Connections - Lyn
Jim had been dreaming of another sentinel for several days now, but these dreams were unlike the nightmares he’d suffered when Alex had come to Cascade, no terrifying visions of shooting the wolf, shooting Blair. There was none of the impending sense of doom he’d felt back then, though he still felt his primal territoriality surging. If anything, this presence felt benevolent, protective.
He hadn’t mentioned the dreams to Sandburg yet. The legacies of the other sentinel were still burned deep into their memories, and now that things were finally settling back into a comfortable routine, Jim was loathe to break the status quo. He’d have to tell him if they continued, he knew. If he had learned one lesson from Alex, it was to trust his partner.
He knew Blair had been watching him, his forehead creased into a thoughtful frown each time Jim’s anger and impatience bubbled to the surface over some slight, real or imagined.
Blair had asked what was bothering him, couching his questions innocuously enough, and Jim had brushed him off with casual comments about too much work and not enough relaxation, but Jim knew Blair was puzzled… and worried. He had a right to be, Jim thought. The last time Jim had dreamed of another sentinel, Blair had died.
Blair knew something was wrong. Jim had been tired and irritable for several days now. Snapping at colleagues and the general public alike, storming into the bullpen like a tornado, irate when Blair had borrowed his notebook to write down the new clerk’s phone number.
Blair was worried, but Jim wasn’t talking. They both needed some time off. They’d been pushed to their limits investigating a series of jewel robberies that had left two security guards dead. One had been an old friend of Jim’s from his Academy days. He’d been unable to stand the stress of the force and had opted to take an easier job. Jim had beaten himself up for days over the man’s death because he’d found the security job for his friend.
Simon had promised them a long weekend off once they got the case sewn up. A long weekend for Jim at least. Blair still had his teaching and studying commitments at the university to consider. Then a break in the case gave them an unexpected evening off and Blair suggested going to see a movie. Rather surprisingly, Jim agreed with alacrity.
Jim sighed in exasperation as the phone rang just as he was about to shut the apartment door. Blair pushed past him, patting him on the shoulder as he did so. “I got it. I got it. Chill out, big guy.”
“If it’s another prank call…” Jim began threateningly as he leaned up against the door and waited.
“Hello? Hello?” After a pause, Blair shook his head and returned the receiver to its cradle. “Right again, Jim. You know, you could get a trace put on the line,” he said as he hurried down the stairs behind his partner.
“For a couple of kids who’ve got nothing better to do, I don’t think so, Chief.” Jim held the lobby door open as Blair ducked under his arm.
“I guess you’re right. I don’t know, kids these days.” Blair spoke in an uncanny imitation of an old man and Jim couldn’t help but smile. Halfway to the car, Jim stopped, tilting his head, his nostrils flaring as he caught the hint of a vaguely familiar scent. “Jim?” Blair prodded.
Jim raised a hand in a silencing gesture and Blair took heed instantly. “I smelled something,” Jim said. “It seemed familiar.” He shook his head in exasperation. “It’s still there but getting farther away.” Jim looked up the street as he spoke and Blair followed his gaze.
Stepping closer to the sentinel, he placed one hand on Jim’s arm. “Try piggybacking your sight onto smell.” At Jim’s look of astonishment, Blair shrugged. “It works with sight and sound. Come on, give it a shot.”
Jim nodded and focused on the elusive scent, determinedly blocking out Blair’s herbal shampoo and aftershave and the tantalizing aroma from the bakery next door. Finding the odor again, Jim attempted to send his sight in the same direction, concentrating on dialing it up and going past the little grocery store at the end of the street, across the road, into the mouth of the alleyway to the far end.
He registered Blair’s voice faintly as he struggled to pull his vision back and refocus. Shaking himself from his fugue, he gasped and raised his hands to massage his pounding temples.
“Jim! You all right?”
Jim took a slower, deep breath and blew it out before answering. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just overdid it.”
“Your control’s a little shaky, man.” Blair rubbed Jim’s forearm, his brow creased in thought. “We should really spend the weekend fine-tuning your piggyback skills.”
“Not this weekend!”
“We haven’t done anything for over a month now,” Blair protested. “No wonder you’re a little rusty. I know we’ve both been busy but this is important,” he continued, seemingly unaware of his partner’s mounting ire.
“Jesus, Sandburg, what part of no don’t you understand? Is that all you ever think about? I’m having a weekend off and I’m not going to spend it in some lab doing tests!” Jim ground out.
Blair stared at him for a moment, then began to walk up the street. He turned long enough to speak. “I got it, okay, Jim?” He turned and walked on but slowed his pace when Jim hurried after him, but did not stop until his partner reached out and grasped his arm.
“Sorry, Chief,” Jim said. “Look, not this weekend, okay? We finally got a weekend off. With everything this case has dished out, I haven’t been sleeping too well and it’s the last thing I feel like doing. I guarantee I wouldn’t be putting my best effort into it. I just want to switch off for a couple of days.” He frowned. “And you’ve got to be feeling worse than me. How many nights this week have you stayed up late, grading tests?”
“One or two.” Blair grinned ruefully at Jim’s frown. “All right, every night. You’re right. Sorry. We’re both tired. Just don’t fall asleep in the movie theater. I don’t want to spend tomorrow telling you what it was about.” Blair smiled then looked skyward. “It’s a beautiful night. Why don’t we walk?”
Jim nodded and pocketed his car keys. “Sure, why not.”
“Come on, Jim. It wasn’t that bad, was it?” Blair danced along at his partner’s side and looked up at him with a wide grin.
“I just find it real hard to follow the plot of the movie, Chief, when I have to keep looking at the sub-titles.” Skirting the puddle on the pavement, Jim shook his head in exasperation as Blair simply splashed through it. “You make sure you take those shoes off before you come into the loft tonight.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Blair looked at his wet sneakers with a bemused expression and then ran to catch up with Jim. “You see, Jim, that’s the beauty of the foreign movie. If it expresses enough through its visual performance, you don’t need the words to know what’s going on.”
“Are you telling me you could guess what was happening just by watching those ninja guys jump around like lunatics?”
“Well, no, not exactly.”
A smile played at the edges of Blair’s mouth. “I speak a little Japanese.” He ducked as Jim threw the expected cuff to the back of his head and kept walking.
The tension from their earlier argument had dissipated now and comfortable banter had returned.
Blair looked up at his partner, pleased to see the frown that had lined Jim’s forehead just a few hours earlier had smoothed out. He still looked tired though, his complexion somewhat pale, dark circles framing his blue eyes. Blair doubted he looked any better. Jim was right. This should be a weekend devoted to relaxation and leisure. They had both earned it.
Maybe he’d finally garner the courage to tell Jim how he was really feeling about their relationship these days. Perhaps the epiphany of his love for Jim had come with the drowning, at the thought of never seeing the one person he loved so much ever again, but he was pretty certain the feeling had been building for far longer than that, and maybe, dying and being brought back to life had just been the kick in the pants he needed to admit it to himself.
Could he admit it Jim though? That was a whole other question. He’d known Jim was bi from the moment he’d moved into the apartment. Jim had made no bones about his sexuality and one of the ground rules set up that first day had been that he lived his life the way he wanted. Blair had no problems with that.
Jim had always been a touchy-feely kind of guy and Blair supposed part of that stemmed from his sentinel abilities. But since Blair’s drowning, Jim’s touches and casual pats on the back had become more lingering, almost caresses. Blair supposed his wishful thinking might be reading more into the situation than it warranted, but he hoped he was wrong.
There were times when they were at home alone, that he’d catch Jim just staring at him, a small, almost secretive smile on his face that warmed Blair’s heart. He’d been sure a couple of times that Jim was going to open up and tell him he loved him, but then this case had blown everything wide open and there hadn’t been any time for small talk, let alone a heart to heart conversation about just how committing to each other might change pretty much everything they now had.
But Blair didn’t think he could hold back any longer. While Jim was free with his touches and hugs, he was about the most tight-lipped guy Blair had ever met when it came to talking about his feelings. So, he decided they’d spend the weekend at home together and hopefully, the opportunity would present itself for him to tell Jim how he felt. If not, Blair decided, only half-joking, he might just grab the guy and kiss him stupid!
Jim was already at the corner of Prospect, his pace never slowing while Blair had been lost in his reverie, and the loft was just across the street. Blair put on a spurt of speed to catch up, then stopped and gazed at the store window he was passing. He glanced at Jim's rapidly retreating back and called to him. "Hey, Jim. Wait up a minute. There's some really nice pottery here."
Jim raised a hand in acknowledgement. "I'll see you at home."
Blair stood for a few more minutes, admiring the craft work in the window and looking for a notice proclaiming shop hours. He made a mental note to return when the shop was open. Maybe he could find a gift for Naomi’s birthday the following month.
"What the hell!"
Looking up at Jim's exclamation, Blair saw him pause at the edge of the sidewalk and followed his gaze up the street toward a darkened alley but could see nothing. Jim seemed frozen to the spot though and Blair hurried toward him. "Jim? What's up?"
Jim didn't answer, his stance frighteningly still, and Blair increased his pace. Reaching the silent detective, Blair instantly recognized the signs of a zone out and cursed. He didn't waste time on wondering what might have caused Jim's lapse, realizing it was more important to get the man out of the zone before curious passers-by began to take notice. Moving around in front of him, Blair tapped Jim's cheek with his gloved hand. "Jim? Come on, man you've got to come back, big guy."
The woman turned back to face her pursuers as she heard their footsteps echo in the alleyway. Backing up as they came closer, she held out an imploring hand. "Please," she whispered, tears coursing freely down her wrinkled cheeks. "Please let me go."
"What the hell?"
The voice carried easily to her enhanced hearing and she turned toward it. It was older now but still heartbreakingly familiar. She tried to school her surprise as one of her attackers followed her gaze, his eyes registering the tall man standing at the far end of the street.
"There's someone there," the larger man hissed as the smaller of the two stepped closer to the woman, pulling a knife from his pocket as he moved.
The small man squinted at the vague shape he could see in the distance and shrugged. "He's not going to see anything from there." His eyes narrowed at the small gasp from the woman and he turned back to her. "Now, Gracie. You shouldn't have run away like you did. We can't let you go. Who knows who you might tell or who you might have already told." He raised the knife menacingly.
Gracie backed up further until a dumpster blocked her path, one hand held tightly to her mouth as though she were afraid to speak. She shook her head, her hand now reaching to grasp desperately at the tall man's, her eyes wide and pleading. "I won't tell anyone, I promise."
Her words ended abruptly as the shorter man moved closer and in one fluid motion, drove the wicked-looking blade deep into her stomach. Gracie shuddered, her own small hand closing over the knife embedded in her body, unmindful of the cuts the sharp edge inflicted on her palm as she tried futilely to wrench the agony from within her. She moaned piteously as the knife was withdrawn, then she slid slowly to the ground.
The two men watched the woman as she took a labored breath, her eyes sliding slowly back to the man in the distance, who was still standing stock-still, his face turned toward them. The taller man shuddered. It was like the guy was looking straight through them.
He started at the whisper that pushed from the dying woman's lips, then stared at his partner, the color draining from his face. "Shit, Mallory, you don't think…" He gestured helplessly at the now dead woman.
Mallory shook his head. "She's crazy, you know that, but I'm not taking any chances, Crawford. Get the car."
After several long seconds of quiet entreaties, Blair felt the slightest shudders run through Jim's body and he sighed in relief as the detective's eyes flickered momentarily. "That's it, buddy. Follow my voice. Come on back, Jim."
He heard a squeal of tires behind him and turned to stare in horror at the vehicle that sped directly at them. Without conscious thought, Blair pushed at Jim's unresponsive body, knowing even as he acted that he would be too late for both of them.
The force of the impact tossed Blair upward, the pain battering at him so forcefully he thought he would pass out just from the shock of it. He saw the ground and the sky swap places in a dizzying kaleidoscope that churned his stomach and then a second vicious collision with the hood of the car stole all coherent thought from him. His limp body rolled off the front of the car, leaving a wide smear of blood in its wake and collapsed into the gutter.
The pain that pushed him toward consciousness very nearly sent him spiraling back into merciful oblivion the moment he opened his eyes. A warm, gloved hand pressed down against his forehead as he attempted to push himself up. He tried to ask them to stop but only a wail of pain emerged from his dry throat. Matching actions to words, he tried to bat away the hands that increased his agony, only to find that his own hands were easily overwhelmed and held securely at his sides. A deep voice prodded at his consciousness and he welcomed the familiarity and struggled to obey its entreaties.
"Blair? Can you hear me? Open your eyes for me and talk to the doctors here, okay?"
Finally, his crusted eyelids cracked open and almost immediately slammed shut again against the assault of light and pain that threatened to crush his skull. Whimpering, he turned his face to one side and tried again. His eyes opened more fully this time to stare into chocolate brown ones that crinkled into a smile. "Thank God! Sandburg, how are you feeling? Can you tell the doctor where you hurt?"
"S'm'n?" The name came out mangled from lips that felt two sizes too big and he wasn't sure he understood himself, but the captain's face lit up at the attempt.
"Right here, Sandburg. Right here."
Blair panicked as Simon's face disappeared from view to be replaced by that of a woman, her eyes obscured by large goggles, a blue scrub cap sitting awry atop dark brown curls. "It's all right," she soothed. "Your friend's going to be right here. I just need to take a look at you now. Can you tell me your name and what happened to you?"
Blair felt himself become buried under the onslaught of stimulation and struggled to answer. He knew his name but the second question had quickly evaded his memory and he was confused now as to what his answer should be. The doctor leaned closer to him and placed her hand on his forehead, stroking gently. "What's your name?"
He felt an overwhelming relief that she seemed to understand his plight and some of his initial confusion abated. "Blair. Blair Sandburg," he said around a lump in his throat. He felt a hand pat his own rhythmically, somewhere out of his field of vision and he concentrated on the touch, allowing it to ground and soothe him all at once.
"That's good," the doctor replied. "Do you know what happened to you?"
The answer hit him with such terrifying force that it threatened to steal his breath and he felt himself graying out. ‘Oh God! The car!' The memory of the impact tore a pained groan from his throat and his body convulsed in a wave of agony. "Jim!"
"All right. Just try to relax. My name is Dr. Kelly. You're in the Emergency Room at Cascade General Hospital and we're going to take good care of you. There's going to be lots happening to you now, but you just let us do all the work. Okay? Blair? Open your eyes for me. Blair?"
But his eyelids were too heavy, a grey fog seeping into his mind. Blair allowed the voice to drone on as he let himself drift away. He felt something rub painfully along his breastbone and squirmed against the sensation but soon even that flittered away.
Blair's second return to consciousness was gentler than the first, when frenzied activity and a multitude of voices had surrounded him. His head throbbed distantly with an echo of pain and when he shifted to get more comfortable, a sharp shard of agony ripped up his arm.
"Easy now, easy," Simon's voice crooned soothingly from beside him and a large warm hand patted his hair back from his fevered brow.
Blair's forehead wrinkled in concern. This wasn't how it was meant to be. He felt a gnawing ache in his gut and his heart began to pound in remembered fear. "Jim!" His croaking voice sounded alien to his ears, and he struggled again against the hands that held him still. "Please," he finally gasped. "Where's Jim."
"Blair?" The sympathetic doctor from before was back. "If you get any more upset, I'll have to give you a sedative or you'll rip out those nice neat stitches I put in your arm. So, you stay calm for me and I'll explain everything to you. All right?"
“Blair?” Simon said. “Have a sip of water, all right?”
Blair nodded, absurdly grateful when a sorrowful looking Simon stood up at the bedside and offered him a drink from a paper cup. "Thanks. Sorry to be such a wuss," he whispered. "Where's Jim, Simon?"
Simon sighed deeply and sat on the edge of the bed. "First, let me tell you that Jim's alive. He's up in intensive care, but," the captain held up a hand as Blair's eyes widened and the heart monitor increased its beeping, "but the doctors are pretty sure he's going to be all right. Do you remember what happened?"
Blair felt his eyes growing heavy again and wondered if the pretty doctor had reneged on their agreement and doped him up anyway. He forced himself to concentrate on Simon's question, his brow wrinkling with the effort. "Went to a movie. Jim didn't like it. He stopped… he stopped by the road, I think he saw something, you know, saw something." Blair stressed the words to Simon, even in his befuddled state he was aware of the secret he must keep.
Simon nodded. "Then what happened?"
"He zoned, Simon." Blair reached up to rub at his aching head and shook the IV tubing that was attached to his hand in puzzlement until a gentle grasp returned it to the bed. "Don't know what did it. Tried to bring him back, then I heard a car. Tires squealing and I looked up and, and… I tried to push Jim out of the way, Simon, really, but there just wasn't enough time."
"Shh, it's okay, Sandburg," Simon soothed, his eyes looking suspiciously damp. "Let the doctor talk to you for a minute, all right?"
Blair nodded his head miserably and looked to the opposite side of the bed where the doctor waited patiently, one hand encircling his wrist. "Okay, Blair. Do you remember me from earlier?"
Blair nodded but did not speak.
"When you were struck by the car, you received some very painful injuries. None are life-threatening and you should be able to go home in a few days. You have a gash on your head that needed to be sutured and you appear to have a reasonably severe concussion, which is why you feel a little sleepy and confused. But we did some X-rays and we couldn't find any skull fractures. You did sustain a compound fracture of your left arm though. We've put that in a cast that can probably be removed in about six weeks.
"It seems that your arm caught the fender of the car as it hit you," the doctor continued. "The fractured bone pushed through the skin and we had to put some screws and a plate in there. It's going to be pretty painful for a while and you'll need some physical therapy on it. That's what caused us some concern in the trauma room. The bone fragment nicked an artery and a nerve and you lost a decent amount of blood, but the surgeons have repaired the damage. You're going to be off your feet and pretty sore for several weeks."
"I'm not Jim's physician, Blair, but I can tell you that he is deeply unconscious. He's on life support right now as he was having some trouble maintaining an airway. If he doesn't show significant improvement tomorrow, the doctors will do another CT scan. Now, I want you to get some rest and try not to worry about your friend. His injuries aren't unusual in an accident such as this. It seems his head hit the fender of the car as you pushed him aside and then probably again when he landed on the curb."
The rest of the doctor's spiel was lost in a maelstrom of agony as the impact of her words imprinted themselves on Blair's mind. "I did this to Jim?" His voice was shaky, the sound barely there.
"No!" Simon was leaning into his face now, his breath hot on Blair's cheek. "You saved Jim's life, Blair. According to witnesses, after you pushed Jim to the side, the car seemed to deliberately swerve to hit him."
Blair snaked out a hand and grasped a manic grip on the captain's arm. "Simon! I need to see Jim! Please!"
"Maybe tomorrow, Blair," the doctor said. "You need to get some rest first."
"No!" Blair struggled upward in the bed, fighting violently against the hands that tried to restrain him. "No! Jim! I need to see him!" He distantly registered a feeling of coldness snaking up his arm even as he ripped the IV out and tried to throw himself to the floor. "Simon!" he screamed, knowing he sounded hysterical but desperate now to get the message through. "You have to take me to Jim!"
Simon pushed him back against the pillows, though his restraint was gentle. "Not yet, Blair. Please, calm down, son."
Blair moaned as he felt the inexorable pull of the sedative dragging him into its twilight world. Numbly, he fumbled for, and found, Simon's hand. "Go to Jim for me then," he whispered, his eyes drooping. "He was zoned, Simon. He can't get back." His final sight before his eyelids shuttered closed was the dawning realization on the captain's face.
Simon stopped just inside the door to the ICU unit and leaned back against the door, almost afraid to go any closer. Even from here, he could see the ghost-like pallor of Jim's skin and the eerie stillness of his body. Though it had only been twenty-four hours since the accident, Jim's powerful body appeared to already be fading away.
The captain took a deep breath and stepped closer, smiling weakly at the nurse who sat at Jim's side. "Are you a friend of Jim's?"
Simon nodded and stood, watching his friend. "I'm his boss and friend, Simon Banks."
The nurse stood. "Please have a seat. I'm going to sit over in the corner and write out my report." She placed a small hand on Simon's and squeezed gently. "Talk to him. I'm sure he knows you're here."
Simon looked at her in surprise. "He's awake?"
"No, not yet, but it's thought that even coma patients have some awareness of the world around them. Perhaps if you talk to him about things that mean a lot, it may encourage him."
Sandburg, Simon thought. That's the only truly important thing to him.
Wearily, he sat down in the soft chair and scrubbed a large hand over his eyes. He had been called out to the accident when the first patrolman at the scene recognized Jim. By the time Simon arrived, Jim had already been whisked away, his condition critical. Blair had regained consciousness on the side of the road where the EMT's were readying him for transport, although he was totally disoriented. Simon had held onto Blair's cold hand as he'd been stabilized and then rushed to the hospital. He looked down now and shivered at the sight of the rust colored stains than spattered his sweater and pants. He hadn't wanted to go home and change until he knew Jim and Blair were out of danger.
While Blair was being assessed in the ER, the captain had hurried upstairs to get information on Jim. Until now, all they could tell him was that the detective had sustained a severe head injury and was unconscious. He'd had problems breathing and so they'd placed him on a ventilator. A CT scan had shown nothing of significance, though they thought it possible that he had a small subdural hematoma. They'd decided to treat him conservatively for now, but had not ruled out the possibility of surgery if he didn't improve soon. Blair's words, of course, put a whole new spin on things and Simon sighed, not for the first time that day. "Should be you up here, Sandburg. You're the expert on all of this."
Leaning forward and hesitantly taking Jim's lax hand in his, he cleared his throat and began to speak, trying to approximate the soothing tones of Blair's voice as he had heard it when the anthropologist was pulling Jim back from a zone-out. "Jim? Come on, man. If you can hear me, you need to come back now. Blair needs you, and so do I."
Pushing open the door to the ICU unit, Simon nodded at the nurse who stood at Jim's bedside. In the four days since the hit and run, he was no closer now to finding the perpetrator than he had been at the beginning. They had no license-plate number and Blair's memory of the events and the car were sketchy at best.
A woman's body had been found in an alleyway several blocks away from the accident. She was thought to be a prostitute but had not yet been identified. Stabbed to death. Whether her murder had anything to do with the hit and run was anybody's guess, but Simon had all of his men following up all leads on both cases, looking for anything that might give them the break they needed. Unless Jim regained consciousness and told them what he'd seen, it was all they could hope for.
William Ellison had been contacted immediately following the accident, and had spent several hours at Jim's side, his gaunt face stoic. He'd been courteous enough to Simon but seemed ill at ease in Blair's presence and the very mention of the possibility of Jim being zoned made him bristle with anger. "Absolute rubbish," he blustered, his voice quiet in deference to their location but firm.
"Mr. Ellison…" Blair struggled up from the wheelchair he was seated in and took a couple of limping steps toward him. "You know I've been working with Jim for over three years now, helping him with his senses. You know of the problems he suffered when he was a child -"
Ellison cut him off with a chop of his hand. "Fairytales and nonsense," he hissed. "There was no proof then and there's none now."
Blair opened his mouth as though to protest but Simon stopped him with a small sharp shake of his head. Everyone's tempers were frayed, their concern and worry over Jim's continued comatose state leaving them frustrated and exhausted, Blair more so.
Later that day, in the corridor, William had requested that he be allowed to visit his son alone.
Simon watched the nurse check the monitors lining the room, then glance at the young man who sat slumped in the wheelchair beside the bed. Shaking her head, she made her way to the captain's side.
"How're they doing, Cathy?"
The blonde nurse shrugged and tucked a stray lock of hair back into her ponytail. "Jim's a little better, I think, Captain. His vitals are closer to normal this morning, and he's beginning to challenge the respirator, all good signs. Blair is exhausted. I called you because I was hoping you could convince him to go home and get some rest. He'll do his friend no good if he collapses."
Simon nodded and patted the nurse's shoulder. "I'll see what I can do."
Stepping closer to the bed, he once again marveled at the connection these two incongruously different men shared. Over the past couple of years, Simon had watched the partnership become a friendship forged of mutual respect for one another. Jim and Blair had become brothers of the heart and soul in every sense of the word, and sometimes Simon wondered if their relationship was even closer than that. There was something between these two men that defied the standard descriptions one normally would use for partners and friends. Simon had seen that for himself, despite all his protests that he wanted nothing to do with 'the Sentinel stuff'. After Blair's drowning and subsequent revival by Jim, there seemed to be an almost tangible link between them.
Simon studied the young man beside him carefully. Blair sat in the wheelchair, his shoulders hunched with fatigue, his casted arm resting in a sling that supported it and prevented any pull on the stitches that closed the deep gash over the broken bones. His face was pale and bruises stood out in stark relief on the waxy skin from his jaw to his brow.
"Blair?" Simon waited a moment until Blair slowly lifted his head and blinked at him.
"Simon?" He straightened suddenly in the chair, wincing as the movement elicited pain somewhere and then stretched carefully. Simon could now see the blue-black circles that framed Blair's swollen, reddened eyes and the fine lines of tension that creased his brow. "What time is it?" he asked, his voice a painful croak.
"Time for you to go home," Simon answered gently as he placed his hands on the handles of the wheelchair.
"No!" Blair sat up ramrod straight and reached once more for Jim's lax hand. "I can't, Simon. He's almost back. I can tell."
"And you'll be no good to him when he comes round if you collapse. I'm going to get Henri to take you home. I want you to get some food into you, get a couple of hours sleep," Simon wrinkled his nose, "take a shower, or I'm going to get that pretty young doctor who seems to have taken a shine to you and get her to sedate you again."
"I'll keep talking to him for you," the captain promised solemnly. "After watching you two together for the past couple of years, I think I've picked up a thing or two. Go. If anything happens before you get back, I'll phone you right away."
Blair stared at him for a long moment, then appearing to realize the other man was not going to back down, he nodded slowly. Leaning forward, he put his mouth close to Jim's ear. "Jim? I have to leave for a little while but Simon's going to stay with you. I want you to listen to him, follow his voice. You need to come back now, Jim." His voice broke on the words and he bent his head and rested it briefly on the unconscious man's chest. Finally, he raised his head and looked up at the captain. "Remember, any change at all."
Simon nodded. "I won't forget."
Perry Corcoran looked up in concern when the TV news reporter mentioned Detective Jim Ellison's name. Standing from his desk, he crossed quickly to the office door and summoned the two men lounging in the outer office. "Mallory! Crawford! Get in here now."
Crawford looked at his partner and shrugged, then tossed his crumpled magazine aside and headed into his boss's office. "Problem?"
"You tell me," Corcoran said, turning up the volume on the TV.
"Detective James Ellison, a former recipient of Cascade's Officer of the Year award is still in a coma after being struck by a hit-run driver three days ago. His condition is listed as guarded at this time. The police observer who was with the detective at the time was also injured but was discharged from hospital this morning. Cascade Police are asking any witnesses to the accident to contact them immediately."
Corcoran rounded angrily on his men. "I thought you said Ellison was dead."
Mallory flailed his hands as he spoke. "He looked dead! There's no way he could have survived that. I hit him head on."
"Well, it looks like he's tougher than you think," Corcoran ground out. "Is there any chance Gracie could have contacted him before you eliminated her?"
"Why would she do that? She know him or something?" Mallory stopped at the threatening glare on Corcoran's face. Too many questions. His boss didn't like too many questions. From the way this was all turning out, Mallory didn't think he wanted to know anything more. Corcoran had a screw loose, he figured. Talking about super people and how he and his super-soldiers were going to take over the world. Maybe he'd spent too much time with the crazies in the asylum, like Gracie. Now, he shook his head vehemently. "No. There's no way. We were onto her too fast."
"You didn't tell me about the other one, the police observer."
"I thought he was just a bystander."
"Did he see you?"
"I don't… I don't think…." Mallory looked helplessly at Crawford. "No, no way," he said finally.
"Fix this mess," Corcoran ordered. "Shut Ellison up for good and then find the observer and get rid of him. This project is too important to be destroyed now."
Mallory was already nodding and pulling his partner out the door. "Consider it done, boss."
Simon swallowed a cool sip of water then reached for Jim's lax hand once more. He racked his brain, trying to think of something new to say that might trigger Jim's return from limbo. He stilled as he felt a minute pressure against his hand. Tentatively, he squeezed Jim's hand, then smiled as he felt an answering squeeze. Leaning forward, Simon reached up to press the call button. "That's it, Jim," the captain encouraged. "Come on back."
He looked over his shoulder as a contingent of doctors and nurses bustled into the room, then back to see Jim's drowsy, slightly unfocused eyes open as he swallowed convulsively against the tube in his throat.
"If you could excuse us for just a few minutes, Captain," Doctor Reed requested. "I'll come out in a moment and give you an update on Detective Ellison's condition."
Simon nodded and stood up from his chair, wincing as his aching knees and back protested the move. "I need to phone Blair, Jim's partner. Give him the good news." Taking a final relieved look at his friend, Simon strode from the room and headed toward the bank of public phones at the end of the hallway. His progress slowed as he saw Detective Rafe step out of the elevator and hurry toward him.
"Rafe?" Simon made it a question, not liking the grim set of the detective's mouth.
"I had a phone call from Dan Wolfe," Rafe began. "The murder victim who was found in the alley? She's been positively identified as one Grace Ellison."
Simon was sure his jaw hit the floor. "There's got to be some kind of mistake."
Rafe shook his head. "Her fingerprints came up. Megan and Joel are on the way over to Mr. Ellison's house now. Dan wants a formal identification, and with Jim…"
Simon nodded, then pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his smarting eyes. "Yeah. Christ, what are the chances that this is all some kind of bizarre coincidence?" He sighed and motioned toward the phones as he saw the doctor emerge from Jim's room. "I'm starting to sound like Sandburg. Give him a call, Rafe. I sent him home to get some rest an hour or so ago. Jim's waking up and I want Sandburg here if I'm going to tell Ellison that his mother has been murdered. I'll go talk to the doctor. Get some advice on how much we can tell Jim."
Simon watched Rafe walk off, then strode back to Doctor Reed's side. "How's Jim, Doctor?"
The doctor smiled. "I think we can safely say Detective Ellison is out of the woods, Captain Banks. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen such a swift recovery. He's a little shaky and weak of course, but he's alert, oriented to time and place and demanding that he be discharged."
"Does he remember the accident?"
"No, but that may change over the next several hours or days. Then again, he may never remember it," the doctor replied. "I want to do a repeat CT scan of his skull this afternoon, just to double-check that there is no brain injury. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I think we can transfer him to a regular room tomorrow and look at discharging him in two or three days."
"You might want to revise that," Simon muttered.
The doctor looked at him quizzically. "I'm sorry? I don't understand."
"A woman was murdered near the scene of Jim's accident," Simon said. "A preliminary identification of her fingerprints indicates that she was Detective Ellison's mother."
"Yeah. Anyway, I want to wait until Jim's partner gets back here before I say anything to Jim. Do you have any idea how much I should tell him right now?"
The doctor appeared to mull over the question for a moment before he spoke. "It could be more harmful to withhold the information from him, Captain. I honestly can't predict how he'll react, but I'll stay on the floor until after you break the news in case I'm needed."
"Thank you." Simon shook the doctor's hand, then returned to the waiting room to await Blair's return.
Batting impatiently at Henri's hands, Blair attempted to wrap the plastic sleeve around his broken arm and secure it.
"Let me help you with it, man," Brown grumbled as his fingers pulled on the securing strings once more. "If you get your cast wet, you'll have to go back and get a new one put on."
Blair rolled his eyes but held his arm out obediently until Henri had the sleeve positioned correctly and fastened snugly.
"That's not too tight, is it?" the detective asked as he touched Blair's fingers.
"It's fine, H. Geez, you're as bad as Jim…" His words faded at the mention of his partner's name and Blair felt his control slipping again. He gently pushed Henri toward the bathroom door. "I can take it from here, man."
"Yeah, okay. I'll be just outside the door if you need anything." With a final glance around, Henri walked out and pushed the door shut behind him.
Blair stepped under the warm spray of the shower gratefully. He turned up the heat slightly, allowing the water to massage sore muscles and clean the road rash on his side, wincing as it stung the still inflamed grazes. He deliberately kept his thoughts from straying to Jim by constructing a list in his head. Chores that needed to be done around the loft and at the university now that he was out of the hospital.
He washed his hair, then reached out to turn off the faucet. A sudden chill assaulted him and he shivered violently, feeling an unexpected surge of nausea that left him trembling and dizzy. He laid his hand flat against the tiles and dropped his head to his chest, trying to breathe slowly through his mouth. After a moment, the unpleasant sensation passed and he stepped from the tub.
Henri was just hanging up the phone as Blair came out of the bathroom, awkwardly wrapping a towel around his waist. "What is it?"
Henri turned toward him, the frown that seemed to have taken up residence between his eyes smoothing out as he smiled. "Jim's awake."
There was something troubling in the detective's dark brown eyes though, a hint of concern and Blair took a step closer to him. "What aren't you telling me?"
Henri sighed and grasped Blair's elbow, gently turning him in the direction of his bedroom. "Let me give you a hand to get dressed and I'll fill you in on the rest."
Blair fairly vibrated with tension as Henri helped him out of the elevator. His features were white and strained as he walked toward Jim's room.
"Blair!" Simon stopped him as he put his hand on the door handle.
"He sensed her, Simon." Blair's voice quavered with emotion. "The night of the accident. There was something…" His brow wrinkled as he fought to concentrate. "We'd been having some phone calls. Hang-ups. Jim thought it was kids. When we left for the movies, he sensed something but he couldn't get a fix on it." He rested his head tiredly against the closed door. "There's no mistake?"
"No. I'm sorry, Sandburg."
"Jim doesn't know?"
"Not yet. The doctor's been with him for some time. I thought that maybe it would be best if you were here when he gets the news."
Blair nodded then reached for the door handle. "Yeah. Thanks."
Jim's face turned toward them as they entered the room. "Blair." His blue eyes were dull and washed with fatigue but he managed a small smile as he whispered Blair's name.
Blair made his way quickly to his partner's side and lowered himself into the chair, trying not to wince as pain flared. He reached for Jim's hand and squeezed the cold flesh, pasting a tremulous smile on his face. "Hey, man. It is so good to have you back. You look pretty good, considering."
Jim apparently was not fooled by Blair's manner. His brow furrowed and he looked from Blair to Simon who stood hovering by the door. "What's wrong?" His voice faded on the final words and he winced. Blair held a cup of water to his lips and he drank a few small sips then lowered his head back to the pillow. "What's wrong, Sandburg? Are you all right?"
"I'm not the one lying in a hospital bed."
"You look like you should be," Jim rasped. "Cut the bullshit and tell me what's going on."
Blair stared at the wall above Jim's head but before he could speak, Simon stepped forward and placed his hand on Blair's shoulder.
"You and Blair were hit by a car several days ago, Jim. You've been in what the doctors believed to be a coma until now. Blair sustained a serious fracture of his arm and a concussion." He smiled as Jim raised a shaky hand and traced along Blair's bruised cheek.
"You sure you're okay, Chief?"
Blair nodded and rubbed at his eyes. "Now you're awake, I'm fine." He leaned in closer to Jim. "The thing is, just before the accident, you were focused on something further up the street and you zoned. I was so busy trying to talk you out that I didn't even hear the car until it was almost on top of us. You hit your head while you were zoned and you were concussed. I guess it took a while for your brain to sort through all the trauma."
"The other sentinel."
The words were whispered and Blair recoiled in surprise. Turning, Simon sent Rafe from the room, asking him to contact Megan and get an update on her progress, then he turned back to Jim.
"What other sentinel, Jim? Are you talking about Alex Barnes? She's locked away in Conover -"
Jim shook his head, agitation evident on his face. "Another one. I've been having dreams about another sentinel, another jaguar."
Blair's eyes widened at the implication of Jim's words. He reached for Jim's hand, enfolding it in his own. "I think you may have heard a murder going down and you zoned out on it. There was a woman's body discovered in an alley not far from the hit-run."
"No." Jim's tone was vehement. "This sentinel is not a threat." He rubbed at his temple with his fingertips, then closed his eyes before speaking again. "I don't know how I know but she wouldn't have killed anyone. I got the feeling in my dreams that she was trying to warn me, to protect me."
"Jim?" Simon waited until Jim's eyes opened and focused on him. "We've identified the woman who was murdered. I'm sorry, Jim, the woman was identified as Grace Ellison."
"Jim, I'm sorry." Blair lifted Jim's hand to his face and rested his forehead against it.
"Who did this?"
Simon shook his head. "We don't know yet. There were no witnesses, and Blair didn't get a good look at the car that hit you."
"I'm sorry," Blair said again.
"No. Not your fault. I heard her call to me," Jim began softly, seemingly unaware of the tears that coursed down his pale cheeks. "The phone calls. It was her perfume I smelled that night. She was trying to get to me and I didn't understand."
"Jim, this wasn't your fault." Blair leaned forward and framed Jim's face with his hands, forcing the detective to look at him. "You didn't know. You had no way of knowing."
Jim pulled his head away and shifted laboriously to his side, facing away from them. "I should have known," he whispered harshly. "She was my mother. I should have known." He jerked away as Blair reached out a trembling hand and placed it on his shoulder. "My father was right all along. He told me my senses were a curse. What good were they when she needed me? Please, just leave me alone for a while."
"Sure, Jim. All right. Can I get you anything before I go?"
There was no reply from the grieving man, and Blair allowed Simon to help him out of the chair and lead him from the room. His knees buckled beneath him as they walked into the hall and he felt Simon's hands shift to grip him around his waist as his vision began to gray out.
"Shit!" Simon's voice seemed to echo from far away and Blair pushed feebly at the hands that lowered him carefully to the floor.
"I'm 'kay," he whispered.
"I need some help here."
Footsteps echoed up the corridor at Simon's call for help and Blair felt himself rolled onto his side as his stomach suddenly convulsed and he began to gag. There was nothing for his stomach to expel and he suffered through several seconds of painful dry-heaving, that shredded his throat and made his eyes water. A cool hand pressed against his burning forehead and he leaned into it gratefully.
"Blair? Can you hear me?" The voice was unfamiliar and Blair ignored it in favor of drifting away from the sudden hot throbbing in his arm and the pain in his heart.
William Ellison nodded slowly as the sheet was pulled back and the waxy, dead features of his ex-wife were revealed to him.
A hand touched his elbow and pulled his drifting thoughts back from what might have been, and he looked down into the compassionate eyes of the young Australian police inspector. He couldn't remember her name.
"Do you recognize the deceased, sir?"
"Yes. Yes, I do. She is… was Grace MacDonald Ellison, my ex-wife."
The inspector nodded. "Thank you, sir. Do you feel up to answering a few questions?"
"I'd like to see my son first," William replied. "Steven is out of the country, but Jim will need me. You said he's awake at last?"
"Yes, sir, he is." The woman led him to the door of the morgue. "We can talk on the way to the hospital."
“I’ve forgotten your name.”
Megan looked over the back of the seat at William Ellison. He sat hunched into the rear seat of Joel’s car, his shoulders stooped and his face tight with tension. The similarity to Jim was uncanny despite the gray hair and weathered face.
“Conner. Megan Conner.”
William nodded slowly. “Jim mentioned you. I visited Australia a few years ago. Pretty place, though I never seemed to get out of the company’s office long enough to really sight-see.” His gaze drifted to the passing scenery. “What do you want to know, Inspector?”
“When was the last time you had contact with your ex-wife?”
William pushed a sigh from his lips and allowed his mind to drift back in time. He recoiled as the sound of a slamming door and Grace’s shrill, angry voice echoed in his memory.
“You shouldn’t be forcing Jimmy to try to turn off his senses. Dr. Masters says you could cause him irreparable harm by doing that!”
William snorted and downed the dregs of his whiskey. “More harm than having them in the first place? Look what they’ve done to you. Migraines, seizures, asylums. Masters doesn’t give a damn about our son. To him, he’s just a curiosity, a guinea pig. Next thing you know, he’ll be putting Jimmy in a tent and charging admission. Maybe you could make it a mother-son act.”
His face stung as she lashed out and slapped him hard across his cheek. Grace’s eyes flashed with unbridled fury. “I can’t take any more of your humiliation. I didn’t want my gift to be passed on to either of our boys. I know the pain, the burden these senses are, but Dr. Masters can help Jimmy, can help us both.” Her mouth thinned into a determined line. “I’m leaving, Bill and Jim’s coming with me.”
“No.” William pushed her toward the front door. “You want to leave, fine, but Jimmy stays here where he belongs.”
“I’ll fight you in court if I have to.”
William leaned in close and snarled his next words in her face. “You really want your dirty laundry aired in public, Grace? If you don’t care about the world knowing that you’re some crazy woman who thinks she’s Superwoman, at least consider your sons. You want to subject them to all that humiliation? You think it wasn’t hard enough on all of us when you were in and out of the asylum all these years. The looks from the neighbors, the whispers in the Country Club? Jimmy coming home with bloodied noses and black eyes because he was defending his crazy mother to some playground bully? And if you were to prove you were telling the truth, do you want to look over and see your son strapped to the bed next to you, while they perform their research on him?”
Grace opened her mouth to reply then her gaze drifted upward and William looked over his shoulder to see Jim standing at the top of the stairs, a frightened and wide-eyed Steven cradled protectively against his side.
William sighed. “Go back to bed, boys.”
Grace closed her eyes briefly and a solitary tear snaked down her cheek. “Listen to your father, Jimmy. Take Stevie and go back to bed. I… I love you both.”
Jimmy turned and herded his little brother back toward the bedrooms. He paused and turned back, giving his parents a tremulous smile. “Love you too, mom. Goodnight.”
“Mr. Ellison?” William felt a hand on his arm and he came back to the present with a jolt. They were at the hospital, parked in the visitor’s parking lot and the two Major Crimes officers were looking at him with concern. “Are you all right?” Conner asked.
William nodded slowly. “I’m fine. I haven’t seen Grace since she left when Jim was twelve. She left no forwarding address and never bothered to contact us again. I tried to get hold of her at the sanitarium several years ago when Jim’s helicopter went down in Peru and we thought…” His voice trailed off again and his eyes grew haunted as he grappled with that horrific memory, then he shook himself and looked at Megan. “There was a new man in charge and he told me the sanitarium had closed down. He had never heard of Grace. I’m afraid there’s nothing more I can tell you.” He pushed open the door and stepped out into the rain. “I’d like to visit my son. If there are further questions, you know where to find me.”
He was so hot. Agitated, Blair pulled fretfully at the covers that made his skin burn with heat, slapping away the hand that pulled the offending items back over him. Coolness touched his forehead and he rolled toward it, lifting his head to follow when it moved away.
He groaned as a headache flared at the movement and didn't fight the hand that pressed him back toward the bed. Slowly, he opened gritty eyelids and looked around blearily. An unfamiliar, pretty face leaned over him and smiled. A nurse, Blair decided, by the look of her white uniform.
"Mr. Sandburg? How are you feeling?"
Blair considered the question. Sweat slicked his hair and trickled down the back of his neck, causing him to shiver. His broken arm throbbed painfully with every beat of his heart and his head kept time. His mouth was dry and his tongue felt thick and swollen in his mouth. He licked his lips and croaked out his reply. "Lousy. What happened?"
"You haven't been taking care of yourself." Blair looked beyond the nurse at the sound of Doctor Kelly's familiar voice. Frowning, but her features softening as she approached the bed, the doctor shook her head. "You took a nosedive in the corridor and scared your Captain Banks half to death."
"Why?" Blair rubbed at his head with his uninjured hand, as he tried to make himself understood. "Why am I back in the hospital?"
Doctor Kelly seated herself on the edge of the bed. "You've developed an infection in the tissues of your arm, Blair. It was always a possibility after the accident, but I had hoped that the antibiotics would do the job. Unfortunately, with the stress you've been under with your friend, and the fact you haven't been obeying my orders to get plenty of rest meant you had no reserves left to fight the infection."
Blair looked away guiltily. "Sorry," he said. "There's just been too much to think about. First Jim, and now…"
"I heard about Detective Ellison's mother." The doctor reached out and straightened the IV line. "It's a terrible thing, but you won't do him or anyone else any good if you make yourself sick by not looking after yourself." She sighed and stood, moving to the foot of the bed to pick up his chart. "The infection may have been inevitable but you'll recover a lot quicker if you get plenty of rest, eat well and try to avoid stress. Now, your fever is still quite high, so you'll be our guest for a few more days until the intravenous antibiotics get a handle on this infection. You're lucky we caught it early before it infiltrated the bone. I can see you're in considerable pain so I'll get Tessa to put something in your IV to alleviate that and let you rest."
She held up a hand as Blair opened his mouth to protest. "No buts, young man."
An overwhelming lethargy consumed him almost as soon as he felt an icy sensation trace up his arm from the IV site. Fighting to hold open his drooping eyelids, he managed to get out what he needed to say. "Need to see Jim."
Her voice came to him as though from a far distance and a motherly hand stroked his forehead. "Jim's going home tomorrow. I'm sure he'll be in before he leaves."
The following afternoon, Simon went to the hospital to pick up Jim and take him home. The doctor had ordered strict rest for the still weak detective, over Jim's protestations of course that he be allowed to stay with Sandburg. Doctor and patient had finally come to a compromise with some help from Blair himself, who was concerned that Jim wasn't sufficiently recovered to be discharged. Jim's bed had been moved into Blair's room overnight and providing he went home and slept the following night, the doctor had agreed the detective could return the next day and stay at his partner's bedside.
Simon looked in on Blair who was still in some pain from the infection in his arm. His fever was steadily dropping though and he certainly looked better than he had the day before when he'd collapsed outside Jim's room.
Jim had spent some time with his father and talked about his mother, but neither man was able to come up with any idea regarding what she had been doing in the years since she'd left the Ellison house. Jim was still grief-stricken over the loss of his mother and consumed with guilt over his inability to assist her and perhaps prevent her murder. Nothing that William, Simon or even Blair said made any difference to his conviction that he was somehow to blame for her death, and Simon vowed that Grace Ellison's murderer would be brought to justice.
Looking over now at the man hunched into his passenger seat, Simon attempted to pull Jim from his depression. "We'll find who did this, Jim."
Jim stared vacantly out the passenger window. "Maybe. Does it really matter?"
"What! What does that mean?"
"It won't bring her back, Simon." He slammed a fist against the dashboard. "I should have known. I should have been able to help her. What good are these senses of mine if they can't help me save my own mother?"
"Did you know your mother had heightened senses?"
"No, not really. She was in and out of hospitals a lot, suffered from almost constant headaches. She always used to tell me I was special to her, that she loved Steven as much as me but that I was her special one. She was seeing a doctor called Damon Masters. Dad tells me that back then, he just thought she was mentally ill. Even when my senses developed, he tuned it out, terrified I was suffering from some kind of genetic nervous disorder, inherited from her. Like he said during the Aaron Foster case, he didn't want me labeled a freak, and I guess he'd already lost Mom, he didn't want to lose me too. Mom and Dad argued a lot. I remember coming down the stairs with Stephen the night she left home. They didn't know we were there and they stopped talking the moment they saw us, but with my senses, I'd heard pretty much everything that had been said anyway."
"Which was?" When Jim didn't immediately answer, Simon looked over at him. "Jim, if it's personal, I'm sorry, but you know as well as me, it could be the smallest clue that busts this case wide open."
Jim nodded. He stared blankly out the window. "She wanted Doctor Masters to treat me as well. At the time, of course, none of us knew what was wrong with me, and I certainly didn't think my mother was a superwoman." He smiled a little at that. "My mother had taken me to see the doctor against my father's express wishes. He found out. Dad didn't want anyone to know. Deep down, I think he was trying to protect me, although I think a part of him was concerned with his own public image should the word get out that both his wife and his son were mentally deranged."
Jim yawned and scrubbed tiredly at his eyes. "Once my mother left, I was ordered to keep my mouth shut about the voices I heard and the things I could see and smell, and after zoning out a couple of times and scaring myself half to death, I was more than happy to. I know the doctor ran some kind of sanitarium outside of Cascade, Dad said he tried to get in touch with my mother after the chopper crash in Peru but no one had any idea where she was. I figured she didn't want to be found."
Simon nodded and steered the car into a parking space in front of the loft. "I've got Rafe and Brown chasing the doctor up now. Look, Jim, cut yourself some slack here. You weren't to know your mother was in trouble and there wasn't any way for you to prevent her murder. Give yourself some time to heal and to grieve. Sandburg's going to need you too."
Jim looked at him quickly. "Something I don't know?"
"I think he's feeling guilty that he didn't pull you out of the zone quickly enough to prevent the attack on your mother or to prevent you being hit by the car."
"That wasn't his fault…" Jim began then smiled sadly and shook his head. "Quite a pair, aren't we? Thanks for the ride, Simon. Let me know as soon as you hear from Henri and Rafe, all right?"
"I'll keep you posted," Simon said noncommittally. He didn't want Jim too involved in this investigation. The detective was too emotionally involved.
A break in the case came just as Simon pulled away from the curb when a phone call came in from Henri. The detectives had managed to trace Grace Ellison's whereabouts some years before to the private asylum on the outskirts of Cascade. Getting the address, Simon arranged to meet them there.
He arrived at the same time as the fire department and watched in horror as a body was loaded into the back of the coroner's van. He took a moment to speak to the firefighter in charge, then, as he headed back to his car to call in Forensics, he saw Rafe and Henri arrive. Walking over to him, Rafe gestured in surprise at the smoking building.
"It appears someone decided to burn a large amount of paper in a garbage can in the Director's office," Simon explained. "The dead man poured an accelerant over the paper to make it burn better. Unfortunately, it exploded and set fire to him as well. One dead and it appears that the institution hasn't been used for some years. There are no patients here."
"Who's the dead guy?" Rafe asked.
"Preliminary identification says it's a Perry Corcoran, owner of the place. We'll have to wait on an autopsy for a formal cause of death and ID."
"We ran a check on Doctor Damon Masters and the asylum on the way here," Rafe continued. "He died ten years ago, cause of death was judged to be a suicide though there were some questions over it. He was a gambler, heavily into debt. Corcoran took financial control of the sanitarium a year before Masters died."
In all his years on the force and all the time since his senses had come online, Jim had performed a sensory scan of the loft before he even reached the front door. In the past few years, it had become a security blanket of sorts. If he picked up Blair's heartbeat, it acted as a calming balm, making even the worst day bearable, reining in his often overwhelmed senses. Jim had come to think recently that it wasn't just Blair's heartbeat, or Blair's unique qualities as Jim's guide that soothed. Rather, it was the man himself. Since Blair’s drowning, perhaps even before that, Jim had begun to admit he’d felt a growing attraction toward his roommate. Admitted it to himself, of course. Blair was straight, and that was that, and Jim wasn’t about to risk losing the most important person in his life by telling Blair how he really felt.
Blair wasn't here though. His partner lay in a hospital bed, burning with fever and in pain once more because of his association with Jim. With his thoughts in turmoil, and grieving a mother he could scarcely remember, Jim made his way along the corridor, thinking only of going to bed and hoping he could forget the trauma of the past few days at least for a few hours.
His guilt over Blair's injuries was compounded by his shame at the anger he had long harbored for his mother's apparent desertion and an unease over whether he'd been subconsciously tuning out his mother's presence in the recent days because of the blame he'd placed on her for deserting him and his brother. There was the funeral to organize too. Having been unable to trace any other family for his ex-wife, William had vowed that Grace would be laid to rest in the Ellison family plot. Jim wanted to help with the plans for the service but it was a difficult thing to do for someone you felt you never really knew.
As he turned the key in the lock, he yawned hugely and set a mental alarm in order to get back to the hospital as quickly as possible the following morning.
He was inside the apartment and closing the door, keys tossed into the basket, his thoughts on deciding if he felt hungry enough to eat before he went to bed, and as he turned toward the kitchen, he caught a flicker of movement, a flash of metal. There was an explosion of muted gunfire and a bullet impacted the wall inches from Jim's head. Reaching out for the light switch on the wall, Jim flicked it off. Dialing up his sight and hearing in order to track his opponent, he threw himself bodily across the room and rolled behind the shelter of the support beam in the kitchen.
Risking a quick glance around the edge of the beam, he saw his attacker standing in the open doorway of Blair's room, a handgun in one hand tracking the darkness in front of him. He lifted something to his mouth. Silver glinted and Jim saw immediately what it was. He clasped his hands to his ears in a futile attempt to block out the first shrilling blast of the dog whistle but it hammered through him in waves of excruciating agony, sending him crashing to the floor.
Simultaneously attempting to dial down his hearing and evade the gunfire, Jim rolled himself toward the haven of the kitchen island. His frantic efforts were clumsy and had every sense spiking as he fought to push away the pain that threatened to cleave his brain.
Finally he could see the dial in his mind's eye and he panted through the receding headache and inched it down toward zero. Faintly he heard his attacker laugh.
"Well, looks like Corcoran was right. Fuck, all that time I thought the guy was crazy."
And then there was blessed silence. Jim managed to get to his knees and shuffled forward until he could risk a look around the edge of the counter. The man stood by Blair's door still, the dog whistle swinging from his fingers by a cord. Jim watched him reach into his pocket and pull out a flashlight, thumbing it on and swinging the beam in a wide arc around the apartment.
Ducking back before the flashlight illuminated him, Jim reached up and groped for the fruit bowl that sat on the counter. He curled his fingers around a small apple and, bringing it down to the ground, he rolled it quickly toward the coffee table in the living room. It hit the table leg with a satisfying thunk and Jim watched as the intruder jumped then turned his flashlight in that direction. Slowly, the man stepped away from Blair's door and walked into the living room.
Crouching, ready to pounce, Jim waited for the right moment. As the man took a step past the kitchen entrance, Jim dived from his hiding place and tackled him around his knees. The detective's weight and forward momentum had the other man toppling over with a short, surprised yelp that was cut off as his head impacted the edge of the coffee table.
Grasping him by the scruff of his neck, Jim hauled the limp body over onto its back and shook the man violently. One hand reached up weakly to grip Jim's wrist and the man moaned.
"Who are you?" Jim demanded. "Who sent you here?"
"Corcoran," the man sputtered, blood dribbling down his chin. "Didn't know if you saw who hit you. Told us to get rid of you both. Tying up loose ends. It was all Corcoran's idea."
"You murdered my mother?"
The man's eyes widened in fear at the quiet note of rage in Jim's voice and he struggled suddenly to get out from beneath the detective. "Your mother?" he croaked then he stiffened. "No! Wait, please! It was Corcoran's idea. Had some crazy idea about creating a super race. Nobody believed him. We all thought he was nuts. When Gracie got away, he said she knew too much, had to be wasted."
Jim silenced the man's shocking words with a hard, sharp right to his face, then another and another…. Hands grabbed him from behind, dragging him away from his quarry and he roared with rage, using his feet to kick out at the limp body when his fists would not reach.
"Jim! Enough! You got him. Enough!"
He sagged to the floor, spent and shaking, only dimly aware of others stepping past him, rolling his unconscious attacker to his side. A large figure loomed over him as the confining hands dropped from his shoulders. Simon kneeled in front of him, big hands framing his face, his thumbs brushing away the unintended tears.
"Enough," Simon whispered, his own voice quavering.
Jim fell forward, resting his head briefly against the warm, solid chest of his captain, taking solace for his sorrow. He nodded tiredly, then dropped onto his butt, a shaking, reddened hand wiping the tears from his cheeks. "Someone called Corcoran set it up. He…" He aimed a venomous glare at the man beginning to stir as Rafe cuffed his hands. "He murdered my mother."
Simon sighed. "We know. Come on, let's get you up." Placing one hand in Jim's, Simon levered them both up and steered the detective over to the couch. Once Jim was seated, he sat on the edge of the coffee table and pulled his notebook from his pocket. "Here's what we do know. Doctor Damon Masters ran the Cascade Clinic until his death in suspicious circumstances ten years ago. Coroner couldn't prove anything and the death was given an open verdict. That's where we were able to track your mother until Masters died. A year before Masters' death, he ran into deep financial difficulties caused by a gambling problem. Perry Corcoran, aka Warren Perry, took over the clinic, priors for larceny, blackmail, fraud… rap sheet as long as your arm. We suspect Perry kept Masters under control by threatening to expose that the clinic had gone broke due to Masters gambling away his patients' welfare benefits. By the time, Masters died, the clinic was basically deserted. No patients had been admitted for some time."
He waited a moment until Rafe and Brown led Jim's attacker out of the apartment. "Corcoran died earlier today. It appears that he was trying to burn records, paperwork, lab results. He used an accelerant, and he got caught in it. Not all of the records were destroyed. We found some papers in Perry's car. It seems your mother asked Masters to commit her before he died when she was in the throes of uncontrollable zone outs and sensory overloads. She thought she was going crazy, and so did he. He'd told Perry about Grace and I can only figure that Perry saw something that led him to believe that your mother had the super senses she claimed to have."
"He wanted his own super-race." Jim's voice was flat as he spoke, in contrast to the emotions surging inside and threatening to overwhelm him. "Do you know if he… if she…" He couldn't say the words but Simon seemed mercifully to understand what he was trying to ask.
"There was no evidence of other patients, just lists of fertility tests that were done. It seems after she… your mother reached menopause, Perry had no further use for her. I'm assuming that he kept her imprisoned because she could lead the authorities back to him. Maybe he thought there was still more he could learn." The captain laid a hand over Jim's. "I'm sorry."
Jim closed his eyes and nodded. "So, there could be more out there like me."
When Jim opened his eyes, Simon was staring at him in shock. "Oh God, Jim, I didn't even think that there was a chance he'd been successful. I mean there were no records, no children."
"They could be adopted out secretly, like Hitler's Aryan children," Jim said. He felt like he was drifting away from the reality. He wanted to sleep.
Jim swayed as nausea surged and blackness threatened and he felt himself toppling slowly forward. A strong arm wrapped around his waist and lowered him back onto the couch.
Simon eyed him critically. "You hurt? You need the EMT's?"
Jim shook his head, regretting it instantly as his headache flared and the room did a slow roll. "I'm fine," he panted as he lowered his head to his knees and drew in a couple of slow deep breaths.
Then a sudden terrifying thought took hold, driving his exhaustion from him as adrenaline and fear coursed through him. He surged to his feet, swaying badly, the color draining from his face. "Sandburg!" he croaked out as he staggered toward the kitchen and reached up for the lockbox. He fumbled for a moment then got it open and pulled his Sig from within. Heading for the door, he grabbed his holster from the coat hook and buckled it on, speaking as he did so. "That creep said Corcoran told them to get rid of both of us. Someone else is going after Blair."
Simon caught him by an arm and halted his progress from the apartment.
Snarling, Jim shook the hold off and ran from the room.
"Shit!" Simon took off after him, taking the stairs two at a time in an effort to keep up. Pushing through the outer doors, he waved to Rafe and Brown. "Brown, you're with me and Jim. Rafe, organize Forensics to sweep this place and get a uniform to take this guy into the precinct." Catching up to Jim, he grasped his arm and halted his steps. "Slow down, Jim. Blair's in the hospital. They won't risk attacking him there."
Jim glared at him, unconvinced, and Simon sighed and pulled out his cell phone. Hurrying to his car, he opened the passenger door and pushed Jim in. "I'll drive. You call the hospital and tell them to put a security guard in Sandburg's room until we get there." Looking over his shoulder as he pulled away from the curb, Simon issued instructions to Henri in the back seat to organize back up.
After several frustrating minutes, Jim savagely punched the end button on the cell phone and turned stricken eyes to Simon. "The nurse says Sandburg's not in his room."
Blair opened heavy eyelids as a persistent prodding drummed at his chest. "Wha…?"
A dark-haired, heavy-set man dressed in a dark suit smiled at him. "Hey there, Mr. Sandburg. I need you to climb into the wheelchair for me."
Blair forced himself upright as the man disconnected his IV line. He blinked, then rubbed at his still-blurry vision. He felt as though he'd been asleep for hours and he wondered what the time was. "What's going on?"
"I'm Detective Mallory. Your captain sent me. We received information that there may be an attempt on your life and I'm here to move you to a safe house."
Surging from the bed, Blair almost toppled over as his feet hit the floor, saved only by Mallory's arm around his waist. "What about Jim? Where's Simon?" He blinked and studied the man's face carefully as he was lowered into the wheelchair. Mallory bent quickly, retrieved a pair of thin paper hospital slippers and slipped them on Blair's feet. "I don't know you."
Mallory patted his arm, then pushed him toward the door. "Detective Ellison is being taken care of as we speak and the captain's with him. There's a police cruiser waiting downstairs."
It didn't sound right, but Blair seemed unable to focus clearly through the cotton wool in his head and figure out what was wrong. He felt himself drifting back toward sleep as the wheelchair was pushed rapidly into a large elevator.
"Hey, wait a minute." Blair forced his heavy head up as a nurse hurried toward them. "Where are you taking my patient? That's a service elevator." The doors closed slowly on her startled features.
Nausea surged as they moved quickly downward, and Blair took a couple of deep breaths, which had the added bonus of clearing his head a little. As the doors opened on the hospital basement, Blair twisted in the seat enough to squint up at the man pushing the chair. "You're not a detective at all, are you?"
The man didn't answer, instead pulling a handgun from his suit pocket. Blair toppled from the wheelchair as Mallory pushed him forward. He grunted as he hit the concrete heavily, and pain reverberated up his fractured arm.
Attempting to struggle to his feet, he froze as he felt the muzzle of the gun press against the base of his skull. "We're gonna go for a little ride, Sandburg," the man said softly. "I want you to stand up and walk slowly over to that black Ford. Draw attention to us and I'll shoot the first person we see."
Blair managed to get upright with help from Mallory or whoever he was. He stood, wavering on his feet, then staggered forward at an impatient push from the other man. Looking around, it appeared to him that this area of the hospital was a delivery area, which seemed to be deserted. Taking advantage, Blair stepped forward again then spun back, bringing his splinted arm up hard to crack resoundingly against his assailant's temple. Both men cried out and as Mallory raised a hand to his face, Blair ran.
Weaving drunkenly in and out of the support pylons, Blair flinched as a bullet punched into the beam next to him and he felt plaster sting his face. Ahead, he could see a green exit sign and he prayed he'd be able to get the door open before his assailant caught up. Fear urged him on as he heard rapid footsteps gaining on him and he pressed all his meager strength against the door, almost tumbling out as the door opened unexpectedly.
Looking around frantically, he spotted a broom left propped outside the exit door and he grabbed it up, fighting to keep a grip on it as his hands trembled wildly. He positioned himself to the side of the door and was quickly rewarded with the sight of his attacker's cautious head appearing from the slowly opening door. Swinging the broomstick as hard as he could one-handed, Blair heard a satisfying thunk as wood contacted head. As the man collapsed to the ground, the exit door swinging partly shut on his dazed body, Blair dropped the broomstick and ran for freedom.
Ahead of him was a flight of steps that led to the ground level of the hospital and he stumbled toward it, already feeling exhaustion pull at his weakened body. On legs that felt like lead, he managed to get partway up before disaster struck. Staggering in the growing darkness of approaching night, he skidded on a patch of dampness and tumbled back down the steps.
He bit back a scream as he landed awkwardly on his injured arm. Staggering to his feet, his ankle flared with hot pain and he didn't need to look at his arm to know that he'd ripped out some stitches. He felt blood trickling down his fingers from beneath the cast. He didn't know how badly he was bleeding and he knew he didn't have time to find out. Hearing footsteps echoing behind him, Blair turned and ducked around the corner of the building, hugging his injured arm to his side.
It was raining and he shivered as the cold assaulted his under-dressed body. He began to limp down the street, casting an eye around the deserted area for help. A few paces along brought him to the mouth of a darkened service alley, and Blair turned into it, pressing himself to the wall and extending one trembling arm to feel his way in the shadows. A dumpster loomed ahead of him, but a quick glance showed him that it sat flush against the wall with no room for him to hide behind it.
Running footsteps made him hitch his breath and he looked back fearfully at the entrance to the alley. Reaching up, he curled his fingers over the lip of the dumpster and hauled himself up, biting his lip as the movement caused agony to flare in his arm. He dragged himself over the side, grimacing and almost gagging as an overwhelming smell of decay assaulted his nostrils. Trembling and swallowing down his nausea, Blair dug a shallow hole in the refuse then attempted to spread as much of it as possible over him.
Cautious footsteps approached the alley, getting closer. They stopped by the dumpster. Blair gasped in fright as something hammered loudly on the side of the bin. There were several minutes of silence and then the footsteps moved away and eventually disappeared. Too frightened and exhausted to make a move, Blair huddled further into the waste and when oblivion came, he did not fight it.
Jim was out and running before Simon had even pulled the car to a halt in front of the hospital doors. Dashing inside, he pushed past startled personnel and patients and ran headlong for the stairs up to Blair's room. It was empty, as the nurse had said, an IV line dangling over the bed. Jim stuck his head into the adjoining bathroom, but already knew Blair was gone. Chest heaving from his exertion, he stood, flat-footed and lost in the middle of the room.
"Jim?" Simon's hand pressed against his shoulder, and Jim turned a worried face to the captain.
"He's gone. I don't know what…" He felt desolate, suddenly unsure and off-balance. "I need Blair… I can't feel him." Then his features firmed into resolve. "I need you to help me. I'm going to try to pinpoint his location."
Simon's eyes widened in surprise. "How?"
"His heartbeat, his smell, his voice, anything I can. Just ground me. If I go too deep, whack me or something."
Simon rolled his eyes. "Why do I do these things?" Sighing, he patted Jim's shoulder. "All right, go on."
Jim fumbled for a moment with the dials, unused to doing it without Sandburg's gentle, almost silent coaching. Hearing was too difficult. They were in the middle of a hospital, hundreds of heartbeats clamored in his ears. He left that, for now. Smell?
A hint of jasmine tickled his nose and he was jolted back to the night of the accident, the memory slamming into him so brutally, he choked for breath.
"…im?…hear me? Jim!"
His hearing wavered and then a stinging slap to his face had him gasping, sucking in a hungry breath. He straightened, reached a hand out to anchor himself on Simon's shoulder then stepped toward the door, pulling Simon with him.
"Blair's shampoo," Jim replied shortly. There would be time for explanations later, once he'd found his guide. As they ran for the elevators, a shouted voice halted them and they turned to see Blair's doctor running toward them.
"I've already called security," she said. "A man walked in and took Blair from his room."
"The service elevator. It's the only one that goes down to the basement."
Jim hit the doors to the stairwell and clattered downward, Simon close on his heels. As they rounded the landing to the basement, Jim dialed up his hearing once more and sent it out, searching. Nothing. "Damn it."
He shook his head angrily and tried again, shouldering the basement door open as he did so.
"Jim!" A hand grabbed at his arm, pulling him backward at the same time as a gunshot rang out and a bullet smacked into the wall where his head had just been. "Shit! You all right?"
Jim nodded soundlessly. Pushing the door more carefully this time, he risked a look through the opening and dialed up his sight. There. Just ahead, a bulky man, blood trickling down the side of his face, was edging along the side of a sedan parked by the delivery doors, the gun in his hand trained on the stairwell door. Jim ducked as his sight detected a squeeze of the trigger and the gun bucked again. Hastily, he dragged his hearing down as the shot hammered at his eardrums. Staying crouched, Jim pulled his own weapon from his holster and snapped off a quick shot just as the man turned and pulled open the car door.
The gunman collapsed with a scream, his gun falling from limp fingers as he fell forward to hang lifelessly over the top of the door. Slowly, his dead weight pulled him downward to sprawl on the ground. He didn't move.
Simon stepped past Jim and ran to the fallen man's side, fingers reaching to check for a pulse. He looked up as Jim walked past him, heading toward the exit on the other side of the room.
"Nice shot." Simon shook his head as his comment went unanswered and stood to follow the sentinel outside. It was still raining heavily and Jim started up a flight of steps that appeared to lead to the ground level. Suddenly, he stopped and crouched, his fingers wiping at a splotch of something on the step.
"Blood." He brought the finger to his nose and sniffed at it delicately. Concentrating fiercely, Jim moved past the iron tang of the blood, past the salt, past the sickly sweet stench of infection then pulled back. He was wasting time. He nodded and moved back down to stand beside Simon, his eyes roaming over the immediate area. "Don't know if it's Blair's but it's more than likely," he muttered.
"Maybe he headed up that way to get help if he's bleeding," Simon suggested.
Jim shook his head and walked slowly along the length of the building, stopping as he came to the corner. "No, he turned back." Now his hearing… Casting out his sensory net, he sent his hearing out on the coattails of his sense of smell, reining it in ruthlessly when a putrid smell of decay assaulted him. Taking a deep breath, vaguely aware of the touch of Simon's hand on his back, he tried again.
Tiny claws skittered, several rapid heartbeats clicked like castanets and he shuddered in automatic revulsion. Not there… no, wait. One heartbeat rapid, pounding, but not as fast as the others, louder, drawing him in, surrounding him, merging with panting, shallow breaths interspersed with grunts of pain. Every sense sharpened suddenly, smell detecting blood, the bricks against his fingers rough and abrasive, Simon's breath rasping in his ears.
He took a faltering step forward, then ran, around the corner, up a lane-way to the mouth of a darkened alley. No movement here but Jim could still hear him. He was at the dumpster before he realized. "Shit! Get some medical help here." As he called out the instructions to a startled Simon, he was already pulling himself up and into the bin, his feet sinking into the muck, hands searching frantically… His fingers touched something soft and he could literally feel Blair's heartbeat beneath his fingertips. Kneeling down, he pulled Blair up from his hiding place, drawing the limp body to his chest, one large hand cupping the fever-hot skull.
"Jim?" The name was a mere whisper of breath but to the sentinel, it sounded as loud as a shout. Blue eyes cracked open, roaming foggily for a moment, then pinned him with an intense stare that almost shattered his composure.
"Yeah," Jim breathed, pressing Blair's body closer so that his partner was sheltered in his protective embrace. "I'm here."
A filthy, shaky hand reached up and weakly patted his cheek. "Found me."
Jim smiled gently. "Thanks to my Guide, yeah, I found you."
Blair finished entering the last paragraph into his research document, then saved it and switched off his laptop. Pushing back from the table, he stretched, lifting both arms above his head, wincing as the new stitches in his arm tugged a little at the movement. He yawned and bent his neck from side to side, feeling the joints and muscles loosen a little. He was tired, but in a good way. For the first time in weeks, his fatigue was that of good, old-fashioned sleepiness, not the exhaustion that had dragged at him in the first weeks after the attempt on their lives. He stood and turned around, his gaze taking in the empty living room.
Jim had moved while Blair was absorbed in his work and Blair could see him now, leaning against the wall of the balcony outside. Blair walked into the kitchen and pulled down two mugs from the cupboard, filling them with the recently made tea, sweetening Jim's with a little honey, then picked the cups up carefully, the fingers of his splinted hand only just wrapping around the handle of one. Carefully, he made his way to the balcony and tapped on the glass with his foot. When Jim turned around, he held the cups aloft and Jim stepped over and opened the door, pulling the tilting mug from Blair's bandaged fingers.
"Thanks," he said, turning back to his perusal of the city as he sniffed at the hot brew. "You should have called me."
Blair moved to stand at his partner's side. "You looked a little preoccupied."
Jim merely nodded but Blair didn't press, knowing his partner would open up in his own time… or not. "You put honey in my tea," Jim said finally as he sipped, then, after licking his lips, sipped again.
"If you've got to have it sweet, fine," Blair conceded, "but you can at least have it natural."
The silence stretched companionably as they gazed out across the cityscape, each lost in their own thoughts. Then Jim put down his cup and placed an arm around Blair's shoulder, his hand reaching up to massage the back of Blair's neck.
"I miss my mother," he whispered. "Isn't that stupid? All those years, never knowing where she was, I thought of her occasionally, wondered where she was. Now that she's really gone, I miss her."
"It wasn't your fault, Jim." Blair felt tears burn his eyes and fought to hold them back. This time was for Jim's grieving, not his own.
"I know. " The arm around Blair's shoulders tightened, pulling him closer.
"Not yours, either."
Blair stiffened, knowing immediately what Jim was referring to. "Jim? The accident…"
"No." Jim's arm held him captive, his voice as firm and unyielding as his embrace. "Not your fault. All right?"
Blair nodded and allowed the tears to fall. "You tired?"
Jim shrugged. "Not really. You?"
"A little. I've been thinking."
Jim reached up and tapped a finger lightly against Blair's skull. "You want to be careful doing that, you've still got a slight concussion."
Blair smiled gently but quickly became serious again. "I've been thinking about what Simon told us… about Corcoran. How would you feel if -" He broke off, unable to say the words.
"If someone knocked at the door and said, "Hi, I think I'm your brother or sister? To be honest, Chief, I've been doing some thinking about that myself." Jim shifted his arm from Blair's shoulders and rested his elbow on the balcony wall, cupping his chin in his hand. "I don't really know. I mean, I already have a brother and my relationship with him is far from perfect, and every other relationship I've had that meant anything to me, I seemed to have screwed up. My dad, Stephen, Carolyn… you…"
"Not me, Jim. I had a hand in that too."
"But we're okay now?"
"Yeah, we're better than okay."
Jim studied Blair for a long moment. “If that’s the case,” he finally said, “then there’s something I need to get off my chest. I’ve been feeling something more for you since Alex.” He shrugged. “Maybe longer than that. You know I’m bi, and I’m not expecting you to reciprocate, but I thought you had a right to know –“
“That you love me?” Blair asked with a small smile on his face. Jim swallowed convulsively and nodded. “I know,” Blair continued. “I just wondered how long it was going to take for you to tell me. I was pretty close to gathering up my courage to tell you the same thing.”
Jim’s eyes opened wide at the admission. “Since when? I mean you’re straight –“
Blair shrugged. “I haven’t bothered to analyze it…” He gave a wry grin. “At least not too much, didn’t want to talk myself out of it and risk losing the one thing I‘ve wanted for a long time. I’ve been too busy worrying how to tell you or whether I should wait for you to say it yourself. I mean, I hoped you would eventually, and I really hoped it wouldn’t take something like drowning or getting run down to do it but –“
Jim pressed a finger to his lips. “Shut up, Sandburg.”
Blair smiled sweetly and beckoned to Jim with his good arm. “So, are you going to kiss me?”
Jim needed no further invitation, moving quickly into Blair’s embrace. He lowered his head and his lips met Blair’s, and when Blair opened his mouth, welcoming him in, Jim knew he was right where he should be. Blair’s taste was like the finest wine, the sweetest berry, nirvana itself. He lost himself in the kiss, let his senses open up to catalogue all that was special about his guide, his friend, his lover.
“Jim.” The word was whisper-soft, and then Blair pulled away, his finger coming up to drift gently over Jim’s lips and then stroke down his cheek.
“Wow!” Blair sounded a little breathless. He grinned. “I think you were starting to zone, man. If we’re going to do anything more than kiss, we are definitely working on your senses.” He pressed his finger firmly to Jim’s lips as he opened his mouth to protest. “And I have some very specific tests in mind.”
“In that case,” Jim replied, pulling Blair into a hug, “what are we waiting for?” He led Blair toward the balcony door, but Blair held back and Jim looked at him quizzically.
“So… if someone knocks at your door one day?” Blair prompted.
Jim was silent for a moment, thinking it over. “I’d probably say, ‘Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you.’”
“With all we’ve gone through together, all we’ve learned, if they were sentinels, we could help them, you know?” Blair replied. “Make sure they don’t make the mistakes we made.” He broke off as he was suddenly engulfed in another hug, this one almost rough in its intensity.
“But if they want a guide, they damn well better find their own,” Jim whispered against his neck, “because I’m not sharing.”
Blair couldn’t help the grin that blossomed despite his growing weariness. “Jim? Tell me about your mom. What do you remember?”
“Only if you tell me about yours.”
Blair pushed back a little and stared at him, unselfconsciously wiping the moisture from his cheeks with his hand and seeing the glitter of tears in Jim’s eyes. “You know Naomi! You’ve met her like a thousand times.”
Jim shook his head and finally eased his hold on his lover, walking over to the door and opening it, before ushering Blair inside. He followed and locked the door then closed the shades on the darkness outside. “It’s going to take about a thousand times more before I even begin to figure your mother out, Chief.”
“I know what you’re saying. Did I tell you about the time she was protesting store Santas?”
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Acknowledgements: To Annie, thanks, sis, for always being where I need you to be. Originally published in Senses of Wonder 3.