Lashed by Ice Bear

LashedIce Bear

Dr. Blair Sandburg was an FBI profiler. Despite his youthful appearance - long, curly chestnut hair, earrings and torn jeans - he was one of the elite. And he found himself in Washington State gathering additional information on David Lash, a serial killer who had been silent for 16 months after killing a police officer in Cascade, Washington. Based on his past behavior, Sandburg believed that Lash was due to resurface shortly.

The man Sandburg hoped to learn more from, in order to finally stop Lash, was James Ellison. Ellison had been the top detective in Cascade’s Major Crimes Division when Lash went on his last killing spree. Ellison had retired on full disability after he was severely injured trying to stop the mad man. Ellison had discovered Lash’s lair and in the ensuing fight, which included a three story fall, had broken his back, several ribs, and his leg in three places. That hadn’t stopped the detective from dragging himself up two and a half flights of rickety stairs in a futile effort to save Lash’s victim.

Sandburg checked the driving directions again as he left the interstate and headed toward the remote town of Prospect. From what he’d learned from Ellison’s file, the man had left Cascade as soon as he’d been released from rehab and moved to this small town, situated on a lake at the base of the Cascade Mountains. Ellison was an interesting study in and of himself; a former Army Ranger, he’d been stranded in the jungles of Peru for 18 months, the sole survivor of a helicopter crash that killed the rest of his team. He’d also been a first class cop for six years, consistently having one of the highest closure rates in the Pacific Northwest.

He pulled into the driveway of a tidy, one story cottage late that afternoon. He grabbed his backpack, stuffed with files, and headed for the door, noting clinically that a ramp stood where steps normally would. He knocked and waited.

Jim Ellison rose carefully from his work bench, where he’d been completing some delicate work etching a wolf into a slender silver bracelet. He grabbed his cane and moved to the door. He didn’t recognize the face peering at him through the glass storm door, so he didn’t unlock it. He just stood, waiting.

Sandburg looked up into the most amazing blue eyes he’d ever seen and felt a jolt of electricity run through him. “Detective Ellison? I’m Dr. Blair Sandburg. I’m a profiler with the FBI. I’d like to talk to you about David Lash.”

The ice blue eyes studied the younger man carefully. “Badge and ID?” Blair held up his badge and photo ID, and was taken aback when the door closed, and the lock smacked back into place. Jim moved to the phone and pushed a preset number.

“Banks.” A deep voice answered.

“Simon, its Jim.”

“Jim! Everything alright?” Cascade’s Major Crimes Captain straightened at his desk as his eyes drifted to a framed photo on the book case of his friend and former detective in happier days; the two of them holding large fish and grinning like fools.

“I need a favor. There’s a guy at the door, says he’s an FBI profiler. Wants to talk to me about Lash.” The voice was steady, yet the information had Banks on his feet. Jim gave him the name and badge number, and Simon put him on hold and called for confirmation. While he waited, his mind drifted unwillingly back to the night he’d found his friend’s broken and battered body on the stairs in that deserted warehouse.

“Jim, the guy’s legit. Sandburg works out of Quantico and is one of the Bureau’s top profilers - that is if he’s 5’9”, chestnut hair past his shoulders, pierced ears and blue eyes – looks like some leftover flower child.”

“That’s him.”

“Jim," Banks hesitated, not really sure what to say. "Call me after you’ve talked to him.” It was a plea rather than an order.

“I will, Simon. Thanks.” Jim shook his head to clear it of his own dark memories and unlocked both doors this time. He headed into his kitchen, taking a seat at the oak table. From there he watched the smaller man.

“Hell of a greeting,” Sandburg muttered under his breath as he walked into the house.

“The last time a profiler from the FBI showed up to talk about Lash, turned out it was Lash. So you’ll forgive me if I felt compelled to check your credentials,” Jim responded sarcastically. Sandburg’s head came up and his eyes widened. There was no way he'd said that loud enough for the man to hear.

“I’m sorry, I should have called.” He settled into a chair across the table and took a moment to study the man. The face was carefully neutral, the body tense. “We have reason to believe that Lash will resurface shortly.”

“What do you want from me?”

“You know more about him than anyone else. You worked with him, you found his lair, and you prevented him from finishing his ritual.”

“All that’s in the report,” Jim said rising awkwardly from his chair.

“Look, Detective,” he was interrupted.

“I haven’t been a detective in a long time.” There was so much pain hidden in that single statement delivered in an even, emotionless tone, that Sandburg desperately wanted to do something, anything to ease it. Jim turned to stare out the window over the sink.

“I’ve read the file, numerous times. But I’d like to hear it from you. Things get lost in the translation to paper. Surely you want this man behind bars. He killed a cop.”

Jim swung to face the profiler, eyes dark with rage. “Get out of my house.” It was said quietly, but its impact literally made the smaller man pull back.

“Detec…Mr. Ellison. I’m sorry. I didn’t come here to hurt you. I really need your help. Please.”

Jim remained where he was for a moment, staring intently at the man in front of him. Then he filled the teapot and placed it on the gas burner, lighting it. This was not an issue he ever wanted to revisit, but there was something about the man sitting at his table that called out to him. He pulled down two mugs and got a small pitcher of milk from the refrigerator. “Tea,” he asked softly as he continued to gather the items needed.

“That would be great.” The two men waited in companionable silence as the water boiled.

Jim put down his mug before settling into a large, leather chair in the living room, and used both hands to raise his right leg onto a matching ottoman. Blair’s eyes swept the room, taking in the large fireplace, the floor to ceiling bookcases filled with books of all shapes and sizes, the dearth of any photos or knickknacks to tell him the story behind this man – only a black stone panther sitting alone in the center of the mantle. He settled on the couch and opened his battered backpack to remove his files and his lap top.

“I really don’t think I can tell you anything you don’t already know,” Jim said once his guest was settled. He did not want to revisit this issue. He had spent the last year trying to push it away. But there was something about this man…and he realized, looking again into the wide blue eyes, that he'd talk - if only to keep the man with him for a while.

“Just bear with me, you might be surprised. You’re a trained observer and sometimes it just takes the right question to produce something important.”

They spent three hours going over Jim’s memory of the Susan Frasier case. Blair walked him through the crime scene in her home four times and his chase of the woman in black five times. The growling of the profiler’s stomach finally brought them both back to the present. “Sorry, I hadn’t realized how late it was,” Blair said. “Would you be willing to continue this tomorrow?”

“Why don’t we meet for breakfast at the diner on the corner of Main and Nichols at 7:30 a.m.?” Jim suggested, surprising himself at the offer. He was a loner and had come to accept the fact he would always be alone, still he wasn't ready to send this man away. The profiler felt comfortable, familiar and Jim was curious as to why he evoked such strong feelings in him. He shook himself, and escorted his guest to the door.

Blair listened to the three locks being slipped into place as the door closed behind him. Fascinating man - he smiled as he drove away – and what a body! Greek gods paled in comparison. He was looking forward to finding the man behind the stone facade. He'd always loved a challenge.

^^^^^

Sandburg got to the small diner a few minutes early and picked a booth in the back. He smiled to himself when he saw Ellison making his way up the sidewalk. “Figures the Army Ranger would be punctual,” he whispered to himself, sitting back forcefully when he saw Ellison’s head jerk up and he looked right at him. “There is no way you heard that, Ellison, no way.” Ellison’s feral grin made him nervous.

They shared a quiet breakfast, talking about general things, nothing related to the case. “Jim, I wanted to thank you again for the necklace. Margie loves it!” An older man said, stopping by the table and nodding at Blair before speaking. “I’m going to tell Bob Simmons and Dale Kindred that they should stop by and talk with you. They both got big anniversaries coming up, and Margie’s already bragged to their wives about her present.”

“I’m really glad she liked it, Tom. The colors you picked out were just right.”

“You design jewelry?”

Jim gave a somewhat noncommittal shrug of his shoulders. “I can still use my hands, and I need something to keep my mind occupied.”

“So, what are you up to today, Mr. Ellison?” Blair asked, needing some time to contemplate this new aspect of the complicated man across the table.

“It’s Jim, and I have to drop by the library and see if they have a book I ordered from the University of Washington, Dr. Sandburg.” Jim had relaxed at the comfortable banter between them; the large pile of blueberry pancakes he’d devoured; and the three fresh buttermilk donuts the waitress had brought for him to take home.

“It’s Blair, and would you mind if I came along? I love libraries,” he stopped, afraid he’d pushed too far, but after a careful look, Jim nodded.

They were dividing up the bill when Jim cocked his head slightly to the right. His face hardened, he slapped his money on the table, and rose as quickly as he could. “Let’s go, Sandburg,” he growled. Blair knew something was very wrong, but couldn’t figure out what had happened to change the mood, so he simply followed.

As they reached the door, three large, rough looking men entered, blocking the exit. “So Ellison, you finally surface,” the largest of the three said, his eyes raking slowly over the profiler. Jim took a step to the right to block the view. “Didn’t think you had the balls to show off your boyfriends here in town.”

Blair didn’t miss the tension humming through his companion, but stepped around his new found body guard anyway. “Jim, this must be the guy you were telling me about. Dr. Sandburg,” he continued, holding out a hand. “Clearly you’re threatened by Jim’s masculinity, but I can help you with that. I’m sure your wife would appreciate it.” He stepped around the men and out the door, followed by Jim. When they reached the truck, Jim leaned his forehead against the driver’s door and began to shake.

“Jim? Jim, what’s wrong?” Blair stepped to his side, placing a hand on his back.

“Oh my god, Sandburg, that was absolutely priceless,” Jim turned to face the smaller man, and lost control, his laughter flowing out into the fall day.

“Geeze, Big Guy, don’t scare me like that,” Blair punched him on the arm, and shared an outrageous grin with his new friend. Jim looked good in a smile, he thought as he watched; the laughter took 15 years off the man. He’d work on making sure he laughed more. He shook his head, wondering where exactly that thought had come from and sternly reminded himself that he was simply here to complete his profile.

At the library, they were still chuckling about the diner. “Hello, Hannah, I was wondering if that book I asked for is in yet.”

“Came in yesterday. Here it is, Jim.”

“Thanks,” Jim smiled and headed for the long table in the next room; the large book tucked under his arm.

Hannah smiled at the visitor. “I hope you’re staying awhile. It’s nice to see Jim smile. He’s the loneliest man I think I’ve ever met.”

“I’ll do my best,” Blair promised before heading to Jim’s table; grinning when he realized he’d meant it.

“Sorry about that, Chief, but everyone in town seems to think it’s some kind of sin to live alone.”

“You heard that?” Jim shrugged and returned his attention to the book spread open on the table.

“Wow,” Blair whispered as he took a seat. “That’s Chopec, isn’t it?”

Jim nodded, his slender fingers running reverently just above the photo in the book. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, and I wanted to look at it again, before starting a new design.”

The profiler left the designer to his work and wandered happily through the stacks of the small library. When he returned to the table 20 minutes later, he found a still, silent and pale man bent over the book. “Jim? Ellison? What the hell’s going on with you?” Blair sat down and placed a hand on the jugular, letting out his breath when he found a slow, but steady pulse. He cupped the classic face in both hands and began to talk, still in a whisper. “Come on, man, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want me to have to call an ambulance cause then the entire town will know something’s wrong. I don’t know where you are, but I really need you to come back. You’re starting to scare me. Jim, man, please come back.”

Light suddenly flashed back into the blue eyes, startling both men. “Hey, you with me, Big Guy,” Blair asked, his hands still cupping the cool face.

“Chief?” The look of fear and frustration scared the profiler.

“Do we need to go to the hospital?”

“Home…please.” The whispered plea was frantic.

“Can you walk?” He received a hesitant nod. Once Jim was steady on his feet, he held out the keys to his truck in a shaky hand. Jim slumped against the passenger door, eyes closed. Blair stole concerned glances his way, but maintained the silence. In his driveway, Jim turned to face his visitor. “Thank you…for not calling the ambulance, and for bringing me home.” Sandburg let him walk ahead, watching the awkward gait of a man he instinctively knew had once moved with the grace of a jungle cat. And there was something about what happened today that rang a bell, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

^^^^^

Later that afternoon, they settled in the living room in front of the fire Jim started. The profiler started asking questions, and Jim led him through the events leading up to the fateful night when Lash had taken Danny Choi. “Jim, there’s no way the lab had time to figure out the water contained bird waste…how’d you know?”

Ice blue eyes settled on sapphire ones. “Lash’s father told me about the duck, Homer, and what his son did to it; I found a down feather in Frasier’s bathroom. It made sense.”

“Sorry, man, I just don’t buy it. Too big a leap considering all that was on the line.”

The older man shrugged and moved to stir the fire, his back to the profiler. “Danny was in trouble, I would have risked anything to save him.”

"You knew Officer Choi?"

Jim's head tilted slightly, "I was Danny's Big Brother when he was in junior high. I helped him get into the Academy."

An uneasy silence fell while the profiler assimilated that information and inwardly cringed at forcing the man to dig up all this pain. That information had not been in his file and would require some additional thought. Taking a deep breath he plunged ahead. “Once you got to the warehouse?” Blair leaned forward on the couch, waiting.

“I saw the lights from the parking lot. When I got closer, I could hear Danny… he was trying to keep Lash talking…he was amazing. Had him totally off balance, talking about the fact that he didn’t know Danny, not at all…I pinpointed the room and started down the stairs. Lash’s back was to me, but one of the steps gave way and I fell, lost my gun. We fought for it and went through a large glass window, fell three stories. Lash landed on top of me. I couldn’t make my legs move. He took a lead pipe to my back…then he headed up the stairs. I tried to follow… Lash was gone by the time backup arrived.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Jim.”

“The hell it wasn’t.” He turned; his guilt tangible. “If Danny had never met me, he’d be alive today.”

“So you’re telling me it would have been better if Lash had taken you that night?”

“YES! No one would have missed me…Danny…” he turned, and leaned heavily against the mantle.

“I’m sorry, Jim, I didn’t mean...I think I’d better leave.” Blair gathered his papers and left, even though it went against every fiber of his being. He wanted to stay and comfort the older man, but sensed it wouldn’t be welcomed.

The next morning, a box of buttermilk donuts in hand, Blair returned to the small cottage. Jim greeted him at the door. “Beware psychiatrists bearing gifts,” the younger man joked as they headed for the kitchen.

They spent the day talking about various aspects of Lash’s rituals and how Jim had figured out which duck pond to check out. It was late afternoon, and the profiler was packing up his files, when a knock at the door startled both men. Jim fumbled for his cane and answered it to find Sheriff Coughlin. “Jim, I was wondering if you’d seen Hillary Dodd. She’s been missing since about 2 this afternoon. Never made it home from school.”

“Small, long blonde hair, usually in pigtails?” Jim responded, getting an affirmative nod. “Not today, Dan, but sometimes she comes out this way to walk the lake path. She and her mother do it pretty regularly when the weather’s nice.”

“Right now we’re focusing on the center of town, her route home from school, and her friends. If you see her, would you give us a call?”

“Sure thing…I’ll check the lake path, just in case.”

“I’d appreciate it, Jim. Her folks are awfully worried.”

Jim closed the door and went to the hall closet, grabbing a leather jacket, gloves and a small leather daypack. Blair grabbed his coat, and they headed out. As the light faded, Jim handed Blair a flashlight, but motioned for him to keep it out of his way. At one point, he stopped; and the profiler would have sworn he was scenting the wind. Blair, working on instinct, placed a hand in the small of his back. They’d been searching for over an hour when Jim froze, head cocked slightly to the right.

“Chief, hit the bushes over there with the flashlight.” Jim moved to them and slowly lowered himself so his left knee rested on the ground. “Hillary, honey, its Jim Ellison…I have the shingled house at the end of Cottage Street…your mom brought you to visit me to pick out the horse charm.”

“Mr. Jim?” A small voice broke the stillness, causing both men to take a deep breath of relief.

“Come on out, Hillary. I bet you’re cold, and I have some hot chocolate at home to warm you up. Then we’ll call your parents. What do you say?”

There was a long pause before the child stepped into the beam of light. Jim reached out a hand to her and she ignored it, moving into his chest and locking her arms around his neck. He hesitated before returning the hug. “It’s okay, little one,” he whispered, “I’ve got you. You’re safe.”

When it became clear the little girl was not going to let go, Blair helped Jim into a standing position. The bigger man zipped his jacket up, enclosing the little girl in its warmth and started back toward the house. Blair was concerned that carrying the additional weight was too much of a burden for the damaged body, but Jim gently shook his head when he whispered an offer to carry the child. It took them almost an hour and a half to reach the cottage. Once inside, Jim gently deposited his bundle on the couch and wrapped her in a soft, flannel blanket. “Wait right here, princess, and I’ll start our hot chocolate. Okay?” Large brown eyes blinked tiredly at him, eliciting a warm smile, and he ran a gentle hand across her forehead, before moving into the kitchen.

“Chief, would you put some milk onto boil, please?” He asked, reaching for the phone.

Blair was startled, deep into his game of Go Fish with Hillary, when Jim came out of his chair and moved toward the door. He opened it before there was a knock. Moments later the room filled with people, including the large man who had blocked their way at the diner. He grabbed the little girl off the couch.

A petite red head stood by the door, softly thanking the ex-cop for finding her daughter, while the man headed out the door, holding his daughter tightly. The Sheriff turned to Ellison and smiled. “Something told me I better check in with you. Once I mentioned the lake, her mother admitted it was a favorite place they both had for walks. We just didn’t think she’d get this far. Thanks again, Jim. It’s going to be really cold tonight. Hillary’s lucky you were here.”

After the sheriff and his posse were gone, Jim moved slowly to the kitchen. “I know it’s late, Chief, but I’m going to heat up some beef stew. You interested?” The two men sat wearily at the table, eating quietly.

“There’s a guest room if you’d like to spend the night. It’s pretty late…” Jim trailed off, his attention on the dishes in the sink.

“Thanks, man, I wasn’t looking forward to the drive back into town.” Blair settled in under the warm quilt and closed his eyes; sure he’d be asleep before he finished the thought.

^^^^^

“NOOOOO! NOT DANNY! NOOOO!”

“Jim, Jim come on, wake up. It’s okay, you’re home and you’re safe. Come on, man, wake up. It’s a nightmare. You’re okay.”

Jim woke to find himself staring into worried blue eyes. Sandburg sat on the bed, hands on both shoulders, talking softly. Once he realized he had an attentive audience, he smiled softly. “Hey, Big Guy, glad you’re awake. You with me?”

“Yeah…” Jim shuddered as the last of the nightmare left him. “Need to pee,” he finished, rising awkwardly from the bed and moving toward the bathroom. He returned to his room, after Jim shooed him out.

Blair settled back into his now cold bed, pulling the quilt tightly around him and slipping back into sleep.

^^^^^

His eyes jerked open and his mind struggled to figure out where he was. It was the jungle…he’d done some traveling in his youth with his mother and had been in the jungles of South America. A noise startled him, and he followed it. It was clear that someone or something was in trouble. He began to run. He stopped short at the edge of a clearing when his eyes found a black panther, his sleek body dripping with blood as he fought against the chains that bound him to a large rock. The panther turned to face him - ice blue eyes begging for help.

^^^^^

He woke in the guest room to the smell of fresh coffee. He smiled broadly when he came back from the shower to find a cup of the strong coffee set on a coaster on the bureau. After breakfast he drove back to town, his mind whirling.

He returned late that afternoon, carrying two grocery bags. “Hey Jim, I thought you might like a home cooked meal that you didn’t have to cook.”

After dinner, they took their coffee into the living room and got comfortable. “Jim…I have a couple of questions…you took a huge risk following the bird waste in the water, and I don’t think you would have risked Danny’s life on a hunch. But there wasn’t time for the lab to have broken down the water content. And the feather you found in the bathtub – that wasn’t in the report anywhere.”

The blue eyes iced over as the bigger man sat eerily still; his knuckles white from clenching the arms of the chair.

“In the diner, you heard those guys coming and that’s why you were in such a hurry to leave, wasn’t it? And when we were looking for that little girl, you didn’t need a light, even though it was pitch black by the time we found her. Man, you found her by smell, didn’t you?”

The silence in the room was overwhelming. The profiler figured he was already in way over his head so he just kept going. “Jim, I talked to an old anthropology professor of mine from Arizona State today. There were only so many psych courses I could stomach at any one time…Anyway, I remembered him telling us about Sir Richard Burton – the explorer, not the actor – and this book he wrote on Sentinels. It’s a case of genetics; you know…it’s unusual to find someone with all five senses enhanced, though. Okay it’s downright rare, but there are a lot of people with one or two…I didn’t tell him about you, but he reminded me that Burton wrote that all Sentinels have a Guide, someone to watch out for them, help them control their senses and to make sure they don’t zone. That’s what happened at the library, isn’t it? You were so focused on the design in the book that you got lost in it.”

Jim finally looked directly at him, and Blair couldn’t tell what he was thinking, which was fine with the older man. He’d zoned on the profiler's heartbeat at the library, but he had no intention of admitting it.

“I think I’m your guide,” Blair continued, his voice gentle. “A couple of weeks before I came up here, I started having dreams about a black panther in trouble. Last night, I found the panther chained to rocks in the jungle. He was bleeding.”

Blue eyes widened imperceptivity.

“I want to help you, Jim. Please let me.”

The bigger man struggled out of his chair, leaning heavily on his cane to steady his body, “I don’t need any help, Sandburg.”

“Yeah, right. You’re doing so well here, living your hermit lifestyle. You’re a protector, man, born and bred. It’s in your DNA…this,” he flung his arms wide to further emphasize his sarcasm, “hiding here doesn’t allow you to protect anyone, except maybe yourself. I never would have taken you for a coward, Ellison.”

“Get out.” It came out as a growl.

“Danny was your guide.”

“No! He was my little brother, and I was supposed to protect him. He died because I failed. After Lash and I…after Lash left me on the floor, I could hear Danny’s heart…it was beating so fast… I tried to climb back up to him… god, I heard his heart stop…Coroner said it was the drug, his body couldn’t handle it. I lay there and listened to him die. It should have been me,” he whispered, his voice so full of anguish that Blair took a step toward him. “I heard Lash tell him that he’d come to the loft looking for me. Danny's roommate had company and he was staying with me for two days - two lousy days...I was the one Lash meant to kill.”

“Jim…Lash killed Danny, you weren’t responsible...”

“Yes! Yes, I was. You don’t understand! Everyone I care about…” He turned and moved to the fireplace, leaning heavily against the mantle.

The tinny ring of a cell phone sent the profiler digging into his backpack to find the phone. After a brief conversation, he returned it to its pocket. “Jim, man…look they think Lash hit in Portland last night. My team is picking me up at the airport. I gotta go, but I’ll be back. I will, Jim. Don’t think you can shut me out.”

“Be careful, Chief. Lash doesn’t care who he hurts.” Jim said softly, his eyes still closed as he rested his forehead on the mantle, just below the black stone panther.

“You be careful, too, Big Guy. We have a lot to talk about when I get back,” Blair said warmly, startling Jim with a hand on his back. “And lay off the donuts, man, they’re bad for you.” He finished with a slight smile as his comment elicited a half-hearted growl from his Sentinel. His Sentinel, wow, he was going to need a little time to get used to that idea. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, Jim. I promise.”

The older man returned to his chair after the ping of the engine in the profiler’s rental car faded away. It went against all his protective instincts to let the man walk out of his house, but Blair was not his…and even if he wanted him to be, it would be unfair to saddle him with a cripple. “Just remember to be careful, Chief, please.”

Every mile he put between himself and his Sentinel increased his sense of unease. He just felt wrong to leave the man behind. He shook his head as he pulled up in front of the small motel and dashed in to gather his stuff. Two hours later he was seated on the small, private jet headed for Portland with this team, head buried in the new case file.

^^^^^

The next day, after reviewing the scene and going over the autopsy findings with the coroner, the profiler was sure this was not Lash. Too many things were missing, things that he knew about from talking to Jim. He was working to convince his team that this was at best a copy cat, when Mac joined them in the small interrogation room they were using. The look on his face brought the room to silence.

“Sandburg’s right, this isn’t Lash. I just got off the phone with the sheriff in Prospect. He was standing in the ruins of Jim Ellison’s living room." Blair came out of his chair, knocking it over in the process. "Seems he had an appointment to look at some of Ellison’s jewelry. When he got there the door was off its hinges, and the place had been trashed. Ellison didn’t go without a fight,” he finished, his eyes on the profiler.

“It’s Lash, isn’t it? He’s just been waiting for Jim…I’m so stupid. I knew I shouldn’t have left him. Oh God, Mac!”

“Blair, if we’re going to find Ellison, I need you to take a deep breath and tell me what you learned from talking to him. You’re our best hope.”

“We’ll find him, Blair,” Jamie Winters said, stepping up beside his teammate. The former special ops agent’s reassurance was backed up by the rest of his teammates as they moved toward the elevator and another plane ride.

Blair talked about his conversations with Jim, about the observations he’d been able to make 233 based on the information he’d gained from the former detective. His professional persona ran the show while the rest of him worked to stave off a panic attack. It bothered him to think that Lash had been stalking Jim the whole time he’d been with the former detective. He was the profiler; it was his job to have figured this out. He was the Guide; it was his job to protect the Sentinel.

“Don’t, Blair,” Mac said, slipping into the seat next to him. “This is totally outside his M.O. There was no way any of us could have known he was coming after Ellison.”

“I think Jim knew.” He said quietly, worried blue eyes looking at his boss.

“He knew?”

“Maybe he didn’t know-know, but I think he figured it would happen eventually. He told me Lash had been after him the night he took Choi. Ellison had stayed to work out, and Choi, who was only staying with him for a few days, was at his loft making dinner. Lash fully expected to find Jim.”

^^^^^

Blair steeled himself before entering Ellison’s house, knowing it was now a crime scene. He reverently picked the stone panther out of the fireplace, where it had fallen, and placed it back on the mantel, gently brushing the ashes off as he did so. He stared at the stone beast for several minutes before turning to face the room. “Sheriff, where's the biggest pond around here with ducks?”

Coughlin frowned at the seemingly off the wall question. “There are two; Penny’s Pond and Milo’s. Penny’s is about seven miles from here, at the edge of the old Penny farm. There’s a small flock that lives there most of the year. The kids feed them bread crumbs. It’s right on the main road into town and has as much traffic as anyplace around here gets. Milo’s is off a dead end road about twelve miles south of here. It was part of an old railroad yard complex. There are still a couple of buildings there, and the locals will tell you it’s a good place to hunt at the beginning of duck season.”

Blair turned to look at the stone panther. “He took him to Milo’s. He’ll put him in one of the buildings to explain what he’s going to do and drug him. Then he’ll drown him in the pond before he brings him back here. We need to go, now!”

“Sandburg, wait!” Mac ordered. “You willing to bet Ellison’s life on this hunch?”

“Jim learned from Lash’s father that he’d had a duck, Homer, when he was little. Lash strangled the duck and kept it for several months – his first trophy. Jim found a feather in Susan Frasier’s tub, and they had water from all three victims that contained bird waste, so Jim followed it to its logical conclusion. Lash is desperate to complete his ritual because he isn’t whole without it. He plans to drown Jim just like he did with every victim but Choi, and he’s going to do it at Milo’s. You can check out Penny’s if you want, but I’m going to Milo’s.”

The Sheriff looked at the assorted people standing amid the remains of the once orderly living room. “I’ll take Dr. Sandburg. He’s following Jim’s theory. It worked last time; let’s hope his luck holds.” Mac and Jamie joined them in the Sheriff’s SUV while the rest of the team headed for Penny’s with two deputies.

^^^^^

Jim opened his eyes to a dusty, wooden ceiling. He had hoped the view would be different then the last three times he'd checked, but this nightmare clearly wasn’t going away. He wore heavy shackles and lay on a table in an abandoned building. His bad leg was complaining about its position, sending stabs of pain rocketing through his body. He took a deep breath to try and focus on easing the pain, just as the Chopec Shaman had taught him in Peru. The small sound alerted his captor, and Lash’s deranged face appeared above him in the dim light.

“So good of you to join me. I’ve waited a long time for this. I’m ready to be Detective James Ellison, Cop of the Year, Army hero.”

Lash’s laugh sent shivers through his captive. “Sorry to disappoint you, Lash, but I’m not a detective anymore. You made damn sure of that.”

“Not to worry, you will be again. I’ll see to that. I’ll make a great detective, don’t you agree?”

“Not without the senses.”

“The senses?”

That’s right, Ellison, he thought to himself, keep him off balance as long as you can. Not that anybody’s going to miss you and come looking, but the longer it takes him, the more clues he’ll leave behind. So Soldier, keep your head and drag this out as long as possible. It’s the only way to ensure someone finally catches the sick son of a bitch.

“Yeah, the senses. I’m a Sentinel.” At the blank look he received, he smiled. “So much for your research skills, Lash. I have heightened senses, all five. How else do you explain my finding you last time?”

“Stop it! You’re just making this up. You, you’re...I'm Detective James Ellison, me. Born in Cascade Washington to William and Grace. I have a younger brother, Steven.”

“Yeah, you’re skills as a sibling suck. After all, you made sure Jimmy didn’t live to see six.”

“Shut up!”

“Sorry, Lash, but if you want to be me, you’ve got more homework to do. You’re not even close.”

“I, I will be…I am a good Jim Ellison.”

Jim asked him a question in Quechua and laughed when he got a blank look in return. “What? You don’t speak Quechua? Surely your research covered the 18 months I spent in the jungles of Peru with the Chopec.”

“Stop it! Just stop it!” Lash backhanded the helpless man hard enough to send him off the table and crashing to the ground. Jim ooffed as he hit the old wooden floor hard, head first. But he smiled as his eyes slid shut, David Lash could kill him, but that didn’t mean he’d make it easy for him.

^^^^^

The Sheriff stopped the SUV halfway down the dirt road leading to the old rail yard. Blair was shocked to see a black panther peer at him over its shoulder before disappearing into the woods. “Hang on, Jim,” he whispered, “I’m coming.”

There were three buildings in the small rail yard, each in various stages of disrepair. The Sheriff looked knowingly at the profiler. “It’s alright, Dr. Sandburg. I trust your gut. Pick a building.”

A sliver of black tail disappearing into the building furthest away decided for him. “The last one,” he said, pulling out his gun.

As they crested the staircase on the second floor, their attention was caught by the sound of something heavy hitting the floor. Jamie crouched low and moved quickly down the dark, littered hallway, with the profiler right behind him. Blair wasn’t sure what happened when asked about it later. He remembered following Jamie into a dark room lit only by flickering candles, and seeing Lash bending over the body, the drug in his hand. Mac told him later that he’d growled loudly, forcing Lash’s attention away from his intended victim.

The next thing he did remember was kneeling beside Jim on the floor. He shivered when the hand he put behind the unconscious man’s head came back bloody. “Hey, Ellison, this is a hell of way to spend your free time,” he whispered before looking up to find the Sheriff standing over him. “Please, help me get these chains off him! He needs an ambulance.”

^^^^^^^

“He’s been knocked around pretty hard. I’ve made some calls. There’s not a lot that can be done to counteract the drug – I’m hesitant to try anything because it could be a case of the cure being worse than the disease. He’s got a concussion, a couple of broken ribs, and I’ve bandaged up his wrists – the chains did some real damage.”

“May I sit with him…please?” Blair asked, looking decidedly uneasy. The doctor saw the Sheriff nod and led the smaller man into an ICU room.

“Hey, Jim. You did good, man. Real good. We got Lash, and he’s going away for a long, long time." He sat down next to the bed and carefully took a lax hand in both of his. “I’m sorry I left…I should have figured out he’d come back. I mean, I’m the freaking profiler. But you knew, didn’t you? Well, Mister, you and I are going to have a talk when you wake up. If you’d told me, I could have…hell, Jim, I don’t know what I could have done; what I would have done. Probably I wouldn’t have believed you…I don’t know. Please wake up. You’re scaring me. I need to know you’re alright. And we need to talk about the panther. I know he’s yours.”

He talked for close to four hours with no reaction; his fingers gently caressing and massaging the palm of the hand he held. A nurse tried to kick him out at one point, and he raised his voice when she didn’t give up. “Leave him alone,” the harsh whisper startled both of them.

“Jim? How do you feel?” Blair ran a gentle hand down his arm.

“Chief…”

“You did good, Big Guy, real good. Lash won’t be seeing daylight ever again. How are your senses?”

“Muted.”

“Don’t worry; the doc said the drug might slow things down. We were too late to stop him from giving you a pretty hefty dose.”

“Thanks for coming for me, Chief.” Jim dropped back to sleep, and Blair settled happily into the chair.

Early the next morning, Jim asked Blair to take him home. When the profiler refused, the patient turned his head away. "Too loud. The smells are…they're too much, and the dirt - I can see the germs, please."

"I think it's too soon for you to go home, but I'll help you with your senses. Now, I want you to breathe with me, in and out...that's it and again. Okay, picture a stereo console with six buttons. Each one controls a different sense. Find the one for smell. Now, I want you to turn it down, slowly. That's right, just move it down a notch at a time. Better?" He received a slight nod, "Okay, now find the button for sight and let's do the same thing." Thirty minutes later the patient was asleep, the lines of pain gone from his forehead.

The next morning, Jim was released from the hospital, and Blair drove him home. He could feel the man tense up as they pulled into his driveway. "Big Guy, it’s okay. You have a lot of friends in this town. Hannah, Hillary’s mom and some others showed up yesterday and helped clean the place up. Probably not to your standards, at least according to the Sheriff, who is under the impression that you are somewhat anal when it comes to housekeeping," and he smiled at the indignant humph that comment elicited.

Jim settled into the large leather chair and slid down into its comfort. When Blair tried to get him to go to bed, he refused. "The chair's easier on the back and hip sometimes. I spent a lot of time in it when I first got out of rehab. I'll be fine." Blair brought him a comforter and two pillows before retiring for the night. Jim closed his eyes as soon as his breathing fell in sync with the slow and steady heartbeat in the guest room.

The next morning the profiler found his Sentinel struggling to stand up. "Easy, man, just let me help," he soothed as he stepped in front of the chair and placed his hands on the slim waist. Jim put a hand on each shoulder, and, together, they got him up. When the big head settled gently on his shoulder, Blair slipped his arms around the broad back and smiled to himself as a shuddering sigh shook the body before muscular arms encircled him. They held their embrace for several minutes before Jim tentatively stepped back. "Thanks, Chief," he whispered before limping out of the room.

Blair realized, watching him leave the room, that getting his Sentinel to accept him would be an all out war. So he spent the next few days touching the man whenever he could, invading his personal space every chance he got. He saw the battle being fought behind the ice blue eyes and threw every weapon in his arsenal at it, because he couldn't image his life if he didn't win the war.

^^^^^

Jim bitched and moaned about lying down on the exercise mat, just like he had for the past four days, but gave in when the threat was levied to take him back to the hospital for his PT. He took the offered help to get to the floor, where he lay taut, wearing only a pair of grey flannel shorts. Blair took a bottle of lightly scented oil and gently began to massage the long, lean legs. Once he'd gotten to the thigh on each leg, he helped Jim lift first the left and then the right leg up. They did ten reps each before he scooped up some more oil and continued his massage. He heard the slight catch in Jim's breath as his hands ghosted under the soft flannel shorts to gently rub his inner thighs, smiling as the muscular legs spread wider. He took it as the only invitation he was going to get. So his hands abandoned the legs and moved up to the tight abs. He kept his eyes glued to Jim's as he massaged the smooth chest. The gasp he earned for rubbing a palm over the left nipple made him smile. He could see the heat in the eyes below him, and he moved his hands back down to the waistband.

"Blair?" It was a soft question.

"I need you, Jim," he responded, as he slipped the shorts down the long legs and cast them aside. "God, you're beautiful," he whispered reverently. A hand ghosted over the erect and leaking cock, and a finger skimmed lightly over the tip, dipping into the pre-cum. "Taste yourself for me," he ordered, his finger running over the slightly parted lips. Jim's tongue swirled obediently over the finger.

Blair straddled the hips and moved his body slowly up until his knees were on either side of Jim's head. "Taste me." He pulled his cock out and held the tip just above the now open mouth. Jim's tongue swirled across the head. Blair pulled back and leaned over, his tongue demanding entrance. His kiss was long, hard, and predatory. He lifted his head only when the lack of oxygen threatened. His hands caressed both cheeks before scooting back and dragging his leaking cock slowly down the chest, marking his territory by leaving his scent in a trail of precum around each nipple and across the sculpted abdomen.

His right hand rubbed small circles around Jim's belly button for a moment before grasping his cock. "I want to see you come, and I want you looking at me so you know who is making you come. You will come for your Guide, Sentinel, and only for your Guide." He whispered as he started stroking the long cock; his hand tightening as he quickened the pace. "Eyes open, Sentinel," he ordered almost losing himself in the deep blue wells before pulling back to watch the muscular body arch up in surrender as he milked it of its seed.

When Jim opened his eyes again, it was to the sensation of a rough tongue. Blair was working to clean his chest of his seed. Sensing he was being watched, he looked up and smiled. "My Sentinel," he purred.

"My Guide," Jim whispered, finally giving in to the inevitable. He could hear the Chopec Shaman telling him, after the Ranger unit arrived, that while he might go years without a guide, his guide would find him and when he did, they would bond. The Shaman had held Jim's chin tightly and looked deep into the sad blue eyes. "And when he finds you, Enqueri, you will know him. Do not turn him away. He is your destiny just as you are his."

Blair stood and quickly undressed, his cock proud and erect against his stomach. “So beautiful, My Guide.” Jim’s voice was husky. Blair’s hands began to play across his chest, one tweaking his nipples so they stood out against the swirling hair, the other running carelessly over his cock.

“Mine,” Blair proclaimed as he moved to stand over his prone lover. “Only mine.” He twisted his fist twice, covering Jim with his seed. “Marked,” Blair said as soon as he could speak again. “Marked and Mine.”

Jim simply smiled as he slipped his hand into the warm cum and brought it to his mouth. “Yours.”

Blair helped him up and over to the fireplace; placing his hands on the mantle to brace him. He stood behind his Sentinel, hands running restlessly up the broad back and down the muscular chest. He wet a finger on his mate’s cum covered chest, and slipped it into Jim’s small, hidden pucker. The bigger man tensed, only to relax when a kiss was placed on his shoulder. After making sure he was well stretched, Blair carefully pushed his recovered cock past the guardian ring and slid home. His arms clutched the trembling body tightly as he started to move.

He ran a hand over the cock of his mate once before issuing an order. "You will come on my cock, Sentinel. You will come for me." He slammed home three more times, hitting the prostate with each pass before yelling, "Come now!" Jim threw his head back and roared as he spurted into the fire place at the same time his Guide's hot seed filled him. He held the mantle tightly as Blair slumped against him, spent. And he moaned his loss as the deflated cock slipped out, severing their connection.

Turning into welcoming arms, he initiated a kiss that had them both half hard a few minutes later. His Guide led him to the couch and crawled into his lap. Jim took the opportunity to run his hands possessively over the hairy chest, chuckling when he found the almost hidden nipple ring. The chuckles turned into a groan of need when his nimble fingers pulled on the ring and his Guide thrust into his hand, begging for more. "My Guide," he said hoarsely a few minutes later before he took a sweet nipple into his mouth. He felt precum leaking down between them, mixing with their sweat.

"Only yours, My Sentinel. Bond me," Blair begged, raising himself up on his knees, one finger working eagerly to ready his passage. He carefully lowered himself onto the thick cock, his head thrown back, his chest arched as he took each inch slowly into his body. His Sentinel took advantage of the bared throat and marked his Guide as his cock was slowly devoured. Fully connected, Jim used his hands and his tongue to touch, nip and lick every inch of the man he was now inside. He felt whole...

"Move, Guide," he finally ordered, torn between the need for completion and the desire to prolong the moment. Blair settled a hand on each shoulder and rose up so the cock head was barely inside him before slamming back down. Both men moaned their pleasure, and the pace increased. It wasn't until Jim slipped a hand between their sweaty bodies and grabbed the cock, whispering into his Guide's ear, "Open your eyes and come for me, Guide." That tripped Blair tripped over the edge, and he took his companion with him.

When the profiler opened his eyes again, he found himself cuddled against the broad, naked chest of his Sentinel, covered with a soft blanket. He looked up into a smile that made his stomach flip from the love, want and warmth it held and returned the smile in kind. Jim dipped his head and kissed him gently before resuming their cuddle.

They slept wrapped in each other and made love slowly the next morning, taking the time to learn the other’s body. At dinner, Blair broached the next subject. "I need to go back to Quantico," and he stopped at the sudden paleness of the face across the table. "I want you to come with me," he hurried onward. "Mac says I need a partner who can keep me out of trouble and with your background and your abilities, you’ll be a walking crime lab! We'd be a hell of a team."

"I can't," Jim said, eyes intent on the meatloaf in front of him.

"You don't have to chase bad guys in my job, Jim. We just put the pieces of the puzzle together. You were really good at that before, according to your file, and together we'd be almost unstoppable. I talked to Mac about it, and he thinks it’s a good idea. There are a couple of classes, but you can take them right at Quantico.”

“Chief…”

“Jim, I want you with me. Hell, I need you with me. We can do this, please.”

“Blair, I’m not capable of being a cop anymore.”

“Stop it! You’ve let David Lash cripple not just your body but your mind! Why are you letting him win? Why? There’s nothing wrong with your eyes, your ears, your nose. You can still walk, and it’s not like I’m going to ask you to leap any tall buildings or anything. You can do this, Jim, but you have to want it; you have to want me.” He had risen from his seat and leaned across the table to make his point. Now he sat back down forcibly; dejected. It hadn’t really crossed his mind that his Sentinel wouldn’t come with him. Jim cleared the table and did the dishes. Blair remained at the table, his eyes locked on his clenched hands.

“We could keep this place; use it for vacations – a place to get away,” Jim said as he put the last coffee cup into the drainer.

Blair’s head shot up. “You’re sure?”

“When do we leave?”

^^^^^^

A week passed before they flew to Quantico on the small jet assigned to his team a week later. They’d used the time to learn about each other. They talked about their childhoods, their college days, the girls they’d dated. Jim talked about the Army, about losing his unit, and he talked freely, for the first time, about his time with the Chopec. Blair talked about losing his best friend to a serial killer at the age of 9, and his mother’s worldly travels while he and his Dad stayed home. He talked about excelling in school and being the youngest in his college class, his mentor, and the FBI seeking him out. And they shared Sir Richard Burton’s book on Sentinels. Blair had convinced his old anthropology professor to send him a copy.

When they landed at Quantico, there was a message telling Blair to report to Mac, and a driver to take Jim to the house. Blair gave his partner a quick kiss and headed for his car. Jim settled into the back of the sedan, his thoughts on how his life was about to change.

At the house, the driver helped him with the luggage, and he sighed as he closed the door, tired, but eager to survey his new home. As he moved toward what he guessed was the kitchen, he was hit from behind by a baseball bat. He toppled to the floor.

^^^^^

Blair bounced into Mac’s office to be met with one of his boss’s classic ‘what the hell are you doing here’ stares. “I got a message to report directly here.”

“I didn’t send any message, Blair. I figured I’d give you a couple of days to get settled and for Ellison to do his paperwork. Where is he, by the way?”

“But there was a car waiting to take him home.” The uneasy silence that fell was broken when Jamie burst into the office moments later.

“Lash is loose! Seems some genius thought it would be a good idea to bring him here to be studied, and he escaped three days ago while in transit. They just told us a few minutes ago. Blair, where’s Ellison?” He finished, taking in the pale face of the profiler.

“Call him, Blair!” Mac ordered, picking up his own phone and calling for backup.

“He’s not answering his cell, and I’m getting a busy signal on my home phone.” They were halfway to the parking lot by this time, followed by four other agents. “How could he have known?”

“We’ll figure that out later. Let’s just get him and put an end to this once and for all.” Mac said, shoving him into the SUV.

Jim’s eyes gazed wearily at the design on the Oriental rug, trying to figure out why he was on the floor. His attempt to move was cut off by the clink of chain and his entire body stiffened. His forehead fell back to the rug and he took a deep breath, willing his senses to work. They’d been turned down for the plane flight, way down, and now the only thing he could feel was a throbbing pain in his neck and shoulders.

“So now I guess I’m Special Agent Ellison. That’s even better,” a voice hit his ears as he was rolled onto his back. He shuddered as he looked into the cold eyes of David Lash.

“Damn you, Lash, just leave me alone,” he muttered, his brain still too scattered to understand the significance of his situation.

“No. I’m a Special Agent now and I always get my man…or is that the Mounties, oh well, doesn’t matter. I’ve got my man, and now, I’m going to take him. Need to get in some practice so I don’t disappoint my partner, Dr. Sandburg, later tonight.”

“NO!” Jim roared as he struggled into a sitting position - the threat to his Guide clearing his brain. Lash laughed and pushed him roughly back to the floor. Jim attempted to roll away; the burn of the rug on his body cluing him into the fact that he was naked, except for the heavy chains. He lay panting on the floor trying to quell his panic as Lash manhandled him to his feet and dropped him, chest first, onto a wide pine table.

^^^^^

Blair leaned forward in the back seat, as though his motion could force the car to go faster. They had a caravan of three SUVs, and with the lights and sirens wailing were making good time, but he could feel his Sentinel’s confusion and fear, and it scared him. “Please, please, please, be alright,” he whispered over and over again as the scenery flashed by.

^^^^^

“Now be a good boy for Jimmy. I want to make sure I get this right. Wouldn’t want my Blair to think I’d forgotten how to please a man.” Focusing every ounce of anger he could muster, Jim managed to rear back, his head butting against his captor’s. It left him dazed, and he dropped heavily back onto the table.

“Not a nice thing to do,” Lash muttered as he took the leather belt from Jim’s discarded pants and lashed out across the smooth back and thighs in front of him. “You really should be nicer to me.”

Jim struggled to turn down the dial on his sense of touch, but the bite of the leather into his back didn’t allow him to maintain focus long enough to do so. The sound of a zipper set him off, and he managed to roll himself off the table, dropping to the floor. His efforts to crawl away were met with derisive laughter and several more lashes from the belt.

Jim realized he was bent over the table again as he came to, and roared out his anger and pain. A dish cloth was stuffed in his mouth, and he focused his senses inward, unwilling to react to anything else that was going to happen to him. This was between a Sentinel and a Guide, a man and his mate…letting Lash take him ruined all he had just found. He felt nothing as he drifted into the zone, except sadness that his Guide would be the one to find him.

^^^^^

Blair jerked upright as he heard the roar of the cornered panther. “Faster, Mac, please, he’s hurting him,” he begged, earning him strange looks from his teammates.

^^^^^

Lash pushed the unconscious man off the table and zipped up his pants. He moved into the living room to retrieve the drug necessary to continue his ritual when the front and back doors were kicked in. He was tackled and handcuffed before he could react.

“Jim! Jim! Oh no,” Blair’s cry alerted the others, and they found him in the kitchen on his knees, gently stroking his partner’s head. “Oh god, no,” he whispered over and over again as he took in the bloody back and ass, “oh god, no.”

“Blair, the ambulance is on the way, and we’re going to get the chains off, okay?” Mac said as he knelt beside his profiler. “Sandburg! You’re partner needs you right now, you can fall apart later.” The roughness of the voice covered the fear in the team leader’s eyes. There was only so much even a strong man could take, and Ellison - he’d already endured more than most.

It wasn’t until they were in the ambulance that Blair realized the problem. His Sentinel had zoned, and the ER doctors were not going to understand that particular condition so he had to do something now to bring his Sentinel back or he could lose him. He bent over the closed face, soothing the pain lines with his fingers. He started talking softly so the EMTs couldn’t hear him; begging, pleading and finally ordering his stubborn Sentinel to return to him. He bent closer so Jim could smell his hair – the Sentinel had mentioned he loved the exotic scent of his Guide’s shampoo and bragged he could find him in a crowd, simply by following it. His fingers brushed lovingly through the unconscious man’s short hair “Come on, man. Don’t do this to me. Please, Jim, I need you. Your Guide needs you. Your partner needs you. Your lover needs you. Please, Jim, come back to me.”

“ETA is two.” The driver shouted back.

“Come on, man. You need to wake up now! Sentinel!” Blair demanded softly as he rested his forehead on his partner’s. A sudden intake of breath brought his head up as wounded blue eyes slit open. “I got you, Jim. Just stay with me,” he said softly.

“Lash!”

“He won’t hurt you ever again. I promise. Never.” He vowed fiercely, his fingers ghosting over a bruised cheek. “We’ll be at the hospital in a few minutes. I’ll do my best to stay with you, okay?”

“Too late,” he said as his eyes closed. “I couldn’t stop him, too late.”

Despite his best efforts, and those of his boss, Blair was not allowed to stay with his partner. Mac commandeered a small lounge, using his badge, and kept the profiler there. He made sure one of his teammates was always with him. When it was his turn to keep watch, he took a seat across from the silent man. “Blair, at one point in the car you begged us to hurry, you said Lash was hurting Jim. You and Jim, you’re connected somehow, aren’t you?”

The worried blue eyes looked carefully into dark green ones. “Jim is a Sentinel – a natural born protector. He’s essentially genetically engineered to have enhanced senses – all five of them. He can see further, hear more, find one person in a room of 1000 by the smell of their shampoo and tell by touch whether the ashes left in a fire are from wood or plastic. I’m his Guide. My job is to protect him, and keep him from zoning. A Sentinel zones when he’s too focused on one sense.”

Mac leaned back in his chair. “When did you figure all this out?”

“Not really sure. First time I saw him I felt…something. And every time I returned to my motel, I worried about leaving him alone. I finally figured it out just before we went to Portland. He knew, but he wasn’t going to tell me. He thought…the stupid idiot doesn’t think he deserves to have a guide!” He was out of the chair, arms waving. “He is the most stubborn, hard headed…” He stopped just as suddenly as he’d started. “Damn it, Mac. I love him, and I know that what Lash did…he thinks I don’t want him anymore. What am I going to do?”

“What you do best, Blair. Talk to him and keep talking to him until he listens. I have yet to meet the person who hasn’t eventually caved under a Sandburg verbal assault.” That earned him a grin.

“Jim, I know you’re awake. You can’t hide from me forever. I mean this Sentinel-Guide thing works both ways.” Blair lifted himself onto the side of the small hospital bed, 32 hours later, and smiled down at his Sentinel. “Oh, scary…sorry, man, but your glare needs a little work. Maybe Mac will give you lessons.” And he laughed at the insulted look that crossed his mate’s face.

“Hey, I’m supposed to call the doc when you wake up, but I want to talk to you first.”

“Chief?”

“As soon as he says so, we’re so out of here.”

“I can’t...”

“Oh yes you can, Ellison. You are mine, and you will be mine for the next 80 or 90 years. We have a lifetime contract. There is no way you’re getting out of this one, buddy. No way.”

“Blair, he…” The blue eyes closed.

“I know, Jim, I know. But it doesn’t matter. You are mine, just as I am yours. That’s all that matters to me.”

“I don’t think...”

“You don’t have to. I’ll take care of that for a little bit, until you’re feeling better. If you need someone to talk to, we’ll find the right person. Make no mistake; you’re my brass ring, James Ellison. I’ll take you anyway I can get you.”

“You mean that, don’t you?” The wonder in the blue eyes saddened the younger man, as he remembered that few people in his partner’s life had stuck with him when the going got tough. His fingers stroked tenderly across the mottled cheek bone.

“Wouldn’t say it if I didn’t. So what do you say I call the doc, and we get a progress report? Then we’ll start making plans to bust you out of here.”

“Blair, I don’t…I’m not sure I can…I”

“Jim, do you love me?”

“Yes.” The blue eyes were suddenly focused.

“And you know I love you?”

“Yes.”

“Then we’ll figure the rest out as we go. I promise.”

“Yours,” Jim whispered; the barest hint of a smile playing across his face before he fell asleep.

“Mine.” Blair agreed, one hand wiping the tear making its way down his cheek. “Always mine.”

The end

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Acknowledgements: Mamacat assures me my ‘twist’ works, and since she was kind enough to be my beta, I know she actually read the whole thing. Thank you to PeterNeverland for the lovely artwork.