Jim saw the bomb and let out a yell. "Clear the building. Now! Move it!" He followed the rest of the officers at a dead run as they raced out of the abandoned building. As he cleared the door, the building erupted into a huge ball of flame.
Rolling to a stand Jim heard a motor turn over and, focusing in on the sound, saw a motorcycle fly out of a hidden panel in the ground. He lunged after the bike and jumped on the back. The rider turned around and Jim was startled by his reflection in the plastic visor. He could see a cascade of progressively smaller versions of himself and for a moment he could feel himself getting sucked in, following the path of his reflections as if there was something essential at the end of the trail. Everything began to go gray.
Gritting his teeth, sweating with the effort, Jim grimly held on to the rider and his consciousness. After a few seconds he was back in control, and it was only the work of another minute to force the bike down and subdue the rider. After the cuffs were placed, Jim yanked off the rider's helmet and his eyebrows rose in surprise when he realized it was a woman. "Who the hell are you?"
She hissed at him, "Veronica Sarris. Sound familiar? You let him die. You let them all die."
Jim shook his head in dismay, his heart still raw with the remembered death of his unit, Sarris dying in his arms. "No."
"You left me alone."
"Your father was my friend. I never hurt him. I tried to save his life, Veronica, you've got to believe me."
Her eyes grew dark with fury. "All I know is he left with you, and you came back alone, alive and a hero. Just answer me this: where is my father now? Why should you be alive when he's dead? Why should anyone be alive if he's dead?"
Jim stared down at her, sick at heart for her, for her dad, for himself. "And you think killing other people will bring him back? You think this is something he'd condone? Your father believed in peace, Veronica. He fought for it. I don't know what the hell you think you're doing, but don't think for a minute this does him any honor."
She kicked out with her leg, trying to connect with Jim's kneecap, but he saw it coming and got out of the way. Hearing footsteps, he looked up to see Simon and several other officers heading his way.
"Right here, Simon. Here's your switchman."
Simon moved to stand next to Jim and looked down at the woman. She scowled at him and put up a sullen resistance as two of the officers pulled her to her feet. Simon watched silently as the woman was taken away, then lit a cigar and gestured toward her retreating back. "You want to tell me who she is?"
Jim let out a long sigh, running a hand down his face. "She's the daughter of one of my men who died on that last mission in Peru. She blames me for his death."
Simon shook his head. "Jesus, spare me from women out for revenge."
Jim's lips tightened. "Simon, I need a leave of absence."
"Are you nuts?"
Even though they were well out of sight, and should have been out of hearing range, Jim could hear the officers putting Veronica in one of the squad cars. As the door slammed, the sound seemed to pierce his ear drums. The headache that had been pestering him for several hours blossomed with a vengeance and it reminded Jim that something was happening to him beyond his understanding. "I don't know. Maybe. I ran a blood test to see if I'd been drugged, but I'm clean."
"Hey, slow down. What drugs?"
Jim leaned against a tree. The weariness consuming him left him needing the support to keep standing. "How else can I explain what's happening to me? I almost screwed this up because I had some sort of acid trip when I was on the back of that bike."
Simon made a dismissive gesture, his cigar smoke making leisurely spirals in the air. "Look, you were stressed, okay? You smelled some fumes, maybe, got dizzy. Cut yourself some slack, Jim. You caught her. You caught her and now she can't go and blow up any more people out of some twisted need for revenge. I call that a good day's work."
"It doesn't matter. I almost lost it, and next time I might. I'm losing control of my senses, Simon. I don't know how else to describe it. It's scaring the hell out of me."
Simon stared at him with widened eyes which then narrowed. "So let me get this straight. This is all about you being scared?"
Jim slowly sank down until he was sitting on his heels. He picked up a dead leaf and began to rip it into pieces. "Yep."
"With everything you've been through in your life, this is scaring you? I don't get it, Jim. This doesn't even sound like you."
Standing, brushing invisible detritus off his butt and the back of his thighs, Jim grimaced. He could feel stuff on his hands, like those invisible spider webs that attacked first thing in the morning. His fingers felt sticky. "All I know is that I can't do my job this way. So either you grant me a leave or I'll take one."
Simon scowled at him. "I don't like being pushed against a wall this way."
"I don't like it either. But I don't have a choice. I'm not safe out there and I have to figure out what's wrong now before it gets worse."
"I mean it. I'll hand in my gun and badge right now if that's what it takes." His hands started to feel itchy and he tried to rub whatever was on them off on his shirt. Suddenly he could hear the deafening concert of crickets all around him. On top of that, it sounded as if there were a million birds all chirping and cawing at each other, a thousand different rustles as the wind made its way through the grasses and leaves. It felt like a tornado.
Simon was not happy. "Fuck."
All Jim wanted to do was shut it off. Shut out the light that felt as if it was burning his retinas, scrub off the sticky residue on his hands that he was sure was eating his skin off, rinse out his mouth of the taste of Simon's cigar that made him feel like he'd eaten an ashtray. It was too much. He began to hand his gun to his boss, reaching for his badge.
Simon backed a step away. "I don't want those. Damn it, you're the best detective I've got."
Jim hated begging, but he didn't have a choice. "Then let me go. Let me take some time. You'll lose me either way. But maybe this way, I can come back."
"You're not really giving me a choice, here. Damn. Take what time you need. You just better be planning on coming back."
Feeling a tremendous sense of relief, Jim replaced his gun in his back holster. "There's nothing I want more. Believe me."
Simon gestured back to the main entrance. "You need a ride?"
Jim shook his head, ignoring the pains shooting down his neck into his shoulders at the movement. What he needed was to be alone. "No, I've got my truck."
Simon nodded and after flashing Jim a sad smile, turned and walked away.
Jim sank down to his haunches again, clasping his head in his hands, willing all the sensations bombarding him to go away. He tried to picture himself somewhere calming, someplace that always made him feel better. Everything in him cried out for the mountains. Slowly rising, walking as carefully as he could to keep down the vibrations shooting up his legs, he headed for his truck.
The senses came and went. There were moments when they seemed
completely normal, and then, suddenly, inexplicably, his senses would
go off the wall. It still scared him, but at least Jim could relax up
here, knowing that no one was depending on him to keep them alive. He
could lie there in his tent, and wait for the torture to pass.
He'd started timing how often it started, as if he were in labor. He tried to figure out what stimulated them, tried to think of ways to get them back in control. So far he hadn't found rhyme or reason for what was happening and he was deeply frustrated.
It had been days since he'd had a good night's sleep and that was also wearing on his body. Despite his hopes, his mountain retreat was doing little to restore his equilibrium. Finally, exhaustion caught up with him, and he was able to drop off into a deep sleep.
Then, in the dark of night, in the middle of his first bout of real sleep, he heard someone cough.
Jim lay there, growing more annoyed by the minute as he listened to the cough. Just when it started to get quiet, and he could feel himself starting to fall back under, it started up again. His jaw clenched as a few more hacks made their way to his tent, from wherever this invader lay.
Finally he couldn't stand it anymore. He flung himself out of his sleeping bag and grabbed his backpack. Thrusting down into its depths, he blindly began searching. His fingers made contact with his intended goal and with a quiet sound of victory he pulled out his hand, now holding four Vick's cough drops.
Pulling on a pair of jeans, toeing into a pair of moccasins, he grabbed a flashlight and unzipped the tent, stepping outside into the darkness. It was blessedly silent for a moment. Silent except for the myriad of night sounds, crickets, frogs, and the slight scurrying of small creatures in the underbrush. Those sounds belonged, unlike the unwelcome coughing. Relieved that, for the moment, his senses were behaving, Jim blew out a long breath, soaking in the solace of nature.
The cough started again and the hackles on his neck rose. No one was supposed to be here interrupting his silent reverie, disrupting his desperate need for some elusive peace and quiet. He focused on the unwelcome sound and discerned the approximate source. With a determined stride he headed that way.
It didn't take him long until he saw the small tent. He was somewhat chagrined he hadn't noticed it earlier and it told him that he needed this respite even more than he thought. With all his training no one should have been able to settle within a mile of him without his knowledge. Not bothering to hide the sound of his approach--no need with the camouflage of coughing covering every noise--he arrived at the tent and crouched down.
There was a small choked sound as the coughing came to an abrupt halt. The silence that followed was filled with caution.
He tried again. "Hey."
Again there was no response. He could almost feel the nervousness of the inhabitant of the tent, could sense its owner running through options.
Jim was willing to try one more time before he completely gave in to his temper. "I have some cough drops."
Finally a voice. "Just leave them. Thanks." There was a small aborted cough.
His brow lifted. The voice startled him. It was husky, and rich, like honey. It worked its way into his ears and made its way leisurely down his spine. He thought for a moment about acceding to the cougher's demand, but then Jim knew he needed to see him. If asked for the reason why, Jim wasn't sure he could provide one, but it was essential that he see the face attached to that voice. He lied. "They're not wrapped. They'll get dirty if I just lay them down."
There was a considered silence and then he heard some rustling within. After a moment he could tell the cougher had moved closer to the front of the tent and Jim waited for the man within to unzip the flap. Instead, a hand snaked out, palm open, silently entreating.
He took a moment to look at the hand. It was a normal looking hand, large knuckles, calloused fingertips. Clearly a hand used to working. It was, Jim decided, a hand you could depend on. He shook his head in disgust, trying to clear away his mental blathering. There was no doubt that he needed this leave of absence. It wasn't only his senses that were on the fritz.
Rather than leaving the cough drops at the requested destination, Jim crouched down, hands on the zipper. Despite the fact that it made his goal easier he felt a flash of anger that the guy had left himself so unprotected when the zipper easily opened, unimpeded by any security measures.
Jim heard the man let out a gasp and saw the tent tremble as he withdrew into the back of the tent. The anger flashed through him again. "Didn't anyone ever teach you to tape the zipper shut when you're camping?" He let out a disgusted noise. "Especially if you're alone in the middle of nowhere? Didn't you ever see Deliverance?"
A shoe bounced off his head.
"Get out of here." The voice was still husky but was now laden with a layer of fear.
Jim could tell now that the huskiness was due to a cold. He wondered what the cougher's voice would sound like normally. Then he wondered why the hell he was wondering that.
The voice spoke again. "Don't come any closer."
"Or what? You going to hit me with the other shoe?" He rolled his eyes. "Don't you even have a baseball bat with you?"
The silence that met his question answered it. "Jesus, don't you know that there are all sorts of people out there who would take serious advantage of this situation?" Jim had put quite a number of them behind bars. He wasn't quite sure why he was so put out at this man's foolhardiness. It really wasn't any of his business.
The voice was still fearful but was now tinged with sarcasm. "You mean someone may try to force their way into my tent, uninvited?"
A retort ready to go on his tongue, he shone the flashlight into the tent and his mouth went dry. The sensation that had trickled its way down his spine when he'd heard the rich voice, now spread through him like a brushfire. Shoulder length hair framed the stranger's face, wild with curls that reflected back a myriad of colors from red to dark brown as the light shone across it. Despite the dim light, Jim could clearly see the huge blue eyes as they captured him in their gaze
He looked like a kid, but he was clearly a man. The hairy chest was a dead give-a-way. As Jim's eyes wandered down the man's torso, it was entirely possible the man was naked. Only the sleeping bag wrapped firmly around him, as if it might protect his virtue, kept it a mystery. One hand was tightly clasped around the second shoe; the second was under his pillow. Jim felt a sudden urge--one that completely disconcerted him--to hold on to the kid, to protect him from anything that might harm him.
Completely flummoxed by the inexplicable urge, Jim frowned and decided to take the offensive. "What the hell are you doing out here in the first place?"
The cougher's eyes flashed in response. "That's none of your business. I can go where I want."
"Yeah, well, I came here to get some peace and quiet and your coughing is keeping me up."
"Then you go somewhere else. The last time I checked this was a free country. This is public property."
"No one comes up here at this time of year."
The kid's eyes were flashing. "You're here."
Jim had to admire the fact that the cougher wouldn't back down, but then his jaw tightened. He was here to relax, to find a little stillness and control before throwing himself back in the fray. He most definitely did not come up here to get acquainted with some stranger.
A rhythmic sound captured his attention and Jim concentrated on it; it took him a minute to realize it was a heartbeat. He focused on his own body and could tell it wasn't his. His eyes widened as he figured out that it was the other man's heartbeat. All of a sudden, Jim could smell him, could smell his shampoo and the rich tang of sweat, and some other odor that Jim couldn't identify, but guessed was part of the man's natural smell. Jim liked it. He sniffed deeply and could feel his salivary glands respond.
Jim closed his eyes for a second, trying to find some control. This was new, having his senses respond like this to another person, and the fact that it was a man just made it weirder. When Jim looked up again he saw that the kid was watching him closely, but that the shoe had been lowered to his lap. For some reason Jim found himself grinning.
The kid started a new coughing jag. As the cough rendered him speechless, he put out his hand again, with a touch of imperiousness. Without a thought, Jim obeyed and placed the cough drops in the younger man's hand. As the kid realized they were individually wrapped he flashed Jim a disgruntled glare but unwrapped one and popped in it his mouth. The coolness of the mentholated drop eased the cough immediately. Pulling up his knees, the young man rested his head for a moment, as if suddenly consumed by weariness.
The motion wrenched Jim's heart. He looked so tired. So alone. Internal danger flares went up and Jim started to emotionally pull back. This was not something he needed, not now. He couldn't afford to be responsible for someone. This was why he was a hundred miles from the nearest town, hoping to find himself completely alone, to be free of any sort of responsibility other than what it took to survive. "Now maybe you'll stop that damn coughing and in the morning you can pack up your stuff and get out of here."
Jim watched as the kid lifted his head and squared his shoulders. "I'll stay here as long as I damn well please. Go away and leave me alone."
Jim clenched his teeth. "I came up here to be alone."
"So did I."
"Why the hell did you have to come right here and get sick?" Jim wondered if the universe was out to get him.
"Excuse the hell out of me, buddy. I can get sick anywhere I fucking please. Just deal with it, and in the morning you can go that way," the young man pointed to the left, "and I'll go that way." He pointed in the opposite direction. "And we'll never have to see each other again."
For some reason, Jim didn't like that idea at all. Not even a little bit. He was beginning to wish he'd brought some liquor with him. Maybe a good drunk would help snap everything back to normal and he'd be home in his loft, everything the way it was, and he wouldn't be here besieged by contradictory feelings about an exasperating man who was in his territory. "Fine."
There didn't seem to be anything else to say. Or do. Nothing that made any sense, in any case, so Jim backed out of the tent and stood. He hung his head when he realized that he didn't really want to go back to his tent. He wanted to stay here. Jim decided he was definitely losing it. There was no other excuse for the way his brain and body were acting.
Before he could walk even two steps away, Jim heard some scrabbling behind him and he turned to see the guy sticking his head out of the tent. Jim waited quietly to see what the kid was going to say.
The young man opened up his hand, revealing the remaining three cough drops. "Hey, man, thanks for these. It was, I mean, I know I was bothering you, but it was still a, well, a nice thing to do. I really appreciate it." He flashed a smile up at Jim.
Jim couldn't help but smile back. "Okay." He made as if to walk away, but then turned back again. "Get some sleep. I'll see you tomorrow."
"I thought the point of all of this was to not see me tomorrow."
Jim gazed down on the kid, the riot of curls outlining his face. "Get some sleep."
The young man stared up at him, studying him carefully under the moonlight, and then he nodded. "You'll be close by?"
Jim pointed off into the distance, ridiculously pleased at the thought that his presence was possibly reassuring. "My tent's about 300 yards that way."
The kid raised his eyebrows. "Man, you heard me that far? I must have been coughing up my kneecaps." As if to emphasize his point, he started to cough again.
Jim didn't like the way the kid's lungs sounded and didn't want to leave him here alone. What he should do is pack the kid up and take him to the closest hospital. Suddenly annoyed again at how his solitude had been interrupted, Jim pointed to the open hand still displaying the cough drops. "That's all I have. Make them last. I want to get some sleep tonight."
Jim winced at the flash of hurt in the wide eyes. He could almost watch the kid shut down and it made him feel like a heel.
The kid rallied. "Well, thanks again. Good night." With that, he crawled back into his tent, trying to suppress his cough.
Waffling as to whether to stay or go, Jim softly cursed the night air around him. Finally, when no further noise came from the tent, other than a cough being muffled in fabric, Jim turned and went back to his tent.
After slipping off his shoes, Jim crawled into his tent and sat on his sleeping bag. The sounds began to press in and he covered his ears with his hands. It made little difference. Without conscious awareness of what he was doing, Jim found himself sifting through the myriad of noises to find one specific sound. It wasn't until he found it that he realized what he'd done. It was the kid's heartbeat.
Jim let the sound surround him, let it creep under his skin, let it regulate his own heartbeat. He could still hear the kid cough, could hear him toss and turn, but the heartbeat was like a buffer, like white noise, making everything else bearable.
Even while a part of him thought it was impossible, that there was no way he was actually hearing someone's heart beat over 300 yards away, Jim held on tight to the syncopated rhythm. Undressing down to his boxers, he slipped into his sleeping bag, and drifted off to sleep.
The first thing Jim tuned into when he woke up was the kid's
heartbeat. The sound of it made him frown. It was faster than it had
been yesterday. Listening harder, Jim was amazed he could actually
hear the congestion in the guy's chest, could hear the labored
Jim dropped his head down with a thunk. "Great." The kid was sicker. No way was Jim going to be able to just walk away. He lay there for a few minutes as he monitored all his inner voices. There was still a small one that was screaming at him to pack up his gear and go. Another was demanding that he go to the other man's tent and take care of him. Now. Do anything that was necessary to keep him alive. That voice was almost panicked.
Another voice was curious as to why the kid was here, what his name was, what he did for a living. His cop voice was wondering if he was on the lam, thinking that maybe he should search the kid's tent. And a final voice, a tiny one that Jim was trying to ignore as best he could, wanted him to go and wrap his arms around the guy and never let him go.
Jim did a review. That was four in favor of seeing the kid again, and one for scramming. Resigned to his fate, at least for the moment, Jim shimmied into his clothes and then stepped outside his tent. After tying the laces of his boots, Jim found the nearest convenient tree and peed.
He brushed his teeth and then, deciding he couldn't put it off any longer, especially as the kid was coughing even worse now than he was last night, Jim headed back to the kid's tent.
The closer he got, the more Jim could hear him wheeze. In between the wheezes were coughs, and an occasional muttered curse. In several languages, if Jim's ears could be trusted, and Jim was pretty sure his ears could be trusted.
It dawned on him that his senses were sort of behaving. Not acting normally, not by any stretch of the imagination, but they weren't spiking all over the place. And the headache that had been his constant companion for days was almost gone.
Jim made no effort to hide his approach. As he got nearer, Jim could tell the kid could hear someone coming. What he didn't understand was why the kid's heart started racing. He could hear the kid digging in his backpack, saying, "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck."
Jim frowned, wondering why the kid was freaking. He yelled out. "Hey, it's me."
He could hear the kid's heart spike and then settle back down. Heard a muttered, "Thank God. Relax. Take a deep breath." And apparently the deep breath was a bad idea because it started a painful coughing jag.
Jim jogged the rest of the way to the tent and, crouching down, poked his head in. He realized with some annoyance that the kid hadn't even zipped the tent shut. "You all right?"
The kid looked at him with such a face of misery that Jim entered the tent to see how he could help. He sat down on the foot of the sleeping bag so he could keep his booted feet outside the tent. "You don't sound very good."
Even in the midst of his coughing, the kid sent him a small grin. Finally he got it under control. "I'm out of cough drops."
Jim grinned back at him. "Me, too." He gestured with his thumb over his shoulder, to the great outdoors. "We need to get you to a doctor. That cough sounds bad."
The kid actually withdrew toward the back of the tent, his eyes wide with anxiety. "No, no hospitals."
Jim's eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion and smelled something in the air that he decided was the odor of fear. "Why not?"
All he got for that question was a stubborn look. "None of your business, man."
Then Jim saw it, sitting on top of his backpack. A gun. A sour disappointment ripped through Jim as he realized that the kid must be on the lam. Jim grabbed for the gun and when the kid saw what he was doing, he made his own lunge, but Jim was faster. Holding the gun aloft, Jim scowled at him. "You got a permit for this?"
That stopped the kid in his tracks, a look of confusion spreading over his face. Clearly, that hadn't been what he'd expected to hear. He pursed his lips as he considered Jim. Finally he spoke. "Actually, I do."
That surprised Jim. "You do?"
The kid nodded. "Yeah, I'm a cop." He held out his hand. "Can I have my gun back, please?"
Jim frowned. "You're a cop?" No way was this kid a cop.
"Well, actually, not really a cop cop."
Jim put the gun out of reach so the kid would have to crawl over him to get to it. "Uh huh."
"I'm a forensics anthropologist. I work with the Seattle PD." He began digging through his backpack and finally withdrew a small black leather folder. Snapping it open, he held it up for Jim's inspection.
Jim took a good look at it. It was a Seattle Police Department ID. The kid's name was Blair Sandburg and, according to his ID, he was a freaking Ph.D. "Dr. Blair Sandburg, I presume?" Jim handed him back his gun.
Coughing, Blair nodded. He took his gun, snapped the ID shut, and placed both inside his backpack.
Jim fished out his own ID and handed it to Blair.
Blair let out a short laugh. "You're a cop, too?" He glanced closer. "A detective?"
Jim nodded. "So, you want to tell me why you don't want to go see a doctor?"
"Not really, no."
"Not good enough."
Blair let out a sigh. "Look, man. I appreciate your concern. But I'm not your responsibility. And short of tying me up and throwing me over your shoulder, I'm not going anywhere for a while." To emphasize his point, Blair doubled up with another cough. He lifted bleary eyes to Jim. "So, why don't you go do what you wanted to do when you came up here, and let me go back to sleep for a while."
Ignoring the voice that was in total agreement, Jim shook his head. "Can't do that, Chief."
"Why the hell not?"
"Because you're sick. Are you even listening to yourself? Your lungs are filling up, your cough is getting worse, you're having trouble breathing, your heart is already racing trying to compensate and it can't do that forever. You need some medicine."
Blair drew his legs up and dropped his forehead to his knees. Then, he snapped his head back up and looked at Jim with horrified eyes. "What? What did you say?"
Jim was afraid the kid was going to stroke; his heart was hammering loud enough for Jim to hear it even without the benefit of his new hearing. "What the hell is the matter?"
"What did you mean when you said you could hear my heart racing?"
Jim pointed at Blair's chest, where his t-shirt was practically vibrating in time to Blair's pounding heart. "I hardly need to hear it to know you're heading toward a heart attack."
Blair put his hand on his chest, over his heart. He shook his head. "Before. You said my heart was trying to compensate. How could you hear that?"
Jim watched as Blair's eyes darted to his gun, and wondered what the fuck was going on. He had no idea how to answer the question because he didn't want Blair to think he was crazy. Jim swore silently to himself for being stupid enough to say that shit out loud. "Nothing, I didn't mean anything by it."
This time Blair went for his gun. He snicked the safety off and pointed it at Jim. "What the fuck did you mean? Can you hear my heart? Are all your senses enhanced?"
Jim's eyes opened wide at the last question, wondering how the kid had known to ask that. He put up a hand. "Okay, hold it right there, Kemosabe. Put down the gun."
"No way in hell. I've already had one of your kind try to kill me. I don't intend to let it happen again."
"One of my kind? What the fuck does that mean?" Even though he had no idea what Blair was talking about, he still felt deeply offended.
Jim took advantage of another spate of coughing to disarm Blair. He tucked the gun out of reach. "Can we start this conversation over again? Have I done you any harm? Why would you think I was going to kill you?"
"I didn't think she'd end up trying to kill me either, but she did. Actually, she succeeded. I mean, the paramedics were able to revive me, but I was dead when they found me."
Jim found the idea of this man's death too painful to entertain. "Who the fuck is this 'she'? And what did she do to you?"
Blair put a hand to the back of his head as if to demonstrate. "She whacked me with her gun and then threw me in a fountain and drowned me." He started coughing again.
Jim cocked his head to the side, listening to Blair's harsh breathing. "When did this happen?"
"Two days ago."
Jim's jaw dropped and his eyes widened. "Shouldn't you still be in the hospital? Why the hell are you traipsing around in the middle of nowhere?"
"If I stayed in the hospital, she'd find me. And she wouldn't care who she had to hurt to kill me. I had to get out of there." He blew out a long breath which ended on a cough. "I can't stay here much longer either; she'll track me down eventually."
"You're just gonna hide from her?" Jim didn't think that was a good plan.
"Just 'til I feel better, man. If I go up against her now, she'll win, and I really don't feel like dying again." He held out his hand. "Let me have my gun back."
Jim shook his head. "No."
Blair's eyes narrowed. "Give it back."
"No. Listen to me. I don't know why this bitch was trying to kill you, or who or what you think I am, but the die's already cast. Either I'm a bad guy, in which case you're screwed because right now I could take you blindfolded and with both hands tied behind my back, or I'm a good guy, in which case you can calm down and let me help."
Blair dropped his hand in surrender. "I don't fucking believe this." He lay down and curled up into a ball.
A part of Jim wanted to curl up behind him and hold him tightly. A wiser voice figured that would be all the kid would need to decide Jim wasn't such a good guy. Especially after his crack about the movie Deliverance last night. "Do you have any supplies?"
Blair pointed to the backpack. "Everything I brought's in there."
Jim dragged it closer and began to unpack it. Some clothes, two bottles of water, six granola bars, a baggie of trail mix, and a bruised banana. At the bottom, accounting for the weight of the bag, were six books, a journal, a candle, a book of matches, and a box of ammunition. Jim sighed. "How, exactly, were you planning on feeding yourself?"
"Jim. It is Jim, right?" Jim nodded. "Look, I didn't really have time to think this all through. I just grabbed some stuff and ran. Besides, I had more food; I just ate it already."
Jim watched as Blair closed his eyes and curled up tighter. "I'm gonna go get my stuff and bring it closer. I'll be back in a little while."
Blair nodded but didn't say anything.
Jim decided that was better than being given the finger and after sticking Blair's gun back in his backpack, in one easy motion he was out of the tent and standing. Striding quickly, he covered the distance rapidly. He broke camp, got all his gear settled on his back, and then returned to Blair's tent. In minutes, he had his tent set up again and a fire pit cleared.
He scavenged for some wood and got a fire going. Jim had planned to hunt for his meals but he didn't want to take the time right now. He still had quite a few MREs with him and they'd suffice for a few meals. Placing a portable grill over the flames, he adjusted the legs until it was steady.
While he heated up some water, Jim went through his own pack, looking for the first aid kit he knew was in there. Finally he found it pulled out some aspirin and an antihistamine. It wasn't enough, but it might help take the edge off.
He entered the tent and found Blair still curled up and shivering. Jim placed his hand on the kid's forehead and could feel the heat. He touched Blair's shoulder lightly. "Hey, wake up."
Blair opened his eyes, his exhaustion showing in the dull eyes.
"Come on, sit up. I've got some aspirin for you. You got any drug allergies?"
Blair shook his head and sat up, even though the movement got him coughing again.
Jim knew he should be on antibiotics; he'd probably been getting them at the hospital. But until Jim knew more about the woman who had tried to kill Blair, Jim didn't feel he could simply disregard the kid's concerns. "Here, take these."
Blair obediently took the pills and swallowed them.
"Drink the rest of that bottle. You need to stay hydrated."
Blair flashed him a disgruntled look but did as he was told. Jim was relieved that, at least for the moment, Blair had decided he was one of the good guys.
As Blair drink the water, Jim tuned into the young man's body, listening closely to his lungs. He could hear the crackles that indicated the presence of fluid there. As he was listening intently, a bird overhead let out a raucous shriek; the noise struck Jim like a physical assault. All his senses opened wide and he was overrun with an overwhelming onslaught of noises, smells, sounds, and odors. Jim let out a groan and covered his face with his hands.
"Hey, you all right?"
Jim just groaned again as Blair's voice added to the punishing stimuli.
He was very grateful when Blair's next words were whispered. "Is it your senses?"
Jim nodded. His clothes were starting to itch and he was sure his head would burst from the headache that had made a startlingly vicious reappearance.
"Okay, listen to me. Shh, it'll be all right. Picture a set of dials in your head that read from one to ten. Label each one with a sense. One for hearing, for sight, for touch, and smell, and taste. Got that?"
Jim found himself following the guidance of Blair's voice. He nodded gingerly, every movement making his headache worse.
"Good. You're doing great, Jim. Now, let's focus on sound first. I bet that dial's set at ten right now, maybe even off the scale. Now, very gently, just turn that dial down. Just picture it turning down, going to nine, then eight, and keep it moving until it's set at two. Are you doing that?"
"Great. I'm glad this is working. Now, let's do touch. I bet you're about ready to crawl out of your skin. Look at that dial and turn it down as well."
Slowly, one by one, Blair had him turn down all the dials until Jim suddenly realized that his senses were back to normal and his headache was fading.
"You better now?"
Jim turned to Blair in amazement. "Wow. Yeah. You know what this is, don't you? You know what's happening to me."
Blair let out a mirthless chuckle. "Yeah. Must be my karma or something. This thing's genetic, although like muscles, it can get stronger with use and practice. For my master's degree I did a paper on Sentinels. I first read about them in South America, although I never did find one on any of the field excursions I took."
"When you say it's genetic, you mean something's wrong with me?"
"No." Blair coughed for a few seconds. "No, it's a genetic advantage. A tribe with a Sentinel would have a significant leg up on any other tribe. A Sentinel can see farther and hear more, can sense a change in the weather, or see the way the herds are moving or hear an enemy approaching. He or she could smell illness, or track down water." He gestured toward his backpack. "Didn't I have a banana in there?"
Jim allowed the change in topic and searched through the stuff he'd taken out of Blair's backpack until he found what he was looking for. He held up the brown mottled banana. "If you still want to call it that."
"Yeah, well, in a perfect world I'd be home right now making banana bread, but it's not." Blair held out his hand. "I'll take it."
Jim handed him the banana and then watched as Blair fought unsuccessfully with the stem in an effort to unpeel it. Finally Jim took it back and used his knife to cut the top off. He handed it back.
"Thanks, man." Blair unpeeled the top of the banana and took a bite. "Essentially what it means is that your senses are better than anyone else's. The hard part is learning how to control them so they don't drive you crazy. You know, headaches and rashes, nausea from all the smells, and food all tasting like it's poisoned. That sort of stuff."
Blair's words were like a benediction. Jim had been experiencing all of that and more. "I thought I was going crazy."
Blair took the last bite of the banana and then sat there, holding the peel. "Thanks for the drugs, they made me feel better."
"No problem. Tell me more about this Sentinel thing. Is there any way to turn it off?"
"Keeping with my earlier metaphor, I imagine that if they're not used, if you go out of your way to suppress them, that they'll eventually atrophy. But why would you want to do that? You're a cop, man, you'd be like a human crime lab."
"I don't like feeling so out of control."
"So you learn how to control them." Blair gave him a once-over. "You look like you work out, you're a buff guy. You strike me as someone who's pretty disciplined about taking care of your body. Are you?"
Jim nodded. "I need to be able to depend on it."
"Exactly. So this will be one more thing you exercise. Another tool, like your body, that you can train to work for you."
"You make it sound so easy."
Blair ran his fingers through his hair, immediately encountering some tangles. "Man, I must look like Medusa." He pointed to the pile of his possessions. "Was there a hairbrush in there?"
Jim tossed the mostly empty pack over to him. "Not in the stuff I took out."
Blair checked a few pockets and finally found his brush. He started working out the tangles. "It's not easy. It's like you're starting over with a brand new skill, like starting to learn how to play the piano. You're gonna suck at first. The difference is that if you suck at playing piano, it's no big deal, except for your neighbors."
"You sound like you work with Sentinels all the time." Jim wasn't sure how he felt about that. For some reason, he didn't want Blair working with anyone but him.
Blair gave him a tight-lipped smile. "Amazing the difference a few months make. When I met Alex and figured out that she was a Sentinel I was, like, out of this world. Holy Grail time, man. I couldn't even believe it. And, needless to say, I was clueless. I mean I knew the basic ideas, but it's not like there's a book out there, you know, 'Training Sentinels for Dummies'."
"So how'd you learn it? That trick you tried with me with the dials worked great."
"Trial and error, man. Mostly error. And I'm glad it worked so well with you, nothing worked really great with Alex."
"What do you mean?" Jim tried to keep a smug grin off his face, not even sure why he felt so pleased that Blair's techniques worked better on him. Fortunately, Blair didn't seem to notice the grin.
Blair started coughing again and took a swig of water. "Can we go outside? This tent's starting to feel a little claustrophobic with both of us in it."
"Sure. Water's almost boiling anyway." Jim backed out and stood to check on the pot. "You want coffee or hot chocolate?"
Blair walked unsteadily over to the fire and then sat on the ground, his legs crossed Indian style. Jim could tell that despite the drugs helping out temporarily, Blair was still quite ill. "Man, I think I'll take you on all my unscheduled camping trips. Hot chocolate would be great. Got any marshmallows?"
Jim threw the bag at him.
Blair laughed as he caught it. "These will do, but I meant the little ones. You tellin' me you didn't bring both kinds?"
Jim just gave him a look as he prepared the two mugs. "So, what happened with Alex?"
"She couldn't control her senses and she got really, really frustrated when they went wacko on her. I couldn't get her to meditate or do regular exercises. She just wanted an instant solution, like some damn pill or something. She let me do some experiments with her, to see how acute her senses were, and I must have tried a thousand different types of exercises to try and get her back in control."
"The dial thing did, a little. Yoga seemed to help. It's like a physical meditation. That is absolutely essential, learning how to mellow out. You need to learn how to stay calm when all hell is breaking loose. And senses on the loose are their own equivalent of hell; at least they were for her."
Jim handed Blair a cup of hot chocolate. Blair opened up the bag of marshmallows and took one out, dipping it in the hot liquid. When Jim fixed his own, he decided to follow Blair's example, dipping his own marshmallow. "Go on."
"Mostly what she wanted to learn was how to make them stronger. Even though the stronger they got, the worse the spikes were. So, I did my best and her senses got strong, really, really strong." A nervous look came over Blair's face and he looked around, as if suddenly seeing danger lurking behind every tree.
Jim sat down on the ground, not far from Blair and leaned forward to touch his arm. "I'll hear her, Chief."
Blair nodded tersely. "Man, she was something. And beautiful. Stunning. I guess that's why I was so blind to it. There's something wrong with the universe when someone who looks like that is a psychotic bitch."
Jim's eyebrows went up at that. "What do you mean? Other than the fact that she tried to kill you, of course."
Blair gave him an indignant look. "That's not enough?"
Jim could feel himself redden. "Yes, yes, of course it is. It just sounds like stuff was going down before that happened."
Blair nodded. He started working on his hair again with the brush. He flashed Jim a rueful smile. "Sorry about the endless grooming. When I can't condition it each day it takes on a life of its own." Blair let out a large yawn.
"Why don't you cut it?" Not that Jim wanted him to. In fact, he was barely resisting the urge to yank the brush out of Blair's hand and help him, just so he could touch the thick mane.
"Don't start with the hair, man. You do not know what I had to go through to keep it long when they put me through the classes at the academy I couldn't test out of." Blair finally worked the brush through a significant tangle and that seemed the last of it. He finished up the session with a few more strokes and then, digging into his pants pocket, he pulled out a colorful fabric elastic band, and put his hair in a pony tail. "There. Phew, that wore me out."
Jim got up and walked to Blair's tent, dragging out his sleeping bag. He unzipped it and laid it out by the fire. "Here, take a nap."
Blair did as he was told, and lay down on the flannel plaid of the sleeping bag, pulling the far side on top of him. In seconds, to Jim's amusement and worry, he was sound asleep.
Jim sat there for a while watching him sleep. His lungs still sounded congested and coughs were escaping, even while he slept. Jim doubted Blair had gotten much sleep last night, even with the cough drops. Getting up, he refilled the pot with more water, deep enough to heat the MREs.
After that, Jim stared at Blair again, thinking about what the kid had said about his senses. Just being able to put a label on what was going on made a tremendous difference. It also helped that Blair seemed so matter of fact about it. Not that Jim thought it would be a walk in the park, but if he knew what exercises to do, he could be disciplined about it. Discipline was comforting to him. On the other hand, Jim could just stop using them until they went away. That option certainly held some appeal.
Blair turned until he was curled up on his side again, facing the fire. Jim's eyes traced the lines of his face, the heavy five o'clock shadow, the dark circles under his eyes, the incredibly long lashes and full lips. And that hair. Jim didn't understand why the kid's hair got to him. But it did. He really wanted to touch it.
Jim inched a little closer and moving silently he gave in to temptation, gently touching a curl. He closed his eyes and found his touch dial, turning it up a few notches. Then he concentrated on the hair curling around his finger. It felt soft yet resilient. It felt like Jim imagined ivy did as it grew, sending out tendrils so it could adhere to the most recalcitrant of edifices. Like cement and stucco, like red brick, like Jim.
He wanted Blair in his life. It seemed more important than anything right now. That meant he needed to keep the senses, because there'd be no reason for him and Blair to even keep in touch without them.
Jim looked down only to find Blair looking up at him. He dropped the curl as if it were on fire and felt himself redden again. "Uh, I--." Jim had no idea what to say.
Blair surprised him by smiling. "No sweat, man. The hair seems to have that effect on a lot of people. Help yourself, I love having my hair played with." With that, he rolled over until he was facing the other direction.
Feeling like a fool, but unable to resist, Jim inched closer and took Blair at his word. He helped himself to a larger handful this time and allowed it to play over his fingers, letting it catch the light and reflect a dazzling array of colors.
Jim felt bewitched and disoriented. He grabbed another handful and it was as if each separate curl transmitted a small electric shock to his system. Suddenly it wasn't enough. He leaned even closer and took a sniff. He could smell dirt and sweat; obviously Blair hadn't taken a shower recently. Jim could also smell the sickness on him as his body exuded the toxins of his illness. Beneath it all, though, was that underlying smell he had scented before that teased and tantalized him.
Jim leaned down even farther and lifted Blair's hair until his neck was revealed. He got his nose as close as he could and drew in a big breath, needing more of that scent, the one that meant Blair.
Still not enough. Lying down next to Blair, Jim flicked his tongue out and tasted Blair's neck.
Blair let out a yelp and scooted away, flipping over to face Jim. "What the hell are you doing?"
Jim was practically having an out-of-body experience, watching himself act like a complete loon. "I needed to taste you." He leaned forward, wanting to do it again.
Blair put a hand up, holding him off. "No. No, you may not taste me. You may not smell me, or listen to me, or do any of that Sentinel imprinting stuff. That's what started making Alex crazy, and I don't want to have to deal with two crazy Sentinels. One was more than enough for my lifetime."
That was unacceptable to Jim. He inched closer and grabbed Blair's hand, bringing it to his face, smelling him.
Blair ripped it from Jim's hold and stood, almost tripping over the sleeping bag. "Forget it. Back off."
Jim followed him.
Blair ran to his tent and grabbed his gun which he then pointed at Jim. "I said back off." He flicked the safety off.
That small sound somehow made its way into Jim's mind and registered as a bad thing. Shaking his head, and growing suddenly dizzy, he abruptly sat down. He heard a growl and looked past Blair to see a pacing black panther. Hearing another growl, he turned his head and saw a spotted jaguar racing through the woods away from their camp. "What the fuck--" He glanced up at Blair as if all the answers lay with him.
Keeping one eye on Jim, Blair tried to look where Jim had been staring. "What are you seeing? Is she coming?" He started to cough, a deep wrenching cough.
Jim focused back on Blair, at the gun still being leveled at him, and the weariness etched on the kid's face. Somehow he'd screwed everything up, driven by a thing in him he didn't seem to have any control over. "Can you point your gun away from me when you cough like that?"
Blair nodded, still coughing, and flicked the safety back on. It took a minute, but finally he got the coughing under control. He sank to his knees, trying to draw in some deep breaths. "God, I am so fucked." He looked up at Jim. "Are you yourself again?"
For about the thousandth time, Jim felt himself blush again. He didn't think he could remember blushing five times in as many years, but he was making a living at it today. "I don't know what happened. I'm--"
Blair shook his head and interrupted him. "Forget it. I mean, don't forget it because you have to not do it anymore, but you don't need to apologize. I just don't get why it keeps happening to me. Couldn't you go find someone else to sniff?"
Jim scrubbed his face with his hands. "Can we start at the beginning here, Darwin? What's happening to me? I don't usually go around smelling and licking people." He didn't even want to talk about the animals he'd just seen. Maybe he really was going crazy and Blair was some sort of hallucination. That certainly made more sense than all of this being true.
"First tell me what you saw." Blair looked around nervously. "Did you see her? Did you see a spotted jaguar?"
Jim's jaw dropped, even surer now that this was all some weird sort of dream. "What? She's a spotted jaguar?"
Blair waved his words off impatiently. "No, she's a woman. But she has a spotted jaguar as a spirit guide. It usually heralds her approach. Did you see one?"
Jim reluctantly nodded. "I saw another one, too."
"Two spotted jaguars?" Blair's voice almost squeaked.
"No, a black panther."
Now it was Blair's turn for his jaw to drop. "You're shitting me."
Jim shook his head. "It was right there growling at me. And then I saw the other one racing through the woods away from here."
"A black panther." Blair seemed stuck on the idea.
"Yeah. Why?" Jim tried very hard not to think about how odd this conversation was.
"That must be your spirit animal, like the spotted jaguar is hers."
"The general weirdness of that aside, why does the idea of a black panther bother you so much?"
Blair gave Jim some serious scrutiny. "It's a bizarre story."
Jim let out a biting laugh. "Hasn't been a real normal day so far. Go ahead, tell me."
Blair took a moment, as if marshaling his thoughts. "When Alex killed me, I found myself in the jungle, like down in Peru, and I was in the shape of a wolf. I figure a wolf is my spirit animal. Anyway, I guess I was going to wherever the spirit goes when a particular incarnation is over, when I heard a growl."
Blair held up his finger to pause his story, and stuck his head in the tent, coming back out with a bottle of water. After taking a sip, he continued. "I turned and there was this black panther and it was like he was telling me not to go. That he needed me to stay. I took a few more steps away from him, but he continued to growl, and I couldn't ignore it anymore."
For some reason, the story seemed familiar to Jim. He even knew what happened next. "You turned back and the wolf and the black panther merged together into a bright light."
Blair's eyes grew wide in amazement. "Yeah, that's exactly what happened. How did you know that?"
Jim shook his head. "I'm not sure, I just do." Jim thought that maybe he'd dreamed it.
"Wow. That's, that's, wow." Blair shook his head in amazement, and then continued. "So, after that, I guess they revived me and next thing I know I'm puking up fountain water and being loaded into an ambulance."
"Where was Alex?"
"I don't know."
"What did you mean she was sniffing you?" Jim discovered that just the thought of someone else sniffing Blair was stringing all his nerves tight almost to the point of pain.
Blair moved back to the sleeping bag, his gun still in hand, and sat down.
Jim pointed to the weapon. "I don't think you'll need that. I'll keep my distance." At least he hoped he would. He wasn't too sure he'd been in any position to argue with that deep instinctual demand for satisfaction that had gripped him earlier.
Blair tightened his grasp on the gun with a small smile. "Thanks, but I think I'll hang on to it."
Jim moved back to the fire as well but when he made as to sit on the edge of the sleeping bag, Blair warned him off.
Sighing, Jim went to his tent and drew out his own sleeping bag, folding it until it made a nice pad to sit on across the fire from Blair. "Far enough away to suit you?" His voice was just this side of surly.
"It'll do." Blair found his mug of hot chocolate and took a cautious sip. He knelt close to the fire and poured a small amount of the hot water into his cup, then sat back down. "First of all, Alex was a criminal. And no, I didn't know that when I started working with her. I thought she was an artist." He looked at Jim guardedly. "You still sense that spotted jaguar around?"
Jim shook his head. "Nope. Noah's ark has gone away."
Blair still eyed the trees suspiciously. "I need to get moving soon. If her spirit animal is here, she won't be too far behind."
"You're not in any shape to go anywhere."
"Doesn't matter. I'm not in any shape to fight with her either."
"No offense, Jim, but if you start getting all primal Sentinel on me the way she did, I might be in twice the danger when she shows up. I really appreciate the way you took me under your wing, but I think it'd be better if we both went our separate ways."
Jim had no intention of that happening, but he didn't want to push it. "Finish telling me about Alex."
"We, that's the Seattle PD, were working on a multiple robbery case. A couple of the cases had ended up with homicides attached. The last place robbed had a video camera and when I saw the tape, even though she wore a disguise, I knew it was her."
"Did you tell the cops?"
"Yeah, I did. I felt like shit about it, but I had to." Blair looked a little chagrined. "I called her and asked her to meet with me, not as a way to arrest her, at least not yet, but because I wanted to understand. Needed to understand."
"Did she meet with you?"
Blair nodded. "She was a basket case. Her senses were spiking all over the place, said that she couldn't go back to prison, that she'd been there before and she'd die before she'd go back. She started talking about how I had to help her escape and that I had to go with her."
Blair stretched out his neck and rolled his shoulders, wincing at the movement. "I told her no, of course, but she was pretty insistent. Started babbling about how I was her guide, and telling me we'd need to bond so I couldn't betray her. I didn't know what she was talking about."
Blair slowly stood, stuck his gun in his waistband, picked up his sleeping bag and shook it out. He started to zip it up. "That's when she started in on that stuff you were doing. Said it was part of the bonding process, this imprinting. Started sniffing and licking me, and let me tell you, regardless of how beautiful she was, it was pretty creepy, and it totally wigged me out."
"Is that when she tried to kill you?"
Blair shook his head. "No, I got my phone out and called the PD, telling them where she was. I thought she was going to kill me she got so mad, still yelling about how I was her guide, and I was supposed to be on her side, and that she'd be back for me. I managed to stop her from leaving until the cops got there and took her off my hands."
"She got away. I told you she was good. I wasn't even surprised when they called to tell me. I couldn't believe I'd been so stupid to not see the things she'd been using her senses for. I was so amazingly stupid. Stupid and gullible. Training her to be a better criminal." Blair shook his head, an expression of bitter disappointment on his face.
Jim watched Blair roll up his sleeping bag and felt his stomach knot as he realized that Blair was packing up to go. "Finish up the story."
Blair moved to his tent, pulled his backpack out and started to load things back inside of it. "She came to see me at my office at Washington State. I'm part-time faculty there teaching both forensics and anthropology. Anyway, she started back in again on the touching and stuff. I think she wanted to have sex with me."
"You and she hadn't--?"
Blair shook his head again. "No. She was in pretty rough shape when we first met, and it would have felt weird for me to take advantage of that, and then, I don't know, it just never felt right. In fact, the whole idea of it felt sort of gross. I can't explain it."
Jim thought hard for a moment, trying to remember a fax he'd seen posted at the station, right before the Switchman had taken all his time and energy. "Wait a minute, was this Alex Barnes?"
Blair nodded wearily. "You heard of her?"
Jim nodded, also remembering that the rap sheet had said she'd tried to kill a cop. That single sheet of white paper had been talking about Blair. About her attempt to drown him in a fountain. Jim's life had almost been destroyed and he hadn't even known it, had barely given it a passing thought.
He glanced up at Blair, just to reassure himself that he was fine. That she hadn't succeeded. Fighting an urge to move closer to Blair, Jim grabbed a stick and poked at the fire. "Is that when she hurt you?"
"Yeah. I told her I wasn't going to help her escape. That I wasn't her guide--whatever that is--and that all I was going to help do was get her arrested and put her ass back in jail. Needless to say, that didn't go over well. Next thing I know I'm merging with a black panther and puking up fountain water."
"You don't know what she meant by a guide?"
"I can guess. She said it so formally like it was an actual calling, like being a Sentinel. I know she'd been doing a lot of research about Sentinels, probably more than I'd had time to do between my work and teaching load and trying to keep her from going insane with her sensory spikes."
Backpack loaded, Blair started working on his tent. He only got one tent peg loosened when he started coughing again and sat down to catch his breath. "Man, I feel like shit." He glanced over at Jim. "You got any more aspirin? I think my fever's coming back."
Jim stood and grabbed his first aid kit.
Blair put up a hand, warding his off. "Just put it down and I'll get it. Sorry to be such a prick about this, but I'd rather play it safe."
Jim put the first aid box down a few feet from Blair and then went back to his side of the fire and sat down again. Blair grabbed the box, took out some aspirin and one extra pack which he held up. "You mind if I take another pack for later?"
"Take them all, Chief." Not that it mattered. Jim had no intention of letting Blair out of his sight.
Blair flashed him a smile and took all but one of the packs. Then he closed the kit and put it back down. "Thanks." He took the aspirin with a swallow of water.
"So what do you think a guide is?"
"In some of the research I did there was a mention of Sentinels having a partner, someone to watch his back. Something I forgot to mention to you was getting into a zone out."
"Yeah. It happened to Alex all the time, although oddly enough, the blinding headaches often snapped her out of them. Anyway, when a Sentinel focuses too much on any particular sense they can go so far into it that they sort of go into a trance. Needless to say, if that happened at the wrong time, especially to someone like you, who's a cop, it could be a bad thing."
Jim snorted. "Understatement."
"So, Sentinels had partners to snap them out of it. I never read anything about there needing to be something special about this person, like them having any extra talents of their own, or there needing to be any sort of special bond between the Sentinel and his or her guide. I figured it just needed to be someone who knew about the senses. For you, it should probably be your partner, your cop partner. They probably need to know about your senses anyway."
"I don't have a partner. I like to work alone." At least, Jim thought, he always had.
"Well, you may end up having to have one. Someone's gotta watch your back, at least until you get your senses under control."
Jim could feel something wild start to rise in him; he fought it back, but it was stronger than he was. "No, it can't be just anyone."
It was as if Blair could tell something was going on because he took a step back, his eyes growing nervous. "What do you mean?"
"Just like anyone can't be a Sentinel, anyone can't be a Guide."
"Man, now you're saying it just like her. It's creeping me out. Stop it."
"It's because you are a Guide." Jim touched himself on the chest. "I can feel it in here."
"That's bullshit. I'm not a guide. I'm just a regular guy."
Jim let out a ragged laugh. "Not so easy to talk about destiny, is it, Darwin, when it's you we're talking about." He took a step toward Blair, feeling like a hunter facing down his quarry.
Blair grabbed his gun again. "This hasn't got anything to do with destiny. It's about me ending up dead, which is where the last conversation I had like this ended up. I've already got one Sentinel hunting me down like a dog; I really don't want two of you."
"Blair. She wasn't the right one. It's why it felt so wrong to you. One Guide per Sentinel."
"And that's supposed to be you and me, man?" Blair picked up his pack and slung it over his shoulder. "Are you gonna try and fuck me, too? Is that what's next on this agenda?" A cough escaped but Blair did his best to suppress it.
A surge of desire raced down Jim's spine. It didn't need to come next, but it was definitely on the agenda. He took another step closer to Blair. "What are you going to do? Shoot me?"
"Man, this sucks. Why is this happening to me? Is there some sort of fucking neon sign over my head?"
"You know I'm the one. You saw me in your vision. My spirit animal brought you back from the dead. For me."
That got Blair's attention, long enough for Jim to reach him and disarm him. Blair tried to back away more, but Jim grabbed his arm tightly.
Blair attempted to throw a punch, but he was too close to get any momentum, and Jim easily prevented it from connecting. "Blair, stop fighting it."
Blair let the backpack fall to the ground and dropped his head. "I don't want to die."
Jim wrapped his arms around Blair and pulled him close. "Listen, I'm not going to hurt you. I know you're scared, but you're safe with me. You know you are. Even last night, as nervous as you were, you let me in, let me take care of you. Just like you did today. Try and relax. Forget about Alex. Just focus on me."
Jim felt Blair fight for another minute, staying stiff in his arms, as if waiting for an opportunity to flee. But Jim stayed vigilant and patiently waited. He was doing what he had to do, and that was to keep Blair close, keep him safe.
He could tell the instant Blair stopped fighting. Blair rested his forehead on Jim's shoulder, and then his arms went around Jim's waist.
Jim savored the moment, feeling like he'd just made the most essential conquest of his life. He lowered his head and sniffed Blair, then took a hand and brushed away the hair so Blair's neck was bared. Jim bit down, not hard enough to cause pain, just hard enough to mark his territory.
He heard Blair groan and the sound sizzled into his nervous system, spreading through Jim's body, awakening some newborn desire that ached for completion. Jim urged Blair's head up and as he gazed at the fevered blue eyes, he found no fear there, just a burgeoning desire that matched his own.
That was all the encouragement Jim needed. He lowered his head and claimed his Guide with a kiss, suckling on his lips, exploring Blair's mouth with his tongue, getting drunk on the taste and the little groans Blair exhaled with each breath.
Blair pushed against him, one leg hooked around Jim's thigh to bring him closer and Jim could feel his Guide's erection against his leg. The want, the desperate need was like a conflagration. One of Jim's hands fisted in Blair's hair, the other stroked down his back until he was cupping Blair's ass.
A panther's growl cut through the air and right through Jim's desire. He lifted his head, listening intently, his eyes scanning the woods around them. He could feel danger in the air, a threat to him, but even more importantly, to his Guide. There was an unbonded Sentinel coming too close. And until him and his Guide were bonded, she could still claim him.
Blair leaned against him, gasping for breath. "What the hell is happening? I can't believe this is happening." As if he'd just noticed that Jim's attention was elsewhere, Blair looked up at him, brow furrowed. "What is it? Oh, God, it's her, isn't it?"
Jim nodded. "She's looking for you. She wants you."
Blair let out a disgusted breath. "She sure has a funny way of showing it. New version of tough love?"
"You wouldn't bond with her; that made you a threat. But the wanting is still there. I can feel it."
Blair shoved his way out of Jim's arms. "You guys are both like throwbacks to pre-civilized man. Why don't you just hit me on the head with a club and drag me to your cave by my hair?"
Just then, as bold as can be, a woman Jim assumed was Alex walked into their campsite, aiming a gun at Jim. "Get away from him."
Jim's nostrils flared as he smelled her need, her want, and it commingled with his own, intensifying it. He pushed Blair behind him and snarled, "He's mine."
Blair muttered behind him. "For cripe's sakes." He pulled his gun out, stepping away from the shield of Jim's body. "Alex Barnes, you are under arrest for attempted murder. Put your weapon down and hold your hands up."
Jim made a grab for Blair, but Blair scooted out of reach and stood between Alex and Jim.
Alex smiled maliciously at him. "You won't shoot me."
Blair let out a half laugh. "After what you did to me, don't count on it. If you're dead, I don't have to worry about you coming after me anymore. And I'm guessing that the big guy here would be only too glad to help me hide your body."
Alex's eyes left Blair's for a second to take a good look at Jim, sizing him up. Her focus moved back to Blair. "I can't let him have you."
Jim used the shift in focus to put himself between her and Blair. "He is not your Guide." He spit the words out.
Her eyes mocked him. "He is not yours, either."
Jim hated that she was right, at least for the moment. "He will be."
"Not if I take him from you." She aimed her weapon at him. "Not if I kill you."
Blair worked his way around Jim again. "You know, all this claiming shit is starting to get old. I am not a possession for the two of you to fight over."
Jim was rapidly losing touch with any trace of civility. All he saw was Blair putting himself in danger, moving closer to an unbonded Sentinel. He pushed Blair back behind him, hissing "Stay there." Jim helped himself to Blair's gun as well.
Alex laughed derisively. "He will not be your Guide. He does not know how to surrender." She licked his lips. "Although he does have other skills."
Jim saw red at even the thought that she had touched Blair. That Blair had touched her. He took a step closer, aimed his weapon, consumed with the need to kill. It engulfed him, drugged him.
He felt someone tug on his arm. "Jim. Stay focused here." Then more insistent. "Jim. Stay here with me. She never touched me. Come on."
The voice was alluring. He felt torn between his need to destroy the danger standing in front of him, and the instinct to respond to the voice calling to him.
Alex snarled at Blair this time. "Stop it. You will not be his Guide. I will not allow it."
"Why the fuck do you even care? You tried to kill me."
Jim shook himself out of his red haze of anger to find that Blair had snuck in front of him again. When Alex took a step in their direction, Jim wrapped an arm around Blair, pulling him close, his back against Jim's chest.
Alex frowned, a look of puzzlement on her face, almost as if she didn't remember the attempted murder. "I needed you and you wouldn't- -," she shook her head, her face sharpened with a mixture of confusion and desire. "You were supposed to be mine." She held a hand out. "Come with me now, we can still be together."
Jim was gratified that Blair pressed back against him, clearly having no intention of going anywhere with Alex.
Jim could feel the dangerous smile on his face. A smile of victory. "You lose. He stays with me."
Unwilling to give up, Alex turned all her attention to Jim. "You will fail with him as well. He does not wish to bond. We can fill each other, you and I. We already share a bond because of who we are. Together we can be whole."
For a second that felt like an eternity, Jim could feel the connection between them, leaching his will. Then he felt Blair's body pressed against his, heard Blair's gasp of dismay. Never letting his eyes leave Alex, he dropped his head enough to smell his Guide and feel the soft curls. The scent swept through him, shattering her hold.
Jim could see the second Alex knew she'd lost the battle. She brought up her weapon and her finger tightened on the trigger. Jim tackled Blair down to the ground, just as Alex started letting the bullets fly.
Jim rolled them over several times, feeling the bullets come uncomfortably close, and then felt one hit his side. He let out a grunt and rising to his knees, he aimed and fired. As he shot, Jim felt another bullet hit him, scraping his thigh. Then one came close enough to his head to flick his hair. Ignoring the pain, he fired twice more. The first bullet had hit her arm, the second her chest, and the third hit her right between her eyes.
As she fell, her body seizing in death, Alex's finger tightened on the trigger, her gun spitting out bullets in a wide arc. Jim covered Blair's body with his own as the bullets shot over their heads, riddling Blair's tent before they stopped, creating an intrusive silence.
Jim lay there for a moment and then realized that Blair was too still beneath him. In a panic, he rolled off him and turned Blair over, terrified of what he'd find. Jim patted him down, looking for bullet wounds. "Blair. Are you all right? Talk to me."
When Jim couldn't find any bullet holes or signs of copious bleeding, and when Blair continued to lie there, seemingly unconscious, Jim started a more careful head to toe search. It didn't take him long. There was a sizeable lump on the back of his Guide's head and when Jim took his fingers away, they were covered in blood.
It wasn't a bullet wound, so Jim looked around for an obvious suspect, finding it quickly. A sharp rock imbedded in the ground was stained with blood. Jim must have smacked Blair right into it as he'd rolled him.
Ignoring his own wounds for now, Jim got up, grabbed his sleeping bag, opening it near to where his Guide was lying, then shifted Blair onto it. He yanked a t-shirt out of his pack and folded it, pressing it to the wound on the back of Blair's head to try to stop the bleeding.
As he held it there with one hand, he assessed his own injuries. Feeling blood trickling down his face, Jim probed gently, realizing the head shot had come a little closer than he'd thought. Even though it was bleeding a lot, he didn't think it was serious.
The leg shot had taken a chunk of flesh out of his thigh but it wasn't much more than a surface wound. His side was a different story. It hurt like crazy and after rucking his shirt up and tucking it under his chin he realized the wound was in a bad spot where he couldn't really see it.
Jim was pretty sure nothing vital had been hit but it was bleeding badly. Jim reached for the first aid kit and opened it, fingering for the gauze and ace bandage within. Just as he was trying to figure out how to hold the gauze in place while wrapping an ace bandage around his torso one-handed, he heard Blair groan. Pressing the gauze against his side, Jim looked down at Blair. "Hey, you all right?"
Blair struggled unsuccessfully for a few seconds to get his eyes open and then they snapped open in fear. "Jesus. Where's Alex?" When he got a look at Jim his eyes widened in dismay. "Oh, my God, you're bleeding everywhere!" He sat right up and then, turning pale, he rolled over and puked in the grass. "Man, this sucks."
Jim winced, silently agreeing. When Blair finished throwing up, he sent an anxious look Jim's way, taking in his injuries.
Jim patted Blair's leg, trying to reassure him. "I'm all right. I've been hit worse than this."
"Out in the middle of nowhere? With me to worry about?"
Jim had to admit that Blair was right--it wasn't the best of situations--but it could be a hell of a lot worse. At least the right person was dead.
Blair sat up again, much more slowly. He saw Alex's body. "Dead?"
Blair's lips tightened. "What a fucking waste." He inched closer to Jim. "What can I do to help?" Without even waiting for an answer, he spoke again. "Here, take your shirt off."
Jim carefully removed his shirt, wincing as the fabric scraped against his side and his temple. Once off, he threw the shirt to the side.
Blair grimaced, but then took over for Jim where he was holding the gauze to his side. "I'll hold the gauze and you wrap. I'm afraid I'll puke again if I move too much."
Jim nodded and, after securing an edge under Blair's fingers, started to roll the ace bandage across his abdomen. When he looked up it was to find Blair staring at his chest. Jim grinned. "See something you like?"
Blair looked up at him, and Jim could see that what he'd assumed was interest was a trance-inducing bone-deep weariness. Blair gave him a blank stare. "What?"
Jim shook his head and kept wrapping. "Never mind." Now wasn't the time for that anyway. Not with Blair dealing with a concussion and Jim still losing blood. Jim sincerely hoped he'd be able to control himself if that undeniable compulsion hit again.
Blair nodded absently and turned to look at Alex again. His free hand wandered up and touched the back of his head. "Ow." He pulled his fingers back and saw they were bloody. "Did I get shot, too?"
Jim's voice was tight. "No, I did that to you accidentally. Rolled you right into a rock. Sorry about that, Chief."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Seeing as you were saving my life, I think I can manage to forgive you." He started to cough and then couldn't stop. Jim rapidly finished with the ace bandage and then pinned it closed with the little alligator clips.
The coughing turned back into puking and Blair just missed the sleeping bag as he emptied his stomach of whatever was left. While Blair was on all fours gagging and spitting, Jim saw that his head wound was still bleeding profusely. Wanting nothing more than to crawl into his tent and sleep for a week with Blair in his arms, Jim started gathering supplies to clean them both up.
When he had everything he needed, he moved behind Blair, slowly easing him back until his Guide was against his chest, Jim's legs spread wide on the outside of the younger man's legs. "Okay, take some slow breaths. Keep them shallow, though." Jim gently cleaned Blair's face, washing away the dirt, blood and traces of vomit.
Blair muttered. "Man, sorry to be so useless."
"It doesn't matter. Neither of us have any life-threatening injuries. You have some time to be a slacker."
Jim smiled when Blair let out a soft chuff of amusement. Blair let his head loll against Jim's shoulder. "She's really dead?"
"Unless she can live with a hole in her heart and one between her eyes."
Blair's slight head motions indicated a continued perusal of their campsite. "Man, she shredded my tent."
"Better your tent than you."
"No argument there." Blair started to cough again.
Jim held him securely. "Try to breathe through it."
Blair nodded, doing his best to keep the cough light, so as not to jar his body and start puking again.
"I need to see how bad your head is cut. Can you lean forward a little?"
Blair did as told, holding himself steady with a hand on Jim's thigh. Jim wet a section of towel and applied it to Blair's head, wiping the blood away. He scowled when he removed the cloth; it was a deep gash that probably needed stitches.
"I'm taking your silence as bad news. Will I live?"
"Yes, you'll live, but you need stitches and I'm fresh out of suture."
"Thank God for little miracles. Can't say I'd be first in line to get sutured without some painkiller." Blair inched forward a little. "I'm gonna try and move again."
"I think you should just stay still, let me apply some pressure to stop the bleeding."
"And I think you need to be worrying about all the holes in your body that shouldn't be there. Your thigh is bleeding all over me." Blair lifted a bloody hand as if to demonstrate.
"It's just a flesh wound."
Blair let out a half-chuckle, half-cough. "You gonna bite me to death?"
It suddenly dawned on Jim that they were both alive. That Blair was here in his arms, the danger had passed them by, and no one was going to take his Guide away. His arms wrapped around Blair and he hung on tight.
Blair patted his arm. "Hey, it's all right. We're all right." He turned partly around. "You are all right, aren't you?"
Jim nodded. "I'm fine. You're in worse shape than I am." When Blair tried harder to turn all the way around, Jim stopped him. "Look, I've already got my thigh bound so whatever blood is there isn't new. Now that my side is wrapped I'm in no danger of bleeding to death. You just need to stay still and let me hold pressure to your head because it's still bleeding. Okay?"
Blair nodded wearily. "Okay if I lie down?"
Jim nodded and helped Blair get situated, curling up on his side, one cheek lying against Jim's unwounded thigh. Jim folded another section of towel and pressed it against the gash on the back of Blair's head.
Somewhere along the way, despite Jim's best efforts to keep them both awake, they fell asleep.
Jim woke up lying on his side, his arms around Blair, and for just a
moment all was right with his world. Then the pain started clamoring
for attention and he remembered Blair's concussion, and things weren't
so right after all. "Blair, wake up."
When he got no response, Jim shook him. "Blair! Wake up."
That got a grumpy growl. "Man, my head hurts enough without you making it worse."
Jim let out a sigh of relief. "Sorry, Chief. I just needed to make sure you were still with me. You hit your head pretty hard, and we both fell asleep."
Blair slowly sat up, made a face at all the vomit surrounding the sleeping bag and tuned an apologetic look to Jim. "That smells pretty bad to me; it must be making you crazy."
It hadn't been until Blair mentioned it. Now the odor was so strong Jim thought he might throw up too.
Blair rubbed his hand down Jim's arm. "Turn it down. Just like I told you. Turn it down. And then we'll move."
Jim did as told and then, both moving like they were old man, they slowly got up, groaning as they did so. Jim picked up the sleeping bag and relocated it to the other side of the fire, getting Blair resettled on it. Then he went in his tent, brought out a shovel, and covered the vomit with several shovels full of dirt. It didn't eliminate all the smell, but it helped, and not having to look at it was even better.
The next half hour was spent on first aid. He stripped Blair out of his bloody shirt, and himself out of his jeans, got the blood cleaned off their skin, and appropriate bandages applied. He was glad to see that Blair's head had stopped bleeding, but he didn't think it would take much to reopen it, so he made Blair sit still, only letting him bandage up the bullet crease on Jim's temple.
He left the bandage on his side alone, and Jim was glad to see his thigh wound had stopped bleeding. It hurt like the devil, but there wasn't anything he could do about that.
Jim pulled on some sweats, and then decided eating was next on the agenda. He refilled the pot with some fresh water and put it back on the grill to boil. Then, still moving like an old man, Jim started relocating all of Blair's belongings to his tent. Blair was right; his tent was toast. He unrolled and unzipped Blair's sleeping bag and spread it out on the bottom of the tent. They would use his as a cover. He put Blair's backpack in one corner of the tent and moved his own stuff into the other.
Jim thought it felt--homey. Rolling his eyes at himself, Jim left the tent. He found Blair curled up on his sleeping bag, shivering. "Shit." He grabbed the first aid kit that was now practically empty, and pulled out the last package of aspirin. Jim got Blair sitting up enough to take the pills and then retrieved the aspirin packets Blair had pocketed, putting them back in the first aid kit. Then, groaning at having to get up again, he moved stiffly to his tent, retrieving the thickest shirt he'd brought.
He got Blair dressed in it and, after settling in next to Blair, Jim pulled up the edges of the sleeping bag around them both and cuddled Blair tight. The kid was hot, the fever higher now than it had been earlier, and his lungs were filling up again, too. "I need to get you to a hospital."
Blair shook his head.
Jim let out an exasperated sigh. "Alex is dead. There's no reason not to go."
Between chattering teeth, Blair challenged him. "How long did it take you to hike up here?"
Jim thought about it. "A little over two days."
"It took me three. And that was when we were both healthy. Now I've got the flu or something even worse, a concussion, and you've been shot three times. Neither of us is in any condition to go on a threeday hike. You might be a Sentinel but you're not Superman."
"You're getting sicker."
Blair snuggled in tighter against Jim's chest. "I know, but I just don't think I can walk that far, not right now."
Jim knew it was true, but he could also feel Blair burning up. Wracking his brain, he tried to come up with a better solution. His cell phone was in his truck and they were too far away from anything or anyone for bullets to attract attention.
"Maybe you could use my cell phone."
Jim looked down at him in surprise. "I didn't see a cell phone in your pack."
"It's in my jacket. I turned it off, so it should still have a charge."
After wrapping Blair up in the sleeping bag, Jim found Blair's jacket in the back of the tent, and pulled out his phone. Turning it on, he walked in a circle, but there was no signal. He looked west, where he could see the peak of the mountain they were on. It wasn't a sure bet, but going to a higher altitude and away from all the trees was the only way they'd have any chance of getting a signal.
Jim moved back to Blair, and Blair opened up the sleeping bag to welcome him back in. As Jim slowly got settled, trying to arrange his leg so his thigh didn't ache as much, he could feel that the kid's fever had gone down a little; the aspirin was kicking in.
When the water began to finally boil, Jim threw in an MRE for each of them, a Thai chicken for him, and a chicken soup with vegetables for Blair. He tried to figure out how long it would take him to get up to the top of the mountain, given the shape he was in.
Jim looked down at Blair; the sweat was starting to pour off of him. "What?"
"To get to the top, how long?"
Jim kissed his sweaty forehead for being so smart. "I was just trying to figure that out. Maybe four hours?"
"What time is it?"
Jim looked at his watch, and his eyes widened. They had really slept. "It's four o'clock." Which meant it was too late to go today. Besides, while the risk of internal bleeding or brain damage from the concussion at this point was low, Jim didn't want to take the chance and leave Blair alone for that long. Mostly, he just didn't want to leave Blair.
"It doesn't matter."
Jim frowned. "What doesn't matter?"
"Whether my concussion gets worse. Nothing you can do about it even if you're here."
"Are you reading my mind now? And it does matter, I can keep you awake."
Blair nuzzled Jim's shoulder, and despite his injuries, pain, and weariness, Jim still felt a flash of desire. The desire woke up Jim's primitive instincts, letting him know that things had still not been settled to his satisfaction. Jim shifted until Blair's back was against his chest, his cock snug against Blair's ass.
Blair let out a sigh, his head lolling against Jim's shoulder. "Jim, take it easy. We can't do this now."
Jim let the words roll on by and he began to sniff Blair's neck. The scent of his Guide was the most wonderful thing he'd ever smelled.
"Jim." Blair tried to inch forward.
Jim pulled him back.
Blair tried to turn in his arms.
Jim held him where he was.
Blair let out a very exasperated sigh combined with a small moan as Jim started to nibble on his ear. The moan turned into a cough, and Blair pushed away from Jim to get on the grass before he started gagging again. When Jim started to move towards him, Blair held up a forbidding hand. "Back the hell off."
Jim sat back on his butt, adjusting his hardened cock so it didn't feel like it was being folded in half. "I can't leave you alone until--", he paused.
Blair finished his coughing jag and then sat back on the dirt, his body slumped in weariness. "Until what, Jim? Until we fuck? Don't I get any say in this at all? And what do you mean, you can't leave? Do you actually think there's another unbonded Sentinel roaming the woods who's gonna claim me while you're gone?"
Jim's blood began to boil at the thought.
It must have shown on his face because Blair put up both his hands now in supplication. "Calm down, big guy. Jeez. Of course, knowing my luck, there probably is one." Jim made a lunge for him, but Blair scooted back farther. "Okay, wrong thing to say. I'm right here in front of you and no one else is around, so just cool your jets and let me think."
Jim used his senses to investigate the woods around them, assuring himself that Blair was right, that they were alone. He could smell Alex's body and he wrinkled his nose.
Again Blair seemed to be reading his mind. "I know, even I can smell her. She must have, you know, lost control or something when she died." He glanced her way. "What do we do with her? We can't drag her all the way down."
Jim pursed his lips as he considered the dead body, feeling himself start to calm down. There was no doubt that proximity to his Guide seemed to short circuit his ability to think. "I'll wrap her body in your tent, and move her farther out. We'll have someone retrieve her body later."
Blair nodded. "That sounds like a good idea. Can you do that on your own? I'm still afraid to move around a lot."
Jim nodded but made no effort to move. He hurt all over, and he was still hard and yearning for Blair. All in all, a combination of input that exhausted him.
Blair gave him a cautious look. "You back to normal again? Caveman on the back burner?"
Jim nodded. "I just can't handle it if I'm too close to you." He glanced up toward the top of the mountain. "But I can't leave you either."
"We obviously need to talk, then. I know we got a little heated earlier, and I can't deny that there's definitely an attraction. But- -and this is a really big but--what you seem to want, and what she seemed to want, it felt really, really big. Huge. Sort of like a marriage kind of huge. Like you and me, together in every way, from here on out. Right? Or am I reading this completely wrong?"
Jim scrunched his face up in response, letting Blair's words work their way through his brain and heart. He knew none of this made any rational sense. After all, he barely knew the guy. But the thought of not having him, in every way, forever, didn't even bear thinking about. "No, I think you've got it."
Blair tried to stand, and then thought better of it. Instead he pulled his knees up to his chest. "That's nuts, Jim. We don't even know each other. We don't even live in the same city. And if you're thinking that I'm gonna be the submissive one here and do whatever you want and give up my life for you, you've got another think coming."
Jim snickered. "Yeah, like I've really been in control of things since I met you."
Blair tried to bite back a grin. "Yeah, things have been pretty much out of control since you met me. Welcome to my life. You sure you want to be a part of it?"
Jim scowled. "I don't think I have any choice."
"Way to court me, Jim. I'm blown away."
Jim scrounged around in the dirt by the sleeping bag until he found a stick he could demolish. Blair's resistance was starting to annoy him. "Look, I don't understand this any more than you do. I just came up here to figure out what the hell was going on with me, figure out how to keep myself out of the loony bin. So you tell me the odds that on the same day, you, probably one of the only people in the world who even knows what a Sentinel is, let alone worked with one, set up his tent 300 yards from me when you had the whole mountain, fuck, the whole world to choose from."
Jim scattered the disintegrated stick bits back to the earth from which it came and found another one to tear apart. "And explain to me why your spirit animal merged with my spirit animal to essentially bring you back from the dead. And tell me why I just know, just know, more than I've ever known anything, that we belong together. And earlier, when you stopped talking and thinking, you knew it too."
Blair rested his forehead on his knees for a few seconds and then lifted fatigued eyes to Jim. "I can't do this now. I can't. I feel like shit. I'm nauseated, my head is killing me, and I ache everywhere. I know I can't fight you off right now, and I don't want to have to. I don't know the right thing to do here, don't know what we should or shouldn't be doing, but whatever it is, it can't happen now. Please."
Jim felt a surge of protectiveness come to the fore. The kid sitting before him might be his destiny, but right now, he was mostly just miserable. He tried to compromise. "Just promise me you won't disappear? That once we get down we'll talk about this?"
Blair held up two fingers. "Boy Scout's honor."
"Try three fingers, Boy Scout."
Blair held up another finger. "Oops. It's still a promise."
Jim felt something settle down inside and he nodded. "Think you can hold down some soup?"
"I'll give it the old college try."
Jim patted the sleeping bag next to him. "Come back and sit down. I'm okay."
Blair gave him a narrow-eyed look, but then he nodded and crawled back to the sleeping bag. Once he was settled, Jim gingerly pulled out Blair's soup from the hot water. He opened the container and carried it and a spoon over to the young man. "It's really hot, be careful."
Blair wrapped his hands around it, enjoying the warmth. "I think my fever's coming back already. Man, I'd kill for a hot bath right now."
Jim thought that sounded great. "And a Jags game."
"Yeah, perfect." Blair let out a long sigh. He shut his eyes and Jim wondered if he was going to fall asleep sitting there, holding his soup.
"Don't let it spill."
Blair blearily opened his eyes, looking utterly worn-out. "I'm awake." He glanced at Jim. "How are you doing? She sort of turned you into a pincushion."
Blair took a cautious sip of soup and let out a happy hmmm. "Nice and hot."
"How's it taste?"
"I don't care. It's hot."
Jim dug into his own dinner, keeping one eye on Blair, still not sure the kid wasn't going to keel over. It was too soon to give him more aspirin, but he could feel the heat rising off Blair's body. "You can have more aspirin in an hour."
Blair nodded. A distressed look passed his face. "God, I think I'm gonna throw up again."
Jim moved in close and took Blair's dinner away so it wouldn't spill. "Just breathe easy, Chief. You need to try and keep it down."
Blair covered his mouth with his hand and closed his eyes, hunching forwards a little, swallowing convulsively.
Taking a chance getting so close, Jim started to rub small circles on Blair's back. Wanting to distract him from throwing up, Jim asked, "Do you like Seattle? Have you always lived there?"
There was a pause, and Jim could feel Blair's effort to swallow down his nausea. Finally he said, "No. I mean, yeah I like it, but no, I haven't always lived there. Actually, I've lived all over the world." More swallowing.
"You're doing great. Is the touching helping?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, it gives me something to focus on."
Jim enlarged his circles. "Okay?"
Blair nodded again.
"Where'd you live the longest?"
Jim's eyes opened wide. "Cascade? Washington? That's where I live."
"Can I have some water?"
Jim took the change in subject in stride, removed his hand, and reached for a bottle of water, ignoring the pull in his side. "Here."
Blair took a tiny sip. "I think I'm better now." He flashed Jim a grateful look. "Thanks. I hate puking."
Jim gave him a small nod. "You're welcome." He grinned. "Although I have to confess to a certain amount of self-interest. This is my sleeping bag."
Blair let out a short mirthless laugh. "Sorry to keep whining, but I feel like shit."
"You look like shit."
"Fuck you very much." A grin on Blair's face took away any possible sting from the words. "You know what I'd really love? Some tea. I think I have some in my backpack."
Jim got up and went into the tent and retrieved the pack, plopping it down in front of him. "Here you go. The water should still be hot enough." Jim started rinsing out Blair's hot chocolate mug.
"Man, I know you can't be feeling much better than me. I'll do that."
Blair was right, he didn't feel great, but Jim was reasonably certain that, bullet holes or not, he felt significantly better than Blair. "I'm okay. And I'd just as soon not have you puke all over the dishes."
Blair grimaced. "I hear that." He let out a sigh. "You're with the Cascade PD?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah. A few years now." He handed Blair a cup of hot water.
Blair found his tea stash and, selecting a tea bag and unwrapping it, he began to dunk it. "As long as you're granting me my every wish, could you get me my jacket? I'm freezing."
"It's because of that fever." Nonetheless, Jim got up and retrieved Blair's jacket. Before he sat down, Jim's thigh already making a loud complaint against all the moving around, Jim looked down at the shivering man. "Anything else while I'm up?"
Blair flashed a naughty grin up at him. "Nah, I'm good. Under the circumstances, anyway."
Jim helped Blair get into his jacket, and then fixed himself his own cup of hot chocolate. He started prodding some more. "So you lived in Cascade?"
"Oh, yeah. I lived there for quite a while. I sort of settled there after I got accepted at Rainier. Got my undergraduate and my masters degree there. Other than the fact that it's cold and wet, I loved it."
"It's cold and wet in Seattle, too."
"I know it, man. Cold and wet is my world. Brrr." Tea bag still in the mug, Blair took a sip of tea. "Ahh." He held the mug up to one of his cheeks, letting the warmth soak in.
"Why'd you leave then?" It would have made things so much simpler if Blair lived in Cascade. Of course, they'd probably already know each other, if that had been the case. Now, Jim had to figure out how to get him to come back.
"I didn't want to go. I got my dissertation topic approved at Rainier and I was all set to start on my research."
"What stopped you?"
"This guy named Simon Banks." Blair let out a disgusted sound. "You know him?"
Jim grinned. "He's my boss."
Blair gave Jim a rueful look. "Is he a friend, too?"
"A good friend."
"Then, never mind."
Jim put up his hands as a peace gesture. "He'll never hear a word of this conversation from me. Tell me what happened?"
Blair studied him for a few moments. "Okay. I guess he can't do anything to me now anyway. I did just fine without his help."
Jim could hear a sting in Blair's voice, even after all this time. "Jesus, what'd he do? Kill your dog or something?"
For some reason that seemed to amuse Blair and he snorted out a laugh. "No, man, nothing that dire."
"I'm all ears."
"My dissertation was based on a better and more effective partnership between police officers and Forensics. It seemed to me, after talking to some folks, that the Forensics people were often treated as glorified lab techs, when they're usually highly trained professionals, often much more highly trained than the police they work with. I hypothesized that if the relationship between the two departments could be enhanced, there'd be a higher closure rate."
"And how did Simon fit into this?"
"Well, I needed a cop to ride with and I thought someone from Major Crimes would fit the bill because of the type of cases they work on. They're often protracted and depend heavily on the collection of evidence. I went to Captain Banks and asked if I could get an observer's pass to ride along with one of his detectives." Blair grinned at him. "Weird to think that if he'd said yes, that maybe I'd have met you years ago. Maybe even ridden along with you."
"I gather he said no." Jim wondered what would have happened if Simon had said yes, how different his life might be right now. He sensed a flicker of deep anger at his boss for keeping Blair from him. Jim let it go; it didn't really matter, he had Blair now.
"Man, did he ever. He didn't even let me finish. Just interrupted me, said he wasn't interested, told me in this very patronizing voice that his cops actually had to work for a living and didn't have time to play school games, and summarily threw me out of his office." Blair shrugged. "So, I went to the Seattle PD, pitched it to them, and they loved it. Three of their detectives sort of adopted me, and I split my time between them until I got my Ph.D. from the University of Washington, and then they hired me. End of story."
Jim didn't like the idea of Blair working with other detectives. He really, really didn't like the idea.
Blair sighed. "I know most of it was how I looked, which really pissed me off. You'd think I'd be used to it by now. It's happened to me all of my life." He gestured at himself with a wry and mocking smile. "Not exactly mainstream."
Jim took a good look at Blair. It was certainly true that he wasn't at his best at this particular moment, but Jim liked the way he looked. He looked, well, exactly the way he was supposed to look. He shrugged. "It works for me."
Blair shot him a pleased grin. "Hey, thanks, man. Especially now when I'm sure I look like something the cat dragged in."
Blair let out a laugh. "Yeah. Panther." He gazed around. "By the way, is he still around?"
Jim shook his head. "Nope, not since Alex died."
Blair blew out a breath and shook his head disconsolately. "Man. I can't help but feel that somehow that was my fault. Like I fucked up. Like if I understood Sentinels better, this never would have happened."
"She wasn't a Sentinel, Chief."
"Sure she was. She had all five senses enhanced."
"You said it yourself. A Sentinel watches out for his or her tribe. She was like a rabid dog." Jim finished the thought to himself--a rabid dog who needed to be put down.
Blair turned away, biting his bottom lip, a look of sadness on his face. Jim let him be while he opened up another pack of aspirin. He held it out to Blair. "Time for more."
Blair took the pills and swallowed them down. After a few minutes he glanced at Jim. "So, you're with Major Crimes?" He grinned a little. "Weird to think I might have been hooked up with you."
"Just as well you weren't. I wasn't the easiest person to be around back then."
Blair snickered. "Like you're all sweetness and light now?" He stretched a little and leaned back on one arm. "What I wouldn't give for my couch right now."
Jim thought about offering to let Blair lean against him again, but thought better of it. He tossed a question around in his head for a few minutes, wondering if he should ask it. Finally, he couldn't stand not knowing. "Would you," he paused, gathering strength for a rejection, "would you move back to Cascade if there was a good reason to?"
Blair cocked his head to the side. "You mean you?"
Jim shrugged, trying to act as casually as he could. "Or a good job."
Blair sat up again and put his mug down. "Can I ask you something?"
Jim winced but nodded. "Sure."
"Don't take this the wrong way but if this is all supposed to be some big destiny thing between a Sentinel and Guide, how come it sort of seems one way? I mean," Blair's eyes made their way down Jim's body, "you are totally a god, really, and you seem like a good guy, and you've gone way beyond the call of duty helping me out."
Jim didn't like where this was going at all. "But?"
Blair scrunched his face up as if even he didn't want to finish. "Kissing you was great, and I can definitely see me doing the horizontal tango with you, but I'm not feeling this urge to sniff you, or own you, or hook up with you 'til death to us part. Doesn't it seem like it should affect me the same way?"
Jim couldn't deny that there was a certain logic to what Blair was saying, but to admit it was tantamount to suggesting that Blair wasn't his Guide. And he was; Jim was certain of it. To give himself some time Jim got up and took a moment to stretch, trying to relax his stressed body. Then, when he was reasonably certain he wouldn't fall down, he reached down for their meal containers, rinsed them and smashed them flat, putting them in the bag he'd brought for garbage.
The entire time he was moving, he kept tuning in to Blair's heartbeat, to his smell, to every small movement he made. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. "It's your senses."
Blair looked up at him, confused. "What?"
"Your senses. I know they're not like mine, but right now they're all messed up. Your nose is filled with snot, your eyes are rheumy, and your fevers are probably screwing up your skin and your sense of touch. And I'm guessing your ears are plugged up, too. I bet you need to sense me, too, just like I need to sense you, and you can't right now."
Blair stared at Jim for a moment, and he slapped himself on the forehead. "Ow. Ow! That was a mistake." He sat there for a while, holding his head steady.
"You all right?"
"Yeah, just stupid."
"For hitting yourself?"
"Well, yeah, for that. But mostly for the other stuff."
"You mean you think I'm right?" Jim was dumfounded. Then he was thrilled. "You think I'm right?"
Blair nodded, although it was clear he was thinking hard. "God, that makes so much sense." He let out a short laugh. "No pun intended." He looked up at Jim, eyes wide, no hint of guile. "Because before, when we were kissing, man, I felt something then." He licked his lips with his tongue. "Taste, it must have been taste. I guess that's still working the way it's supposed to."
Jim couldn't believe it could be this easy. "So? Now what?" He grinned at Blair. "Wanna taste me?"
"Only if you want me to puke all over you."
Jim grimaced. "I'll pass, thanks."
Jim sat down on the sleeping bag, still a good distance from Blair. "Can, I, uh, can I look at you?"
Blair ducked his head for a second and then looked back up with a shy smile. "Sure, I guess, whatever floats your boat. I can't imagine I'm a real treat right now."
Jim didn't care; he just wanted to look and sense his fill. The heartbeat came first, although Jim realized that he'd never truly stopped listening for it. Then he focused on Blair's smell, and there was no doubt the kid smelled a little ripe but Jim didn't care about that either. He took in the thick curls that somehow looked all tangled again. Lastly, he gazed into the bloodshot but still blue eyes, shining bright with the fever the aspirin was proving ineffective against.
That was all he could do right now, because touch and taste were out of bounds, at least for the time being. But it was enough. Jim focused further on Blair's heart, listening for his lungs as well. What he heard made him apprehensive as they sounded even more congested. Jim imagined he could sense the malevolent infection growing in Blair's lungs from the dirty fountain water he'd taken in. He felt a flare of hatred for Alex, wishing he could kill her again for daring to hurt his Guide.
Thinking of Alex, Jim remembered that he still had to move her body. Standing, grunting at his assorted aches and pains, he looked down at Blair. "I'm gonna take care of the body."
Blair grimaced. "Yuck. Wish I could help you." He made as if to stand. "Let me try."
Jim put his hand on Blair's shoulder and pushed him down. "Stay put, Chief. You need to conserve your energy."
"Jim, you're not in the best shape yourself."
"Don't argue with me."
Blair furrowed his brow, narrowing his eyes. "Don't tell me what to do. You're not the boss of me."
Jim could see that this conversation was going nowhere fast. He crouched down, ignoring his thigh. "Blair, I'm not trying to boss you around but I can hear your lungs, I can hear them filling up; I can feel the heat your body is putting out with this fever of yours. And between your lungs and your fever, your heart is pounding, trying to keep up. You're sick and getting sicker. Yeah, I hurt, but--" Jim shrugged, "it's just some superficial wounds."
Blair's eyes opened wide in exasperation. "You were shot three times." He pointed toward Jim's side. "A bullet went through you."
"Yeah, but it didn't hit any vital organs. Whereas both your lungs and your heart are taking a beating right now. I can do this."
"Are you always going to be this way?"
"Be what way?"
"Stay back, stay behind me, get down, let me go first." Blair recited a litany of commands.
Jim couldn't keep the grin off his face. "Probably."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Great." He waved Jim off. "Go, go do your manly thing. I'm going to get some beauty sleep." Putting his plan into play, Blair scrunched up part of the sleeping bag to act as a pillow and then lay down.
Jim watched him for a minute more, taking in the lines of his body, the sturdy physique. He could still feel the pull to move closer, to lie down next to Blair, but fought against it, remembering Blair's plea. Now was not the time. Moving to Blair's tent, he finished taking it down and then began wrapping Alex's body in it.
By the time Jim was done, Blair was sound asleep, or as sound asleep
as anyone could be with lungs sounding like his did and the coughing
that was racking the kid's body. He was getting sicker by the second
and Jim knew he needed to get him to a doctor.
The night air was getting cooler, and it was time to get the kid in the tent. Deciding he didn't have the strength to lift Blair, Jim dragged the sleeping bag with Blair on it as close to the tent as he could. Then, crawling in the tent, he hooked his hands under Blair's armpits and pulled him in the rest of the way.
It took a minute to get him situated on the sleeping bag Jim had spread out earlier, and then Jim covered Blair with the second one after shaking it out. Blair didn't wake up once. After he got Blair settled, Jim gathered up both their backpacks and got them secured just inside the tent.
Still not trusting himself to get too close, Jim moved back out to the fire and threw on a few more logs. There was probably no need to keep watch, as the chances of there being anything out there that could do them harm was slim to none, but he didn't want to take the chance. Nothing could harm his Guide. Nothing.
Jim dropped his head to his hands and tried to decide what to do next. He had to get help, but that meant leaving Blair, and he wasn't sure he could physically do that, the Sentinel urge to stay close possibly too strong for him to fight. That meant taking Blair with him, but he was too sick to travel at all, let alone a four-hour trek up the mountain, or a three-day trek down.
Jim thought about Alex for a moment. When he was wrapping her body, Jim had felt a moment of intense sadness at her death. She had been like him. Maybe not a true Sentinel, at least according to Blair's definition, but she would have understood what it was like to live with enhanced senses. If things had been different, maybe they could have been friends, learned from each other, helped each other.
But instead they'd ended up fighting over Blair, killing over him. Jim shook his head guessing that things might not have turned out differently even if he and Alex had met under altered circumstances. Not if Blair had been involved. Jim sincerely hoped he stopped feeling quite so territorial about Blair at some point or life was going to get complicated.
His thoughts circled around again as to how to get Blair off the mountain. That was when he felt the first drop of rain. He looked up at the sky and noticed with some chagrin that he couldn't see a star in the sky. Some Sentinel he was; he hadn't even sensed a change in the weather.
More drops fell. "Fuck." Just what they needed. Jim glanced at the tent. He had two choices. Go in the tent with Blair and hope he could control himself, or stay out in the rain and end up wet and freezing. "Fuck," he said again. Then the heavens opened up, and Jim scrambled for the tent.
Once inside, he stripped down to his underwear and then got into his last pair of sweatpants. Jim sat there for a minute, using a t-shirt to swipe any remaining moisture away from his face and chest. His life felt surreal. He'd come up here in the hopes of finding his sanity, and instead he'd found the Twilight Zone.
Blair shifted, coughed, and then spoke softly. "Jim?"
"Yeah, it started to rain."
Blair let out a raspy laugh. "Not exactly your day, is it?"
Jim didn't know what to say. In some respects it had been the day from hell. But in all the ways that counted, this had been the most important day of his life. He'd found Blair. His response to the kid's question made no sense, but it was all he could offer. "I'll move to Seattle if that's what you want."
Blair lifted himself up on one elbow and Jim could see him squint. "Where are you? I can't see anything."
Jim inched up closer and touched his hand. "Right here."
Blair's fingers laced through his. "We'll work it out, Jim. If we're meant to be together, we'll figure out a way to make it happen."
For some reason, Blair's words depressed Jim. All he could hear was Blair saying if. It all suddenly seemed so unlikely, as if he'd built his future on shifting sands. He couldn't help the sigh that escaped.
He felt Blair tugging on his hand, pulling him down. "Jim, Jim, I swear, it will be okay. Come lie next to me."
Jim tugged back. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Yeah, yeah, it is. I don't think I can help much, but just do what you need to do. It's all right with me." He threw a hand in the general direction of the foot of the tent. "I have some lotion in my pack back."
Jim couldn't believe that Blair was giving him permission to fuck him. For a frightening moment Jim was afraid he would take him up on it, that the sudden desire racing through his body would drive him to stake his claim on a man for whom the exertion alone would probably kill him.
But just that quickly, maybe because Blair had given his permission, Jim knew that he could control it. Lying next to Blair would be sufficient; letting his senses wallow in Blair's essence would be more than enough.
Jim caressed Blair's cheek with his fingers, momentarily overwhelmed with a surge of love for the young man. "Just go to sleep, Chief. I'll be right here."
Blair gave him a weary smile and closed his eyes again, his fingers still clutching Jim's.
It was still raining when Jim woke up. He knew instantly that Blair
was sicker. His breathing was labored and he was hard to arouse. His
temperature was so high it was frightening, and Jim could barely get
him awake enough to swallow two more aspirin.
Jim filled one of the backpacks with all the clothes so it would be soft to lie on. Then he lifted Blair up so he was resting on it, hoping the elevated position might help ease his breathing.
Jim's side was killing him, and his thigh wound was showing signs of infection. He had to go now if he was going at all because in time he'd be too weak to go anywhere. Jim would be signing both of their death warrants if that happened.
He watched Blair for a few minutes, reluctant to leave him, still not sure that he could. The less rational part of his brain was resistant to leaving his unclaimed Guide alone. The more practical part was deathly afraid that he'd go get help only to return to find he was too late.
The thought of Blair dying, or getting claimed by another Sentinel made Jim's heart race. He moved in close to Blair and wrapped his arms around him. Blair turned to him and coughed on his chest. Jim winced at how thick his secretions sounded. He had to go. "Promise me you'll be here when I get back."
Blair murmured something nonsensical and coughed again.
Jim rested his forehead on the top of Blair's head. He knew he wasn't going to get an answer but he asked again. "Promise me. Please." All he heard was more coughing, and the wheezing of lungs straining to push air in and out.
If Jim could have crawled inside Blair's body to destroy the germs that were killing him, he would. But he couldn't. All he could do was to try to get some help, and pray to God that it wouldn't be too late.
Jim forced himself away from Blair and put several layers of shirts on, topping it all off with his jacket. It wouldn't do much to keep him dry, but it would help keep him warmer. With one last look at Blair, Jim slipped out of the tent and stood there in the rain.
He looked up toward the mountain peak and for the first time he wondered, with the overcast and sodden sky, if he'd even be able to get a signal now. Maybe he'd get all the way up there and find he'd wasted his time. Four hours up, four hours down, almost another day gone. Time Blair didn't have. The trip down would be the surer bet, but it would take even longer.
Jim could have run down if he wasn't hurt, maybe even do it in a day, but there was no way he could do that now. "Fuck." No good solution. No clear answers. He didn't have any idea which direction to go in, especially when the larger part of him didn't want to go at all.
He listened intently, desperately hoping the panther that he barely believed in would show up with a sign that said 'follow me'. The shout, when it came, almost deafened him.
Jim winced with pain as the yell reverberated in his ear drums. Then the realization that it had been a yell sunk in. He snapped his head up. "Who's there? Hello? I need some help. I've got a sick man here." Jim hoped with every fiber of his being that he hadn't imagined that voice.
He let out a huge sigh of relief when he heard two voices, arguing as to where his voice had come from. He called out again. "Hello? I'm over here."
Recognizing that he had no idea who the voices belonged to, he ducked back in the tent and retrieved his gun. He stuck it in the waist band of his jeans and covered it with his shirts. Jim kept one hand behind him as he called again, helping the two men home in on his position.
He could have cried when two rangers finally walked into his campsite. "Thank God."
The men approached warily. "We thought we heard gun shots yesterday. We've been combing the mountain since to see if we could find anything."
Jim put his hands up, wanting to allay their fears, saying, "I'm a cop. My ID's in my pocket."
One of the men came closer. "Just move slowly."
Jim nodded, willing to do anything to get these men to trust him, to help Blair. He unzipped his jacket and slowly reached inside, pulled out his ID and tossed it to the closer man. "I've got a sick cop in the tent, too. I think he has pneumonia."
After checking it, the ranger tossed his ID back to him. "Do you know about the shots fired?"
Jim nodded. "There's a dead body about 100 yards away, wrapped in a second tent. She attacked us. It's a long story that I'll be glad to tell you, once we get my friend some medical help."
"How sick is he?"
"Too sick to get anywhere on his own. He's barely conscious."
One of the rangers poked his head in the tent. It only took one look. He gave his partner a significant look that put Jim's stomach in knots. "We better call for an airlift." As the other ranger used his long range walkie-talkie to call for help, the first ranger said, "We'll need to carry him about half a mile to the west. There's a clearing there big enough for a chopper to land." He put out his hand. "Dave Codwell, by the way."
Jim shook his hand. "Jim Ellison."
Dave pointed at the man still making rescue arrangements. "He's Matt Barbin."
Jim nodded. "The guy in the tent's Blair Sandburg." He pointed east. "And the woman's name was Alex Barnes."
Dave's eyebrows went up. "I recognize that name. We got a fax about her. She was wanted, wasn't she?"
Jim nodded again. "Yeah, for a bunch of robberies, homicides and for trying to kill him." That was accompanied by a point in Blair's direction.
Dave took a careful look at Jim, finally touching his own temple, mirroring where Jim was bandaged. "Did you take a hit?"
"Three of them." Jim gestured toward his side and his thigh. "None of them were too bad. I got lucky."
"Was he shot?"
Jim shook his head. "No."
Dave gave him another appraising look. "You were covering him?"
The next look was respectful. "Did you shoot her?"
"Three times. Arm, chest, and head."
Matt signed off and walked over to join them. "They'll have a chopper here in thirty minutes."
Dave poked his nose in the tent again. "Maybe we can use the sleeping bags to carry him? Me and Matt can each take an end that way."
"I can carry him."
Dave gave him a skeptical look. "No offense, but you barely look like you can keep standing for much longer."
All of Jim's territorial fervor was back with a vengeance. He knew rationally that neither of these men were Sentinels but he couldn't help it. He didn't want anyone near Blair but himself. "I'll do it."
Dave looked like he was going to argue again, but stopped when Matt put a hand on his arm. Jim heard Matt whisper to his partner, "We'll be right there if he needs help." Dave nodded and they both backed away, giving Jim room.
Jim went into the tent and wrapped the sleeping bag around Blair like a mummy. Then, marshalling all the strength he had left, he crouched down, paying no attention to his screaming thigh and the burning in his side, and scooped Blair up to his chest. He immediately felt better with Blair so close to hand.
He finagled his way outside the tent, grateful that Matt was holding one flap open. "Can you cover his face?"
Matt worked the edge of the sleeping bag until it protected Blair's face from the rain. "Do we need to get anything out of the tent right now?"
"Yeah, the black backpack." They could leave the clothes in the other one; they were mostly dirty anyway. This pack back had all the other items, including Blair's badge and gun.
"No problem." Matt reached in the tent, and grabbed it. "Let's go." He pointed west. "That way."
The only thing that kept Jim moving was the sound of Blair's heart. It provided a cadence that helped him place one foot in front of the other, over and over. Hands on either side of him finally pulled him to a stop. He looked around wearily and realized they had arrived at the clearing.
Focusing his hearing, he was relieved to hear the chopper in the distance. Pulling his senses back to Blair, Jim could feel that he was burning up. It radiated through all the layers of clothes and the padding of the sleeping bag. It was like carrying a heated furnace.
"Want me to take him for a minute?"
Jim shook his head tiredly.
Neither one of them asked again.
Jim woke up to find himself in a hospital bed and scowled. He hated
hospitals. He glanced up at the fluids pumping into him and saw that
one was a normal saline solution, and the other an antibiotic. EKG
leads led from his body to a monitor. No surprises there. He checked
his side and thigh and saw that new dressings had been applied.
Blair! Jim sat up in bed, and swung his knees over the edge. He had to find Blair. Apparently his movement triggered one of the monitors as a nurse came hurrying in. "Where the heck do you think you're going?" She gestured at the machines. "You're hooked up to a leash and it won't let you go far. Do you need to go to the bathroom?"
Jim glowered at her.
She tried again, at a more basic level. "Can you tell me your name?"
He rolled his eyes. "Jim Ellison. I'm in the hospital, Cascade General if I had to guess. I was shot three times, and I need to know where Blair Sandburg is. Now."
Her head was nodding approvingly as he assured her of his orientation, but his last comment got a frown out of her. "Who?"
"Blair Sandburg. He was sick and came in with me. The chopper airlifted both of us in." Jim frowned as the fact that he really was at Cascade General sank in. He had no memory of being transported here. He could only assume Simon had made the arrangements.
She shook her head. "You arrived by ambulance." She looked toward the door. "Let me see if he's in the hospital on another unit. You get back into bed, and I'll be back in a minute."
Jim had to give it some thought but finally decided that would do for now. He leaned back and got his legs tucked under the covers with some assistance from the nurse. Jim was annoyed at how weak he felt. Once settled, when it didn't look as if she was going to leave immediately to check on Blair, he glared at her.
She let out a sigh. "Blair Sandman?"
"Sandburg," he growled.
"Okay, I'm going."
Jim let his head flop back on the bed. Instinctively his hearing started to look for his Guide's heartbeat. Stretching out in everwidening circles, Jim grew more and more distressed at the absence of the beat he was desperate to hear. The thought that Blair might not have made it was unacceptable.
The nurse was taking too long. Jim sat up once more, and again swung his legs to the side. He looked up at all the wires and tubing, trying to figure out how to get himself disconnected.
On hearing his name, Jim looked at the door and saw Simon standing there. "Simon, you gotta get me out of here. And I need to know where Blair Sandburg is."
Simon gave him a confused look. "Who?"
Jim barely managed to hold onto his temper, and pushed away the fear slithering its way down his spine. "Blair Sandburg. The man they brought in with me."
"I don't know about anyone else. They called me from the local hospital near to where you'd been camping, as I was listed as your emergency contact. When it didn't sound like you were in too bad a shape, I arranged for them to ship you here. Figured you'd rather wake up here than in some strange hospital."
Jim thought his heart might hammer its way out of his chest. Blair wasn't here. Blair was somewhere else. Away from him. "I need a phone. Now."
Simon handed his over. "What's going on, Jim?"
Jim didn't bother to answer, just glanced up at Simon. "What was the name of that hospital?"
Simon frowned. "Whately General. In Whately," he added unnecessarily.
Jim punched in the numbers for information. Too many minutes later he was finally connected to the hospital. "This is Detective Jim Ellison. I need to get information about one of your patients, a Blair Sandburg."
There was a long pause, and Jim swallowed back the acid in his throat. "I'm sorry, sir, there's no one here by that name."
Jim felt something start to die inside of him. He thought furiously. "Let me talk to someone in the Emergency Room."
Simon sat down on the bed. "Jim, what's going on?"
As Jim waited for the transfer he asked, "How long have I been here?"
"About six hours."
Jim did some quick math and came up with too many hours. Hours in which anything could have gone wrong with Blair and he hadn't been there to help. "Shit."
Someone picked up the phone. "ED."
"I need to speak to whoever's in charge."
Jim sat there in agony at the delay. Finally someone else picked up. "This is Cindy."
"Cindy, this is Detective Jim Ellison. I was airlifted in with another man, another cop named Blair Sandburg. Can you tell me where he is?"
He could hear keys clicking. "He's not a patient here in this hospital."
Jim snapped back. "I know that." He took a breath, aware that pissing her off wasn't going to help. "Can you look at the records and see if he was transferred somewhere else? Please?" He didn't add that if she didn't he'd drive up there and wring her neck.
He heard some papers shuffling, listened to her mumble, "Sandburg, Sandburg, Sandburg, oh, here he is. Yeah, he was here early last shift. Looks like they couldn't stabilize him here so they airlifted him back out to Swedish."
Jim knew it was too soon to be relieved, but at least he knew Blair hadn't died there. "Do you have a number for Swedish?" Jim glanced up at Simon and Simon fished a pen out of his pocket. She read him off a number and he scribbled it on a hospital menu sitting on his bedside table. "Thanks." Jim hung up and punched in the new number.
When the operator answered, Jim asked for Blair again, and this time he felt an overwhelming relief when the answer he got was that Mr. Sandburg was in the Intensive Care Unit and she'd connect him with the nursing station.
As it rang, Simon frowned at him. "That name sounds familiar. Blair Sandburg. Blair Sandburg. You say he's a cop? Hmm."
Jim left Simon to his woolgathering as the phone was answered. "ICU, Sharla speaking."
"Sharla, this is Detective Jim Ellison of the Cascade PD. I'm calling to get the status of another police officer in your unit, Blair Sandburg. Can you tell me how he is?"
"Are you family?"
Everything within Jim screamed yes until finally he lied. "Yes."
"How much do you want to know?"
There was a pause. "Well, his condition is critical. The infection he has is overwhelming his system. He's on a ventilator because he can't breathe on his own, and his heart's showing some arrhythmias. His kidneys have started to shut down and the doctor's going to give him one more day for them to recover. If they don't, he's going start him on hemodialysis. He's on a cooling blanket and several broad spectrum antibiotics to try to get the fevers down but we're not having much luck."
Jim sat there on the bed, dazed, feeling as if his heart was an open wound. "Is he, uh, is he going to make it?"
The nurse paused, as if possibly realizing that she'd just dumped an inordinate amount of unpleasant information on a family member. "Are you all right? Do you want to talk to one of our social workers?"
Jim gritted his teeth. "What I want to know is if he's going to make it."
"I don't know. He could go either way. I can tell you that if it's important to you to see him before, in case, well, you know, you might want to come soon."
Jim suddenly knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Blair would die if he didn't get up there. "Thanks." He hung up and handed the phone to Simon. "I have to get out of here. Get to Seattle."
Jim stood and began ripping the monitoring EKG pads off of him. "I'm leaving, with or without your help. Where are my clothes?"
Simon gave him an incredulous look. "What the hell are you doing? You've been shot, lost a lot of blood, have an infection going, and you've been practically unconscious since you got here. You're not going anywhere."
"Simon, I'm obviously not making myself clear. This is not open to discussion. I'm going. Now."
"I can't let you do this."
Ignoring his boss, Jim ripped out the IV, putting a finger where the needle came out to keep it from bleeding. He got unsteadily to his feet. "I need my clothes." He glanced up at the monitors and pushed the off button. Fighting Simon off was bad enough; he didn't want to add a nurse to the fray.
Simon glared at him. "Jim, you're out of your fucking mind. Get back in that bed."
"Unless you're planning on shooting me, Simon, get out of my way."
Jim felt a little shaky, but he started looking through drawers and the closet for his belongings. At the bottom of the small closet he spotted a white plastic bag. After pulling it out and inspecting the contents, he let out a sigh of relief. Not that it would have stopped him, but he hadn't really wanted to walk out of the hospital with his ass hanging out of his hospital gown.
Passing on the underwear, Jim pulled on the sweatpants, ignoring their odor and bloodstains. The sweatshirt was next, and then his jacket. "Where's my truck?"
"It's right where you left it."
"Fuck." He checked to make sure he still had his wallet. "Will you take me to a rental agency?"
"No, I won't. You're in no shape to drive two blocks let alone up to Seattle."
Jim let out a mirthless laugh. "We're still not communicating. I'm going."
Simon grabbed his arm. "This is twice now in less than a week you've backed me into a corner and I don't like it any more this time."
Jim spared a moment for his boss's feelings. "I know, and you don't deserve it, but I have to get up there. I have to."
"Shit." Simon took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "You're almost more trouble than you're worth."
Jim flashed him a tight smile, knowing he'd won. "I owe you big time for this."
"Yeah, well, I'll be collecting, and collecting big, don't you worry." He gave Jim a once-over. "And I'm taking you home first to shower and change. No one's gonna let you in the door looking like that."
Jim didn't want to waste another minute but he knew Simon had a point. "Fine, let's go."
Just then the nurse walked in. "Wait a minute. Where are you going?"
Jim shrugged. "Police business. I have to go."
"You can't. You haven't finished your antibiotics."
Jim shrugged again and brushed by her on the way out the door. He tuned out her muttered imprecations as he walked down the hall.
As they drove up to Seattle, Jim could feel Simon shooting looks his
way, wanting an explanation. Finally, Simon cracked. "Who is this
guy we're going to see?"
"Why does his name sound familiar? Who is he?"
"He's a forensics anthropologist with the Seattle PD." Jim didn't bother to mention Simon's kicking Blair out of his office. There'd be time for that later.
A few minutes later Simon smacked himself on the head. "Damn, Blair Sandburg. I knew that name sounded familiar."
Jim raised his eyebrows. "What do you mean?"
"This damn kid comes into my office about four years ago, looking like some hippie freak, wanting me to give him an observer's pass and ride with my detectives. I told him thanks but no thanks, that he could go bother someone else."
Jim nodded, being familiar with the story already.
"Biggest damn mistake I ever made. Well, no, my failed marriage was my biggest mistake, but that Sandburg kid was a close second."
Jim shot Simon a look of surprise. "How do you figure?"
"How was I supposed to know he was some sort of damn genius? You should have seen the kid. Long hair, with some fruity vest on and earrings."
Jim was familiar with how Blair looked and he wanted nothing more than to see him again. He waited for the rest of the story.
"So I go to that PD captain's get-together, you know, the one we have every fall, where all the captains from the Northwest coalition get together to compare notes?"
Simon scowled. "The chief of Major Crimes in Seattle gets up and starts talking about this new program he has and this new forensics anthropologist he hired, and how their solve rate increased to almost 95%, and how he has police departments all over the country asking for this guy to come talk to them, to see about setting up similar programs for themselves. And guess who this wunderkund is?"
Jim felt a moment of completely unjustified pride at how successful his Guide was. "Blair Sandburg."
"Blair fucking Sandburg. The hippie kid I ejected from my office. Shit." Simon thumped his hand on the steering wheel.
There were several minutes of silence in the car and then they passed a sign saying: Seattle 32 miles. Jim looked at his watch. Soon. He'd be with him soon.
Simon blew out a beleaguered breath. "So, tell me why going to see Blair Sandburg is so important to you. I never actually got the story about what happened to you on that mountain. And is there any chance we can get him to come work for us?"
Jim sure as hell hoped so, but it was too soon to say anything about it. Nor did he mention that if it came to it, he'd be the one resigning and moving to Seattle. "Blair was on that mountain with me. Remember the report that came through about Alex Barnes, right before the Switchman showed up?"
Simon nodded. "The robbery homicides?"
"Didn't she try and kill a cop?"
Jim clenched his fists. "Yeah, Blair Sandburg."
"Oh." There was a pause. "What happened?"
"She tried to drown him but help showed up and she got away in the commotion. Blair checked himself out of the hospital, concerned that she would come after him to finish the job." Jim kept the animal spirit vision to himself.
"Let me guess--he decided to go mountain climbing."
"Got it in one. We hooked up, Alex showed up, tried to take us both out, and I shot her." Jim gazed out the window. "He was already sick when I found him, and he started getting sicker. Fortunately for us, the rangers showed up and airlifted us both off the mountain. They were planning on sending another team to get Alex's body."
Simon let out a snicker. "Jesus, Jim. Only you would go on some vacation to the mountains and come across a sick kid and a killer who's trying to nail his ass."
Jim just nodded. It was true. It would only happen to him. And he thanked God that it had. He sent a silent prayer ahead of him for Blair to hang on.
"So, Jim. Did you get whatever you needed figured out? Are you coming back to work?"
"Yes and no."
"What the hell does that mean? Remember, you owe me."
"I know. Yes, I figured it out, or I should say that Blair figured it out. But I plan to stay up here until Blair gets better. I'll be able to tell you more after that."
"Why the hell do you have to play nursemaid? Doesn't he have family up here?"
Jim didn't know the answer to that but a flicker of anger passed through him at the thought of sharing his Guide with anyone. For all he knew Blair had a family; certainly he would have friends from the PD who would expect to help out. They hadn't talked about any of that. Maybe Blair had a lover. Jim rejected that idea at once. Even if Blair had one, it was now past tense.
"Jim, talk to me."
"You'll think I'm crazy."
Simon barked out a laugh. "I already think you're crazy."
Jim sighed. "Blair says I'm something called a Sentinel, someone with enhanced senses. They're usually tribal watchmen, using their senses to alert the tribe to danger. All my senses are really strong. I can hear things and see things that no one else can."
He pointed to the car ahead of them. "I can tell you that those people are arguing about the man's mom coming to live with them." He pointed to the car next to them. "They're talking about where to go on their next vacation."
He pointed way ahead. "See that white van?"
Simon nodded, his eyes squinting. "The one cresting that hill?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah. The license plate number is 4AMK345. California plates." He made a forward motion with his hand. "Go, check it out."
Simon sped up for a few miles until he was behind the white van. He looked at the plate and then frowned at Jim. "I don't understand."
"That makes two of us. I don't know why this is happening to me, but it's true. The reason I was going crazy is because I couldn't control them. I was constantly being assaulted by sounds and sights and smells that didn't make any sense to me, that made it hard for me to even think, let alone function."
Jim turned toward Simon. "I can tell you that you had an egg and bacon croissant for breakfast, and you stopped at Starbucks and got some hazelnut coffee before you came to see me at the hospital."
Simon's mouth dropped open. "Holy shit."
Jim nodded. "Yup."
"And Sandburg knew about this?"
Jim let out a chuff of amazed amusement. "He did his masters thesis on Sentinels."
"That sort of defies belief, Jim."
"Tell me about it."
Simon shook his head. "Something tells me there's more to this."
"There is. Every Sentinel has a Guide, someone to work with him, make sure his senses don't overwhelm him."
"Let me guess, you think Blair's your guide?"
Jim snarled, "He is my Guide." He dared anyone to refute his claim.
"Hey, hey, don't bite my head off; I'm just trying to understand."
The sign for Seattle passed by and Jim glanced down at the directions in his hand. "It's the James Street exit."
Simon nodded, moving into the right hand lane. "What does it mean that he's your guide?"
"It means we have to work together."
"So he'll be coming to Cascade?"
Jim shrugged. "Maybe."
Simon frowned. "What does that mean?"
"Simon, let's take one thing at a time. First I need to see him and make sure he's all right. When he gets better, we'll see what comes next."
Simon followed Jim's directions to the hospital, and then made his way to a parking space. "I would imagine these senses of yours would come in pretty handy as a police officer."
Jim nodded. "That's what Blair said, too."
"I don't want to lose you. And not just because of this new stuff, but because you're the best detective I have, and a good friend. I need to know you want to come back."
Jim unfastened his seat belt and opened his car door. He turned to look at Simon. "First and foremost, I want to be with him. I need to be with him. If I can do that in Cascade, that would be my first choice. I know it's not enough for you, but it's all I can say right now."
Several emotions crossed Simon's face, and Jim felt badly that he wasn't giving his captain the answer he'd hoped for. But he couldn't take the time to reassure him any longer. Pushing all thoughts of Simon and his job aside, Jim strode into the hospital. He could feel his senses stretching out again, straining for any evidence of his Guide. When he got to the desk, he asked for Blair's location. They directed him to the ICU, and Jim was off, Simon following quickly in his wake.
When they got off the elevator and followed the signs leading to the ICU, Jim finally heard his Guide, heard his faltering heartbeat and the ventilator working hard to push air through clogged lungs. Urgency swept through him and he stalked on to the unit, ignoring the sign that asked all visitors to ring the bell for assistance.
A nurse stopped him. "Visiting hours aren't for another thirty minutes."
Jim flashed his badge. "I need to see Blair Sandburg."
"Come back in 30 minutes and you can see him. Or at least you can get in line to see him."
"You don't understand, I have to see him. It's police business."
She stared at him through narrowed eyes. "Listen, buddy. He's unconscious and on a ventilator, there's no way he's answering any questions. Besides, every cop in Seattle's tried that routine on me today, and I've told them all the same story. Visitor's hours are the first fifteen minutes of every hour. The waiting room is back down the hall, and you can duke it out with the rest of his visitors as to who sees him next."
Jim glared at the nurse and tried to decide what to do. There was no fucking way he was leaving here without seeing Blair. He sent a beseeching look Simon's way.
Simon shot him a glare but started talking to the nurse, bullshitting her about something, turning her so she couldn't see Jim. That was all he needed. Honing right in on Blair, Jim dashed across the unit, and slipped in his room.
The sight that met his eyes almost made him cry. There were tubes everywhere and more machines keeping his Guide alive than Jim could count. Blair was pale, almost ghostly white, and it was only the beep of the heart monitor and Jim's own senses that told him Blair was still alive.
He moved to his side and working his way carefully under the blanket, he took Blair's hand. "Hey, Blair. I'm here. Sorry it took me so long."
Mindful of all the tubes, Jim started running his hands over Blair's body. He had no idea what he was doing, but Jim knew Blair had to know he was there, that his Sentinel was keeping guard. "Blair, you in there? I didn't know they sent you to a different hospital. I came as soon as I woke up. I never meant to leave you alone. But now I'm here and you need to wake up for me."
Jim could feel that Blair was still burning up with a fever and a sense of despair swept over him. "You have to fight. I can't give you up. I can't do this without you. Please." Jim bowed his head, knowing it was only a matter of time before a staff person came and kicked him out. "Blair, please."
Jim could hear the nurse questioning Simon about where Jim had gone and he knew his seconds were ticking down. It was so faint, he almost missed it. But then he felt it again. Blair was squeezing his fingers. Jim squeezed back. "Blair?"
He saw Blair's eyebrows move and realized that they had Blair's eyelids taped shut to keep his eyes from drying out. He gently removed the tape and then, wetting a towel with some warm water from the sink in the room, he wiped the grit from his Guide's eyes.
The nurse stormed into the room. "What are you doing? If you don't leave now, I'm calling security."
Jim kept on with what he was doing. "He's waking up."
"No, he's not. He's been unresponsive even to painful stimuli for the last three hours."
Blair's eyes blinked open and his gaze went immediately to Jim. Jim smiled at him. "Hey, Chief."
The nurse's eyes opened wide. "He's awake."
Jim grinned. "He's awake."
She pointed at Jim. "You stay. I don't know what you did, but it's obviously working. I'm calling the doctor."
Jim wasn't going to argue with that. He carefully caressed the side of Blair's face. "You're pretty sick. You need to promise me you'll get better. Okay?"
Blair managed a little nod. Even that seemed to exhaust him and he closed his eyes.
Simon came into the room and moved a chair behind Jim. "Sit. The nurse says that as far as she's concerned, all miracle workers get to sit down when they're working."
Jim sat, never letting loose of Blair's fingers.
"He looks like shit, Jim."
A part of him agreed, but Jim mostly thought that Blair was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
Simon spoke softly. "I think they thought he was dying."
Jim could believe it. He also knew that Blair wouldn't die now. Jim wouldn't let him and Blair knew that. Jim would be his life preserver, keeping him afloat until his body recovered.
Simon put his hand on Jim's shoulder. "I'm going to go to the waiting room and introduce myself. Let them know that Blair woke up. It might make them feel better about having to share their visiting time with you."
Jim nodded as Simon left. It didn't matter. He was where he needed to be. Jim lowered his head and kissed Blair's fingers. "I love you, Blair, and I need you."
Blair opened his eyes again.
The doctor walked in and stopped when she saw Blair's eyes open. "You are awake." She glanced at Jim. "Gail says you're our miracle worker."
Jim shrugged. All he could cared about was that he was with Blair again.
The doctor moved to the bedside, pulling out a penlight. "Is he really awake or just opening his eyes?"
The doctor moved to the opposite side of the bed, across from Jim. "Blair, can you hear me?"
Jim rolled his eyes, wondering how the doctor expected Blair to answer that. He squeezed Blair's hands. "Just blink your eyes twice."
Blair obeyed and blinked twice.
The doctor grinned at Blair and at Jim. "You, Dr. Sandburg, have just made my day." Then she frowned at him. "Now that you're awake, are you planning on a full recovery?"
Blair blinked twice, and then glanced at Jim and back at the doctor, then back at Jim.
She looked at Jim, too. "I'll write orders to let you stay as much as you want. Whatever mojo you brought in with you seems to be working." She grinned again. "Want to visit any of my other patients?"
Jim couldn't help but grin back at her but he shook his head. "No, thanks, Doc. I'll save my mojo for Blair, here."
She brushed Blair's hair off his forehead. "I think you made a good choice. This one's too good to lose." A stern look crossed her face. "But, I'm warning you, Dr. Sandburg, if you even try to walk out of here AMA again, I'll steal some handcuffs and cuff you to the bed."
Jim let out a half-laugh. "I'll loan you mine."
Blair did his best to glare at both of them, but it was clear he'd expended all his energy. His eyes closed and Jim could feel him slip off into sleep. Jim wondered if he was imagining it, but he could swear he could hear Blair's body healing itself. His lungs already sounded clearer and his fever was starting to drop.
A moment of terror suffused Jim as he realized that if he'd come even a few hours later, it might have been too late. He clasped Blair's hand between his own, and hung on tight.
Jim roamed around Blair's home, feeling more and more depressed. Part
of it was just being away from Blair. Part of it was who he'd left
Blair with. The biggest part was due to the fact that he wasn't sure
how or if they'd end up together.
Blair was almost well. Off the ventilator, off all his meds except his antibiotics, and out of the ICU. He was scheduled for discharge tomorrow. Blair was also kicking Jim out of his room on a regular basis.
Blair had arranged for Jim to get a key to his house and told Jim to make himself at home. He made Jim go home at night to sleep, and told him to scram when he could tell that all the hospital sounds and smells were getting to him. Blair just seemed to know when Jim's senses were acting up.
He also kicked Jim out when he had certain visitors, three specific visitors. Blair hadn't kicked him out the first time they'd visited. He'd been so proud to introduce Jim to the three detectives he had worked with through his dissertation, and with whom he was usually partnered now, and to introduce his detectives to Jim, the man who had saved his life twice the past week. Hector, Ben, and Lance, meet Jim. Jim, meet Hector, Ben, and Lance.
Instant animosity wouldn't be too strong a term to use. They hated him, and he hated them. Pure and simple. They saw him as a threat, and he saw them as a threat. He wanted them gone, they wanted him gone. And Blair was left in the middle trying to thaw a room that had suddenly turned to ice.
They weren't Sentinels, Jim knew that. He'd never have left Blair alone with them if that were the case. But they thought Blair belonged to them. Jim could also tell that Lance was attracted to Blair, wanted him. He touched Blair too much and it was all Jim could do not to rip the guy's arms off.
Finally, after the second torture session with the four of them silently fighting over Blair, Blair told him to leave. He'd spoken Sentinel-soft so the other three men couldn't possibly overhear. Told him to leave for a couple of hours and then come back. Get some fresh air, go have a beer, a run, anything.
Jim didn't want to go, but he did. And now every time they showed up, he left, feeling as if his hopes were drifting away. He had no claims on Blair. One kiss, one conversation about an improbable future together, a possible destiny. That's all.
Jim moved to the window and looked out over Blair's neighborhood. Jim liked Blair's home. It was exactly like him. Soothing amidst a riot of colors and artifacts. His bookshelves were filled with everything from a book on the Sentinels of Paraguay to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Every wall was filled with paintings and photographs and art from around the world.
The fireplace mantel held even more photos. Photos of Blair with a multitude of friends, many of whom Jim had met over the past few days. The stream of visitors and well-wishers had been never-ending, everyone from the mayor to the meter maid. Everyone liked Blair, everyone wanted him to get better, everyone wanted him back on the job.
Jim didn't know where that left him. There was no doubt that those three detectives, and probably everyone else in the Seattle PD Major Crimes division, saw him as a threat. They all watched the connection between him and Blair with narrowed eyes. And Jim knew, because of it, that he wouldn't be welcome here.
Blair could make it happen, could get him a job. If Blair pushed for Jim to be offered a position, Jim would get one, but they wouldn't be happy about it. And they certainly wouldn't pair him with Blair, unless Blair insisted, and that would ostracize him further. Jim wasn't so concerned about not being liked; he was concerned over what it would end up doing to Blair.
Jim knew the easiest thing to do was for them both to go to Cascade. Blair would be accepted, welcomed with open arms. Simon was right now working with the chief and the mayor to come up with an offer for Blair. Simon would let them pair up and having a boss who already knew about Jim's senses would be a big help.
But Jim also remembered Blair's words about not being willing to give up his life for Jim. And Jim didn't want Blair to have to give up his life. A full life. A good life. Jim didn't think he had much to offer to replace it. Which was why he was here now, feeling depressed. Feeling caught. Wondering why he stayed, knowing he couldn't leave.
The phone rang. Jim let it ring, waiting for the answering machine to pick up. He listened to Blair's voice say its spiel. Then, "Jim, you there? It's Blair. Pick up."
Jim lunged for the phone. "Yeah, it's me."
"Great. Listen, I talked the doctor into letting me go home today. Come pick me up and spring me, will ya?"
Jim spoke from his depression. "You sure you don't want Lance to bring you home?"
There was a long pause, then an annoyed laugh. "Shut the fuck up, Jim, and come get me." Then in a teasing voice he added, "Unless you want me to call Lance. I can, if you're busy."
Jim could feel the muscle in his jaw tightening. "I'll be there in ten minutes."
Blair let out a laugh. "I'll be waiting. You better not be late."
Jim just hung up and grabbed the keys to his rental. He got there in eight minutes.
Blair was dressed and sitting on his bed when Jim arrived. Most of the bouquets had been spread around to other patients, except for two that Blair was taking home with him. One was from his mom. The other was the bunch of roses that Jim had bought for him on a whim and presented to him with a face so red he thought it might explode. Blair had loved them, had burrowed his face in the soft petals for a long time until he finally looked up with eyes suspiciously bright to thank him.
Blair stood up. "More than ready. I got my prescriptions already filled, and I am good to go. Man, I can't wait to get out of here."
The nurse of the day came in and she didn't look happy that Blair was leaving. "We'll miss you, honey. You brightened things up around here."
"I'll come back to visit."
She half smiled and half frowned. "Just make sure if you do, that you do it standing, not lying down on a stretcher."
Blair gave her a friendly hug. "That's a promise I'll be glad to make."
She got him settled in the wheelchair, and Jim left to go get his truck. Simon had arranged for both vehicles to be towed back to Seattle. He met them in front and opened the passenger side door for Blair.
Blair gave the nurse another hug, and with his two flower arrangements safely settled in the crook of each elbow, he got in the truck. "Man, I have to go get my car, don't we?"
"Already taken care of, Chief. Yours is sitting in your garage."
Blair gave him a blinding smile. "That is great, man. I love that car."
Jim grinned at him as he pulled out onto the street, delighted to have Blair completely to himself, not having to worry about who might be coming in the door next. "You want to go straight home?"
When he didn't get an answer he turned his head briefly and looked at Blair. What he saw almost made him run off the road. Blair was staring at him, his head partially lifted as if he were smelling him.
A second look had Jim taking a quick right down a side road and pulling off. Blair's eyes were turning black as his pupils dilated, and his nostrils were flaring. Jim took a sniff himself and could smell Blair's arousal.
Blair wrestled his flowers to the floor and inched closer to Jim. "Is this what you were feeling?" He inched closer, maneuvering around the gear box until he was facing Jim, his right thigh against Jim's left, and he nuzzled his nose against Jim's neck. "God, you smell so good."
Jim didn't think he had ever gotten so hard so fast. He let out a gasp as Blair licked his neck.
"You taste so good, I--, man, I want you." Blair was practically on his lap now.
Jim tried to respond but he found his mouth suddenly occupied with Blair's lips and Blair's tongue and it was only seconds before every nerve ending in his body short-circuited. His Guide was here in his arms, and it was time for them to come together. He fisted his hands in Blair's hair, holding him captive and Jim swept his tongue into Blair's mouth, tasting to his heart's content.
He felt Blair pushing on his chest, and he let out a moan of displeasure and held his Guide tighter.
Blair pushed again. "Take us home. Now. Jim, take us home. We can't do this on the street."
Jim let out a groan of frustration and slapped his hand on the steering wheel. He didn't want to stop and let his hand roam down Blair's body until he cupped his erection. It was as hard as his own. Jim started pushing Blair backwards, to lay him down on the seat.
Blair pushed back and yelled at him. "Drive. Hurry. Go."
The commands worked. Like an automaton, Jim put the truck in drive and headed for Blair's home, paying no attention to speed limits.
Blair moved back to his seat, panting. "Jesus. Jesus. Is this what you were feeling all that time?"
Jim could barely draw a breath, his senses inundated with the presence of his Guide. "Yes."
Blair touched himself, stroked his erection. Then he looked at Jim. "You are like mainlining Spanish Fly. Jesus." He inched back over toward Jim. "I can't stay away from you. Why didn't this happen in the hospital, when I started feeling better?"
Jim almost rammed the car ahead of him when Blair's hand landed on his thigh. He did his best to concentrate on Blair's question. "Too many other smells, other sounds. They must have covered it up." He let out a yelp when Blair started stroking him through his pants, molding the fabric to outline the length of him.
"Tell me we're almost there." Blair was back against his side, biting his earlobe.
It was a good thing they were, because Jim would have just stopped the truck and dealt with the lewd and lascivious charges later. He squealed into the driveway and slammed the truck into park, shutting it off. Slamming the truck door open with enough force for it to rebound back with a vengeance, Jim almost fell out of the vehicle, dragging Blair behind him.
When Blair tripped and practically took a nose drive to the concrete, Jim rallied a little. No point finally getting his Guide alone, only to have him get injured. He got Blair standing and then shepherded him into the house, closing and locking the door behind them.
He was slammed against the door by Blair. Jim lowered his head as directed and felt his knees turn to jelly as Blair licked his way into his mouth, nibbling and biting and sucking, all interspersed with little moans that sent a wave of shocked heat through his body.
His hands slid down Blair's back until they got to his ass. He pulled Blair hard and Blair leaped a little and got his legs wrapped around Jim's hips, making himself at home against Jim's body. Jim turned them until Blair's back was pressed against the door.
Kissing was easier now that their mouths were level and Jim lost track of time. All he knew was that he was finally tasting his Guide, that no one was going to take him away. Blair's mouth was like heaven, his lips lush and soft. The smell of Blair's arousal, the sound of Blair's ragged breathing, and the sight of his swollen lips and darkened eyes were all contributing toward a cock-tormenting burn. When he felt Blair's erection push against his, Jim could feel his balls tightening.
Suddenly Blair's legs slipped off of him. The loss was overwhelming. He grabbed for Blair again but Blair had a different agenda in mind. He was yanking on Jim's jacket. "Off. Clothes. Off."
Jim obeyed. He started ripping his clothes off, gratified that Blair was doing the same. As more and more of his Guide's body was bared to his eyes, Jim had to touch. Had to pounce. He pounced them both to the couch.
Blair didn't seem averse to the idea, except for the fact that they were only half-naked. Jim heard buttons bouncing on the ground, dodged to the left just in time to keep a belt from smacking him across the face as Blair yanked it off his pants, accompanied by little snarls of frustration.
Jim surprised himself by starting to laugh.
Blair smacked him on the arm. "It's not funny, I can't get the stupid zipper down."
Jim laughed harder.
Blair finally gave up and rested his head on Jim's chest. "Fuck."
Jim carded his fingers through Blair's hair, untangling as he went. "Come on, Chief. We know this is gonna happen, so maybe we could keep the clothing injuries to a minimum. Okay?"
Blair nodded, but his hands started stroking Jim's ass through his jeans. Then he started nibbling on Jim's chest, snaking out a tongue and teasing a nipple. "I don't know how you did it."
Jim let out a groan as Blair's fingers pressed in on the back seam of his pants. "Did what?"
"Stopped. Let me stop you."
When Blair started licking his other nipple, Jim didn't know either. He didn't think there was a force on earth that could get him away from Blair right now. "You didn't want it. That mattered to me. You mattered to me." He was fervently praying that Blair wanted it now.
Blair pulled away, only far enough to give Jim a brilliant smile. "You're gonna be the best thing that ever happened to me, you know that?"
Jim pulled him back in close. "Ditto, Chief, ditto." After a minute he started walking them to the master bedroom, to Blair's wonderful king-sized bed. "Let's take this someplace more comfortable."
Blair hummed his agreement. "As long as I don't have to stop touching you." He started working on his zipper again, tongue caught between his teeth in concentration.
As soon as they made it to the bedroom, Jim caught that tongue between his teeth and sucked on it. Blair pushed and they both tumbled down on to the bed.
Jim rolled them over until Blair was on the bottom. Then, sitting up, he started working on Blair's zipper and in a few seconds he had it unstuck, unzipped, and Blair naked.
Blair shot him an admiring glance. "Now you."
Jim obliged him and shed the rest of his clothes as well. Getting back in bed he pressed against Blair and the feel of his naked Guide flush against him almost brought him to orgasm. "God, you feel so good." Jim wasn't sure he'd survive an actual sex act.
Blair ran his hands down Jim's side. "So, what do we need to do?"
Jim rolled onto his back and pulled Blair on top of him. He cupped the side of Blair's face, letting his fingers comb back through his hair. The smoldering passion ignited again and he pulled Blair down to devour his lips. Suddenly he couldn't be close enough, touch enough, taste enough.
The need transmitted itself to Blair and he groaned. "Jesus, I feel like I'm on fire." He started pressing kisses punctuated with small bites down Jim's cheek, across his collarbone. "Tell me what you need."
Jim arched his back, submitting to Blair's bites, even as he wrapped his legs around Blair, taking him captive. "Whatever. Just don't stop."
Blair bit his way down Jim's chest, using his tongue to delineate the muscles on Jim's abdomen. "Is there some, uh, some ritual we're supposed to be doing?" Despite the long legs holding him tightly, Blair continued to inch his way down Jim's body until he was licking Jim's cock.
Jim couldn't think, let alone answer Blair's question. He let out a cry as Blair seemed to swallow him whole. The swirl of Blair's tongue over his cock, the warm bath of his saliva, the wet slurping noises Blair was making, the heat of his mouth were all making Jim crazy. The sensations defied description, almost more than he could withstand. It was like being tossed in a hurricane, every nerve ending shooting off sparks. His vision started to gray and he couldn't seem to remember how to breathe.
Suddenly the sensation stopped and he felt Blair crawl back up him and start to kiss his face. "Hey, big guy, I think you need to dial it down a little. You're okay, I'm with you, but I'm afraid you're gonna stroke or something. Dial it down." Blair softly stroked his chest.
Jim focused on the gentle touch and drew a deep breath. He opened his eyes to find worried blue eyes gazing down at him.
"You all right, now? You were zoning big time."
Jim covered his face with his hands. "Oh, God, I'm sorry." He groaned, frustrated, embarrassed.
Blair let out a soft laugh. "Man, nothing to be sorry for. It's a major turn on that I can make you lose control like that." He moved Jim's hands away. "And trust me, when you get better at controlling your senses, we'll have some fun with that. Right now, I just want to make sure you're okay."
Jim sighed. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Good. Now as long as we're taking a little recess here, what exactly is it that we need to do to bond or whatever it is?"
"It doesn't matter."
Blair frowned. "That's what you said before. I thought you were just swept up in the moment."
Jim yanked on one of Blair's curls and made a face at him. "No, I meant it. I don't even know how I know but it doesn't matter. Bottom, top, it works either way."
Blair furrowed his brow in thought. "I guess that makes sense. Sentinels and Guides come in all sexes; there'd need to be some flexibility in the rules." He cocked his head to the side. "You all the way back with me?"
Jim nodded. "That was intense." He started rubbing his hands up and down Blair's back.
Blair grinned. "We haven't even started yet." He leaned down and nuzzled Jim's neck. "You've been the one patiently waiting. What do you want?"
Jim pulled Blair down and hugged him. "I don't care. I just don't want to let you go."
Blair hummed happily. "Works for me, man." He pushed back against Jim's hold and leaned over to open the drawer of the bedside table. After searching for a moment he pulled out a tube and a condom. He held the condom up for Jim's perusal with a questioning look on his face. "I know I'm safe, but it's your call."
Jim took the condom and flicked it across the bedroom. "I'm safe, too, and we can't use it, at least this time."
Blair rubbed his cock against Jim's. "Man, I love it when you go allknowing Sentinel on me."
Jim flipped Blair over and held his Guide's hands over his head, fingers entwined. "Yeah? Well this Sentinel is going to fuck his Guide now. All right with you?"
Blair's eyes darkened with passion and he thrust up against Jim. "Oh, yeah. More than all right."
Jim let loose of Blair's hands and reached for the lube. Leaning down he started to kiss Blair, a deep, wet, scorching kiss that had his Guide panting like he'd just run a minute mile. All it did was whet Jim's appetite. He continued to make himself home in Blair's mouth while he squirted some lube on his fingers.
Jim shifted a little to the side and watched as Blair spread his legs open in a wanton sprawl. Reluctantly leaving Blair's mouth, Jim moved down and kissed Blair's thigh, gratified at the moans that ensued. He took Blair's balls in his mouth, gently tonguing the sensitive ovals. Fingers almost dripping with lube, he circled the puckered opening to Blair's body while he moved his mouth so he could lick up the length of his Guide's cock.
Blair, apparently, wasn't in a patient mood. He reached down and directed Jim's hand, helping him slide a finger inside. The muscles clamped down on Jim's finger even as the tissue molded to his shape. Jim imagined how it would feel on his cock and decided he agreed with Blair emphatically. He needed to get inside, needed to be inside his Guide as soon as possible.
He worked a second finger in, feeling how easily Blair accommodated the extra width. Jim smiled. Some men took a cock easier than others, and it looked like Blair was a natural. His fear of hurting Blair began to recede as he worked a third finger in.
Blair thrust down on his fingers, showing further impatience. "Now. I need you now. I want to come with you inside of me."
Jim handed over the tube, and Blair happily squeezed some out and began to slather it on Jim's cock. The feel of his fingers, the coolness and slippery sensation of the lube, the small whimpers that accompanied every breath Blair took--
"Don't get lost on me now, big guy. Stay focused."
Jim shook his head, pulling back from where his senses were dragging him. He took a moment to stare down at Blair, to appreciate the view.
Blair let out a frustrated cry. "Jim, just fuck me. I'm ready. If I get any more ready I'm gonna explode."
Jim obeyed the directions of his Guide. He gently removed his fingers, and getting his hands under Blair's ass, he pulled him forward until Jim was perfectly lined up. He pushed against Blair's opening, and after a moment's resistance, he slid right in.
Jim could feel it right away. He was home. He'd found his safe haven, all he'd ever need, ever again.
Blair stared at him, his voice rich with amazement. "This is--God, oh God, you're mine. You're mine. Can you feel it?"
Jim could definitely feel it. Could feel the extraordinary comfort of Blair's body as he pushed in deeper. He belonged to Blair, heart, body and mind. Just as Blair belonged to him. Jim thrust again, knowing he wouldn't last long, not this time. Reaching between them he wrapped his fingers around Blair's cock and stroked him in time to his thrusts.
The feeling of completeness, the awareness of being whole for the first time in his life almost eclipsed what was happening to his body. All Jim knew was that he felt consumed with bliss, that he needed to make his partner feel this way, that they needed to share this.
Jim could feel his balls tightening. He leaned closer to Blair. "Come with me. Come for me."
Blair nodded, beyond the capacity for speech. He arched his back and Jim felt the jerk heralding his Guide's orgasm. Jim pushed in one more time, and found his own release, felt the warmth of Blair's body surrounding his cock, the sound of Blair's cries, the smell of Blair's semen. But this time, instead of the sensations dragging him away, Jim found himself instinctively grounded in the steady but rapid beat of Blair's heart.
Blair let his legs slide off Jim's shoulders and wrapped them around his waist, pulling him down into a hug.
Jim went into his arms eagerly, even as he felt his cock soften and slip out of Blair's body. He felt moisture on the side of his face and lifted his head, concerned. "Did I hurt you?"
Blair rubbed his eyes. "I don't think you could." He cleared his throat, rubbed his eyes again, sniffled. "I'm fine. Better than fine. That was the most amazing thing I ever felt." He wiped his cheeks and flashed Jim a look of embarrassment. "I don't usually do this."
Jim kissed his eyes, kissed his cheeks. "You just beat me to it."
Blair let out a watery laugh and sniffed again. "It's like I waited all my life for you."
Jim rolled to Blair's side, snugging him up against him. "You did. Just like I did for you." He couldn't help the yawn that snuck out.
"Hey, what do you think happens if a Sentinel and a Guide don't like each other? Suppose we had this amazing need to have sex but we hated each other?"
Barely marshaling his strength to keep his eyes open, Jim smirked at his Guide. "What makes you think I like you?"
Blair grinned. "Asshole."
"That word has taken on a whole new meaning for me."
Laughing, Blair snuggled back down next to him. "I mean it. What do you think happens? What if I'd been married, or you'd been a poster boy for heterosexuality? Or suppose we had completely incompatible lifestyles, or I was underage? Would the compulsion to mate still be there?"
Jim rolled on to his side, flinging an arm over Blair's waist. "Chief, why are you asking me? You're the Sentinel expert here."
Blair frowned at Jim, clearly displeased with his answer.
Jim thought about it. "I don't think it would happen."
"What do you mean?"
"I think a Sentinel and a Guide are probably drawn together because something inside knows that it's gonna work, that the obstacles that might be in the way aren't serious." Jim rose up on an elbow. "I mean it's all about survival, right?"
Blair nodded, his eyes lit with curiosity.
"So, what sense would it make for a Sentinel to pick a Guide out who would end up hating him? How safe would that be? All the Guide would have to do is let the Sentinel zone and leave him for the scavengers. Besides, the compulsion wasn't strong enough to make you mate with Alex. You knew it was wrong."
Blair's face was smug. "See, I knew I was asking the right person. You know this stuff, Jim." Blair lightly tapped over Jim's heart. "You're the Sentinel, and the instincts on how to be one is all in here, in your genes, in your cells. We just gotta figure out a way to tap into it."
"That's your job, Darwin." Jim collapsed back on the bed. He wasn't sure it mattered. If the sex between them was always this good, he didn't expect to live long.
Jim opened his eyes again to see Blair nervously picking at the sheets. "What?"
"About those obstacles."
Jim sighed. He'd hoped they could enjoy a few more minutes of afterglow, maybe a few more days of sex, before they had this conversation. Jim still had no idea how to resolve things, and the thought of a long-distance relationship made his heart ache. "You mean like you living here and me being in Cascade?"
"Yeah, that one."
"I don't know what to tell you, Chief. I'm afraid your Sentinel has come up blank on this one. I think it's your call." Jim closed his eyes, waiting for the words to fall.
"Do you think--do you think Simon Banks would kick me out of his office again?"
Jim started to grin and he rolled until he was on top of Blair. "I think he'd get down on his knees and beg you to stay."
Blair grinned back. "Yeah, you think so?"
Jim nodded. "I know so. He says you're one of the biggest mistakes he ever made. You've made history here in Seattle, you know."
Blair's smile was incandescent.
Jim leaned down and kissed him. "Does that mean you're willing to come to Cascade? I didn't want to ask, I didn't want you to think I was asking you to give up your life."
Blair framed Jim's face with his hands. "I know that, and I appreciate it. But I think it makes the most sense." He grinned. "No pun intended." He sighed. "I think things would be hard for you here, and I don't want that for you. Besides, didn't you tell me that Simon knows about your senses?"
Jim nodded, his heart overflowing with love for his Guide.
"That's important, and maybe he'd be willing to pair us up."
"I know he will be."
Blair grimaced. "If you say so."
Jim let out a soft laugh. "I do say so." He rolled to his side, drawing Blair close, hugging him tightly. "Thanks, Chief." His words were forced through a throat that was suddenly two sizes too small. The sensation of having every damn thing he'd ever wanted made him want to weep.
Blair lay there quietly, running his fingers through Jim's short hair, giving Jim time to pull himself together. After a while, he said, "Remember when I told you that I wouldn't be the one to give his life up for this?"
Jim nodded, keeping his face tucked against Blair's shoulder.
"I just want you to know I only said that because I didn't understand that you'd be worth giving everything up for."
Jim let out a laugh that sounded suspiciously moist. "You keep saying things like that and I'm gonna need a box of tissues."
Blair laughed, and wrapped his arms and legs around Jim, cocooning him in his warmth.
Hours later, snuggled on the couch, Jim called Simon.
"I've had a shitty day. Give me some good news."
"I'm coming back to work."
There was a pause. "Are you bringing Sandburg with you?"
"You got something to offer him?"
Jim winked at Blair. "Let me put him on the phone, then." He handed the phone to Blair, who took it like it might bite him.
Jim stared at Blair, shamelessly eavesdropping as Simon talked, and he bit back a grin as his Guide's eyes grew larger and larger. "Really?" There was a pause. "That much?" Another pause. "Yeah, yeah, if you really want me."
Jim flashed him an incredulous look.
Blair spoke into the phone. "Uh, hold on a minute." He put his hand over the receiver and frowned at Jim. "What?"
"This is how you negotiate? Remind me never to ask for you to get me out of a hostage situation."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Did you hear how much money he offered me? It's almost half again what I make now."
Jim had heard. It was a lot more than he made. More than he'd ever make. He couldn't help a swell of pride at the worthiness of his mate. "There's more to this job than money."
"What do you mean?"
Jim took the phone from him. "Simon?"
"That was easy." There was a smug sound of satisfaction in Simon's voice.
"Not quite. I'm helping him negotiate."
"Jim, I can't offer him another dime."
"I'm not talking about money."
"I already told you I had a shitty day, Jim, and you're not making it better. What the hell do you want?"
"He gets paired with me."
"I can't promise you that, Jim. Other people are going to want to use his expertise."
"Then they get me, too. We work together. And I can promise you, you'll have the best team you could ever have."
Simon snorted. "You don't think too much of yourself, do you?"
"Just telling it like it is."
Blair smacked him on the arm. "Man, he's gonna fire me before he even hires me."
Jim captured his hand. "Simon, just promise me you'll do the best you can."
"You do remember that I'm your boss, right? I could just fire your ass. It would probably save me a lot of headaches." There was a long sigh. "I know I'm gonna regret this, but I'll do my best."
Jim let out a silent sigh of relief. Simon's best went a long way. "Here's Blair again."
Blair glowered at Jim but took the phone. "Hey."
"Are you taking the job or not?" Jim could hear that Simon was wasting no energy on being charming.
Blair winced and but then answered gamely, "Yeah. I'm taking it."
"You gonna keep Ellison in line?"
Blair grinned saucily as Jim rolled his eyes. "I see that as one of my main job accountabilities." This time Blair had to shift to get away from Jim's jab.
"Fuck. I just know you guys are gonna be nothing but trouble."
Jim took the phone away from Blair. "We'll see you as soon as we can get Blair sprung from his job up here, Simon."
"What the hell does that mean? Forget it. I want you here on Monday. Do you hear me, Ellison? Ellison?"
Jim pressed the off button and threw the phone down on the coffee table.
Blair shot him a nervous look. "I still don't think he likes me very much."
Jim pulled him close. "Don't worry about it. He's gonna love you."
End Mountain Pass by Lady Ra: email@example.com
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