before I become lunch."
"You what?" Levon asked. His look of curiosity was now more than slightly confused.
Joe waved it off. "Never mind. All this paperwork is turning my brain to mush. Don't expect me to make sense."
"OK." Levon grinned as if the notion didn't bother him at all. As if he were used to it.
Joe considered saying something about that but decided to let it pass. Truth to tell, there were enough times in the past that he and Levon had seemed to be speaking different languages that Levon probably was used to not understanding him.
He settled for shooting Levon a look and saying, "You're buying," as he led the way out of the bullpen.
"Fine. Been wanting to try out this new place Chicken told me about. Serves buffalo burgers."
Joe frowned. "You've got to be kidding."
Levon gave him a look of surprise. "Why would I kid about something like that? Lemme guess," he said with a knowing tone. "You've never had buffalo?"
"Where would I get buffalo in Chicago?" Joe asked, hiding a smile as he gave the expected reply. This was an argument they'd had many times in many different forms. One day, Joe thought, they'd get tired of it, but so far that day hadn't come.
His partner just gave him a flat look. "And how long have you been in Texas, boy?"
"Six years, three months, five days, eighteen hours and..." He made a show of looking at his watch, "16 minutes. And counting."
Levon stared at him for a very long moment. The elevator doors opened and they stepped on, before Levon spoke. Finally he asked, "How in the hell did you know that?"
Joe kept his expression completely deadpan with some effort. "You mean you don't?" he asked feigning shock. "What happened to that perfect memory you're always boasting that all centaurs have?"
Levon shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Of course I knew. I just didn't expect you to know. Didn't think you would have wanted to know how long you'd been here until at least a year after you arrived."
"No, I've always kept track," Joe said with a self-conscious shrug. "It was just my reasons for doing so that changed." In the beginning it had been like a prisoner keeping track of the days he'd been incarcerated, because that's what he'd felt like. It wasn't until later that he started thinking of that day as the turning point in his life. In a good way at least.
"Huh. Means it took you ten minutes to get from the gate to the desk where I was waiting." Levon smiled, and walked forward as the elevator doors pinged and slid open.
Joe stared after him a moment before rushing to catch up before the elevator doors closed again. Levon gave him a smirk and headed towards the car.
Ten minutes? Joe knew he had been dragging his feet but not that much. "I think your watch must've been fast," he said as they reached the car and he slid in behind the wheel.
"More likely you started counting soon as the plane touched ground," his partner responded. Levon leapt into the car without opening the door, and slid down into the seat.
"No, it was from the second I stepped off the plane," Joe replied, as he turned the key in the ignition. Then he paused and grinned. "Things must be going too well if this is the only thing we can find to argue about."
Levon laughed. "Could think of something else, if you're getting bored," he offered as they headed into traffic.
"Oh?" Joe asked, curious. "Like what?"
Levon remained quiet for a moment.
He shifted a bit in his seat, still quiet.
Another moment passed, and still he hadn't answered.
"Levon?" Joe took his eyes off the road long enough to glance at his partner, wondering if he should be concerned.
Finally Levon said, in a slow, thoughtful tone, "The only thing I can think of is you used too-ripe tomatoes the other night."
Joe blinked. "You mean you can't think of anything else you disagree with me on?"
"Not today," his mate said easily. "Musta been that breakfast in bed."
The memory caused a delicious shiver to run down Joe's spine. "You make a wonderful plate," he purred, letting his voice go low and husky.
"Watch out for that van."
Joe jerked his attention back to his driving and swerved around the double-parked vehicle with inches to spare. "Houston drivers," he muttered under his breath.
"Oughtta keep your eye on the road." Levon leaned back in his seat. "You know where we're going?" he added, casually.
Again Joe blinked, as he realized that he didn't. "Paperwork's turned my brain to mush," he growled, then tossed a glare at his smirking partner. "Okay, where?"
Again there was a laugh, then, "First off, you might wanna take a right up here, then a right at the next light."
Meaning, of course, he'd been going in the wrong direction. "One word..." he warned, as he turned right, then right again.
His partner was unable to say a thing... he was laughing too hard.
Joe endured it in silence, until he thought of the perfect revenge. Smiling sweetly at his mate he said, "When we get back to the station, you can take over the paperwork."
"OK," Levon said smoothly. There was just a hint -- the merest hint -- of subservience in his voice.
Joe grinned. Sometimes there were advantages to having married a centaur.
Then Levon asked casually, "Did I mention Joanne wants us to take over stakeout on Hatre's this afternoon?"
And sometimes there weren't. "Centaurs," Joe muttered under his breath as he pulled into the restaurant's parking lot.
He had to mutter again when Levon smiled, looking entirely unrepentant. His partner led the way inside, and soon was talking him into ordering an actual buffalo burger.
They enjoyed a quiet lunch -- the buffalo burger had tasted quite good, though Joe would never admit that -- then headed out to the stakeout. They relieved the other detectives and settled in for a long afternoon of watching.
As Joe took the first shift with the binoculars, he became aware that Levon was staring at him.
"Nothing." There was silence for a few moments, during which his husband continued staring.
"Do I have buffalo stuck in my teeth or something?"
"No... you mind scooting back just a bit?"
Joe lowered the binoculars and looked at Levon. "You going to tell me what you're doing?"
"Trying to stare at your basket, if you'd just scoot back a bit," Levon snapped, grinning.
"We're working," Joe pointed out, trying to ignore the shiver of arousal that the idea that Levon was looking at him caused.
"You're working. I'm waiting for my turn."
Joe didn't miss the double entendre -- given who had had whom for breakfast that morning.... He shifted in his seat as he pants suddenly began to feel smaller. "You're the one who wanted a no-seduction while on stakeout rule."
"Who's seducing anybody? I'm not touching you. You watch the building over there and I'll stay over here."
"Look, if you were me and I was you, would you be able to concentrate on the job with me staring at you like you were dessert?"
There was silence for a moment.
"Hang on, I'm still parsing."
"Oh," Joe replied, wondering if he should be insulted. At least Levon wasn't staring at him anymore.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. "Sorry?"
"S'okay." He glanced up at his partner and grinned. "You can stare at me tonight if you want."
Levon returned the grin and moved away. The burning sensation of being stared at was gone, and it stayed gone.
Joe wasn't entirely happy with it. He wasn't about to ask Levon to start staring at him again though.
"You can look if you want."
Okay, maybe he was.
For the third time that day, Levon was overcome with delighted laughter.
"If you gloat..." Joe warned.
"Would I do that?" Levon's voice sounded innocent, but it was accompanied by what was, to Joe, a familiar and undeniable sensation that he was being stared at.
There was no answer, except for the sensation of being stared at intensifing.
"Enjoying yourself?" Joe fought to keep the smile from showing.
"I am now." Levon sounded as if he were settled in for a long afternoon.
The smile escaping, Joe shook his head in fond exasperation.
The remainder of the afternoon was much the same. When it was time to trade, Levon sat down at the window -- all business. There was no sign -- and Joe checked Levon out closely -- that he was distracted by his indulgence.
"So do I get to stare at you now?"
Levon's hands tightened on the binoculars, but he said nothing. Chuckling, Joe settled down in his chair, letting his eyes rove over his husband's form.
Which moved, suddenly. Levon was standing, focused intently on something.
"Got something?" Joe asked, pushing everything but the business at hand to the back of his mind.
"Could be. They say if they'd identified any of Hatre's players?" Levon's voce was hard, and almost angry.
"A couple. You read the file, same as me. See somebody you know?"
Levon threw the binoculars down and turned, brushed past Joe and was heading for the door. By the time he hit the hallway beyond he was at a full run. Joe paused for a split second before following his partner, calling for backup as he ran.
He exited the building just in time to see Levon disappear through the front entrance of the place they'd been watching. "Dammit Lundy," he muttered under his breath as he ran. "You better have a good explanation for this..."
He crossed the street with some difficulty, and by the time he reached the door his mate had gone in, he had lost sight of him.
He entered, pistol in hand. The hallway was dark, and there were two doors farther along. Both were open, but he couldn't see anything.
Suddenly he heard a furious shout. Levon.
Heart in his mouth, Joe ran in the direction of the shout, praying he wouldn't hear a rain of gunfire before he got there. Dammit, what was his partner playing at?
There was, however, the sound of a heavy thud, then what sounded like something very large and heavy hitting a wall. He could hear Levon shouting, again, and then he heard another voice, taunting in reply.
A voice that he recognized...
He ran faster.
More sounds of what he knew now were fists striking flesh, and another thud that was followed by a crashing of metal.
He flew around a corner and saw Levon and Alexander trying to kill one another.
Unable to get a clear shot at Alexander with his partner in the way, he aimed one of his guns at the ceiling and fired. The sound reverberated in the small space almost like a living thing.
It didn't, however, stop the two enraged stallions.
"Lundy! Back off!"
Levon didn't appear to hear him. He continued trading blows with Alexander. As Joe watched, Alexander grabbed Levon and threw him against the wall. That was the heavy thud Joe had heard earlier.
His partner scrambled to his feet and lunged for Alexander again.
This time Joe intercepted him, holstering one gun and wrapping that arm around Levon from behind. "Stop it!" he yelled at his mate who continued struggling. At the same time Joe tried to keep his gun trained on Alexander. Not easy to do with a full-grown, enraged centaur in his arms. Even if the centaur was in human form.
Alexander didn't seem to notice or care that a gun was trained on his face. He lunged for Levon and tried to get his hands around the other stallion's neck. Levon threw a punch, off-balance due to Joe's interference.
This was not going well. Joe watched as Alexander staggered back a step or two from Levon's punch and realized about the only way he was going to stop him from charging at his partner again was to shoot. His finger started to tighten on the trigger...
Someone ran into the room behind him. Joe whirled, dragging Levon along with him as best he could with his partner still trying for Alexander's throat.
Dale blinked, then trained his own weapon on Alexander. He obviously had no clue as to what was going on, but apparently judged that if Levon was after the man, he must be the bad guy. Faced with more than one gun pointed at him, Alexander gave in, snarling at the detectives but raising his hands to show he was unarmed.
Levon, however, was still struggling to go after the other centaur again. Seeing that the other cops had Alexander in hand, Joe bodily hauled his partner out of the room and shoved him up against a wall in the hallway, pinning him there.
"Would you just calm the fuck down?!" he yelled.
Levon blinked, and slowly focused on him. He still looked enraged, but he stopped trying to fight his way out of Joe's grip.
"You here with me?" Joe asked, as he caught and held Levon's gaze. Inside he was shaking; Levon could've been killed.
Levon nodded slightly, but his gaze shifted back to Alexander.
Joe had to shove him back as Levon started towards him again. A glance over his shoulder told Joe the other centaur was being led out of the room in handcuffs and from Dale's and Joe-Bill's actions, he had lunged for Levon as well.
"Back off!" Joe told his partner, his tone more sharp than he had meant it to be. But dammit, Levon had scared him!
Levon suddenly froze. He looked up at him, and Joe could see the rage finally ebbing. He glanced one last time after Alexander, but he was out of sight and his shouts were dying away as well.
Cautiously, Joe loosened his grip on Levon's shoulders, ready to grab the man again if he made any move to go after Alexander. But whatever insanity had seized his partner seemed to have passed.
Seeing that he wasn't going to have to stop another centaur battle, Joe turned and leaned against the wall, letting himself finally feel the fear he hadn't had time for before. He let his head fall back against the wall and closed his eyes, a shudder running through his body at what might have happened if the backup hadn't shown up when it did.
There was no sound from his partner. Levon was still standing where Joe had left him, flat against the wall.
"You're not hurt or anything are you?" Joe asked, reaching out for Levon's arm.
"No." Levon sounded completely subdued. He looked completely subdued, as well.
And like he was waiting for something he didn't want to hear.
Levon nodded. "Maybe a bruise or two," he finally admitted when Joe just looked at him.
Joe nodded and closed his eyes for a moment. Now that the fear was fading he found he was incredibly angry. "Do you mind," he began in a neutral, even voice, "telling me just what the hell you were thinking?!" The last few words came out at shouted volume.
"I wasn't--" Levon began with a return glare.
"Damned right you weren't! God Levon, following him in here -- there could've been an entire gang waiting to jump you! You could've been killed before I even got here -- we both could've been killed!"
Levon didn't respond, then only backed up as Joe grabbed his jacket at the shoulder. After a moment he said tentatively, "I didn't mean...."
"Didn't you hear me yelling at you to get clear? I couldn't get a shot off because you were in the way! Dammit, I thought I was going to end up watching him kill you!" Part of Joe was telling him to let up, but he couldn't. He'd been terrified, and all that adrenaline needed to go somewhere.
"I heard you--" Levon began, only to be cut off again.
"Then why didn't you do it?!"
"I--" Levon stopped himself, this time. He looked away.
"You say you want me to take care of you, protect you? How the hell am I supposed to do that when you don't do what I say?" Joe shook his head. "And it's not just that dominance thing, what you did in there was bad police procedure too. When your partner tells you to back off so he can get a clear shot, you do it!"
Levon went suddenly pale, and he didn't say a word. He just stared at Joe, eyes going wide with fear.
It was that look that convinced Joe he'd gone too far. He never wanted to see that look on his lover's face, and to see it directed at him... All of his anger drained out of him in a heartbeat.
"I didn't," Levon was whispering. He stopped, then said in a forced, whispered rush, "I didn't mean to." Levon backed away from him a single step, then stopped and looked resolute. Terrified, but resolved to take what was coming.
"Oh god, Levon..." Joe reached for him, feeling his heart clench when Levon flinched from his touch. He persisted though, pulling his husband into a close embrace.
Levon was shaking, and made no immediate move to return the hold. When Joe simply held him tighter, Levon raised his hands to rest at Joe's waist. Joe murmured comforting words, trying to project all the love and reassurance he could. Inside though, he was the one shaking.
After several long moments, Levon spoke. Even his voice was trembling. "I couldn't stop, Joe. I... I saw him. And--"
"And?" Joe kept his voice as low and soothing as he could, hugging Levon even tighter.
"He was in my territory, Joe," he ended faintly.
Joe considered this for a moment, in light of what he knew about centaurs. "So you're saying it was instinctive?"
Levon nodded against his shoulder.
"So you had no control over it? You had to go after him?"
"I tried to stop, when I heard you yelling at me... but I couldn't. I had to kill him." His mate still sounded scared.
"And my yelling at you just made it worse." It wasn't a question. Joe had seen for himself what his anger had done to Levon.
Again Levon nodded. "I couldn't...."
Joe sighed. "I understand, cowboy. Now. Wish I had before I ripped you a new one though."
"You ain't still mad?" Levon asked hesitantly, looking up at him.
"Mad at myself maybe." He grimaced. "I'm sorry Levon. I went off way more than I should've, even if you had acted like an idiot on purpose. My only excuse is I was scared."
"I'm sorry, Joe."
Joe dropped a kiss on Levon's forehead. "We okay now?"
"Are we? Just because I couldn't help what I did, doesn't change that I did it."
"What -- you think I'm going to hold something you can't control against you?" Joe asked, surprised. Levon didn't really think that, did he?
Levon shook his head. "The lieutenant might not either, but that won't change things if I've blown the case." The tone of resignation was all cop, no longer any sign of the enraged stallion. His partner looked at him with regret in his eyes.
"So let's find something that makes sure it's not blown," Joe replied, hugging Levon one more time before releasing him and moving back towards the room the fight had been in. He heard his partner following slowly. He ignored it, however, in favor of finding something -- anything -- that could justify their coming inside the building and dragging Alexander away.
The room Levon and Alexander had been fighting in was a mess -- one filing cabinet was overturned and papers were strewn everywhere.
"Well nobody's gonna notice if we toss this place now," Joe muttered, kneeling down and starting to sort through the scattered paperwork. 'Isn't this how I started my workday?' he wondered idly. 'Looking through papers?'
Levon began on the other side of the room, digging quickly, scanning pages and setting them aside.
Most of the papers dealt with the day-to-day business of Hatre's Furniture and appeared, at least on the surface, to be of no use. But there were a few...
A few papers mentioned transactions without getting into the specifics of what the merchandise involved was. And they corresponded to information the department already had about the dates of incoming shipments.
Joe held up a folder of such records. "I think we might just have something here, cowboy," he said, grinning at his partner.
"What?" Levon looked over, still sorting through the papers at his feet.
"From what I can tell, these are talking about some of the big drug shipments that Hatre has been bringing in. And they mention names of the people he's been doing business with."
Paperwork. Sometimes he loved it.
Levon gave him a grin. "Isn't that convenient?" His grin shifted into a look of cheerful innocence. "Don't suppose that was the folder Alexander was carrying?"
Joe made a show of inspecting the folder closely. "Looks like it to me," he said after a moment, totally ignoring that he hadn't seen Alexander until the stallion was engaged in a battle royal with Levon.
It was his job to take care of Levon. If he had to lie to do so, he'd lie.
Levon paused, and reached over to another scattered pile. He dragged out an envelope. Joe watched him check it and find the flap was merely tucked in, not sealed.
"Something Alexander was carrying." Levon pulled the pages out and unfolded them. He looked up with a grin. "The name Tony Harper mean anything to you?"
"You're kidding!" Harper was suspected of being one of the top people involved in the drug trade not only in Houston, but for all of Texas -- and probably beyond. So far, nobody had been able to get anything on him.
"Nope." Levon held the pages out to him. He took them, and read quickly. A shipping invoice signed by Harper. Time, date, and manifest all matched with last month's drug bust.
Joe looked up and grinned at his partner. "We got him!"
"What was that you said about a cell on the fifth floor?"
"With this, we'll make sure he gets prison's equivalent of the penthouse."
They gave the rest of the paperwork a thorough check, and gathered up everything that seemed relevant. By this time, some uniformed officers had arrived and they proceeded to turn the building upside-down.
Alexander had been placed in the back of one of the black and whites by the time Joe and Levon finally came back on the street.
"Alexander's still here," Joe said to Levon in a low voice, reaching out a hand to help steady his mate if it was needed.
Levon shot a glare at the other stallion, then gave him a triumphant, taunting smile and brief wave. "Suits him," he said of the car.
"Yeah, he'll look even better in prison orange," Joe replied. "Come on. Joanne's gonna be wanting our report."
They headed over to where Lieutenant Beaumont was directing the detectives, and officers. When she spotted them, she frowned. "Just what in the world happened here, LaFiamma?" she said quietly when they got close.
Joe glanced at Levon quietly asking if he was okay with them telling the Lieutenant the truth. Levon shrugged, but nodded.
"Lundy saw an exiled stallion go into the building, one he's had problems with before. He went in after him, I went after Lundy. Backup showed and arrested the man in question."
"Went in after him?" she repeated in disbelief. "Oh that's just great, Lundy. What am I supposed to--"
"Alexander was carrying this," Joe interrupted, cutting off Joanne's tirade before it could get going by handing her the envelope they had found. There was no way he was going to let her yell at Levon about this. Not after what had happened earlier.
She stopped, took the envelope and read. Her eyes grew big. "Yes! We have him!" Then she gave them a curious look. "How did you know he had this-- no, don't tell me. Good work, you two. Maybe we can blow this thing outta the water once and for all."
"Thanks Lieutenant," Joe said, smiling smugly.
"Don't thank me. If you hadn't found this," she held up the papers.
"We would've found something else." There was no trace of doubt in Joe's voice.
The lieutenant didn't reply, but her look told them everything. They were lucky they had found something, but she wasn't going to push it.
As she started past them, Levon apologized, very quietly. Beaumont paused, looked at him, then nodded and continued on.
As they were walking back to their car, Joe found himself chuckling as he remembered a conversation from earlier in the day. Nudging Levon he said, "You didn't have to try so hard to find something for us to fight about. Next time we'll just argue about the tomatoes."
Levon gave him a startled look, then laughed.
The bullpen was its usual state of activity. Loud, seemingly undirected motion, and someone shouting his name angrily all made him want to give up and go home.
He looked over at the door, smiling in some relief. His partner was on his way up.
Following his partner's progress through the building with his hearing, he heard him trade greetings with people he passed, then heard him step onto the elevator. He counted the seconds as the elevator rose to the seventh floor, the count ending when he heard the soft ding as the doors opened up onto the Major Crimes floor.
He winced as his hearing -- turned up to track Blair -- was overpowered momentarily by Banks' loud voice. He turned, letting his captain see the pained wince and glare.
Not that the expression had any effect on Simon Banks. "My office," he said, then adding as Blair entered the bullpen, "You too Sandburg!" before turning and heading back into his office himself.
With a weary sigh, Jim hauled his butt out of his chair and followed Simon. As Blair caught up, Jim touched him briefly on the shoulder and found himself relaxing for the first time all day.
Blair grinned up at him for a second, deliberately brushing against Jim's side before stepping past him and taking his usual place perched on the edge of the conference table. "So what's up Simon?"
The captain handed over a folder. "An open case we might get a chance to close."
Jim took the folder and began flipping through it. "Drugs out of Honduras," he said, remembering the case.
He sensed Blair leaning forward to read over his shoulder. "Didn't the guy in charge... what's his name... skip town?"
"Yeah," Jim replied. "We almost nailed him, but he slipped through somehow. Tony Harper." He handed the folder over to Blair. He recalled all the details he needed, for now.
"So what's happened, Simon?"
"Got a fax from Houston PD. Apparently they've come upon some new evidence in one of their busts that lead them to believe Harper may be back in town," the Captain answered, pulling out a cigar as he spoke.
"Just what we need," Jim muttered. It wasn't like he didn't want Harper put away, for a long time, but he already had three cases on his desk and chasing after Harper hadn't been a lot of fun the first time.
"What did they find?" Blair asked.
"A series of invoices, detailing his and his 'merchandise's' movements in both Houston and Cascade. And from their information, he's been cutting back in Houston as the police get closer and stepping up operations here again."
"Do we have any current addresses?"
"It's in the file, along with a copy of all the information faxed from Houston."
"Why are we sitting here, then?" He glanced at Blair. "Come on, Chief, let's go see if we can track this guy down." Jim stood and headed for the door, then paused. "Is there anything else, sir?"
"See if you can close this one fast Jim." Simon's voice dropped. "There's been rumblings that they might send the Houston cops working the case up here to 'pool our resources' if this isn't closed yesterday."
"Great," Jim rolled his eyes. "That's all we need. Out of town yokels." He gave his partner a grin, since he didn't really mind the thought that much. They shouldn't have any problem finding Harper and shutting him down before HPD could scrounge the resources to ship two cops up.
"We'll get right on it Simon," Blair said as he slid off the table and followed his partner out of the office and over to Jim's desk. "So where are we starting?" He automatically moved aside to let Jim get to his chair then leant over.
"Well, we have a list of possible contacts, people Harper was working with last time who also slipped the net. We find out which of them are still out there -- not dead and not in jail, that is -- and go pay them each a visit until we find Harper."
"Want me to run the list through the computer?" Blair asked, pulling his glasses out and putting them on as he settled down to help with the research.
Jim leant back and looked at his partner. As he moved out of the way and Blair scooted towards the computer, he could practically see the 'serious researcher' settle over his normally exuberant lover. He grinned as Blair began typing, enjoying the way Blair started to focus, losing track of everything else around him.
The grad student quickly inputted the proper parameters, then sat back as the machine began searching for the requested information. "Should only be a minute," he said looking up at Jim, catching him watching and grinning. "What?" he asked, shaking his head and smiling slightly in return.
"Sounds good," Jim answered. "All this sitting around is hard on my ass," he added casually.
Blair's smile widened and his voice dropped in volume to sentinel soft levels. "Wait until we get home and I'll show you hard on your ass."
All in all Jim was glad he wasn't actually working. Flirting with Blair made it difficult to concentrate, even when doing so was second nature to him. "Then the faster you get those names the faster we can check them out."
As if in answer, the computer beeped, announcing that its search was done. "Got them," Blair said, turning back to the screen and hitting the button to print it out.
The whirring of the nearby printer drew Jim's attention and it was with only a little effort that he dredged his focus away from the sound. He watched Blair's hands, hovering over the paper coming out, and inhaled for his Guide's scent. Much better distractions than a printer.
Blair grabbed the sheet as the printer spewed it out and turned back to Jim. "It's not too bad. Only six that aren't accounted for in one way or another." He handed the list over.
Jim scanned it, recalling what he knew about each person listed and ordering the names on the list appropriately.
"Let's get out of here, Chief."
"Right with you, man."
The first two were busts. The first, a mousy little Hispanic bookie, was so overwhelmed with his current line of work that they were able to easy determine he had not heard, nor would be hearing, from Harper.
The second was more literally a bust -- Jim and Blair walked in on the woman as she was washing the ink off her hands from the printing press. They arrested her for forging Jags playoff tickets, and in the process found out she knew nothing about Harper.
The third, well the third was... interesting. If for no other reason than Blair's reaction to it.
They found Dan Roffman in his office at the back of Fantasia, the nightclub he owned and operated. And was suspected of running a stable of prostitutes out of, though so far the police hadn't collected enough evidence to close him down.
As they moved through the bar, they were greeted -- with various degrees of friendliness -- by the employees. One girl seemed to catch Jim's partner's eye, though she turned and left nearly as soon as they entered.
Jim had to say Blair's name twice before the other man looked at him.
"What?" Blair asked as his eyes once more drifted in the direction the girl had gone. He seemed shocked as well as distracted, and shaken up on top of both.
"Someone you know?" Jim asked, concerned. Blair had contacts in the most unusual places, making friends among all walks of life. Ever since Amber, though, Jim knew Blair had a special spot for prostitutes.
Especially the too-young ones.
"Huh? Oh. No. At least I don't think so..." The last seemed to have been added almost as an afterthought and appeared to be more Blair thinking out loud than talking to Jim.
Jim gave him a nudge. "Come on, let's find Roffman." He made a note to keep an eye out for the girl. If Blair knew her, they'd have to get her out of this before the boom came down.
"Yeah." Blair's expression was unusually serious as he followed Jim back towards the office.
Jim kept a hand on his partner as they went. The lackey at the door was only too eager to let them into Roffman's office -- once Jim snarled and flashed his badge.
If Jim had to pick one word to describe Roffman it would've been "slimy". The man, though average in appearance and above average in dress, just oozed a kind of anti-charm that made one want to take a shower after breathing the same air.
The thought of taking a shower with Blair made him miss the man's opening statement. Fortunately he knew what it was likely to be, and Jim simply stepped smoothly into the conversation.
"Roffman, we don't have time for any nonsense. Why don't you save yourself a lot of trouble and just answer our questions?"
Roffman leaned back in his chair and spread his hands. "I'm always willing to cooperate with the cops. Ask away, detective."
Jim opened his mouth to do so but was distracted for a second by a sound from beside him. Did his partner just snarl?
He briefly flattened his hand against Blair's back, and felt a heart beat pounding fiercely. Keeping his concern hidden, Jim said, "It's about one of your new suppliers. An old one, actually, who just got back into business locally."
"And who would this alleged supplier be?" Roffman asked. He gave Blair an odd look before turning his attention back to Jim.
Jim felt Blair's muscles tense under his hand.
"The Texan. I forget his name..." Jim trailed off, pretending to be calm. He wasn't. He had no idea what had set Blair off, and Roffman knew whom Jim was talking about. Jim ran a finger down Blair's back, hoping to calm -- or distract -- him.
Roffman gave Jim a half-smile and a tilted up eyebrow. "I'm not sure how you expect me to be of any assistance if you don't have a name-"
Jim almost jumped at the sound of Blair's voice. He was not used to hearing his lover growl.
At least not in anger.
He focused in quickly on Roffman as the man reacted to the name. Definitely guilty, though he continued smiling with that same greasy charm.
"Harper? I don't know anyone by that name. Sorry I can't help you, officers."
Jim gave him a bland smile. "If you should happen to run into him, remember that we're going to be back. A lot."
Roffman's smile never faltered. "Always happy to help out gentlemen. Come back whenever you'd like. I'll even, for you, waive the cover charge."
"I'd rather have a root canal than hang out here for entertainment. Come on Jim. We're wasting our time with this asshole." Blair turned and left in a cloud of palpable anger.
Jim followed. He tried to catch up to his partner but that proved nearly impossible. He didn't manage it until they had made it back to the truck and then only because Blair had stopped and leaned against the passenger door, eyes closed, head back, breathing deeply.
Jim watched him for a moment, waiting until Blair had regained some control. Then, "What happened in there, Chief?"
Blair shrugged. "Guy just rubbed me the wrong way."
Surprised, Jim checked his lover's vitals again. His heart rate was returning slowly to normal, but he was breathing hard and still looked entirely too focused on the slimeball inside.
"You want me to go in and rip his face off?" Jim asked casually, after another moment.
That earned him a startled look. "Nah," Blair said, after several seconds. "That would take all of the fun out of stomping on it myself."
Shaking his head and smiling, Jim motioned towards the truck. "Come on, Chief. Let's get out of here and check those last two names. Although I think we found our guy."
"Yeah me too." Blair started to open the passenger door, then paused. "If not, can we bust him just on principle?"
Jim grinned. They headed off for the next address and Jim pushed the issue of what had happened at the club to the back of his mind. He'd either figure it out eventually, or Blair would spill when he was ready.
They checked out the last two names finding, much as they expected, nothing overly suspicious. By the time they had finished the last interview it was late enough that they decided to call it a day and headed back to the loft.
Blair hadn't said a word about Roffman for the rest of the afternoon. Jim was wondering whether he would have to start prying, or if he should just leave it alone.
As he watched Blair heading for the kitchen, and realized which jeans his partner had on, he opted for 'leaving well enough alone'. He focused on one of the worn spots near Blair's left butt cheek. He followed Blair, and grabbed him around the waist.
Blair looked mildly up at his lover, though, as always, there was a certain affection shining in his eyes. "You want something, man?" he asked mildly.
"Dinner," Jim replied, and his began nibbling on the best part of dinner. Blair.
"Your turn to cook," Blair pointed out, gesturing at the kitchen, though he made no move to get away.
"I feel like eating Sandburg tartar."
Blair let out an exaggerated aggrieved sigh. "Guess I'll have to see to my own meal," he complained, turning in Jim's embrace, his hands running lightly over Jim's body. "Maybe... tube steak?" he suggested, eyes gleaming wickedly as his hand cupped Jim's crotch.
Jim growled in response and pressed himself against Blair's hand. He placed a hand behind Blair's head and held him still long enough to capture his lover's mouth. Slipping his free hand up around Jim's neck, Blair's other hand squeezed teasingly as he slipped his tongue past Jim's lips.
Normally at a time like this the phone would ring, there would be a knock on the door, or one of the two principles would realize he really had to use the toilet. In this instance, Jim and Blair were left relatively undisturbed, if not unmolested, for an hour.
Then the phone rang.
Blair groaned, looking up from his position sprawled over Jim on the couch (having never made it upstairs) and glared at the offending device. "One of these days I'll remember to turn it off before you jump me," he muttered.
Jim nuzzled his lover as he reached for the phone. Grabbing blindly, it took him a minute to pick it up, and get it oriented correctly.
"Hi Jim," a familiar cheerful female voice said. "Can I talk to Blair?"
"Sure, Naomi. Let me get him."
Jim held the phone out and grabbed Blair.
Blair took it, propping himself up on one elbow on Jim's chest as he put the phone to his ear. "Mom?"
"Hi Sweetie." Naomi paused. "I'm not interrupting anything am I?"
"Nothing but the afterglow."
Jim clamped his jaw over his laugh, but watched as his lover bounced on his stomach. He heard Naomi pause again, then ask, "Should I call back when you're finished?"
"No, it's okay," Blair replied, glaring at Jim who was still suppressing his laughter. 'It wasn't that funny,' he mouthed at the Sentinel. "What's up, Mom?"
"I was just calling to find out if next week would be a good time for me to visit. After I showed up unannounced last time I thought I ought to call ahead."
Jim watched as Blair blushed, feeling his own face heat a little at the memory. Naomi had walked in on the two of them testing the sturdiness of the kitchen table. Though it had been one way of letting his partner's mother in on the nature of their relationship, he would definitely prefer to avoid any repeat performances.
"Uhm, yeah Mom," Blair was answering. "That should be okay. Jim and I are working on a hot case right now but hopefully it'll be all wrapped up by then."
"Wonderful! I'll be in Cascade sometime Thursday or Friday... maybe Wednesday if Clara moves. Listen, honey, I've got to go. Give Jim a kiss for me and I'll see you!"
She had hung up before Blair could say bye. He handed the phone back to Jim to hang up and flopped back down again.
Jim waited a moment, letting the sensation of having his lover -- two- thirds naked -- on top of him before he spoke. "So... should we re- arrange the furniture before she gets here?"
Blair snorted. "Wouldn't do much good. Of course we could always arrange to distract her when she first gets here, like last time. She left the furniture alone then."
"True. Of course you realize that since we don't know exactly when she'll be here we'll have to spend two days having sex." Jim leered at his lover, cheerfully.
"You say that like you expect me to object," Blair replied, leering right back.
"Naw, I was just warning you we'll have to stock up on lube." He lunged up then, and attached himself to Blair's neck again.
Another hour passed before the two finally managed to stir themselves sufficiently to get off the couch and start thinking about supper again.
It was when they were finally in the kitchen preparing dinner that Jim thought back on his partner's reactions to Roffman. Though Blair hadn't spoken of it, he had a feeling Blair had not forgotten about it.
He debated with himself for a few minutes, then finally asked. "Blair? What was with you and Roffman?"
Blair froze for a moment before going back to setting the table. "I told you, Jim. He just rubbed me the wrong way."
"Why? Sure he's a sleazebag, but normally you're very... diplomatic. Did it have something to do with that girl?"
"She seemed awfully young to be in a place like that."
Jim ran the picture of the girl back through his mind. She did look young, but could have been eighteen. Knowing Roffman, she wasn't necessarily of age.
"Looked like you knew her," Jim tried again to figure out what had happened. He didn't think Blair would keep anything from him -- unless it was something Blair thought he, as a cop, should not be bothered with.
"I'd never seen her before in my life." Blair was continuing his share of the dinner preparations, carefully avoiding meeting Jim's eyes. "I don't need to know somebody to be upset that they're being used."
Jim reached out and took Blair's arm. "I didn't mean it like that, Blair."
Blair sighed. "I know." Jim waited but the younger man said nothing more.
"Look, if she's in Roffman's stable then she'll most likely be out working tonight. Why don't we go look for her, ask her some questions about Roffman. Maybe we can get some information, and try to... I don't know. Maybe there'll be something we can do for her." There wasn't much more he could offer.
"You'd do that?"
"Of course, Blair. I don't like seeing young girls out on the street any more than you do." Frowning, he thought of all the times when he was in Vice that he'd run across too-young girls trapped in drugs and prostitution. Too often there had been nothing he could do for them but give them a fifty to get off the street for an hour and grab something decent to eat.
Blair looked at him, abashed, one hand reaching out and making contact with Jim's own. "Sorry. I know that you care. I just..." He trailed off with a shrug. "I guess I get stuck in my own head a little too much sometimes."
Jim snorted a laugh. "Really? This from the man who had his nose stuck in a book the entire time the kitchen faucet burst, spraying water all over the floor?"
"Hey, I was upstairs and the lights were out down here! Not all of us have sentinel senses remember."
Jim shook his head. "And how many times did I yell your name before you poked your head downstairs?"
"Maybe I've just gotten used to you yelling my name?" Blair suggested with a sly grin.
"Maybe I should start calling you "Darwin" in bed then?" Jim took the bowl out of Blair's hands and sidled in for a kiss.
Blair cooperated then pulled back grinning. "You already do," he said, "along with a dozen or so others. When you're not just moaning incoherently."
"I do not!" Jim leaned back. Surely he didn't....
"If you say so Jim." Blair set the dishes of food on the table and took his seat. "But somebody always seems to be making a lot of noise and I usually have my mouth full at the time."
Jim dropped the --luckily empty -- plate he was holding. Blair chuckled and dug into his food.
They managed to eat dinner with a modicum of decorum -- but only because Jim kept forcing himself not to meet Blair's gaze. It was difficult, and Jim promised himself that as soon as he had a chance, he was going to prove that he didn't do anything of the sort.
When they had finished and were washing up the dishes, Blair asked quietly, "Where do you think we should start looking for her?"
Jim considered. "Most of Roffman's girls work 4th, and the corner of Davis and Roadhouse. We could start there." He glanced up at his partner, and added, "If we go early we should be able to find her before she gets any customers."
Blair nodded and headed to go get his coat.
The drive to 4th street was silent. Jim started several times to say something, or nudge his partner, but each time he kept quiet. There was nothing either could say that would make this any easier.
They turned onto 4th, and he pulled over and parked.
The street wasn't very busy this time of the evening, but in another hour that would change. Hopefully they could find the girl....
He glanced over to see his lover looking at him with wide, serious eyes.
Blair reached out and took his hand. "I didn't say it before-- but thanks for doing this," he said quietly.
"You're welcome." He gave Blair's hand a light squeeze. "Now let's find this girl. Maybe she can help us nail Roffman."
He started scanning the crowds along the sidewalks, first up one side of the street then down the other. He focused briefly on each face, searching for the girl he'd caught a glimpse of at the club.
"You see her?"
"Not yet. Let's head down," he indicated with a nod of his head. "I can't make out the far end of the street."
Blair chuckled. "Have to feed you more carrots."
He gave his lover a light pinch on his side, then began walking.
They wandered the streets for awhile but though there were plenty of girls out, the one they were looking for in particular did not seem to be among them.
As time went on Jim could sense Blair getting more tense and worried at his side.
"She's not here," the grad student was muttering under his breath. "How can we help her if we can't find her?"
"Calm down," Jim paused before adding, "Darwin. Let's go check Davis and Roadhouse."
Blair nodded, but still radiated tension as they climbed back into the truck.
Jim took Blair's hand again before he pulled the truck into traffic. "Relax, Blair. We know where to find her if she isn't here. Fantasia."
"Fantasia." Blair's lip curled in derision. "That name is a bad joke."
"I think that's the point," Jim agreed. He turned the truck around quickly, merging into traffic smoothly for a change, and headed for Davis Ave.
When they arrived he parked again, away from the corner. He could see the working girls from where they sat and he checked each of them out.
There were three pairs of girls, standing together, and a fourth set with three. As he watched, a fourth joined them and the group moved farther down from the corner.
It was her. Jim jumped out of the truck. Blair was just a step behind him.
The girl looked up as they got close, her eyes widening in panicked recognition when they fell on Blair. Instantly she turned and ran. What startled Jim was that the three girls with her, ran as well. He started after them when Blair's hand on his arm stopped him.
"You won't be able to catch them," his partner told him quietly.
"Huh?" He stopped, and faced his partner. "What are you--" He turned, hearing the girls' escape down the street. He could track them -- could have, if Blair hadn't interrupted him.
"Once they started running there was no way you'd be able to keep up. They're... fast."
Jim turned his attention fully onto his partner. "I thought you said you didn't know her?"
He digested this. "So how do you know she and her friends run fast? Too fast for me to track them down?"
Blair sighed, looking wearier than Jim could ever remember him looking. "Because I know what they are."
Jim blinked. "What are they? Beside scared kids? Hookers?" He tried not to sound cynical; truth was he was confused.
Blair shook his head. "They're centaurs."
Levon climbed out of the truck and slowly followed Joe towards the house. The sun was nearly down and the wind had picked up. It was cold, but not so cold that Levon wouldn't be thinking about a run.
Joe watched him, thinking about suggesting just that. And maybe a brushing afterwards. For both of them. He stopped and let his partner catch up, then slung his arm around Levon's shoulders. "Tired?" he asked.
Levon nodded. He leaned a little into Joe's embrace and closed his eyes.
Running his hand soothingly down Levon's back, Joe leaned in and dropped a kiss on his lover's forehead. "Want me to brush you?" If Levon was as tired as he looked the run was probably out of the question, but pampering Levon was probably just what the doctor ordered.
Levon looked at him and grinned. "You know, you could probably stop asking me that. Answer's always gonna be 'yes'."
Joe grinned back, as always feeling his heart turn over when Levon looked at him that way. "I like asking," he said, tightening his embrace as he steered them towards the barn. "I like watching your reaction."
Levon looked him right in the eye -- his own already starting to glaze over. "My reaction, huh? You saying you like seeing me," he stepped forward and stopped, letting Joe walk into him, "like this?"
"Yep," Joe said, feeling his own breathing speed up a little at Levon's obvious desire. "That's what I'm saying."
Levon tilted his head slightly to one side and back a bit as he considered his husband. "So what're ya gonna do with me now that you got me like this?" The fact that Levon was still able to talk, meant Joe hadn't gotten him exactly where he wanted him. Yet.
"First I'm going to watch you strip and change," Joe told him, keeping his voice low and husky, his tone intimate. "Then I'm gonna brush you until you prove to me once again that centaurs can purr." He leaned over and nipped at an ear lobe. "After that... well, I'm sure I'll think of something."
That did it. Levon's eyes had gone completely blank. They were focused on him, and Joe knew that his lover wouldn't -- couldn't, in fact -- move unless he told him where to go.
Smiling fondly, he nudged Levon in the direction of the barn. "Come on," he said softly. "The sooner we get inside the sooner we can start." Levon followed willingly, barely even tripping over his feet as Joe guided him inside. Once there, he stripped easily, grinning up at Joe as he dropped his clothes in a pile.
"I love watching you do this," Joe told him, making sure his appreciation showed on his face and in his body language. "One of the fringe benefits of being married to a centaur."
Looking over at him, Levon paused in mid-sock-removal. "You saying you wouldn't strip for me?"
"Never said that. And I seem to recall more than one occasion where I have. You just have more reasons to have to strip."
Levon tossed the final bit of clothing down and walked towards him. "So I need to give you more reasons to strip down, is that it?"
Joe smiled fondly at him, reaching out to caress his cheek. "All you ever have to do is ask, cowboy."
Levon looked at him, obviously thinking something over. After a moment he ventured, "Station's parking garage?"
"Depends," Joe admitted, after making a show of considering. "You going to be getting naked with me there?"
"Sure." Levon shrugged. "Since you're the one has to explain it to the lieutenant."
"I'll just tell her it was a centaur thing."
Levon smiled, and said in a serious tone, "I'll be sure and take you up on it, then." He came closer, and his eyes started glazing again -- Joe noticed it was for real, this time. "You said something about brushing me?" he asked, hopefully.
"You gonna change so I can?" Joe replied, smiling himself. "Or do you want me to do that thing with the toothbrush you use on me?"
Levon's eyes went completely unfocused. Irises dilated until there was no color left... This, Joe recognized, was definitely not something his lover was going to shake off.
Slipping his arms around Levon's waist he leaned in close and whispered, "So which is it gonna be?"
Levon whimpered and tried to press himself against Joe.
Joe tightened his grip and nuzzled Levon's neck. "Centaur," he asked, licking at Levon's jaw line, "or human?" He felt his lover shudder, moan softly, and not answer. Hands clutched at sleeves, and Levon turned his head, searching for Joe.
Smiling Joe said, "Or we could just skip that and..." He didn't get any further as Levon's seeking mouth found his.
Much later, Joe looked over at his mate. They were both fairly covered with straw, although they had -- well, he had -- laid a blanket down.
"You know," he said casually, reaching out and picking straw from Levon's blond locks, "if we were just gonna roll around in the hay we could've gone to the house where we have a bed for this kind of thing."
"What for?" Levon gave him a perplexed look. It almost looked genuine.
"Well, for one thing it would keep us from getting straw in some rather uncomfortable places."
Levon rolled over -- half on top of him -- and began removing pieces of straw. "You just gotta learn to ignore it."
"Maybe we should get an old mattress and leave it out here."
"Old mattresses were stuffed with straw, you know. Could just get a bigger blanket." Levon tugged on his arm, going after more bits of straw.
Joe laughed as his lover pushed and pulled at him, to get at all the bits of straw still clinging stubbornly, unable to help comparing it to how Boots would hold Trouble down to groom him.
"You're the one who got it there in the first place," Levon told him as he laughed.
"I had some help, if I remember correctly."
His lover stopped and gave him a surprised look. "I wasn't on that side of you."
"If you were, you would've been the one who got straw up his-"
"You saying I didn't?" Levon grinned. He reached down, though, and started feeling around for any missed straw.
Joe looked up at him and was suddenly struck by exactly how much Levon really meant to him. This happened every now and then, when a stray look at his lover would set off all of his feelings.
"Hey." He reached up, cupping Levon's cheek gently. "I love you."
"You're not just saying that because I've got my hand..." Levon twitched one his fingers.
Joe yelped. "Watch it!"
"Don't need to. Can feel my way pretty well." He moved his fingers again, as if to prove his point.
Joe twitched in response. "Levon..."
"Sorry." Levon withdrew his hand meekly. Joe saw the flash in his eyes, though.
"Yeah, sure you are." He sat up throwing Levon an aggrieved look that was mostly fake. "I tell you I love you and you assault me," he declared with mock pathos.
"Hey!" Levon protested. "I was assaulting you before you said you loved me. This time, I mean," he added.
Joe thought about that, reviewing exactly when Levon's hand had.... "You're right." He paused. "So why did you stop?"
"Needed it for this," he brought his hand around to Joe's front, and grabbed something else.
Joe yelped even louder.
Once the yelping had stopped -- about half an hour later -- Levon wandered over to the center of the barn.
"Are you still gonna brush me? Or can you move at all?"
Joe felt like jello. Molten, liquefied, jello. "Give me a minute," he said. Or groaned. "Maybe better make that a year or two," he clarified as he was totally unsure if his legs would hold him right then.
He felt his lover's arms slid under him, then he was being lifted.
"Wanna ride to the house?" Levon had changed and was holding him close with apparent ease.
"Yeah." Joe realized he was still naked himself. "What about my clothes?"
"Won't need 'em," Levon told him with an assured tone.
"Oh." He tried to think about it, but thinking required energy he didn't have at the moment. Joe sighed and let himself go limp in Levon's arms. "Okay."
The last thing he felt was Levon's arms holding him, then he was sound asleep.
The next thing Joe was aware of was the damned alarm clock going off.
It was shut off quickly, and a warm body snuggled against him.
"I really am going to shoot it one of these days," Joe muttered around a yawn as he instinctively moved even closer to the warm body holding him. So far he hadn't bothered to open his eyes.
"Won't help. Tried it once," came a sleepy voice.
"Only because somebody went out and bought a replacement that afternoon." Joe sighed as he felt sleep drift further away each time he spoke.
There was a pause, then, "Didn't mean that time. I actually did shoot it once...." Levon sounded hesitant, and guilty.
Huh? Joe opened one eye to look at his husband. "When was this?"
Levon squirmed and answered slowly, "About a month before Caroline was killed. She had started sleeping in the guest room couple months earlier and I... I had my gun under the pillow."
"May I ask why?" Joe inquired carefully, not letting any of the turmoil of emotions he was feeling show in his face or his voice.
"Was sorta still drunk when the alarm went off," Levon said meekly.
Joe winced at that. "I meant why were you sleeping with the gun to begin with?"
Levon shifted, and started to roll away from him.
Joe wouldn't let him move though. He was getting more worried by the second. "Levon?" he asked softly, encouragingly, holding him close as he did.
"Thought I might need it," was all he would say. The look on his face told Joe all he needed to know.
"Oh Levon," Joe breathed, the knowledge coming as almost a physical blow to him. He could've lost Levon before ever finding him! In response he molded his body to his lover's and refused to let go. Levon just held onto him as well. For a long time they simply lay there.
Then the phone rang.
Joe did not want to move, did not want to let go of his mate so that one of them could answer it. Stubbornly, he decided he wasn't going to.
He heard a giggle muffled against his chest.
"Something funny?" he asked, not making any effort to keep the censure out of his voice.
"Always rings when we're naked, pressed up against each other... this time we weren't even doing anything." The amusement in Levon's voice had been obvious with the first few words, but it had completely died out as Levon finished. He looked up, hesitantly. There was a pause, then Levon said quietly, "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry you ever felt that desperate," Joe replied, meaning every word.
Levon ducked his head back down against Joe's chest and said nothing.
The phone went silent.
After a moment he realized Levon was shaking and trying very hard not to let it show. Joe spared a second to wonder what had brought this confession on now but then turned all his attention to comfort. He tightened his embrace and whispered reassuring words to his lover, not even aware of what he was saying, just that he had to fix this.
After a few moments he heard Levon whisper something. He listened, and heard it again. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Joe asked gently, truly mystified.
"For laughing," came the whispered reply.
"What?" He leaned back and tilted his head, trying to get a look at Levon's face.
Levon turned away and didn't say anything else.
Joe sighed. "Levon, look at me," he said softly but with enough of a command to it that he knew Levon would obey.
Levon looked up at him. His mate looked contrite -- and confused.
Experience had taught Joe that in situations like these he needed to take things one at a time. "Why are you sorry for laughing?"
Levon looked even more confused. "Because you... you yelled at me when I did."
"I what?" Joe mentally reviewed the last few minutes and realized that maybe he had raised his voice a little. "Levon I wasn't yelling at you." He paused and thought about it some more. "Okay, maybe I was but I wasn't angry at you."
The expression on Levon's face went from partly confused to fully confused -- and the contrition faded completely. "You sounded like it. Don't tell me you were just joking."
"I was angry -- at the damn phone for ringing!" He dropped his voice and his gaze. "And at what you went through and the fact that there's no way I can go back in time and fix it."
He watched as his husband took a deep breath and apparently thought this over. Then Levon nodded. Joe felt the tension leave his lover's body, and Levon settled himself back on top of him.
He breathed a sigh of relief, and for a moment just enjoyed Levon's closeness. But his mind wouldn't stop picking at it. "Does this have something to do with what I did yesterday?"
"You said you weren't mad at me any more for that," Levon replied, but Joe detected a note of something like uncertainty.
"But you're not sure you believe me," Joe murmured, more statement than question.
"I believe you, Joe... I was just pretty scared."
"I'm sorry." Joe sighed. This was why he had been leery about the dominance thing in the first place -- he had just known he would end up screwing it up and Levon would be hurt as a result.
Levon hugged him tightly, just then, and he looked up. Joe could see the confusion was gone and had been replaced with a calm confidence and love.
Joe's mouth quirked upward into a half grin. "Forgive me for screwing up?" he asked, suddenly feeling better.
"Reckon so. Otherwise I'd have to trade you in on a new model."
That surprised a laugh out of Joe. "We're okay then," he ventured when he got control of himself again.
Levon snuggled a bit further into Joe's hold. "Reckon we are," he said softly, if not entirely forcefully.
Joe wondered if he should follow up on that or if he was getting jumpy.
"Can I ask you something?" Joe finally said a few minutes later, deciding that letting it drop entirely without being sure would probably be a bad idea.
"Sure," Levon said, sounding content and sleepy again.
"Why did you tell me about shooting the alarm clock this morning?"
Levon raised his head and looked at him. From his expression, Joe could tell his mate didn't quite know.
Levon shook his head. "I just... I guess I just knew it wasn't something I needed to not tell you. If that makes any sense?"
Joe smiled. "Yeah, it does. It's all about trust."
"Mm... I trust you," Levon said as he lay back down. He closed his eyes. "Trust you to let me go back to sleep?" he added in a hopeful tone.
"Is this your way of trying to con me into taking care of Fooler this morning?" Joe teased.
"Who, me?" Levon said in an almost-asleep voice.
"Is there somebody else in this bed I could be speaking to?"
"Mm-mmm," came the answer.
Smiling fondly at his drowsing husband, Joe capitulated. "Okay," he said softly, dropping a kiss on top of Levon's head. "But just this once. And you still have to get up in an hour."
"Wha for?" came an even sleepier question as Levon re-settled himself to take advantage of sleeping in.
"Otherwise you'll be explaining to Joanne why we're late."
"Okay," was the last thing he heard before Levon stopped moving all together.
Shaking his head, Joe got dressed and started to head out to the barn to take care of Levon's horse when the phone began ringing again.
"Maybe I should forget the alarm clock and just shoot the phone," Joe muttered as he answered it. "LaFiamma!"
"Joe?" The lieutenant sounded taken-aback.
Yelling at the boss first thing in the morning. Brilliant move. "Uh yeah Lieutenant," Joe replied, wincing. "Sorry, was in the middle of... something. What's up?"
He heard her smothered laugh. "Sorry, Joe. But you have a ten o'clock flight and I thought you'd want to be on it."
"Whoa, wait a sec, back up. Flight? Where?"
"To Washington. We figured out where Harper is. You two are going after him."
Levon was stirring, propping himself up and staring at him with wide eyes.
Joe stared back, mind going a mile a minute. He knew how Levon felt about flying. He still couldn't believe that his partner had managed to get on the plane to Chicago with him last year. "That might not be such a great idea..." he told the Lieutenant, fumbling for a legitimate reason for refusing.
"I'm sorry, LaFiamma. The topic isn't open for discussion. The chief says you two are going, so you're going."
"What isn't a good idea?" Levon whispered. "What flight?"
"Joanne wants us to fly to Washington to go get Harper," Joe told him, then turned back to the phone call. "Is that state or D.C., Lieutenant?"
"State. Cascade, Washington. Look, your tickets will be waiting for you at the United counter. You're booked into the Holiday Inn on Claremont Street. If you need anything, call me."
"Yeah. Bye," Joe said absently, his concentration already returning to his partner as he hung up the phone. "Levon?"
"Yeah?" Levon asked warily.
"You okay with this?" He reached out and laid a hand on Levon's shoulder, wondering what he could possibly do if Levon said 'no'.
Levon just looked at him for a moment. Then, "If we got to go, there's not much we can do is there?" He looked worried... then he looked curious. "Where in Washington?"
"Cascade," Joe answered, relaxing slightly. If Levon could get curious, things were probably going to be all right.
Levon grinned, quite unexpectedly. "That's fine. Cascade ain't in anybody's territory. Besides, I've a relative up that way."
Joe's eyebrows rose in surprise. Then he grew cautious. "Exile?"
"Nah. She just headed out on her own."
"So that's not likely to be a problem."
Levon shook his head. "Only problem I have is getting on the damn plane in the first place. Once I get off, I'll be fine." His grin told Joe he didn't mean that simply literally.
Joe grinned back. "We'll end up joining the mile high club yet." Levon scooted up and gave him a kiss. Reluctantly, Joe pulled back after a few seconds. "Come on, we better get ready. You wanna pack or phone Jesse about the cats?"
Levon pushed himself up, and climbed out of bed. "Neither. Fooler needs to be fed and I need to answer a call of nature." He gave Joe a cheerful grin as he headed for the door.
"Lucky I woke you up then!" Joe called after him, before turning to the task of packing for them both.
All he heard in reply was Levon's laughter.
"Are you pulling my leg?" Jim stared at his partner, all thought of pursuing the young prostitutes momentarily vanished. He wasn't sure yet if Blair was joking or had hit his head recently. Or... no, those had to be the only two possibilities.
"Do I look like I'm pulling your leg?" Blair shot back. Jim had to admit he didn't. In fact, he could only think of a handful of times when Blair had looked as serious as he did now.
"Centaurs, huh?" He turned to look down the street where the girls had disappeared. "They looked pretty human to me."
Blair shrugged. "That's because they were in human form. They're not about to go running around downtown Cascade on four hooves after all."
"Oh. That makes sense." Jim decided it must be a head injury. Or someone had slipped his partner something while he hadn't been around - - a hallucinogen of some sort. He'd have to stay calm, get Blair to a hospital before hunting the perp down and tearing him apart.
With any luck it would be Roffman.
Blair meanwhile was staring intently at him. "You don't believe me," he accused.
He looked back at Blair calmly. "Of course, Blair. If you say there's centaurs... who am I to argue with you?" Drugs, that had to be it. He couldn't recall any opportunities for Blair to have been drugged, though. Unless it had been through contact, something he'd touched... Jim began to replay their entire day, as he herded Blair back towards the truck.
Violently pulling his arm out of Jim's grip, Blair dug his heels in and refused to move. "I'm not hallucinating, Jim! Stop patronizing me!"
Jim stopped, sighing, and turned back to his partner. "I'm not... okay, I am, " he admitted as Blair glared at him. "But come on, Chief. Centaurs? You have to admit that's a little hard to believe."
"Any harder than a guy with hyperactive senses and a spirit panther that only he can see?"
Jim frowned. Blair really didn't fight fair. "I only believe that because I've seen them. How am I supposed to believe that those four girls are really centaurs?"
Blair caught and held Jim's gaze with his own. "Because I tell you it's true," he said seriously.
Really didn't fight fair. Jim tried one last time to think of a good way to convince his partner that he couldn't possibly be telling the truth.
Blair waited, staring at him the way he always did when he was trying to tell Jim something important.
He sighed. "All right, Sandburg. All right so they're centaurs. But you've got a lot of explaining for this one...."
The megawatt smile he got in return was almost payment enough for his belief. "I'll tell you everything I know but later. We have to rescue the fil- girls first before Roffman finds out what they are. I'd hate to see what that slimeball would do with them then."
"What do you suggest? Tracking down the girls?" There was no sign of them at all, in the area. They were long gone.
Maybe Blair was right.
Blair considered, then shook his head. "They might be hard to find if they've gone to ground. We'd probably have better luck tackling the problem at the other end." He grinned wolfishly. "Roffman."
Jim returned the smile. "Let's go, then. Maybe we can disturb him during peak business hours."
They headed back to the truck. Halfway there Jim glanced over. "Chief? How exactly do you know they're centaurs?"
The younger man paused and didn't look at Jim when he answered. "They're not the first centaurs I've met."
Jim stopped. He stared for a second, then realized, "Naomi?"
For a brief second Blair stiffened and paled. Then, before Jim could react, he shook himself and gave a little laugh. "Who else, man?"
"I figured. Leave it to her to find -- and introduce you to -- any number of unusual people." Jim chose to ignore his partner's initial reaction. Either it would make sense later or it wouldn't. In either case it involved Naomi, so it couldn't be all bad... even if he wanted to disapprove.
Blair laughed again. "You don't know the half of it!" Then he sobered. "I promise, Jim, I'll tell you everything when this is over. After the girls are safe. Just trust me until then?"
"I trust you, Chief," he assured his mate. He clapped Blair lightly on the shoulder, and they continued on their way.
The confrontation with Roffman went much the way Jim would've predicted. They exchanged sneers, insults and threats, and learned absolutely nothing. The one thing Jim hadn't anticipated was literally having to physically hold Blair back from attacking the man.
He hauled his partner back to the truck, and watched him simmering for the entire drive home. When they pulled up to their building, Blair leapt out, slammed the door shut, and began pacing.
"Blair?" Jim came around the truck and let his partner nearly collide with him.
"That guy is such a slimeball!" Blair yelled, continuing to pace, detouring around Jim to do so. "He just makes me want to- to-"
Jim merely turned, keeping an eye on his partner. "Rip his lungs out? Throw him into a wall? Give him a low grade?"
"Kick his nose in and do a tap dance on his face!" Blair reached the end of the truck and turned, pacing back the other way.
"Maybe run him over with the Volvo? Give him a parking ticket?" Jim found this rather amusing. He'd never seen Blair quite so overwrought before, but as long as he simply paced and yelled, there was no harm.
As long as he calmed down eventually.
"Maybe use him as a parking spot!" Blair countered, turning and making another circuit. He wasn't slowing down. If anything, his movements were getting faster and more frantic.
With a resigned sigh, Jim realized this wasn't going to work. Blair would just get himself so worked up that he'd give himself a heart attack or something. He grabbed Blair's arm and dragged him towards the stairs.
When Blair realized where he was being dragged, he dug in his heels. "No, Jim, I can't go upstairs, can't go inside right now, can't..." Pulling his arm free of Jim's grip he turned and leaned against the building, his body trembling as he visibly tried to calm himself down.
Jim stopped. "Blair? What's wrong?" This wasn't normal. He reached out and took Blair by the shoulders. "Relax, Chief. We'll get them away from Roffman.... just take it easy."
Blair nodded, leaning his forehead against Jim's chest as he hyperventilated.
Jim was getting worried. He'd never seen Blair like this -- even when he was upset or excited, he never got this out of control. He tried to think of some of Blair's meditative techniques, and blanked.
So he did the only thing he could think of. He gave Blair a long, deep, kiss.
His lover responded like he was on fire: returning the kiss with all the heat and passion he was capable of, his body pressing as close to Jim's as it could possibly get. While he certainly didn't object, it did nothing to allay Jim's concerns. He continued with the kiss, then broke it and tried to maneuver them both inside the building.
This time Blair not only didn't object but ended up dragging Jim up to their apartment, only letting the Sentinel go when they reached their front door to dig in his pocket for his keys. Jim decided he might as well go with it -- having what promised to be mind-blowing sex was better than Blair getting so mad he broke something. Like his own hand.
He managed to shut and lock the door behind them, and then let Blair drag him over to the couch where he soon found himself stripped naked, with an equally naked Blair on top of him.
That was his last coherent thought for a while as his lover took complete control and played his body like a virtuoso playing a violin. He wasn't exactly sure what Blair did -- and he didn't care. All Jim knew was that his senses exploded, rhythmically, one after another as Blair assaulted his entire being with pleasure.
Once he tried to move, to sit up and take control, but Blair knocked him back and he was left to lie there, panting and screaming his lover's name.
Blair teased and tortured him, bringing him to the brink again and again but never letting him go over.
At one point he paused and Jim's eyes flew open, his brain getting in gear enough to track his lover. He hadn't gone far, just to the bathroom to retrieve a tube of lube. Jim took one look at the smoldering, possessive expression on Blair's face as he returned and promptly forgot how to think again.
He let himself be moved into position, at one point bracing himself with one hand to let his lover make him ready. Then he was flying, grounded only by the touch of his lover's body. He heard somebody shouting and was only dimly aware that it was his own voice, all the rest of his being totally focused on the pounding that Blair was giving him.
He couldn't be sure that Blair was making any noise at all -- he couldn't hear anything over the din in his own head. He reached out and gripped something, not sure what, but it was warm, hard, and moving.
Then Blair's hand closed over his erection and the world exploded. At least that's what he was able to recollect about it, much later when his brain starting processing the information it was receiving.
He tried to move, opened his eyes, and found himself more or less stuck. A hundred and fifty pounds of Guide was slumped bonelessly on top of him, pinning him in place. He grinned and wrapped an arm around his lover. At least he was no longer bouncing all over the place, plotting mortal harm to Roffman.
For nearly two minutes he rested quietly, enjoying the peace. Then the cold, sticky, drying sensation got to him and he gave Blair a gentle shove. Blair mumbled incoherently and buried his face more firmly into Jim's neck.
With a heave, Jim managed to get himself out from under his unconscious lover. Leaving him sprawled on the couch, Jim went to the bathroom and got cleaned up. Then he went back, wiped Blair clean and dry, and then laid back down on the couch, sliding back underneath his lover as best as he could.
"You moved," a sleep filled voice accused even as arms tightened around Jim's torso.
"I had to. Sorry," he whispered, kissing the temple nearest his mouth.
"S'okay." One blue eye opened and regarded him closely. "You okay?"
Jim grinned. "Yeah, I'm fine. Are you okay?"
Blair sighed. "Yeah. Now." He propped himself up on one elbow. "I suppose you want an explanation for that, huh?"
Jim gave him another kiss, this time on the forearm. "You don't have to, Chief."
His lover stared at him seriously for a long moment. "Yeah," he finally said. "I think I do."
Jim nodded. "All right, then." He changed his grip on his lover, wrapping both arms firmly around Blair's torso to hold them together and waited patiently for Blair to find a place to begin.
"You wanted to know how I knew about centaurs..."
Jim turned his attention fully onto his partner. Mostly fully -- he didn't want to zone out, so he let himself feel the vibrations in the couch, from the floor, from the rattling of the building from the traffic outside.
Blair took a few moments to re-center himself then started again. "You wanted to know how I knew about centaurs and I told you it was because I had met some before. That much is true. But there's more to it..."
Jim gave his lover a gentle squeeze to encourage him. Blair looked serious and worried, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out why.
"I don't just know some centaurs," Blair said, avoiding meeting Jim's eyes as he spoke, "I'm related to them."
"Related how?" he asked carefully. He had a feeling he was going to have to be very understanding and very accepting. He told himself he could not react with any amount of disbelief, not matter what Blair said.
"My mom," Blair mumbled. If Jim hadn't been a sentinel it would've been inaudible.
"Naomi?" Just to make sure he had this right.
Blair nodded, still not meeting Jim's eyes.
"Is she... you're telling me she's a centaur? That you're--" he stopped. The funny thing was, he believed it. He didn't understand it, not for a second.
But he believed it.
"Yeah. I'm only half though."
"Oh. So what does that mean?" He was only barely aware of what he was asking. What did it mean to be a full centaur? Half-man, half-horse - - was Blair then a quarterhorse? Jim blinked and tried to re-focus.
"It means I can't do the things full blooded centaurs do as easily, like switch between forms. But it also means I don't have the drawbacks of being a centaur as much either," Blair explained matter- of-factly. He could've just been answering another obscure anthropological question if it wasn't for the fact he still wouldn't look at Jim.
Jim nudged at him with his shoulder. "Hey."
Reluctantly Blair looked up.
"I love you."
The words seemed to open the floodgates on Blair's mouth. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about this sooner, Jim. I mean I know I should've -- this is a really big secret to be keeping from someone I'm hoping to spend the rest of my life with -- which I am, hoping I mean -- but it's just so out there, I didn't know how to tell you. I couldn't very well just blurt it out over dinner: 'Hey Jim, pass the salt and by the way my mother is a centaur.' You would've thought I was nuts if you didn't think I was joking. And I admit I was scared -- I wasn't sure you'd be able to accept me even if you believed me-"
Jim didn't try to interrupt. Not verbally, anyhow. He put a finger on Blair's lips and held it there, gently. "OK, so you've told me. I'm cool with it. Now... what do we do? You want to tell me if this changes anything? Or do we go get some sleep, and try to track down those fillies tomorrow?"
Blair stared at him a long moment, then shrugged with a half-smile, though his eyes were still a bit wary. "I guess it's up to you whether this changes anything, Jim."
He thought it over. This wasn't something he could just shrug off and say 'fine' and not let it change anything. But he did know that if it changed things for the worse, it would mean hurting Blair.
That wasn't even an option.
"Blair... I think I'd like you to tell me everything you can about this - all I know about centaurs is what I read in mythology books in fourth grade. But it doesn't change anything, not about you and me. It doesn't change any of the important stuff."
"Of course. What am I supposed to do? Freak out and tell you I can't live with you anymore? I'd have an easier time ripping my own heart out." Jim shook his head. "I'm not saying I'm going to get used to this overnight. I'm just saying... it doesn't change anything." Maybe, Jim realized, it was a good thing he was so tired and still feeling so good. Some part of his brain was telling him that when he woke up, this conversation was going to look a lot different.
Blair seemed to go completely limp with relief at Jim's words. "Thanks, man," he said quietly, and, "I love you, Jim."
Jim hugged him tightly.
The phone rang.
Jim groaned, but picked it up. "Ellison."
Simon Banks' voice destroyed any hope of it being a telemarketer he could hang up on. "The detectives from Houston who've been working the Harper case down there are flying into Cascade tomorrow to coordinate the search. I want you and Sandburg to pick them up at the airport when they arrive, since you'll be the ones working with them."
Jim groaned, closing his eyes. But he said, "Yes, sir."
Simon's tone softened as he continued. "I know it's a pain in the butt, Jim, but I can't do anything about it. Orders from above. Just try not to create an interdepartmental incident, okay?"
The only answer he got was an eloquent silence.
Jim sighed. "Fine. We'll pick them up." He looked over at Blair, saw blue focused back on him. It was a wonderful, deep, loving shade of blue. He could see the flecks of gray and the slight dilation of the iris....
Only to startle back to reality as Blair took the phone out of his hand and hung it up. Turning back to Jim, he gave the Sentinel a look that was equal parts fond exasperation, amusement and worry. "You don't usually zone out on Simon's phone calls."
Jim grinned. He reached out and traced the curve of Blair's face, beside his right eye. Then he told Blair about the visitors.
Blair groaned. "That's all we need. Between trying to hide your senses and them trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing being your partner to begin with, we're gonna waste a lot of time."
Jim shrugged. "Nothing we can do about it now. Let's just hope they aren't as much trouble as visiting cops usually are."
"So..." Jim considered his lover again. Lying there, warm and cuddled, it was hard to recall that he'd just accepted that Blair was a mythological creature. Half of one, he corrected himself.
"Blair? You want to tell me a little bit about this centaur business now?" He kept his tone carefully concerned and agreeable, and kept his gaze right on Blair's eyes.
Such wonderful blue eyes.
"Huh? Oh. Yeah sure." Blair sat up, running his hands through his hair to try and tame it a little. He seemed to take on his teacher pose. "What exactly do you want to know?"
Jim sat up as well, missing the warmth of his lover's body. He settled back against the arm of the couch and stretched his legs so he was still touching his lover. "I don't know, Blair. This is all new to me. You said something about being able to change form?"
"Yeah." He paused and then asked almost shyly, "Want me to demonstrate?"
"You...." Well, obviously he could, if he were offering to demonstrate. "Will the floor be strong enough? I don't want you crashing into the Perkinson's living room."
Blair laughed. "I'm a centaur, not an elephant, Jim."
He stood up and moved to the middle of the living room, then turned and looked back at Jim uncertainly. "You sure about this? I mean, it's one thing for me to tell you I'm not entirely human, it's another to see it..."
Jim nodded. "I want to see."
His lover took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay." Closing his eyes, he warned, "This isn't as easy for me as if I was full-blooded so don't interrupt me until I'm done. It... hurts to get stuck mid-transition."
Jim was on his feet, about to protest -- if this was dangerous or painful then he wasn't about to let Blair do it. But Blair was already... changing.
He stared. Blair, naked, human Blair, was slowly.... Jim blinked. He had seen it but he wasn't sure he could describe it.
There was now a centaur in the living room with Blair's upper body and a horse's --chestnut in color-- lower body.
Blair opened his eyes and turned to give his new body the once-over. "I'm always afraid I'm going to forget something," he explained with a half-embarrassed shrug and a swish of his tail. Turning back to Jim, he fidgeted a little under the sentinel's wide-eyed stare. "So, what do you think?" he asked self-consciously.
Jim walked forward. His sentinel senses were telling him very confusing, contradictory things. There was a horse -- a centaur, here in the loft. He could smell it, see it, hear its heartbeat. Occupying the same space as his Guide....
He reached out and touched Blair's back, cautiously. He watched as the tail swished again.
He stared up -- up! -- at Blair.
Blair relaxed then, his face lighting up as he smiled in return. He reached out and ran a finger down the side of Jim's face. "I've wanted to show you this for a long time," he confided, blue eyes luminous with love.
It was hard to believe. Hard to reconcile the conflicting evidence his senses were giving him. His Guide. Something not human... he turned and ran his hand down along the side of the horse's body. He could feel and hear the heartbeat. It was the same rhythm as Blair's, only louder, stronger.
The scent was Blair, and it wasn't. It was both Blair and something else.
"Jim?" Blair asked after a moment, his nervousness obviously returning the longer Jim remained silent.
Jim ran his hands down one of the legs. Strong. He could feel the muscles jumping lightly beneath his touch. The coat was soft, and clean. He continued running his hands down, lifted the hoof gently. Touched the smooth, hard exterior and briefly the frog underneath.
Blair had twisted around limberly to try to keep an eye on his lover's expression as he explored. "Not thinking of shoeing me, are you?" he asked half-jokingly as Jim continued to look at his hoof.
"Mmm," Jim said, still focusing on the creature -- on Blair. Blair's body. He stood up and felt the length of Blair's back, rubbing lightly along the spine, and across the withers.
Moving around behind, he placed the palm of his hand on the top of the tail. He did the same, up the other side, touching, looking, smelling.
"Going to check my teeth next?"
Jim stood in front of Blair, hands on Blair's waist where the skin and coat came together. He let his hands tell him what his senses were trying to understand.
Blair was this creature. This combination, this... Centaur.
He blinked. "It's still you." For all the differences, for everything that was new -- his senses still insisted this was his Guide. His lover.
Horse body and all.
Jim shook his head, amazed.
Blair smiled and reached out, laying his hands on Jim's shoulders. "Who were you expecting it to be?" he teased gently. The nervousness in him had disappeared when he'd figured out what Jim had been doing.
Jim shook his head. "There's... two of you now. Everything I had memorized, and now... this. But it's still you. And it isn't." He didn't think he was making sense.
"I'm still me, Jim, Blair told him, suddenly very serious. "In all the ways that matter. Just because I have a couple of extra legs and a tail and," he grinned briefly, "a bit more height doesn't change who I am. Or what I am. Your Guide."
Jim nodded. He was still absorbing the information, senses still trying to discern what was Blair, what was not, while his mind tried to order it all. He touched Blair's face. "This is...."
"Amazing? Unbelievable? Weird?"
Blair grinned. "So what else is new? We aren't exactly normal even if you ignore my heritage."
Returning the grin, Jim suddenly felt better. The images in his mind had coalesced, telling him this was still Blair. He pulled on Blair slightly, urging him down for a kiss. Blair complied willingly, giving a happy sigh when they parted.
Calm and back in control, Jim stepped back and surveyed his partner. "How long can you stay like this?"
"There's no time limit," Blair replied with a shrug. "I've stayed in this form for weeks when I was little and Mom took me to visit her old herd." He added in a quieter tone, "It was easier than risk having some of the other colts laugh at how long it took me to change."
"I guess kids are the same no matter what their species." Jim rubbed at Blair's cheek. Then he blinked. "Herd? You mean there're more...? How many centaurs are there?"
"Lots more. Probably at least a couple of thousand in the U.S alone. Don't know for sure."
"Huh. Is this why you don't have a birth certificate? A real one, that is?"
"I have a birth certificate!" Blair objected. "Just because I wasn't born in a hospital..."
"Calm down, Chief." He brushed his hand down Blair's chest. A thought occurred to him and he hesitantly asked, "You're not... when you're in this form you're not..." he forced himself to continued, in a rush, "You're not invisible in this form are you? Unlike some panthers I could name? People can see you?"
Blair laughed. "That would make life a hell of a lot easier, wouldn't it? No, I'm not invisible. Just irrepressibly cute!" He waggled his eyebrows at Jim.
Jim frowned. "I wouldn't go that far." He managed to hold the scowl for nearly two seconds before he caved.
"What else do you want to know?" Blair asked, absently running a hand through Jim's short hair.
"I don't know, Blair. What else is there? What else has changed?" He grinned suddenly, and leaned down to look.
"The phrase 'hung like a horse' taking on new meaning for you suddenly?" Blair asked innocently.
"Yeah." Jim blinked. He stood back up and repeated his question.
Blair considered. "I wouldn't say change exactly because a lot of these things you've already been aware of, you just didn't know the reasons behind them. Like my fear of heights. That's a centaur instinct. Though I don't have it as bad as full-blooded centaurs. A lot of them don't even feel comfortable higher than ground level."
"You okay now?" He looked at Blair sharply.
"Yeah. I only freak when I might have to jump out of something high -- like an airplane or a helicopter." He grinned. "And that doesn't necessarily stop me."
"I'll keep that in mind." Jim gave a laugh. "Next time we get kidnapped. So what else?" he asked after a moment. "Afraid of heights, extra legs... can you carry a rider?"
"Yep. I haven't very often though. Hell, I've spent hardly any time in this form at all in recent years." He looked at Jim speculatively. "If we could find a safe place, would you like to go for a ride sometime?"
"I know a place." Ten miles outside of Cascade, a friend of his owned a ranch. Jim had a standing invitation to visit anytime, but he never had had a reason to. But thirty acres of private, clear land and a friend who knew how to stay out of the way when asked were just what they needed.
Blair's smile was dazzling. "You do? Cool! It's a date then. When this is over."
"A date, huh? We'll have to make a day of it then."
"Definitely." Blair was silent for a moment, forehead creased in thought. "I'm trying to think of any other things I should tell you, that may be important," he explained. "Centaurs are different from humans physically in some ways." He caught Jim's dubious look. "I mean besides the obvious."
"I figured... your heart is beating from here," Jim placed his hand back down onto Blair's body, near where his heart now was. He didn't want to think about how it had moved, or why there was a faint echo of the heart in Blair's chest.
Blair nodded. "Centaur anatomy is a bitch to learn. I prefer not to think about it too much. Gives me a headache. Anyway, one way centaurs differ from humans is that they can't vomit. They can die from colic like horses can if they're not careful. I'm a little different again, in that in human form I can vomit." He grinned at Jim. "As you well know from the last time I had the flu."
Grimacing, Jim nodded. "Remind me never to let you get the flu again. But colic? How can you get colic? Or is that only when you're in this form?"
"For me, yeah. And in my case, the cure would probably be as simple as switching back to human form where human urges would take over and I'd be fine. Full centaurs don't have that option though. Even in human form they still have the centaur drawbacks."
"So basically while you're a centaur, you react like a centaur, and when you're human you react more like a human but not completely."
Blair considered. "Yeah, more or less."
"Right. Does this mean we should get you fitted for a saddle before we head out to Adam's place?"
That earned him a glare. "No way, man, am I wearing a saddle. I'm not a horse."
"Just asking, Chief. If you don't need shoes, and don't need a saddle... what do you need?"
"You got me, lover." Jim drew Blair down again and kissed him.
Due to length, this story has been split into four parts.
Single White Fillies
By James Walkswithwind and Wolfling
Author's homepage: http://www.jbx.com/~gila/hks.html
Authors' notes and disclaimer can be found in part one.
Single White Fillies - part two
A Houston Knights/The Sentinel Alternate Universe
By James Walkswithwind and Wolfling
Joe glanced over at his partner as they sat in the waiting room, waiting to board their plane. Outwardly Levon appeared calm, even slightly bored. Joe wasn't buying it for a second though.
Levon had upgraded their tickets when they'd arrived at the airport. Said if he was going to be that high off the ground, he wanted room to stretch out at least. He was now sitting, watching the people walking past, glancing towards the TV, looking over the folks sitting nearby.
Never once did he look out the window.
"You okay?" Joe asked, nudging Levon's knee with his own.
Levon shook his head slightly. Then he looked over. "Does it get easier?"
Joe shifted in his seat thinking. He wasn't sure how to answer that question, never having been uncomfortable with flying in the first place. Finally he said, "I don't know," deciding on the truth. "Was flying back from Chicago as bad as flying up?"
"Was too glad to have you coming home to think about it much." Levon gave him a direct look. Then he grimaced. "But yeah, it was." His expression changed to one of apology.
Joe shrugged off the apologetic look. "If it was, it was." He looked at Levon assessingly. "Will you be able to handle it if it doesn't get easier?"
Levon shrugged. "Won't know until I get up there."
"I can still phone Joanne and tell her we can't go," Joe offered.
With a sigh, Levon shook his head. "Won't do any good. You know what the Chief is like. He says we go, we go."
They were interrupted by the flight attendant announcing that their flight was ready for boarding. Joe picked up his carryon and turned to Levon. "You ready?"
"As I'll ever be." He picked up his own bag and grabbed Joe's arm. When Joe looked back, he just shook his head, unable to articulate what he wanted. He let go of Joe.
Joe reached out and squeezed Levon's arm before the other could move away. "It'll be all right," he promised. He wished they weren't standing in the middle of a crowded airport so he could give Levon more physical reassurance.
Levon nodded and let Joe lead him towards the gate.
They boarded the plane and found their seats, Joe, as before, taking the one next to the window. As soon as they were seated, he casually slid a hand over and rested it on Levon's upper thigh. He could feel how tense his husband was. Levon barely glanced over at him, though he must have known what Joe was doing.
Glancing around to make sure no one was watching, Joe slid his hand higher.
Levon jumped, and tensed even more. From the look on his face, though, it was exactly the reaction Joe was aiming for. He smiled as he let his hand slide even higher. It was a tried and proven method of dealing with an edgy centaur. If he could get his partner sufficiently distracted, Levon wouldn't even notice the take off.
That he enjoyed distracting Levon in this way was just a nice fringe benefit.
Joe looked up and found a slightly dazed pair of eyes looking at him, a wide, knowing grin below.
The plane took off smoothly enough, and for awhile Levon seemed calm. Distracted, anyhow, which was as calm as Joe could hope to keep him. It was a long way to Cascade and some helpful soul had arranged for them to be on a direct flight. Joe didn't know whether this was a good thing or not; shorter flights might have been easier on Levon, but the courage it took for his partner to walk aboard a plane was so great that asking him to do it twice in one day might have been too much.
As the flight progressed, Joe still wasn't able to decide which would have been easier. Levon would chat easily enough for a bit, then his eyes would start to go wide and he'd get quiet. Joe would then 'distract' him a bit and his husband's eyes would go nearly blank.
After a moment he'd be able to talk again, mostly flirting, until slowly he would start glancing at the window again and resumed fidgeting, nervously.
After the third time this happened Joe reached over and pulled the shade on the window down. "Better?"
Levon half-grinned. "Yeah," he admitted. Then he cast an almost guilty look around him, and Joe watched him catch sight of nearly every other window visible in the section.
"This isn't the time to be developing a roving eye, cowboy."
Levon's gaze shot back to him. "I'm trying... I just can't help thinking about where we are...." His mate looked miserable.
This wasn't working. It was taking more and more to 'distract' Levon and Joe couldn't go much further while they were in public. Casting around for more socially acceptable ways of taking his partner's mind off where they were he said, "Tell me about this relative of yours that's in Cascade."
"Well, she left about thirty years ago. I didn't know her all that well before she left. Came back a time or two, and she's... well... she ain't your typical centaur." Levon was obviously trying hard to cooperate with Joe's effort to distract him, but his eyes kept glancing over, towards the shuttered window.
"Hey." He waited until he had Levon's attention. "Look here, okay?" He pointed at his own face.
Levon turned his head towards Joe, his eyes still slightly unfocused. Then they cleared, and Levon stared right at him. He continued to speak, and his eyes never wavered. "She's a bit of a free-spirit. Wanders all over the place, used to take her kid with her. I don't know where he is, now. School somewhere." Levon leaned his head back against the seat and he almost looked calm again.
"Kid?" Joe asked, trying to keep Levon talking and his mind off flying.
"Kid... yeah, she had a son. Half-human, wasn't raised with the herd. She brought him with her when she visited. Nice kid, even if he was always nervous around us, about being only half."
"It's not easy being different," Joe commented, remembering how alone he had felt when he first had come to Houston. He knew Levon knew that same pain, living as a centaur in a human world.
"Yeah... he seemed to handle it all right, though. None of us ever gave him a hard time about it." Levon asked suddenly, and very quietly, "Joe? How long?"
Joe glanced at his watch. "About 40 minutes," he replied, reaching over and squeezing Levon's forearm. "You gonna make it?"
Levon nodded, but he didn't look at all happy. He leaned over and dropped his head on Joe's shoulder.
Not caring who saw or what they thought, Joe raised a hand and began stroking Levon's hair. Leaning his head close to Levon's he whispered, "Next time we'll take the train."
The remaining forty minutes were tense ones. Levon was quiet, after asking Joe to talk to him. Joe told him stories his Grandma Rosa had told him when he was a child, both about the ancient centaurs and about his own family.
When they finally announced the descent, Joe was extremely relieved.
"Be on the ground soon," he said, squeezing Levon's hand, which had somehow in the last forty minutes crept into his.
Levon didn't answer. Joe wasn't entirely sure how much of the stories he'd heard in the last ten minutes. Levon was staring at apparently nothing, eyes wide and almost unblinking. Worried, Joe mentally yelled at the pilot to hurry up and land already!
The pilot seemed to be taking his time -- either that or Joe was getting extremely anxious. It felt like forever before they landed and began taxing to the gate.
"Definitely taking the train next time," he muttered when the plane finally came to a stop and the warning lights went off. Undoing his seatbelt, Joe turned to Levon. "You still with me partner?"
There was no response, other than Levon's gaze fixing on him and staying there.
Joe flashed on the last time Levon had been like this and had to suppress a shudder. It had been right after Levon had been shot and he'd been terrified that he was going to lose him.
Fortunately, this time Levon seemed somewhat more responsive. He did as he was told when Joe instructed him to unfasten the seatbelt, and then stand up to follow him to the door.
He hoped getting off the plane would help snap Levon out of it. They were supposed to be met at the airport by someone from the Cascade police force and he didn't want to have to explain this.
They were able to reach the door before the majority of the other passengers -- another benefit of flying first class -- and Joe herded Levon off the plane. He glanced out the window and was reminded that they'd be on the second floor, until they could get down at least to baggage claim. "Great," he muttered, somehow knowing even the second floor would feel too high to Levon right now.
He got a hold of Levon's arm, and kept a tight grip as they made their way to the gate. Hopefully he could just brush their welcoming committee off until he could get Levon settled. He wasn't that concerned with a couple of strangers' opinions of them. Not when he had something more important to take care of.
They had barely made it five steps out when he heard a surprised voice call out, "Uncle Levon!"
He turned and scanned the crowd looking for the speaker, eyes finally lighting on a young man, a bit on the short side, with shoulder length curly brown hair and deep blue eyes pushing his way through the crowd towards them.
The young man went directly up to Levon, looked at him, then turned accusingly on Joe. "You made him fly? Don't you know--"
"Wasn't my choice kid," Joe replied curtly, angry at even the thought that he'd deliberately do something to hurt Levon. "Who the hell are you anyway?"
"I'm Blair. Come on, let's get him downstairs. That'll help..." He trailed off, then glanced behind him. There was another man standing there, tall, muscular, glaring at all three of them in silent confusion.
"Jim, can you go with him," he nodded at Joe, "to get their bags while I get Levon out of here?" Joe noticed that Blair seemed to be saying something to his partner, beyond what he spoke aloud.
Jim opened his mouth, looked from Joe and Levon to Blair, then closed it again. "Come on," he said brusquely to Joe. "Baggage is this way."
Joe hesitated, not wanting to leave Levon with a stranger, even if it was apparent that he wasn't a stranger to Levon. The decision was made for him, however, when he looked over and found Levon still staring at him.
No way he was going to leave his husband. The luggage could rot for all he cared.
"The bags can wait. Where are the stairs?"
Blair just looked at him for a moment, then shrugged. "This way." The younger man glanced at Levon again, and frowned slightly, eyes going from Levon to Joe and back. He led them off, presumably towards the stairs, but positioned himself to speak quietly to Joe.
"Do you know why he's freaked?"
"Yeah. Do you?" Joe shot back, his worry for Levon coming out in anger at the strangers.
"He's my uncle, of course I know," Blair returned.
Joe blinked at the kid. "You're a-" he broke off, glancing at the fourth member of their party.
Blair grinned, briefly. "He knows."
Joe glanced at Jim, who nodded and said nothing.
By this time they had reached the bottom of the stairs. Joe spotted an exit and quickly led Levon outside. Blair and Jim followed, and for a moment they all simply stood there. Joe's attention was on Levon, whose attention seemed to be on him.
"Levon?" he said softly. "You with me?"
Levon didn't blink.
'Great,' Joe thought, getting more worried every second Levon failed to respond. 'What do I do if he doesn't come out of this?' He fought back his panic at that thought and focused every atom of his attention on his mate.
"Levon?" he repeated, reaching out and touching Levon's face gently.
"What's wrong with him?" he heard Jim asking Blair in a low voice.
Joe kept his attention on Levon and saw as his mate's eyes slowly began to regain awareness.
"It's normal for full bloods," Blair replied. "They get hurt or frightened badly enough and they can't run, they'll shut down."
There was a pause, then Jim repeated in an astonished tone, "He's a full centaur?"
"Why don't you say it a bit louder?" Joe asked in annoyance, though his eyes never left Levon's. "I think there's a couple of people at the other end of the terminal who didn't hear you."
"Sorry," Jim sounded both abashed and unconcerned. Joe knew it wasn't like anyone would believe what they'd overheard, had anyone truly overheard the man.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Joe smiled. "Hey cowboy. You back with me?"
There was a slow nod, and Levon collected himself. He continued to watch Joe for several long moments, then his gaze flicked to the men behind Joe. "Blair? What are you doing here?" He sounded only mildly curious -- Joe suspected he wasn't entirely back with them.
Blair stepped forward with a grin. "Jim and I are supposed to be meeting some detectives from Houst-" He stopped and looked between the two men. "That would be you?"
"You're a cop?" Joe asked disbelievingly, looking the kid up and down.
"He's a police observer, assigned as my partner," Jim said defensively.
"And you are...?"
"Detective Jim Ellison."
'If his glare was any icier, Levon and I would be frozen solid!' Joe thought. "Sergeant Joe LaFiamma," he replied matching the other man's cold tone. He gestured at his husband. "My partner Sergeant Levon Lundy."
"Great," Jim started, and stopped as Blair gave him a fierce glare.
Stepping forward, Blair held out his hand to Joe. "Blair Sandburg," he said. "Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise," Joe replied, automatically reaching out and shaking Blair's hand.
He felt Levon gripping his other hand, and as he tightened his hold reflexively, Levon pulled himself to his feet. "Nice to see you again Blair. Wish it hadn't been at the tail end of a flight," Levon said, sounding almost normal again. He kept a hold of Joe's hand.
"How did they get you on the plane in the first place?" Blair asked curiously. If he noticed the fact the two men were still holding hands he didn't react.
Levon grinned. "Didn't have much of a choice, without telling the Captain why I couldn't go."
"You could've told him you had a ruptured ear drum or something that prevented you from flying. There was this one witness that Jim and I had to escort back to Cascade by train because of that. Though that turned out to be a cover story as well, now that I think about it. He was just trying to make a-"
"Blair," Jim stifled his partner. "Maybe now that Lundy's back among the living, we should get their bags and get out of here?"
"Huh? Oh. Right. Sorry." He looked abashed for all of about five seconds.
As they started to make their way back inside to baggage claim, Joe nudged Levon. "You okay?" he asked in a low tone.
Levon nodded slowly. "I'll be fine."
"Good. But regardless, we're taking the train home," Joe said again, decisively.
"No argument from me," Levon smiled. They caught up with Jim and Blair near the carousel, where the bags had already begun arriving.
"You know," Blair was saying as they stood and waited for their bags to appear, "if you're going to be doing this flying thing regularly I could teach you some meditation techniques that might help."
Levon looked at him, surprised. "Is that how your mother does it?"
"Yup. She's gotten so good she can block out everything when she has to."
Shaking his head, Levon commented, "That women never fails to amaze me."
"She's coming for a visit next week. You'll get to see her if you're still here."
"Hopefully we'll be on our way home before then, kid," Joe said, reaching over and snagging one of their bags as it rolled by.
Levon took the bag as it was handed to him. "It'd be too bad. Think you'd like her," he said to Joe.
They all heard Jim's stifled laugh.
"Something funny?" Joe asked neutrally, eyes narrowing as he glanced at Jim.
Jim shook his head. "I've met her."
Joe opened his mouth to reply again but Levon's grin changed his mind. Instead he concentrated on getting the rest of their bags.
Soon they had them all. Jim and Blair led them out to the parking garage. Jim asked, "Do you want to stop by your hotel before we head to the station?"
Joe nodded. "Yeah. Give us a chance to drop our stuff off."
Levon flashed him a quick look, one echoed with the fear he'd only recently got rid of.
"Uhm..." Joe ventured as they headed for a vintage green Volvo. "Any chance we could make sure it was a ground floor room?"
Jim glanced at him. "If the hotel has them."
"Maybe we should find us a cheap motel, then," Levon said.
"No, that's okay," Blair said. "The hotel has ground floor rooms... as my partner well knows." He turned and glared at Jim. Jim just gave him a dull look, as if he didn't know or care what Blair was mad at him for.
Levon looked at the detective carefully and asked, "You have a problem, Ellison?"
Blair answered for him. "No, he doesn't." Again he glared. "Do you, Jim?"
The other man shrugged. "I just don't see how I'm supposed to find Roffman with you two hanging around." His tone was off-handed, but the glare in his eyes was still there, still defensive.
"You've got a real attitude problem, Ellison," Joe shot back, getting more annoyed at the man by the second.
"If you don't like it," Jim began, and stopped when Blair stepped in between them, facing Jim.
"What the hell has gotten into you, man?" he demanded, making no attempt to lower his voice so the other two couldn't hear. "Are you trying to win an award for most obnoxious cop or what?"
Jim just glared at his partner. "I don't like working with people hanging over my shoulder." His expression said, very clearly, 'as you well know'.
"These aren't just people, Jim. They're family! At least to me."
Jim answered him with a shrug. It seemed obvious that if Joe and Levon hadn't been there, he would have argued back. Joe suspected that later, if he were able to dump them somewhere, Ellison would carry on a loud and long argument.
"Fine." Blair spun to face Levon and Joe and his first words confirmed Joe's suspicions. "Jim and I need to have a talk. We'll drop you off at your hotel, give you a chance to freshen up a bit. Say an hour? Then we can meet for some food. Okay?"
"Blair, Simon wants us to bring these two to the station," Jim objected.
"I don't really care what Simon wants right now. You and I need to get some stuff straightened out first. And I suspect you'd much rather we did it in private than at the station. But if that's what you want..."
"No," Jim capitulated. "Fine, come on then."
Levon shot Blair a doubting look, and waited for Joe to get in the car first.
Joe hesitated, then climbed in, still thinking about what he'd just saw. There was more to the kid than first met the eye.
Levon got in after him, while Jim and Blair got in the front. Blair was driving, although from the number of glares he continued sending Jim's way, Joe wasn't convinced he wanted the kid to be behind the wheel.
Beside him, Levon sighed heavily and leaned back. He was beginning to look relaxed for the first time since Joanne's call. Taking a chance, Joe reached over and rested his hand on Levon's thigh again.
The brilliant smile that was sent his way told him exactly what he needed to know.
The drive to the hotel seemed to take longer than it actually did, with Ellison sulking the entire way. It even seemed to dampen Blair's spirits, though the young man gamely tried to keep a conversation going. Levon did his part as well, responding to Blair's questions about various relatives with the kind of detail that only a centaur would consider necessary. Or possible.
Finally, though, they arrived at the hotel. They pried themselves out of the Volvo's backseat and gathered up their bags. Blair left them with a bright smile and the promise to pick them up in an hour to go eat. After he had finished with Jim, remained unspoken but heavily implied.
Levon watched them drive away, then turned to Joe. "You think maybe we could get a hot shower first thing?"
Joe smiled. "Sounds good. You mind sharing?" he asked as they walked inside to check in.
"Was hoping for it." Levon returned the smile.
Levon's smile once again became brilliant. For a moment he looked as if all the stress of the flight was gone - replaced by a more familiar, more welcome expression.
Joe chuckled and shook his head fondly. "You are so easy," he teased.
Levon gave him a startled look. "Then why'd it take you over two years the first time?"
"Because I'm not easy," Joe shot back, feeling his world snap back into place with the familiar banter. He nudged Levon towards the front desk. "Come on, partner. Let's go get checked in."
His mate went willingly, his grin telling Joe he knew just how easy he was.
Blair was silent as he pulled away from the hotel and turned the Volvo towards the loft. He was silent on the drive back. He was silent as he parked in front of their building.
Jim knew he was in trouble.
He knew what his partner was angry about, but what he didn't understand was why Blair didn't realize what Jim was concerned about. He didn't try to hasten the inevitable by breaking the silence. Blair would start yelling as soon as he was ready. Jim had only to wait.
Jim's respite lasted until they had headed upstairs and entered their apartment. Once inside, Blair closed the door and leaned against it, studying Jim closely for several minutes.
"You know you really do have an attitude problem sometimes," he finally said.
Jim waited. Once Blair got a bit more specific, maybe he could try to explain himself.
"Do you have to go out of your way to be hostile to everyone you meet?" Blair pushed away from the door and started pacing. "I know you don't like to work with others, and I know the reason why. I'm not stupid, okay? But these just aren't some other cops. Levon is my uncle. He's family, man." He stopped and fixed Jim with an intense stare. "And he knows something about keeping secrets himself."
"So you're planning on telling him about me, is that it?" Jim snapped, starting to feel uneasy about this line of attack.
"Is that a serious question?"
Surprised, Jim answered, "Yes, it is. Are you planning on telling them? Or just telling me to 'chill out' and not worry if -- when! -- they figure out something's going on?" He remained standing where he was when Blair had begun -- just inside the door.
"You really think I'd tell someone about your sentinel abilities without your permission?" Blair shook his head angrily. "What kind of person do you think I am?"
"Well, you're acting like you don't understand why I don't want to work with them," Jim said sharply. "With Lundy being 'family,' it isn't like we can brush them off when things get serious."
"They might be able to help you know."
"With those girls -- 'fillies'?"
"Yeah, Jim. With the fillies. He might be able to talk to them without them spooking like they did with us."
Jim thought that over for a minute. Slowly, he nodded. "All right... so maybe they can help with that." He took a few steps away from Blair, still thinking. And frowning.
He heard Blair take a deep breath and let it out in a weary sigh. "I know you don't want anybody to know about what you can do Jim. I understand that -- how can I not with what I am? But Levon, as I said, is family. I haven't seen him in years. I'd kinda like the chance to catch up and visit without having to worry about you starting fights."
Jim looked away. "I'm sorry," he finally said. He knew Blair was right -- he ought to at least be able to work with the Houston cops without spending all their time arguing. And he didn't want to spend the next several nights relegated to sleeping on the couch. But something about Lundy just made Jim angry....
Blair wasn't ready to let it lie quite yet. "Jerking their chain about the ground floor room was just mean, man."
Jim didn't try to meet his lover's gaze. Blair was right. He wasn't exactly sure why he'd said that. All he knew was the thought of having to baby-sit two out of town cops, one of whom was... He shook his head. "Look, I'll apologize to them, all right?"
"Thank you." Blair sighed and seemed to switch mental gears. "Now that we've established that you are going to mind your manners, you want to tell me what's got you so out of sorts in the first place? And don't tell me it's having to work with strangers. It's more than that."
This time Jim could only shrug. He didn't know why Lundy and LaFiamma rubbed him the wrong way. He just knew he wasn't looking forward to spending any time at all working with them.
"Is it because he's a centaur?"
"No." Jim said it easily enough. He realized it was true. That part of it -- bizarre as it was -- didn't bother him. "It's just... like you said, he's your family," he said quietly.
He heard Blair approach, then felt his Guide's hand on his shoulder. "And that's a bad thing?" Blair asked quietly.
"No... but for two years you hardly said a word about your family. I understand why, now -- couldn't exactly tell me they were centaurs." He looked up, and tried to figure out exactly why this bothered him so he could make Blair understand. "Now I meet someone who... might be an important part of your life and I hardly know a thing about it."
"Anything you want to know Jim, all you have to do is ask me." Earnest blue eyes looked up at him. "I don't have any more secrets from you now."
"I don't even know what to ask! How am I supposed to know what you'll tell me if I don't have a clue--" He paused, looking down at Blair and seeing his lover, waiting for him. "If you'd said this two days ago I hardly would have known to ask if you were part centaur. How am I supposed to know what I'm missing if you don't tell me? Am I just supposed to wait and hear Lundy mention something to find out?"
Blair sighed again, running his hands through his hair in frustration. "I don't know what to tell you, man. Do you want me to start with when I was born and just tell you everything? That could take a long time."
There wasn't really an answer to that, because what he wanted... Jim nodded, slowly. "That's what I want, Chief. I want you -- all of you. I want to know everything that's important to you. How often did I hurt you because I didn't know what you are?" His voice dropped as he spoke.
Blair shrugged. "Doesn't matter. It's in the past."
"It does matter, Blair." His lover's answer told him. He had hurt him. More than just the flights he'd dragged Blair on, he was sure of it.
"I knew how you feel about me. I knew you never meant to hurt me." Blair smiled at him. "I'm not holding any grudges here, Jim."
Jim opened his arms, and Blair stepped into his embrace willingly. "I just hate seeing you hurt. Especially when -- this is going to sound dumb," he apologized.
"That's okay. I've heard you say dumb things before."
"Thanks, Darwin." Jim rolled his eyes. But he didn't let Blair go. "I had barely gotten a grasp on you being half-centaur when suddenly I meet two guys who know all about it. What would I have done if they'd asked me why I did the things I did to you?" Jim had the impression he was babbling.
"I would've just told them it was because I was still training you," Blair teased. Or at least Jim hoped he was teasing. Blair nuzzled at his throat then continued. "And you're coming along nicely too."
He wasn't convinced he was out of trouble. He was supposed to take care of has partner. How was he supposed to do that when he didn't have all the facts? And when somebody else did who was standing right beside him, watching?
The nuzzling at his throat was distracting.
"You could do something for me though, Jim." Blair's nuzzling was traveling up along his jaw-line now.
"Yeah?" His senses were buzzing.
"Be nice to Levon and his partner." The words were accompanied by puffs of warm breath, then a teasing nip at his ear.
Jim sighed. "I'll try."
"Thanks, Jim." Blair pulled back and looked at him before continuing hesitantly, "You could trust them with the sentinel thing, y'know."
He frowned. "No, thanks."
Blair shrugged. "Suit yourself, man."
Still uneasy, Jim decided Blair was no longer angry with him. Satisfied, he glanced at the clock. Half an hour left before they were supposed to go back and pick Lundy and LaFiamma up.
"We've got time yet," Blair said, noticing Jim's glance.
He frowned at his partner. He hoped Blair didn't intend to keep asking questions.
Blair pulled away and went and sat on the couch. "Anything you want to ask me now? Or should I just start telling you my life story? We probably won't have time for more than my first month right now, but it'll be a start."
"First month?" Jim stared.
"Yeah. Not that much to tell really -- I was a bit slow compared to full-blooded centaurs. Man, you should've seen me trying to figure out how to stand and walk!" He shook his head chuckling.
"You remember that?"
"Sure do -- oh. Right. Perfect memory is a centaur trait. Sorry. I should've mentioned that."
Jim stared some more. "You're serious, aren't you?"
Blair looked at him seriously. "I'm not going to joke about this stuff with you Jim. At least not until you're a lot more comfortable with it. Yes, I'm serious."
Shaking his head, Jim explained, "I meant about telling me everything."
"Well, yeah." Blair grinned at him. "Is that going to be too much information?"
Jim reached out for Blair's hand. When his lover took it, he pulled him up and held him again.
"This mean you don't want to hear about my first month?" Blair asked.
Jim gave him a kiss. When they finally let go, he looked at his lover.
"Yeah, I do." He grinned.
Joe looked up at the clock from where he lay sprawled on the bed with his mate. He groaned when he saw the time. It couldn't be that late already could it?
"We gotta get up," he said, though he made no move to do so.
"Mm-hmm," Levon replied.
Normally his husband would be bouncing off the walls at this point, with annoyingly boundless energy. But the shower and the loving had relaxed him after being so tense for so long that he had simply collapsed.
"Blair and Ellison will be here in ten minutes." Still he didn't move except to lazily run one hand up and down Levon's back.
"So?" came his lover's voice, muffled by Joe's chest.
"We should be ready when they get here." He reached up to nudge his mate off of him only to somehow end up with his hand tangled in Levon's hair instead.
"If you say so." Levon snuggled a little tighter, and moved one leg so that it covered Joe's groin.
Levon's eyes remained closed, and Joe got the impression his mate was going to go back to sleep if he didn't do something soon.
"Do you really want Ellison to see us like this?"
Levon looked up, a slight frown on his face. "Don't care what he thinks."
"I'd rather not face him in the altogether though."
With a nod, Levon slowly levered himself up and slid off. He padded over to their suitcases, and began digging for clean clothing. Joe followed a few seconds after, having paused to take in the view.
Levon glanced over his shoulder, grinning at him, then tossed a pair of underwear. "You sure you want me dressed?"
"I'm sure. You're too distracting otherwise."
"Aim to please," Levon said as he came back over, holding jeans and two shirts in his hands. He leaned down for a kiss.
"I noticed," Joe replied smugly, stealing another kiss then stepping away to get dressed.
They had barely managed to finish dressing when there was a knock at the door. They would have made it by nearly ten seconds to spare, Joe judged, if they hadn't stopped, still mostly unbuttoned, for another kiss.
Running a hand through his mussed hair, Joe went to the door and opened it. Jim and Blair were standing there. Jim looked thoroughly rebuked -- both he and Blair looked calm again.
"Come on in," Joe said, moving back to let them enter. "We just have to grab our guns." He suited actions to words and started slipping into his shoulder holsters.
They came in, and Jim took a second step forward. "Before we do this, I... want to apologize. My behavior earlier was inappropriate. It won't happen again."
Joe looked at him levelly for a long moment. "See that it doesn't," he responded, not quite willing to let bygones be bygones yet.
Jim shifted uneasily, then continued. "I only just found out about centaurs yesterday. I don't have a problem with Blair... being the way he is. I just wasn't prepared for dealing with relatives right away." He sent Levon an apologetic look.
"Bad timing on my part," Blair said with a slightly abashed grin. "I probably should've told him ages ago but..." he trailed off with a shrug.
Jim was still looking at Levon. Finally Levon shrugged. "Whatever. Let's just get to work." It didn't sound as if Levon were upset, but Joe knew Jim would have to prove himself before Levon tried being friendly.
Blair nodded. "Actually I'm really glad you're the ones that were sent from Houston. It's going to make this a lot easier."
"Make what?" Joe asked.
"We have a possible lead on Harper," Jim explained. "Name's Dan Roffman. We haven't been able to get anything out of him so far."
"Harper's a pimp," Blair continued. "He runs girls out of his club. Including some fillies."
Levon's reaction was immediate and shocked.
"Centaurs?" Joe asked, just to clarify.
Blair nodded. "Underage too. I think."
Levon turned to Joe. "We have to get them out."
Joe nodded, unsurprised at Levon's reaction. He had to admit his gut reaction was much the same. "Any idea how to do that?" he asked mildly.
"Who do they belong to?" Levon asked Blair.
Blair shrugged. "Don't know. They caught a glimpse of Jim and me -- probably mostly me -- and spooked."
Levon frowned. "So you don't know if they belong to Rustin?"
"I wasn't even able to get within five feet of them, much less strike up a conversation," Blair replied, his frustration obvious. "I didn't recognize them, but then again I haven't had much dealings with Rustin's herd. I made a courtesy call back when I first moved here since his territory was the nearest, but that was over ten years ago and I didn't exactly go out there to meet everybody."
Jim was giving his partner an inscrutable look. He glanced Levon's way once or twice, but mostly his attention was on Blair. He seemed calm enough.
Levon nodded. "Best thing would be to find them, then."
"Great," Joe said, then paused, knowing what he was going to say next may not go over very well. But it had to be pointed out. "What are we going to do about the official case though? Finding Harper. Y'know, the reason we flew all the way up here in the first place?"
"So far those girls are our only real lead to Harper," Jim replied. His expression didn't lend itself to either enthusiasm or disinterest.
"If you can call it that," Joe muttered inaudibly under his breath. Ellison shot him a glare and he wondered if maybe he had said it louder than he thought.
"Their pimp Roffman was one of Harper's contacts last time he was working in this area. We have reason to believe Roffman and Harper are working together now." Jim shrugged. "So we find the girls, we get something on Roffman and we use it to squeeze Harper out."
"Any idea how we're going to get them to talk if they spook as soon as they see us?" Joe asked.
"They'll run if they see me or Blair. I take it they'll recognize you?" Ellison directed the question to Levon.
"If they ran from Blair, they're liable to run from me as well," Levon conceded.
Ellison turned back to Joe. "Then you'll have to pick one of them up."
Joe grimaced. "Looks that way. I'll need a description. I can't tell a centaur by sight or smell or however it is they do it." He waved a hand in Levon and Blair's direction. "And we still have to find them in the first place."
"That shouldn't be a problem," Blair opined. "Jim's good at tracking people down." He flashed a quick grin at his partner and Jim grimaced. Joe wondered what the inside joke was.
"They should be on the street by nine or ten," Jim said. "We can start looking then."
"What are we supposed to do 'til then?" Levon asked. Joe could tell he was anxious -- no doubt would have preferred to go after the fillies right away.
"Grab some food?" Blair suggested. "And we probably should take you to the station. Simon -- our Captain, well Jim's Captain -- will be wanting to meet you."
They agreed easily, and they left the hotel room for a place Blair promised they would love -- though from the way Levon rolled his eyes Joe had to wonder.
As they headed outside, Levon asked, "So how did you end up working as a police observer anyhow? I would have sworn Naomi would have kept you as far away from the cops as she could." His grin said he didn't mind Naomi's attitude.
Blair chuckled. "She tried. Blew her top when she found out about it. We had quite the fight about it, right in Simon's office. She came around though. Eventually." Joe noticed that he didn't answer Levon's original question, however.
"Sounds like her." Levon gave Blair a side-glance and asked, "Why'd you decide to work with the police?"
Walking slightly ahead of Blair, Jim seemed to get very quiet -- a good trick for someone who hadn't been saying a word.
"Research into closed societies," Blair answered easily enough. "The police are a prime example. I wanted to observe that from the inside for my research. I applied for and got ride-along status. That's how it started anyway. It's a lot more now." He grinned again. "I have it on good authority that Simon's pushing to get me hired on as a consultant as soon as I complete my Ph.D."
"Closed societies, huh?" Levon grinned.
"Yeah. I couldn't very well do a paper on the closed society I grew up in, could I? So I improvised." He shrugged. "It's what I do best, man."
That Joe could believe. He couldn't shake the feeling that the whole story Blair just told was an improvisation.
As they nearer the Volvo, Blair headed towards the driver's side only to be stopped by Jim. When his partner looked at him, Ellison gave him a slight grin. "You talk, I'll drive."
Blair shot him an extremely doubtful look. "Jim, the way you drive..."
"Give me the keys," Jim said, and Joe was struck by how... familiar... their exchange sounded. He glanced at Levon and saw an amused look on his husband's face.
"You two been working together long?" Levon drawled. "You want me to drive?"
"You wrecked any vehicles lately?" Blair asked.
Levon shook his head. Jim looked offended. He was smiling, but he still looked offended.
Blair turned back to his partner. "Jim, I trust you with my life, you know that, but my insurance agent told me that if I ever so much as handed you the keys my insurance would double. I can't afford that."
"Chief, I've never wrecked your car," Ellison protested.
"That's because you've never driven it."
With a sigh, they watched as Ellison conceded. He dropped his hand.
"How many cars have you wrecked?" Levon asked. The glance he sent Joe made him wonder if Levon was thinking about a certain Jeep that hadn't survived their first encounter.
Blair laughed as he unlocked the car door. "Man, you do not want to know."
"That bad huh?" Joe asked, shooting the glowering cop a look, slightly surprised that Ellison was letting his partner get away with this.
"I was in pursuit of a suspect," he tried to explain.
"Yeah, I know. All four times," Blair chimed in helpfully.
"Four?" Levon repeated. He looked over his shoulder at Joe, sitting behind him. "He's got you beat."
"That wasn't my fault," Joe shot back, inwardly pleased that Levon was now able to joke about what had happened in Chicago. "I didn't set the bomb."
"Yeah? And running my Jeep into the police car was whose fault?"
"That was an accident."
Levon just nodded, a mischievous expression in his eyes.
Blair, meanwhile, had pulled them into traffic and resumed his part in the conversation. "So how long have you two been a couple?" he asked pleasantly.
"We've been partners since I got transferred to Houston from Chicago," Joe answered. "Five years ago now."
"Married him last spring," Levon added. "Or last winter, depending."
"Depending on what?" Ellison asked.
"Depending on if you count from the ceremony or when we actually did it."
Joe squirmed slightly in his seat. He wasn't used to just letting strangers know about Levon and him. Even if one of those strangers was family. The look Ellison sent him made Joe think he understood. The look Levon sent him asked if he should have kept his mouth shut.
He reached out and gave Levon's hand a quick squeeze to let him know it was okay.
"That's cool, man!" Blair enthused. "Hey Jim, you think maybe you might want to do that some day? Have a ceremony I mean?"
For a moment there was silence in the car. Then Jim answered slowly, "I suppose...."
"Better not tell Joy, lessen you want to have it back in Texas," Levon warned Blair.
"She'd have to fight Naomi for the right to organize it," Blair replied. "Mom loves that kind of thing."
Jim groaned softly.
"What's your mother like?" Joe asked curiously. And in an attempt to change a subject he could tell Jim was finding as uncomfortable talking about as he did. Though he was getting more used to it.
Jim seemed to appreciate the change in topic, even if he was rolling his eyes in much the same way Levon had, earlier.
"Naomi? She's one in a million." Blair chuckled. "I don't know if you can describe my mom. Any description's gonna pale next to the reality."
"Maybe we can stick around long enough to meet her," Levon suggested. "Unless we have to fly Harper back to Houston," he added, clearly not pleased at the thought.
"We're not flying back," Joe said firmly, his tone brooking no arguments. There was no way he was going to watch Levon go through that again.
Levon gave him a very small, very satisfied smile. "Guess we'll just have to shoot him, then. Claim self-defense," he teased.
"Guess so," Joe teased back.
"We're not listening to you plan to kill a suspect are we, Jim?" Blair said brightly.
"I didn't hear a thing," Ellison responded. "You know how hard of hearing I can be."
For some reason that set Blair off into gales of laughter.
They continued chatting throughout lunch -- Ellison proving to be not nearly as much of a jerk as he'd come across at the airport.
Lunch was in a small, airy restaurant whose menu made Levon raise his eyebrows at Blair and ask if any of it was fit for non-human consumption. Blair just rolled his eyes and went into a lecture about how not everything had to be high in cholesterol to be edible. Apparently not all centaurs were barbecue aficionados, Joe realized.
It was interesting to watch Levon and Blair talking. One minute Levon would be acting the older uncle -- the next minute he'd be nearly as submissive to the expressive young man as he was to Joe. It was dizzying, but neither centaur seemed to think twice about it.
He wasn't the only one watching how the two interacted either. Throughout the whole meal he noticed that Jim was observing them just as closely as he was, if not moreso. He wondered what the other man was making of it all.
Once Jim caught his eye and half-smiled. Joe got the impression that if he and Jim could get away from the other two for an hour, they could have a rather interesting conversation. Even if Jim had only known about his partner's heritage for a day now, he probably had as many questions and opinions as Joe.
When they finally finished lunch, they headed for the station to meet with Captain Banks.
As they waited in the lobby for the elevator, Joe leaned over and asked Levon in a whisper, "You going to be okay with this?"
Levon shrugged causally. "We ain't staying long." He looked calm -- though they were still on the ground floor.
Joe still was worried though. "You need to leave, we go."
Levon nodded, and the doors pinged and opened. They got on, along with two others who had been waiting. Joe made room as Levon stayed near the doors. Blair was still talking, behind them, describing Captain Banks. Joe was wondering if the man ever got tired, when suddenly Levon was gripping his arm. Hard.
"Levon?" he asked in a low voice, not wanting to draw unwanted attention. He barely registered Jim raising a hand to alert Blair and the younger man's torrent of words stopping.
The hand on his arm tightened, and Levon whispered, "Down." He had paled, and he was staring at the elevator doors.
While they spoke the elevator continued to rise -- Joe had heard the 'ping' for the second floor already. Levon shifted, as if getting ready to run as soon as the doors opened.
"Easy," Joe soothed, reaching out and grabbing onto Levon's arm. "We'll get off here and take the stairs back down. Try not to panic, okay?" He knew, even as he said it, it was a useless plea to make. Levon was already panicked.
Dimly, he heard Blair behind him making some sort of excuse to the other two curious passengers. He did hear as Blair stepped over and said softly, "If he starts down the stairs he'll try running down them."
The elevator doors opened and Joe got Levon off. Jim and Blair followed, looking equally concerned. Levon was looking around wildly, eyes wide and panicked as he searched for a way back down to ground level. It was clear to Joe that if Levon tried running down the stairs in this state, he'd more than likely fall and break his neck.
Therefore, it would be up to Joe to try and control their speed. He wasn't sure, though, if he could restrain the panicked centaur and control their descent. Not alone anyway. He looked up in mute appeal to Jim and Blair.
Blair was already moving, directly Jim to Levon's other side. Blair remained in front, leading them towards the stairs. As Joe got his husband moving, Levon tried more than once to break into a run.
Between them Jim and Joe were able to control Levon's movements, though by the time they reached the bottom of the stairs all three men were trembling with the effort.
As soon as Levon's feet hit the ground floor he collapsed. He looked exhausted -- but not unfocused, the way Joe had feared he would be. They sat him down, leaning against the wall, and Joe crouched in front of him. Levon looked at him, eyes more or less clear.
"Levon?" Joe put all his questions and concerns into the name.
"Sorry." His gaze flicked over Joe's shoulder briefly, then back to his husband. "Didn't realize it'd be so bad."
"You okay now?" Joe persisted, his attention still focused 100% on his partner.
"Long as you don't take me back upstairs," Levon admitted, looking down.
"I wouldn't right now, even if you wanted to try."
"Don't worry about it," Blair's voice chimed in. "Jim and I can take care of Simon."
"If he wants to meet you two, we can arrange something on ground- level," Ellison added. It sounded as if seeing the centaur's reactions up close had convinced him of their seriousness. Levon reached out for Joe's hands.
Joe let him take them, squeezing gently in reassurance when he did. He glanced away from Levon for a second, up at the two men hovering over them. "Thanks for the help," he said softly, meaning it. There was no way he would've been able to keep Levon under control on the way down the stairs by himself.
"No problem," Jim replied.
A slight tug on Joe's hands alerted him just before Levon moved to stand up. He was shaky, but looked back in control of himself.
"Why don't you two go back to the hotel?" Blair suggested. "It'll give you a chance to unwind, find your equilibrium again before tonight."
Tonight. Right. They still had work to do.
Levon nodded, and they headed back to the car. Blair drove them back to the hotel and they dropped Joe and Levon off.
"We'll come back for you about seven, grab a late dinner and then see if we can find the fillies," Ellison told them.
"Right. We'll be ready," Joe responded. Blair grinned and gave them a jaunty wave before driving off, leaving them in front of the hotel.
"Joe?" Levon asked quietly.
"You reckon the hotel management will mind hoof prints in the carpet?" His voice was teasing, but quiet and almost pleading.
Joe smiled. "They might, but we won't tell them." They headed for their room.
"This mean I can get brushed?" The teasing was still there, however the pleading note had softened.
"I think that can be arranged." He ran a hand lightly down Levon's back. "Need to do something to un-tense those muscles."
The smile he got in response made Joe hurry them along to get behind closed doors.
The second the door was closed behind them, Levon was stripping off his clothes, almost in a frenzy. Foregoing his usual habit of standing and watching, Joe went to their bags and pulled out Levon's brushes.
Levon was waiting for him in the middle of the room, which was almost not large, enough a space for him to maneuver around the four-footed centaur. Levon was practically dancing from one side to the other, and Joe suspected it wasn't entirely from anticipation.
"You really have it bad, don't you cowboy?" he asked, even as he raised one brush and ran it lightly down Levon's back.
"Had a hard day," his husband responded.
"I know. I was there." He repeated the same stroke, noting how Levon's muscles twitched and jumped as he did so.
Levon was silent for a moment, then he said, "Glad you were."
Joe didn't answer right away then said softly, "Always, cowboy, always." He was surprised at how husky his voice sounded.
Levon looked over his shoulder at him, and the serious, loving look in his eyes made Joe pause. He was startled when Levon suddenly grinned. "You know, don't you, that you're the cowboy in this relationship?"
Joe blinked. He supposed, technically, he was. "Yeah," he agreed, then grinned back. "But you dress the part."
"I'll get you a hat," Levon offered. He sounded a lot better, though his muscles were still noticeably tense.
Laughing, Joe shook his head. "That's okay. It looks better on you anyway. I'm still too much of a city boy to pull the look off."
Levon gave him another look -- and this one was nearly sizzling. "Reckon you'd look all right in a pair of chaps...."
"And I 'reckon' you're feeling better," Joe replied dryly with a raised eyebrow, trying to ignore what that look was doing to him.
Levon stepped sideways, trying to move around to him. The furniture hemmed him in, so he stopped and looked at Joe, frustration clear on his face. "How'm I supposed to kiss you if I can't reach you?"
"Hang on." Joe climbed over the bed to stand in front of Levon. "You were saying?
Levon grabbed him and kissed him.
When they finally parted, Joe leaned against Levon and chuckled breathlessly. "Yeah, you're feeling better."
"Joe?" Levon looked at him, and this time the pleading was desperate and hungry -- the kind of sound that made Joe wish they were already on the bed, naked.
"'Fraid this brushing is getting cut short," Joe said, tossing the brushes on the nightstand and working to get out of his clothes as fast as possible even as he leaned in for another kiss.
Levon changed mid-kiss; Joe moved his head without breaking contact with his husband. Hands began helping him remove clothing, and soon he found Levon pressed up against him, skin on skin. He groaned at the sensation and felt Levon smile at the sound, even as he wrapped his arms around Levon, pulling him even closer.
He backed up a step to stand against the bed, pulling Levon along with him. Levon came willingly, hands still running everywhere on Joe's body he could reach, as if searching for any forgotten articles of clothing.
Joe returned the caresses, relishing the feel of Levon's skin under his roving hands almost as much as he relished Levon's response to his touch. After so long together they both knew all of the other's hot spots and Joe was determined to hit every one.
He gasped and moaned again as Levon's fingers hit a hot spot of their own. Apparently he wasn't the only determined one, he thought giddily as his arousal built another notch under Levon's knowing hands. He heard himself yelp as Levon's fingers closed on him -- he could have sworn his lover's hands had been nowhere near there....
Levon laughed, deep in his throat, and kissed his neck. "You want inside me?" came a low whisper.
Joe shivered at the question. "Always," he answered honestly, thrusting his hips forward, mutely begging for more of Levon's teasing touch, even as he allowed himself to be maneuvered onto the bed. "Always."
He stretched out, Levon following him, never releasing him. Levon kissed his throat again, and Joe heard each whisper in-between the light touches of his lips.
"You want," a pause, "my legs," a pause "wrapped around your waist." Two pauses. "And holding you," a pause -- Joe was trembling by this point -- "while you have me," a pause, "beneath you," and in this pause Joe realized Levon's hand was on him, not moving, just holding him. It was frustrating, arousing, and he couldn't make himself say a word to encourage him either way.
All he could do was lie there trembling, letting Levon's touch and his words drag him even higher. For a change, he could feel his brain turning off instead of Levon's. Willingly he submitted, letting his mate have the control this time.
Levon changed his grip, then, and Joe's hips shot upwards. He heard a chuckle, and felt the grip tighten slightly, then loosen, then begin moving slowly up and down. He wanted to scream, "Faster!" but could barely even moan.
"This what you want?" Levon asked in that same low, even voice. "This what you want inside me?"
Joe tried to answer yes, but as long as Levon's hand was moving on him speech was beyond him. One more teasing stroke and he was frantically nodding his head, almost forgetting what the question was, just knowing he needed more.
Then he felt something hot and wet engulfing him and his brain began to explode.
Sensation and feeling was all that Joe was aware of now, the very concept of thought lost to him even as he felt the pressure and pleasure both building up within him in ever increasing waves. He heard someone yelling incoherently and was only dimly aware it was himself.
It wasn't long before the moment became an eternity, stretched from horizon to horizon in loving. When he finally came it was almost an afterthought, the pressure built until it could only dissipate into nothingness.
That nothingness only slowly reformed into awareness after several minutes had passed. And he was only aware it had been several minutes, after he opened his eyes and found himself lying spooned against his husband.
It took him several tries to get his voice working again and even then it was much hoarser than normal. "Levon?"
His brain still working in slow motion, it took him several moments to think of something to say. "Wow."
It wasn't very profound but it was accurate.
Levon stifled his grin -- almost successfully. Then it faded slightly as he asked, "If I was to ask you if it was all right that I did that... would you get exasperated with me?"
"I might if I had the energy but since I don't..."
"That mean I can ask?" Levon sounded confused but Joe knew he was teasing.
"Yeah," he replied. "If you don't already know the answer."
There was a pause, then Levon said in a tone of apology, "I know I didn't ask if I could... take over like that...."
"Did I look -- or sound -- like I was objecting?" Joe asked, then turned serious. "It's all right Levon."
Levon shifted, resting his chin on Joe's arm, and looked up at him. "I know... but it didn't sound much like you could say anything. Know what it's like when your brain shuts off." There was a pause, then he said quickly, "I know you weren't objecting but I wanted to make sure you don't object now. That I took control."
Recognizing that this was not something he could joke around with, Joe answered him with the simple truth. Even if he knew it was going to make him blush. "I don't object. Actually I ...uh... wouldn't mind you taking control like that more often."
Levon blinked at him, then stared. "What? You're serious?"
Joe looked at him for a long moment then sighed. "I wouldn't joke about something like this Levon," he said. "Yeah, I'm serious."
Levon grinned. "I'll keep that in mind." He snuggled against Joe, apparently satisfied.
Emotionally, at least, Joe realized. "Hey," he said, nudging Levon.
"Don't you want me to help you take care of that?" He caressed one finger down the length of Levon's still prominent erection.
"Was waiting for you to wake up," Levon smiled. The smile was interrupted by a shudder, as Joe trailed his finger again.
"I'm awake now."
Levon smiled even wider. "I noticed."
Joe continued to lazily caress Levon's cock, watching the arousal slowly build in the other's expression. He loved being able to do that to Levon, loved being able to drive him crazy like this.
However, there was something else he wanted to do for his mate. He thought now might be the time to offer. "Levon?"
"Yeah?" This time his husband's voice was slower, as the arousal began to rob him of speech.
Joe floundered for a second on how to phrase the offer then finally settled on using the words Levon had used earlier. "You want inside me?"
Levon sat up, eyes wide. He shook his head. "No."
Shit. Joe closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. "I did it again, huh?" Tripped over some centaur sensibility or instinct he didn't know about and in the process hurt Levon.
He felt Levon's hand on his arm. "It's all right, Joe," he said quietly. "Ain't no big deal, unless you really want me to. I just... it doesn't feel right."
"I just thought..." Joe shrugged, then shook his head. "I'm sorry."
Levon leaned forward and kissed him gently. "Don't be." Then he hesitated before asking, "Do you want me to? Have you been wanting me to?"
Joe took his time about answering, searching carefully for the right words. "I've thought about it," he admitted. "What it would feel like. That's only natural right? But not if you don't want it too."
Levon looked at him for a few moments, obviously considering. Finally he said, "I don't think I can. I don't mind taking charge once in a while." He grinned. "Kinda enjoyed it, in fact."
Joe smiled back, feeling the knot that had formed in his stomach at Levon's reaction to his offer start to loosen. "Me too." He got serious again, reaching up and laying a hand along Levon's cheek. "I only want what you can give, Levon. If you can't do that, then I don't want it."
Levon turned his head and kissed the palm of Joe's hand. "I wish I could give you anything you want, Joe. But I'll give you everything I have, everything I am. It all belongs to you."
Touched more than he could express at his husband's words, it took Joe a moment to find his voice. Even when he did he couldn't say anything but, "I love you."
Levon touched Joe's face, in a mirrored gesture of Joe's own. Then he grinned. "That mean you're gonna finish brushing me now?"
Joe laughed. "Whatever you want, cowboy. Whatever you want."
Levon was on his feet and changing, before Joe had stopped laughing.
Jim could hear his Captain's bellowing long before they reached the seventh floor. He winced at a particularly creative epithet, and Blair grinned at him.
"Simon on the warpath is he?" his Guide asked pleasantly.
Jim nodded. "I hope you know what you're going to tell him."
"Me? He's your Captain. I'm just an observer, remember?"
"Yeah, but he doesn't yell at you." Jim nudged his partner ahead of him as they stepped off the elevator.
Blair snorted. "What parallel universe have you been living in?"
"Blair, Chief, Buddy... that isn't yelling. He just expresses a mild amount of displeasure when he yells at you." Jim gave him a smile. "That's nothing compared to when he's mad."
"If that's the case, I don't ever want to see him mad." Blair smiled back at him. "Go on," he encouraged, gesturing towards Simon's office. "I've got your back."
Jim snorted, grabbed onto Blair's shirtsleeve and kept him right beside him as he approached the office door. He paused a moment, waiting for Simon to take a break from demanding why no one saw fit to keep him appraised of the case, and opened the door.
He realized it was too late to ask if Blair intended on telling Banks any part of the truth.
Simon stopped in mid-sentence when he saw them. "Ellison!" he barked. "Where the hell have you been?"
Jim glanced very, very briefly at Blair, as if to ask why "Sandburg" hadn't been included. He sighed. "We picked up LaFiamma and Lundy, sir, and briefed them on what we've got on the Harper case." He glanced at Blair again, to see if his Guide was going to offer any assistance.
Taking pity on his Sentinel, Blair did just that. "Sergeant Lundy wasn't feeling very well -- must've got hold of some bad barbecue or something -- so we dropped them off at the hotel to get some rest."
Simon didn't appear mollified. "So what are you going to do? Just leave them there? I've had three phone calls from their Lieutenant Beaumont already."
"Can't really do too much investigating when you're upchucking every meal you've eaten for the last week," Blair said with a shrug.
"Thanks for sharing that image, Sandburg." Banks frowned. Then he sighed. "Fine, next time she calls I'll tell her... something. Now, what are you two doing about Harper?"
Jim spoke up now that it was safe. "We have a lead. We're going to be tracking down an employee of Roffman's. We think she can tell us what we need to get a handle on Roffman, and make him turn Harper over."
Simon frowned. "Who is this employee?"
"One of his working girls," Jim explained. He didn't bother to try and explain why they thought they could get her to talk.
Simon stared at the two of them suspiciously for a long moment. Jim could see out of his peripheral vision that Blair had pasted on his most innocent look, and he himself made an effort to keep his expression neutral.
It didn't seem to lower Simon's suspicions however. "There's something you aren't telling me," the Captain surmised.
"Us, sir?" Jim looked back innocently. He traded a look with Blair. "Can't think of anything, sir."
"It's one of those things I'm better off not knowing isn't it?" Simon asked, his expression turning resigned.
"Probably, sir." Jim nodded. "Although if you really want to--" he grinned.
Simon held up his hand in an unmistakable "stop" gesture. "No, that's fine. I do not need any more shocks of the sentinel variety for quite a while, thanks all the same."
"Well, actually Simon, it's not really about the sentinel thing..." Blair began helpfully.
Simon looked startled, then put his hands over his ears. "Do not tell me."
Jim grinned. "If you say so, sir." Then he sobered slightly. "Do we have anything new on Harper?"
"Nothing definite." Simon scowled. "Just a lot of supposition and rumors. But if even half of them are true... This guy needs to be off the streets."
"We're working on it, captain." He glanced at Blair, saw the man still grinning. He rolled his eyes and Blair laughed. They both ignored Simon's noise of confusion.
"Is that everything?" Blair asked, all angelic innocence again. Jim might have even bought that look if he didn't know his partner so well.
He did enjoy seeing that look, however. When it wasn't being turned on him, and being accompanied by a "Jim, just try it..."
"That's all we have." Simon gave them both a disgusted, but fond, look. "Why don't you two get out of here and let me get back to work. And find Harper!"
Blair snapped to attention and saluted. "Yes, sir!" he said, then turned and left the room before Simon could say anything, chuckling under his breath the entire way.
Jim followed quickly, not wanting to be within hearing range when Simon yelled again.
"And check in when you find something!" Banks yelled as they hit the hallway.
Jim propelled his partner towards the elevator. "Come on, Trigger, let's get back to work."
Blair gave him a slightly annoyed look. "I'm not a horse, Jim."
Jim raised his eyebrows at his lover. "Then how do you explain my riding you?"
That earned him a blink then a wide grin. Moving closer, his voice dropping to sentinel-only levels, Blair replied, "Then you must be a horse too because the ride goes both ways, man."
"I never denied it, Chief." Jim shivered but kept his tone calm. Mostly calm. It was really too bad there were security cameras in here because Blair was just begging for a groping.
Blair just gave him a knowing smile and stepped onto the elevator as it opened.
Jim sighed. He wondered if LaFiamma ever had this sort of problem with Lundy. Maybe he wouldn't ask.
Things were all back in place in the hotel room by the time Ellison and Blair showed up that evening. They'd even managed to scuff out the hoof marks. More or less.
Blair had stifled most of his laugh when he'd seen the marks, and the way he'd looked at Jim made Joe wonder if he should explain to the man about getting a set of curry combs. He figured Blair could take care of his own sex life, and left it alone.
Levon was finally moving at something resembling normal speed -- he looked and sounded alert, and only as anxious as one would expect of a cop about to go back to work.
It was an anxiety that Joe had to admit he shared, as he checked his guns one last time before slipping a jacket overtop. "You guys ready to go?" he asked, feeling the urge to get moving.
"Yeah," Ellison responded. "We have a motel room staked out on Davis. Once we track down these fillies, Blair, Lundy and I will wait there while you pick her up." He stepped back and led the way back outside towards Blair's car.
"You sure we'll be able to track them down?" Joe asked, falling into step beside Blair.
The young man nodded. "I'm sure. Trust me on this. Nobody is a better tracker than Jim is."
Jim didn't reply to that, apparently ignoring the statement all together. He did fill them in on all he knew about the way Roffman worked as Blair drove towards the red light district. It wasn't much, and what there was didn't sound good at all.
"Sounds like a really rough character," Joe commented.
"He's scum," Blair said flatly, then shook his head. "I've never met anyone before that was just such, such slime that I wanted to kick in his kneecaps and trample his face into the ground two seconds after meeting them."
Levon chuckled, but he didn't look entirely happy. As if he was anticipating doing some trampling, himself, Joe realized. "It's 'cause he's got the fillies," Levon explained when he caught Joe's look.
Joe thought he understood but wanted to clarify just in case. "That whole," he waved his hand in an all encompassing gesture, "centaur challenge thing?"
Blair nodded and answered, "Basically. Shocked the hell out of me that it hit me so strongly, though. I'm not usually the confrontational type."
"Probably wouldn't have bothered you if it'd been another centaur who had 'em," Levon continued. "But a human havin' fillies... don't matter who he is, who the fillies are. Ain't right for him to have his hands on 'em. Ain't right for him to own 'em. Even your mom would have gotten in his face if she'd been there."
Blair chuckled at that. "She probably would've gotten in his face even if they hadn't been fillies."
"True," Levon admitted.
Jim finally interrupted with a question. "What do you mean, 'own'?" He asked tentatively.
Joe looked from Levon to Blair, the latter of whom was suddenly studiously intent on his driving. Apparently the young man hadn't gotten around to explaining the herd social structure to his partner yet.
Levon sighed, and started to explain. "Females belong to the herd stallion. Unless they decide to leave the herd -- Naomi belongs to herself, but she's unique. Maggie and Terry -- a couple of mares from back home -- left the herd to be their own couple. It's centaur nature... letting whoever's most dominant be totally in charge. These fillies left their herd, but needed someone to be in charge of 'em -- Roffman was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, I reckon, to get 'em."
Jim was staring at Levon, then, as he finished his explanation, he looked at Blair.
Blair was still seemingly intent on his driving, but spoke softly to his partner. "Is there something you want to ask me, Jim?"
"Just wondering why you didn't mention this. Is it important?"
"That depends. Do you have a problem with it?"
"No. Should I?" Jim sounded very calm.
Levon gave Joe a silent, perplexed look.
Blair sighed. "I hope not. Guess I figured you might though."
Jim looked surprised. "Why? Lot of species have that kind of social structure. I was just wondering if you have any of those instincts," he finished quietly, with a glance towards the back seat.
"Some," Blair admitted.
Jim gave his partner a look, but said nothing.
"Is this it?" Levon asked a moment later. They were driving along a street that was filled with bars, adult clubs, and the sidewalks were lined with working girls.
"Yeah," Blair replied. He nodded towards the nearest corner where several of the girls were congregating. "They were over on that corner when we last tracked them down."
They continued driving; Blair slowed as much as he could without impeding traffic. On this street, that meant 3 mph was safe. Jim was scanning the area intently. Finally he nodded. "There they are."
Joe followed the other detective's gaze and saw what looked like just another four underage hookers. But a quick glance at Levon's expression assured him that these four were centaurs. "Got them," he said.
Jim nodded, and Blair made a turn so they wouldn't drive right past the four fillies. He circled the block and parked near the Blue Lagoon motel.
Jim handed Joe a key. "We'll be here, waiting. If you need any back- up, just yell."
"And you'll hear." Joe raised a skeptical eyebrow.
Ellison shrugged. "I'll be out there." He pointed to the sidewalk where he would be able to see the fillies, and Joe, as he approached them.
Joe considered the distance. "I'll yell loud," he said ruefully as they all got out of the car. He accepted the car keys from Blair, then gave Levon a grin. "Be right back."
Levon just nodded. His expression didn't need explaining -- be careful and bring them back.
Climbing behind the wheel of the Volvo, Joe started the car up and pulled out of the parking lot, cruising slowly down the street as if checking out what was on display. He slowed and came to a stop before the fillies, only three of them now visible, then leaned over and rolled down the passenger side window as one came up to the car.
She smiled -- a plastered, professional smile. She looked to be about eighteen. That meant she was probably only sixteen, the way centaurs aged.
"Looking for a good time?" she asked, her tone of voice bright and alluring.
Joe smiled back. "Yeah. You interested?" The words made him feel slightly dirty, even though it was all a ruse.
She pretended to look him over, and asked, "You got a room? My sister's using ours, right now."
He blocked out the images that brought to mind. If he didn't he'd be out of the car, demanding to know where the room was so he could kick the ass of whatever pervert had picked up the young filly. "Yeah," he told the girl still watching him. "Got a room at the Blue Lagoon down the street." He nodded in the motel's direction.
"Perfect," she said, sounding pleased by the prospect. Underneath it, though, he heard a little girl's voice wishing it weren't so. She opened the door and climbed in beside him. Still smiling brightly.
It made Joe's heart break. "I'm Joe," he said softly as he pulled the car into a U-turn and headed for the motel.
"I'm Marissa," she told him. She had scooted over and was hanging onto his arm, pressing her leg up against his own.
"Pleased to meet you." Forget the centaurs. He'd trample Roffman himself.
She grinned, and giggled once. She said nothing more as he pulled into the parking lot and came to a halt in front of room 8.
Marissa followed him out of the car, hanging onto his arm again and smiling. Joe pulled out the key and opened the door, then escorted her ahead of him into the room.
She came to a full stop as she saw the three waiting for them. Joe heard a quick gasp of fear as she looked at Blair, then she froze as Levon took a step towards her. Levon was looking her over, frowning slightly.
"Easy," Joe told her. "We're not going to hurt you."
"But..." Marissa seemed determined to look anywhere but at the other two centaurs.
"It's all right," Blair soothed, using a tone that Joe had heard his partner use before when dealing with a skittish animal.
"What's your name?" Levon asked, and Joe heard a note in his husband's voice that surprised him.
"Maris-" the girl began, then stopped, swallowing hard. "Elaine."
Levon nodded. "Elaine. What are you doing here?"
Behind Levon, both Jim and Blair looked somewhat surprised as well as relieved that the girl was answering so readily.
"I-" She fumbled then gestured behind her at Joe. "He brought me."
Levon grinned, very briefly. "In town, Elaine. What are you doing in town?"
"Oh." There was a long silence before she answered in an even smaller voice. "We ran away..."
"Ran away?" Levon sounded surprised. "What for?" He paused, then clarified, as if realizing Elaine wouldn't know it was all right to speak of it in front of the two humans. "Was your herd stallion mean to you?"
She stiffened for a second, then shook her head in mute answer to the question, her eyes downcast.
Levon put his hand under her chin, and raised it. Joe recognized the gesture as one of his own. "Who owns you now?" His voice was gentle, and concerned. It seemed to be working, as Elaine looked less frightened.
But still her voice was hardly more than a breath when she answered Levon's question. "M-Mr. R-R-Roffman."
Levon's frown echoed exactly what Joe was feeling. He started to speak once, stopped, then appeared to think things over. "How long you been in town?" he finally asked.
"'Bout three months." This time Elaine's voice was a little stronger.
"You belong to Roffman the whole time?"
"Mo-most of it."
"You look healthy enough," he said, sort of to himself. Joe glanced again at Blair and Jim, but could see they were content for now to let Levon handle things. He could tell by Jim's expression, though, that Blair was going to get about a thousand questions, later.
"You do any drugs?" Levon asked her.
"No, sir!" The words rang out loud and clear with Elaine's indignant denial and she was now looking up, something like hope in her voice.
Levon's serious look became just a hair more serious. "Gotten pregnant?"
Again Elaine shook her head. "No."
"How about your sisters?" This time, Levon sounded nearly satisfied. As if something had been decided, and only had to be spoken aloud.
"Them neither." The hope in her voice was reaching incandescent levels.
Levon waited a moment, then nodded, a tiny smile on his face. "That's fine, then."
"This mean...?" she asked breathlessly.
He nodded. "Don't reckon I'm gonna leave you here with that human," he said, his smile getting a bit larger. He put his hand on her face, cupping the cheek, and looked at her.
Elaine stared back, her own lips turning up into the first real smile Joe had seen her give. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Call me Levon," he told her. He moved his arm to her shoulders, and she moved forward into his embrace. Suddenly, though she was still dressed like a woman of the street, she appeared to be the young girl Joe had heard earlier.
"We'd best get your sisters," Levon told her after a moment. He looked at Joe, a question in his eyes.
Joe smiled at him and nodded. "Yeah, before somebody else picks them up." He went so far as to wink at Levon, wordlessly reassuring his mate that no boundaries had been stepped over.
He watched Levon relax, and they turned their attention back to Elaine. Levon asked her if they were working tonight, and Elaine nodded. She turned and looked at Jim and Blair with more curiosity than fear now. "You were at the club," she said.
"Detective Ellison," Jim identified himself, showing her his badge. "We're investigating Dan Roffman. Blair spotted you," he gave his partner a nod.
When Elaine turned her curious look to Levon, he continued, "They figured you'd be better off out of there, away from Roffman."
"We tried to tell you that last night but you ran," Blair said.
"I know. I'm sorry. We were scared.... ashamed." The last word was said much softer and Levon gently squeezed her shoulder.
"It don't matter now, Elaine. What does matter is we get you and your sisters out of Roffman's hands. Now, first I want you to go get your sisters. Bring 'em back here."
Again Levon glanced at Joe, to make sure the plan was all right. Joe suddenly realized the car wasn't nearly large enough to get all eight of them... anywhere. But a taxi would deal with that problem.
Elaine nodded. "Yes sir- I mean Levon." She smiled at him, then headed out the door.
"Jim, you wanna keep an..." Blair trailed off suggestively, gesturing after the departing filly.
Jim nodded, and started forward. Levon frowned. "She'll be back, Ellison. With her sisters."
"Nobody's doubting that, man," Blair answered. "But it's a rough street and it wouldn't hurt to make sure something doesn't happen between here and there."
"The kid's right, Levon." Joe agreed.
Levon nodded, all-business. "Fine." He turned to head out the door with Ellison.
"Uh..." Blair started, then stopped and glanced at Jim. "Never mind," he muttered. Joe thought the kid added something under his breath after that but didn't hear anything.
Jim, on the other hand, looked back at Blair with a blank expression before following Levon out.
Blair sighed and laid his head back against the wall. "Humans," he muttered then looked abashedly at Joe. "No offense."
Joe hid his smile. "None taken. I've been known to say 'Centaurs,' in that same tone of voice."
Blair laughed. "I'm not surprised. I bet Levon keeps you on your toes. And he's calmer than most." He stepped away from the wall and began to pace.
"Like you for instance?" Joe asked, letting his humor show through.
The grin Blair gave him was huge. "Yeah, like me. Naomi says I get it from her. She was always too restless to stay in one place. Had to leave and see the world. Taylor didn't mind, knew if he tried to keep her she'd just be miserable."
"So you weren't really raised with the herd then?"
"Nah. Visited a few times, but mostly mom just took me around the world with her. Had to be careful not to go into any other herd's territory, but that still left a lot of ground to cover." Blair was still pacing, but he didn't seem nervous, particularly. He gave Joe a curious glance. "How'd you end up with him? I mean, dominant over him? I wouldn't have figured Levon for letting a human over him."
Joe shrugged. "Don't know. I mean, I know how we ended up together -- I was transferred to Houston from Chicago because there was a hit out on me and Levon was assigned as my partner. We butted heads for a few years but eventually became friends. And then more than friends. I don't know why he decided I was the dominant one though. He didn't even tell me about it until months, maybe years after he'd decided."
That seemed to surprise Blair. "He didn't tell you?" For a moment he said nothing, then he looked apologetic. "Maybe I shouldn't ask?"
"Nah, it's okay," Joe replied easily, finding to his surprise he didn't mind discussing this stuff with the younger man. Maybe because he was hoping that being both centaur and human, Blair would be able to shed some light on some of the things that he still didn't fully understand about Levon? "I'm not sure why he didn't tell me. But I think it was because he was afraid." He paused. "You know about the whole Caroline mess?"
Blair nodded. "Naomi told me. We went to her funeral," he added. "I don't think Levon realised we were there."
"Levon was afraid if he let me know what he is that I'd turn my back on him like Caroline did. Even after I found out -- more by accident than design -- and I made it clear that I still loved him, he still seemed to be waiting for me to leave. I think he thought asking me to be dominant would be the straw that broke the camel's back." He sighed wearily, remembering his reaction. "And in some ways he was almost right."
"He's had a rough time of it," Blair said quietly. "Looks like you've worked things out, though."
Joe gave a half-grin. "Taylor talked some sense into me. I won't say it's not tough, but Levon's worth it."
"Glad to hear it." Blair suddenly laughed again. "And I know what you mean about Taylor. I almost didn't come back to school after my first semester. One good talking to from him...." Blair shook his head, then stopped suddenly and looked at the door.
A few moments later Jim opened it and stepped in. "They're on their way," he said.
"Where's Levon?" Joe asked.
Even as he asked, Levon stepped into the doorway, but remained partly outside, keeping an eye on something behind him. Blair moved over to Jim's side, eyes on the door expectantly. A moment later, four young girls came into the room, each being carefully herded inside and reassured by Levon as they did. They stood bunched together, as near to Levon as they could get, eyeing the three strangers uncertainly. Only Elaine looked comfortable, and even she remained close.
"It's okay," Blair told them in a soothing voice. "We're all part of the same herd." He glanced at Jim and Joe. "More or less."
The fillies looked reassured, even if they didn't entirely appear to understand. Levon whispered something to them, and they relaxed. Levon shot Joe an amused look.
"This is Detective Jim Ellison, and his partner Blair Sandburg," he introduced them, and then nodded at Joe, "And my partner, Sergeant Joe LaFiamma. We're looking for a fella named Tony Harper, might be working with Roffman."
"Did you see or hear anything that might be connected?" Joe asked, falling into police mode easily.
The fillies nodded, and Elaine told them, "Two weeks ago he got a phone call from someone named Tony. They talked for an hour about making arrangements for him to come to Cascade and take back his previous business. Roffman," she barely faltered on the name, "told him he would do whatever was necessary to make the transition a smooth one."
When she paused, Jim asked, "Do you have any idea where Harper might be?"
She shook her head, as did her sisters.
"That's okay," Blair hastened to reassure them. "What you've given us is great. We'll be able to bring Roffman in on that and get the information from him." The grin Blair gave then was positively wolfish.
Jim looked at his partner. "You still hoping to kick him in the kneecaps, Chief?" His frown didn't look entirely disapproving.
Levon's, on the other hand, looked positively threatening.
"Or maybe a bit higher," Blair responded, then hesitated when he glanced at Levon. "That is, if Levon doesn't mind me taking a share..."
"If I leave anything, you can have it." Levon sounded serious. Way too serious. Joe wondered if he might not be better off keeping his husband away from Roffman... as long as there was any chance of witnesses, and as long as they got Harper first.
"What, you're not going to share?" he asked his partner laconically, hoping the hint would be enough to reassert Levon's common sense without making it sound like he disapproved of the idea in principle.
"I'll wait 'til we've talked to him," Levon conceded. He glanced at the four fillies surrounding him, and then he looked back up at Joe. Joe could see the barest flicker of awareness in Levon's eyes of what he'd gotten himself into.
If it weren't so serious, Joe would have laughed.
"Why don't we get these young ladies someplace safe, then go see what we can get out of Roffman?" Ellison suggested.
Blair nodded. "Good idea. Think the department would spring for some hotel rooms where Levon and Joe are staying for some witnesses?"
"I think we can get Simon to agree to that," Jim agreed.
Joe caught another glance from Levon -- his mate was looking frustrated, as well as a little confused. "Have you girls eaten?" he asked, taking the lead just a little. The look of gratitude Levon sent him was reason enough.
They shook their heads.
"We'll take you back to the hotel and you can order some room service."
"Later we'll see about getting y'all some decent clothes," Levon added with a mild glance towards their working clothes.
"Cab's on the way," Jim interrupted.
Joe nodded. "Good."
Levon gave the fillies a stern look. "I want you to head right back to the hotel, and stay there. Order whatever you need, but you're not to leave the hotel." He looked at Ellison. "You got a business card?" Jim nodded and handed one over. "You can call us here," Levon went on.
Joe pulled out his wallet and handed Elaine one of his credit cards, the one he kept for emergencies. "You can use this to charge the rooms and whatever else you need." He smiled softly at the girl. "Just don't go too crazy, okay?"
Elaine looked at Levon, who nodded. She took it and put it in a pocket. He leaned over and whispered in her ear again, and this time she giggled, looking at Joe.
Levon gave his husband an innocent look.
Joe made a mental note to ask Levon what he'd told the fillies the first chance he got. And with the full power of the dominance behind the question.
The cab arrived, and they got the fillies headed for the hotel. They seemed reluctant to leave their new herd stallion, but a gentle prod from Levon got them on their way.
After they left, Joe casually laid an arm around Levon's shoulders. "Should we be making plans for four new rooms added onto the house?" he asked in his best innocent voice.
Levon looked startled. Then he shook his head. "Gonna give 'em to Taylor. Herd could use some fresh blood."
"Not starting your own herd then?" Joe teased.
The look Levon gave him was surprised, and sorrowful. He shook his head. Then he grinned. "Think I'd drive myself nuts," he said. "Don't see how you do it."
"It's not easy at times, but I've muddled through with the on-the-job training," he responded in kind, though part of his mind was trying to figure out the reason for the sorrowful look he had glimpsed. Another thing to ask Levon when they were alone.
With the fillies taken care of, the four went back to Blair's car to go find Roffman. A quick stop at Fantasia turned up nothing, nor did an even quicker stop at Roffman's known home address. They called in to Simon to set up a stake-out and turned to the problem of coordinating the watch. Blair finally offered the use of his car to Levon and Joe so they could split the stake-out between the four of them. Jim gave his partner a wounded look and asked why Blair let them drive the Volvo.
"My insurance agent didn't threaten me with rate increases if I let them drive." Blair shrugged. "Go argue with him." He paused, then said in a thoughtful tone, "Though if it's that big a problem man, you can always lend them your truck instead..."
Jim acquiesced, shaking his head and muttering something under his breath. Whatever it was got him a grin from Blair.
"Great! We'll drive back to the loft to pick up the truck and then you can take the Volvo from there." With a decisive nod, Blair started up his car and pulled out.
It didn't take them long to get everything settled. Joe and Levon, in Blair's Volvo, headed back to the hotel. Levon, it turned out, was a great one for directions in a city he'd never been to before. He teased Joe about memorizing the street map while Joe had been in the shower. Jim and Blair headed out to the stakeout, with plans to switch over in four hours.
"So..." Joe said, as they were driving back to the hotel, "What exactly were you whispering to those fillies that you all found so amusing?"
Levon looked at him with an expression of innocence. "What are you talking about?"
"You kept whispering to them and then they'd look at me and giggle."
There was a pause, then Levon barely smiled. "Don't recall."
Joe raised an eyebrow at that. "What happened to that photographic centaur memory?"
"You must have imagined it, then," his husband said. He was obviously enjoying himself.
So was he, Joe realized. "No, I don't think so," he said, shaking his head and keeping the grin off of his face with effort.
"You don't mean," Levon said with a tone of sudden realization, "when you handed over your credit card?"
"Oh that..." Levon looked a bit uncertain, but he grinned. "Told 'em they couldn't run it up too much because you were still paying for your riding lessons." The look Levon gave him was the epitome of 'I'm cute, you don't want to hurt me'.
"You have a problem with the way I ride you?" Joe shot back, letting his tone make the double meaning perfectly clear.
"Not at all." There was a pause. "Just meant the Chamber could get a little expensive." He named one of Houston's premier leather and bondage clubs.
Joe grinned. "Oh, this mean you decided you're into leather restraints after all?" he asked referring to a comment he had made about Levon wearing a saddle.
"Wasn't me gonna wear 'em," came the reply.
They pulled into the hotel's lot and parked. Turning to his husband and giving him his best sexy smile, Joe leaned over and whispered huskily, "Thought you liked me dominant."
Levon scooted over for a long, very enthusiastic, kiss.
When they pulled back, Joe chuckled and ran a hand through Levon's hair fondly. "Come on," he said. "We better check on the fillies."
All at once Levon grew serious. He nodded, and got out of the car. He headed towards the lobby entrance without saying a word. Joe trailed behind, wondering if he should be as worried as he felt at Levon's sudden mood change.
Levon seemed nervous, or at least distracted, as they made their way towards their room. A quick stop at the front desk told them the fillies had been placed in a room just down the hall from their own.
Levon stopped by their own door and looked back at Joe. "Gonna go check on 'em. See if they're settling in all right."
"You want me to tag along?"
Levon shrugged. "If you want." There was something about Levon's tone that sounded off. There was still the ever present, if not always noticed, tone of subservience. But there was also something else.
"Do you want me to?" Joe asked again, wondering just what was going on in his lover's head.
For a minute Levon didn't answer. He stood there in the hallway, looking uncertain and confused. He glanced towards the fillies' room, then he shook his head. "I don't know."
Taking a deep breath and releasing it, Joe turned to their room door and opened it. "I think we need to talk," he said, turning back to Levon. Levon simply nodded and followed him in.
Joe shut the door and regarded Levon for a long moment, wondering if the other was going to start the conversation since it was obvious he desperately needed to talk about something.
It wasn't long before Levon did begin speaking. "Joe, I'm sorry," he said unexpectedly.
"For what?" Joe asked gently, shaking his head in confusion.
Levon sighed, obviously frustrated. "I can't... Joe, I can't take care of them properly. Not without--" he stopped, and gave Joe a horribly woeful look.
"Without...?" Joe prompted.
Levon shook his head. It was obvious he was having trouble explaining -- or maybe even understanding -- what he was feeling. Finally he said, "I can't own them and be owned by you," he looked up at Joe. "But I don't want you to let me go," he added in a rushed whisper.
Let Levon go? Joe was unprepared for the emotions even the suggestion of such an action churned up. "Good," he said fiercely, quickly striding across the room and taking Levon into his arms. "Because I'm won't let you go." Part of him was wondering where the hell this possessive streak had come from. The rest was just screaming "Mine!" over and over in his head.
Levon had nearly completely relaxed, from the feel of it. He'd wrapped his arms around Joe and was resting his head on Joe's shoulder. "I don't want you to, neither," he said. "But that means I can't take the fillies... and I don't think they'd let anyone else but another full stallion take 'em, now."
"Which leaves Blair out huh?" 'And me,' he didn't say aloud. It was obvious he'd gotten the knack of "owning" Levon, but the thought of "owning" the four teenagers made him extremely uncomfortable.
"Yeah. Only other stallion I know would be Rustin, and I doubt he'll want 'em back. Now that they've been working for Roffman... sleeping with humans and all, he won't take 'em. He'll consider them...." he trailed off.
"Great." Joe could feel a headache coming on.
"As soon as we get Roffman taken care of, we can send 'em back to Taylor." Levon looked up at him. "We just need... I have to be able to take care of them until then." His husband didn't look at all happy with the idea.
"We'll figure it out," Joe reassured him. 'Somehow.'
Levon looked up at him, frustration barely showing on his face. "What am I supposed to do with them?"
"They're fine where they are for the moment." Joe hoped that was true and that his credit card wasn't being run to the limit or anything. Not that it mattered, he realized. The money Taylor had given them was probably for just this sort of thing; accidental acquisition of teenage centaurs. Lord, he was glad he wasn't the one filing taxes this year.
Levon, however, looked only marginally relaxed. "And when one of them comes and asks me for something?"
Joe was feeling less and less relaxed himself as he felt more and more out of his depth. Grasping for answers, he asked Levon, "What would make you able to handle this?"
Levon walked away from him a few steps then turned back, obviously growing frustrated. "Hell, I don't know! I've never been responsible for anyone before. I reckon I could figure out what to do if I weren't--" he stopped.
A glimmering of an idea hit Joe then. "What if I told you to do whatever you would do if you weren't, y'know, mine?"
Levon stared at him for a moment. "You ain't letting me go?" he reiterated in a cautious tone.
Joe smiled. "Told you that wasn't an option."
An expression of total relief wiped out all the frustration, and Levon slowly smiled at him. "If you did... I think I could do it." He came back over into Joe's embrace. "It ain't that I don't know what to do with 'em... I just don't wanna do anything you'd object to."
'Crisis averted,' Joe thought, feeling his own muscles relax. "The only thing I'd object to would be you sleeping with them. Other than that, do whatever you need to do."
"Sleep with 'em? I wouldn't." Levon looked shocked for a moment. Joe saw the tiniest of grins. "Ain't mating season."
"Uh, good." He didn't want to think about that comment too closely.
The grin grew larger, and Levon leaned closer. "Couldn't give 'em to Taylor if I did, anyhow. Besides, don't wanna explain it to Ellison. He'd probably have me up on statutory rape charges." As he spoke, he was giving Joe small kisses along his jaw.
"I can't believe we're talking about this."
Levon grinned. "Why? You wanna know when it starts? Or ain't you noticed, yet?" He was pressing his body against Joe's.
"The only centaur's mating season I care about is yours. And if I judge from past experience, that never ends."
The look his husband gave him was pure innocence. Pure faked innocence. "Then why worry about mating season?"
Accustomed to these circular talks that always seemed to end with himself off-balance, Joe took back control in the most reliable -- and enjoyable -- of ways. He nuzzled Levon's ear and practically purred, "Why don't you demonstrate some mating season behavior?"
From there, it only took about two more minutes before all conversation was forgotten.
Continued in part three.
Due to length, this story has been split into four parts.
Single White Fillies
By James Walkswithwind and Wolfling
Author's homepage: http://www.jbx.com/~gila/hks.html
Authors' notes and disclaimer can be found in part one.
Single White Fillies - part three
A Houston Knights/The Sentinel Alternate Universe
By James Walkswithwind and Wolfling
Meanwhile, Jim and Blair had found a nice, inconspicuous spot from which to watch Fantasia. With Jim keeping an eye out for Roffman they were able to park halfway down the street. The street was already packed with slow-cruising cars and crowds of pedestrians. People were shouting from car windows and Jim counted at least fourteen DUIs in the first ten minutes. He ignored them, since he knew there was a police cruiser at the other end of the street, heading their way to hand out those tickets.
It being late summer, for once Blair wasn't complaining about the cold. Jim was rather disappointed about that. It took away his excuse to offer to snuggle. He kept about half of his attention focused on the front and office doors of the club, which he could see through the club's crowded parking lot, and tried not to think too much about everything that had happened.
Not that that was working too well. He didn't even have Blair's usual chatter to distract him because Blair was being unusually quiet. He glanced over at his partner; Blair was sitting with his back against the side door, watching him.
"What?" he asked. Normally the silence would have been a pleasant change, but tonight it was making him nervous.
Blair nodded, as if Jim's reaction confirmed something for him. Knowing the way Blair's mind worked, it probably did. "You want to talk."
Jim shifted in his seat, turning back towards the club. "Doesn't matter, Chief," he began.
Blair shook his head. "No, I don't mean you want to talk, chat, I mean you want to talk. You have something you want to ask me."
This time Jim sighed, but remained otherwise silent. Not that it would do any good. He knew that now that Blair had brought the subject up, he wouldn't just drop it.
"You know you can ask me anything."
For several long seconds Jim debated whether he should say anything. No one else had even blinked at it, so he probably didn't have any reason to object.
But maybe he could at least find out why no one had objected.
"It's probably just a centaur thing," he finally said. "But I don't like the idea of those girls being... traded, like baseball cards. What if they want to go home? And what about their parents? Don't their folks have any say in what happens to them?"
Blair nodded again. "I thought that's what was bothering you."
"The sad truth of the matter is that their herd stallion -- their father -- wouldn't take them back after what's happened. He'd consider them... tainted. Used goods."
"You're kidding." Jim glanced over at his lover. "But they're just kids, eighteen..."
"Actually they're about sixteen," Blair corrected.
"What?" Jim whipped his head around to stare. Blair was totally serious. "But why...."
"It's the mentality of a herd animal. The herd comes first, over any individual. They left the herd voluntarily, on their own. That absolves Rustin -- their head stallion -- of any responsibility for them." Blair sighed. "Admittedly, some herd stallions are more strict about this sort of thing than others. Rustin's one of the worst."
Jim couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. It did make a kind of sense, though. Herd comes first... it explained, suddenly, a lot of Blair's apparently reckless behavior. If the individual was less important that the survival of the herd. And if, one supposed, the police force was Blair's "herd"....
"So because they left without permission, they can't go back? But why didn't Levon ask them what they wanted to do?" It was still confusing, but he hoped with a little more information it might make sense.
"Because of the whole dominance thing," Blair explained. "If Levon asked them what they wanted to do, it would've meant he wasn't willing to take responsibility for them. And that's what they wanted -- needed: for another centaur to accept them into his herd, to accept responsibility for them."
Again Jim took a moment to absorb this. "Why couldn't they take responsibility for themselves? Aren't they old enough?"
"That's part of it. But even if they were older they'd probably want someone to take responsibility." Blair smiled slightly. "It's a rare centaur who can live without someone dominant over them. And most of those end up being dominant over others. Because they can handle the responsibility."
Jim turned, ever so slowly, and stared at Blair. There were a thousand ways to ask the next question, and he wasn't sure he wanted to voice any of them.
Blair just looked back, calmly waiting for Jim to make up his mind.
Jim shook his head and dropped that train of thought. "So Levon was... doing them a favor by taking them?"
But why, he then asked himself, would he be worried about asking if he thought the answer was.... What did he think the answer was? That Blair was dominant? That was.... He glanced over. Blair was still sitting there, calmly. Maybe he was one of the rare ones, like Naomi.
Blair nodded. "He was rescuing them in the only way they would've accepted. If he hadn't taken them, they would've ran back to Roffman the first chance they got."
"Even though he was pimping them?" Jim was incredulous. That they would go back to a creep like that....
"He owned them, Jim. As far as they were concerned, he was their herd stallion." A little bit of Blair's own outrage at that leaked into his voice.
"No wonder you were so intent on getting them away from Roffman," Jim realized. "So now that Levon owns them, now what?"
Blair shrugged. "He'll take them back to Texas and give them to Taylor probably."
For a moment Jim wished he had a scoresheet. Or an owner's manual for centaurs. "Why would Taylor take them?"
"New blood for the herd. Keeps it strong. Besides, Taylor's one of the more open-minded head stallions. He still let's Naomi come home for visits for example, and he accepted me. Some herd stallions wouldn't have."
The crowd around Fantasia was still thick, as some people made it inside and others exited. No sign of Roffman, so Jim continued thinking more about what Blair had told him. He felt as if all his questions had been answered -- except all he really knew was that there was a lot he didn't know.
"Is there anything else you wanted to ask?"
Jim shook his head. He immediately chastised himself for not asking. It wasn't that big a deal.
"What about you?" He felt silly asking, and almost wished he hadn't.
"You mean about the dominance thing?" Blair clarified.
"It's a little different for me, since I wasn't actually raised with a herd. I defer to Taylor when I visit but that's more out of respect than because he's dominant."
"So you normally don't need anyone dominant over you?"
Blair chuckled. "Jim, you've seen me interact with authority figures. What do you think?"
Jim grinned. It was true, Blair rarely if ever let anyone push him around. He wouldn't even let--
Jim glanced over, again. Blair was sitting there with his most innocent expression. No, that was impossible. It wasn't like Blair ordered him around.
Wait a second.
He glanced at Blair again; he was still sitting there looking innocent.
Jim sighed, closed his eyes very briefly, then went back to watching for Roffman. Maybe it was time to change the subject.
"Does it bother you?" Blair asked in a soft voice.
"Bother me?" Jim tried to sound as if it didn't matter. After all, it wasn't like he didn't choose to give in, whenever Blair pushed for something.
"Yeah. Does it?"
He shook his head. It never had bothered him before, because he knew Blair never pushed unless it was important. He also knew he could say no, if he really wanted to.
If he really wanted to see Blair give him that look. Yeah, right.
"I don't think Roffman's going to show. What time is it?"
Blair glanced at his watch, holding it up so light from a nearby street lamp fell on it. "Almost one," he said, squinting in the dimness to make out the numbers.
Jim glanced over, saw the time clearly on Blair's watch, and nodded to himself. Two and a half more hours to go before LaFiamma and Lundy relieved them.
Silence fell again as Jim tried to put all his attention on watching the club, while Blair put all his attention on watching him. Which was making him extremely uncomfortable, especially with the thoughts in his head he just couldn't seem to get rid of.
"You're still thinking about it," Blair accused a little while later, breaking the silence that had grown oppressive.
He looked over. "Chief? It doesn't bother me. If that's the way you are... I don't have a problem with it."
He realized that he had known Blair needed control over his space since the second time he'd met the man. He'd never really minded before. Why should he now, now that he knew Blair had a reason for being that way?
Blair sounded surprised, and a little disbelieving. Jim nodded. "Really, Blair. I love you the way you are. That isn't gonna change." He wondered if they could talk about the Mariners winning a game, or something.
Blair sighed in relief. "I thought for sure you were going to go ballistic on me when you found out."
"Chief, if I was going to go ballistic on you, I would have done it the second week after you moved in."
"Before or after Lash kidnapped me?"
Jim's hands tightened on the wheel. "Before." Afterwards, there had been no way anyone was getting Blair away from him.
For any reason.
Blair tilted his head to the side and looked at Jim for a long moment considering. Then he slid across the seat and wriggled his way under Jim's arm, his own arms going around Jim's chest. Settling in with his head on Jim's shoulder, he let out a contented sigh.
Now this was how Jim preferred spending stakeouts.
"So..." Blair asked, in a totally normal tone of voice, "you think the Mariners are going to make the playoffs?"
Jim laughed. "Not a chance." He gave Blair a squeeze, and settled back to watching.
At 3:30 am LaFiamma and Lundy pulled up and parked in front of them. They actually parked several car lengths in front, and Jim pulled the truck away from the curb.
He noticed that the two Houston cops were all business as they took over the stakeout; they were discussing Roffman, and what he and Harper were likely up to. Jim took he and Blair home, where they quickly headed for bed and fell asleep in a cuddled tangle of bodies.
He awoke around seven when he heard the familiar sound of Blair's Volvo pulling into its parking spot in the lot below. For a moment he was confused. Blair was coming home, but Blair was already home -- still in his arms, and all over the bed. How he managed that Jim never figured out. Cuddling and sprawling at the same time...
He shook his head and recalled the other two had taken Blair's car. Beside him, Blair muttered and stirred, then buried his face deeper into Jim's shoulder.
Down below, Jim could hear the Volvo's doors slam as the two Houston cops got out of the car and their low voiced conversation as they headed for the building. From that Jim was able to figure out that Roffman hadn't shown up.
As he listened in he heard, "You gonna be okay to go up there?" LaFiamma was sounding overly protective again.
He heard Lundy reply in the affirmative, as it would only be for an hour or so, then Jim left them alone and focused on his lover. They had about four minutes to get out of bed before their guests arrived.
He pinched a naked butt cheek.
That earned him another mutter and a swat.
He grinned. "Up and at 'em, Sandburg. Company's coming." He got himself out of bed and grabbed some clothes. Blair groaned and buried his face in the pillows.
Jim watched for a moment, enjoying the sight of his still-asleep lover, all curled up in the blankets. "You want me to make coffee?" He crawled onto the bed, on top of the covers, and whispered in Blair's ear. "You want to sleep through breakfast?"
Blair muttered something that not even sentinel hearing could make out, though from the tone Jim got the gist anyway. He was sure he'd been called worse.
"Okay, fine. I'll tell Simon you couldn't make it." Jim turned and headed downstairs, tucking in his shirt.
A minute later he heard more muttering and groaning from upstairs, then the rustle of sheets as Blair finally gave in and got up. Jim grinned. Yep, he'd been called worse. Though maybe not so creatively.
Dressed in his ratty old plaid robe and with a serious case of bed hair, Blair shuffled down the stairs looking only vaguely more awake than when Jim had left him. "Coffee?" he mumbled hopefully.
Jim held out a mug, then headed over to the front door. He wondered if Blair would notice his mug was empty, before he tried to drink from it. The coffee was still brewing.
There was a knock at the door just as Jim reached it. He waited a couple seconds, for appearances' sake, then opened the door. LaFiamma gave him a grin as they stepped inside. "'Morning. Did we wake you?"
"No. Blair's just slow to get moving in the mornings. Want any coffee?" He waved the two inside. Down in the parking lot, Simon was just pulling in. He'd left a message the night before, warning them that he would be by this morning for an update on the case.
Having successfully mastered the complexities of the coffee machine, Blair handed their two guests each a steaming mug before going back and pouring his own. He pointedly didn't get any for Jim however.
Guess the empty mug had been noticed after all. And not appreciated.
Jim just grinned, and headed for the bathroom to tend to some pressing needs, like peeing. "Blair, Simon should be here soon," he warned, as he went to get dressed.
"Great," Blair muttered. At least he was coherent again.
The knock on the door came just as Jim came back into the dining room. Blair looked up from where he was chatting with their two guests. Jim just headed for the door. Simon looked mildly perplexed when Jim opened it, until he caught sight of the other two men. He nodded a hello, and gave Jim a 'so that's why you let me knock' look.
"Come on in, Simon. These are Sergeants LaFiamma and Lundy," he introduced them. "Captain Simon Banks." He moved past Blair into the kitchen, and determined that his partner hadn't gotten as far as preparing anything to eat.
Blair, at the moment, was heading for the stairs. "If you excuse me guys, I'm going to go get dressed. Jim will take your breakfast orders." He winked once at his partner and then disappeared up the stairs.
"Simon, you eating with us?" Jim began pulling out what he needed for a major batch of pancakes.
"As long as they're not buckwheat, or whatever it was he tried serving me last time, I will." Simon helped himself to a mug of coffee, and sat down.
"I heard that!" came from the bedroom.
LaFiamma chuckled. "Could be worse," he told Simon. "Could be barbecued."
Lundy gave his partner a glare, which LaFiamma laughed off.
"So," Simon turned to them, "I take it you haven't found Roffman yet?"
"Nope," LaFiamma answered, frustration showing on his face.
"You have any other leads?" Simon asked.
This time Jim answered, "Not really. Roffman's it."
"We'll get him." This from Blair as he was coming down the stairs, looking much more awake now that he was dressed and had tamed his hair enough to get it into a ponytail.
So why was Jim's first thought to undress him again?
Well, probably because it always was. He forced himself to concentrate on the pancakes, and ignore how well Blair's jeans fit. Jim handed out a mug of coffee to his lover as he came over. Blair made a show of checking it before drinking.
Joe stifled another laugh, and Jim smiled. There was silence for a moment, and Jim suddenly realized that several of them had questions, which couldn't be asked in front of at least one person present.
He wanted to ask how the girls were. Simon wanted to ask if he had any real leads on Roffman.
Blair probably wanted to ask if he could go back to bed.
This meeting wasn't going to be exactly productive at this rate.
He doubted Simon wanted to know about centaurs, though, and he still wasn't going to tell LaFiamma and Lundy about being a sentinel.
"What happened to the other fellas Harper worked with, last time he was here?" Lundy interrupted the silence before it became awkward.
"Most are out of circulation," Jim replied, grateful to find a subject that could be discussed. "Either dead or in prison."
"Was a fella named Jug among 'em?" Lundy asked.
Jim thought for a moment, then shook his head. "I don't remember seeing his name in the files." He glanced at Blair.
Blair nodded. "We never caught the guy or even laid eyes on him but the name did come up in the investigation."
"Oh yeah? How so?" Levon looked interested. His partner, however, only looked confused.
"He seemed to be pretty high up in Harper's organization, but not really a part of it, y'know?" Blair frowned as he tried to piece together the years' old memories. "I remember it kinda struck me as weird at the time. But all our attention was focused on grabbing Harper and the information we had on the Jug guy was so nebulous that he just got lost in the shuffle."
Lundy shifted slightly in his seat, sent his partner a mysterious look, then asked, "You reckon we might run into him now? Or is he one of the dead or imprisoned?"
Blair shrugged. "Couldn't tell you man. He was never more than a name in questioning, we couldn't even get a paper trail on him." He stopped when he noticed Simon staring at him. "What?"
Simon finished his current bite of pancake, and said, "With a brain like yours, Sandburg, it's a wonder you're not more dangerous."
Jim laughed, and gave Blair a 'what?' look when his lover turned to him.
"Uh, thanks Simon," Blair answered cautiously. "I think."
"It's what I'm here for. That and free breakfast," he added as he held out his mug for more coffee. Jim gestured towards the coffeepot and asked, "Is this 'Jug' someone we should look out for?"
Levon shrugged, and glanced at Joe again. There was something going on here, Jim knew, but he couldn't figure what. Something Lundy knew and wouldn't talk about either in front of Simon or LaFiamma. Why else was he constantly looking at his partner like that?
Jim glanced at Blair and saw his lover staring intently at Lundy, teeth absently worrying at his lower lip, a sure sign that his brain was trying to work something out. Jim wondered if there was a polite way to throw his Captain out so he could ask the questions that would get him some answers.
"So what's the plan for today?" Simon asked, appearing rather settled in his chair. Jim hoped that would change as soon as he heard what he wanted to hear.
"We're going to pick up Roffman... as soon as we find him." Jim shrugged. What else was there? That they could talk about?
"Mmm." Simon didn't look thrilled, but he nodded. Perhaps he had reminded himself how often Jim and Blair managed to drag the bad guys in with even flimsier-looking leads.
"We'll try again at the club," Blair said. "And if he's not there, we'll track him down. He's not getting away, Simon. Trust me on that."
"I believe you, Sandburg. You don't have to go promising any vendettas." Banks gave him a flat stare.
For a short second there was utter silence in the loft. Then Blair laughed. "Vendettas? Me? Simon you must be joking." He appeared completely sincere and completely innocent. Jim's respect for his partner's obfuscations went up another notch.
"Uh-huh." Simon nodded and put his mug down. "Just see that you keep Ellison under control." Simon jerked a thumb at Jim who gave his captain an utterly shocked look. "Try and stop by the station at least once in a while, would you? I'd like to feel as if I were a part of the investigation, if only as your superior." He gave them all a smile, and headed for the door. Blair got up and saw him out.
As soon as the door closed behind Banks, Jim heard a sigh of relief from at least three people. He watched Blair walk back towards him, wondering again -- very briefly -- if he could encourage a little more nudity around the house.
"So," Joe spoke up, looking at his partner, "who's Jug?"
"He's a centaur, isn't he?" Blair asked.
Levon nodded, giving his partner yet another of those inexplicable looks.
LaFiamma's reaction made it less inexplicable. Joe nodded, reached over and briefly squeezed Levon's arm. "You better tell us the rest, cowboy."
"Ain't much to tell," Levon replied. "Besides the obvious. Stallion from Rustin's herd. Taylor said Alexander had some dealings with him, and from what I heard from Alexander, I'd say that was why he was at Hatre's."
"You mean Alexander has actually worked voluntarily with another centaur?" Joe asked, surprise evident. "I thought his motto was the only good stallion is a dead stallion."
"They weren't ever in the same territory," Levon replied. Jim found himself taking notes on this unexpected side of centaur relations. He kept quiet, though, since Blair didn't seem to be alarmed by the information. "Think they were trying to help each other take Taylor's and Rustin's herds." Again Levon looked at his partner, and for a second Jim had the weirdest impression that Levon was asking for something. It was like the look the Elaine had been giving Levon when she first began to realize what was happening to her. Like he was asking for protection.
That was ridiculous.
"Maybe we can get them adjoining fifth floor cells," Joe said laconically. Glancing at Jim and Blair, he elaborated. "We arrested Alexander a couple of days ago. He was the one carrying the info that implicated Harper."
"He's in jail?" At the twin nods from Joe and Levon, Blair grinned that wolfish grin that Jim had only seen once or twice before this case had started. A predator's grin. "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy."
"Is this Jug going to be a problem?" Jim asked, feeling as if he had missed some portion of the conversation. He told himself the grin on Blair's face was nothing to worry about.
He told his cock it was nothing to get excited about, as well. He began stacking dirty dishes and thought about cold, dirty dishwater.
Blair said, "No" at the same time LaFiamma said, "Maybe."
Jim looked from Joe to Blair. "Which is it?"
Levon just looked contrite.
After a moment's silence, Joe shifted in his seat and explained in a carefully neutral tone, "Centaurs, especially stallions have trouble with challenging rival stallions. Or maybe I should say they have a problem with not challenging."
Jim looked to Blair, alarmed. Then he stopped, and looked back at Levon. "You two haven't...."
Blair shook his head. "We don't consider each other rivals."
Levon grinned suddenly. "'Sides, Naomi'd have my tail if I tried picking on her little boy."
"If I didn't have it first," Blair shot back, with a grin of his own.
Jim expected a retort in response, and was surprised when Levon only smiled. Jim stared for a moment, then turned back to Joe. "So you're saying if we run into Jug there'll be a problem? Some kind of challenge?"
Joe hesitated in answering, then shrugged. "Can't say."
"Depends," Blair said. "On where we are, what we're doing, what he's doing, whether he challenges us..." He shrugged apologetically. "Too many variables to predict."
"You said it wouldn't be a problem," he reminded Blair, starting to feel confused.
"Usually, for me, it wouldn't be. I'm not full-blood, so I can resist the instincts most of the time."
Jim took a moment to absorb this. It sounded like that was good. Then he looked at Levon with a glance towards Joe, suspecting that Joe would be the one to answer him. "But it might be a problem because you're a full-blood?" he asked Lundy.
Lundy nodded. "If he doesn't make a first move, I'll be all right. Might not matter, if we don't run into him at all. But I figured you should know."
"If it happens, we'll deal," Joe said. "We did with Alexander, we will here."
Jim noticed how Levon relaxed at his partner's declaration. Then he dismissed it, and tried to figure out what, if anything, they could do other than go back to a stakeout on Fantasia.
He couldn't think of anything. Luckily the place was closed, and no one, including employees, would be there until nearly noon. Which gave them a few hours yet. Jim just wasn't sure what it gave them a few hours for.
Levon hid a yawn behind his fist, and Jim realized what the time would give some of them. Actually, given his recent thoughts about Blair, a lack of clothes, and a certain tone of voice, it would be a good idea for all of them.
Besides which, Levon was starting to fidget.
Joe had noticed that as well. "Listen, it's been a long night and I'm sure we can all use some more sleep. Why don't we all meet at the Fantasia at noon and go from there?"
"Sounds good to me, man," Blair replied, shooting Jim a look. Jim shivered. If that look was anything to go by, sleep wasn't going to be on the agenda. He wasn't going to argue. He wasn't even going to put up token resistance, unless that was what Blair wanted.
Levon was already on his feet and taking a step towards the door. Jim nodded his agreement, and watched curiously as Joe reached over, picked up Levon's hat which he had left on the counter, and took it to his partner. Instead of handing it to Levon, he placed it on his head for him. Levon just grinned at him.
"See you in a few hours," Joe said, then headed out the door with his partner.
Jim followed them with his hearing for a few moments, just to make sure all was well. A habit he'd gotten into -- he'd done the same for Simon when the other had left. It sounded as though both were simply tired, and Levon was ready to get "back down where gods intended a centaur to be".
He smiled, and found Blair staring at him.
With that look.
He stopped listening in on Lundy and LaFiamma. He stopped thinking altogether when Blair pounced.
After a few more hours' sleep, Levon looked much more relaxed. He rolled over against Joe and smiled.
Joe smiled back. "See?" he teased. "It is still possible for us to be near a bed and just sleep. I was starting to wonder."
"Were you? If I'd known I'd have let you sleep earlier.... coulda stayed in another room." Levon belied his words by snuggling closer.
"No you couldn't," Joe replied with certainty.
Levon looked up at him. "Maybe we should stay up half the night more often on a stakeout?"
"I'm sure we will, but I can think of better reasons to be up half the night."
"Thought you said you wanted to sleep."
The conversation was interrupted by a very light tap on the door. Joe exchanged glances with his husband, then got up, throwing on his robe and going to answer the door. Carrie, one of the fillies, was standing there. She was dressed in a T-shirt and sweat pants, obviously purchased from the hotel's gift shop. She looked nervous.
Levon got out of bed and walked over, waving her inside.
"I didn't know... if you wanted to be left alone," she said hesitantly.
"It's all right, Carrie. What do you need?" Levon asked calmly. He almost sounded like Taylor.
Casually, Joe picked up and handed Levon his robe. Levon took it, apparently absently since he held it for a moment before realizing what it was, only then putting it on with a mischievous glance to Joe.
Carrie had waited, and spoke only when Levon looked at her again expectantly. "We were talking about Roffman, and didn't know if you only wanted to know about his dealings with Harper or anything else that he's done."
That activated the cop instincts right fast. But Joe resisted saying anything, knowing Carrie would be more comfortable if Levon was the one to draw the information out.
He had learned some about centaurs after all this time.
"Like what, Carrie?" Levon asked gently.
The filly seemed to be growing more at ease, and finally she began talking, almost mile a minute. "We heard some things and saw a few things that we always knew were odd, but you know we didn't ever say anything to Roffman or anyone else about them. But between the four of us we've seen ten people disappear and they've all been either clients or employees. They disappear completely, at least so far they've never turned up. At least there's never been any mention in the newspapers about them showing up again and no one ever said anything at the club or on the streets."
Levon looked at her, surprised. "You have any names?"
Joe got out his notepad and pen and wrote the names down as Carrie recited them. You had to love centaur memories. She had eight full names and two partial names, along with physical descriptions of each and addresses of two who had been fellow employees. She even gave them dates each person was last seen, who they had been with last -- as far as any of them knew -- and how long they had been associated with Roffman.
"Thanks, Carrie. We'll get Ellison and Sandburg working on these names, see if they can turn any of 'em up." Levon said when she finally came to a stop.
"Yeah," Joe said, speaking for the first time. "You've been a big help."
The teenager practically glowed under the praise then blushed.
"Thanks," she said to Joe, giving Levon a questioning glance. Levon ignored it, though, and the curiosity vanished into acceptance. "Should we stay at the hotel today?" she asked.
"You need anything you can't get here?" Levon inquired.
She shook her head, but said, "There's not much to do but watch TV."
"It shouldn't be for much longer," Joe reassured her.
"Okay," she nodded. "But don't blame us if we get hooked on Guiding Light," she grinned. It made her look very different from the young prostitute she had been just the night before.
Levon laughed. "We can stop by a bookstore if it's gonna be much longer. Don't want to risk y'all out on the street while Roffman and Harper are still loose."
That sobered the girl up quickly. She nodded mutely.
"We're going back out, now," Levon explained. "You need anything before we leave?"
She shook her head, then took a step forward. Levon smiled and gave her a hug before sending her back to her room. When she was gone, he sighed, and sat on the bed. "Remind me why it is I wanted kids of my own?" he said in a distracted tone.
Joe froze. "You wanted kids?" he asked softly.
Levon looked up at him, blinking in a confusion which cleared rapidly. "When I was about twelve I did. Wanted to go back and take the herd over...." He stood up and walked over to Joe. "Stopped really wanting them a long time ago."
"How long?" Again Joe kept his voice soft and gentle. This could become a touchy subject. Levon didn't reply right away. "It's okay," Joe said, even if he wasn't sure, entirely, that it was.
"It hasn't been since I met you, Joe. And I never really wanted to have to kill Taylor," he added.
"Did you think of having kids with Caroline?" Joe wondered out loud. Then almost immediately tensed, regretting the question.
"I couldn't... couldn't when she didn't know what I was. After... she never touched me, much less slept with me."
"And then you fell for me."
Levon grinned happily and corrected him, "Found you. Fell for you when I was four, if you remember."
Joe felt any doubts or guilt he had fall away at Levon's smile. If Levon was still wishing for kids, it wasn't something that he was brooding on. "I remember," he replied smiling back.
They sat in silence for a while. Then Levon sat up suddenly. "We need to call Ellison, give him those names."
Names? It took Joe a few seconds to get his brain back on the case. "Right," he finally said, picking up the phone.
Ellison answered on the second ring. He sounded muzzy, as if he'd been asleep.
"It's Joe LaFiamma. Listen, the fillies just gave us some more information about Roffman's op. Apparently people disappear."
"What?" Ellison sounded suddenly awake. "Disappear how?"
"Just gone. They gave us some names to check."
There was a pause, then, "All right."
Joe rattled off the list of names then asked, "Do we still meet at the Fantasia at noon?"
"I think Blair and I better head to the station to check this out. If you and Lundy can stake out the club, watch for Roffman...?"
"Will do. Let us know if you find out anything."
"Hang on... Blair wants me to tell you -- if you see Roffman, Blair wants his left leg broken in two places. Any two places." Ellison sounded amused, and very slightly disturbed as he relayed the message.
"Only two?" Joe asked, equally amused and slightly disturbed. He knew that if Levon got his hands on Roffman a broken leg would be the least of the man's worries.
"I think he figures Levon can have the other leg."
Joe grinned. "At least."
"We'll come by Fantasia and relieve you at four unless one of us finds something before then."
"Sounds good. Talk to you later."
Levon was watching him when he turned back around. "We meeting at the club?" his husband asked.
"Nah, we're staking it out while they run down the list of names."
Levon nodded and got up to find his clothes. They headed back to the club and resumed their stakeout. The street wasn't much changed from the night before. There were fewer cars and the bright neon lights didn't glare so harshly, but the people were still the same, if a bit more desperate. Tired bums shuffled through the crowds during the day, exchanging nods with unenthusiastic hookers. Here and there a drunk stumbled or lay sleeping it off in a corner.
"Levon?" Joe asked after about half an hour thinking about the last part of the conversation he'd had with Ellison.
"Yeah?" Levon didn't take his attention off the club.
"What's gonna happen when we find Roffman?"
There was a pause. Then, "I don't know. Depends on what he does."
"You gonna kill him?" He was amazed at how level his voice sounded on that question.
There was another pause. "I want to," his mate finally said.
"Not what I asked," Joe pointed out, keeping any accusation out of his voice.
Levon glanced at him. "I know we need information from him. After... I reckon it depends on if you tell me not to."
Joe looked back at him. "Would it make a difference if I did?" he asked bluntly. "It didn't with Alexander."
Levon flushed, and stammered, "Was already fighting him... I meant if you told me before. It might stop me."
Levon shrugged apologetically. "I can't say for sure. I'd do everything possible to do what you tell me to. But those fillies... what Roffman did to them. He deserves to die." Levon's voice changed slightly, as if he'd just realized something. "Have to keep him from trying to take 'em back."
Joe blinked then spoke slowly and calmly to his partner. "Levon, he's going to prison. He won't have a chance to take them back."
He watched as Levon digested this. "Yeah...."
Joe couldn't tell if Levon was convinced he didn't have reason to attack Roffman.
"I'd rather you didn't kill him," he finally said, reluctantly giving Levon the order. He wasn't sure if they would work or even be a good idea, considering how it had backfired last time he tried in this kind of situation.
Levon rather unexpectedly laughed.
"What?" That hadn't been the reaction he'd been expecting, not by a long shot.
"You ever think you'd be having this kinda conversation? Given how you humans are about killing a fella that needed it and all?"
Joe shook his head. "I'm not sure what you mean..."
Levon grinned, but it died fast. "Just meant you telling me that... and meaning it. Or is this anything like what you expected life to be like, back before we met?" The mischievous sparkle was still in his eyes, but there was a hesitant note in his voice, as if he was no longer sure the joke was all that funny.
Joe grinned at him. "I can safely say that life with you is something I never could have predicted before we met."
"Just keeping you agile." Levon grinned again and focused on the club once more.
Nodding his head in agreement Joe added, "And flexible."
There was a pause, and Joe had to check to see if Levon's eyes were glazing over. They weren't. In fact they were clear and practically blazing. And staring out the window toward the club. Joe followed the direction of the stare and saw...
Roffman. Heading into his club.
Levon grabbed the door handle and was climbing out of the car. Shit. No time to call for backup, Joe bailed out of the car to chase after his partner.
He caught up with Levon as Levon caught Roffman behind the club in the almost empty parking lot. Levon grabbed the man and tossed him towards the garishly painted brick wall.
"Levon!" Joe yelled. "We need information out of him, remember?"
His enraged husband stopped just long enough for Joe to get a better grip on his arm and tug it away from Roffman's face. Behind them he suddenly heard Ellison yelling, "Sandburg!"
That was all the warning Joe got as suddenly a curly-haired whirlwind dove at Roffman, picking up where Levon had left off. Levon didn't even bother getting out of Blair's way. He did, however, pull Roffman away from the wall and aim him towards Blair.
Ellison was only half a step behind, trying to get a hold of his partner. Emphasis on the trying. Blair was squirming and dodging even as he was attacking Roffman. He seemed intent on carrying out his threat of trampling the guy's face.
Not that Joe had much time to worry about Blair. He had his own hands full holding back Levon, who at least he'd gotten a good grip on, something Ellison was still trying to get on Blair. Roffman was being no help at all, of course. He was screaming and trying his best to cower, but Levon and Blair kept landing near-solid punches, kicks, and once, another slam against the wall.
Ellison finally managed to trip Blair backwards, and half-sat on him, yelling his name. Joe meanwhile had bodily hauled Levon back and managed to get himself between his lover and Roffman, who had curled up on the ground in a protective ball by this point.
Slowly Levon and Blair calmed down.
Ellison got to his feet, pulling Blair up as well. Levon was still snarling at Roffman, but Joe was able to hold him back. This time, at least, Joe didn't try to simply order him to stop. Not until he was able to listen to reason again.
Blair seemed to be regaining his senses quicker. Ellison was standing between him and Roffman, holding onto both of Blair's arms and talking to him in an intense low tone. Finally Blair took a deep breath and nodded. Jim let him go. Joe tensed for a moment, but all the younger man did was glare at the pitiful heap on the ground.
"You need any help?" Jim asked, walking over to stand between Levon and Roffman. Levon was still focused on Roffman, but no longer fighting so hard to get to him.
"I can handle it," Joe replied, but added, "Thanks."
Ellison turned to Roffman, and pulled the guy to his feet. "Anything broken?"
Roffman merely stammered incomprehensibly, then yelled, "Keep those maniacs away from me!"
Levon tried to take a step forward, but didn't try to get around Joe.
Blair had tensed at Roffman's words but didn't move, though the man was lucky looks couldn't kill.
Joe felt Levon's hand suddenly close around his arm, and turned to find Levon looking at him. "I'm gonna kill him, Joe." It wasn't a threat, it sounded more like a plea.
"Can't let you do that partner," Joe replied, meeting Levon's eyes and willing him to listen.
Levon nodded ever so slightly. He didn't let go of Joe, but he did relax as the command sank in.
"Come on, Chief, let's get this guy into protective custody," Ellison said. "I think we can find something to arrest him for."
"Uhm..." Blair fidgeted. "I think maybe you and Joe better handle that. At the moment Levon and I are part of what you're protecting him from."
"Can you hold Lundy?" Ellison asked, doubtfully.
Blair grinned for a second. "I can handle him, don't worry."
"You going to be okay with that?" Joe asked Levon.
Levon nodded. He didn't let go of Joe until Blair had walked over and stepped into Joe's place. Levon was standing calmly -- more or less -- but the way he kept looking over at Roffman made Joe realize he was still quite willing to resume the attack.
Ellison had Roffman against the wall, and was cuffing him. The man was yelling and protesting, demanding a lawyer, demanding that Blair and Levon be arrested instead of him, demanding to know what right they had to take him in.
"You have the right to remain silent," Joe told him. "I suggest you use it. Or we'll take a coffee break and leave you to our partners."
Roffman shut up quickly after that.
Ellison dug out the Miranda card and read it as Joe helped drag Roffman to Jim's truck. Levon watched Roffman every step of the way, but remained where he was. When Roffman looked back at them, Levon growled.
"Go on," Blair encouraged. "We'll follow in my car."
Joe nodded, and climbed into the passenger side of Jim's truck after Roffman. Levon stared after them, whether he was focusing on Joe or Roffman wasn't entirely clear.
"Blair'll take care of him," Jim said quietly.
Joe repeated that to himself as they drove off, but he knew he wouldn't totally relax until Blair and Levon had caught up with them at the station. Roffman, for his part, was still whimpering about siccing his lawyer on them all just as soon as he got his phone call.
Ellison barely glanced at him. "You gonna tell him about those underage prostitutes?"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" the man insisted, but even Joe could tell he was lying.
"Uh-huh." Ellison sounded completely disinterested.
"Tell it to your lawyer," Joe chimed in. "And while you're at it, tell him we have the girls themselves willing to testify."
"That's impossible!" Roffman blustered. "They'd never-" Abruptly he clamped his mouth shut.
"Should've taken my advice about that right to remain silent," Joe observed.
They were able to get Roffman into the slow grind of being booked, and left him to the tender mercies of the clerks. Ellison casually mentioned the man's 16-year-old employees, and the woman behind the desk flashed a glare at Roffman. He was going to have a very unpleasant encounter with the police department, Joe was certain.
As soon as Roffman was taken away for booking, Ellison turned to Joe. "You wanna grab a cup of coffee or head back downstairs to wait for Lundy and Sandburg?"
Joe regarded the other detective thoughtfully. Ellison looked like a man wanting to ask a few questions. Remembering how he had felt in the first days after he had found out about Levon, Joe decided to give him a chance to ask. "Coffee sounds good," he said, then added, "Somewhere where we can talk while we drink it?"
Ellison nodded, looking relieved -- or maybe encouraged. "The break- room on the fourth floor has decent coffee." He led Joe down the hallway to the elevators.
The ride on the elevator was silent as was the walk through the halls to the fourth floor break room. It was only when they had each gotten a cup of coffee and were ensconced at the room's table with the door closed that Ellison finally started talking.
"I hope Roffman gives us what we need on Harper... so we won't have wasted our time prying our partners off him."
"He will," Joe asserted. "Or we threaten not to pull them off next time." He grinned slightly. "Sort of the ultimate good cop, bad cop play."
"Yeah, except they're serious." Ellison looked a little disturbed. It was no wonder, really.
"First time Sandburg's gone off like that?"
Ellison nodded, then stopped. "Not really... but he's never been ballistic. He's usually real easy-going but once he's pushed he pushes back -- hard -- but he's never lost control like that." He swirled the coffee in his cup, apparently content to play with it instead of drink it.
Joe nodded knowingly. "It can really throw you for a loop, can't it?"
There was no response for a moment, then Ellison looked at him. "Is Lundy like that? A lot? I mean, now that I know about Blair is he going to go off half-cocked all the time, because he can?"
"Levon does have some triggers that he might not have had if he'd been born human. But they don't come up much on the job. He's one of the best damned cops I've ever worked with, regardless of species."
Ellison looked relieved to hear that. He still looked troubled, but Joe figured he'd either spill, ask Blair, or just worry about it.
Finally, "How long have you known about your partner?"
"Met him when I was 7." Joe grinned at the surprised expression. "It was when I was on vacation, we ran into each other at an amusement park. We snuck away from our chaperones and spent the day together. Didn't see him again until I got transferred to Houston 6 years ago."
Jim just stared, then managed, "And I thought Blair's and my meeting was improbable."
He grinned. "It's a long story."
Joe got the feeling that it wasn't just long. He didn't pry -- he knew, if anyone did, about secrets.
"So you've known he was a centaur since you were seven?"
"Nah. Only found that out about a year and a half ago. And I only found out then because Levon had to change to get us out of a sealed storage room." He smiled. "Long story."
They exchanged understanding grins, and Ellison shook his head. "Ever get a owner's manual?"
Joe snorted. "I wish. It would make life a hell of a lot more easier."
There was a very brief pause. "How do you manage?"
He gave the question serious thought. "I'm not sure sometimes," he admitted. "Sometimes it can be like we're talking two different languages. But we always seem to muddle through somehow. We have to." He shrugged. "The alternative is unthinkable."
"I hear that," Jim said, then laughed once. "I can't believe I said that."
Joe looked at him, puzzled.
"Naomi says that constantly. I didn't realize I'd picked it up from her."
"I know what you mean. I couldn't believe it the first time I heard the word 'reckon' come out of my mouth."
"I reckon it happens to all of us," Jim said with a straight face.
"I hear that," Joe replied.
There was silence again, and Joe wondered if Jim was going to ever get around to the rest of his questions.
Ellison was staring off into the distance when he said, "Blair told me I could ask him anything, and he'd tell me. But I don't have a clue what I want to know."
Joe nodded, that was the same problem he had with Levon: constantly stumbling over centaur instinct/cultural landmines because he hadn't even known enough to ask if they were there.
"It can be tough," he said slowly. "Some things that look like there's a big difference in the end aren't very big at all. Other differences that appear small or non-existent can suddenly come out of left field and hit you upside the head."
"Like what?" Jim asked hesitantly.
"Like... foot rubs."
"Excuse me?" Jim blinked. He knew Blair could go completely to jello after a good foot rub, but then, so did he.
"It has to do with being in human form too long or something -- I'm not sure of the medical particulars -- but a centaur in human form has more sensitive feet than a human. And if they stay in human form for too long they start to get sore. Which, if nothing is done, can lead to more serious problems when they do change back."
Like a lot of centaur facts, Joe had learned this the hard way. Levon had come up limping after a run one morning. He could still remember the riot act that Maggie had read both of them when she had come out to treat Levon.
Levon had protested that he hadn't known it was serious. When he'd admitted that he was just used to his feet hurting, Maggie had literally cuffed him on the ear. She'd made him promise -- had Joe make him promise -- to spend enough time in centaur form that it didn't become a problem, and to darn well ask for a footrub when they hurt.
Ellison was staring at him again, dumbfounded. "Are you sure there isn't a manual I can pick up somewhere?"
Joe shook his head. "Sorry. If there is, nobody's told me."
"Maybe I should...." Jim trailed off, thinking. "Maybe I should just have him tell me everything. Sort it out later." He shook his head. "And I thought life was complicated before."
"Ah, you do know about the centaur memory, right? 'Everything' would be a lot."
Jim smirked. "It always was, with Blair. Ask a simple question and get a lecture on every culture in the history of mankind's relevant similarities. As long as I have a tape recorder going I'm okay." He grinned.
"Maybe you'll be able to write that manual then."
"Nah, I'll let Blair do it." Again a smile and distracted look appeared, as if Ellison were saying more than he were saying.
"Well, it would've been nice to have. Take the dominance thing for example." Joe watched Ellison stiffen at the reference. "I used to get myself wrapped up in knots over it all the time. I just kept thinking about how I'd react if somebody tried to give me an order. But for Levon, me ordering him around isn't a big deal. At least it's not as long as I do it. It's what he expects, it's what he needs me to do. Took me a long time to figure that one out."
"He doesn't have a problem with it? I think I can see why those girls would need that. But Levon? Can't he take care of himself?" Ellison sounded completely baffled. Joe could empathize.
"Of course he can. I wouldn't have him for my partner otherwise. But this instinct about dominance, it's hardwired into his brain. He can't change how he reacts."
This appeared to puzzle Ellison further. "If he can take care of himself... then how can it be hardwired? Wouldn't that be a contradiction?"
Again Joe took his time about answering, wanting to find just the right words. "Centaurs have a lot of skills and advantages that a human doesn't have. But they also have instincts and abilities that can be drawbacks in certain situations. They could get into a lot of trouble if they didn't have someone looking out for them, counteracting their instinctive response when it's required."
"Huh." Ellison stared at him. Slowly he added, "I guess that makes sense." Joe had the feeling Ellison understood exactly what he was saying.
"I hope so. Took me long enough to get it through my thick skull."
"So I wonder if..." he stopped, and looked rather uncomfortable. He suddenly put his mug down, and asked, "They should be here by now -- shall we go find them before Blair gets them kidnapped?"
"Is this a common problem with him?" Joe asked as he got to his feet and started for the door.
Jim sighed. "You have no idea."
"Guess he wouldn't hold still for you to attach a tracking device huh?"
Jim just smiled mysteriously.
Blair watched Jim's truck until it was out of sight, only then feeling his muscles start to relax.
The intensity of his reaction to Roffman had taken him totally by surprise. He'd never felt the need to challenge that strongly. If Jim hadn't pulled him off....
"If I see him again, he's dead," Levon said almost calmly. He was still tensed, and Blair knew if he let go, the stallion would likely take off after Roffman.
So he didn't let go.
He tried to calm down Levon with words. "I know how you feel," Boy, did he! "But we need him alive." The words didn't carry as much conviction as they usually would've, but it was the best he could manage considering his own feelings on the matter.
"I know. But if he even looks like he's going after my girls--" Levon cut himself off.
"I know, man. I know." What else could Blair say? If Roffman did go after the fillies again he knew there was no force that would stop Levon from going after him. 'And I'm not sure there's a force that'll be able to stop me either, if it comes to that.'
Levon finally looked at him. "You can let go now," he suggested. "I couldn't catch him now anyhow." He grinned slightly. "Not dressed."
Blair grinned back, relaxing even more as he let go of the other man.
Levon sighed, stepped back, and then paced a bit to work off the extra energy. He stopped once, shook his head, and then paced some more.
"Too much excess nervous energy, huh?" Blair was well aware of the phenomenon, suffering from it himself quite often.
"Yeah... had a hell of a time, lately." He glanced over. "Don't suppose Rustin's got a place nearby we could borrow?"
"No, but Jim says he's got a friend with some land we can use. We were planning on going out there when this case is over."
"Don't suppose...?" Levon was still fidgeting, but no longer pacing.
Blair grinned. "You can come along. I'll square it with Jim."
"Thanks. I'd appreciate it and I know Joe would too." Levon finally came to a stop and looked almost collected once more.
"I like Joe," Blair said. "He seems like a great guy."
Levon's smile said it all. Brilliant, warm, and delighted. "He is," was all he said. He continued grinning, almost foolishly, then ducked his head as if he realized how he looked.
Blair laughed. "Oh man, have you got it bad!"
Levon nodded. "Yeah. Reckon I do." He looked thoughtful for a moment, then just continued smiling. "It's nice, though. Being in love...."
Blair thought of Jim and felt his own mouth turning upwards into a fatuous grin. "Yeah," he agreed. "It is."
Levon smirked. "Thought so."
"Okay, so I've got it bad too!" He grinned good-naturedly. "There's worse things to be."
"Yeah... glad to see it's serious this time," Levon teased.
He shrugged. "We all got to grow up sometime," he said, making it sound like something to avoid at all costs.
"Uh-huh... that mean I should let Marilee know you're no longer interested?"
Blair felt himself blush, even as a tiny part of him began to worry over the implications of the statement. Surely the filly still wasn't... "She's not still waiting is she?" he asked, a certain panic hiding in his tone.
Levon laughed, sharply and delightedly. It was a moment before he shook his head. "Blair, she had a foal by Taylor two years ago. She's been busy chasing her own boy since."
"Oh." He paused. "Good."
"She named him Blair."
Again a short pause as the panic momentarily reasserted itself. "Oh," he said again. Marilee had really been a determined young filly when last he'd seen her.
"Doesn't look a thing like you, if it makes you feel better."
Levon had begun to slowly pace again. This time he didn't appear to be working off excess energy, he seemed merely to be wandering... the way full-bloods seemed to do, sometimes. Blair had never figured out why. Too much like horses, he'd once told his mother. Privately. She'd just laughed and looked pointedly at where he had been pacing as they'd talked.
Maybe he had more centaur blood in him than he liked to admit at times. Like now. Attacking Roffman like that. It was so off the curve of his normal reactions. But he hadn't been able to help himself. The second he'd laid eyes on the man he'd just seen red.
Then he'd stopped thinking altogether.
"Blair?" Levon interrupted his thoughts.
Levon looked slightly nervous as he asked, "You just told Jim a couple days ago?"
Shaking himself out of his mental meanderings Blair turned his attention to the conversation at hand. "Yeah. I had to, it was the only way he'd believe me about the fillies. Probably a good thing. I'm not sure how long I would've continued putting off telling him otherwise." He looked questioningly at Levon, wondering at the source of his nervousness. Not knowing what was making Levon nervous was making him nervous.
"You weren't gonna tell him, then?" Levon looked surprised, but not entirely so.
"Not exactly. I planned on telling him, even got as far a couple of times as 'Jim, there's something I have to tell you,' but I always chickened out in the end." He half smiled. "I was afraid he'd freak on me or something. And even though I knew he had a right to know, I just couldn't bring myself to say the words."
Levon nodded. He paced a bit more, surveying the parking lot around them, then asked, "Did he? Freak, I mean?"
Blair laughed. "A little. But not really. Actually I think he's still in shock. I keep expecting him to freak any day now."
"When I told Joe I expected him to pack up and leave. The relationship, and the partnership."
Ah. "But he didn't, did he?"
"No... wasn't until I found out his grandma had told him stories about centaurs when he was a kid that I realized why. He already sorta believed."
Blair nodded. "Jim didn't have any relatives telling him centaur stories but he's had some experience with stuff that's outside most people's knowledge. Or beliefs. I think that's one of the reasons he's as okay with it as he is."
"You think he's okay with it? Going to be once the shock wears off?"
"Yeah," he said after some serious thought. "I think so. As I said, Jim's used to weird." 'And he couldn't get much weirder than me!' he added to himself.
Levon just nodded. He still looked nervous, but when he spoke up again it was only to say, "Probably a good thing."
Blair nodded then ventured cautiously, "Is there something you wanted to ask me about this? Or talk about?"
"Humans are just... so hard to figure sometimes." Levon finally looked at him squarely. "Why is it folks like Joe, and Jim, accept it without so much as a by your leave, when others go completely to pieces?"
Eyes widening in sudden understanding Blair said, "Caroline."
Levon nodded and turned away. Pacing. "The second time Joe ever saw me change... he wanted to make love. Caroline couldn't stand the sight of me even in human form after she knew."
"That's rough man. No wonder you thought Joe would leave."
"I think I pushed him more that first week than I ever did the entire time we were just partners. He never left. Never threatened to leave, never stopped showing up... strange thing is I thought I loved Caroline as much as I did Joe, at first."
"Hard to love someone who's pushing you away," Blair observed. Then almost as an afterthought, thinking about the early days of his own relationship with Jim, when the sentinel had been doing all he could to keep him at arm's length, he added, "Real love can survive it though."
"Guess it's obvious she didn't really love me." Levon said it absently.
"Probably not," Blair said softly. "But are you sure you really loved her?"
"Thought I did. Until I fell in love with Joe." He shook his head in amazement. "It just don't compare."
Blair grinned. "That's your answer then."
"Yeah... now all I gotta do is hang onto him." Levon returned the grin suddenly. "Which doesn't look to be too hard. Though if we don't get going we're liable to be in some trouble." Levon paused, and teased, "One of us will, anyhow." He knew Blair didn't have to answer to Jim the way Levon did to Joe.
But Blair shook his head. "Both of us. If I don't let Jim yell at me when he's upset, he sulks."
That made Levon burst into laughter again. "You have to let him yell? Lord...." He suddenly stopped laughing, but continued grinning widely. "Hell, Joe near said the same thing to me. Told me to yell when I got angry... told me I could get angry when it was warranted."
"Expressing his anger has never been a problem of Jim's. Now, getting him to tell me when something is bothering him... that's what takes the work."
"Too bad you can't just tell him."
Blair laughed rather nervously. "Man, you want to talk about something that will freak him..."
Levon raised an eyebrow, confused. The confusion gave way to surprise. "He doesn't know?"
A nervous smile pasted on his face, Blair shook his head mutely.
"Oh gods, Blair... what are you gonna do when he finds out? Or do you think you can hide this from him, too?"
Oddly, Levon didn't sound upset. Just confused. As if he understood the benefit of keeping that particular piece of information quiet.
"It's worked so far," Blair replied weakly. He knew he should tell Jim, that there was no justification for keeping silent, other than his own fear of the outcome.
"When I told Joe, he freaked. Nearly lost him a couple times, I think. Didn't want to be dominant."
Blair nodded. "Humans have problems understanding about it sometimes. Though if that was the case with Jim I think we'd be okay. He has this whole protector-take-care-of-Blair thing happening."
Levon grinned. "I noticed. You don't seem to mind."
"I don't. It's such a part of him, he couldn't stop if he tried. And..." Blair smiled, looking a bit embarrassed, "it's nice to have someone worry about you sometimes without having to let them dominate you." A shrug. "Must be my human blood."
"Huh." Levon regarded him. "Must be," he finally agreed. He glanced at the car, and repeated, "Think we could head on to the station before Joe's after my tail?" "I thought you liked him after your tail," Blair teased but started for the car nonetheless.
"Depends what he wants it for," Levon replied. "Don't like having him looking for me 'cause he's worried."
Blair sobered at that, thinking of Jim. "Yeah, I know the feeling," he muttered then slipped behind the wheel of his car. "Come on. Let's go before they decide to put an APB out on us."
Jim was about ready to start pacing -- like Joe had begun doing two minutes before. Blair and Levon hadn't shown up yet. They'd gone down to the parking garage in case Levon had been unable to come upstairs, but the Volvo was nowhere to be found.
Jim had checked the area as thoroughly as he could without risking a zone-out, and Blair was nowhere to be found. Jim told himself that he'd been kidding when he'd said Blair might get kidnapped.
Finally, just when he was on the verge of climbing in his truck and going looking, he heard the distinctive sound of the Volvo's engines coming this way. He noticed LaFiamma look at him strangely as he relaxed and turned expectantly to the garage's entrance.
A few minutes later Blair pulled into the garage. Jim heard his partner whisper, "Oh hell... we're too late." Then his voice rose slightly as he spoke to Lundy, "Prepare to get yelled at, Levon."
But when Blair and Levon climbed rather shamed-facedly out of the car all Joe did was look his partner over thoroughly then ask in a quiet intent voice, "You okay?"
"Yeah, we're fine. Didn't mean to take so long." He grinned at Joe. "Got to talking."
Jim, meanwhile, was eyeing Blair. He didn't appear to have been kidnapped, threatened, or even had the wind blow on him too hard. He narrowed his eyes. "Stop for coffee on the way?"
Blair gave that nervous half laugh of his. "Sorry Jim. We kinda needed the time to talk ourselves down. Didn't mean to worry you."
He hadn't realized they would need the downtime, but as Blair said it, Jim realized he understood. All that adrenaline had to go somewhere, and it didn't go all at once. He reached out, tapped Blair on the cheek and found the reassurance he needed. Blair was fine.
"We've got Roffman upstairs. Should be ready for questioning." Jim looked over at Lundy.
Lundy just shrugged. "Hell, we work on the third floor most of the time. Should be fine."
"If you're sure, cowboy." LaFiamma still looked worried.
Levon shrugged again, and it looked to Jim like he was tired of being the one keeping them from their work. "If it ain't, I'll say so," Levon told his partner mildly.
It was strange to see how Levon deferred to Joe, even when it sounded on the surface as if he were not. Jim wondered if it was intentional, to let it appear as if Joe weren't totally in charge.
"Come on, Jim," Blair said, bouncing on the balls of his feet beside him. "Let's get this show on the road, already."
"All right," Jim conceded. He led the group back towards the elevators, then glanced over.
Levon grinned. "Mind if we take the stairs just in case?"
"Stairs it is," Joe said, heading for the stairwell. Glancing at Jim and Blair he added, "You two can take the elevator if you want, we'll meet you up there -- seventh floor right?"
Jim shrugged. "That's okay." He didn't want to explain how he'd know if they had to turn around if he and Blair were in the elevator. He ignored the look Blair gave him, and patted him on the shoulder. "You can use the exercise, Chief."
"Remind me to challenge you to a race sometime," Blair told him, a wicked glint in his eyes. "Then we'll see who needs the exercise."
"I thought I was going to get to ride," Jim said as he followed Blair up the stairs, two steps behind, so he could pinch anything that needed it.
Blair grinned. "Yeah, you will, when I have to carry your exhausted carcass back to the truck," he said, then with a burst of speed began running up the stairs, well out of Jim's reach.
Luckily for Jim he could keep his other senses as fully trained on his lover as he could with his sense of touch when Blair was nearby. He grinned, saw Joe grinning at him, and continued up at a slower rate.
Levon didn't appear to be having any trouble, though Jim noticed Joe was staying right next to him.
"Kid's fast," Joe noted idly, as the sounds of Blair's footsteps echoed down the stairwell.
"What'd you expect?" Levon asked. Jim noted that he sounded calm, as well. Maybe he'd gotten over his trip on the plane, as he'd said.
"He's faster than you," Joe pointed out.
Levon grinned. "You ain't never seen me run."
"What were we doing last month when we were chasing that murder suspect? Waltzing?"
"I meant without my boots on."
"You mean a born and bred Texan like yourself would actually voluntarily go without his boots? Not counting when you have hooves."
"'Course not," Levon gave him a friendly frown. "That's my point."
Jim noticed that Blair had stopped two flights up, and hid his smile as his lover whispered down to him.
"You want a real workout Jim, I'll give you one when we get home." Blair then proceeded to elaborate on exactly what said workout would entail. Jim stumbled and had to grab the railing to save himself when Blair started talking about where he was going to put the honey that was in the fridge.
When Joe glanced over he just gave the man a blank look. Jim promised himself to hold Blair to the promises he was making.
They all made it up to the seventh floor without incident. Jim casually monitored Lundy's vital signs and found no hint of the panic the other man had displayed the day before.
He wasn't the only one checking Lundy out, he noticed; LaFiamma was practically glued to the man's side, eyes scanning his partner's face for any hint of a problem. As they stepped out of the stairwell, Lundy looked around. After a moment he looked back at Joe. "It's all right, Joe," he said very quietly.
Jim glared at his own partner for trying to distract him (and mostly succeeding), but it just bounced right off.
"So, we need to check in with Simon first or do we just go shakedown Roffman now?" Blair asked.
"I say you check in with Simon first," said Captain Banks. Jim just grinned as his partner reacted to Simon's voice behind him.
Blair jumped and spun, shooting Jim a dirty look before smiling at the Captain. "Hi Simon," he said brightly. "Guess you heard we caught Roffman, huh?"
"I heard," Simon had dryly. "You four going to question him?"
"We were on our way now," Jim spoke up. "Did you want to sit in on it, sir?"
Blair tensed and shook his head 'no' minutely, his gaze flicking to Levon, a mute reminder why that might not be the best suggestion.
Jim rested his hand on Blair's back briefly. He knew Simon shouldn't be there, but the only way to keep him from showing up unexpectedly halfway through was to either have him there from the beginning or not at all. And if he said yes, they could send Blair and Levon to check the computer for information on... something.
Fortunately Simon shook his head. "I'm headed up to see the Chief. Let me know what you find out."
"Will do, Simon."
They watched the Captain get on the elevator. Blair let out a sigh of relief when the doors closed. "That was close," he muttered.
"Nah. If he'd said yes, I would have just let you talk him out of it," Jim smiled at Blair.
He wondered if a foot rub would get him out of the trouble the look Blair gave him seemed to indicate he was getting himself into.
"Let's go get this interrogation started," Joe said quickly, just as Blair opened his mouth to say something else.
The police observer glanced at Joe and Levon, then nodded. "Sounds good," he agreed.
It didn't take long for them to get set up in interrogation room #4. Roffman was brought up, and Jim took Blair aside. "Are you and Levon going to watch from the other room?" He nodded towards the observation room.
Blair started to shake his head "No" but one glance at Levon seemed to change his mind. "Yeah, guess we better," he sighed.
Joe was also looking intently at his partner. "You going to be okay with that?"
"Sure," Levon said easily. "Don't figure on killing him here, anyhow. Too many witnesses." He winked, making anyone who overheard believe he was only joking.
"As long as you save some for me," Blair chimed in, in the same joking tone. Jim could see his eyes were serious though.
"Come on," Jim said to Joe. He hoped they could get some answers out of Roffman without any trouble. He knew the two centaurs wouldn't sit still very long, and if Roffman didn't cooperate....
It could get ugly.
Joe nodded, and followed him into the interrogation room. They found Roffman sitting in the chair, the guard behind him. Roffman glared as they came in -- Jim noticed the way his heart rate sped up then slowed as he realised who hadn't entered.
Jim casually went over and leaned against the wall next to the large one-way mirror. Blair was right on the other side. Jim felt the heat of his hand touch the mirror briefly.
Joe also glanced at the mirror for a moment before telling the guard they could take it from there. The guard nodded and left.
"So, Roffman. When'd you start employing kids?" Jim asked easily.
Roffman didn't answer. He just kept staring stoically straight ahead, making a large show out of ignoring the two detectives.
"Don't be this way, Roffman." Jim walked over and leaned on the table. "I don't want to clean up the mess."
"You can't do nothing to me," Roffman answered. "I have the right to remain silent, remember? He-" he nodded in Joe's direction, "- pointed that out rather forcefully."
"Yeah, like you've ever listened to anything a cop's asked you to do before," Joe snorted.
"You can remain silent," Jim agreed. "But I can't guarantee you'll enjoy it." He was keeping an ear on the two centaurs. They both seemed basically calm so far. "I think you'll be much happier if you tell us what you know."
Roffman spread his hands. "I don't know anything."
"That's too bad." Jim shook his head. He leaned closer, and lowered his voice. "I would hate to see you not make it to your trial."
"Yeah," Joe chimed in. "You never know what kind of accident might happen to you, if you're not careful."
"So why don't you save us the trouble of trying to keep you alive?" Jim asked, and was pleased to notice Roffman's reaction. It was slight, but there. "Harper," Jim repeated.
"I told you. I don't know him."
Joe made a show of sitting on the edge of the table with a weary sigh. "You're really not letting us make this easy on you."
"You think we should just let Lundy and Sandburg question him?" Jim asked LaFiamma. He hoped Roffman believed he was perfectly willing to do so, since he was but figured he ought not. "Yeah, might as well," Joe replied, looking at the floor. "Looks like the blood stains should be easy to clean up in here afterwards."
Roffman's eyes got bigger and bigger as he listened. "You can't do that!" he protested.
Jim looked at him in surprise. "It's not like we have a choice, Roffman. You're no good to us unless you know something about Harper. Might as well let our partners have some fun." He grinned, as if the idea pleased him.
"Yeah," Joe agreed. "Lundy's gonna be hell to live with if he doesn't get this out of his system."
Roffman by now was making funny little strangling noises. Jim glanced over at him, but spoke to Joe. "Blair's the same. Paces all night and keeps the neighbors awake, ranting...." He heard Blair stifling a laugh.
"Might as well let them have this scumbag then. If we're not going to get information out of him, at least we can let our partners work out their frustrations." Joe got up and headed for the door.
"What?" Jim glared at him.
"You can't let them in here! They'll kill me!"
"Yeah, probably," Joe agreed. "Though if you scream loud enough maybe they'll stop at maiming." He turned towards the door again...
"All right! I'll talk!" Roffman yelled, then slumped in his chair and repeated in quieter, defeated tones, "I'll talk."
Jim folded his arms across his chest. "Then talk."
He heard a very muffled "Damn," from Blair. He glanced through the mirror at his lover, wondering if Blair were joking.
Joe moved back over and again perched on the edge of the table. "Harper," he said.
"Yeah, I know him."
"Where is he?" Jim asked.
"I don't know."
"What do you know?"
Roffman took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "He owns a shipping company -- Exotic Trade."
"So?" Jim pretended not to care. They could check out the company, but if Roffman knew anything more they had to get it now before he decided he wasn't in any actual danger.
"He uses it for smuggling. Importing drugs and exporting..." he trailed off.
"Exporting what?" Joe demanded.
"People, okay? He exports people."
Joe's eyes narrowed. "You talking slavery?"
"I don't know -- I guess so. Look, all I know is that he gives me a list of certain characteristics he's looking for and he pays me if I can deliver people that meet them." The man didn't sound like he particularly cared about any of it except the "pays me" part.
Jim had Roffman by the shirt, staring him in the face. In the other room the centaurs had reacted equally violently; what was preventing them from coming into the room was beyond him. Jim didn't care. He was going to tear Roffman apart, himself. "Those names the girls gave us. People who've disappeared over the last three months... you sold them?" Roffman just stared back at him, eyes wide and terrified. Jim heard Blair talking to him, softly, calmly.
"Rip his fingers off first," his Guide was advising him. "You might want to squeeze his throat a bit harder too, so he can't scream."
It wasn't how he expected Blair to calm him down, but it worked. He tossed Roffman back into the chair, not caring when the man fell over it to the floor.
Joe bent down and just as casually picked Roffman back up. "Where do you deliver the people to?" he asked in a quiet threatening voice, all the more the menacing for its lack of volume.
"W-warehouse," Roffman stuttered, so terrified he was shaking. "On 9th str-street. 8798 9th Street!"
Jim glanced at LaFiamma. "We'll check it out." He looked back at Roffman. "Anything else you'd like to add?"
But Roffman seemed beyond coherent speech. Joe let go of him and he slid back down to the floor, curling into a small ball and keeping a wary eye on the two detectives.
"Guess not," Joe said with a shrug.
Jim went and knocked on the door; the guard came in, eyeing Roffman quizzically. He didn't say anything, and Jim simply pushed past him to rejoin Blair.
Blair was waiting in the hallway with Levon, practically vibrating with anger, but he was still in control of himself, more or less. Levon on the other hand...
He had slammed into Joe, eyes on Roffman as the man was taken away. Jim realized immediately that LaFiamma was going to have trouble holding him back and grabbed onto Lundy's arm.
"Calm down!" Joe was telling his partner but the words didn't seem to have much effect as Lundy lunged forward again, managing to drag both Joe and Jim several steps.
This seemed to bring Blair out of his own rage as he, too, grabbed onto Lundy to help hold him back. "Get him out of line of sight," he advised, then nodded at the door to the observation room still standing open. "There."
Between the three of them they managed to drag Levon into the room and shut the door. Removing Roffman from Levon's line of sight didn't have an immediate effect. He continued to struggle to get past the three, unable to do so and not hearing a word any of them said. Jim managed to get a better grip, as did Blair, and between them they were able to prevent Lundy from breaking for the door.
Joe meanwhile was holding Levon's face between his hands, making his partner look directly at him, while he continued a long soliloquy of meaningless words. Jim realized with a start that it was the same tone a person would use trying to soothe a spooked horse.
It seemed to work just as well on centaurs because as Joe spoke, slowly, gradually, Levon began to calm down.
It was, Jim told himself, a little weird. No weirder than a Guide talking his Sentinel out of freaking, he admitted a second later. But still something to get used to. He had a moment to wonder when his life had dropped into the Twilight Zone and when it was going to drop him back out.
Finally Jim detected the relaxation in Levon's tensed muscles and heard the changed tone in Joe's voice. "You back with us?" Joe asked, searching his partner's face carefully.
There was a moment of silence, then Levon said, "Yeah."
Neither Jim nor Blair let go. Joe stared at him for another long searching moment, then relaxed. "You can let him go," he said to the two men still holding Levon. Jim stepped back; after a brief hesitation Blair did likewise.
For a moment they simply stood there, waiting. Then Jim said, "We have to check out the address Roffman gave us." He wondered if it was a good idea to take the two centaurs -- he and LaFiamma couldn't handle them going insane and look for Harper.
"Yeah," Joe replied, his eyes still on Levon.
"We going to wait for the search warrant to come through?" Blair asked. "Or...?"
Jim gave Blair a brief look. "We'd better get the warrant just in case we find something." Something we want to admit to finding, that was. "Why don't you," he included the three of them as he spoke, "see what you can find out about Exotic Trade while I talk to Simon."
Blair nodded. "Sounds like a plan." He glanced at the other two then turned back to Jim adding in a serious tone, "Don't even think of about ditching us and going over there on your own."
"Chief!" Jim protested. Granted the thought hadn't occurred to him... 'til now. Lundy suddenly grinned and said to Blair, "Why don't I go with Jim? You know he won't take off with me, by his lonesome."
Blair was grinning at the expression on Jim's face. "Yeah," he agreed. "You I can trust."
Jim gave his partner a wounded look. Forget about the foot rub, he told himself. "Come on, then," he told Lundy, giving the man -- er, centaur -- a half-smile to let him know it wasn't personal.
Levon looked briefly at Joe, then followed Jim out of the room.
Jim kept tabs on his partner as they headed for the elevators; Blair was taking Joe back towards their desk, already jabbering a-mile-a- minute about the last time Jim had done something similar. He rolled his eyes; it wasn't fair, he wasn't even there to defend himself.
Levon followed his gaze and then smiled ruefully. "Reckon they're trading stories."
"Yeah," Jim agreed. "As long as they don't trade too many." He grinned, and from Levon's expression he knew Levon agreed.
When the elevator doors opened and they stepped on, Jim said nothing. He did check everything there was to check about a person's state of mind. If a centaur was anything like a human, Lundy was a little excited.
That could be easily explained by Roffman, though.
The doors closed and the elevator started moving. Beside him Levon fidgeted, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "You know the worst thing about elevators," he began conversationally, "is there's no room to pace."
"Sorry; guess we should have taken the stairs." He'd assumed Lundy would have said something before they'd stepped on if it was going to be a problem. He could hear Blair's reply to that assumption, however. He winced.
Fortunately it was only two flights up; it wasn't long before the doors opened and they stepped out again. Jim headed down the hallway, having caught Simon's voice coming from one of the conference rooms.
Levon followed; Jim could hear his sigh of relief as they left the elevator behind them. He gave himself a little Blairesque kick and reminded himself to take the stairs back down. It appeared that centaurs could be as high-maintenance as spirit guides.
They found the conference door shut, and from the sound of it Simon was just winding up his pitch. If they interrupted now, chances were they'd lose the extra funding Simon was asking for -- and Jim didn't want to be the one responsible for that.
He held up a hand, indicating they would have to wait a minute. Fortunately Simon could be heard through the door at normal levels so he didn't have to worry about Lundy asking what they were waiting for.
Levon nodded, leaning back casually against the wall. They waited in mutual silence for a few minutes before Levon shifted uncomfortably. "About what happened downstairs..." he began.
Jim shook his head. "Forget it." It wasn't like he didn't understand about being out of control.
It was apparent Levon wasn't willing to just let it drop. "That's not a usual thing with me when I'm working. Usually I can keep my job and what I am separate." He shrugged. "This case though..."
"The girls make that much of a difference?"
Levon nodded. "I'm responsible for them. Anybody threatens them and..." He grinned humorlessly. "Well, you've seen what happens."
"Like they were your own." He looked at Lundy, curiously. "What about when you... give them to Taylor?"
"I'll be extremely relieved."
The comment surprised him. As fiercely as Lundy had taken to being the fillies' protector, or whatever they called it, he would have thought it would have been difficult to just hand them over to someone else. Unless it wasn't like a human being responsible for a child, becoming a parent suddenly and unexpectedly -- the analogy he'd finally settled on to explain the situation to himself.
Levon had been watching him shrewdly. "That surprises you."
"I thought... I guess I misunderstood what it was all about. Your being responsible for them."
Simon was still talking to the Chief, trying to convince him to add just one more thing to the budget requests. One of those one more things was a desk for Blair, equipped with a computer, printer, and modem. Jim stayed out in the hall.
Levon nodded. "Joe had a hard time understanding the way it worked at first too."
"So how does it work? If I can ask?"
"It's because we're basically herd animals, I think. Everything is looked at with a herd mentality."
"So... that means you can hand off the girls to someone else? And it doesn't matter to you or them?" Jim didn't have a clue what Lundy meant.
"It matters but not in the way you're thinking. The best place for those fillies is in a herd. Taylor's is one of the best." Levon grinned suddenly. "And I'm not just saying that because he's my father."
Jim wondered if a chart would help. Maybe he could get Blair to sit down and explain centaur kin groups and family structure to him. "So you're saying they have to be in a family and it doesn't matter if it's you, or Taylor, who's in charge of it?"
"As long as it's someone who can look after them. They'd be better off with Taylor though. I'd make a lousy head stallion." Lundy sounded matter-of-fact.
Jim was about to ask why when he realized Simon was about to come out. He looked towards the door; Simon stepped out and caught sight of them.
"Find something?" he asked.
"An address. We need a warrant," Jim explained. He gave Simon the relevant information -- heavily edited, the way Simon liked it.
"All right," Simon finally said. "I'll make some phone calls and get you the warrant ASAP. Just don't get carried away, Jim, okay?"
"Why does everyone say that?" It wasn't like he was the one trying to kill anybody. This time.
"Past experience?" Simon guessed.
Jim just glowered. "We'll be downstairs," he said, and gave Lundy a nudge towards the stairs at the opposite end of the hallway.
Simon frowned. "What's wrong with the elevators?"
"Too loud," Jim said and hurried past.
Levon gave him a quizzical look as they started down the stairs but refrained from saying anything.
Jim hoped they caught Harper, soon. It was hard to hide when you were working a case with someone. Despite what Blair said, he was not going to tell anyone about being a Sentinel. Even if they were a centaur, and a centaur's partner.
Could life get any stranger?
The search warrant was quickly obtained, and a task force to execute it just as quickly assembled. Part of Joe wished that the latter hadn't been necessary, that they could've taken the place down themselves but his common sense overrode that thought. A warehouse that big with a criminal this ruthless, there was no telling how many men might be inside. Or how well armed.
He just hoped that there wouldn't be any more centaur freakouts to have to explain away. The thought made him glance over at his partner; Levon seemed perfectly fine so far, all cool and business. He only hoped he stayed that way.
Levon walked over and nodded at him, running his hand through his hair before replacing his hat. Joe realized it made his partner stand out - - in a sea of blue baseball caps, the black cowboy hat was a visual oddity. Visual oddities made good targets.
'You can take the centaur out of Texas,' he thought with amusement, 'but you can't take the Texas out of the centaur.' Levon gave him a brief look of outrage as Joe reached over and removed the hat. "Not sure this is the time you want to be standing out," Joe explained.
"Thought you were gonna tell me it was rude," Levon said, grinning.
"Well, busting into a place with guns drawn isn't exactly the height of manners either."
Ellison and Sandburg walked over, Ellison dressed in the same flak jacket as the other cops. Sandburg had only a kevlar vest. "You two will be riding with Johnson and Myers," Ellison explained, nodding towards two men. "When we arrive we four will be taking the main offices while the rest of the team sweeps the warehouse."
Joe nodded. "Sounds good. We're going now?"
"If you two are ready?"
"As we'll ever be." He tossed Levon's hat in through the open window of the car. "Let's do it." He was pleased to notice his aim was nearly perfect -- the hat landed upside-down. Too much practice, he supposed. Though taking off his husband's hat usually meant better things than heading into a shoot-out.
The drive to the warehouse was short and tense. They arrived silently, no sirens or lights to alert their suspects. They parked just out of sight of the front doors; uniformed men and women gathered, then scattered like well-trained soldiers.
Joe took up his appointed position, Levon right beside him. He glanced over and saw Jim taking up the position opposite, Blair a step behind him, lightly resting his hand on Jim's back. For reassurance? Joe wasn't sure, but it felt like there was something more to it than that.
As he watched, Ellison seemed to concentrate on something. He said something to Blair, then spoke into the radio. "Go."
The first wave of officers headed for the doors, the others covering them from protected positions. Joe and Levon were in the second group. When the man at the door ducked inside, followed quickly by a second and third, the rest began to move forward.
There were shouts of surprise from inside, followed by police orders being yelled. But no shots rang out.
In a surprisingly short time they had the main part of the warehouse secured and were fanning out to check the other areas. As designated, Joe and Levon headed for the offices along with Jim and Blair.
The offices were quickly emptied of their staff. Officers rounded a few men up and took them away, leaving the three detectives and Blair to search the office. Levon put his pistol away and joined Blair digging through the papers while Ellison remained on guard near the outer door and Joe kept an eye on the rear door.
"Jackpot!" Blair cried, holding up a thick wad of files. "Man, you gotta love a criminal who keeps such neat records!"
"What have you got, Chief?" Ellison asked, not deterring from his patrol through the front offices.
Blair smiled in triumph. "A listing of an unspecified shipping of merchandise, dates and quantities matching what Roffman told us. This is a record of where he shipped those people off to."
"Where'd he send them?" Levon asked, still shuffling through a stack of files on another desk.
"There's a variety of destinations but mostly to the far and Middle East."
Levon suddenly asked, as he held up a file, "Shipped any to an outfit called "East-West Trade Service Incorporated"?"
"Let me check..." Blair flipped through the papers. "Yeah, about three quarters in several different countries."
"Got 'em." Levon brought over the folder. "East-West has been shipping back certain inventory in payment for those people. The DEA says that inventory is usually heroin."
"That just about puts the last nail in the coffin," Joe agreed. He was dividing his attention between standing guard and what Levon and Blair were doing.
"Just one problem," Levon said.
"No Harper," Blair finished.
"There's no sign of him in the warehouse," Ellison said to Blair, then glanced very quickly towards Joe and Levon.
"How can you be so sure?" Joe asked. "They might turn up something yet."
Ellison taped the radio's earpiece. "They'd have said something if they'd found him."
Joe saw Levon shoot him a look of disbelief, but his partner didn't say anything.
"He could still be hiding somewhere," Joe protested.
Just then they all heard the report from the Myers, the second-in- command. "Warehouse is clear, Detective Ellison. Everyone's been rounded up. No sign of your Harper, though."
Joe looked at Ellison, eyes narrowed in speculation. There was something going on with the man, he was sure. The bland look Jim had assumed did nothing to dampen his suspicions.
"So now what? Issue a warrant for Harper's arrest and hope he turns up?" Levon asked.
"We'll track him down," Blair said, sounding confident.
"Hope so. Otherwise our Lieutenant may not let us come home," Levon grinned.
Joe nodded. "Looks like we might be around to meet your mother after all," he said with a sigh.
They had returned to the station and appeased Simon with both arrests of Harper's goons and the shipping manifests, inventories, and purchase orders. The paperwork had made the captain a pleased man until Jim admitted they hadn't caught Harper.
After being told unnecessarily to catch him already, the four were back in the parking garage, trying to decide what else they could do.
"He's got to be somewhere," Blair was saying. "Maybe we should go over the warehouse again for clues." The look he shot Jim made it clear he meant using sentinel abilities. Jim ignored him.
Joe shook his head. "We've been over that warehouse with a fine- toothed comb. There's nothing there."
"Well do you have a better idea?" Blair asked bluntly.
"Not right now," he said. "Except for food."
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Levon agreed.
"I could eat," Blair admitted.
"That surprises me," Jim grinned. "Ow," he added a moment later.
"Any 'eat like a horse' comments and you'll be sleeping on the couch tonight," Blair warned, grinning slightly as Jim rubbed his side where Blair had just jabbed him with an elbow.
"So where do you want to go?" Jim asked. He got an unexpected image in his mind of roping Blair, and missed the first answer Blair gave.
"Sounds good to me," Joe replied, looking interested, while Levon merely looked resigned.
"That okay with you, Jim?" Blair asked in his most innocent voice, making Jim wonder suspiciously just where his partner had suggested.
"Yeah, that's fine," he said absently. He was rewarded with such a bright smile that he knew it had to be a place he hated.
Blair was heading towards his Volvo, and for once Jim was glad he wasn't allowed behind its wheel. Asking where they were going would only lead to his eventually confessing to his thoughts. He didn't want to know what Blair thought about being tied up... in front of witnesses.
He might ask once they were home alone.
Jim blinked, and found he'd mini-zoned again. The soft chuckle from his partner beside him told him that it hadn't gone unnoticed this time. He glanced over and gave a tiny shrug. At least he wasn't zoning on something stupid, like the bouncing end of a pencil, which Rafe had been flipping against the desk as he worked. It seemed to Jim that sometimes these so-called gifts of heightened senses picked the dumbest things to find interesting.
Blair turned down a side street and Jim had to suppress a groan when he finally figured out where they were heading. No wonder Blair had smiled so brightly at his agreement! No matter -- it would be good for Blair to think he'd agreed intentionally, and he could eat again later, at home.
"What does this place serve, anyhow?" Levon asked as Blair headed into a parking lot.
"Vietnamese vegetarian. Best place on the West Coast for it!"
Jim noted that Levon looked less than enthusiastic at this pronouncement. Jim tried to catch Blair's eye and suggest that maybe their guests would prefer something else, but his partner was already heading for the door. He was bouncing excitedly, introducing them to the hostess as she greeted them and extolling the virtues of various dishes.
As Jim watched, he decided that seeing Blair like this was worth starving for another hour. Levon had, on the other hand, sent his own partner a pitiful look.
Joe looked remarkably unmoved by that. "You know that doesn't work for Boots either," he told his partner.
Levon shrugged. "Had to try. This way when they feed me sprouts and celery I can say I told you so."
The hostess showed them to a table near a wall, away from the main part of the dining crowd. Jim sat down and picked up the menu. It hadn't changed. He sighed and closed it again, deciding, as usual, to let Blair order for them both. Jim had no idea what he would end up with -- but at least with Blair ordering it wouldn't be too spicy, or too salty, or too... anything.
"You recommend anything?" Levon asked Blair.
"Twenty-seven and thirty-two are my favorites," Blair replied pointing out the numbered items. "Number five is pretty good too."
"What about nineteen?" Joe asked perusing the menu with interest.
Blair shrugged. "Never tried it but everything I have tried is good so..."
Levon was reading the descriptions of the dishes. Finally he gave up and put the menu on the table. "Don't know what half of these things are anyhow," he said.
"That's the whole point, cowboy, to try something new. Come on, Levon," Joe cajoled. "Live dangerously. Eat something that's not barbecued for a change."
Levon suddenly grinned. "That mean I can't have the barbecued tempeh?"
Joe looked startled for a few seconds then shook his head, laughing. "Trust you to find the barbecue on any menu..."
"You know what tempeh is, Lundy?" Jim felt compelled to ask.
Levon nodded. "Yeah... it ain't meat, but it's close enough."
"Least it's barbecued," Joe teased.
"Damn straight," Lundy agreed.
Somehow during all this Blair had managed to place two orders. The waitress went to take Joe's and Levon's orders, and Jim nodded his thanks to Blair. Blair just grinned at him knowingly.
"So this friend of yours... will he lets us come out and use his place?" Levon asked once the waitress had moved on.
Jim nodded. "I have a standing invitation."
"You mind if we head out there tonight?" Levon continued at the surprised looks he got -- and the concerned one from Joe -- "I wanna get the fillies outta the hotel," he explained.
Jim shrugged. "It's fine, far as I know. Adam's out of town until next month anyhow. Won't be any witnesses."
Blair grinned. "Even better."
It took him a moment, but then Jim realized why Blair was grinning. He smiled slowly. The prospect of going riding with Blair... made him nervous.
Across the table he watched as the other two grinned and exchanged conspiratorial looks. "So," Joe began casually, "anybody feel like an after-dinner ride?"
Levon laughed. Jim wondered if, as well as controlling his senses, he could learn to control the blood flow to his face.
Concluded in part four.
Due to length, this story has been split into four parts.
Single White Fillies
By James Walkswithwind and Wolfling
Author's homepage: http://www.jbx.com/~gila/hks.html
Authors' notes and disclaimer can be found in part one.
Single White Fillies - part four
A Houston Knights/The Sentinel Alternate Universe
By James Walkswithwind and Wolfling
"Man, this place is great!"
Jim watched as Blair looked around the ranch property, seemingly trying to see everything at once, even resorting to spinning in place.
It was huge, wide-open spaces in-between long expanses of forest. It was relaxing. Out here he didn't have to keep such a tight control over his senses. Letting them open, he could hear the animals throughout the area, see the clouds and birds high up in the sky in fine detail, smell the rich earth and.... He reined in his sense of smell.
No point in invading their guests' privacy.
"You sure we're alone out here?" Blair asked, practically dancing on the spot, he was fidgeting so much.
"I'm certain, Chief. No one but us--" he stopped, and added quietly, "For miles."
A huge smile split Blair's face. "Great!" He began undressing.
Jim just watched. He was aware that Lundy and LaFiamma were off a short distance, and he could hear the four girls laughing and talking.
Clothes went flying in all directions and then Blair was standing there naked. He grinned at Jim, winked and then changed.
It was slightly less weird, this time. At least his senses didn't insist that Blair had been replaced with a horse. When Blair was standing before him, fully changed, Jim walked forward and brushed his hand down his partner's back.
"Forgot your tail," Levon called out.
"What?!" Blair jumped and twisted around frantically to look, only relaxing when he had spotted said appendage, right where it was supposed to be. "Ha ha," he said, scowling at Levon. "Very funny."
Levon chuckled again, and said quickly, "Keep telling you, you can't forget anything, boy." Levon -- in centaur form, Jim suddenly realized -- walked over. "You do fine."
Jim, however, was still glaring at Levon.
Joe, who had followed his partner over, raised an eyebrow challengingly at Jim. "Got a problem?" he asked, an edge of threat to his voice.
It felt silly to voice -- like being on the playground again in first grade. He said it anyway, to Levon. "Was that necessary?"
Levon shrugged. "Boy's gonna learn to lighten up about it sooner or later. He's too skittish about the whole thing." The look he sent Blair wasn't apologetic, but it wasn't threatening either.
"It's okay, Jim," Blair told him, laying a hand on his arm. "Levon's right. I really am a bit too jumpy about the whole thing. I know it's silly."
Jim scowled again for good measure. "And making you jumpier helps?"
"You're more upset about this than I am," Blair observed, sounding surprised.
Jim shrugged, surprised a little himself that Blair should comment on it. Maybe he still didn't like that Levon knew a lot more about his partner that he did.
Levon was about to comment again, when he turned his head as one of the fillies called. "Excuse me," he told them, and trotted over.
Joe eyed them for a moment, then followed.
"It was just a joke, Jim," Blair said after a moment of watching his partner. "Not an attack. Levon didn't mean anything by it."
Jim sighed. "Yeah. I guess you're right." He looked up. "I guess I'm just a bit jumpy myself."
"Still trying to get used to all this, huh?" Blair gave him an understanding smile.
"Hey, Ellison?" Levon called over. "How far does your friend's land go?"
"About seven miles in all directions but that one," he pointed. "Goes nearly ten that way."
Levon nodded, and spoke to the fillies. Jim heard him tell them they could run wherever they liked, as long as they stayed a good mile from each border, and to meet them back here in an hour.
"So," he said to Blair. "I ride bareback?"
Blair looked startled for a second then grinned brightly. "Yeah. That's not a problem is it?"
"No... as long as you stand still while I mount up."
Behind them, Joe had already gotten astride Levon's back and they were discussing whether to wait for them, or head off on their own. Joe looked totally at ease astride his partner, as if it was just a normal everyday thing. Actually, maybe for them it was, Jim thought as he turned his attention to his own partner who held out a hand to help boost Jim onto his back. With a bit of trepidation, Jim took it and swung astride as smoothly as he could manage. He blinked as he found himself settled on Blair's back. Then he realized he was in a perfect position; he reached out and began playing with the curls that were running wild across Blair's shoulders.
Blair sighed contentedly and leaned into the touch.
Jim heard a low chuckle and turned to find both Joe and Levon grinning at them. "Remind me to tell you about the power of brushes," Joe told him.
Jim could feel the tensing and trembling in Blair's muscles as he shivered at the words. "Oh man," he breathed. "Do you know how long it's been?"
"Too long?" Jim asked, wondering what brushes had to do with anything... unless LaFiamma meant curry combs. He considered the long, horsehair-covered body beneath him. Yeah, that might feel good, at that.
"Waaay too long," Blair replied with enthusiasm.
"We'll have to come out here again," Jim promised. Blair wasn't the only one who was enjoying this. The outdoors, so far away from the city noises, was like a balm. He was relaxing from tension he hadn't realized he'd had.
"That reminds me," Levon spoke up. "Would it be all right if the fillies stayed out here until we're ready to take 'em back to Texas?"
Jim wasn't sure if the question was being directed to him, or to Joe. It was Blair, however, who answered. "This place would do them good. Your friend won't mind would he, Jim?"
"Nah, he wouldn't. We'll need to stock up on groceries - I doubt he has anything but canned stuff ten years old."
Blair was walking around, and Jim found himself already adjusting. It had been a few years since he'd ridden regularly, but apparently he hadn't forgotten everything. He wasn't quite ready yet to suggest they run, however, as he'd never done this before without a saddle.
Levon had fallen into step beside Blair as they started out in the opposite direction that the fillies had taken.
"How you doing?" Joe asked as the centaurs picked up their pace just a little.
"Pretty good, considering there're no stirrups," Jim admitted.
Levon stifled a laugh.
"I am not wearing stirrups," Blair said clearly.
"Didn't expect you to," Jim replied. "But if you try to throw me, I'm grabbing on." He gave Blair's hair a gentle tug.
Demonstrating amazing flexibility Blair reached around and disentangled his hair from Jim's grip. "The hair is not a convenient hand hold," he said primly. Guiding Jim's hands to his waist he added, "I'd prefer it if you held on here."
With a grin, Jim wrapped his fingers around Blair's sides. He squeezed once, wondering if Blair remembered he was ticklish.
Maybe he didn't want to risk it -- there were no stirrups, after all.
As if reading his mind, Blair added, "You tickle, I buck."
"Did I do anything?" Jim asked innocently. Again Levon was stifling laughter. He glanced over, faking annoyance.
"Looks like you got him well in hand," Levon said, not indicating who had whom. "We'll see you in an hour." With that he leapt into a gallop.
Blair watched them go and stifled a wistful sigh. "You think maybe you might be up to something faster?" he asked Jim hopefully.
"I think I can manage to stay on," Jim replied. "Just don't try anything fancy for awhile, all right?"
"Define fancy," Blair said as he picked up his pace, breaking into a canter.
"If you have fewer than two feet on the ground, you'd better not be making any sharp turns."
"Oh, you mean like how you drive."
Jim grinned, keeping his seat easily as Blair ran. "Don't make me tickle you, Chief. Lundy and LaFiamma would laugh if I got bucked off."
"Speeding up again," Blair warned, just before shifting into a full gallop.
It felt like flying.
Neither spoke for several minutes. The wind rushed past as Blair ran; Jim could feel every muscle working, stretching and pushing them farther along. For a moment everything was normal.
Then it slipped, coalesced, and it was as if they were one. Flying headlong into the wilderness, Jim could see, feel, hear, touch everything as if he were both himself, and Blair as well.
Blair must've been feeling something similar because he let out a cry of pure exhilaration and somehow managed to go even faster.
The ground was hard beneath Blair's hooves; Jim could feel every impact as a tiny thing as they ran, each hoof barely touching down before letting go again. The feeling passed then, and Jim found himself inside his own skull, riding astride Blair's back.
He inhaled deeply, and told himself they would be back here again, often.
Finally, Blair began slowing, dropping back down to a walk. He was covered in sweat and breathing slightly hard, but the look he shot over his shoulder at Jim was full of exuberant happiness. "Man, that was great! Beyond great!" he enthused. "It's been way too long since I let loose like that."
Jim gave him a hard hug. "You won't be able to say that anymore, Chief." His lover was stunning -- beautiful to the point that Jim didn't even try to find words to say so. "As often as we can get up here... we will."
"Of course." Jim gave him another hug. "I love you. I love this."
Blair was silent for a long moment after that. "I'm glad," he finally whispered fiercely.
"You want to run back or would you rather enjoy the scenery?" Jim ran his hand down Blair's chest. He could feel Blair's pulse racing.
"Enjoy the scenery, at least for a little bit. Need to catch my breath." He glanced over his shoulder at Jim. "As I said, it's been a while."
"Then let's take our time. It's nice out here. Quiet."
Blair started slowly walking back in the direction they had come. "I didn't even think about that. It must be different not having all that background stuff you gotta deal with in the city."
"That's okay, Chief. Most of the time I don't even notice, anymore. Not until I get out someplace like this, and I... I don't know. Relax."
The background noises now, weren't anything he had to block out. His 'dials' were wide open, without any fear of being overloaded. It was like by letting go, he'd regained control.
"We definitely have to do this more often then. I think we both could use the breaks," Blair reiterated.
"Why don't we stay the night?" Blair asked after a moment's thought. "I'd love to go for a dawn run with you," he added almost shyly.
"That would be perfect." A thought occurred, and he asked, "You think LaFiamma and Lundy would mind?"
Blair laughed. "Are you kidding? And pass up a chance at going for a dawn run themselves?"
"I thought so." Jim could hear someone -- someone four-footed -- running not too far away.
"Levon owns his own place, with lots of land to run on. I bet they go running every day almost. They've got to have been missing it."
"Maybe they should stay out here? Keep an eye on our 'witnesses'?"
Blair shook his head. "They wouldn't go for it. Whatever else they may be, they're cops and this is their case too. Would you voluntarily stay out here while someone else worked your case?"
"Just figured... until we can track down Harper, there isn't much we can do."
"Yeah but that's not going to change how they feel. It wouldn't for you," Blair said knowingly.
"All right. It was just a thought." Jim looked up into the sky again. They had about fifteen minutes before they had to meet up with the others.
"I've got my breath back."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Jim grinned. As Blair broke into a run, he gave a loud yell.
Oh yes, he could definitely get used to this.
The next three days turned up nothing. Nothing incredibly useful, at any rate.
Without any other leads, they started collecting information on the persons who had 'disappeared' from Roffman's clubs. Most turned out to be simply customers, or former employees. Friends and relatives of those missing were surprised, for the most part, that anyone was investigating. The detectives had to promise more than once to return with anything they turned up.
Interpol was handling the locating and any retrieval of the victims. Finally they located one name which looked useful. Deanne Collins, a former girlfriend of Harper, had been one of those shipped out. They realised that for Harper to send his own woman out, she must have seriously pissed him off. Deanne's sister was still in Cascade and they hoped she could tell them something.
They phoned and made arrangements to stop by on their way home from the station. Home, the last few days, having been Adam's ranch just outside of town.
Jim was already wondering what they were going to do once this case was over and they stopped having an excuse to stay at the ranch every night. The commute was a bit long, but everything else was so much better... he even slept better, with a lover, exhausted from the evening's run, nestled in his arms.
Whether it was the fact that he wasn't hiding anymore from Jim, or the daily chances to run, Blair seemed a lot happier and at peace as well. There had always been a subtle tension around his lover, so subtle that Jim hadn't been consciously aware of it until it was gone. It was as if no matter how much Blair gave, there had always been something he'd been holding back. And now he wasn't.
It was, Jim wanted to tell the world, wonderful. He suspected the world might already know, if Simon's amused looks at his own smiling face were anything to go by.
And Joe and Levon were turning out to be decent people -- all the wrong moves from that first day were long gone and Levon was even sharing stories about Blair's childhood. There were still slight problems working together, of course. Jim couldn't quite get over the feeling that Joe was thinking something he wouldn't say.
He also got the uncomfortable feeling that both LaFiamma and Lundy suspected there was something Jim wasn't saying -- and trying to keep it a secret was beginning to wear on him.
Blair had brought up the subject of letting Joe and Levon in on the sentinel thing several times, but backed off as soon as Jim showed any reluctance. Until the next time he brought it up. He suspected Blair was attempting to wear him down by degrees. Each time, Jim simply said 'No' and each time he frowned a little more as he said it.
Fortunately, when they went to talk to Susie Collins, Joe and Levon were on their own, tracking down one of the missing people who had no friends or relatives on file. They were going to talk to neighbors, in an attempt to find anything.
Unfortunately, Blair saw the drive over as the perfect opportunity to bring up the subject once again.
"You know you really should consider telling them," he said without preamble, trusting that Jim would know what he was talking about.
"Sandburg, is there a reason you won't take 'no' for an answer?" Jim shot his normally adorable partner a glare.
"Yeah. You're wrong."
Jim said nothing.
Blair sighed and ran a hand over his face wearily. "What are you so afraid of Jim?" he asked quietly.
"I'm not afraid," he returned. "I just don't want to tell them. Should it matter if I'm right or wrong? I don't want to do it." Jim didn't look over as he spoke.
He sighed. He wasn't sure he could explain it so that Blair would accept his reasons. He tried anyway. "I don't need them to know. I don't need anyone to know except you and Simon and sometimes I wonder about Simon."
"You're afraid." Blair paused. "Or ashamed?"
"I'm not ashamed. I just don't need anyone treating me like I'm--" He cut himself off.
"What?" Blair asked, his voice infinitely gentle.
"Different." Ironic, that he should be explaining this to a half- centaur.
"You are different Jim," Blair said reaching out and laying a hand on his arm. His mouth quirked upwards into a half-smile. "But that's not necessarily a bad thing you know."
"Yeah, but I don't need anyone looking at me like I'm a mutant. Asking me how I got this way, what is it like...."
"Making you feel like a freak?" The eyes Blair turned on him were knowing.
"Yeah," he half-grinned. "I guess you understand, huh?"
"I know the feeling, yeah."
They were almost to Collins' place. "So do you really think I should tell them?"
Instead of answering Blair asked, "Do you really think Joe and Levon would treat you like that?"
Jim shrugged. Who knew what centaurs would think was weird?
Blair sighed again. "I told you I won't push you, Jim but yes, I do think you should tell them."
"Won't push? What have the last three days been, then? Gentle nudges?" Jim didn't know whether to laugh or glare again.
"Okay, so maybe I am pushing," his partner admitted with a half-smile. "But the decision is still yours. I won't say anything without your permission."
"Just... think about it, okay? Really think about it, don't just think of all the reasons that you think I'm wrong."
Unfortunately, when Blair got that tone in his voice -- calm, rational, and almost not pleading -- Jim couldn't help but do whatever Blair asked. They headed up to talk to the Collins woman, with Jim starting to think just a little bit about it.
He had grabbed Blair and spun, pulling his partner behind him before he even realized he'd detected the threat. There was a stranger -- who smelled distinctly un-human -- standing near Susie Collins' front door. He hadn't known until now he knew what a centaur smelled like, but this one was.
"Jim, wha-" Blair began, then stopped as he too spotted the stranger. Despite Jim's wordless protest he took a step to the left, until he was standing beside Jim instead of behind him.
Eyes narrowed, he examined the stranger, who was doing the exact same thing. Finally Blair nodded. "Jug, I presume."
The centaur smiled, and it made him look ugly and threatening. Jim tensed. "You must be Blair. My, my. You look almost... human."
Blair shrugged. "Yeah, well, all the better to blend in, y'know."
"You're Jug?" Jim asked. The centaur turned his sneer very briefly, on him.
"Yeah. And I have a message for you both." He looked back at Blair. "You want it delivered now or shall I bring it to you personally?"
"Better say it now," Blair advised. "Wouldn't want to strain your somewhat underdeveloped mental abilities trying to remember it."
Jug just grinned. "Fine, if that's the way you want it." He moved forward, and in an instant was almost on them. Blair had moved just as fast though, positioning himself in front of Jim and slipping into a defensive pose.
As soon as Jug grabbed his partner, Jim was closing his hand on Jug's arm, ready to throw the man into the nearest wall.
Jug looked at him, startled.
Blair managed to get out, "Jim-" before the Sentinel completed the move, and Jug went flying into the wall hard enough to knock him off his feet.
Then Jim was on him again, hauling him back to his feet by his collar. Holding the struggling centaur firmly, he looked at Blair and was surprised at the anger on his partner's face.
It froze him for a few vital seconds that his captive took advantage of. Jug kicked out at him, missing his knee but landing a solid enough blow that Jim staggered and let go of his grip.
As soon as his hand slipped, Jug was gone. Centaur speed at work again, as Jim started after him only to find him vanished around the far corner of the building before Jim'd gone more than a few steps.
He stopped, then whirled on Blair. "What was--" He stopped again. Blair was still glaring at him. "Blair?"
"He. Was. Mine," Blair enunciated slowly and clearly, eyes blazing with anger.
Jim stepped back, involuntarily. "Blair?" Who cared whose he was?
"He challenged me! It was my fight. You had no right to interfere!"
He had never seen Blair like this. No, wait. That was wrong. He had seen Blair like this once before, very recently in fact. Outraged, seemingly totally out of proportionately, at Roffman.
"What are you talking about? Challenged you?"
Blair stared at him hard for a long moment and then seemed to calm down. Slightly. "I guess I couldn't have expected you to recognize what was happening," he muttered to himself.
"What are you talking about?" Once again, it seemed, his partner had gone off into the Sandburg Zone. At least he knew what that zone was, now. "It's some centaur thing?" he hazarded a guess.
"Yeah. And a territorial thing. That you should be able to understand." Blair was still speaking in short clipped sentences, his words still carrying a bite. But at least he was explaining.
Jim frowned. "Like what you and Levon talked about? That you and he wouldn't challenge each other...?" If this was a challenge, then he was glad those two hadn't.
"Yeah. And I'd thank you to stay out of them in the future."
Jim blinked. "Excuse me?"
Blair looked back steadily. "What word didn't you understand?"
Oh yeah. He was still pissed. "I'm supposed to just stand back and let someone attack you?" Jim was getting angry, himself.
"You're supposed to have enough respect for me to let me fight my own battles!"
"And that means letting you get hurt? When it isn't necessary?" Jim yelled back.
"I can take care of myself!"
"I know that! Does that means I have to stand back and watch?"
The word echoed and reverberated in the silence that followed. Jim turned and headed towards Ms. Harper's front door.
He heard a sigh and then footsteps following him. "Jim-"
He kept going. They were supposed to be talking to Ms. Collins, dammit. Finding this Harper guy and getting this blasted case closed.
A hand closed on his arm. "Wait a minute will you?"
He pulled his arm free, but stopped long enough to glare at his lover. "Excuse me for being concerned. I didn't mean to act like your partner back there." Blair grabbed his arm again. "That wasn't what I meant!"
"Then what did you mean?" Jim asked sharply. He wanted to push Blair away and leave -- but he had nowhere to go, except right back to Blair's side.
"That there are some things I have to do for myself, because of who and what I am. I'm sorry if that hurts you Jim..." He did sound sorry -- and looked it too: eyes downcast, an unhappy frown on his face.
"You're sorry?" Jim snapped. "Did it occur to you I might have to defend you because of who and what I am? I'm your partner, your lover, and... and everything. I can't and won't let you be hurt. Not if I can stop it. But you're telling me that's just too bad?" He felt his anger draining a little, as he watched Blair's face. If he wasn't going to let Blair be hurt... he shouldn't be the one hurting him. He reached out for Blair. "Chief, I'm sorry."
Blair sighed. "So am I, Jim. I know you jumped in because of who you are. But I can't..." He trailed off, sighing again.
Jim pulled Blair closer, and embraced him. "I didn't realize that's what it was." It was the only concession he could make, right then. He couldn't promise not to interfere, but he could at least admit he understood what had happened.
"I know. I should've said something to warn you." Blair chuckled weakly. "Not that it would've made any difference I bet."
Jim smiled faintly. "You're probably right."
"So now what?" he asked.
"We have a potential witness to interview remember?"
"Yeah... if we haven't scared her off." Jim let go of Blair reluctantly.
"Oh man..." Blair leaned his head against Jim's shoulder blushing furiously. "I can so not believe we had a screaming match right on her front doorstep. Not to mention the kicking Jug's ass thing."
"Relax, Chief. I don't think she's home." He had checked the house, and couldn't hear a thing except the ticking of a grandfather clock in the front room.
Blair frowned. "She said she'd be here when we phoned."
"I don't hear anything," Jim repeated. But-- "I smell blood."
"Shit," Blair said expressively.
They looked at each other and then as one moved towards the front door again. Jim had his pistol out as he approached the door. He checked again; no heartbeats, and only the scent of blood. He could detect no other suspicious smells, like cordite or C4. Still, he touched the doorknob cautiously. Blair's hand on his back was, as ever, a steadying presence.
He felt the door; there were no telltale vibrations. He carefully turned the knob and gave the door a push. It swung open easily. Glancing in, he saw no movement. He entered, heading for the left, scanning the room. Blair followed behind him, closer than his shadow.
There was no one in the house. No one living.
The body was in the dining room. She had been killed with a knife, stabbed in the back. Her mouth was stuffed with a rag, and her wrists bruised as she'd been held.
"Call it in, Chief," Jim instructed.
Blair did so, speaking succinctly to the dispatch operator and hanging up. It was only then that Jim realized his partner was shaking. He holstered his pistol and reached for Blair's arm.
"Jug did this," Blair said bluntly, still staring at the woman's body. And still shaking under Jim's touch.
"We don't know that, yet." Jim suspected he was right, but so far he had only instinct to tell him that.
"I know that."
"But you're probably right," Jim told him. He began checking the room. There was little sign of struggle, as if Jug -- or whoever -- had easily overpowered the woman.
He tried to recall if he'd noticed anything when they'd met Jug outside, and realized he'd smelled blood, faintly, then. Might have been what warned him, in the first place. He said as much to Blair.
"And he got away. Shit." Blair pulled free of Jim's hand and began pacing restlessly. "We handled that all wrong. No, not we, I handled that all wrong. I should've just let you arrest him. Could've challenged him later. Or used that to distract him while you got the handcuffs on him or.... Shit."
"Blair... Blair!" Jim finally grabbed his pacing partner. "Will you calm down? We didn't know she was in here, and we don't know she wasn't dead before we got here." He moved over to touch the body, and check the skin temperature. It was nearly ambient.
"Sometimes having centaur blood really sucks, Jim."
"She's been dead at least half an hour, probably more. We couldn't have saved her even if we had known." Jim stood back up, ignoring for now Blair's comment.
Besides, it wasn't like he didn't think the same thing sometimes about his senses.
"But we still let her killer get away."
"We'll find him. I have a feeling he'll want to find us again."
Blair nodded. "Yeah. We will. I will."
"We will," Jim said.
The murder and organizing the search for the probable killer took up the rest of the day. It was late when they finally made it back to the ranch. The fact that Collins had been killed meant they were probably on to something, but at the same time they had obviously lost any leads that she could've given them. Joe kept a close eye on Levon the whole afternoon, not certain how he was going to react to the news that it was a rogue stallion that was the prime suspect. Would he hare off in a rage looking for Jug?
But so far, his worries had proven unfounded. Aside from a snarl and a stiffening when Jug's name had been mentioned, Levon had been as diligent as he usually was in following police procedure.
When they got back to the ranch, Blair excused himself for a quick -- solo -- run. Jim headed indoors, ostensibly to make dinner. Levon and Joe were left outside. The fillies were given a sketchy update of the case and then sent off to give them all privacy.
Joe stared speculatively back and forth in the two opposite directions Jim and Blair had gone. "Why do I get the feeling that something else happened at the crime scene that they're not telling us?"
"You too? Joe, something's going on. At the warehouse, when we got out here... heck, even when we're driving through town it's like there's something going on they ain't talking about."
"Those two have been hiding something since the second we came to town," Joe agreed.
"Wonder what it is." Levon paced a bit, then glanced over. "You notice how Ellison seems to notice things none of the rest of us do?"
"Yeah. The guy acts like he's psychic or something."
"Or something... wonder if Blair'd tell me if I asked him."
Joe shook his head after a moment's thought. "I don't think so. Not if Jim doesn't want us to know. Blair's damned protective of him."
Levon grinned. "Like someone we know?"
Joe just grinned back.
They were interrupted by Ellison coming out of the house. He looked at them both, appearing a bit upset.
Levon and Joe exchanged glances. Before either could ask what was the matter Jim asked, "Joe, would you mind if you and I talked?" He glanced at Levon, obviously asking for privacy.
Levon gave Joe a nod. "I'll go see what the girls are doing." He headed off in the direction they'd gone, shedding clothing quickly.
Joe watched his retreating form, an appreciative smile on his lips, before turning his attention to the Cascade detective. "What's up?"
Jim didn't answer at first, but it was obvious he was worried. Finally he asked, "Have you ever... has Levon ever been challenged by another centaur?"
Suddenly the pieces started to fall into place, at least with regard to what had happened at the murder scene today. "Yeah," he replied. "That what happened today? Jug challenge Blair?"
Jim nodded. "I stepped in and Blair nearly tore my head off. Didn't help that I let Jug get away," he added.
"Blair tried to explain what was going on... but to be honest, it doesn't make sense. Why should I let him face someone like that, alone?"
Joe hesitated over his answer. His own experiences didn't really apply because of the differences in his and Levon's relationship. But he wasn't sure he wanted to be the one to tell Ellison just actually what was going on there. "It's an instinctive thing," he finally, lamely, said.
"Yeah, so he said." Jim felt silent for several moments, until he turned and asked, "Does Levon ask you to do that? Stay out of his fights?" Joe could see how torn Jim was, between wanting to do what his lover needed and needing to keep his lover safe.
"No," he answered reluctantly. "But it's not really the same situation."
No, he decided. He wasn't going to be the one to break it to Jim. "It's not me you should be having this conversation with," Joe told him earnestly. "Talk to Blair."
Jim's expression turned instantly suspicious. "I tried."
'And Blair's been putting him off. Somehow I knew that,' Joe thought. Aloud he said, "There's some things you need to know but it really is Blair's place to tell you." He paused, then added, thinking that Blair may need an extra push, "Tell him he better tell you. Because if he doesn't, Levon and I will."
Jim just looked at him, obviously not comprehending. "You're trying to tell me I'm going to have to just accept this?"
Joe could tell Jim was not about to just accept anything. "Talk to Blair," Joe repeated.
Jim scowled, but said nothing. Eventually he walked back towards the house.
Joe watched him go, a scowl on his own face. As if dealing with his own centaur wasn't hard enough.... He heard someone running up; turning he saw Blair. He turned his scowl on him.
Blair looked surprised. "What?" He glanced back at himself. "I didn't step in anything did I?" The humor sounded only a bit forced.
"Only metaphorically," Joe told him.
"Jim was just out here asking me if Levon had ever been challenged."
"Oh." Blair sidestepped, nervously. "Has he?"
"Yeah. You need to talk to him, Blair."
"I will. He's a little upset about Jug." Blair gave him a sharp look. "Uh, what did you tell him?"
"To talk to you. You've got to tell him how things stand."
Blair sighed. "I tried, man. It isn't easy."
"It's not going to get any easier," Joe pointed out. "If anything, the longer you wait the harder it'll get."
"I know. But I don't know what to tell him. He's going to be this way no matter what I tell him."
"Have you ever thought of trying the truth?" Joe quipped. He was starting to lose his patience with the whole situation.
Blair looked at him like he was insane. But then he sighed. "I know. I should." He looked towards the house, and his expression changed, as if he were realizing something. "I guess I have to now."
Joe wasn't sure what he was talking about but if it made him bring the whole thing out into the open so much the better. "You do that," he said. He looked off in the direction his partner had gone. "I'm going to go find Levon. Maybe we'll go for a ride or something. Give you two some time."
He turned back. "Yeah?"
Joe's lips twitched upwards slightly. "Centaur-human relationship counselor, that's me."
Blair grinned. "Something for your resume."
"Do I put that before or after 'dominant stallion'?"
Blair's grin faltered slightly. "After, I think." He looked at the house again. "I better do this before I chicken out."
Joe nodded. "Go on. And Blair?"
Inside the house, Jim was fairly pacing. He had heard the conversation between Blair and Joe, and didn't understand a word of it -- except that Blair had been withholding something. After assuring him that he would tell Jim anything and everything....
He heard the sound of material rustling and correctly interpreted it to mean Blair had changed back to human form and was dressing in the clothes he'd left on the porch. He waited in the kitchen, pretending that the spaghetti needed tending. He tracked Blair's progress into and through the house, though.
"I suppose you heard all that," Blair said when he made it to the kitchen.
Jim nodded. He stirred the sauce and decided any more tinkering would make it inedible.
"We need to talk."
"So I gathered."
"Umm," Blair said intelligently. "Are you going to look at me?"
Jim looked over. Blair was nervous. Jim figured he should be. "Well?"
"Umm," Blair repeated, then blurted out, "It's about dominance."
Jim just looked at him, waiting.
"Well in our relationship I sorta, kinda, at least this is the way it feels like to me-"
"Just say it, Blair." Otherwise they'd be here for hours.
"I've been acting in the dominant role."
Jim just looked at him. "This is news?" he asked dryly. He knew Blair wasn't but a blind man could tell Blair had been trying to push him around ever since... ever since they met.
Blair just gaped at him.
"I know you're trying to be dominant, Blair," Jim elaborated, hoping it would help Blair get on to whatever it was he wasn't saying.
"Trying to be?" Blair echoed.
"Yeah," Jim nodded. "I don't mind, most of the time."
"You don't?" Jim wondered idly when Blair had turned into a parrot. "If I did, I wouldn't let you do it," Jim explained. The sauce was ready to simmer.
"I don't think I could stop, Jim. This isn't just some game I've been playing."
Jim looked over. "What are you talking about?"
"I can't just turn it off if you don't like it." Blair shrugged helplessly. "Not without changing who I am."
Jim stopped messing with dinner preparations and looked at his lover. "That's what all this is about?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
"Then I think I'm missing something. I don't see what the problem is." There was something Blair wasn't telling him -- he'd said as much outside, to Joe. But it wasn't this dominance thing, because Jim knew about that already. About Blair needing to be in control sometimes.
"I can't stop being dominant. Even when you don't want me to. Like this afternoon."
"Oh." Jim thought about that. "Does this mean you want me to...."
"To...?" Blair asked, eyebrows raised.
Jim shrugged. "Like Levon does to Joe. Submit." The thought of it made him uncomfortable. If Blair said yes....
To his relief Blair laughed. "Jim, you couldn't act like Levon does with Joe to save your life!"
He couldn't help his smile. "So what, then? How am I supposed to treat you, if you're always going to be the dominant one?"
"Just the way you always have?" Blair suggested hopefully.
"And when someone like Jug tries to challenge you?"
Blair sobered again. "Now that's where we might have some problems. I can't let you fight my battles for me Jim. Not those battles."
"And I can't just stand back and watch you get hurt. Not if I can help you fight."
"If I let you take a challenge for me, it's like I'm submitting to you. That isn't me, Jim. I can't do that. Not even to you."
Jim shifted from one foot to the other, frowning. "That means I can't even help? Not take the fight, but keep him from killing you?"
Blair considered for a long moment, biting his lip as he thought. "If he was about to kill me, no uncertainty of that at all, and you stepped in...." he finally ventured.
"I wouldn't need your permission to save your life, Sandburg." He paused. "I don't care how pissed off at me you get."
"I know." Blair flashed a brief smile. "I can live with that. So to speak."
Jim laughed. "So are we cool, now?"
"You tell me."
He shrugged. "You're telling me nothing has changed from the way it's been since you mispronounced "McCoy". I can live with that."
"And you'll let me fight my own battles?" Blair held up his hand to forestall Jim from speaking. "Unless I'm in imminent and dire danger of instant death."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Why do I feel like I'm taking a vow, here? Chief, you want to just marry me and get it all done?"
"That a proposal?"
Jim looked at his partner, serious for a moment. Then he grinned. "Yeah. I'll even promise not to interfere with your fights."
Blair grinned back. "I accept."
Jim pulled Blair closer. Sighing in contentment, Blair snuggled against his chest.
A few minutes later he said, "Jim?"
"Yeah?" Jim was enjoying the end of the argument that had started outside Collin's house.
"Your sauce is burning."
"Yeah, I know. Has been for about three minutes."
"You're buying the pizza."
The sun woke Joe the next morning, shining in through the curtains and right onto his face. Trying desperately to hang onto his state of sleep, he groaned and rolled away from the light, his arm automatically reaching out to find his husband.
It met empty bed.
Suddenly wide-awake, Joe sat up and looked around. The room was as empty as Levon's side of the bed. Just as he was considering panicking, though, a whoop from outside told him exactly where his lover was.
He went over to the window and looked out at the pasture just behind the house. He looked again, not quite sure he was seeing what he was seeing. Another happy shout, and Joe shook his head.
The six centaurs were apparently playing tag. Blair was "it" and was currently chasing Melody who seemed to be rather more agile, and faster than he.
Shaking his head again in disbelief, Joe smiled and went to get dressed. He just had to see this close up.
By the time he stepped out onto the back porch, Elaine had been tagged -- the filly was chasing Levon and one of her sisters as the two centaurs wove back and forth ahead of her.
"Kids," came Jim's amused voice from a corner of the porch.
"Centaurs," Joe countered, walking over and joining the other detective. "None of them seem to outgrow this kind of thing totally."
"Oh?" Jim gave him an interested look. "You've met... older ones?"
"Older ones, younger ones, the whole gamut."
"And they're like this?" he waved a coffee mug towards the group, still laughing and calling out encouragement to each other.
Joe nodded. "Pretty much. I've even seen Taylor -- he's the herd stallion back home -- join in stuff like this."
"Huh," Jim turned his attention back to the centaurs. "I guess if you live out in a field you have to entertain each other."
"A field?" Joe asked perplexed. "Well they do spend a lot of time in the fields but the herd lives on a ranch that's even bigger than this one." He grinned. "Even has satellite TV."
Jim shrugged, and his gaze flicked back towards the centaurs. Joe turned and found Levon trotting over.
"Morning calisthenics?" Joe asked him when he came up to them.
"Well, you were asleep," Levon responded. He stepped up onto the porch, halfway at least, and leaned down for a kiss.
Which Joe returned eagerly. "You looked like you were having fun."
"Was. But we weren't playing," Levon said with a grin. "Have to teach the fillies our version of tag."
"What's to teach?" Jim asked. "It's just tag."
"Yeah, but the way we play... got about a hundred rules."
"One hundred and sixteen," Blair corrected as he joined them. The fillies had run off by themselves, still laughing and playing.
Joe blinked. "One hundred and sixteen rules for tag?"
Levon shrugged. "Gotta make it interesting somehow."
"What?" Levon gave him a look of pure innocence. "Ain't that enough?"
"How do you remem-" Jim began to ask, then suddenly remembered himself. "Oh. Eidetic memories. Right."
Levon nodded and looked back at Joe. "Speaking of which, I recall that it ain't my turn to make breakfast this morning." He looked at Joe hopefully.
One of these days, Joe reflected, he was really going to have to build some defenses to that look. "I suppose I could throw something together."
Levon looked surprised, then shook his head, grabbing Joe's arm. "Was hoping they'd cook and you'd come for a ride," he explained, nodding towards Blair and Jim.
"Sure, go ahead," Blair said, waving them off. "Jim and I ruined supper last night, the least we can do is make breakfast instead."
"We -- I -- bought pizza," Jim protested, but he didn't seem to really be arguing. At least he was handing Blair his clothes so they could go back inside.
Levon still had Joe's arm, and was giving him another cute, hopeful look.
"Man does not live by pizza alone, Jim," Blair replied before starting his slow transformation back to human form. Joe couldn't help but watch, fascinated. Levon's changes were always too quick to follow but Blair's... It was like watching the change in slow motion, like stretching the form out in silly putty...
After Blair had changed, Joe looked away and found Levon grinning at him.
"This mean I don't have to find a video camera?" Levon asked.
"Well not for that," Joe said, giving Levon a promising look. He glanced back over at Blair who had gotten into his clothes as fast as possible. And who was still fidgeting. Belatedly, Joe wondered if perhaps he'd crossed the line with his staring.
The way Jim was watching Blair, though, said volumes. It looked just like Joe himself had felt the second time he'd ever seen Levon change.
Breakfast might be delayed. That was fine -- he and Levon could amuse themselves for an hour or so.
"Come on, cowboy," he said, laying an arm companionably on his partner's back. "Let's go explore the far fields this morning." He turned and winked at Jim and Blair before mounting up. Jim returned it with a grin and Blair just looked... hungry. Levon asked if he was hanging on before lifting his front feet off the porch and spinning. Joe gave a startled yelp at the unexpected movement and grabbed on even tighter. He tried to ignore the muffled chuckles from the porch at that, chuckles that were quickly left behind as Levon galloped off at full speed.
Most of the chuckles were left behind. His husband seemed to be enjoying himself, as well.
"You trying to dump me on my ass?" he asked, raising his voice over the wind of their passage.
"Boy, if you can't hang onto me by now...." Levon wove through a small clump of trees; none of the branches came close as they whipped by.
Joe grinned and tightened his grip just a little bit more. "I've been hanging onto you for years, partner."
"Wondered what those marks on my sides were," Levon responded.
"Better than a brand, wouldn't you say?"
Levon glanced over his shoulder at him. "No brands, no tattoos, no piercings. Anything else you can do."
"Not even an earring?" Joe teased.
"Nope." Levon put on a burst of speed and said casually, "Hang on."
Joe barely had time to do so before Levon jumped.
His yelp was even louder this time.
They landed hard on the other side of the creek and Levon ran a few steps before slowing to a stop. It was a long moment before Joe could force himself to loosen his grip, and even longer before his heart started to slow.
"Joe?" Levon asked tentatively.
"Still here," he answered, voice a bit breathy with the extra adrenaline in his system.
Levon looked over his shoulder again. "You want me to walk for a bit?" His expression was bordering on 'didn't mean it I swear' along with 'I'm too cute to be yelled at'. The kittens had been teaching Levon a lot of new tricks, apparently.
"Yeah, thanks." Levon nodded and started off at a sedate walk. "What's gotten into you this morning?" Joe asked when he'd finally got his breath back.
Levon shrugged. "Feel good."
"I noticed," Joe said dryly. He couldn't totally suppress the amusement he was feeling.
Levon gave him a grin, then danced a few steps sideways, almost hopping. His expression suddenly turned devilish before he turned back around.
"What?" Without thinking, Joe tightened his grip again.
"Nothing," came back a very innocent sounding reply. Levon walked very calmly through the field.
"Uh huh. Why do I have trouble believing that?"
Levon turned, and walked back over a small area, looking at the ground.
Joe found himself shifting a bit on his lover's back as his suspicion made him fidgety. "What are you doing?"
"Me?" Levon turned again and walked a few steps along the same area, still looking. He tested the ground in a few places with his hoof. He nodded, then looked over his shoulder. "Joe?"
"Yeah?" Suspicion dripping from the word.
"You don't have to hang on this time." Before Joe could ask what he was doing, Levon went down. It felt like they were falling, but as soon as Joe felt himself about to be pinned between the ground and Levon, Levon changed and continued rolling.
He found himself lying on his back with a naked and grinning husband on top of him.
For a long moment all Joe could do was stare mutely up at Levon, his mind still working out the logistics on how he had gone from sitting astride a centaur to laying flat on his back on the ground. Not that this position didn't have its advantages, he thought as Levon wriggled against him, still grinning.
Finally he reached up and brushed some hair off of Levon's forehead. "That's a new move," he said casually.
"Nah, been doing that one since I was six years old." Levon's innocent expression suddenly became thoughtful. "Granted, I ain't ever done it with a rider before...."
"You could've warned me."
"That would've taken all the fun out of it."
"I see." He supposed maybe he should be a little angry, or at least annoyed, but he couldn't manage either emotion with Levon smiling at him like that.
Levon's grin faded only slightly, and he wriggled again. "Actually I have done it with a rider before," he admitted. "And I checked the ground for rocks first -- wouldna hurt you."
Joe caressed his husband's cheek. "I know." He smiled a little as Levon leaned against his hand. "So who was it?"
"Who was what?" Levon blinked.
"The rider you've done this with before."
"Joshua and Cory. We took turns practicing on each other."
"This a common centaur thing?"
"Don't know. Got yelled at when Taylor found out we were doing it. Told us to practice someplace softer." Levon grinned again. "We tried practicing on one of the king-sized beds in the house...."
Joe grinned back. "I bet Adele loved that."
Levon didn't answer; he just wriggled guiltily.
Certain parts of Joe's anatomy liked that wriggle an awful lot. He wriggled back, running his hands lightly down Levon's back.
Levon gave him a brief smile. It died too fast, though.
Joe looked at him suspiciously. "What?"
"We broke a few of the mattress springs," he began. "Adele came running upstairs -- had a broom in her hand, she'd been cleaning. Tried to give us each a swipe with it." Levon took a deep breath and finished, "That was how they found out what Alexander had been doing and got him kicked out of the herd almost a year early."
Joe's hands stopped moving on his husband's back. "What had he been doing?" he asked, feeling a cold dread in the pit of his stomach.
"He'd find one of us alone, and lasso us. Get our hands and feet tied and take a switch or something to us. Soon as Adele held up the broom, we all like to froze. She said we looked too scared for there not to be anything really wrong."
It was as bad as he had feared. Joe thought of what his lover would have looked like at that age, thought of someone -- Alexander -- tying him up and beating him. He shivered in empathy for the hurt and frightened child Levon must have been. "I'm sorry," he whispered, wrapping his arms tighter around Levon, as if by imparting comfort now, he could somehow comfort the boy in the past.
Levon lay still in his embrace. "He got Blair once, too. Blair told me about it after Alexander had gone. He was only two -- reckon it's part of why he won't let anyone dominate him, now."
"I should've shot him when I had the chance," Joe growled.
"Maybe he'll jump bail and you can," Levon suggested in an almost cheerful tone of voice.
"One can always hope." They both fell silent for a bit. Finally Joe decided to ask the one thing he'd been wondering about. "Levon?"
"Yeah?" Levon sounded relaxed, again.
"Why didn't you tell Taylor about what Alexander was doing the first time it happened?"
Levon shifted, then sighed. "Told us not to. Said he'd start in on the little ones if we did. We were afraid he'd kill 'em. Nate was only three months old and Alexander was always threatening him to us."
"You didn't think Taylor could handle him?" Joe understood how such intimidation would work with human children, but he was surprised it would work so well on centaurs. He'd seen it time and again -- the certainty they had that their herd stallion would take care of them, regardless of what needed to be done.
Levon looked away before he answered. "Joe, we were only six years old when they found out... Alex had been telling us all along that Taylor was only taking care of us until he could kick us out. We didn't always believe him but it made it harder. Besides... Joshua and I thought it was something we had to just deal with. Being males and all. We knew we'd have to fight him -- didn't know it shouldn't have started that soon. Alexander never attacked any of the fillies."
Joe nodded, slowly, thoughtfully. He could see that scenario all too clearly. "No wonder you hate him so much."
"Yeah... even Momma used to say she didn't care for him. Never when he was around. But she said it."
"Your mother sounds like a sharp lady."
Levon half-smiled. "She was. She felt bad about it. About him."
Now Joe was getting confused. "Bad? Why would she feel bad? I can understand her not liking or trusting him but...."
Levon suddenly looked guilty again. "Never told you did I? Alex was her first foal," he said hesitantly.
Joe froze. "He's your brother?!" he asked, disbelief making his voice crack.
"Well, you knew he was Taylor's get...." Levon began. "Didn't you?"
"Yeah but so's practically everyone else your age in the herd."
Levon nodded. "Don't normally pay much attention to whose each one's mother is. I mean, we all know... but it ain't as important as whose each one's father is. And that ain't all that important. You're either in the herd or not... Joe, I didn't realize it would matter to you."
Joe sighed and once again told himself not to judge Levon's reactions by human standards. "If it doesn't matter to you, I guess it doesn't to me."
"Joe? Does it matter?"
Giving the question the thought it deserved, Joe finally admitted, "Yeah, a little. But give me a while and I'm sure I'll be able to put it in the proper perspective."
"If it matters you don't have to put it in proper perspective." Levon was frowning slightly. He suddenly grinned. "I mean, if it means you wanna shoot him even more, now...."
"I don't know what it means," Joe said honestly.
Levon looked confused. It was only fair, Joe felt confused, himself. "You'll let me know when you figure it out?"
Joe grinned at the earnest expression. "You'll be the first one I tell."
"You reckon it's been long enough for us to head back? If we stay out here much longer there's no telling what else I'll end up saying. Might accidentally tell you about the time we stole a train car."
"You stole a train car?" Joe felt his eyebrows climbing for his hairline.
"No. But if we keep laying here I might say we did and then you'd think we had and then we'd be having another serious discussion."
"See what you get when you dump me on my ass and fall on me?" Joe teased.
Levon's eyebrows rose. "Yeah... got you wriggling underneath me while I ain't got a stitch of clothing on."
"Then why are we talking?"
Levon looked at him, wide-eyed. "You started it."
"Then I'm an idiot," Joe avowed. "C'mere." He gently pulled on Levon's shoulders, drawing him down for a kiss.
After several minutes of such a pleasurable distraction, Levon tried to push himself up, away from Joe.
Reluctantly Joe let him go. "Wha-?"
"Can't get you undressed if I'm lying on the buttons," Levon explained.
"Oh." He thought about that, then nodded. "That makes sense."
Levon levered himself up until he was sitting, straddling Joe. He began undoing buttons while Joe watched. Grinning, he said, "Aren't you gonna help?"
Joe shook his head. "You seem to be managing fine on your own."
The smile he got for that distracted him -- he didn't notice where Levon's fingers were until it was too late.
His yelp this time was the loudest of them all.
Cleaning up afterwards was difficult until Levon reminded Joe of the creek they'd passed. The water was cold, mountain-fed, but it got rid of everything sticky. As soon as he was washed clean, Levon changed back, claiming that the gods never intended centaurs to freeze their balls off.
"That would be a waste," Joe agreed mildly.
"You gettin' on?" Levon asked him, holding out his hand.
"Yeah." As he took his husband's hand and swung up onto his back, some impish impulse made him add, "After all I already got off." Levon just gave him a satisfied smirk.
"Joe?" Levon asked as he started walking away from the creek.
Levon ran a few steps, then leapt.
This time Joe was almost prepared, and only tightened his grip as Levon's feet left the ground. He swallowed his startled shout, only letting out a soft "oof" as they touched down again.
As soon as they touched down, however, Levon was off again. Full-speed ahead -- Joe wished for the millionth time that centaurs could fall asleep after sex, like normal human men.
Levon hollered once, and they were air-borne again for a moment.
Joe waited until they had touched down again -- not wanting to risk speaking when they were in the air, visions of biting off his own tongue when landing vivid in his mind. "I thought centaurs hated being airborne," he yelled, leaning forward so the wind wouldn't carry his words away before Levon heard them.
"Trying to get used to it," Levon called back. "Workin' my way up to 20,000 feet."
Trying to shake the sudden vision of Levon jumping off a 20,000-foot- high cliff -- with himself ensconced firmly on his back -- Joe refrained from comment. He had the feeling anything he said would just egg his partner on.
"Think I can make it?" Levon asked. Joe noticed he was pointing up ahead.
They had doubled back on the creek again and were fast approaching the point of no return. But the water at this spot was at least twice as wide as where Levon had jumped it before, and running much swifter to boot.
"Uhm...." Joe said intelligently.
"Thought so." Levon put on a burst of speed. Joe felt Levon gather himself, then they were off. Up, flying, then coming down... Joe felt Levon stumble as they landed.
"Levon?!" His heart rate shot up even higher at the fear that his partner had hurt himself.
They continued forward a few steps, and Levon looked back. "I'm all right. Got my foot in the water, 's all."
"You sure?" Joe tried to turn around so he could see Levon's hind legs.
He saw one leg splattered with mud. Levon appeared to be standing on it without any difficulty. After a moment Levon asked, with very mild exasperation, "You believe me now?" He'd taken another step and Joe had seen no sign of injury.
Heart rate finally slowing Joe nodded, though he continued to glance back at Levon's feet every few steps.
"You wanna get down and check?"
Joe hesitated. He didn't want Levon to think he was doubting his word but still...
Levon had stopped as he waited for a reply. As Joe glanced back one more time he saw Levon's tail swishing. Either impatience or resignation. Joe blinked as a fly landed on Levon's hindquarters and the tail swished again. Or practical.
Giving in to his worry, Joe slid off Levon's back. "Just a quick check," he said.
Levon waited patiently, not saying anything as Joe carefully lifted his back foot. His tail swished again at the fly trying to alight, but otherwise he stood still. Joe ran his hands over Levon's leg, carefully searching for any signs of trauma and finding nothing but mud. With a relieved sigh, he let Levon's foot go.
Levon was looking at him without any censure in his expression. He still felt like he owed an explanation though. "It's not that I don't trust you," he began, reaching out and resting his hand on Levon's withers. "It's just-"
"You worry about me?"
He smiled. "Yeah."
"Can we get back to the house now? Still haven't had any breakfast."
"Can we stay on the ground the rest of the way?" Joe asked plaintively as he remounted.
Levon sighed as if greatly put-upon. "Reckon so."
Joe just grinned and held on as Levon moved quickly into a gallop.
They were almost back when they saw Elaine running towards them at top- speed. Levon headed for her, speeding up until they both came to a halt.
Out of breath, Elaine told them, "Jug's here."
Joe felt Levon stiffen even as alarm ran through his own system. "Jim and Blair?" he asked, remembering the conversation he'd had with Jim the night before, about Jug challenging Blair.
Before he could even think of any more questions, Levon was off again, running full out. Joe hung on and worried about what they would find when they got back to the house.
It was only a few minutes later when they came up behind the house. As Levon headed around, they could hear Blair and Jug yelling at one another. From the sound of it, the fight was already begun.
Coming around the side of the house they found Jim, standing stiffly, muscle in his jaw twitching as he watched his partner square off against the rogue stallion -- in human form -- in the front yard. It looked like it was taking all of the detective's self control to stay in this spot and not jump into the fight.
They watched as Jug moved forward, hand reaching down, then up and suddenly Jim was shouting, pointing a gun Joe had not seen him draw, and firing.
Jug stumbled backwards, and they all stared.
The centaur stood still for a few seconds then fell forward onto his face.
Blair turned to face them then, and the look on his face telegraphed his emotions clearly. Anger, bewilderment, disappointment, but most of all hurt.
Before anyone could say a word, Jim said, "He had a knife."
Blair spun back to where Jug laid on the ground, eyes searching. Then, with a gasp, he bent over and picked up a long-bladed knife with a trembling hand. He looked at it for a moment before dropping it again, then turning and walking over to where the others stood, stopping directly in front of his lover. Catching Jim's gaze with his own he said softly, "Thanks."
Jim just nodded and holstered his pistol. Levon was looking from Jim to the body and back. "How the hell did you know he had a knife?" he finally asked.
Both Blair and Jim froze, exchanging wordless looks that seemed to carry volumes.
Before they could come up with what Joe was sure would be a bogus explanation, he asked, "Don't you think it's time you two told us the truth?"
Jim looked again at Blair, obviously asking for something.
"It's up to you, man," Blair told him, reaching out and laying a hand on his arm. "I told you I'd abide by your decision."
"Not like I have a choice is it," Jim said bitterly. He looked back to Joe and Levon. He hesitated, then said very firmly, "I know you two understand about keeping secrets."
Joe exchanged a glance with Levon before nodding. "Yeah, you can say that."
Jim nodded, and again paused. Finally he said, "I know this is going to sound...." He glanced at Blair again. The silent support he got made him take a deep breath and explain. "I'm what is called a sentinel. My senses are heightened. More sensitive than a normal human's." He stopped and waited.
"How much more sensitive?" Joe asked slowly. He wasn't surprised, not really. It fit all the weird things he'd noticed about these two and besides, after finding out his partner and lover was a centaur he'd found his surprise threshold had greatly increased.
"A lot more. We're still finding out what my limits are. But I could see the knife clearly." He gestured towards Jug, lying some 75 yards away.
"All your senses? Sight, hearing, everything?" Levon asked.
Levon looked again at the stallion, lying in a pool of blood. "Reckon that explains it, then." Joe nodded in agreement, deliberately keeping his manner nonchalant. He'd long since learned to roll with the mental punches, taking outrageous claims at face value. Too often they turned out to be true. What Ellison was telling them made little sense, even if it fit the facts. But he wasn't going to bother doubting the Ellison's claim.
"Explains it?" Jim asked, looking worried.
"How you knew things you couldn't possibly know," Joe explained. "We were half beginning to believe you were psychic or something."
"Oh." Jim looked uncomfortable again. Blair, on the other hand, was grinning in an 'I told you so' kind of way. Jim just shook his head at him. "Don't say it."
"I didn't say anything," Blair asserted, though he didn't stop grinning.
Jim just sighed again, rolling his eyes. "I'd better call Simon," he began. Blair and Levon both interrupted him.
"No, don't," from Blair and "That won't be necessary," from Levon.
Jim blinked. "Excuse me? We have a dead body over there, whom I shot in defense of my partner--"
"A dead centaur who died breaking the rules of a challenge," Blair clarified.
"So?" Jim asked, clearly bewildered.
"So," Levon explained, "We call Rustin and let him deal with it." He frowned towards the fillies. "After we get them out of here."
Joe's conscience twinged a little at the thought of concealing a killing, even one in self-defense; he'd been a cop too long for it to do otherwise. But he'd also been around centaurs long enough to know when arguing was worthwhile and when it would be more productive to bang his head against the wall. Seeing the look in both Levon's and Blair's faces he knew this was definitely one of the latter times.
Jim, on the other hand, was shaking his head. "You're saying we don't even file a report?" His tone was disbelieving and scornful.
Blair looked at him seriously. "Jim, you know we've had to fudge reports sometimes to keep your senses a secret. This is no different. 'Cept it's my secret we're keeping."
For almost a second Jim looked like he was going to argue. Then he sighed. "But won't someone notice he's missing?"
Levon snorted. "Nobody worth mentioning. Least nobody who'd be upset about it."
Jim shrugged. "Fine." He didn't sound as if he liked it, but he didn't argue as Blair headed inside to call Rustin. Levon got the fillies rounded up and asked Joe if they should head back to the hotel.
"Sounds as good a plan as any," Joe replied.
Ten minutes later, Levon, Joe, and the fillies were ready to head out. Blair and Jim were waiting for Rustin, and then they would meet Joe and Levon back at the loft. With Jug gone, they had no leads at all to find Harper.
Joe sighed as they drove away.
Looked like it was back to the drawing board.
Jim was not looking forward to telling Simon any of this. Even disregarding everything he couldn't tell Simon, along with everything he could but which Simon wouldn't want to hear, there was a lot he didn't want to tell his captain. He looked at Blair. "Is this really a good idea?"
"Trust me, Jim." His partner was sitting on the porch, watching him pace.
He sighed. Hadn't he been saying just a few days ago that his partner didn't fight fair? He walked over and sat on the step with Blair. He could still see the marks he'd left on Blair's neck that morning.
Even then Blair hadn't fought fair. Jim had nearly zoned twice on the taste of his skin alone.
"What are you thinking?" Blair asked after a moment.
"You don't fight fair," he said without thinking.
Blair looked startled at that. Then he looked thoughtful. "No," he finally said, "I don't suppose I do. Does that bother you?"
Jim smiled. "When it means you use that unscented soap so I can taste you, no it doesn't."
"I thought that was just being considerate." Blair looked slightly miffed. "After you complained so much about the chemical taste with the stuff I used to use..."
"Complained? Blair, cut me some slack. I could barely stand to lick you after you washed with that stuff." Jim looked at him, adding silently, but clearly, 'and you're the one who decided he would rather be licked.'
"My point exactly, man. Just being considerate of my sentinel's needs."
"And then you invited me to test the effect," Jim reminded him.
Jim had been trying to read the paper after breakfast. Blair had practically draped himself across Jim, asking him how he smelled.
He never had gotten to read the paper that day.
Blair grinned and spread his hands. "Well I had to test it to see if it worked, didn't I?"
Jim just glared, pretending to be annoyed. He glanced down the road when he heard an unfamiliar engine. Sounded like a large vehicle; a van or truck.
"Someone coming?" Blair asked, seeing the direction Jim was looking in.
"Yeah." A few minutes later, he could see a van turn onto the end of the long drive.
Blair squinted and tried to make out the vehicle that was just on the edges of his visual range. "Looks like it's Rustin," he said, a little uncertainly.
"Looks like he's mad, whoever he is," Jim said and let his focus relax again.
"That's Rustin all right."
They waited silently as the van rolled up. It stopped near Jug's body. Two women jumped out and headed to it, carrying tarps. The man walked over towards Jim and Blair. Jim felt Blair tensing, and nearly stepped in front of him. He stopped himself in time to avoid seriously pissing Blair off.
Blair stood up to meet the other man. "Rustin," he said with a nod, his tone totally neutral.
Jim stood ready. He would not interfere, he reminded himself. But if Rustin attacked... and Blair lost, or was about to lose, or was almost about to lose, he would wring Rustin's neck.
"Blair," the other centaur said. His glare spoke volumes.
"You made good time," Blair observed, still not giving an inch.
"It seemed important." Rustin looked around. "Who else was here?"
"Does it look like anyone else was here?"
Rustin glared. "I can smell them. You have my girls don't you?" He took a step forward. Jim did as well, remaining behind Blair but letting the asshole know Blair wasn't alone.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Rustin," Blair shot back, in mild exasperation.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about." Rustin took another step forward until he could almost reach out and grab Blair. Behind him, the two women had Jug wrapped in a blanket and were carrying him back to the van. They seemed nervous, but Jim figured they probably weren't used to carrying a dead body around. "Where are they?" Rustin demanded, drawing Jim's attention back.
Blair did not move. "Look, Rustin, if you can't keep track of all your herd, that's not my problem. Just don't get delusional on me okay? You know I'm in a committed relationship. What would I want with your girls?"
Rustin didn't answer for a moment. He glanced up at Jim, and found Jim glaring back with his best ever 'I'm perfectly willing and able to rip your nuts off so don't piss me off' expression.
"That's what I want to know," he finally said. "I know they were here. Since you don't need them, I'll take them back."
"Hey man, if you can find them be my guest." Blair gestured at the ranch house and the fields behind him.
Rustin scowled. "You and I both know they aren't here."
"Then why are you hassling me?"
"Because they belong to me. You know where they are. Granted you did me a favor," he waved behind him vaguely towards Jug. "But that will only get you so far."
Jim found himself relaxing suddenly, minutely. It surprised him until he realized -- Rustin was only threatening. If he were serious about causing real trouble, he wouldn't be standing here yelling at Blair.
Blair's eyes narrowed. "This isn't your territory Rustin. I'm not part of your herd."
Rustin continued to glare at him for a moment. Then he stepped back, once. "When I find my girls, Blair, I'm going to come get them. And if I find you standing in my way...."
"Yeah, yeah. Promises, promises."
"Count on it," Rustin said, then turned and went back to the van. Moments later he was spinning tires, and heading back down the driveway.
Jim watched then listened until he was sure they were gone. Then he looked at Blair. Blair was still bristling. Jim smiled. "Was I good?"
That seemed to startle Blair out of his anger. He blinked, then grinned. "Yeah," he said. "You were perfect."
"I try," Jim said smugly.
Blair rolled his eyes and whapped him on the arm. "C'mon, Mr. Perfect. Let's head home."
"You said it, I didn't."
True to Joe's predictions, they had to go back to the drawing board in the search for Harper. They spent the rest of the day going over all the information they'd gathered and gone over twenty times already, hoping they'd missed something. It wasn't exactly a scintillating way to spend the day, and the fact that Rustin's visit had made the ranch less than a safe house, and so no evening run, did not improve Joe's temper.
Levon was trying his best to keep Joe calm, but it didn't help that he felt threatened as well. If Rustin came looking for the fillies, he'd find Levon and that was a fight Levon wanted to avoid. Joe knew, because Levon had said so at least four times since Blair had told them what had happened.
All in all it was a pretty crappy day and the night following wasn't much better. Again Levon had tried to distract him, but Joe was too annoyed to enjoy himself. Finally they just drifted into an uneasy sleep, and greeted the next day without much enthusiasm.
They started out early, having promised to meet Jim and Blair at their loft. Levon drove, asking as they went if Joe wanted anything. Stop for coffee, stop for breakfast which he'd turned down at the hotel, stop and beat the crap out of someone's trash can....
At the last suggestion Joe's lips twitched involuntarily. "Am I being that much of a pain?" he asked ruefully.
"You? Not at all," Levon replied. Then he added, "Am I allowed to say otherwise?" His tone made it clear that he knew he was.
Joe sighed nonetheless. "You know you are."
Levon grinned cheekily. "You're being a real pain, Joe."
"Thanks." He found himself grinning back. Shaking his head he added, "You know, there was a time I could sustain a bad mood for days."
"Sorry. Didn't mean to be a bad influence." Levon was still grinning.
Joe wondered why he was suddenly being so cheerful, when yesterday he'd been just as on-edge as Joe.
Well there was one way to find out. "And who turned you into miss merry sunshine?"
Levon glanced over. "Can't both of us be a pain," he said simply.
"Since when?" Joe asked, thinking back over their partnership.
"Since we've two extra partners who will gladly strangle us both if we start fighting over the breakfast table. Not to mention four impressionable fillies looking to me to be... levelheaded, at least."
Joe grinned again. "You always are, cowboy. Well, mostly."
"Mostly? Mostly!?" Levon glared at him, fighting back a smile. "I'll give you 'mostly', boy!" He slammed the car into park, and reached over for Joe. Joe barely had time to realize they were in the parking lot at Jim and Blair's loft before Levon's hands were digging into his shirt.
And then he was laughing too hard to notice his surroundings.
A knock on the windshield interrupted them.
"Boys?" a voice called.
They both froze.
Still trying to catch his breath, Joe looked up to see an attractive redhead looking at them curiously.
"Naomi!" Levon said in a delighted tone. He got out of the car and headed around to her. They hugged, then Levon turned to Joe. "This is Blair's mom. Naomi, this is my husband Joe."
"Hi," Joe said, offering her his hand even as he looked her over. "I've heard a lot about you."
"Oh really? Do you believe any of it?" She smiled.
"I wasn't given much reason to doubt it."
"Oh good!" She gave them both a smile. "Let's go see if Jim and Blair are awake, shall we? Or should I leave you two down here to finish what you were doing?"
Oh yes, she was definitely a centaur, Joe thought as he felt his face heat. Only centaurs seemed to be able to embarrass him that easily. "No, that's okay," he told her. "We're... err... done."
Levon laughed. "Come on, lover. Let's go see if we can interrupt Blair, too."
Trailing Naomi and his husband into the building, Joe shook his head and muttered, "Centaurs."
Levon glanced over his shoulder at him, grinning. He had his arm slung over Naomi's shoulders and they were talking animatedly about something. Joe only caught one word in three but even that was enough to make him blush. What was it about centaurs that they felt obliged to share those kind of details?
He wasn't sure he wanted to ask -- for knowing that Levon would explain it to him. Vividly.
Which would probably make him blush again.
They made it up to the third floor without Joe feeling compelled to ask his husband to find something else to talk about. Besides which, Levon was progressing to telling Naomi about Joe's other virtues and that made him start to smile.
Until, "And he says the worst things about barbecue sauce."
"Can I help it if I was born with taste?" Joe interjected, not willing to let that pass without commenting.
Levon gave him a look. "Like the way you taste," he agreed. So much for his reprieve, Joe thought.
Before he had a chance to say anything back, the door to 307 opened and Blair stuck his head out. "Mom!" he greeted Naomi happily, pulling her into a hug. "You're early!"
'How did he-' Joe wondered then remembered. 'Jim's senses. Right.'
Naomi greeted her son warmly, then stepped farther into the loft and gave Jim a hug as well. Levon and Joe followed her in, waiting as the Sandburg, Sr. whirlwind settled herself in the space.
Blair was bouncing on the balls of his feet, waiting until he had his mother's attention again. It was clear to anyone looking at him that he had something to tell her.
Finally she looked at him, grabbed his arms and asked, "What is it, Blair?" She was grinning excitedly.
"I finally told Jim," he said simply, his smile lighting up his whole face.
She stopped for nearly ten seconds. Then her face lit up though she gave Jim an uncertain glance. Jim just shrugged. He was smiling at Blair, though.
"He's fine with it Mom," Blair reassured her. "So fine in fact that he, uhm, proposed."
That reaction was astounding to watch. She whirled on Jim. "You did?"
"I did," he nodded, then she was on him again -- hugging him, then hugging Blair, grabbing both their hands, and talking a-mile-a-minute about wedding arrangements. Jim was trying to interrupt her, but she was ignoring his every half-spoken word.
Levon was the one who finally stopped her when he asked, "You gonna have it back home?"
That stopped everyone in fact. Jim looked at Blair, Blair looked at Jim and Naomi looked at both of them.
"We haven't discussed it yet," Blair said.
Levon's grin grew slightly. "You gonna tell Joy about it afterwards, then?"
Blair blanched slightly. "Maybe by letter. From Peru."
Levon laughed, and Naomi shook her head. "If we decide to have the wedding someplace other than the herd's ranch Joy will just have to deal with it."
Jim was giving Blair a look Joe recognized. It was the 'Can we just elope now?' expression.
"More than you bargained for, Jim?" Blair asked teasingly.
"I was hoping for a couple days to get used to the idea before I had to get my tux cleaned."
Naomi laughed. "A couple of days? It'll take a lot longer than that to plan this right. At least a couple of months."
Joe was suddenly very glad Naomi wasn't his mother-in-law.
Levon stepped closer to him, and whispered, "Lucked out, didn't we?"
"She's worse than the whole herd," Joe replied, watching as Naomi rambled on about all the preparations she'd have to do. Even Blair was starting to look a little wild around the eyes now.
Finally Jim took her arm and tugged, getting her attention. "Naomi, right now we have to get back to work. But I wonder if you could help us with something?" Jim glanced to Blair very quickly, as if for confirmation. Blair gave him a very subtle nod; the only reason Joe saw it was he was looking for it. Then, however, Jim gave Levon the same small questioning glance. But he spoke before Levon could say anything. "We have four girls who might need some looking after while we're trying to find a drug dealer."
Joe glanced at Levon too, but his partner seemed fine with the suggestion.
"Four fillies," Blair qualified.
"What? Where are they? Whose are they?" Suddenly the wedding seemed totally forgotten.
"They're mine, for now," Levon replied. "Took 'em from a human pimp here in town. Got 'em at the hotel, but the way this case has been going I'd feel a lot better knowing someone was keeping an eye on 'em."
"Rustin's looking for them too," Blair put in seriously.
Naomi frowned. "Someone needs to put that stallion out of his poor herd's misery!" She looked at Blair suddenly. "And I don't mean you, Blair. But someone had better do it soon." Blair held up his hands defensively. "Don't worry Naomi, I wasn't planning on taking him on. The last thing I need or want is a herd. Even if they would accept a half-blood. And taking Rustin out without there being a replacement..." He let his voice trail off into silence at that possibility.
"Then you'll keep 'em safe?" Levon asked, and it was obvious the question was unnecessary.
Joe felt some of the weight on his and his partner's shoulders lighten at Naomi's acquiescence. One less thing to worry about.
Even if they still had no clue what to do about finding Harper. It ended up that they had to resort to simply pounding the pavement. Canvassing the areas Harper was likely to have been, asking neighbors of the raided warehouse, even stopping by Fantasia to question its employees again. It was tedious, it was frustrating, and it was the only thing they could do.
By the end of the day even Blair's good spirits and energy were flagging. They stopped by the hotel to collect Naomi and the fillies for dinner. Instead they found a note.
"Blair, the girls are so upset about this whole business I thought it best if we went out for a run. We've gone to Hollow Creek. Come on up and meet us after you're through doing whatever it is you boys have been doing all day. Love, Naomi."
"Hollow Creek?" Joe asked, after Blair finished reading the note out loud.
"It's a place near here, where Naomi and I sometimes used to go running. A lot of the stallions from Rustin's herd go up there, too."
"Is it safe?" Levon asked.
Blair hesitated. "Normally I'd say yes, absolutely. But it's herd land -- Rustin will know about it. If he's looking for the fillies, to get them away from me or whomever he thinks might have them -- he might look there."
Joe had to practically hang onto Levon; his husband was frantic at the thought of Rustin finding the fillies. "We better get up there and check it out," Joe said. "Chill man," Blair told Levon. "Mom won't let anything happen to them."
Levon didn't calm down, however. They headed out to Blair's car and before Blair had even started the engine Levon was nearly vibrating with anxious energy.
"Easy," Joe said in an undertone, reaching over and laying a hand on Levon's thigh. "We'll get them." Levon didn't answer, but he kept himself as still as he could.
None of them were calm by the time they reached Hollow Creek. As soon as they got out of the car, Blair was on Jim. "Can you tell where they are?"
"Give me a second, Chief," Jim admonished, and began searching the area.
Blair was practically vibrating with suppressed energy, and all of Joe's attention was on keeping his partner from running off before they got a direction to run to. Levon was already changing; Joe kept a hand on him so he couldn't run off, alone, at least.
Finally Jim nodded. "They're off that way, about a mile."
"Wait!" Joe yelled before Levon could take off. The order registered but Joe could tell it wouldn't hold him back for long. He quickly swung astride Levon's back.
Blair meanwhile was also preparing to change. "Are they alone?" he asked Jim, even as he closed his eyes and began to transform.
Jim's expression changed from one of concentration to alarm. "No."
The word had barely registered with Joe, before Levon was off. He was running full out, going as fast as Joe had ever seen him. All of Joe's concentration was suddenly focused on staying mounted and on moving with Levon instead of against him. They dodged trees, low lying branches, and once they leapt something -- Joe didn't see what. He didn't say a word, however.
Behind him, he could distantly hear the sound of other hooves; Blair and Jim were following. But they didn't seem to gain any on Levon and himself.
Finally, ahead of them, shouting could be dimly heard. He heard Levon say something, but couldn't make it out. He knew his husband was frightened for the fillies. If Rustin had them, there was going to be a hell of a fight.
The weight of his guns in their holsters was a sudden reassurance.
They suddenly broke through to a clearing and Levon headed directly towards the five centaurs. The fillies were clustered together behind Naomi, who was shouting at a man in front of her. Behind him was another centaur.
Levon yelled and changed direction. Before they closed the distance more than by half, Naomi suddenly charged.
The man had time to raise his hands, but that was it before she was on him. He screamed once as he went down. Levon barely slowed, continuing towards the stallion who was staring openmouthed at Naomi. The stallion suddenly saw Levon heading for him, then he looked at something behind them, then over again at Naomi and the fillies behind her.
He turned and ran.
Joe heard Blair call out from behind him, "Yeah, you better run, Rustin!"
The stallion headed down towards a creek, jumping over it and running up a slight rise. Levon was still after him and gaining fairly quickly. They lost sight of him for a moment, then as they came over the crest of the hill, they saw a naked man scrambling into a van.
It was only as the van sped off that Joe was able to get Levon to stop.
"Thought you didn't want a fight," he said softly, running a hand over the trembling muscles in Levon's back soothingly.
It took a while before Levon was able to answer him. When he looked over, he was still pale with rage. "He was after my fillies," he said simply.
"He didn't get them."
"Yeah." Levon looked after the van once more, then turned and began walking back. Joe could feel him still shaking.
"You going to be okay?" he asked, worried that Levon might still go after Rustin.
"Yeah," Levon said again, sounding a little calmer. He turned around and headed back at a slower gallop.
As they approached, they found Jim standing beside the body, while Blair and his mother tried to calm the fillies. As soon as the fillies saw Joe and Levon, they raced over.
Levon was able to calm them down quickly, using the same words Joe had used on him. The transformation from enraged stallion to calm and collected care giver was amazing. Joe slid from Levon's back, gave him a gentle pat on the withers, then went over to join Jim, looking down at the corpse.
Naomi hadn't left much of the man.
"Any idea who this was?" he asked Jim.
Jim gave him a grin. It was a frightening, predatory grin. "Harper."
"Huh." Somehow that didn't even surprise Joe at this point. "What was he doing here with Rustin? I thought Jug was working with him." It didn't make sense that Jug and Rustin would be working together, even peripherally. But it wasn't likely they'd get the chance to find out, with Jug and Harper dead and Rustin unlikely to give them the time of day.
Jim shrugged; Joe didn't expect him to know any better than he did. Jim glanced over at Blair and Naomi. "I suppose we'll have to let them 'dispose' of this as well."
"Unless you want to explain how he got trampled to death by a horse."
Jim grinned. "Not really. What about you? Any trouble telling your lieutenant that Harper disappeared?"
"Her, we can tell the truth," Joe replied with a smile. "She knows about centaurs. Used to be Levon's partner."
"Oh?" Jim looked startled, then nodded. "I guess that makes sense." He looked over as Blair and Naomi walked up.
"Jim, I'm really sorry," Naomi began. "I don't suppose you can report this to your Captain Banks, can you?"
"Don't worry about it, Naomi."
Blair was looking at what remained of Harper. "You really did a number on him, Mom."
She smiled, still apologetic. "He was threatening those poor girls, Blair. He was going to take them and put them back to work and pay Rustin for them!" She looked angry again, then shook her head. "I didn't realize you boys were here."
"Don't worry about it, Mom. You just saved us from having to do it."
She grinned. "I have to admit his personality seems to have improved," she admitted.
"So does this mean the case is wrapped up?" Joe asked.
Jim looked surprised, then he smiled. "I think it does."
"Finally," Blair agreed with a grin. They all stood there for a moment, enjoying the fact. Then Naomi took Blair's arm and began, "I was thinking, about your wedding...."
The next day they were gathered at the train station. Joe had not said a word, merely returned their plane tickets and purchased the six train fares. Naomi was still telling Levon how he could meditate while he flew, and Levon was trying to be polite in return. Joe could tell Levon wasn't buying it.
"You should try it," Blair said when his mother paused for breath. "It really does work. It'll make flying easier on both you and Joe."
Levon still looked doubtful, but he said, "I suppose it couldn't hurt. Can't imagine flying being any worse."
"We won't be flying anywhere if I have anything to say about it," Joe put in. He was still haunted by the memory of the state Levon had been in when they'd landed in Cascade.
"Joe, trust me. I fly all the time. It works wonders." Naomi patted Levon on the arm. "I'll stop by Houston sometime next month and teach you."
"If you say so," Levon replied.
"I do. I'll be in the area speaking to Joy about the wedding plans, so it's no problem," Naomi assured him.
Joe watched as both Jim and Blair winced at the mention of "wedding plans".
"You're having it at the ranch then?" Levon asked, sounding amused.
Jim shook his head slightly, as did Blair. Both were standing behind Naomi, so she didn't see it. She said brightly, "That's one of the things Joy and I have to discuss, but it does seem like the perfect spot."
Blair shifted uncomfortably. "Mom-"
"Yes, dear?" she looked back at him.
Levon was trying to stifle laughter, and excused himself to check on the fillies.
"Jim and I haven't made up our minds yet," Blair reminded her.
"Well, you try telling that to Joy," Naomi told them. Joe realized she knew exactly how they felt about it.
Blair sighed and looked up at his partner. "You sure you don't want to run away to Peru?" he asked plaintively.
"The Chopec would marry us, I'm sure," Jim said seriously.
Naomi narrowed her eyes, then said, "If you two run away you are not going without me."
"Great!" Blair muttered, half-laughing. "My mother wants to come along when I elope!"
Naomi laughed. "I just want to be out of reach when Joy finds out!"
The announcement over the station's P.A. that the train was now boarding stopped the conversation. "Guess that's us," Joe said, a little awkwardly.
Levon was back, fillies clustered behind him. "It was good seeing you again, Blair, Naomi." He gave his relatives hugs, then he held out his hand to Jim. "Nice meeting you, too."
"Likewise," Jim replied.
Naomi gave each of the fillies a hug, then Levon sent them to get aboard. Once they were out of earshot he rolled his eyes. "I will be so glad when Taylor gets them off my hands."
Blair grinned. "Not enjoying having four teenage daughters?" he teased.
"Not without a herd full of mares to help me keep 'em in line, I don't!"
"We better go, or we'll miss the train," Joe interjected, shaking hands with Jim and Blair, and accepting a hug from Naomi. "If you're ever in Houston...."
"We will," Jim said.
With that, Joe and Levon headed for the train. Levon climbed aboard with a grateful smile and a look for Joe that said he wanted to kiss him. Joe grinned back and nudged him on.
"Good people," Joe said, nodding towards the window as they took their seats.
"Yeah. I hope they manage to have a nice, calm wedding, though."
Joe snorted. "With Naomi and Joy in charge? I wouldn't bet on it."
The bellow greeted them the moment they stepped into Major Crimes.
Blair winced. "It's nice to be wanted, I guess," he muttered for sentinel ears only.
"I want you," Jim replied, almost as softly. The grin that got him bolstered his courage to enter Banks' office.
Simon glowered at them as they entered. "I'm still waiting for the explanation you've been promising me for two days."
"Well, sir," Jim began, then glanced at Blair. They had been completely unable to think of a convincing cover story.
"Might as well just tell him the truth," Blair finally said with a sigh. "He's going to have to know eventually, if you want to invite him to the wedding."
"Tell me the truth?" Simon began, then stopped. "Wedding?"
"Uhm, yeah, Simon. Jim and I are getting married." Blair smiled and bounced on the balls of his feet.
Simon looked at them suspiciously. "I should say 'congratulations,' but why do I have the feeling I'm not going to like this?"
Jim smiled innocently.
"Well, there's some things you got to know about my family, Simon," Blair began.
Simon waited expectantly.
The rest of Major Crimes wondered, a few minutes later, why their captain was shouting.
End Single White Fillies.