Chosen 9: Night Shift by Natalie L

Chosen 9: Night Shift - Natalie L

Christmas Eve:

Blair sat on the couch, laboring over a composition journal. His left arm was in a cast, and would be for another month or so. His ribs ached, but he no longer needed to have them wrapped. Still, whenever Jim gave him a hug, it took his breath away – and not pleasantly.

“Still working on that paper about us, Chief?” Jim peered over Blair’s shoulder to get a glimpse of what his partner was writing.

Blair quickly snapped the book shut and looked up over his shoulder at the curious Sentinel. “I’ve finished the introduction and I’m working on writing up my findings,” Blair explained.

“What’s taking so long?” Jim asked, settling his hands on Blair’s shoulders to give his Guide a massage. “You’ve been at it a month already. I would have thought you’d have submitted it to some magazine by now.”

“It’s not that easy,” Blair explained, sighing and relaxing back as the massage worked the stiffness from his neck and shoulders. “I’ve spent this past month gathering data on how you’re responding to no intercourse over an extended period. I’m studying the effects of limited bonding on a working Sentinel in a high stress job.”

Jim frowned. “You know I don’t like my personal life hung out on a line for everyone to see.”

Blair turned his head to look up at Jim. “I know that. That’s why I’m going to disguise our identities. No one will know that it’s us.”

“You promised I could see it before you publish,” Jim reminded Blair with a grunt of dissatisfaction.

“I remember,” Blair said, grinning to take away the sting of what he was doing. “But it’s not ready yet. Please don’t look at it until I give it to you; promise?”

“I suppose,” Jim grumbled. He wanted to respect Blair’s request, but this whole deal of no bonding intercourse was beginning to rub against raw nerves. Blair’s abduction at Thanksgiving, and the subsequent beating he had received that had resulted in a broken arm, four broken ribs, and a concussion, had left the Sentinel with an urgent need to reconnect. He wasn’t certain how much longer he could last. Already his temper was shortened, and he was having trouble concentrating at work.

The phone interrupted his thoughts and Jim answered. “Ellison.... Yeah, Simon. Okay.” He hung up and sighed. “Just what I need.”

“What’s that?” Blair asked, watching as Jim walked over to the Christmas tree and unplugged the lights.

“Simon needs us down at the station. They’re short-handed due to the citywide strikes. The ‘Blue Flu’ seems to be in full force, among other factors. C’mon,” he added, reaching out to give Blair a hand up off the couch. “I’m going to need you close tonight.”

“I’m not going to be much use, except to ground you,” Blair said, standing and gathering his journal and pens. “But I’ll do what I can.”

+++++

They had turned the corner heading toward police headquarters when a red car came careening past them. It jumped the curb onto the sidewalk, sending people scattering, before crashing through the glass doors and stopping inside the department’s lobby. Jim pulled up to the curb and parked.

“You go on upstairs and wait for me at my desk,” Jim said. “I’m going to check this out; make sure that no one was hurt.”

“All right,” Blair agreed, “but be careful.”

They walked across the street together. Blair brushed past the accident and wormed his way through the gathering crowd to get to the elevator. Meanwhile, Jim approached the driver, pulling his gun and yanking the car door open.

“Don’t shoot! I’m not carrying! Don’t shoot!” the driver said, pulling away from the steering wheel and raising his hands.

“Get out of the car! Come on, let’s go!” Jim yanked the driver out of the vehicle and spun him around. “Hands on the roof!” He patted the man down for weapons before cuffing him and leading him to an elevator to take him upstairs. “What’s your name, punk?”

“Johnny. Johnny Macado. And I ain’t saying nuthin’ else until I talk with my lawyer.”

+++++

Jim manhandled Macado over to his desk where Blair was sitting, studiously working on his research paper. Simon walked out of his office to join them.

“So, is this the young man who’s responsible for our remodeling?” Simon asked, chewing the stub of an old cigar.

“Says his name is Johnny Macado,” Jim replied, nodding. “And that’s all he’ll say right now.”

“You know,” Simon mused, “I hadn’t pictured our lobby as a patio.” He turned to Macado. “Where were you last summer when the air conditioning went down?

“I get a phone call, right?” Macado asked, his eyes glinting desperately.

“You get one when we give you one, son,” Simon said before addressing Jim. “I’ll have someone else book him in for you. Right now, I need you and Sandburg to roll on a call. There were shots fired on Lincoln Avenue. Megan is there; it’s her first homicide.”

Jim sighed. He hadn’t yet decided whether he liked the brassy young Australian Inspector, who had come to Cascade through an officer exchange program. She tended to grate on his nerves, but he had to give her credit for spunk. “All right,” he agreed, knowing he didn’t really have a choice. “I’ll guide her through it, Captain.”

“That’s guide, not drag, Jim,” Simon reminded his detective with a knowing grin.

“Get your coat, Chief,” Jim instructed. “We’ve got ourselves a homicide.”

Blair closed his journal and tucked it inside his coat as he got up to follow Jim back down to the truck.

+++++

Blair turned on the light in the truck’s cab as they got underway, and resumed his work writing in the journal. His non-verbalized grunts and chuckles as he wrote began to grate on Jim’s nerves.

“Chief, uh... I’ve got a bit of an alternator problem here. If you keep using the light, the battery’s going to drain. Can we, uh, put a pin in it for now?

“I thought you wanted me to get my paper done,” Blair said, continuing to scratch out his notes. “The sooner I get this finished, the sooner you get to have a look at it.”

“Can I see it now?”

“Right this minute?” Blair asked, looking up in surprise. “I thought we were going to a homicide?”

“Not right now,” Jim amended, “but when we get home?”

Blair shook his head. “Can’t let you do that, man. If you see what I’ve written before I finish, it would invalidate all the research I’ve put into this thing. I not only get validation in my field for publishing a scientific paper, I also get paid.” He looked up to see Jim’s scowling face. “Look, you don’t have to worry, okay? I already promised you that you could see it before I send it off.”

“I get veto rights if there’s anything in there I don’t like?” Jim persisted.

“Well... I don’t know about that,” Blair hedged. “It’s a scientific paper based on research I’ve done this past month and... well, since we’ve been together. I can’t really leave anything out.”

Jim grunted, prepared to give a sarcastic reply, when they arrived at the crime scene. “We’re not done discussing this,” he warned Blair as they got out and joined Megan over by the body.

“Ellison! What are you doing here?” Connor asked, surprised to see the detective. “Hi, Sandy,” she greeted Blair, who smiled and gave her a little wave of recognition.

“Nice to see you, too.” Jim let his sarcasm bleed out in his response to the Aussie Inspector. “The Captain thought we should work together on this. Is that going to be a problem?”

“No,” Connor said, shaking her head. “No problem. Actually, I could use the help. I took an anonymous 911 call and found him like this; no suspect, no witnesses, no wallet.”

“There’s a missing ring,” Jim noted, seeing the faint tan line around the man’s finger.

Megan nodded. “I noticed that. It suggests a mugging. Marks on the throat imply strangulation – probably a wire.” She looked up from her crouched position next to the body. “There are two gunshot wounds as well.”

“Hey, Barry,” Jim called over to the officer who was taking the crime scene photos. “Can we get a portrait here?”

As the officer came over and began taking pictures, Blair spoke quietly. “I thought when you garrote somebody, it’s to kill them quietly. Why risk the two gunshots?”

Jim crouched down next to Megan to get a closer look at the marks on the victim’s neck. “Well, since the marks on the neck are shallow and the victim was shot from the front, it would appear the hit was interrupted.”

“You call this a hit?” Megan asked, surprised.

“Yeah. It looks like your basic mob job hit,” Jim answered. “The killer probably figured strangulation was taking too long and ended it with a bullet.”

Connor pressed her lips together in a tight line. “Interesting theory.”

“Glad you like it.” Jim looked down the alley from their position and noted a scrape of red paint on a dumpster at the far end. He got up and headed toward the dumpster, with Blair in tow.

“See ya,” Blair said to Megan as they parted.

When Jim reached the dumpster, he turned to Blair. “Hand me your pocket knife, Chief.” When Blair quickly complied, Jim used the blade to flake off a bit of the red paint. “Judging by the height, I’d say it was a car,” he commented before lifting the flake to his nose and sniffing. “It’s fresh, lacquer-based.” He bagged the flake and handed it to another officer who had approached.

“Hey, Joe. Would you mind running this over to the lab for a complete analysis, please?”

The officer nodded and accepted the baggie. “Sure thing, Detective Ellison.”

Jim folded up the Swiss army knife and handed it back to Blair. “Thanks,” he said curtly, making his way back to the truck. They got inside and Jim tried the ignition. The battery ground loudly, but would not turn over. “That’s just great, Chief. I hope you’re happy now,” Jim muttered. “The battery is DOA.”

“I’ll check it out,” Blair said, getting out of the truck.

“Just what good do you think you can do with just one arm?” Jim asked, coming around to the front of the truck and lifting the hood.

“I don’t know, but I can try,” Blair said, reaching for the battery.

A man appeared beside him suddenly, making the Guide jump. “Hey... whoa! You scared me.”

“My name is Gabe. I’ve come to bear witness,” the stranger said in a soft voice. He was dressed in a ragged old coat and fingerless gloves, his blond hair curling about his head like a halo.

“Bear witness? What are you talking about?” Blair asked, confused.

“They talked with him with smiling words and yet had met in secret saying, ‘When his eyes turn upon our silver, then shall we fall on him,’” Gabe recited. “But the Lord had sent a witness whose feet might yet be brought to righteous paths. His words would be believed.”

“Did you see what happened here tonight?” Blair asked, incredulous.

“I’m an angel sent to witness him,” Gabe replied cryptically.

“So, you’re an angel?” Jim’s voice continued to drip with the sarcasm that had been his mode of communication for the evening. “Your wings are looking a little ragged.”

“Uh, Jim, come here.” Blair pulled him aside and whispered soft enough that only the Sentinel could hear. “Put this angel business aside, and I think we have ourselves a real witness here. I think he saw the murder.”

“Oh, and you think this Tower of Babel’s testimony will hold up in court?” Jim asked.

Gabe closed the hood of the truck and stood back.

“Hey, hey, preacher. Get away from the car, would ya...” Jim began. He was interrupted as the engine turned over and started to run smoothly. The headlights came on, illuminating the self-proclaimed ‘angel’.

“What’d you do to the battery?” Jim asked, turning to Blair.

Blair gave a one-shouldered shrug. “I didn’t do anything....”

+++++

When they arrived back at Major Crime with Gabe in tow, Jim and Blair found the hallways packed with people, mostly the homeless. They wove their way through the crowd, trying to get to the bullpen area. As they approached the door, Simon greeted them.

“What’s going on here?” Jim asked, pressing through the crowd to get into the relative peace of the bullpen.

Simon shook his head in defeat. “Social services joined the strike and with all the beds filled up, the mayor has graciously volunteered the police and fire departments to take up the overflow.” He turned to look at the ragged man they had with them. “Is this the witness?”

“Yeah,” Jim asserted, nodding. “Sandburg here says that he is, but the gentleman claims he’s an angel.”

“Hello, brother,” Gabe greeted the captain.

Simon chuckled, deciding to make the best of a bad situation. “Hello to you. You’ll fit right in here. We have the heir to the throne of Romania and an interplanetary walk-on.” He turned to Blair. “Sandburg, could you take care of this gentleman for a little while? I need to have a talk with your partner and Connor.”

“Sure thing, Captain,” Blair said, leading Gabe off to see if he could find some food for the homeless man.

In Simon’s office, the captain faced down his two detectives.

“All right, what do we have here?” he asked, settling behind his desk and pulling out a cigar to chew on.

Jim and Megan answered simultaneously.

“A possible mugging.”

“Your basic mob hit.”

Simon sighed. “All right. One at a time, please.”

Jim gestured to Megan, and she began her report. “Homicide – one victim, possible mugging. I’m waiting for forensics, and we still don’t have an ID on the victim.”

Jim grunted at the incomplete analysis of scene and added his own interpretation. “The victim was strangled, sir – possibly a wire. He was shot through the chest with a nine mil by the look of the wound. There was evidence of vehicles at the scene, plus we have Sandburg’s ‘witness’.”

“What witness?” Megan asked, surprised she hadn’t heard anything before now.

“Sounds like we’re dealing with a professional hit,” Simon interrupted. “Jim, I want you to run point on this one. I’ll get his photo search started through the DMV.”

Megan was irritated with having the case taken from her. Not one to keep quiet, she addressed her new captain, “Excuse me, sir. But I’m the primary on this homicide. I took the call.”

“Look, Conner, you still need to be run through this department’s homicide procedures,” Simon explained. “Your past few cases have been, shall we say, a little too improvised.”

“Oh, I see,” Megan said, still feeling ruffled by the rebuff. “We’re playing by Rafferty’s rules.”

“No,” Simon clarified, “by my rules.”

“Same diff.” Megan turned on her heels and left the office. Jim shrugged, giving Simon a crooked smile, and followed her out.

+++++

Detectives Brown and Rafe were in the evidence lock-up area unloading a van of stolen goods as Megan walked up.

“Here you go,” Brown said, handing a VCR to Rafe.

“Got it,” Rafe said, setting the machine aside and coming back for the next item. “Hey, Connor. What are you doing here?”

Megan watched at the two men continued to unload the van. “I’m investigating a homicide on East Lincoln. Detective Ellison mentioned a witness. Did either of you see him bring anyone in?”

“No,” Rafe answered for them both. “We’ve been down here the whole time.”

There was a movement in the back of the van and a growl, almost a hiss. Brown looked behind the box he had been about to move. “Whoa!” As he jumped out of the back of the van and landed on the concrete floor, an alligator followed him, slipping from the back of the van and running between Brown’s legs. “What the hell was that?”

The alligator ran across the floor and down the hall before slipping into a ventilation duct. Megan, Brown, and Rafe followed, all peering into the duct to see if they could see the creature.

“What was an alligator doing in the back of the van?” Brown asked, still shaken by his close encounter with the reptile.

“Somebody’s idea of a watch dog,” Rafe suggested.

“I don’t hear him,” Megan said, as they hunched around the duct. She borrowed a flashlight from a nearby uniformed officer and shone the light into the shaft. The alligator looked back at them from the circle of light. Frightened, the animal hissed and lunged, sending the three detectives scurrying backwards for safety. Rafe pulled out his gun and pointed it down the shaft as Brown took another careful look inside.

“It’s gone,” Brown said with a mixture of relief and dread. “I don’t believe this. That thing’s got to be at least nine feet long!”

“It’s teeth are nine feet long,” Megan snapped.

They continued to shine the light down the shaft as they heard the alligator move off deeper into the ductwork of the police station.

+++++

Blair knocked on the door to Simon’s office and waited for the captain to respond.

“Come in,” Simon called.

Blair walked in, looking apologetic. “I tried calling every shelter in town. No luck. None of them have any room,” he said with a sigh. “But the Sisters of Hope said they’d send over some hot meals to help out.”

“Great,” Simon replied with a tired sigh. “Why not have them set up in the break room.” He waved Blair off, but the Guide didn’t leave. “You want something else?”

“Uh, yeah,” Blair responded tentatively, holding out a sheet of paper toward the captain. “I want you to take a look at this. It’s Gabe’s witness report.”

“What the hell is this?” Simon asked, looking at the apparent gibberish scrawled on the sheet. “Is this a real language?”

“Actually, it is,” Blair said. “I had to look it up in a couple different books, but I found it. It’s Aramaic. No one’s spoken this form of the language for over 1,500 years. It’s an ancient Biblical language. A lot of the Old Testament was written in it.

“Biblical?” Simon scoffed, handing the paper back to Blair. “Come on... you don’t really think Gabe is some sort of –”

“Angel?” Blair finished for the captain. “No, of course not. But supposed states of possession – angelic or otherwise – are common in some cultures... the Yoruba, the Siberian Yakutsk – or as a coping mechanism for modern street people.”

Simon rummaged in his desk and pulled out a form, handing it over to Blair. “All right, look. Here’s an authorization form. Why don’t you go down to Missing Persons and see what you can find out. We’re gonna need to know the guy’s name in order to go to court.”

As Blair exited, Simon’s phone began to ring. “Banks here.... Brown, this is not the time for a news crew to be running around the station.... What? They already know about it?” Simon let his head drop into his hand. “Oh, damn. No, no, I’ll handle it.” He hung up the phone, wondering what could possibly top an alligator in the ventilation ducts.

+++++

Jim sat at his desk, trying to block out the pandemonium around him. Blair was off helping to set up the donated meals in the break room, leaving Jim on his own. He’d just come from interviewing young Johnny Macado, and was now trying to rein in senses that threatened to go into overdrive. Sitting on one corner of his desk was the journal that Blair had been so diligent about writing in this past month. Jim reached out to lift the cover and leaf through the first few pages. Needing some quiet, he picked up the book and headed out into the hall, toward the men’s room.

The bullpen had been noisy, but the hallway was chaotic. As Jim entered the passageway, a news crew brushed past him on their way into the bullpen.

“Captain Banks? I’m Carrie Kingston, Channel 2 News,” the reporter introduced herself to Simon, who had just exited his office to see what the hell was going on outside. “You know, I thought this was going to be just another warm, fuzzy piece on sheltering street people. But who can resist an alligator trapped in the building’s ventilation system?”

“Ms. Kingston,” Simon said, stifling a discontented grunt, “we’ve already had to survive our lobby being demolished. I was hoping to save face with this situation.”

“‘Fearless cops courageously rescue the city’s homeless from a four-legged fugitive. Film at 11:00’,” said Carrie. “Kind enough?”

As Simon and Ms. Kingston discussed the story the news crew would cover, Blair returned from the break room and noticed his missing journal. Frantic, he searched Jim’s desk, under papers, in drawers, even on the floor, but without any luck.

“Henry! H!” Blair called to the passing detective. “Have you seen the journal I brought in? I left it here on Jim’s desk.”

Henry shook his head as he hurried past. “Sorry, Blair.”

Blair headed back into the chaos of the hall, just missing Jim, who was returning from the men’s room. Jim dropped into the chair at his desk, disturbed by what he’d read in the journal. He opened a drawer and dropped the offending book inside before slamming it shut.

+++++

In the operations room, Megan stood at the controls of a small robotic camera. Simon walked over and watched her skeptically, as the news crew hovered in the background.

“Are you sure you’re squared away on this thing?” he asked.

“No worries,” Megan replied confidently. “The controls are like the one I checked out on in Sydney.” She looked over at the news crew. “I do wish they weren’t doing this... How’s my hair?”

“You’ll do fine,” Simon assured her. “Just don’t let the cameras get to you.”

“Easy for you to say,” Megan muttered as the captain walked off, leaving her to face the news crew by herself.

Henry and Rafe situated themselves next to the ventilation duct in the room as Megan set the small robot inside and went back to the controls.

“This is Carrie Kingston reporting from Cascade Police Headquarters, and this is Nitro, the bomb squad robot. We’ve seen Nitro locate explosives, but tonight he’ll be tracking wild game.” As Carrie talked, Henry and Rafe fed the power cord into the shaft as Megan sent the little robot on its way. “Somewhere in the air ducts that honeycomb this building lurks a predator. A dangerous and probably ravenous alligator.” She motioned for the cameraman to turn toward Megan, who was busy at the controls, watching the monitor that told her what Nitro was seeing as it moved deeper into the shaft. “This is Police Inspector Megan Connor, on loan to us from the New South Wales police in Australia – Cascade’s answer to Crocodile Dundee. She’ll be guiding Nitro as he searches for the gator.” She gestured to the monitor. “And we’ll be able to see it on this monitor. Where are we now, Megan?”

“We’re about thirty feet in,” Megan answered, concentrating on her controls. “The shaft coming up runs over the locker room. We think that’s where the alligator is.” As she spoke, Nitro rounded a corner and the camera picked up the reptile.

“There! There it is!” Carrie gushed with excitement. “We spotted him around the corner. Any second now...”

As everyone in the room watched, the alligator lunged at the robot, his jaws opened wide just before a burst of static showed on the monitor.

“Oh dear...” Carrie sighed.

Henry and Rafe began tugging on the power cord, hoping to pull the gator out with the robot.

“We need some help here!” Rafe called out. “Paul, cut the power!” The officer in question turned off the power to the robot as Henry and Rafe continued to pull. Suddenly, there was no more resistance, and the cable came out easily – only a frayed end of electrical wiring, and no Nitro or alligator to be seen.

“All right, all right!” Simon said, having had enough of the farce. He put his hand over the camera lens. “That’s it. Cut!”

+++++

Blair re-entered the bullpen and spotted Jim sitting at his desk. “Jim, have you seen my journal?” he asked, hopefully, folding his hands in a prayer of supplication.

Jim pulled open the desk drawer and took out the book, handing it over to Blair without a word.

“Yes! Yes, thank you! Where was it?” Blair asked, trying to get a response from his sullen partner. “Did I leave it down in the truck? I thought I brought it up here and put it on the desk, but I couldn’t find it....”

Blair’s running monologue was interrupted as the infamous trial lawyer, Charles Kaplan, came bursting into Major Crimes and strode across the bullpen to meet with Simon.

“Good evening, Counselor,” Simon greeted the man coolly. “If you’re here about your car, I’m afraid you came to the wrong place. It’s down in the garage.”

“Was it badly damaged?” Kaplan asked.

Jim walked over, mildly amused at being able to bait the lawyer. “Can you say ‘flatbed’? Hmmm? You’ll probably have to get some heinous criminals off on technicalities to pay for the paint job.”

“What?” Kaplan said, feigning hurt surprise. “You still upset about the Mantini case? Geez, Detective, get over it. You can’t win ‘em all.”

“You sure seem to be able to,” Simon replied dryly.

“So, I’m king of the world. Sue me. This is for you.” Kaplan handed a paper to Simon. “It’s a writ to produce. I want to see my client. His name’s Johnny Macado.”

“Is this some sort of joke?” Simon asked, incensed. “The kid steals your car and drives it into the lobby of the police department, and now you want to defend him?”

Kaplan laughed. “I couldn’t possibly buy this publicity, and believe you me, this... this is great publicity. It has Night Line written all over it.”

“Who wrote this?” Jim asked, taking the writ from Simon’s hands and glancing over the contents. “Geraldo?”

“Look,” Kaplan said, not giving in. “Mr. Macado made his phone call. Now, I would like to see my client!”

+++++

After speaking with Macado, Kaplan returned to Major Crime.

“Intention to represent, warrant for full disclosure, writ of habeas, yada, yada, yada,” Kaplan told the captain and Jim, slapping papers down on Simon’s desk. “Ground rules, gentlemen. No one talks to Johnny unless I’m present.”

“What else do you want?” Simon asked, biting back an angry reply.

“You can’t put a 15-year-old kid in with general lockup,” Kaplan stated. “They’d eat him alive.”

“All right,” Simon conceded. “He’ll stay in the interrogation room until morning. How’s that sound?”

“That’s lovely. We’re done here,” Kaplan said, closing his briefcase and turning to leave.

“Not quite,” Jim said, blocking the man’s exit. “Where, exactly, did you say your car was stolen from?”

“My office lot. I was working late,” Kaplan lied glibly.

“And you can prove that?”

“I don’t need to.” Kaplan’s voice was smug. “Now, if you have any further questions for me, I highly advise you to put them in writing.” He looked straight at Jim. “You can write, I assume.” Kaplan brushed past Jim and out the door.

“He’s lying,” Jim told Simon.

“If he’s breathing, he’s lying,” Simon agreed. “I’m going to make some phone calls; see if I can find out what this weasel is up to. Where are you going?”

“Down to evidence,” Jim stated. “Whatever’s going on, it starts with the car.”

+++++

In the operations room, Megan, Rafe, Brown and several other officers were gathered around a small TV set.

‘This is Carrie Kingston coming to you live from Cascade Police Headquarters where only a few moments ago, we witnessed one of the modern world’s most persistent conflicts.’

“This is it!” Megan said excitedly. “Turn it up!”

‘The battle between nature and machine. Nitro, the bomb squad robot, is a quarter of a million dollars of mechanical menace. His target tonight? One of nature’s true survivors – an alligator – lost, hungry, afraid...’

“That not what she said!” Megan protested. “Can she do that?”

‘...as to how the rare, endangered alligator ended up in the building’s ventilation system, we may never know, but the creature was smart enough to stay far away from its human pursuers. Unfortunately, we didn’t return the favor. The terrified reptile responded instinctively and fought back.

‘But a happy ending may still await our scaly fugitive. The city workers’ walkout has been settled at the negotiating table, and having viewed our footage, Mayor Prescott informs us that he’ll leave the reptile in the more gentle hands of animal control. Sorry, Captain Banks. Guess you’ll have to do without that pair of alligator shoes.

‘Carrie Kingston, Channel 2 News.’

+++++

Down in evidence lock-up, Jim was examining Kaplan’s car. Blair followed behind, sensing that the Sentinel needed the grounding he could provide, but that Jim didn’t want him too near for some reason.

Trying to lighten the atmosphere between them, Blair asked, “You ever see yourself driving something like this, Jim? A big ol’ Caddy?” When Jim ignored him in favor of taking a paint sample off the side of the car, Blair answered himself. “Yeah, me neither. Is something bugging you, Jim?”

“Should something be bugging me, Chief?”

Blair couldn’t understand the cold shoulder treatment he was receiving. This morning, he’d been the love of Jim’s life, but tonight... “I don’t know,” he answered slowly. “That’s why I asked. It’s just, uh, you haven’t said a word while we’ve been down here.”

“I think this matches the paint from the dumpster.” Jim held up the paint sample he’d removed from the car.

“This car was at the crime scene? Whoa. What are the odds on that?”

“Vince,” Jim said, turning to the forensic technician, “Do me a favor. Run this up to ballistics for a test on that slug and also have the lab give me a breakdown of this paint sample, would you, please?” He handed the paint sample to the tech. “Appreciate it.”

As Jim turned back around to look at the car again, he bumped into Blair. “Come on, Chief! Can I get a little space here?”

“Jim, what’s the matter with you?” Blair’s voice held curiosity and hurt.

“I don’t know.” Jim sighed, and then hardened his voice. “Maybe I’m feeling a little, uh, how did you say it – ‘territorially threatened to the point of paranoia’? I mean, what the hell is that?”

“You read my journal,” Blair said, a heavy weight settling on his heart as he suddenly understood. “I asked you not to do that. Look, Jim. We have the entire six months of our lives invested in this thing. I’m not going to start shading any of it just because you feel threatened by my frank discussion of our sex life. It’s what we are; who we are. It’s at the basis of all Sentinel and Guide bonds.”

“You think I feel threatened?” Jim accused his Guide.

“What else would you call it?”

“I’d call it a violation of our love and trust.” Jim turned on his heel and walked off, leaving Blair standing alone in the evidence room.

+++++

A van pulled into the underground parking garage and an animal control officer stepped out, to be greeted enthusiastically by a waiting detective.

“Welcome! I’m Detective Keller, Major Crime.” He shook hands with the animal control officer. “So you’re the guy they brought in to wrestle the gator?”

“Yeah, Ben Stout. Saw you guys on TV. Let’s make this quick and easy. Grab that bag and I’ll get the gas mask.”

As Stout turned his back, the faux detective grabbed him and smashed his head into the back of the van, knocking him out.

+++++

Blair exited the elevator on the crowded sixth floor and quickly parted ways with the temperamental Sentinel. As he approached the doors to Major Crime, Simon came out to greet him.

“Hey, Sandburg, I got a positive ID on your ‘angel’.” He handed a file folder to Blair. “According to records, his name is Harold Blake. He taught a semester of ancient history at Fordham.”

“Ah. I guess that would explain him knowing Aramaic,” Blair said, leafing through the file and skimming its contents. “Unmarried, no family. His employers reported him missing two years ago. Never heard from him again.” He and Simon walked into the bullpen together. “That is, of course, until now. You sure this thing’s right?”

“Fingerprints don’t lie,” Simon replied with a shrug. “I do wonder how he ended up in an alley living out of a cardboard box, though.” Simon walked into his office, leaving Blair to read through the file on his own.

+++++

Jim stormed into the interrogation room, yanking an empty chair away from the table with a loud screech, waking up Johnny Macado, who had been dozing out of boredom.

“Hey, what’s up with that?” Johnny protested, sitting up and glaring at Jim.

“You might as well get used to it. State pen’s a noisy place. You know, I can place you in the car and I can place the car at the scene, which is all the DA’s going to need to place a gun in your hand,” Jim said, leaning menacingly across the table.

“I didn’t shoot nobody!” Johnny protested.

“All right, so you were the driver,” Jim said calmly. “It doesn’t matter to me. You’re an accessory. I’ll put you away either way. It doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t have to listen to you, man. You don’t scare me.” Johnny’s bravado was as false as his picture ID.

“I hope I don’t scare you,” Jim said, coming around to stand next to the young punk. “Do I look like I could scare you? I’ll tell you what I would think would scare a very nice-looking kid like you – being the new, fresh meat on the cell block...”

“Hey, man, I don’t have to...”

Jim shoved Johnny down on the table and held him there. “Now you listen to me. You’re in over your head, kid. Why don’t you call your mom...”

“You leave my mom out of this, all right?” Johnny protested. “You just leave her alone.”

“Your mother’s going to miss you, you know that? She’s going to be on her own for a while. There’s not going to be any kissing Mommy good-bye.” Jim released the boy and slammed out of the interrogation room, leaving Johnny to think over what he’d just heard.

+++++

The elevator door opened on the sixth floor as Blair was passing by. An animal control officer stepped out.

“Excuse me. You work here?” the man stopped Blair to ask.

“Yeah, in a way,” Blair answered. “May I help you?”

“I’m Ben Stout, with animal control,” the man said. “I’m here about a little pest problem...?”

“Oh, sure. Right this way,” Blair guided the man toward the operations room.

+++++

In Simon’s office, the captain, Jim and Megan stood, looking at a bagged bullet.

“It’s a nine mil,” Jim explained. “We found it embedded in Kaplan’s headlight.”

“Same as those recovered from the body,” Megan chimed in. “The victim’s name was Walter Miller. Your DMV came up with a match. He worked on a loading dock – when he worked.”

“Why would Kaplan be interested in a part-time teamster like Miller?” Simon asked.

Jim handed the bagged evidence to the captain. “There’s a major investigation for jury tampering, but no one will confirm or deny Kaplan’s a target.”

“Can we search through the DA’s database for any connection between Kaplan and Miller?” Megan asked.

Simon nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, we can. All right, let’s do it. Bring Kaplan in.”

+++++

Blair’s stomach rumbled, so he went to the break room to grab a sandwich and a soda. The small room was crowded, so he walked back out into the hall, thinking of going to Jim’s desk to eat. Sitting on the floor near the break room door was Gabe. Blair changed his mind and sank to the floor next to the self-proclaimed angel.

“Hey.”

Gabe didn’t look up from his own meal, but began to speak. “The Lord said, ‘Look and I will send down food from Heaven for you. Gather what you need.’”

“Have you ever heard the name Harold Blake?” Blair asked, trying to see if he could draw Gabe out.

But the angel continued as if he hadn’t heard. “Those who gathered much had none left over, but those who gathered little did not want for more.”

“‘Did not want for more,’” Blair repeated. “It’s from Exodus, right? Harold Blake would know that quote. He taught Biblical studies.”

“He was gathered up,” Gabe explained quietly. “I use his body to walk amongst men. “‘For He made His angels spirits and his ministers were as flaming fire.’ I’m here to work a miracle.”

+++++

Inside the captain’s office, Simon and Jim watched as an officer brought in the handcuffed Kaplan.

“Wait outside, Ricardo,” Simon requested the officer. Ricardo nodded and left, pulling the door closed behind him. “Good evening, Counselor,” Simon greeted their guest. “Why don’t you approach the bench?”

Kaplan settled himself in a chair in front of the captain’s desk and grinned. “Laugh it up while you can, Chuckles. You’re going to need that sense of humor when I slap you with a ten million dollar harassment suit.” With the confidence of the self-assured, Kaplan leaned back and lifted his feet to rest on Simon’s desk.

“Get your feet off my desk,” Simon ordered testily. Kaplan rubbed him the wrong way, and the captain was determined to see that he put the shifty lawyer away this time – for good.

When Kaplan didn’t respond immediately, Jim shoved the man’s feet from Simon’s desk and showed him the evidence bag with the bullet. “This was recovered from your car, which places you at the scene of the murder of Walter Miller.”

“Cool your jets there, Colombo,” Kaplan said with a sly grin. “It places my car there, not me. My car was stolen.”

Simon jumped into the conversation, happy to give Kaplan a reason to squirm. “By your client, Johnny Macado.”

“Now, was your car stolen before or after the murder?” Jim continued, enjoying the cat and mouse game.

“This doesn’t have to be adversarial,” Kaplan said, putting on the cloak of reason. “Look, I’d never advise a client to admit it, but... I might make certain discussions I’ve had with Johnny available to the DA. Confidentially, he doesn’t stand a chance anyway.”

“Whew... You hit the jackpot, Captain,” Jim said with a tight smile. Turning to Kaplan, he frowned. “And you’ve sunk to a new low.”

“You’re taking this personally, Detective,” Kaplan told Jim. “Just what, exactly, is your relationship with my client?” He turned to Simon beseechingly. “I hope you haven’t been letting them spend too much time alone together.”

“Ricardo!” Simon summoned the uniformed officer back into his office. Jim yanked Kaplan out of his chair and turned him over with great pleasure. Ricardo marched Kaplan out, leaving Simon alone with Jim once more.

“Man, that guy is a real piece of work,” Simon said with a sigh. “Look, I had social services send over Johnny Macado’s file. Maybe there’s something here you can use. If we don’t get the kid to roll over on Kaplan, we don’t have a case.”

“Yeah,” Jim agreed. “Maybe the kid’s hungry. I’ll go see about getting him a little something to eat.” He left Simon’s office and exited the bullpen, heading for the break room. As he made his way down the hall, he passed the animal control officer. “Hey, did you take care of that little problem of ours yet?”

“I’m on it,” the man said. “Won’t be long now.”

Jim nodded as the man walked off and looked across the hall to the break room where Blair was standing behind one of the tables, handing out food. Making his way into the break room, Jim picked up a tray and tossed a sandwich on it.

“I’d probably stick to the tuna, if I were you,” Blair suggested softly.

Jim put the sandwich on his tray back on the table and picked up another. As he made his food choices for Johnny, he couldn’t bring himself to look at his Guide. “All right. Look, Chief, uh... you know, uh, I... maybe I... maybe I overreacted.”

“Just maybe?” Blair’s voice was tinged with sarcasm. Jim had broken his promise, and now their very bond might be at stake.

“I know I shouldn’t have read your paper,” Jim admitted. “And I’m sorry for being such a jerk lately. I didn’t realize how much our enforced celibacy would affect my emotions. But still, I thought... I thought I meant more to you than that.”

“What do you mean?” Blair asked. “You know you mean the world to me. I love you! I’d never do anything to hurt you. Not intentionally.”

“Well, your paper hurt me,” Jim said sullenly.

“Jim, I only said that most of your life choices are fear-based. It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Jim asked, finally looking up at his Guide. “It makes me sound like a coward.”

“You’re the bravest man I know,” Blair asserted. “Sentinel or not. You chose to be a Sentinel, Jim, and the way that you deal with your fears, all of them, is based on that choice. Fear can be one of your greatest allies. You can choose to bottle it up inside, or we can work on it.”

“I don’t know, Chief,” Jim said. “I’m not sure I can get over this... betrayal.”

Betrayal?” Blair hissed. “You’re the one who read my paper before it was finished, before I could go over my notes and edit things. I didn’t betray anything. I’m just trying to be a scientist, to look at this objectively – which isn’t easy,” he continued, his voice dropping in register, “when I sleep with you every night. Do you think it’s easy for me to say these things? Do you think I really want to?”

“You must want to,” Jim growled. “You wrote them.”

“So, what do you want to do?” Blair asked. “End our partnership? I’m not sure we can even do that now. Continue to work together, but live separately? What? What do you want to do, Jim? How about I start by destroying my notes? How about that?” He turned on his heel and stormed out of the break room, leaving a stunned Sentinel in his wake.

“You didn’t answer him,” Gabe said, coming up behind Jim. “What good does it do for a man to have ears that will hear a thousand miles, if he cannot listen to the whispers of his own heart?”

“What?” Jim turned to look at the bedraggled man.

Gabe held Jim’s gaze as he patiently said, “You should begin by listening to the hearts of others.”

Jim stared at the strange man for a moment as Gabe began chanting softly in Aramaic. Finally, he took his tray and left the break room.

Entering the interrogation room, Jim set the tray on the table in front of Johnny and took the seat across from him. “I thought maybe you could use a snack.” He paused before continuing. “I know about your mother, Johnny. She’s an AIDS patient at the hospital. You just want to be able to help her. Is she on medication?”

“When I can afford it,” Johnny admitted. “You won’t understand, though. I make one score, and she’s covered.”

“If you think money is all your mother needs, you’re selling her short,” Jim said, feeling sympathy for the boy sitting across from him. “She needs you, and not in the joint doing time for something that you didn’t do. Just tell me, right here, right now – between you and me. Did you kill Walter Miller?”

“I’m not a killer,” said Johnny, peeling the plastic wrap from his sandwich and taking a big bite. “I don’t even hang with killers, man.”

“All right. I’ll see what I can do,” Jim promised. “Finish your meal.”

+++++

Kaplan was once again seated in front of Simon’s desk, feeling confident about his ability to walk free. “What’s this all about, Captain?”

In answer, the door opened, and Jim walked in with Johnny Macado in tow behind him.

“That’s him!” Johnny said, pointing to Kaplan. “He’s one of the men I saw do the killing.”

“This is never going to fly without a proper lineup,” Kaplan said, beginning to feel his confidence crumble, but determined to put on a show of bravado in front of the police.

“He was going to pay me to keep quiet,” Johnny continued. “We talked about it.”

“Looks like we’ve been cleared for takeoff, Counselor,” Simon said with a wicked grin plastered across his face.

“Okay, look... I wasn’t the shooter,” Kaplan said, realizing he was going to have to do some fast negotiating to get out of this now. “But I can give him to you. Name, whereabouts, testimony, shoe size, you name it. Whatever you want. Okay?” Looking around at the captain, the detective, and the witness against him, Kaplan was getting desperate. “Come on. Do we have a deal?”

“Motion denied,” Simon said with wicked delight.

“You do that well, sir. Come on, let’s go, Counselor,” Jim said, taking Kaplan’s arm and guiding him toward the door. “We have a room all prepared for you. Complete with hot and cold running felons.”

After Jim had left with Kaplan, Simon turned to Johnny. “You did good, kid.”

+++++

In the basement, the spurious animal control officer put a gun in his pocket and then set up a C-4 charge at the base of the elevator shaft.

+++++

Jim settled into a chair in front of Simon’s desk, a smug smile on his face. “Kaplan in the slammer. Who’d a thunk?”

“Sort of gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart, doesn’t it?” Simon replied returning the grin.

Megan entered the office briskly, without knocking, turning the heads of both men. “Captain, I just got word. Miller was jury foreman at the trial of Martin Smallwood. Kaplan was Smallwood’s lawyer. The clerk at records faxed over the file.” She handed the file folder to Simon, who flipped it open and began to page through the contents.

“Looks like we have the final nail in his coffin.” Simon stopped shuffling the pages when he came to a picture of Smallwood.

“Wait a second,” Jim said, pointing to the picture. “I know this guy. He’s the animal control officer sent here to take care of the alligator.”

“Aw, shit!” Simon swore, getting up and heading out of his office with Jim and Megan in tow. “Something fishy is going on here. Let’s get down to the parking garage. I want to check out the van he arrived in.”

When they got to the garage, one of the van’s back doors was hanging open and a foot protruded from the inside. Megan hurried over, opening the door and checking the pulse of the man in the van.

“He’s alive.”

Jim climbed in with Megan, using his senses to assess the man’s condition. “He’ll live, but he’s had one hell of a concussion.”

Simon pulled out his cell phone and made a call upstairs. “Yeah, this is Banks. The animal control guy’s a phony. Find and detain him ASAP.”

As the three made their way back toward the elevator, an explosion rocked the garage.

“What the hell was that?” Megan asked, shaken but still standing.

“That was an explosive,” Jim told her. “Incendiary, by the smell of it. It’s got to be Smallwood.”

“He’s after Johnny Macado,” Simon said, turning to Jim. “You go make sure the kid is safe. Conner and I will keep Smallwood from leaving the building.”

+++++

In the sixth floor hallway, panic was ensuing after the explosion. Rafe and several other detectives were trying their best to keep things under control.

“All right, everybody, stay calm,” Rafe said, herding the panicked people toward the stairwell. “Do not use the elevator. Use the stairs. There’s plenty of time for everyone to get out.”

“Hey, Rafe,” Blair walked up to the harried detective. “That guy, Gabe – the one that thinks he’s an angel – have you seen him?”

Rafe shook his head as he tried to reassure a woman that he’d find her dog. “Sandburg, I don’t know. Sorry.”

+++++

“Let me out! Hey, let me out!” Macado was banging his fists against the wire mesh reinforced window of the interrogation room as Jim drew his gun and pushed his way through the crowd toward the frightened boy. “Come on! Let me out!”

Henri Brown came down the hall from the opposite direction as Jim and reached the room first. As he began to unlock the door, Smallwood, still dressed as an animal control officer, came running around the corner and smashed Brown’s head against the door, just as Henri was turning the knob to open it.

As Henri slumped to the floor, Smallwood stepped into the room. Johnny picked up a nearby folding chair and threw it at Smallwood before dodging past him and out the door. Smallwood pulled his gun and began to chase after Johnny, firing into the crowd.

“Watch out!” Jim shouted as he went after Smallwood. “Everybody get down!”

It was pandemonium in the crowded hallway as Johnny ran past Gabe in his hurry to escape. Blair managed to knock Smallwood’s aim off target just before he shot Johnny, and the bullet hit Gabe instead. As Gabe fell, Rafe grabbed Johnny and pulled him down, too, out of the line of fire. But Smallwood wasn’t finished. He managed to grab Blair, holding the Guide in a headlock as he faced off with Jim.

“Back off! Don’t shoot or I’ll snap his neck!” Smallwood threatened, pointing his gun at Jim.

Unwilling to risk the life of his Guide, Jim spread his hands, lowering his gun. Smallwood released Blair and fled to the stairwell.

“Are you all right?” Jim asked, coming over to check on Blair.

“Yeah. Yeah, I think so,” Blair said. “Oh God, Gabe!” He knelt next to the fallen man as Jim quickly checked his vitals.

“He’s still got a pulse, but he needs medical attention,” Jim said. “Can you take care of that while I go after Smallwood?”

“Yes.” Blair nodded. “Get going, Jim.” He turned back to Gabe, who was just barely conscious. “Oh, no....”

“Do you know the hard part of a miracle?” Gabe asked softly.

Blair shook his head. “No. What’s that, Gabe?”

“Making it look like an accident.” He smiled sweetly up at Blair before losing consciousness.

“Oh, no. No!” Blair looked around frantically. “Hey! Who’s getting that ambulance? Hey, Rafe, come on, man, get that ambulance over here, okay? Come on!”

+++++

On the roof, Jim could hear Smallwood breathing. His gun drawn, he slowly moved around the corner where the fugitive was hidden. Smallwood jumped out and knocked Jim’s arm, sending his gun skittering across the roof.

Hand-to-hand combat was what Jim had been trained for, and he soon had knocked Smallwood out of the way. The persistent man came at Jim again, determined to knock him out or kill him, and escape. Jim’s right hook sent the man sprawling.

Smallwood glanced up from his position on the ground and saw Jim’s gun just inches away. As he began crawling toward it, the rogue alligator came out of the shadows and snapped his jaws closed on the seat of Smallwood’s overalls. He began screaming, “Help me!”

Jim was more than willing to oblige. One good punch, and the fugitive was unconscious on the roof. The alligator stared at Jim for a few moments, snapping its jaws menacingly, before moving away from the two men.

+++++

It was Christmas morning and the sun had come up over Cascade. A light dusting of snow had fallen during the hectic night, and things looked peaceful as a news crew outside on the street did a story about the alligator, which was now caged and being loaded on an animal control van.

“This is Carrie Kingston live from Cascade police headquarters, where our reptilian hero was instrumental in the capture of reputed murderer Martin Smallwood. The alligator's been safely collared by animal control, but for now, she'll enjoy her very own 15 minutes of fame. Carrie Kingston, Channel 2 News.”

As Ms. Kingston finished her story, Captain Banks brought Charles Kaplan out of the PD and toward a waiting police van. Jim and Blair followed, pleased to see the shyster lawyer finally getting his just rewards.

“I wouldn’t get too excited, Captain,” Kaplan warned. “I’ll be out on bail in a week.”

“A week’s a long time,” Simon said with a satisfied grin, as Kaplan looked inside the police van to see Smallwood and several other imposing convicts inside.

Jim and Blair separated themselves from the rest of the group as Kaplan reluctantly climbed inside the crowded transport van.

“Phew, that was one hell of a night, man,” Blair said, looking up at Jim with a tired smile.

Jim studied the blue eyes carefully. Dark circles were beginning to appear under them, and Blair looked more worn out than usual. He was cradling his broken left arm in his right as if even the cast and sling were too much for him to bear any longer.

“Blair, uh...” Jim wasn’t sure how to start after the harsh words of the night before. But Gabe’s message echoed in his mind and he listened, really listened to the whispers of his heart. “About your paper... Do you think you can still get it published in time save your tenure at Rainier? I mean, you know, aside from the stuff about me, I... I thought...” he kept stumbling over his words as he tried to convey the pride he felt in his Guide. “I thought it was pretty good – really good.”

Blair smiled, knowing how hard it was for Jim to admit even that much. “Jim,” he said, shaking his head in amusement. “It’s all about you.”

“Yeah, but nobody needs to know that, right?”

“Of course not!” Blair said. “I told you before, when I get the notes all written up, I’ll change the names or leave them out entirely. No one will know it’s you.”

Simon walked over to the Sentinel and Guide, having finished a conversation with the District Attorney. “Johnny Macado is going to be okay. The DA granted him immunity.”

“That’s great news, Simon,” Jim said. “He’s not a bad kid. He just wanted to do right by his mother, and went about it the wrong way.”

Megan walked up to the group, smiling. “Quite a night, eh?”

“Any word on Gabe?” Blair asked, knowing the Aussie Inspector had been the last to see their mysterious “angel” before he was taken away by ambulance to the county hospital.

“I just spoke with the hospital,” Megan replied. “Gabe made it there okay. It was touch and go for a while, but he was breathing. He’d been prepped for the OR, and when the orderly turned his back, just for a second, Gabe... vanished into thin air.”

“Vanished? Just... poof?” Blair couldn’t believe his ears.

“That’s not the whole of it,” Megan continued. “I got a follow-up fax on his fingerprints. It seems that Professor Harold Blake officially died of exposure in Chicago last winter – nearly a year ago!”

“So,” Simon deadpanned. “Johnny Macado was saved by a dead man. Oh, that’s good. Real good –”

“You know,” Jim mused, “it’s like that Jimmy Stewart movie – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.”

Church bells began chiming all over Cascade, ringing in Christmas Day.

Blair grinned and allowed his gaze to drift skyward. “Ah... Whenever a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. I guess maybe Gabe really was an angel.”

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...” Jim began the Shakespearian quote from “Hamlet” as he turned to his Guide. “Time to get you home, Chief.”

+++++

As they walked in the front door, Jim bent down to plug in the Christmas tree lights, and then hung up his coat. He helped Blair off with his coat, and hung it up too.

“How about a cup of hot cocoa, and then we go to bed?” Jim suggested. “You look beat.”

Blair turned on the TV and found that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was airing marathon fashion on one of the cable networks. He turned the sound down low and flopped on the couch. “Cocoa sounds good,” he admitted.

Jim took the time to make the cocoa from scratch, heating the milk before adding the sugar and cocoa powder. He poured the result into two mugs, topped them with mini marshmallows, and brought the hot drink over to the couch, handing one to Blair. He sank down on the couch next to his Guide and watched as Blair pursed his full lips, gently blowing on the surface of the chocolate.

“I’m sorry.”

Blair looked up, surprised. “What?”

“I’m sorry,” Jim repeated. “I’ve been such an ass lately. I know it’s not your fault that we haven’t been able to have sex. If anything, it’s mine, for letting Brackett take control and kidnap you.”

“That wasn’t your fault, Jim,” Blair assured him. “I was out of the house at the time. There was no way for you to know.”

“I should never have let you go out for that turkey.”

“It was just two blocks to the store, Jim. You can’t keep treating me like a child. I’m old enough to go out on my own, and to make my own decisions,” Blair said, cautiously taking a sip of his drink. “Mmmm... This is good.”

“Still, you got hurt... and I’ve been an ass,” Jim said, turning his attention to his own mug of cocoa.

Blair smiled. “Okay. You’ve been a bit of an ass – sometimes – but I can’t blame you. I don’t know of another situation where a bonded Sentinel and Guide have had to go so long without intercourse.”

They sat in silence for several minutes and drank their cocoa while staring at the TV.

Blair’s gaze shifted over to the decorated and lighted symbol of the season. “You know, that tree looks pretty empty,” he said slowly, setting his mug on the coffee table.

“Haven’t had time to put the gifts under it yet,” Jim explained, gathering up Blair’s mug and taking both into the kitchen. “I figure we can deal with that later – after we’ve had a little sleep.”

“Do you still have that air mattress we used when we went camping?”

“Yeah,” Jim responded. “I stowed it in the closet of your office down here.”

“Get it out,” Blair ordered, grinning.

Jim gave his Guide a sidelong look of disbelief, but went into the small office and began rummaging in the closet. He brought out the air mattress and the electric pump. “Where do you want it?”

“Put it under the tree,” Blair suggested. “Just do it,” he commanded with a laugh when Jim hesitated.

The Sentinel set up the mattress and pumped it full of air, then went back to the closet and brought out a flannel fitted sheet that he used to cover the inflated plastic. Blair got up and came over to the tree, kneeling down on the edge of the mattress.

“I think it’s about time we do something about that bad temper of yours,” he said with a grin.

Jim’s jaw dropped and he stared at his lover, not quite sure how to take the remark. “You mean...?”

“I want to try,” Blair answered. “It’s been long enough, and I need this as badly as you.”

“We’ll take it slow,” Jim promised, kneeling next to Blair and carefully unbuttoning his shirt. “And if anything hurts or you want me to stop, just say so.”

“I promise.” Blair lay back after Jim had slipped his shirt off, sighing as Jim’s fingers lightly brushed across his nipples and trailed down his chest to his belt. Strong fingers unbuckled the strip of black leather, then unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans, releasing the pressure growing in his crotch. “Oh, God, Jim....” Blair moaned as Jim tugged off his jeans and underwear, finally freeing his aching cock.

Jim took his time exploring the naked body beneath him, letting his hands roam over every dip and curve. Blair’s moans of pleasure spurred him to move more quickly. He doffed his clothing with a few brisk tugs and stretched out over Blair, allowing their bare flesh to touch along their entire lengths for the first time in over a month.

“I’ve missed you so much, Blair,” Jim groaned, running his fingers through the tangle of curls on Blair’s head. “I’ve slept beside you every night, but nothing like this... nothing.”

“Shhhh...” Blair chided. “I’m here now. Love me like you mean it.”

Suddenly aware that his whole weight was being born by his smaller partner, Jim asked, “Am I hurting you?”

“No. Oh, no, Jim. This feels so good, so right.” Blair smiled up at his lover, brushing a tense jaw with gentle fingers. “If it hurts, I’ll let you know.”

Jim leaned down to kiss the waiting lips, fingers tangled in the long hair as he drank in the taste of his precious husband, his Guide.

The kiss ended when both men could no longer hold their breath. As Blair gasped and gulped in deep draughts of cool air, Jim turned his attention to the dusky peaks of flesh on Blair’s chest. Nipples, sensitive from disuse, hardened immediately. Jim teased the tight nubs with his teeth, drawing a moan of pleasure from his lover. Blair humped up beneath him, trying to get some attention to his neglected cock.

“Not so fast, Chief,” Jim said, pressing Blair back into the mattress. “It’s been a long time and I intend to enjoy every minute. Let’s not rush.” He went back to kisses and caresses, ignoring the increasingly impassioned pleas of his lover until he’d thoroughly mapped his Guide with his senses once more. Then, sliding down so that his head was between Blair’s legs, he took the swollen cock into his mouth and began laving the shaft with his tongue. Blair’s groans of ecstasy grew louder as he applied suction, allowing his lover’s bucking hips to thrust the hard cock deep into his throat. He could feel the spiral of Blair’s orgasm growing within him, could hear the rush of blood and semen as they filled the organ to bursting. He tasted the salty bitterness as warm semen filled his throat; saw the look of pure joy on his lover’s face.

After the tumultuous climax, Blair collapsed on the mattress, exhausted and relaxed. With great care, Jim rolled Blair onto his right side, helping him comfortably position the bulky cast on his left arm. Then he stretched out behind his lover, eager to fill the waiting hole.

Blair’s anus was dilated and moist, calling to the Sentinel to bond with his Guide, once again becoming one-in-two – one spirit, one mind, one soul... two bodies. Jim entered the sanctuary carefully; slowly pushing in until his full length was sheathed. A bright light burst upon his retinas and the world turned blue. In the distance, a jaguar roared in triumph as the pair was reunited and the bond renewed.

In the background, the blue light of the television flickered as the final scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” played softly across the screen and Clarence, the angel, finally got his wings.

+++++

HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL

[ Email the Author ] [ Back to Stories ]

Acknowledgments: : I must give credit for the bulk of the "episode" part of this story to Richard Maxwell, who wrote "Night Shift," and to the team of PetFly and Paramount who own the copyright to the script. I have lifted much of the dialogue intact, although a few things had to be changed in order to suit this AU. Mr. Maxwell deserves the credit for these scenes, despite my mangling of them. [g] Also, sincere thanks to Becky, whose transcripts I relied heavily upon to write this story. In addition, this section would not be complete without thanks to my betas, Mary and Bobbie, for their help and support. You gals are terrific!