"Another glass, sir?" The waiter paused a scant half second, then continued on his way when Jim Ellison shook his head.
Ten minutes more and he'd leave, Jim decided. He'd only come to the fundraiser because his father had been insistent and he hadn't wanted to put pressure on their still rather fragile reconciliation. Of course, his father had disappeared almost immediately after they'd arrived, and Jim had barely seen him since.
He scanned the room once again and saw his father on the far side of the room, deep in conversation with the Police Commissioner. Great. He should have known that there was some kind of ulterior motive in the invitation. Obviously William Ellison had decided to 'advance' his eldest son's career. Without bothering to ask first.
It was definitely time to find his escape route before Dad found some excuse to call him over. Years of training in the military and police had left him well prepared for quick exits. He quickly located an inconspicuous door - the main entrance was out of the question - and headed unobtrusively in that direction, skirting a small knot of what looked like students.
As he passed, one of the men looked up and their eyes met. A wave of disorientation swept over Jim and he blinked as the lights suddenly seemed blindingly bright and the chatter of the guests almost deafening.
"Are you okay, man?" The voice was a surprise, deep and resonant. Beautiful. A gentle touch on his arm stopped the room from spinning.
Jim pulled himself together and looked down into a pair of wide blue eyes. "Yes, I'm... I..."
Fuck, he was beautiful. The way the lights brought out the glints of red in his dark hair, tied back just now and, oh how he'd love to release the curls currently so strictly confined. The smoky blue eyes filled with concern, and the full lips parted as if to speak, then hesitated. He was staring back at Jim as though... god, as though every dream he'd ever had had just come true.
"Blair. Blair Sandburg." The younger man offered his hand and Jim took it automatically. It felt good in his own; Jim felt his breath hitch and his fingers tightened a little, refusing to let go.
Blair didn't seem to mind. He smiled, a little diffidently. "You come here often?"
Jim smiled back, delighted out of all proportion to the humour of the small witticism. "My name's Jim. And, no. Not often."
He could smell the cologne Blair was wearing, something spicy, with a hint of sandalwood. He stood, staring at his companion while Blair stared back and made no attempt to free his hand. From the corner of his eye he could see the other people Blair had been talking to watching them, but nothing really existed for him except Blair and himself.
"Jim?" Blair's voice was soft. "Let's... uh, let's go somewhere a little quieter. What'd'ya say?"
He would have followed that voice to the ends of the earth. When Blair turned away, clearly expecting him to follow, Jim went after him without a second's hesitation. They slipped through the doorway that had been Jim's original target and down a dimly lit hallway. Blair obviously knew the layout of the place, leading Jim to a plain wooden door, and producing a set of keys, which he used to unlock the door.
The police instinct in Jim was too strong to be denied. "Where did you get them?"
"Let me introduce Dr Blair Sandburg, Assistant Curator." Blair grinned and jangled the keys. "Rank hath its privileges."
"Obviously." They were inside what was little more than storage closet. The only light came from a small gap between the floor and the bottom of the door. "Is this your office?"
"Funny." Blair glanced up at him from under ridiculously long lashes. "Jim..."
The tension was killing him. Without pausing to think about the consequences of his actions - possibly for the first time in his life - Jim lunged forward and captured those luscious lips with his own, and the world exploded around him.
He could feel minute variations in the texture of Blair's skin against his fingertips. He could taste the wine that Blair had been drinking, and beneath that a hint of coffee and mouthwash and some of that sharp goat's milk cheese that had been mostly left untasted by the guests. Besides the spicy cologne, there was the scent of herbal shampoo, and a faintly musky odour that must be Blair's natural body scent. And desire, sharp and urgent.
Blair's tongue filled his mouth, darted teasingly over his own then withdrew with a provocative flicker that positively dared Jim to follow. He plunged into the hot, wet depths of Blair's mouth without a second thought.
They were both groaning, their bodies leaning instinctively together as Jim reached for the formal black tie at Blair s throat and tugged it free. Within moments he'd opened the stiff collar and unbuttoned Blair's shirt to the waist. His hand slid into the warm space between skin and shirt, skimming over moist, hair-scattered skin until his palm grazed over the hardened point of a nipple.
Blair broke free of the kiss with a gasp. "Oh, god... Jim..." He wrenched at Jim's shirt, ignoring the tie in his efforts to get it unbuttoned.
"Let me..." Jim wasted minimal effort on getting his shirt open, then pulled Blair's shorter body up against his. He pressed his face against the side of Blair's head and released his ponytail into a silky fall of curls. "God, you smell so good. You feel so good."
A soft laugh made Blair's chest move against his in disturbingly pleasant ways. The tickle of chest hair against his skin was an unexpected delight. Soft lips pressed against the throb of a vein in his throat, then sucked hard, sending a jolt of hunger straight to his groin.
He fumbled one-handed with Blair's pants and eventually got a hand inside. God, so hot, so hard and the aroma of musk was almost overpowering now. The thick, slightly curving shaft fit perfectly against his palm as Blair nudged his hips forward with a low groan.
"Jim, come on, man, I wanna..." Together they got both pairs of pants and underwear down around their knees and Jim pressed Blair back against a small table. Blair's hands on his ass pulled their hips together and Jim thrust against Blair's belly, felt the heat of Blair's cock against his thigh. "Yeah... oh, god... oh, fuck..."
"Get on the table." Was that his voice? Jim could barely recognise it. He watched hungrily as Blair obeyed, scrambling in his haste. The pale glow of his shirt was nothing compared to the luminous beauty of his winter-pale skin. The dark dusting of hair drew Jim's eyes down to the flat belly and jutting cock rising from between a pair of sturdy thighs.
He took a single step forward, positioning himself between those wantonly spread thighs and took his cock in hand, guiding it to the opening, barely seen in the shadowy cleft of Blair's ass. There was only the tiniest hint of resistance as the head of his cock pressed against a resilient ring of muscle, then slid deep. Jim stopped then, gasping for breath at the intensity of sensation he was experiencing.
A choked cry and then a gasped 'please' from Blair drew him back from a moment of blankness. Jim shook his head to clear it, staring down at Blair, spread out before him. The kid was leaning back on his elbows, his thighs clutching at Jim's hips, his shirt fallen open to leave him bare from groin to throat. He was pure sensuality, unashamed and blatant in his need. As Jim hesitated, feasting on the sight of him, Blair wet his lips and moaned softly, shifting his weight to one elbow so he could reach for his cock with his free hand.
"No." Jim brushed the hand away and cupped his fingers beneath the blood-darkened shaft. Once again he was struck by how perfect it felt resting in the curve of his fingers. He rubbed his thumb tip lightly along the thick dorsal vein and up to the moist gleam of the cockhead. Blair shuddered and moaned again, and Jim felt the tight channel contract around his cock with the involuntary movement.
He began to rock his hips a little, still absorbed with watching the minute twitches and steadily gathering drops of precum. But the friction against his cock was distracting, and he soon gave himself over to it, thrusting harder as Blair pushed back against him. Blair's cock arched higher, his balls tightened until they almost disappeared, and he froze, rigid, as a broken sound escaped his parted lips.
There was just enough time for Jim to cup his fingers over Blair's cockhead and catch the hot gush of semen before it could spatter their clothing. Afterwards, he was amazed he'd had enough presence of mind to do it. He lifted his hand to his mouth and sniffed, then licked the thick puddle from his palm and fingers, rolling the liquid in his mouth to catch every faint nuance of its flavour while Blair watched him from under heavy lids
Their eyes met. "Now fuck me. Fuck me hard."
Yes. It was what he needed, what they both needed. He leaned forward, his hands bracketing Blair's hips as he braced himself against the table. Blair reached up to stroke his fingernails over Jim's chest, clawing just hard enough to leave marks that would fade in an hour or two. Jim growled, abandoning himself to the rhythm of his thrusts as awareness of Blair receded into the background. There was nothing left of either of them, only his cock and Blair's ass, and the perfect simplicity of his need.
When he came, it was almost as though the earth had somehow tilted in its axis. Nothing felt the same, nothing looked the same. He could hear Blair's heart pounding in his chest, and it never occurred to him how impossible that was. He groaned when his softening cock slipped free of Blair's body; but already some semblance of coherent thought was returning, and he scrabbled in his pocket for a handkerchief and used it to clean himself off, then pressed it gently against Blair's ass for a moment.
"You okay, Chief?" The nickname slipped easily past his lips, and he smiled.
Blair cracked one eye open and lifted his head a fraction from the tabletop. "I may never be okay again." His head dropped back with a faint thud. "Wow..."
Reassured, Jim set his clothing to rights, hoping that it wasn't going to be too obvious what they'd been up to when they left the privacy of the storage room. When he'd finished, Blair still hadn't moved. So Jim pulled the boxers and pants up Blair's legs and nudged his hip gently. "Come on. Unless you plan on sleeping here..."
"No. I guess not." Blair sounded almost regretful, but he sat up and began to dress himself. Jim helped with the shirt and tie, but the band that had held Blair's hair back was lost in the shadows and neither man had the inclination to hunt for it.
"Blair." Jim drew the shorter man closer, tipped his head back a little and covered his lips with a gentle kiss. His tongue dipped between parted lips, tasting the sweetness of Blair's mouth again. His body swayed into Blair's as an aching tenderness spread through him. He wanted to hold this beautiful stranger in his arms forever.
But that was impossible. Even as his mind reluctantly accepted that fact, Blair released him and stepped out of Jim's arms. "We better get back." His tongue flickered nervously over his lower lip. "I'm supposed to be mingling, you know?"
"I understand." And he did, though something inside him was screaming not to let go. "I was just going to leave when I..."
"Oh." Did Blair look just a trifle disappointed? "Well... uh, well you know where to find me." Another nervous smile, "if you want to, that is."
"Yeah." Jim smiled weakly. "Yeah, I do." He pulled Blair into his arms again for a crushing kiss.
Escaping from the museum proved no problem for Jim. Within minutes he was on the street, hailing a cab, and by the time he reached his home the strange emotions he'd experienced had begun to fade into a kind of numb disbelief. Deliberately, he set about dealing with it the only way he knew how; he pushed the memories firmly to the back of his mind and hoped, rather desperately, that they would just go away.
The tuxedo, shirt, shoes, even the underwear he'd worn to the reception were tossed with uncharacteristic laxity into a corner. He doubted he would ever wear any of it again. Certainly not before they'd been dry-cleaned, washed or shined until any hint of Blair Sandburg had been completely eradicated.
Several hefty whiskies later, Jim stumbled into the shower and scrubbed himself from head to toe, then wearily trudged upstairs to collapse into his bed.
He woke to a nightmare from the depths of his own personal hell.
Blair stared at the piles of letters, reports and articles on his desk in pained resignation. They were breeding. That was the only possible explanation for the way the piles were growing so damn fast.
Well, that, and the fact that he'd hardly done a lick of work all week. He didn't know who he was more pissed at; Jim for being a lying jerk and outright bastard, or himself for believing that the hottest one night stand of his life could ever have been anything more than that. The guy hadn't even given him a surname; he'd obviously had no intention of contacting Blair again, or allowing Blair to contact him.
He sighed and flipped open a journal containing an article on the early Salish settlement that had recently been discovered only a few miles upriver on the banks of the Snohomish. It might as well have been written in Greek for all the sense he could make of it.
"God, I could kick myself." Blair dropped his head into his hands with a groan. "What was I thinking?"
Good question. What had he been thinking? Picking up a male guest at a reception and dragging him into a closet so the jerk could fuck his brains out. "Great way to make an impression. Maybe next time I can invite an audience. I'm sure some of those rich fuckers would pay to see that kind of action. I can sell my ass for the good of the damn museum."
He slammed his hand down on the desk, but all that achieved, apart from hurting his hand, was to topple a couple of the more precariously balanced stacks onto the floor. With an irritated mutter, Blair stood and circled the desk to view the damage. Down the hallway someone was having a furious argument with one of the security guards - the bass rumble of Darryn's voice was unmistakeable - and Blair grinned.
"Give 'im hell, whoever you are." Darryn was a stupid, smart-assed, bigoted son-of-a-bitch who was just hot enough that Blair couldn't help noticing him, much to the disgust of them both.
He bent over to retrieve the scattered papers, sighing with weary frustration. It was over a week since that night, and it was about time he just got over it. And yet... he really thought he'd connected with Jim, that it had meant something to both of them. "Which just goes to show what a great judge of character you are. Naomi had the right idea; love 'em and leave 'em."
Arms full, Blair straightened, his hair falling about his face and half-blinding him. He didn't need to see, though, just turn and dump the pile back on his desk. Where it promptly knocked over one of the other piles.
"Fuck! That's just the last fucking straw!" He kicked the desk and had to bite back a scream of frustration and pain. It was a solid desk, a bequest of sorts from his mentor Eli Stoddard - the man who had hired him only a few short months before being murdered by an escaped psychiatric patient. The new director had wanted something more modern, and had readily agreed to let Blair take the monstrously ugly structure rather than let it be thrown out.
The altercation in the hallway was reaching some kind of climax, but Blair no longer cared. He bent to his task again, knowing that he had to at least present the appearance of keeping up with his work or he'd be out on the street. Somehow he and the new director had never really managed to hit it off.
Half screened by the desk, Blair only had a moment's warning when the door flew open. He straightened, a journal clutched to his chest, and stared in shock at the sight of a vengeful looking Jim framed in the doorway. And he thought he'd been having a bad day. Suddenly it was a whole lot worse.
"What the fuck have you done to me"? The words were snarled rather than spoken. Jim advanced into the small office, seeming to fill the room with far more than just his physical presence.
"What have I...?" Almost choking with fury, Blair stood his ground. "You were the one who... you fucking asshole!"
A long arm shot out and grabbed a handful of his shirt. "Tell. Me."
Blair found himself being propelled backwards until he hit the wall, then lifted until his eyes were level with Jim's. The anger in them was unmistakeable, but other emotions warred there.
At any other time Blair would have been curious as to what else was going on behind that mask of cold fury, but he was too angry and scared to care. "I didn't do anything."
"You're lying." Jim's eyes narrowed. "I can tell. You're sweating and your heartbeat's elevated."
"Because you're scaring the shit out of me, you bastard!" And he wasn't about to ask how in hell Jim could hear his heartbeat.
Confusion replaced anger for a moment and Jim's grip slackened a little, then his expression hardened again. "It was drugs, wasn't it? There was something in your system and when I kissed you... or your semen..."
"No!" How could it hurt so much? Jim was a jerk, a total bastard who wasn't worth a moment's thought. God, it hurt. "I don't do drugs. For god's sake... will you listen to yourself?"
"Did you know I'm a cop?" He was shaken briefly, hard enough to make his teeth rattle. "I can have a search warrant before you know what's happening. Hell, I don't even need one. I've got enough reason to claim probable cause..."
"Yeah? I'd really love to see you explain to your boss how you got a sample of my semen." Blair watched in bitter triumph as the confusion returned to Jim's face. But reason prevailed; he wasn't going to get out of this by antagonising the man. "How about you put me down and we talk about this?"
"Something's happened to me, and it started the night I met you." Jim's mouth tightened, but he lowered Blair until his feet rested firmly on the ground and then released him. "I've tested myself for drugs and come up negative, so it must be something new. Something weird; hallucinogenic maybe."
"I'm sorry you're having problems, man." Blair pushed his hair back out of his face with a shaking hand, "but I didn't do anything to you."
"Then who did?" Without any warning, Jim was in his face again. Blair backed up a step and then he was trapped between the wall and Jim's body. "All I had was one glass of champagne and a couple of crackers. There wasn't anything in those, or other people would have been affected. You were the only person I got close to all night."
"Look, man..." Close! Talk about an understatement... "Why would I want to do anything to you? I don't even know you. Fuck, I don't even know your last name."
"Exactly." Jim smiled bitterly. "And do you usually have sex with men you 'don't even know'?"
"No, I don't. Do you?" The pale blue eyes flashed angrily and suddenly there was a whole lot less space between him and Jim. "Hey! Back off, man." A thin thread of panic in his voice made Jim pause.
That's when Blair realised that Jim was hard. They both were. The rapid breathing of the other man, the faint tremors running through his body, why hadn't he seen it before? The guy obviously got off on adrenaline... that realisation gave Blair the jolt he needed to clear his mind.
"Get out of here." Even to himself his voice sounded weak and uncertain. "I didn't do anything to you. Whatever's going on here, it's got nothing to do with me."
Amazingly, his denial seemed at last to convince Jim. The big cop stepped back, his eyes never leaving Blair's. "If I find anything... anything at all, to implicate you, I'll be back. You hear me?"
"I hear. Just get out, man, and stay the fuck away from me." A moment later he was alone, shaking helplessly and feeling nauseous, but alone. More alone than he'd ever felt in his life.
"What do you want, Jim?" Captain Simon Banks' voice held more than its usual quota of irritation, and Jim was tempted to back out of the office. Unfortunately, he was more afraid of what was likely to happen to him outside than any amount of his superior officer's grumbling or shouting.
Jim took a deep breath, knowing what he was about to say would not be received with any sympathy. "I need time off, sir."
"Out of the question." Banks' dark face didn't show even the slightest hesitation. "You know how short staffed we are. Damn it, how are we supposed to find a serial killer when half my best officers are out of commission?"
"I know, sir, but..."
"But nothing." A cursory wave of the hand indicated Jim could leave now.
"Sir, this is important." Desperation tinged his voice, and he saw Banks note that. "There's something wrong. At first I thought I'd been drugged, but..."
"Drugs?" Banks' gaze sharpened, roaming over Jim's face. "You don't look like you've been drugged."
"No, sir. But I don't know how else to explain what's been happening to me." Jim dropped into a chair, uninvited, and gripped the narrow wooden arms restlessly. "I'm seeing things I can't possibly see; hearing stuff nobody should be able to hear. One minute my skin feels like it's on fire, the next my head's about ready to explode just from some woman's perfume..."
"Okay, okay..." Banks held up both hands, palms out in surrender. "You can have a half day. Go see your doctor, or something."
"I already have, sir." Jim wiped his sweating palms over his knees. "He says there's nothing wrong. Nothing physically wrong."
"Come on, Jim. Don't do this to me." Finally, Banks' voice softened. He'd obviously realised how serious this was. "With the department at half strength and the Commissioner breathing down my neck..." he sighed. "A day. One day. That's the best I can do."
Knowing it wouldn't be enough Jim nodded wearily. "Thank you, Simon. I appreciate it."
There were only a couple of things that needed attending to at his desk, then Jim was out the door before his boss could change his mind. In the hallway and lift a myriad sounds and scents, mostly unpleasant, assailed him. His whole body hurt from the tension of anticipating the next attack; he never knew which of his senses would overload next. He hadn't slept properly since the night he met Blair Sandburg. There hadn't been a moment since that he hadn't hurt in some way. Except...
Jim stopped dead in the main doorway to the Cascade Police Department. Luckily it was wide enough for people to dodge around him.
Except... the twenty minutes he'd spent with Sandburg in his office a couple of days ago. There hadn't been any pain, or sensory spikes, or the blackouts that increasingly plagued and terrified him. For twenty minutes he'd been okay. How the hell was Sandburg doing this to him?
Or, if not actually doing it - he hadn't been lying about that, Jim was positive - then how was Sandburg involved? Why?
The revelation brought more questions than answers. There was only one thing certain in Jim's mind. He had to see Sandburg again. That wasn't going to be easy.
Blair sipped nervously at his coffee, wondering what on earth had possessed him to agree to this meeting. Perhaps it had been the hint of desperation in Jim's voice when he'd offered to meet on any terms that Blair had cared to name. He sighed. Okay, if he was going to be honest with himself, he had to admit it was because he couldn't bear to pass up the opportunity to see Jim... Ellison... again. At least now, he knew the guys name.
This sudden descent into pathetic helplessness was starting to scare him. What would be next? Find some nice older man and settle down in the 'burbs as a slightly over-age boy toy? Get involved with a narcissistic jerk who'd beat him regularly? He could almost see himself explaining to a disbelieving uniformed police officer that, really, he'd just walked into a door.
He shivered, his skin tingling suddenly, and looked up to see Jim Ellison watching him from little more than a foot away. The intensity of that stare was almost as unnerving as the recognition that, somehow, Blair had felt his presence there.
Ellison dropped onto the seat opposite and leaned his forearms on the table. "Thank you for agreeing to see me."
"Yeah, well..." Blair shrugged helplessly. "What do you want?"
"I told you something happened to me the night I met you." Ellison hesitated, searching for words. Blair got the impression he wasn't the kind of guy to do much talking about himself. "I accept that you didn't actually do anything, okay? But it's got something to do with you. The only time I haven't been half crazy is the time I spent with you the other day."
"Oh?" Blair blinked, quite sure he didn't want to be around when the other man considered himself to actually be half crazy. "And now?"
"Now?" Ellison looked thoughtful. Then he smiled and Blair's heart skipped a beat. "I feel... good." He reached across the table and took Blair's hand, oblivious to the stares of the other inhabitants of the diner. He rubbed his thumb gently across the back of Blair's hand. "Everything's still... still too intense, but in a good way, not a bad way."
"So what are we talking about here?" Desperately, Blair tried to keep his voice normal. How could such a simple thing as holding hands send his brain into a tailspin? "I mean, what is it that's happening?"
Ellison frowned. "My senses are totally out of control. Except when I'm around you. I've been having blackouts that the doctors can't explain. I'm having dreams... really weird dreams, when I can sleep at all. There's hardly a minute goes by that my head isn't aching. If you can't tell me what's going on, I don't know what I'll do."
"Jim, my doctorate's in anthropology, not medicine. I can't help you." Blair turned his hand within Ellison's grasp and held it firmly. In spite of all the bad feeling that had been between them, he felt sorry for the older man. It must be hellish to have your own body turn against you. "I don't know anything about this."
"It's got something to do with you. I know it has." Ellison's jaw jutted determinedly. "Please... I'm not good at asking for help."
Ellison leaned forward. "Just being with you makes things easier for me."
Oh, god... Blair swallowed the last of his coffee just as the waitress reached the table. "Just the check, please." He lifted his eyebrows at Jim. "Unless you want..."
Ellison shook his head. "Let's get out of here."
There was a park nearby. As if by mutual consent, both men turned in that direction, walking in uneasy silence. There weren't a lot of people there, since it was only mid afternoon and school wasn't yet out. Ellison led the way to a park bench, out in the open where they would be able to see anyone approaching. Blair wondered if he was always this paranoid.
"Okay, so tell me from the beginning," Blair ordered. "Don't leave anything out."
Ellison glared at him briefly before shifting his gaze to stare over Blair's shoulder. "I guess it started when I bumped into you. I had the weirdest sensation... believe it or not, I don't usually go around picking up strange men at parties. But, I just had this feeling. Everything was clearer, brighter... sharper. And you... it was like I had no power to resist. When you looked at me and threw me that really lame line..."
"Hey!" Blair objected. Although to be honest, it had been lame. He really hadn't been thinking too clearly himself.
Ellison gave him an ironic look, one eyebrow slightly raised, and continued, "...I would have done anything... anything at all." He paused a moment, looking thoughtful. "You know, this weird stuff that's happening with my senses? It started then. I could smell... all these layers on layers of scent. Of your scent."
"Before we had sex?" Blair tried to keep the hope from his voice. Because it couldn't have anything to do with him, if that was the case. If Ellison would only accept that, he could finally shake the guy. "You see? Whatever it was, it's nothing to do with me."
"But..." Ellison frowned. "I know... I just know it is you. It all started the moment I laid eyes on you and the only time I'm not having these hallucinations is when I'm with you."
It was hard to argue with that logic. Hard to even want to when Ellison stared at him with a mixture of fear and confusion in his eyes. Ellison didn't seem the type to scare easily. "Look, I'm sorry. But I don't have a clue what's going on here. I can't help you, man."
Ellison rose from the bench and stood looking down at him. His face was now quite expressionless, and somehow that made Blair feel even worse. He looked like a man bravely going to certain death. "I'm sorry to have troubled you," he said distantly. "Just forget it."
He managed to hold out until Ellison had got ten yards away before caving. "Jim, wait."
Ellison stopped and turned as Blair walked reluctantly towards him. "I'll see what I can find out, okay? I'm not promising anything, but I'll try."
"Thanks." He smiled, but it was half-hearted at best.
Blair knew that look. He'd seen it on far too many students when he'd taught at Rainier. "What? What do you want from me, man?"
"I'm working on a big case at the moment." Ellison rubbed his forehead worriedly. "There's a serial killer stalking students."
"Yeah, I've heard about that."
"I'm getting nowhere. These senses are really getting in the way." He paused significantly.
Blair felt his eyes widen in alarm. "You want me to work a serial killer case? Are you nuts?"
Ellison shifted from foot to foot, edging almost imperceptibly closer. His hands lifted to grasp Blair's shoulders carefully. "Tomorrow or the day after, he's going to kill again. I can't do this alone, Chief. All I'm asking is that you... just stay close by, okay? You'll be perfectly safe, I promise."
The moment Ellison touched him Blair lost all chance of refusing. He stared up into intent crystal blue eyes and knew that he couldn't abandon this man. "All right. Just let me go back to my office and get a few things."
Ellison smiled and that right there was almost enough to knock Blair off his feet. "Thanks. I'll come with you."
Three hours and counting, and still the whacked out senses hadn't returned. Jim looked at Sandburg, sitting beside his desk, head bent over what looked like an old journal, and barely managed to stop himself dragging the man into his arms and kissing him senseless. Oh yeah, the other thing was back too. The thing that made him want to drag his new, unofficial partner into the nearest closet and fuck him into oblivion.
He could tell by the heightened colour in Sandburg's cheeks and the tension in his shoulders - not to mention the wafts of musk coming from his direction - that Sandburg felt the same way. It was... distracting, but not as distracting as sensory hallucinations and intense pain.
Unfortunately, none of this was getting him any closer to finding a link between the victims, or anything that would lead him to the killer. Jim yawned and stretched, thinking about getting another mug of coffee. He relaxed back into his chair, aware of Sandburg's eyes on him, though he wasn't facing the other man.
"More coffee?" The kid seemed to have the ability to down mug after mug of the bitter brew served up by the machine in the break room without obvious effect. "I'll give it another hour, and then we can stop for dinner. Okay?"
"Sure. Thanks." Sandburg held out his mug, glancing across at the files on Jim's desk. He'd taken one look at the photos of the first victim, blanched, and backed away. "You making any progress?"
Jim shook his head. "I just can't see any link. We've still got no idea how he picks his victims."
"Aren't they all young men with dark hair, blue eyes? Students?"
"We know the physical type, but there are hundreds of students who fit that description. Why did he choose these particular ones?" He aimed a friendly swat at Sandburg's shoulder and felt the shock of that contact all the way to his groin. Sandburg turned scarlet. "Well, it's not your problem. I'll go get that coffee."
Fortunately, they'd quickly found that Jim could be away from Sandburg for up to twenty minutes before the pain and hallucinations started again. He was trying not to think too much about tonight. Somehow he doubted that Sandburg would be willing to sleep over, given the way they were acting like two dogs in heat. Or maybe he would... Jim didn't know which would be worse.
When he returned to the bullpen, he found Sandburg leaning over his desk, nose buried in the files. He looked up, his face flushed, grinning broadly. "I think I've got your link."
Jim dumped the mugs on the desk, sloshing the contents dangerously. "Show me."
"Well, I'm not certain yet..." he pointed to a couple of names. "These two were from the same dorm..."
"We've already ruled that out," Jim interrupted, trying not to show his disappointment. It wasn't as if Sandburg was a cop, after all. "None of the other victims were from that dorm."
"No, but you see, I used to study at Rainier, I've got friends on the faculty and some who are still students... and what you don't know..." Sandburg bounced a little on his toes, "Is that that dorm removed all its vending machines last semester. Trying to encourage healthy eating in the students. And, they took out the coffee machines too."
"What's that got to do with..."
"Just listen, Jim." Sandburg's finger tapped another name. "The dorm this guy was in?" He grimaced. "Seriously bad coffee, man. It's famous for having the worst coffee on campus."
"This is crazy." But he leant over the list, pointing out more names. "Okay, these two lived off campus. And he lived at home with his parents. Ten miles from Rainier University."
Sandburg scrabbled for the files belonging to the three remaining victims. He flipped to the personal details for each and gave a little crow of triumph. "That's definitely it! Those two guys live only a block or so from the east end of campus, and the guy who lived with his parents? He worked evenings at Java King."
"Which is right on the eastern edge of the campus." Jim got it now. "He's picking his targets at the coffee shop."
"I don't know, Jim." Simon scowled at the unlit cigar in his hand, "it's a hell of a long shot."
"It's the only link between the victims we've been able to find. I checked with the first two victims' roommates and they confirmed the kids went to Java King regularly. We're still waiting on information about the others." Jim glanced at Sandburg who grinned encouragingly. "The killer may strike again tonight. If not tonight, then tomorrow - it's always four or five days between kills. We don't have anything else."
Simon nodded reluctantly. "So, what's your plan?"
"Stake out the cafe. It's too late to go in there asking questions, the killer might already be there, waiting. I'll go inside..." he stopped at a snort of amusement from Sandburg. "You got a problem with that?"
Sandburg grinned. "Jim, you might as well be wearing a uniform. As soon as you go in there, everyone's gonna know you're a cop."
"Mr Sandburg's right, Jim." Simon leaned back in his chair and glanced at the clock on the wall. "We don't have time to set up an undercover agent. We'll just have to watch the place from outside."
"That's Dr Sandburg, actually." Jim smiled at his boss with chilly politeness. "So, Chief, I guess you know this cafe pretty well?"
"Yeah, sure. I spent a lot of time in there when I was a student." Then Sandburg got it. "Oh, no. No way, man. I'm not going after a serial killer."
Jim's smile widened. "You'll be completely safe. We'll put a wire on you and..."
"Ellison, are you suggesting we put a civilian undercover?" Simon stared at him incredulously. "May I remind you that until Doctor Sandburg gets his observer status approved, he has no standing in this department?"
"Yeah, that's right, Jim. I'm not even officially an observer yet."
Simon spared an irritated glance for Sandburg before turning his glare back on Jim. "He's not a cop, Jim. It's out of the question."
"Sir, he's our only chance of getting someone inside tonight." Jim looked from Sandburg to Simon and back again. "Chief, you wouldn't have to do anything. Just keep an eye open and let me know if you see anyone suspicious."
Both men stared back at him dubiously.
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this." Blair winced as the tape holding the wire to his torso came off, taking more than a few hairs with it. "The whole night was a complete waste of time."
"That's what a lot of police work is, Chief. Sitting around waiting for something to happen. Often as not, nothing does. At least you were in a warm cafe." Jim tugged the last bit of tape free and Blair hissed. "Okay, you're done."
Blair started to button his shirt. "Well, I guess I'll see you in the morning."
"Uh..." Unusually, in Blair's admittedly short acquaintance with him, Jim looked unsure of himself. "Actually, I was wondering, if you don't mind, that is..."
"What?" He reached for his jacket.
Jim looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Well, it's just that I haven't been sleeping too well and... well, I thought maybe you could stay at my place." He rushed out the last few words rather shamefacedly.
"What are we talking about here, Jim?" He ignored the twitch of his cock. Sleeping with Jim would be a really bad idea right now. He lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "I mean... it's not that you're not... and last time was... was incredible, okay? But..."
"Hold your horses, Chief." Jim held up a hand in surrender. "I just thought if you could stay over maybe I wouldn't have those weird dreams or wake up with my skin feeling like it's on fire, or any of the other crap I've had to put up with lately. It's all completely above board, I promise."
"Oh." Blair didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed. He shrugged. "I guess I could do that. Where do you live?"
Jim smiled in obvious relief. He must have been having a really rough time. "On Prospect. It's not far. Come on."
Blair had left his car at the museum, but there was no real point in going to pick it up. Jim drove them both to Prospect, parking in a side street and walking around to a small doorway beside a shop called Colette's. They went inside, ignoring the elevator in favour of the stairs. Jim's apartment was on the third floor - a large airy space, but so spartan that Blair stared around him in dismay. There was nothing to indicate Jim's personality. No photos or art or even pot plants.
"So... uh, where do I sleep?"
Jim blinked, looking a bit like a deer caught in the headlights. He glanced up at what was obviously a loft bedroom and then back down at Blair. "Oh... uh... well, I can sleep on the couch. The bathroom's through there." He pointed towards a short hallway just past the kitchen area. "There are towels in the closet in the spare room. And a spare bathrobe."
"Thanks." Blair grabbed the bathrobe and a couple of towels from the room under Jim's bedroom and headed for the bathroom.
By the time he'd had a quick shower, the couch was made up with sheets and a couple of throw rugs. He looked at Jim's long legs and sighed. "I'll take the couch."
"I've put clean sheets on the bed." Jim smiled ingratiatingly. "And there's a pair of sweats and a t-shirt for you."
"Thanks." He started up the stairs, feeling exhausted as the events of the day caught up with him. "But I'll sleep down here. I don't want to be responsible for you waking up with a cramp or anything."
The sweats were a bit long, but the t-shirt wasn't too bad. He padded downstairs again and dropped onto the couch. He could hear the shower running again, and tried desperately not to think about Jim in there, naked and wet. "Oh god..." he slid under the covers, rolling onto his side and punching the pillow into shape.
A few minutes later, Jim came out of the bathroom, turned off the lights and went upstairs. "Good night, Sandburg."
It had become a rarity to wake in the morning feeling refreshed. Jim rolled onto his back and grinned up at the ceiling. He could hear Sandburg's steady, slow breathing downstairs. If he tried, he could hear his heart beating too. And smell the musk of morning arousal. Immediately, he put that thought aside. Sandburg was his guest, and besides, the kid was helping him. Putting the moves on him was out of the question.
The alarm clock showed seven-thirty. Jim yawned and rolled out of bed, adjusting his shorts automatically. No time to take care of that, he'd just have to will it away. Pulling on his bathrobe, he trotted downstairs, glancing across at the couch where Sandburg lay mostly buried under the throw rugs with only a few dishevelled curls showing.
For the first time in days, he actually had an appetite. After taking care of business in the bathroom, Jim headed for the kitchen. Eggs. Scrambled, he thought. And bacon... a real breakfast, for a change.
Sandburg woke when the scent of percolating coffee began to fill the apartment. It seemed to be a gradual process accompanied by much snuffling, yawning, and muttering. At last the kid stumbled past him to the bathroom. When he returned Jim handed him a mug of coffee without comment.
"Thanks, man." Sandburg shuffled towards the table and dragged out a chair so he could sit facing Jim. "Sleep okay?"
"Great." Jim poured a carton of orange juice into a pitcher and set it on the table. "Scrambled eggs all right? With bacon and toast?" It occurred to him belatedly that Sandburg could be a Jewish name.
"Sure." Sandburg yawned again. "Sounds fantastic."
He started serving up the eggs and bacon. "I don't have to be at the station until eleven. So I was thinking maybe we could work on this senses thing."
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure."
It was obvious the kid was still half asleep, but Jim prodded a little all the same as he placed the food on the table. "You found anything yet?" He'd taken the old journal he'd been reading into the cafe last night.
"Not yet." At last Sandburg looked up at him, pushing messy strands of hair out of his eyes. "Although there's something... I just can't put my finger on it."
"Something in that journal?"
Sandburg shrugged. "Maybe. It belonged to my mentor, Eli Stoddard. He was my thesis advisor in grad school. He was killed almost a year ago and he left his journals and research to me. I'm pretty sure there was something about hyperactive senses in his work a while back, but I haven't found it yet."
Jim shrugged and took a mouthful of scrambled eggs. "Well, I hope you find it soon. I'm guessing you don't really want to take up residence on the couch."
"Not really." Sandburg grinned. "After breakfast you can tell me all about those dreams."
The dreams were the most harmless and yet somehow the most disturbing thing about this whole business. "I'm in a forest... a jungle. Like the jungle in Peru, only everything is blue..."
"Wait a minute." Sandburg looked up. "You were in Peru? When?"
Jim shrugged impatiently. "Five years ago. I was in the Army."
"Oh my god, you're that Jim Ellison?" The kid stared at him in shock. "I remember Eli just about went crazy trying to get hold of you but he couldn't find out where you were."
"I went underground for a while. I didn't want to deal with the publicity." It had been a difficult time, adjusting to being back in so-called civilisation after a year and a half. Adjusting to being out of the Army, to the realisation that someone had sold out him and his men to the rebels. "When things died down I went to the Police Academy. So why did this professor want to talk to me?"
"He didn't tell me." Sandburg shook his head then looked over at him enquiringly, pencil at the ready. "Okay, so you're in the jungle. What next?"
"There's this warrior, dressed in Chopec style clothing. He asks me questions - what do you fear, stuff like that." He shrugged; none of it made a lot of sense. "Sometimes I see a jaguar, a black jaguar. Once, it leaped right at me, went straight into my chest." He rubbed the spot reflexively. That had felt really weird even after he'd woken.
"It could be your spirit animal." The kid looked impressed. "Remind me to look up what that means. Each spirit animal has different attributes, you know? Well, okay, I guess you don't. Anything else?"
He thought about it a while. "One time it - the jaguar - took me to some kind of temple. Since then, I've dreamed about the temple most nights. The warrior's been there a couple times as well. It's really old, overgrown, and it has this eye symbol carved into some of the stones." He stopped as Sandburg made a strangled sound. "What is it?"
"An eye?" Sandburg ripped a page out of his notebook and sketched quickly. "Something like this?"
Jim looked at the paper and nodded. "Yeah, exactly like that."
The kid turned a pasty white. "Uh, Jim... I'm sorry man. I don't think I can help you with this..."
"What's wrong?" One minute he'd been fine, now Sandburg's heart was racing, his skin was breaking out into a sweat and his pupils were dilated. "Blair, are you okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. I've just gotta..." he was gathering up his papers and stuffing them back into the leather satchel he carried with him everywhere. His hands were shaking and the papers scattered. "Sorry, I can't stay."
"Tell me what's wrong." Jim leaned forward and took hold of his hands. Sandburg flinched, but he kept a firm grasp and waited calmly until the fear faded out of the kid's eyes.
"Oh, man..." Sandburg dropped his head in his hands. "I haven't freaked out like that since..." his hands began to shake again.
"Can I get you something? Some tea?" It was supposed to be better for shock than coffee and that's what it looked like was happening to the kid.
"Yeah, tea would be good." He looked relieved as Jim stood up and moved away.
By the time the tea was ready, Sandburg looked like he was in control of himself again. He accepted the mug with a smile of thanks and sipped it slowly. Jim eased himself into a chair and waited.
"Okay, so I guess you want to know..." Sandburg met his eyes, still looking very unhappy. "Just over a year ago, Eli met up with this woman, Alex Barnes, although it turned out that wasn't her real name. She was... stunning... tall, blonde, athletic. An artist. She used to paint jungle scenes and a lot of them had that eye symbol in them. She said the paintings came to her in dreams."
"And that freaked you out because..."
"Alex Barnes killed Eli. She knocked him out and drowned him in a fountain at Rainier University." Blair shrugged. "I'm surprised you didn't hear about it. Apparently, she'd escaped from a mental institution."
"So what are you saying? That I'm going mad too?" As much as he wanted to, Jim couldn't entirely rule it out. Sometimes he did feel like he was going crazy.
"Well, heightened senses are sometimes associated with schitzophrenia..." Sandburg looked up from contemplation of his hands and his face changed. "Oh, no. I'm sure you're not..."
Jim thought he didn't look particularly sure about anything at the moment, but refrained from saying so. "Did she have heightened senses?"
"I don't know." Sandburg looked distracted. "Eli didn't tell me much about her, and after he... died... the police took his last journal. They gave it back to me, eventually, but I just couldn't... I've never read it."
"What happened to Alex Barnes?"
Sandburg stared at him a long time before blinking and looking away. "Oh, she... she had a psychotic episode. Completely burned out. She's in Conover, I think, but she's a vegetable. That's why there was never any trial."
"This is some neighbourhood you live in, Sandburg." Jim inspected the very modern, very expensive hallway with approval tinged with a bit of envy. "I guess museums pay well."
"Not particularly." Sandburg led him to a dark wooden door and fumbled out a set of keys. He still wasn't quite over the panic attack he'd had back at the loft. "Eli left it to me."
Oh. Jim looked around the interior of the apartment faking an interest he suddenly didn't feel. "So, were you and he...?"
Sandburg stared at him blankly for a moment, then laughed. "Oh, no... nothing like that. Eli was my mentor at university. Then just after I graduated he took the Director's job at the museum. There was some kind of scandal - artefact smuggling, I think - and he needed some new staff, quickly. I hadn't found a job yet and still had a mound of student debt to pay off, so when he offered, I took it."
Sandburg led the way to another room; a study with a view of the harbour, lined with built in bookshelves. "Eli was a widower. No kids. I didn't even know till after he died that he'd left everything to me. You can bet the police were suspicious. Tried to prove I'd somehow sicced Alex onto him."
"That must have been rough." He watched as Sandburg searched through a pile of journals and finally pulled one out of a stack that promptly toppled over. The guy seriously needed to tidy up in here.
"Yeah, well what can you expect from the..." Sandburg's cheeks went pink. "Uh, so this was Eli's last journal. Anything he wrote about Alex Barnes will be in here. He only knew her for a couple of weeks."
They returned to the lounge - easily as big as Jim's whole apartment, its walls hung with weird looking masks and primitive carvings. "Look, Jim, why don't you make some coffee or something while I look through this? It shouldn't take long."
"Sure." He headed for the kitchen, which was bright and gleaming and expensively tiled. It took a while to figure out the workings of the espresso machine, but when he returned to the lounge, it didn't look like Sandburg had got very far. "Found anything?"
"Sorry." The kid looked up, wiping his eyes on the back of his hand. "It's just..."
Jim put the mugs down on the coffee table and sat beside Sandburg on the couch. "Would you like me to..."
Sandburg shook his head. "I'm okay. It's easier, reading his older journals, but this... he was so excited about finding her."
"Because of the dreams and the eye?" It seemed like a weird thing to get excited about to Jim.
"He keeps calling her a sentinel, but I don't know... oh... no, wait a minute." Sandburg shot up off the couch and in the direction of the study. A minute later he was back with an old looking book in his hands. "I remember this - he showed it to me once."
It was old, with a cover of worn leather, the title imprinted in faded gold lettering: The Sentinels of Paraguay. Sandburg sat, cradling the book in his arms. "It's a monologue by Sir Richard Burton. Eli had this thing about it, you know?"
"So, what's a sentinel? And what's it got to do with me?"
"Well, Burton wrote about these tribal warriors he called sentinels. They... you could say they had hyperactive senses." The blue eyes stared intently into his. "Eli thought that Alex was a sentinel, and I do remember him saying that she had these episodes where... hang on..."
Jim waited impatiently while the kid flipped through Eli's journal. It seemed like he'd written a hell of a lot in those few weeks.
"Okay, here it is... 'The subject' - that's Alex - 'has not responded to the visualisation exercises. She remains unable to control her sensory levels for more than a few seconds and continues to experience pain whenever she makes the attempt' ...he goes on to talk about some of the visualisations, but..." Sandburg looked up at him, "if it didn't work for her..."
"He doesn't say anything about how to get rid of this... this thing, does he?" Jim tried to read the words upside down, but the messy handwriting made it impossible. "Or why it started? Maybe if we know that..."
Sandburg's eyes went almost glassy. "Oh, my god..."
"What?" Jim grabbed him by the arms but managed to stop himself from shaking him. "For god's sake, tell me."
"Well..." Sandburg flushed dark red, his eyes sliding away from Jim's. "Burton believed... but then he would believe something like that - you should see some of the stuff he translated from Arabic... and his wife burned the more...um, controversial stuff after his death..."
"Uh, yeah... well, Burton believed that sentinel senses lay dormant until the sentinel met his guide." He blushed even deeper red, if that was possible. "And that... um... when the sentinel and guide, um... bonded... then the sentinel would come fully online. But it's just a theory, because in practice, people in small villages, well they already know everyone in the village. So, you know, it's just the kind of romantic crap the late Victorians believed in, and it doesn't mean..."
Jim groaned and dropped his head into his hands.
Today, the bullpen was even noisier than it had been yesterday, and Blair wasn't surprised when Jim almost recoiled when he opened the door. Blair put a hand lightly on the back of Jim's shoulder. "Okay, just remember the dials. Keep them low, for the moment, until you feel comfortable."
The tension disappeared almost immediately, which still surprised him. They'd spent a couple of hours trying out the visualisations that Eli had devised for Alex Barnes but, unlike Alex, Jim had grasped the concepts with almost uncanny ease. It was a bittersweet discovery, leaving Blair wishing with all his heart that Eli had been able to see it.
He was still reeling from the whole sentinel/guide imperative thing, and trying not to think about it too much. What had happened between him and Jim at the museum had been discomforting enough without adding in any metaphysical crap like destiny and bonding. It would explain a lot though... and Blair dragged his inconveniently overactive memory back from that particular precipice. First catch the serial killer, then he and Jim could think about stuff like that.
The afternoon dragged. He filled out forms and provided a urine sample and by five o'clock, had his very own observer's pass. Which, it seemed, meant that Captain Banks and Jim both assumed he'd be spending the evening at Java King again.
He settled into a booth at the back of the cafe, journal and notepad on the table. It had the dual advantage of making him look more like a student, and giving him an excuse to be there until late. It was going to be a long evening, so Blair started off easy with a Chai Latte and biscotti.
From his position, Blair could see the whole cafe, and he glanced up frequently to observe the comings and goings. There were a couple of other all-nighters besides him, but neither seemed to be taking an undue interest in their fellow patrons. Once in a while, he murmured a comment into the microphone hidden under his shirt, but since there were others besides Jim listening in, he couldn't talk about sentinel stuff.
Half an hour before closing, he pushed his third coffee away - or was it his fourth? "Just gonna take a break now guys. You probably don't want to listen in."
The men's room was out the back. It was small, just enough space for a urinal, washbasin, and a cubicle. Blair closed the door behind him, and the light went out.
"Damn!" He fumbled with the door, jamming it against his own body in his haste, and then an arm came around his throat, choking him. He couldn't make a sound as he tried to fight back. The grip on his throat slackened for a moment, then his head hit something large and very solid - like a wall - and that was the last he remembered.
"Something's wrong." Jim stirred restlessly, easing the cramp in his long legs. "The kid's taking too long."
"Hey, he's been tossing back those cafe Lattes like they were water." H grinned, teeth flashing white in the shadow. "He must have built up a real head of steam. You know what I mean?"
"It's too long. I'm going in." He was halfway out the door before H could even try to stop him. They were parked half a block from Java King in a small access way used for deliveries during the day, and it only took him a minute to reach the cafe. He could see through the window that Sandburg wasn't anywhere in sight.
Nobody took much notice when he went inside. There were only a few patrons left, so close to closing time. Jim nodded to the guy behind the counter and followed the short hallway to the men's room.
As soon as he opened the door, Jim smelt blood. His senses spiked, and he almost doubled over, retching at the rich, metallic tang of it. Hurriedly recalling the 'dials' Sandburg had taught him to use, Jim managed to get control again. He looked around the darkened room and found the bloody mark on the wall beside him. Not a lot of blood - he sniffed cautiously - but somehow he knew it was Sandburg's.
"He's got Sandburg. Get this block closed down. Search every building if you have to." He was running back through the cafe, yelling into his walkie-talkie. The guy behind the counter gaped and shrank back as Jim turned to him. "You, did you see who else went back there? How would they get out of here without coming back?"
"They... they can't. There's only the fire exit and it's alarmed."
"Show me." He followed the kid to the door and pushed the release. The door swung open silently. "Looks like someone's disabled your alarm. Where does this alley lead?"
Waking up trussed like a Thanksgiving turkey was, Blair decided, something he didn't want to repeat. The bad news was, he might never get a chance to repeat it. He couldn't see much, the room he was in was dark, with just a faint wash of light coming from a small window set high up on one wall. It felt like a large room - something about the quality of the sound - and as far as he could see, it was completely empty apart from him.
He struggled against the ropes that bound his wrists and ankles, but without the slightest success. The gag prevented him from calling for help but he made as much noise as he could, which wasn't very much. And he tried to convince himself that Jim would be coming through the door - wherever it was - any time now to rescue him.
Whoever came through the door, it wasn't Jim. Blair blinked furiously, trying to make out any details of the shadowy figure but there simply wasn't enough light. The man crouched beside him, still faceless and Blair was about to completely freak out when he realised that his abductor's head was covered with a dark stocking, hiding all but the faintest glimmer of skin.
Blair swallowed nervously, wishing, not for the first time, that he hadn't seen photos of the serial killer's victims. He couldn't help making a choked sound of fear when one long arm reached out and grabbed a large hank of his hair.
"You think you're dealing with a fool? Is that what you think?" Blair's head was forced back until his throat ached. He closed his eyes and shook his head negatively, shuddering when the obscured face came down close to his. "I'm gonna show you pigs what happens when you play games with me."
Somehow, being gagged was even worse than being bound hand and foot. Blair had never been much of a fighter but he'd always prided himself on being able to talk his way out of any tight situation. He tried to talk anyway, but it came out garbled, unintelligible, even to himself.
"My old man was a butcher. Did you know that?" Dragging Blair by his jacket, the killer headed towards the opposite end of the room from where he'd entered. "The only useful thing he ever taught me was how to gut a pig."
Through this door was another room, reeking of blood. Blair choked, trying desperately not to retch while the gag was still in place. Then the lights were switched on and breathing suddenly didn't seem so important any more.
They were rapidly running out of time. Jim had been able to keep his senses on a reasonably even keel when he could hear Blair's voice over the wire. Now it was nearly half an hour since he'd had even that, and he could feel his control starting to fray, along with his temper.
The cordon around the block had been put in place with commendable efficiency, but nobody knew exactly how long the killer had had Sandburg before the alarm was raised. Simon, looking worried and irritated, shook his head. "We must have missed them, Jim. They could be anywhere now."
"No, sir. I'm sure they're here somewhere." Jim shook his head in frustration. "I just can't figure out where."
"A hunch?" Simon sighed. "Well, I'm going to get the men to spread out. Maybe we'll get lucky."
"Sure." Jim went back into the cafe, to the table where Sandburg had been sitting, and brushed his fingertips over the open page of the journal. He could still faintly sense Blair's scent over the remnants of his coffee.
Scent. He followed the fading trail down the hallway to the men's room, and from there - tinged now with blood and slightly stronger - to the fire exit. Outside, the smell of the garbage overpowered everything else. Jim shook his head and tried to concentrate. It had been easier with Blair to help him, but if he ever wanted to see the kid again, he had to do this.
Again and again, he tried, but could find no hint of Blair's scent. The rank stench of garbage was too strong. Or... Jim swung around, maybe his scent simply wasn't there. He went back inside, casting around, and found himself standing beside a closet door. It was locked and bolted, with a padlock on the bolt. Pretty heavy security for a closet in a cafe.
It wasn't much, but it was a better lead than he'd had in the last half hour. Jim pulled his gun and shot the padlock off, then the lock for good measure. The door swung open, grudgingly, and he pulled it wide. Inside the closet was a couple of cardboard boxes filled with rags and junk. He dragged them out easily; they weighed next to nothing.
There was a trapdoor in the floor.
Jim switched the walkie-talkie to transmit. "H, you still got the guy from the cafe?"
"Nah. He said he needed to cash up, so I told him he could go back in as long as he only went behind the counter."
"He's our killer. There's a trapdoor in the floor of a closet out the back. I'm going down." He switched the walkie-talkie off so it couldn't betray his presence and lifted the trapdoor cautiously. It moved with quiet, well-oiled ease.
There were steps, little more than an unusually solid ladder. Jim started down them, feeling his way cautiously in the darkness. At the bottom was a corridor, dank and more than a little damp, with roughly cut rock walls. His eyesight adjusted, but even with his newly enhanced vision, it was difficult to see.
The corridor took an abrupt right turn after about ten yards, and there was a little more light. It shone faintly from under a door, about fifteen yards ahead. Once again, there was a padlock and bolt, this time unfastened. A grim smile curved Jim's lips and he eased the door open.
Light almost blinded him and Jim hurriedly dialled back. The light was coming, not from this room, but one adjoining it. While he waited for his sight to recover, he listened. Two heartbeats, both fast, and a sound, regular, almost rhythmical, kind of metallic but not exactly... then he recognised it - the sound of a knife blade being stropped against leather to sharpen it.
His senses suddenly exploded wide open and the smell of blood was almost overpowering. Jim choked and hurriedly tried to dial back his sense of smell, doubling over with the effort not to vomit. In a couple of heartbeats, he'd succeeded in wrestling his senses under some modicum of control. The stropping stopped; there wasn't any time to lose, and Jim hurried through the room, to the open doorway at the other end.
He paused at the side of the door, gun at the ready, and glanced around the edge of the doorway. Neither of the two men in the room was aware of him, Blair because all his attention was focused on the other man. His back was turned to Jim, but the long, thin-bladed knife in his hand was clearly visible, and dangerously close to Blair's throat.
Blair's eyes were wide with terror, and he was making desperate, incoherent sounds behind a gag. Even now, he fought the ropes that tied his wrists together and held him suspended from what looked like a meat hook. In fact the whole room looked like it had been set up as a butchery - white painted rock walls, stainless steel table and on the dirt floor, dark puddles that reeked of blood.
The killer was too close to Blair for Jim to risk a shot - anything less than a clean kill would make it possible for him to get in a mortal blow. Jim holstered his gun and leapt, tackling him to the side and down, where he could no longer reach Blair.
Of course, that left Jim well within his grasp. The sturdy body twisted, eel-like in his arms as Jim tried to immobilise the right hand that held the knife. He failed; the killer was incredibly strong and fought with a manic determination that Jim had experienced before in the mentally ill. Nothing was going to make this man give up his goal of killing Blair.
They rolled over, and over again, with Jim on top. He managed to avoid the scrabbling fingers that would have gouged out his eyes if they'd connected and concentrated on holding off the crazed attack long enough for the others to arrive.
Blair's muffled yells told him that rescue was at hand. Brown dropped to his knees beside them and used both hands to restrain the killer's knife hand while Ramos did the same with the left. With great satisfaction, Jim punched the still wildly struggling man in the face. At last, he fell still and Jim staggered to his feet.
All he wanted was to get to Blair, but Simon was already there, carefully cutting through the ropes that held him. Jim went to the other side and put an arm around his waist to steady him. When the ropes finally parted, Blair's knees buckled and Jim tightened his grip. He pulled the gag out of Blair's mouth and tossed it aside.
"Oh man, am I glad to see you, Jim." Blair's mouth worked and he grimaced. "Fuck, that tastes foul."
Jim inspected the blood oozing from the abrasion on Blair's temple. "I'd better get you home."
"No argument from me." Blair was shaking; they both were. When Simon cleared his throat loudly, Blair flinched.
"Ellison, you're not going anywhere until you've completed your report and put it on my desk." Simon glowered equally at both of them. "Since it seems that Brown is the actual arresting officer, he'll do the interrogation, but you were the one who caught this creep in the act."
"But, sir..." he stopped as Simon shook his head warningly. "Chief, you think you'll be okay? It shouldn't take very long."
"A proper report, Ellison."
Blair leaned into his side. "I'll come to the station with you."
It was the best solution, Jim supposed. He'd rather get that graze attended to - and Blair not smelling of fear and blood - but he couldn't take Blair home himself, and the thought of leaving him, even for a moment, was too much to bear.
It was nearly two in the morning before they finally made it back to Jim's apartment, and Blair was weaving on his feet as he waited for Jim to unlock the door. Beneath the exhaustion, he was aware of an insistent prickling of his skin and the painfully intense urge to plaster himself against Jim's back, to merge with him in a way that he wasn't sure he understood or even liked.
So, he wasn't particularly surprised when Jim practically hauled him through the doorway and pushed him up against the inside wall with one hand while slamming the door shut with the other. He yelped, all the same. Jim's mouth on his silenced him and he gave himself up to the hunger that raced like wildfire through his veins.
It was like the night they'd first met. Jim tore his shirt open and pushed his T-shirt up, running greedy hands over his chest before leaning in to capture his mouth again. With a helpless groan, Blair grabbed Jim's head between his hands and held him captive while his tongue invaded Jim's mouth. He was so fucking hard... and then Jim pulled back leaving him gasping and stranded.
"No." Jim dragged in a couple of rasping breaths, shaking his head. "No, dammit, I'm not going to do this."
"Do what?" Blair blinked a couple of times, still dazed by the ferocity of the initial attack and the suddenness with which Jim had backed off. "What are you...? Jim?"
His sentinel - fuck... his sentinel - smiled faintly and brushed gentle fingertips down his cheek. "This... this 'bonding' thing... we're not animals, Blair. I don't care what that guy..."
"...whoever. I don't care what he said." Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Maybe he's right, but that doesn't mean we have to behave like this." He kissed Blair's lips with surprising tenderness. "If we're going to be spending the rest... a lot of time together, then we're going to have to build some kind of a relationship."
Blair smiled at the unexpected revelation. He'd never been much of a 'rest of our lives' kind of guy, but for Jim he thought that maybe he could make an exception. "So, you don't want sex?"
"I don't want it to be all about sex. Or... or so out of control." Jim took a half step closer, looking like he was afraid that proximity would get them both all fired up again. It didn't - much - and Jim took another half step and drew Blair into a careful embrace. Blair heard him inhale deeply and knew that Jim was scenting him. "I don't want it to be all about the senses either. This is a partnership, right?"
Blair leaned against him with a tired sigh. "I hope so. I really do." He wrapped his arms around Jim's chest. "So, what do you want to do?"
Jim chuckled, the sound reverberating against Blair's cheek. "How about we call it a night? Get some rest and we'll sort things out in the morning."
"Yeah, okay." Blair stayed a moment longer in the comforting embrace, then straightened. "Well I definitely need a shower. Would you mind making up the couch? I am so beat."
"Sure." Jim smiled brilliantly. "Don't use all the hot water."
He kept the shower brief, but even he could smell the stench of that place on his skin as well as his clothes, so Jim certainly would. He tossed everything into the laundry basket and wandered out with just a towel around his hips, stopping at the end of the hallway in dismay at the sight of the couch, bare of any form of bedding whatsoever.
There was no sign of Jim and for a moment Blair's exhausted mind could only imagine that Jim had gone to bed and left him to make up his own bed. He didn't even know where the sheets and blankets were stored. Then Jim came down the stairs in his bathrobe and stopped halfway down, looking sheepish.
"Uh, Chief... I was wondering... I mean, I know I said... but I was thinking maybe you could sleep up here with me."
"Sleep?" It was the best word in the English language, Blair decided, but Jim flushed a little. Then Blair realised why and blushed a little himself. "Uh, yeah. Sure. Why not?"
Actually, it would be good not to sleep alone tonight. And Jim's smile, almost shy and so tender it made him ache... well he'd do pretty much anything to put that smile on Jim's face. He started towards the stairs and as Jim passed him, they touched briefly.
Upstairs, Jim had laid out a whole set of underwear and sweatpants as well. Blair dragged on the shorts and T-shirt and put the sweatpants on top of the drawers before climbing into bed. He never heard Jim come up, but drifted back to the surface long enough to become aware of a large, warm body close to his. He wriggled a little until he could feel its solidity then plunged back under. If he dreamt, he wasn't aware of it.
"...and the tunnels, apparently, were made by smugglers in the late nineteenth century." Blair grinned at Jim and Simon Banks. "The history curator's just about creaming her panties over them."
Jim looked resigned, and Banks, frankly bored. Blair smiled and shrugged and decided he should maybe just keep his mouth shut. The chances of that actually happening were pretty minimal, but he could try.
"So," Banks fixed his gaze pointedly on Blair, "I take it you're still planning on working with Jim as an observer?"
Jim was sitting rather stiffly, and unnaturally still. He didn't meet Blair's gaze, instead keeping his eyes firmly fixed on his captain. But if two days of living, working and sleeping with Jim Ellison had taught Blair anything, it was that there was a lot more going on under the surface than he'd ever imagined. Jim could teach icebergs a thing or two about hidden depths.
Now wasn't the time to make an issue of that, so he just smiled again. "Yeah, of course."
Jim turned his head to stare. "Chief, you were nearly the victim of a serial killer."
"The operative word being 'nearly'." Blair looked from Jim to Captain Banks and back again. "I won't pretend it didn't shake me up a bit, but it's not always gonna be like that. Is it?"
Suddenly, both men found something else to look at.
Blair swallowed. "Uh... guys..."
"You'll be fine, Sandburg." Banks took a cigar out of his desk draw and clamped it firmly between his lips.
Jim rose from his chair. "Coming, Chief?"
Blair sighed. What option did he have anyway? Give up the most exciting anthropological discovery of a lifetime? Maybe. Give up Jim? No way in hell.
Now that the excitement was over, it was beginning to dawn on Jim that Blair had no real reason to stick so close to him. They'd spent some more time this morning, before going into the station at eleven, going over the relaxation techniques and visualisations that helped him to control his senses and it was clear that at some point, he wouldn't need to have Blair near him all the time.
In fact, even if he did need Blair near him, he could hardly demand that Blair give up his career in order to be an unpaid observer. Blair had his own life, his own apartment; he didn't need Jim at all. And yet, every instinct screamed that Blair had to stay with him. Always.
They'd both taken a couple of days leave to sort things out, and without bothering to talk about it, they returned to Jim's apartment. Blair flopped down on the couch with a relieved sigh and Jim went to the fridge to fetch a couple of beers. He sat beside Blair and passed him one of the bottles.
"Thanks, man. I really need one of these." He tilted the bottle, swallowing noisily and then put it on the coffee table with a decisive thump. "So..."
"Chief, I..." Jim stopped, turned his head away slightly. "Look, thanks for the help. I really appreciate it."
There was a long silence, then Blair said quietly, "So why do I feel like I'm about to get the brush off?"
He felt a muscle twitch in his jaw and had to steel himself to look at Blair again. "Not a brush off, Sandburg. It's just... I can't expect you to drop everything and come running, you know?"
"Jim." Blair caught hold of his shirtsleeve, tweaking it imperatively. "I'm your guide, man. It kind of comes with the territory. We just have to figure out a way to make it work."
Something in his chest twisted painfully, and Jim stood and paced to the French doors, then back again, stopping short of the couch. "You didn't ask for this."
"You didn't ask to be a sentinel, but it happened. Just becoming a guide happened to me." Blair smiled calmly. "It's okay, Jim. We'll deal with it."
"But you don't need me." He blurted it out without thinking, and cursed himself for being so fucking transparent when something akin to pity showed in Blair's eyes. "I mean, what are you getting out of it?"
"Jim, I do need you." Blair stood, came over until they were almost touching. "That week after we met? I was a fucking head case. I couldn't think about anything but you." He poked Jim in the chest. "Then you come in and ream me out some more, and what do I do when you call? I agree to meet you. I agree to help you." Another poke. "Man, I should have been screaming police harassment and hiring a private bodyguard."
Blair laid his hand flat on Jim's chest and Jim felt his heart skip a beat. "Now, I don't know exactly what's going on here, and I may not have the senses, but I need to be with you. Okay?"
Still uncertain, Jim nodded. "Okay."
"So, I'm thinking it would be better for me to move in here than for you to live in my apartment. It's familiar territory, and I'm guessing that sentinels are pretty territorial." Blair smiled up at him then went back to the couch and sat down, patting the cushion beside him. "If we put some bookshelves up in the spare room, all the stuff I really need should fit. And this place could do with some... decorating. Or maybe we should stay at my place for a couple of weeks while we paint. This white is so harsh, man."
Feeling more than slightly stunned, Jim sat beside his guide. "You want to redecorate?"
"Yeah, well, since I'm gonna live here." Blair seemed to take for it granted that this was now their apartment. "After we've finished painting - and don't worry, I'll make sure it's as eco-friendly as possible... don't want you breaking out or having breathing problems, right? Yeah, after we've finished painting, I'll sell my apartment and we can set up a joint account and put this one in both names." He peered up at Jim. "That's okay, isn't it?"
Jim realised that he was probably looking as stunned as he felt. He closed his gaping mouth and swallowed, then smiled. "That sounds just great."