Nature's Revelations

by Francesca

Author's disclaimer: Nothing's mine but the words...

Author's notes: Well, here we are at the climax of our arc. We'll have some follow up business after this, but we're essentially there. All should now be clear — and Cycles fans, you should be happy, because the universes have now moved into greater sync. (This was all at least partly about getting Nature to square up with Cycles.) Anyway, the most heartfelt thanks to Anne aka Sigrid the H and to Janette aka Owlet, who literally betaed this puppy from inception. They worked their butts off, and helped me get it done a lot faster than I would have otherwise. And thanks also to Miriam, my beloved doubting Thomas.


Blair Sandburg woke up with a groan and slowly unwrapped himself from around Jim Ellison. He lifted his head groggily, and peered at the bedside clock.


10 fucking 15!!!

"Jim!" Blair yelled, bolting upright, suddenly wide, wide awake. "Jim, man! Wake up! We're fucked — we're totally fucked! — "

Panicked, he glanced down at Jim, ready to shake him — and found, to his surprise, that Jim was already awake. Jim was lying flat upon the pale yellow sheets, but his expression, his eyes, his posture — they all said: wide awake.

"Do you know what time it is?" Blair waved his hand frantically at the clock radio. "Man, look at the time! The fucking alarm didn't go off and — "

"I shut it off." Jim's clear blue eyes were firmly fixed on him.

"You shut it off?" Blair boggled. "What, you don't need to work for a living, now? What's Simon going to say? Simon's going to have our asses in a sling — " He shoved the covers down his legs, and made to scramble out of bed.

Jim sat up and reached for his wrist, instantly stilling him. "Blair."

Blair stared at Jim's pale, calm face, then glanced down at the hand tightly encircling his wrist. Something was wrong here — something was way wrong. "What?"

Jim released his wrist. "You don't remember?"

Blair shook his head. "Remember what?"

Jim had that controlled, drained expression that Blair associated with long hours on stakeout, with middle-of-the-night kidnappings, with Peru. Jim was already awake; Jim had probably been awake all fucking night.

"Nothing," Jim said suddenly, shaking his head like he'd come to a decision.

This was plainly bullshit; there were waves of cold, clear fear pouring off Jim like a fog, white and chilly. "What was nothing?" Blair persisted.

"You were tired." Jim averted his eyes. "You said you were sleeping badly — so I figured it was important to let you sleep. So big deal — we'll do a later shift." Jim raised his arms over his head and stretched casually, then settled back down on his pillows.

Blair sighed and lay down on his side next to him. "You didn't sleep much last night, did you?"

Jim shrugged. "I rested."

"But you didn't sleep," Blair pressed.

"I slept some."

Blair moved closer, slung one arm across Jim's midriff. "Jim — what aren't you telling me?"

"If I told you," Jim said, staring down at Blair's arm, "then it wouldn't be the thing I'm not telling you, would it?"

Blair moved closer still, pulled Jim closer to him. Jim had this superficial way of seeming invincible — like he'd been carved out of the solid rock. Like he'd been here eons before you ever existed, and would be here eons after you were dust and ashes.

But sometimes — especially when Jim was being all strong and stoic, like now — he was hit by the startling fragility of the man. The delicate bone structure of his face, the narrow shoulders which bore the weight of his musculature, the long, slim fingers of his hands. Lately Jim looked increasingly vulnerable — like the entire world was out to get him, like he was about to be washed away with the rising tide.

And what can I do? Blair thought despairingly. I'm just one little guy — and if Ziegler's right, I'm the wrong guy. What good am I against the rushing, rising tide?

"Don't be a sophist," Blair said finally, pulling Jim firmly into the circle of his arms. His puny little arms, worthless against the fearful force of water. "It doesn't suit you."

Jim muttered something that sounded like, "Bodylock."

"What?" Blair asked.

Jim turned slightly so that they were face to face, nose to nose. "You've been holding me like this. A lot. Every night, all night, in fact — have you noticed?"

He hadn't particularly noticed, but he wasn't surprised. "Need to be near you, man," he said, and that was god's honest truth.

"You mean that?" Jim asked quietly.

Of all the stupid... "Of course I mean it."

"I didn't really notice," Jim said vaguely, as if he were talking to himself. "I mean, I noticed, I just didn't..." He shook his head, seemed to shake himself out of his daze. "I just didn't understand it right, I guess. I think I get it now."

"What's there to get?" Blair asked, perplexed.

"You're trying to protect me," Jim said seriously, like it was some sort of revelation to him.

Blair laughed and rolled his eyes. "Of course I'm trying to protect you. I'm your fucking Guide. It's my will, it's my desire — it's my raison d'etre, for god's sake."

"Right, yeah," Jim said, sounding a million miles away. "Sorry. I've been stupid..."

"Jim — what the hell happened last night?" Blair asked again.

"Nothing. Nothing, really," Jim hedged.

He frowned — it was as if Jim couldn't bear to lie to him, and couldn't bear to tell him the truth, either. He was about to approach the question from a different angle, when Jim looked at him with a pleading expression on his face. "Do me two favors?"

"Just two?" Blair asked, trying to keep his tone light. "How about three or four?" But Jim didn't smile, and so he hastily added, "Your wish is my command, man — you know that."

"Don't come to work today?" Jim asked — and wow, he hadn't seen that coming. Totally left field, that was.

"Why?" Blair asked.

"I'm pretty tired," Jim answered. "And if you go off to school, then I don't have to explain. Simon won't put me out on the streets without you," Jim added.

"I...uh...sure," Blair said slowly, trying to figure out the angle, trying to figure out the deal.

"I can have a less strenuous day," Jim continued. "And I think I need one — is that all right?"

It was fine, but it was totally unlike Jim — Jim who never, ever shirked duty, ever — Jim who never seemed to know the meaning of tired. And now Jim — -Detective James Joseph Ellison — was asking for "a less strenuous day",

"Of course it's all right," Blair said finally, still worried. "What's the second favor?"

In answer, Jim tilted his head forward and touched his mouth briefly to Blair's.

"We're already late," Blair protested, knowing it was futile, knowing he'd never deny Jim sex if he wanted it.

Jim's mouth was now ghosting over his forehead, over his temple, toward his ear. "We're already late," Jim repeated softly. "What's another twenty minutes — who cares?"

"Simon might care," Blair murmured, but desire was already uncoiling in his groin; he was already growing hard.

"I don't," Jim muttered, so quietly that Blair could barely hear him. "I want your dick in my ass," Jim hissed suddenly, and god, this was so weird, Jim talking dirty to him like this. It was killing him, killing — and Jim was gripping him hard, now, forcing him back down on the bed. "...want your dick in my ass, one more time, just one more time, Blair. Now," and Jim was on top of him now, Jim's mouth was on his neck, giving him sloppy open-mouthed kisses that — wet mouth on — kissing his shoulder and — moving lower —

"Say you love me," Jim whispered into his stomach, and Blair said, yes, yes, he did.

"Promise?" Jim asked, and he said, yes, yes, he swore so.

"Fuck me hard," Jim whispered then. "Hard as you can, so I won't ever forget," and he did, yes he did, yes he did.  


Jim insisted that Blair drop him off at the station on his way to Rainier — no truck, he insisted. It was insurance: no Guide and no truck. A sure guarantee of a less strenuous day — and so he walked into the bullpen feeling empty-handed, doubly naked.

Simon gestured to him from his office, and Jim crossed the bullpen and poked his head and shoulders through the open door. "Yes, sir?"

"Where's your better half?" Simon asked, smiling thinly.

"It's his university day," Jim replied.

Simon frowned. "Isn't that Friday?"

"No, it's today," Jim lied. And what did it matter after today? If he lived through today: well, who cared?

Simon squinted at him. "I could have sworn Sandburg goes to Rainier on Fridays."

Jim shrugged. "You could call him. He should be in his office."

Simon held his eyes for a second, and then shrugged, relented, yanking his glasses off. "Ah, never mind, " he said, waving Jim away. "Go work on whatever you're working on. It doesn't matter; there's nothing pressing anyway."

"Right," Jim said.

"Shut the door behind you," Simon said, and Jim did.

He crossed back to his desk, and sat down, noting that his inbox was almost empty. There wasn't going to be much to do today. He flipped through the stack of reports in his outbox, noting the scrawl of Blair's signature at the bottom of each. A final gift.

He peered surreptitiously around the bullpen, making sure that everyone was busy. And then he picked up the phone, dialed, listened as it rang on the other end. He was keenly aware of everything, of every small sound and brush of air against his skin.

"Michael Hartman's office," a woman's voice said.

"Let me talk to Mr. Hartman."

"Who should I say is calling?" the woman asked.

"Jim Ellison." He listened to the soft sounds of musak until there was a fumbling click.

"Jim," Mike Hartman greeted him.

"Mike, hey, how are you?"

"Oh, fine, fine," Hartman said, and Jim heard the sound of papers rustling. "Swamped with work, but that's good, you know? Least I'm not going out of business any time soon. How's things your end?"

"We're not going out of business any time soon, either," Jim replied, dryly. "Business is booming over here."

"The most dangerous city in America," Hartman quipped, sounding amused.

"Exactly. Listen, that's sort of why I'm calling," Jim said, lowering his voice.

"Oh yeah?" Hartman asked. "What can I do you for?"

"Do me a favor and pull my insurance," Jim said quietly. "I want to check out the numbers — make sure I'm covered."

"Yeah, okay — hold on," Hartman said, and then he heard Hartman yelling, "Molly! Pull me a file — Ellison, J. Insurance."

He heard soft footsteps on thick carpeting, and then the soft thud of the file landing on Hartman's desk. Hartman flipped through the papers and then said, "Right, okay, whattya want to know?"

"Bottom lines," Jim replied, reaching for a pencil. "Run the numbers by me."

"Medical? Accident? Auto?" Hartman asked.

"Life," Jim replied, pulling a pad in front of him.

"Right, okay," Hartman said. There was the sound of more rustling paper, and then Hartman began to read off a series of numbers.

Jim dutifully copied them down, and then quickly totted them up — frowned. "It's not enough," he said.

"Jim, it's plenty," Hartman disagreed.

"It's not enough," Jim insisted, ripping the sheet off the pad and wadding it up angrily. "Make me another policy."

"Jim, as your lawyer, I'm telling you that it's a waste of capital."

"Mike, as my lawyer, shut up and make me another policy."

Hartman sighed, and muttered, "All right, all right, hang on. Geez, man, you're getting crazy in your old age." Jim heard the sound of drawers opening, the sound of a piece of paper being threaded into a typewriter. "Okay, lay it on me," Hartman said. "Same parameters, same kind that you've got?"

"Yeah," Jim said. "Exactly."

"B-U-R-G, right — not B-E-R-G?"

"B-U-R-G," Jim repeated. "Exactly fucking right."  


There was something deeply depressing, Blair thought, rubbing his eyes, about reading student ethnographies. It was almost like a personal rebuke — they all went totally native right out of the starting gate.

Bias, he had scribbled in the margins, over and over. Bias. Bias. Watch for bias.

Like he should talk.

He was staring at the final page of a paper, trying to figure out a pedagogically-sound way of expressing, "Why don't you major in something else?" when there was a knock on the door.

"Yeah, come in," Blair called, looking up as the door opened. "Oh," he said. "Right," he said. "Hell, I'm sorry — I just totally forgot."  


Jim hung up the phone and rubbed at his forehead. What else should he be doing — god, he was supposed to be doing something, wasn't he? You didn't just sit there and fucking wait for it — surely there was something he was supposed to be doing, things you were supposed to arrange...

Except there was nothing else he could think of to do, nothing else he wanted to do. Except go to Blair...go to Blair...but that was the one thing he couldn't, shouldn't do, wasn't it? But it was the only thing he wanted, and he found himself gripping the edge of his desk, as if he would just float out of his chair, impelled out the door and down the elevator and across town to Blair's office. Like he had been once before — he'd done that once before, years ago.

Even now, he couldn't explain what had drawn him there, to Blair's office; it had been like a compulsion — ridiculous, but so strong. To walk out of the bullpen, go down the elevator, drive across town — to meet that wild child of a man. Ridiculous — a blur of hands and hair and an electric blue vest — but he'd been destined to do it, he saw that now. Destined... well, life was a strange and unpredictable thing. He'd learned that much in forty years, anyway. Presumably, death was, too.

He looked up sharply as Megan called over to him from the doorway — she was grabbing a late lunch, she said. She's be back in half an hour, she said. He nodded and lifted a hand in acknowledgment; she waved and left the bullpen. He watched, lost in thought, as the elevator came, binged, and closed again, taking her away — and then before he knew exactly what he was doing he was crossing to Megan's desk, perching on the edge, rummaging through her outbox.


He flipped through the reports, idly searching for the weird thing that had happened to Blair yesterday afternoon. Weird things, so many weird things happening lately — it was like the seven signs of his own personal apocalypse, and he was sure he had already missed one or two. He finally picked out the DWI, DISORDERLY CONDUCT. Dismissed, he noted, with a frown, and flipped to Megan's report.

Car accident, he read. Girl sitting on a curb, car wrapped around a telephone pole. Girl yelling and screaming that the lights were killing her eyes, how the noise of the sirens was driving her crazy.

Crazy. Oh, Jesus Christ...

In a daze, he flipped a page to the transcript of the woman's interview with Megan Connor. The crackle of the paper was achingly loud, and he realized that he was dialed way up. Breathe, he told himself, but the voice was Blair's — Blair's voice in his head. "Breathe," Blair's deep voice rumbled. "Dial down, Jim. Focus," and he focused and read the typewritten words:

AB: The car coming the other way had its brights on and suddenly, I felt this throbbing pain in my skull. It hurt so badly, I couldn't even see where I was driving. The next thing I knew I'd hit a telephone pole.

MC: An oncoming car flashes its brights so you can't see. That, I can buy. But why start to disrobe in the middle of the highway?

AB: I... my skin hurt. The clothes felt like sandpaper all of a sudden. I don't know.

Suspicion of alcohol abuse, Jim read, suspicion of drug use — but the blood tests all came back negative.

Well, of course they did. Of course they did.

Jesus Christ, it was like he was already dead, like he was watching a movie of his own life starring somebody else.

"I have to tell you I've scheduled some additional tests," the doctor had said. "But based on the results we have so far, there doesn't seem to be any medical foundation for your complaints."

"Forget the tests," Blair had said. "You don't need medicine. You need information."

"Who the hell are you, anyway?" Jim had demanded.

"Me, I'm no one. But this man, he is," and Jim could still feel the small, stiff card in his hand:

Blair Sandburg, B.A., M.A., ABD Department of Anthropology Rainier University

Compulsed, impelled, he picked up Megan's phone and dialed Blair's office number. It rang and rang and rang: no answer. He disconnected and dialed Blair's cell phone. "The customer you wish to reach," the robot-girl informed him haughtily, "is not available."

Jim slowly dropped the phone back into its cradle. He was with her. He was with her.

And he wasn't sure whether to be sad or glad about that — just maybe, he thought, squeezing his eyes shut against his sudden headache, she would offer Blair her protection after he was gone.  


Alex Barnes strode purposefully across the grass in front of Hargrove Hall, heading for the parking lot. She stepped down onto the asphalt and passed behind rows and rows of student vehicles — RAINIER UNIVERSITY decals in the rear windows, clever bumper stickers pasted on the bumpers — to the end of the lot. To an idling black car with tinted windows.

She heard, from three yards away, the driver popping the door locks — and the sound was like a shotgun blast to her brain. She winced, and shuddered, her long fingernails pressing into her palms as she clenched her hands into fists. She quickened her stride, reached for the silver doorhandle, and pulled the door open, sliding into the passenger seat.

Inside, the car was blissfully climate controlled, blissfully quiet. She took a couple of deep breaths, trying to compose herself, trying to get her equilibrium back.

"So, did he talk?" Paul Ziegler asked.

She made a face at him, contempt contorting her features. "Did he talk?" she scowled. "The little fruit does nothing but talk."

Ziegler looked pleased at this intelligence — clearly he'd never had to spend an hour with the guy. "On and on," she said, scornfully rolling her eyes. "Sentinels, Peru, dials, blah-blah, blah-blah. Something about that guy who was married to Elizabeth Taylor." She yanked the long microphone wire from between her breasts, and then pulled the mini tape recorder out of the waistband of her jeans.

Ziegler grinned happily, and closed his eyes like he was in some sort of ecstasy. These guys were all fruits, she surmised, shaking her head disapprovingly. Ziegler. Sandburg. Fruits chasing fruits around the mulberry bush, spending millions of tax dollars on dreams and bullshit.

"Richard Burton," Ziegler murmured, sighing with satisfaction.

Alex shrugged and said, "Yeah, whatever." She handed him the cassette recorder, and he took it, holding it carefully like it was made of glass.

"What else?" Ziegler asked, carefully tucking the recorder into his bag.

"It's all on the tape," Alex said, settling back in the plush leather seat. Yeah, this was the life, she thought — life on the outside with a buck or two, pretty nice. "I'm supposed to see him again tomorrow," she added, closing her eyes.

"I'm gonna start the car now," Ziegler warned her, and she nodded, bracing herself for the noise, the incredible goddammed noise of it.

The engine roared into life like a thousand jackhammers, and she tried to remember to breathe. "Breathe," the little fruit had said, deep voice rumbling in her head as she remembered. "Dial down. Concentrate," he said, and she did.

Amazing really, she thought a moment later, taking a deep, deep breath, how much pain a human being could learn to tolerate. This sickness she had — it was only getting worse — and yet she was learning to live with it. Constant thrumming pain, like the hum of traffic, like the hum of telephone wires — but she was managing. She was strong.

"You know," she told Ziegler, when they were stopped at a red light. "His meditation bullshit sort of helped a bit."

Ziegler turned to her with a frown. "What meditation bullshit?"

"He's got this sort of new-agey routine," Alex explained. "Breathing exercises, visualization exercises — like yoga, you know? Total bullshit, really, but it sort of helped."

She watched as Ziegler's fingers tightened on the steering wheel. "Helped? You mean he actually does something?"

"Well, sorta. He talks, mainly. 'Focus...feel...follow my voice...' — it's a little spooky, really," she admitted. "It's like he talks right into your — "

She stopped suddenly and raised her hands to her head, holding it like she was afraid it would blow apart. And god, that was what it felt like — so she gritted her teeth and waited, waited, waited for it to pass.

She saw Ziegler look around frantically, looking for the disruption — and then finally, he saw it, and pulled the car to the side of the road with a piercing squeal of brakes.

The ambulance whizzed past, whoo!-whoo!-whoooing! all the way, and thanks to the goddammed Doppler effect the agony left faster than it came. She gulped air, forgetting to breathe regularly, and reached out and grabbed Ziegler's arm, clawing into it with her nails.

"The deal stands, right?" she said, from between clenched teeth. "The fucking deal still stands?"

"Yes," Ziegler breathed, helping her to settle back carefully into the plush leather seat. He pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket and gently daubed at her hairline, wiping the beads of sweat away.

She exhaled, swallowed, closed her eyes and tried to breathe like the little fruit had told her to. "You get what you want from this guy, you get me out of solitary and into a hospital?"

"Yes," Ziegler whispered. "A nice, clean hospital. The deal still stands. I promise."  


Blair was on his way, Blair was coming — and with a jolt he recognized that Blair was still miles away. Deep breath, deep breath, dial down — but Blair was coming, he could hear his heartbeat moving through space. The car was on Cedar...passing under the Fourth Street overpass. His hearing was piggybacked onto sight and he could visualize it, he could make pictures of the sounds. Moving through space...coming onto Court Street, now...making that hideous left. Blair was coming, Blair was coming, and it was like all his senses were welcoming Blair back, welcoming Blair home.

Click, click, click of the turn signal as Blair prepared to make a right into the underground garage. The slam of the Volvo door, the squeak of Blair's sneakers across the concrete floor. The muted click as Blair pressed the elevator button. He was coming...coming... Blair was here.

Perversely, he stared down at his desk blotter as he heard the loud bing! and the whirr of the elevator doors opening. Nothing going on here, just reading...not like I've been tracking you across the city or anything, nosiree bob. Just sitting here like a good cop, reading the scribbled terms of my new insurance policy — and like a flash, he reached out and crumpled the sheet of paper in his fist.

"Productive day, huh?" he heard Blair say, and he lifted his head to look at him.

"Not my fault," he answered, flashing Blair what he hoped was a casual smile. "You did all our goddammed work yesterday."

Blair sat on the edge of his desk, thumbed through the outbox. "So I did, so I did. While you were having your long lunch."

"Yeah, exactly," Jim said — and it was odd, but Blair was restless. Nervous.

Blair stopped fidgeting with the completed reports and looked at him. "Hey, can we go somewhere and talk?"

"Yeah. Sure," Jim said, trying to look relaxed, calm, normal. It took him a second to realize that relaxed and calm weren't exactly normal for him, so he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, trying to look more confrontational. "Where'd you have in mind?"

"I dunno," Blair said, roughly shoving some unruly strands of hair behind his ears. "Somewhere private. Think we can get away for a few?"

"I think at this point we're in so deep with Simon that we might as well just go for it," Jim said with a smirk. "Between my lost afternoons, and your lost mornings — "

"Hey," Blair shot him a genuine smile, "we've got this famous fucking closure rate. I say we coast on it."

Jim laughed and stood up. "Okay, so where to?"

"Interrogation room?" Blair suggested, jerking his head toward the bullpen door.

Jim made a face. "You gonna interrogate me?"

"I strongly suspect," Blair said, sliding off the desk, "that when you hear what I've got to say it's gonna be the other way around."

He's gonna tell me, Jim thought, following Blair out the door and down the hallway, toward the stairs, down one flight. He's gonna tell me about her. He feels guilty, Jim surmised. He doesn't realize what she means; he doesn't remember last night; he doesn't know why he's been holding me so tightly each night, every night.

Blair pushed through the door to the sixth floor, held the door open for him; he took it and passed through.

He doesn't know what he knows, Jim realized, watching as Blair commandeered an empty interrogation room and led the way in. He knows but he doesn't know; some conscious part of him just doesn't know what his body knows. Guide blindness? he wondered, shutting and locking the door behind them. Fight or flight? he wondered, watching Blair pace around the cheap metal desk — bare save for a dirty ashtray. Some sort of a protective instinct? Some instinctive coping mechanism? A numbing of the nerves before trauma?

Blair stopped pacing suddenly — and damn, he could smell her, he could smell her on him, on his clothes, his hair, his skin. "Okay, look," Blair said, grabbing a metal chair and turning it around, sitting down on it backwards, "remember I told you about this crazy woman I met yesterday?"

Blair looked up at him earnestly, and Jim nodded and slowly sat down on a chair on the opposite side of the old metal desk. "Crazy woman, yeah," he said. "Megan's case."

"Right, exactly," Blair said, apparently impressed that he'd actually been listening. "Thing is," Blair began, and then stopped. "You've got to promise not to freak out on me, okay?"

"I promise," Jim said, leaning forward toward Blair over the table. "I most sincerely promise not to freak out."

"Okay, good. Because it looks — " Blair stopped again, fumbled for words. "It looks like at least part of what's making her crazy is that she's got a couple of hyperactive senses."

Jim tried to look appropriately surprised, appropriately dismayed; he tried to look like Blair would expect him to look. "You don't say," he said with a frown.

"I do say," Blair said, raising his hands to scratch hard at his head; he looked like he was on the verge of pulling his hair out. "Don't get me wrong, I don't know if she's a Sentinel, yet. It's hard to tell; she's in pretty bad shape. I don't even know if she's got all the senses. I mean, pretty clearly sight, hearing, touch are there — there and off the fucking chart — but I don't know about taste and smell. Which is odd, you know, because those are the most common senses for a threebie."

"A what?"

Blair waved the word away. "Three heightened senses — usually touch, taste, and smell. Something to do with the nerve receptors that — look, it really doesn't matter. The point is that she's here, and she's fucked up, and it's weird, okay?"

"I won't argue with that," Jim said.

"I mean, it's weird, it's definitely weird," Blair muttered. "I mean, if she is the real dope — and I say if, okay? — what are the odds?"

"The odds?" Jim echoed, thinking of life, and destiny, and death — death at forty. "Of two Sentinels in Cascade, Washington?"

"Right," Blair said, banging on the metal table with his fist.

"Falling in with you?"

"Right, yeah, exactly," Blair said, frowning.

Jim shrugged and sat back in his chair. "Maybe it's not chance. Maybe it's fate — synchronicity. A time/space continuum converging at this point, at this moment."

Blair stared at him, then shook his head slowly. "'ve been living with me for too long, I think."

"Okay, so let me put it another way," Jim said. "What are the odds on any of this shit?"

Blair squinted. "You're taking this awfully fucking well."

Jim opened his hands. "Hey, I'm a relaxed and mature forty."

"Bring back Jim. I want to talk to Jim," Blair said, suspiciously.

"I thought you didn't want me to freak out," Jim objected.

"I lied. Freak out, man — validate my feelings."

"You're freaked?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, I'm freaked," Blair retorted. "If you were me-wouldn't you be freaked?"

"She's probably not a Sentinel," Jim lied.

"She's not, right?" Blair asked, leaning forward over the chair back. "That would be just too weird, right?"

"Right," Jim said. "Way too weird."

"She's probably just some fucked-up chick with sensitive eyes," Blair said, but he didn't sound convinced. "And ears. And skin...Jesus God," he sighed, and put his head down on the desk.

Jim got up, and circled round the table so that he could put his hands on Blair's shoulders — broad, muscular shoulders Blair had. Tense shoulders; he wanted to touch, he wanted to touch. "Don't buy trouble," he said to Blair, kneading the tense shoulders. "You've got a Sentinel to take care of right here, and a pissed-off captain up there, and a caseload, and a bunch of students, and a fucking FBI agent to worry about already."

Blair lifted his head a couple of inches off the desk. "Is that supposed to be making me feel better?"

"No," Jim admitted. "I guess not."  


He used the privacy of the interrogation room to snatch a few, awkward kisses from Blair — and it was like he was regressing, like he had already forgotten how to kiss Blair. Or maybe it was just nerves, or an odd sense of symmetry — like he'd come into Blair's life needy and desperate, and had to go out the same way.

Odd that Blair had come back, he thought, following Blair back up the steps to Major Crimes. Despite his orders, Blair had come back — so maybe that was destiny, too; maybe he was helpless to prevent it.

They walked through the double doors of the bullpen and straight into the towering figure of Simon Banks, who had his arms crossed and a tight smile on his face. "Sandburg," Simon said, with exaggerated graciousness. "And Ellison. So nice to see you both. Here. At work." Behind Simon, Henri Brown looked up from his desk and sniggered. "Looking almost like a pair of detectives," Simon added, glowering.

"Hey, Captain, how you doin'," Blair mumbled.

"Just fine. I keep trying to have a relaxing day, but there are people out there committing crimes," Simon explained sweetly. "And for some goddammed reason, the victims keep calling here. I don't know why they think that we're here to help them," Simon continued, shaking his head in bemusement, "but while the populace is under that mistaken impression — what say we do a little police work, eh, gentlemen?"

Jim braced himself: this was it. They'd be given a case now, sent out on the streets and —

Simon picked a thick folder up off a neighboring desk, extended it to them. Blair reached out and took it. "Brown and Rafe are working the Bradley homicide, and there's a burglary aspect — safe was blown, jewels and bonds are missing," Simon said. "Now we haven't got a chance in hell at tracking down those bonds, but maybe — if you two have got nothing better to do — you could get on the phone and try to track down the jewelry. Some of it's quite distinctive."

Blair was flipping through the manila file folder. "Gee, yeah — nice pieces," he said.

"I don't need an appraisal, Sandburg," Simon said, rolling his eyes. "I need you to get on the fucking phone and use that legendary charm on Cascade's finest pawnbrokers." He turned his gaze to Jim. "And you, Mr.-Senior-Detective-Of-The-Team — you might use your years of experience to see if anybody's placed the stuff with — say — less reputable agents."

Blair was already drifting toward his desk, nose buried in the file. "Right, okay, yeah..."

"Right," Jim added, nodding curtly. "We're on it, sir."

"That would be very pleasant," Simon said, rolling his eyes.  


"No, no, look — it's a brooch, right? Like a pin. Riiiight. A big sapphire in the center, set in a — yeah, yeah, I'll hold." Blair groaned, and looked over at Jim, waving one finger in the air. "Guy's got the brain of a — yes, sapphire," Blair said, tilting the mouthpiece back toward his mouth. "Blue, right. Looks like a starburst. Like a star, right. Like in the sky..."

Jim laughed quietly, watched as Blair bit his lower lip, trying not to catch the laughter.

"Nothin' like that, huh? Wait, wait — I got something else for you to check. Ready? This one's red. A ruby. A ring. Square, with a little diamond on each — " and then suddenly Blair was on his feet, snapping his fingers, grabbing a pen out of the cup on his desk. "Came in today, huh? You see the guy? You get a description?"

Blair listened intently, eyes fixed on Jim, and then he was nodding, nodding. "Okay, look — you don't move, okay? You hold on to that ring and don't move — I'm sending somebody down there. I don't care if you're closing — just hang on, we'll be there in twenty minutes, tops. You got that?"

Blair hung up the phone, ripped a piece of paper out of his notebook and crossed to Brown's desk. "Yo! H! I got you a lead — got a witness, can give a description..."

Jim watched as Blair translated his notes, as Henry and Rafe grabbed jackets and headed out the door. Blair wandered back with a huge smile on his face. "Work of the just, man," he crowed, raising triumphant fists into the air. "God, that feels good — it's like finding a fucking footnote." He swung a mock-punch in Jim's direction, obviously high on adrenaline. "I just love the chase, man — why don't you buy me a beer?"

"Why don't we just go home," Jim said, trying to sound casual.

"There's no beer at home," Blair objected, almost pouting. "I had the last one last night."

"So why don't we buy beer and go home?" Jim countered.

"Right," Blair agreed, hurling another mock-jab Jim's way. "Sounds like a plan, man. Let's go."  


"We should go to the beverage center," Blair objected as he pulled the Volvo into the convenience store lot. "It's gonna be an arm and a leg, here, man."

Jim shook his head. "I'm telling you, it's closed."

"I think it's open till nine." Blair turned the car into a spot, shifted into park. "It's gonna be eight bucks a six-pack, here — that takes all the fun out of drinking."

Jim glanced at his watch. "Blair — it's ten to nine now. We won't make it."

Blair switched off the engine. "We gotta be buying this shit in bulk, man. We of all people. By the case. By the truckload."

"At least it'll be cold already."

"At eight bottles a six-pack, it had better be cold," Blair muttered, and reached for the door handle.

Unthinkingly, instinctively, Jim reached out and grabbed Blair's arm.

"What?" Blair asked, turning back to look at him.

Jim took a deep breath, suddenly aware that his heart was pounding. "I'll go," he managed, finally; god, his chest was tight, he couldn't breathe. "I'll just run in — you wait here."

Blair's eyes widened. "Why?" he asked.

Why? He didn't know why. "Because," Jim said, and then he leaned across the front seat and grabbed Blair's jacket and kissed him impetuously.

Blair leapt away from him and hit his head on the door. "Jim, not in front of the 7-11!!" Jim grinned helplessly as Blair grimaced and rubbed his head where he'd bumped it. "What the hell's the matter with you?"

"You're the matter with me. I love you. You're...the best friend I ever had, Sandburg." He stopped and abruptly shifted tone. "And I don't think I can be accountable for what happens if you go in there with me," he added, lightly. "I might feel the urge to blow you near the Slurpee machine or something."

"That," Blair said distinctly, "is gross, man! Fucking gross — not to mention the pun on Slurpee — yechh." Blair shuddered theatrically. "Get the beer, man — get the beer. I'll wait for you here — but hurry on up, okay?"

"Okay," Jim said, opening the door and getting out.

"Get Corona!" Blair called to him as he shut the door. "Bottles!" and Jim nodded and headed for the glass doors, refusing to look back.

He pushed into the 7-11, headed up the aisle to the refrigerated cases in the back. Corona, he thought, singlemindedly. Bottles.

And he was reaching for the cardboard handle of a six-pack when he heard the muted click of the gun — this was it, this was it! He pulled his hand back and slowly reached behind his back for his own gun, then ducked down and moved carefully toward the register.

He heard the muted scream of a woman, and then a man yelling, "Gimme everything in the register! Quick! Move it!" He glanced up, and saw the man's reflection in one of the security mirrors — he had his arm around a young woman's throat, and a gun pointed at the store's clerk.

"Okay, okay!" the clerk cried. "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" There was a ding! and the cash drawer popped open.

"Put it into a bag," the gunman said, looking around nervously. "All of it! Now!"

"Okay, okay!" the clerk said, fumbling nervously — and then there was the sudden ringing of an alarm bell, and the gunman jumped and looked terrified and then fired! fired! The clerk stared in surprise, and then collapsed face down on the counter. The woman started shrieking as Jim aimed his gun and yelled, "Cascade P.D.! Put the gun down!"

The gunman whirled to face him, using the woman as a shield. "Back off, man, or she's dead!"

And it was a tribute to Blair that he could hear seventeen things at once; here, in his final hour, he had control like he'd never had before. He heard the slow, dribbling sound of the clerk bleeding to death, he heard the gunman's panicked breathing, the woman's terrified heartbeat — two heartbeats — the woman was pregnant. He heard the ding ding ding of the alarm, and the sound of the Volvo's door slamming out in the lot.

(Blair's voice, rumbling straight into his head: "We need all available units right now!!" )

"Don't do this, man," Jim said through gritted teeth. "Just let the lady go."

The gunman shook his head wildly. "I'll shoot her, man. I'll shoot her!"

(Blair's voice: "Are you kidding me? What the fuck is wrong with you? — I've got a situation, here!") He had to move quickly — he had to get this all over with before Blair came in; Blair would burst in in a minute. "Let her go and put the gun down!" Jim yelled, taking an aggressive step forward.

He heard a loud growl and instinctively turned, expecting to see his spirit animal, expecting to see the black jaguar. But the creature crouched on top of the stack of crates was spotted, like a leopard, and he frowned, taken aback.

"Shut up!" the gunman yelled back. "Just shut up! I'll kill her, man! I'll blow her fucking brains out — I swear to God, I will!" And suddenly the gunman tossed the woman aside and pulled the trigger, and Jim turned his head and returned fired just as the shot smashed into his chest.

And then he saw the dirty white tile of the store's dropped ceiling

and heard the sounds of breaking glass

and Blair's voice

loud, yelling

hands on him — Blair's hands on him

and then nothing



"Lady," the EMT said to the nurse, reaching over to light her cigarette. "I advise you to keep your eyes peeled for Napoleon. You ought stay outta his way, you know?"

The nurse took a deep drag and blew out a puff of smoke with her laughter. "We got Napoleon in there?" she asked skeptically, one hand on her hip. "I didn't see no dead French guy come in."

"Ain't Napoleon who's dead," the man said slowly. "Guy's his partner, I think. I jus' drove 'em in — Napoleon nearly took my head off."

The nurse shook her head, full of superior knowledge. "You mean that cop? He ain't dead yet."

"Looked dead," he intoned somberly. "Didn't look alive, anyways."

"Well, what'd Frankie say?" the nurse asked, curious now. "Frankie should know if that cop be dead or not."

"Napoleon don't let Frankie near that damn cop." The EMT lit a cigarette for himself, and then shook out the match and tossed it onto the concrete floor of the alleyway. "That's what I'm trying to tell you. He small, but he bitchy."

"He can't do that," the nurse protested, offended. "He can't tell you and Frankie what to do! That ain't his job!"

"Well, he did — he sure did," the EMT said. "Napoleon jus' told us to fuck off." The nurse looked scandalized, but he nodded rapidly in confirmation. "Jus' told us to fuck off, he did. Spent the entire ride crouched over that cop, whisperin' to him..."

"I'm surprised at you," the nurse said with a disapproving shake of her head. "You jus' got to show him who's boss, is all."

"You try it," the EMT grumbled. "I'm telling you, this guy is spooky. What with his wild hair and his wild eyes and his infernal whisperin'."

"You jus' got to show him who's boss," the nurse insisted. She tossed her cigarette to the ground, crushed it out with her white shoe. "You can't let guys like that push you around."

"Yeah, well — there's pushy, and then there's pushy," the EMT muttered. "You jus' watch out for Napoleon anyway," he insisted, gesturing at her reprovingly with his cigarette. "Believe me, you'll know him when you see him — and then you'll know I was right, lady. You'll see."  


He was surrounded by voices. Bodies. Pushing at him, pulling at him — surrounding —

"Detective Sandburg, you can't — "

"Detective Sandburg, please — "

"Detective Sandburg, just give us five minutes — five minutes, okay?"

The nurse closest to him was wearing a name tag that said Sally Emerson — but what the hell was that worth? Any idiot could get a nametag in a hospital.

"Detective Sandburg," Nurse Emerson pleaded, interposing herself in front of him and clutching at his arms to stop him from marching into the operating room. "He's okay. He's gonna be okay, I swear — but you have to let the doctors help him."

He tried to shake her off without hurting her, but she maintained her grip. "I have to be in there," he insisted doggedly, trying to muster the guide voice, trying to push her the hell out of his way.

She wasn't having any. "You can't — it's a sterile environment. You've got to let them work — they've got to take the bullet out of him."

"But — but — " Blair strained forward toward the door.

The petite woman gave a giant heave and shoved him a step backwards. "They're going to take the bullet out," she insisted, wagging a finger at him. "And there's nothing you can do in there, except give him an infection." And then, to his surprise, she grabbed his jacket sleeve and started towing him down the hallway. "And you wouldn't want to do that, would you?"

She stopped abruptly at room number 362 and pushed the door open, pulled him through it. The room was dim, unoccupied: a neatly-made metal bed, a white curtain hanging from a rod, pale blue industrial paint.

Nurse Emerson wheeled on him sternly, arms crossed — but her eyes were warm, her eyes were kind. "Look, I can see you're upset," she said softly, "but there's nothing you can do for him right now. Why don't you just stay in here for a bit? Wash your face," she suggested. "Lie down. Try to relax."

He opened his mouth to protest ; she raised her hand and cut him off. "There's nothing you can do right now."

He opened his mouth again and she instantly repeated, "Nothing."

He tried again, and again she cut him off. "Nothing."

He sighed and sank down on the edge of the bed, stared at the black and while linoleum floor. Finally he raised his head to look at her. "You'll tell me anything that happens as soon as it happens?" he asked.

"I promise," Sally Emerson said. She turned to go, and then turned back to him with a frown. "You want something to calm you down or something?"

Blair laughed, once, and then scrubbed at his face. "You offering me a trank?"

"Do you need a trank?" she asked seriously.

"Not yet." Blair let himself fall backward onto the bed. "Maybe later. Not yet." He heard the squeak of her rubbed soled shoes on the linoleum, and the muted hiss as the pressurized door closed behind her.  


He had closed his eyes, but he couldn't sleep — there was some part of him that was with Jim, in the operating room, with Jim, cut open and waiting...

Dimly, he heard the door open again, and he instantly jerked his head up, wanting to make sure that whoever it was knew he was awake.

It was Sally Emerson again, and he knew instantly, from looking at her, that Jim was okay — there was a small, subtle tension that was absent from her face. "Well?" he demanded breathlessly.

"It's okay," she said to him with a smile, and he felt himself go weak with relief at the confirmation. "He's okay, it's fine — the bullet didn't enter the thoracic cavity proper, though it was close. Technically, it's a shoulder wound — messy but medically insignificant."

He let his head sink back down onto the bed, stared up at the cracked white ceiling. "Thank God," he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut. "Thank God, thank God — thank you, God..."

"We'll be moving him into a room in a minute," he heard Nurse Emerson say. "And there's about a hundred people looking for you." He didn't — couldn't — move; he felt too stunned, too fragile. He heard the sound of pages flipping as she consulted some sort of notebook. "I got a whole bunch of cops — a Captain Banks, a Captain Taggart, Detectives Brown, Rafe, and Connor. I got two Ellisons: William and Stephen — "

Blair bolted upright, catching her surprised look. "God, Bill and Stephen," he said, forcing himself to his feet. "I gotta...I have to..."

"Whoa, hey — take it slow," she advised him.

"I can't," Blair explained distractedly. "I need to see them — where are they?"  


Blair pulled open the door to the waiting room, and saw seven faces turn, instantly, to look at him. He registered the presence of Simon Banks, of Rafe, Taggart, and Brown, of Connor, who reached out and squeezed his shoulder as he passed her. But he made a beeline for William Ellison, who was sitting, quietly distraught, in an orange chair on the far side of the room, Stephen behind him. William stood quickly as he approached.

"It's my fault," Blair said as an opening shot, stopping in front of him. "It's my fault, Bill. I just hadda have a fucking beer, I — "

"Blair, stop." William looked him up and down, getting more visibly distressed. "Just stop it. Now."

"You don't understand," Blair insisted. "I missed something. I knew something was wrong — something was going to go wrong — I shoulda just dragged his ass to Peru — "

"Christ, look at you," William whispered — and Blair looked down at himself, and it took him a few seconds to make sense of the dark brown stains on his shirt, on his sleeves.

Dried blood — he was wearing Jim's blood.

"My god..." William muttered, pulling Blair abruptly into a tight hug. "God, you're a mess..."

Blair raised his arms, tentatively returning William's hug. "Bill, I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry..."

"Shut up," William said, rocking him slightly — and Blair realized that William was holding Jim through him. Clutching Jim's spilled bloodlife to his chest — maybe that was the closest William could get for now, the best he could do.

Blair gave Bill a final squeeze and stepped back. "They say he's gonna be okay — they say it's just a shoulder wound. Messy but not dangerous, they're telling me." William sighed and nodded gratefully. "I gotta go find him now, okay?" Blair said, looking into William Ellison's eyes to gauge if he was all right. "When he's settled, I'll come get you so you can see him." William nodded again, and Blair turned and saw Stephen standing there.

Stephen was staring at him incredulously — staring at him, then staring at his father. "I, uh, don't, uh," he said, slowly shaking his head, "just can't, uh — believe it..."

William Ellison looked away from his son, seeming vaguely embarrassed. "Blair and I," he muttered to the wall, "have been here before."  


Blair quietly pushed through the door of Jim's hospital room. Jim was sleeping peacefully, his face in repose. The blankets were only drawn up to his waist, leaving the white bandages swathing his shoulder visible. Blair crept up to the bed as soundlessly as he could, not wanting to disturb Jim's sleep but needing to check on him.

Carefully, Blair made his own examination: heart rate okay, breathing okay, pupils okay, I.V. secure. Senses apparently dialed down some but not too much. He gently squeezed one of Jim's fingers, was gratified when it twitched and flexed. Good, good: you never knew with these damn hospital drugs, never knew for sure how Jim was going to react to them.

He brushed a quick kiss on Jim's forehead and then left to get William and Stephen — William, he knew from experience, wouldn't be able to go home and get to sleep until he saw that Jim was breathing. He brought them into Jim's room for a quick look, and then told them to go home, promised them that he would call with any news.

After that, he went and sought out his friends from Major Crimes, knowing that they needed to express their sympathy more than he needed to hear it right now. What he needed was a chair beside Jim's bed, and maybe a blanket. Ah well — fifteen minutes, he told himself. You've got to give your friends their fifteen minutes.

And so he went back into the waiting room and told them all the story of what had happened: told them about Jim running in to get beer; about the gunman and the hostage; about the alarm bell that had presaged the shots. Simon Banks reported back that the clerk was, indeed, dead, and so was the gunman; that the families had been contacted; that the female hostage had been examined and released by the hospital. Uniforms were keeping the press at bay, he informed Blair, but be careful, anyway — and Blair nodded and said that he would.

Finally, they began to leave, pleading the lateness of the hour. Blair glanced at his watch: it was half past one in the morning. When he looked up, only Simon Banks was still there, frowning down at him.

"You're staying?" Simon asked.

Blair nodded. "Yeah. Of course."

"You need clothes," Simon objected, gesturing to Blair's bloody shirt-front. "Supplies."

"I don't need anything," Blair objected, shaking his head. "I just need to get back to him."

"What do you think Jim is going to say when he wakes up and sees you looking like that?" Simon asked him.

Blair frowned, looking down at his stained shirt front. And then he unbuttoned it, pulled it off — his t-shirt looked pretty clean, comparatively. "Voila."

Simon's lips twitched. "Right, yeah, okay," he admitted, buttoning up his overcoat. "Goodnight, Sandburg."

Blair raised a tired hand to wave. "Goodnight, sir,"

"I'll check on you two in the morning," Simon said, and left.  


And he was glad, later, that Simon had reminded him to take off his bloody overshirt — because at about four o'clock in the morning he woke up to find Jim staring at him through the darkness, though of course it wouldn't have been dark to Jim.

"I'm here." Blair sat up quickly in his chair. "I'm right here, Jim — "

"Are you all right?" Jim asked in a voice roughened with sleep.

"I'm fine." Blair got up and sat on the edge of Jim's bed. "Totally fine. How are you?"

Jim raised the hand with the I.V. and touched Blair's chest. "That was my next question," he admitted.

"You're okay," Blair instantly assured him, bending down to quickly kiss Jim's mouth. "You're fine — it's just a shoulder wound."

"Oh," Jim said, tightening his fingers in Blair's relatively clean t-shirt.

"It looked like a chest wound but it wasn't," Blair explained, dropping quick kisses on Jim's cheek, Jim's mouth, Jim's cheek. "You lost a lot of blood, but you'll be fine..."

Jim's voice, when he spoke again, was rougher still. "I thought I was going to die."

"No, Jim, no..." Blair murmured, turning his head to rub his cheek against Jim's.

"I was sure of it. Convinced." Blair felt Jim's arms come around him, and then tighten, pulling him down onto the bed. "There were so many signs..."

"Careful," Blair said, trying to pull back, "I don't want to hurt you — your shoulder — "

"Fuck my shoulder," Jim said vehemently. "For god's sake — " and then Jim was clutching him, and kissing him, and muttering, "...god, I'm so glad to see you...I'm so glad I'm not dead..."  


He woke up with Jim shoving at him and hissing "Nurse! Nurse!" — and for a moment he thought that Jim was in pain and calling for help. And then his brain kicked into gear, and he rolled off Jim and to his feet in one fluid movement, managing to be three feet away with his hands jammed into his pockets by the time the nurse walked through the door.

"Good morning," she said to Blair in a hushed voice. "How's he doing?"

"I, uh, think he's okay," Blair replied.

"Did he sleep well?" she asked, moving toward the bed.

"I slept fine," Jim answered, and instantly the nurse started briskly fussing over him.

"All right, Detective — we've got to check your stats, change your bandage, get you bathed and breakfasted..."

Blair began to back slowly toward the door. "Why don't I...uh...I might just run home real quick, grab a shower and a change of clothes..."

Jim looked over at him, nodding grimly. "Yeah, why don't you do that? Looks like I'll be tied up here for a while."

"I'll be back as soon as I can," Blair promised. "An hour, tops. You want me to bring you anything?"

"Bring my clothes," Jim replied. "So I can get out of here."

"I don't think you'll be leaving us just yet, Detective," the nurse interjected.

Jim ignored her. "Bring the clothes. And the car."

Blair nodded. "Right."  


It all ended up being slightly more complicated than Blair had supposed. He took a cab back to the parking lot of the 7-11, where he had left the Volvo. And being back there, at the scene of the crime, threw him for a loop.

It was all relatively calm now — just a brick building with glass doors. A criss-cross of yellow police tape: CRIME SCENE: DO NOT ENTER. The parking lot, empty, save for the Volvo and the black and white stationed there. The whole scene was bright and banal in the morning sunlight, but if he squinted he could see —

— the dark of last night, the lot jammed with cop cars and two white ambulances. All those red spinning lights casting an eerie glow over everything, like Halloween. People gawking from the sidelines. Uniformed officers holding them back. Jim on a stretcher, bleeding, unconscious, being carried out and —

Blair blinked and shook his head, trying to collect himself. He felt in his pockets for his car keys — couldn't find them. Realized that he'd left them in the ignition last night.

He opened the Volvo's door and slid behind the wheel, started the car. Deja vu. Jim sitting there, beside him. Jim saying, "I love you. You're the best friend I ever had." Jim getting out of the car. Watching Jim in the rearview mirror as he walked into the 7-11. Head high. Shoulders straight. Purposefully.

"I'll just run in — you wait here."

You wait here, Blair thought, carefully pulling out of the lot and onto the street. You wait here, I'll just run in. Did Jim know what was going to happen? — did Jim hear something? They were clearly going to have to talk about this.

Because it was some damn coincidence, Blair thought as he walked up the stairs to #307, that Jim had asked him to wait in the car last night. And that wasn't part of the deal, Blair thought — maybe if he'd been there, he could have helped, could have done something.

He opened the door to the loft, stepped in — god, the place was horribly, terribly empty without Jim. The adrenaline rush that had helped him stay strong for William, for Stephen, for his friends suddenly deserted him, and he let himself feel what might have happened, in some alternate universe where Jim had not survived. He'd be here, now, alone — god, the thought made him sick. Home alone — a home without Jim in it —

It was ridiculous, it was too horrible to contemplate. Blair launched into motion, getting on with his tasks. Stripped down, got into the shower. Washed himself quickly, dried himself quickly. Searched for clean clothes and got dressed. Found clothes for Jim — pulled a satchel out of the closet and packed Jim a clean shirt, clean pants, underwear, socks, shaving kit. Pajamas, toothbrush, paperback novel — just in case they wouldn't release him, just in case Jim had to spend another night.

He grabbed the satchel and slung it over his shoulder, wanting to get out, now — out of this horrible Jimless space. He wouldn't survive, if anything really happened to Jim — he was more sure of that than ever. He just wouldn't make it — he might haunt this place for a week, or even two, until death came for him. And it would; it would come for him also, if it came for Jim.

He locked up the loft, took the stairs back to the street, got back into the Volvo. Maybe, he thought, turning the car back toward the hospital, he should smuggle Jim something decent to eat. Like a roast beef sandwich for lunch, even a donut. He should stop and get himself some food anyway — he'd have god-only-knew-how-much time to kill at the hospital, and he hated cafeteria food. He should maybe stop off quick at his office — pick up some student papers and his laptop. He thought he had a pack of cards in his desk, somewhere — maybe Jim would want to play blackjack or gin rummy.  


Something within her relaxed when she saw he was there, in his office, standing at his desk. He looked tense, hurried; he was rapidly gathering his things together — a stack of paper, a laptop computer, a pack of cards. He was reaching for his backpack when she tapped on the door — his head jerked up and he stared at her.

"Oh," he said. "Hi."

She smiled at him warmly and stepped into the office, closing the door behind her. "We were supposed to meet today, weren't we?"

"Uh, yeah, but — something's come up." He seemed distracted; he was stuffing papers into his bag. "Something very important — I'm canceling everything today, sorry."

She didn't bother to hide her disappointment. "But, Detective Sandburg — "

"Blair," he corrected, buckling the backpack.

"Blair," she said instantly, moving closer to him, glad of the opportunity for greater intimacy. "I really need to see you — you need to help me. Please," she begged, and she had the satisfaction of watching guilt flash across his face.

"I can't," he said, softly. "Not today. I'm so sorry..."

She stepped closer still. "It hurts," she whispered.

"I know," he whispered back, his voice unconsciously mirroring hers. "But I just can't today, I just can't."

She would have feigned a sensory spike, but as it turned out she didn't need to. She was totally, intently focused on him — and then suddenly there was a roar of voices from outside the window, the sounds of screaming, chanting, stomping. She winced, and stumbled, and raised her hands to her head —

— and then his hands were on her, he'd got her; he had caught her and was lowering her into the desk chair. He whispered, "Dial it down...dial it the background and the foreground..." His hands were on her. One hand on her waist, one hand sliding down her back. The sound of his voice. The feel of his hands — they were brushing the pain off her, like dust, easily...

And then the hands were gone, and she opened her eyes and saw that he was at the window, yanking down the sash. "I'm sorry," he said, turning back to her. "It's Greek Week," and now that she was calmer she could hear the call and response of the voices: Siiiiigma...EP!!! Siiiiigma...EP!!!!

"Fuck Sigma Ep," Blair Sandburg said, looking apologetic.

"Just help me," she pleaded.

He glanced at his watch and said with evident reluctance, "Five minutes. Just five minutes, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed. "Help me with this foreground-background shit. It hits me all the time; it hits me hard."

"Right, okay," he said, clearing off his other chair and pulling it over to sit beside her. "Close your eyes," he said softly, and she did. "Now the first thing is — you have to stop being afraid of your senses."

"But they hurt me," she protested.

"Only because you haven't learned how to use them. Believe me," he insisted, "what you have is a gift. A tremendous gift."

And he kept talking to her soothingly, telling her again to picture her senses as dials and coaching her to turn them up and down. But she couldn't really focus on what he was saying, because all she wanted was for him to put his hands on her, to touch her again. She couldn't hear his words, she could only hear his voice. His voice was caressing her; his voice was making her nipples hard —

— and in her mind she was reaching out for him, pulling him to her, kissing him deeply — and her mouth stopped burning. And in her mind, his hands were skimming up her sides, cupping her breasts, rubbing her hard, hard nipples — and her skin stopped aching. And he was saying something about picturing reality on a grid, and charting her senses in three dimensions — but in her mind they were stumbling to their feet, and they were pressed together, and he was hard for her: she could feel him through his jeans. And so she shoved him back onto his desk, and got on top of him — and she was riding, riding with her head thrown back and his hardness deep inside her — god, he could fuck her well, he could fuck all her pain away —

She started and opened her eyes as he reached out and clasped her hand; he looked tired, and a not a little exasperated. "I don't think you're listening," he said.

"I am!" she lied. "Dials. The grid of reality. Three dimensions — it's helping, I swear." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. Sweet, he tasted so sweet — she could eat him alive.

He flushed red, and pulled away. "I, uh, really have to go."

She frowned, vaguely annoyed at his failure to get with the program. "Tomorrow? Will you see me tomorrow?"

"I don't know. Maybe. Depends." He grabbed his backpack and bolted for the door.

She watched him go, her head oddly clear — clearer than it had been in months, years, even. She was beginning to understand why Paul Ziegler was so interested in this guy. But fuck Paul Ziegler, and his nice, clean hospital.

Clearly, that was a sucker's deal, and it was time to renegotiate.  


"I'm telling you, it's fine," Jim insisted to Dr. Levant.

"You should stay another night," Levant insisted. "It's a gunshot wound, Detective Ellison, not a splinter. You need bedrest, and fluids, and clean dressings — "

"And I can get those things at home." Jim looked past the doctor to the doorway; he could hear Blair's footsteps coming down the hall. "Get the paperwork ready, I'm checking out."

The doctor sighed and fixed him with a look. "You'll do no such thing until we can get your arm in a sling. I spent a lot of time on those stitches, and I won't have you pulling them out carelessly."

Jim looked over the doctor's shoulder at Blair, who was just coming in, two bags over his shoulder. "Sandburg," he said, "Tell Dr. Levant that you know how to change a dressing."

"Sure I can change a dressing," Blair said immediately; he didn't, actually, know how, but Jim did — Jim had been a medic. "I do dressings like you wouldn't believe — they're pure art, my dressings."

"I'm gonna get myself discharged," Jim told him. "Today."

"After we get you into that sling," Levant interjected. "And if you promise to stay put, not move a muscle."

"I promise, I promise," Jim grumbled.

Blair hefted the satchel. "Jim, I brought your things."

"Put them in the bathroom, " Jim directed, and Blair nodded and did.

"What do you want me to do?" Blair asked when he returned. "You want me to stay, you want me to go?"

"They gotta do this sling thing," Jim said, with a sidelong glance at Dr. Levant. "It's gonna take a while — you might as well go hang out somewhere and be comfortable."

"Okay," Blair said, but he didn't leave. Blair just stood there, looking uncomfortable — and suddenly Jim understood. Blair wanted to come to him, wanted to touch him, wanted to kiss him. Well, that was what he wanted, too — that was the very best medicine, better than slings and stitches and whatever other crap the doc was dishing out. Jim held Blair's eyes and nodded, once, slowly, to show he understood, and Blair smiled warmly at him. "Okay, so I'll just...hang in the waiting area for a while, okay?"

"Okay," Jim answered, reaching out for Blair with his senses. Steady heartbeat, maybe just a hint of excitement. Banked heat rising off him, slight scent of arousal, slight scent of —

"I'll check on you every half hour," Blair promised.

her, of her on his skin, and Jim barely registered the soft sound of the door closing behind Blair, because in his mind's eye he could see the spotted leopard, crouching on the stack of crates in the 7-11. And if he wasn't going to die, if he wasn't on his way out — then what the fuck was she doing here?

The jealousy that he had kept so firmly leashed began to stir and thrash inside of him. Not a replacement. Not a protector for Blair. A competitor, then? A lover? A threat?

"You ever think about seeing other people?" he heard Blair say.

But that was ridiculous; that was too horrible to contemplate. Blair loved him, wanted him, was loyal to him — he knew that intellectually, sensually, vicerally. And yet, despite that, Blair was still seeing her.

But Blair had told him all about it, Blair had said that he was seeing her —

" — gonna send a nurse in to do that sling," Levant was saying. "Meanwhile, you're gonna take this twice a day." He handed Jim a prescription. "And this, every four hours, even at night." Another slip of paper. "And this for the pain, as often as you need it but not to exceed 6 pills in 24 hours." Another slip — geez, Blair was gonna have to check all this shit out. "You just close your eyes and rest for a bit," Levant finish, hooking his chart back onto the foot of the bed. "I'll send the nurse, and then I'll send the release paperwork."

"Thanks, Doc." Jim settled back, and closed his eyes against his whirling thoughts.  


He was descending Megan's staircase in his sweats and sneakers, carrying a heavy box. Descending, down and down — and there was a wolf on the second landing. He stopped short, surprised, and dropped the box, which crashed onto the step in front of him and tumbled downward, scattering anthropology books at his feet.

The wolf howled, turned, and fled down the staircase. He chased it; he had to catch it before it ran away. He burst out of Megan's front door and into the jungle — the wolf was ahead of him, ahead of him there somewhere, he had to find it, catch it, get it back.

He heard the loud roar of a leopard, and stopped short, peering through the foliage. Danger here, there was danger here...

He felt something brush against him, and bolted upright, feeling a sharp shock of pain in his shoulder. It was Blair — and he looked and saw that he was gripping Blair's shirt with his good hand.

"Hey, ho!" Blair raised his hands in surrender. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. Just that I saw nobody was in here yet, and I figured I'd snatch a minute to — "

He pulled Blair close, kissed him possessively; Blair moaned into his mouth and then muttered, "Yeah — exactly what I had in mind."

"I'll be home today," Jim said; it sounded like a threat, though he didn't mean it to.

Blair didn't seem to take it as one, anyway. "I can't wait," Blair muttered, and kissed him back, just as possessively. "I can't wait to get you home."

Behind Blair's thudding heartbeat, behind the sound of his own rushing arousal, he heard the footsteps of the nurse, and pushed Blair away. "She's coming, dammit," Jim said breathlessly, and Blair nodded and took an appropriate few steps back.

"I'll be waiting," Blair said — and his eyes were dark and hungry. "I'm right outside." Blair turned and opened the door for the surprised nurse, smiling at her as he let himself out.

The nurse asked him where his clothes were, and he directed her to the bag in the bathroom. She found the button down shirt that Blair had packed for him, and slowly, carefully, eased the sleeve up around his right arm, bringing it carefully up over the dressing on his wounded shoulder. And then she held out the other sleeve for his good arm, and buttoned the shirt closed — hell, he felt halfway home already.

Gently, she fitted his elbow into the sling, slowly bending his arm so that it rested across his chest. And then she bound it there with straps and velcro, immobilizing his entire right side, which he supposed was the point.

He sat patiently, breathing deeply the way Blair would have instructed him to, as she adjusted her handiwork — each movement gave him a little jolt of pain. Still, it was better to get out of here, better to be home and alone with Blair. That way they wouldn't have to sneak their relationship, speak in whispers, restrict their conversation or their affection.

He realized, when the nurse finally produced his paperwork, that he couldn't sign it — and so they called for Blair, who came back from the waiting room wielding his power of attorney and signed everything. And then Blair helped him finish dressing — helped him get his underwear on, and his pants, and his socks and shoes — and fuck all this spirit bullshit!, fuck dreams! and visions! and other Sentinels! and the whole rotten paranoid mess of it! because the guy who put your fucking underwear on you was your fucking lover, okay? till death do us part, okay? and that was just that.

And he was still grinning over this idea as Blair and an orderly lowered him into a wheelchair, and he didn't even care about the horrible sharp pains as they jostled him, because it was such a fucking relief, you know? to have figured the fucking thing out. To know that there was mysticism, and there was reality, and he was on the right side of the equation — finally, finally.



He woke up, still feeling slightly muzzy, to the hushed voice of Blair on the telephone downstairs. "I'm sorry, I can't," Blair was saying in his deep, rich voice. "Yes, I'm sure. Just remember what I told you: breathe, visualize, filter."

Jim dialed up his hearing and heard the woman pleading on the other end of the line. "It's not the same without you," she was saying. "I'm not good enough to do it by myself." Jim felt a stab of sympathy; it had been hard, initially, to master Blair's techniques.

"Maybe later in the week, I can — look, don't put me in this position," Blair begged her. "I'm not working right now, all right? It's a family emergency, and I just can't. I'll call you in a couple of days, I promise."

Don't call me, Jim thought, listening to Blair hang up. I'll call you.

He heard Blair's feet on the stairs, saw Blair come around the bed, still wearing his t-shirt and boxer shorts. Okay, so the last couple of days had definitely been a pain in some ways, but on the plus side, he and Blair had hardly gotten out of bed. Well, more accurately, he hadn't gotten out of bed at all, and Blair had taken some personal days in order to stay home with him. Or rather, to stay in bed with him — because Blair got up only to cook meals, to get Jim glasses of water and juice, and to help him go to the bathroom when he needed to.

If he hadn't been in a certain amount of pain, this would have been a hell of a vacation. They dozed together for long hours, or hung out in bed playing cards, or sometimes Blair sat and read to him — they were halfway through a pretty good Russian spy thing, early John Le Carre. It had all been like one long Sunday afternoon, and now it actually was Sunday afternoon.

Blair pulled back the covers on his side of the bed, and slid in. "How you doin' there?"

"I'm good," Jim said truthfully. "A bit hungry, a bit restless."

Blair moved close to him, draped a careful arm across his waist. "Hungry is good — it means you're better."

"I want a steak," Jim confessed.

Blair laughed. "Well, that means you're a lot better."

Jim rubbed Blair's arm affectionately. "Can I have a steak?" he asked.

"Of course you can." Blair grinned at him.

"And potatoes?"

"Potatoes, sure." Blair turned toward Jim, got half on top of him. "We got a bunch of calls," he added.

Jim stroked his back. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Simon called: he wants to know how you're doing, if you're going to work tomorrow."

"Yes," Jim said instantly.

Blair frowned. "You don't have to, you know. I have to go back, but you don't."

"I'm ready to. I'm happy to get out of the house," Jim explained. "Who else called?"

"Stephen," Blair said. "He's leaving town soon, wanted to get together before he left. If you're up to it."

"I'm up to it," Jim assured him. "We can meet him tomorrow night — for a late dinner and drinks."

Blair frowned again. "You're not drinking anything. You're still taking antibiotics."

"I'll watch you drink, then," Jim said, letting his fingertips trace the muscles of Blair's back.

"It might be overdoing it," Blair said. "We could meet him for lunch, or invite him back here." Jim made a face and Blair sighed. "Okay, okay, we'll meet him for dinner. No drinks," he added, firmly.

"Deal," Jim agreed. "Who else called?"

"Assorted friends, family and compadres," Blair said, dropping his head to kiss Jim's chest. "Wanting to know if you're okay. My mother," he added with a seductive lick to Jim's left nipple. "Totally out of the blue, like always. She's sorry you were hurt, she's glad you're feeling better."

"Give her my best," Jim murmured.

"I did." Blair trailed his tongue down Jim's chest and over the hard planes of his abdomen. Jim shivered as Blair's lips touched the base of his cock and mouthed it gently. "I love your cock," Blair murmured against it. "I love it — when you're feeling stronger you have to fuck me, first thing, soon as you can."

Jim reached out and clenched the sheets in his fists, trying to keep still. "Yes. Yes, I will," he promised.

"First thing," Blair repeated softly. "First fucking thing," and then Blair's mouth was on him, was full of him, mouthing and laving his erection from the side. And Jim could feel his heart pounding as he watched — watched Blair open his mouth wide and take the head of his cock in, watched Blair's lips stretch around him as he sucked, eyes closed, looking almost entirely blissed out.

Slowly, seductively, Blair dragged the flat of his tongue against the underside of his cock. No friction, no urgency — nothing to get off on, just a slow, lazy blow job driving him wild. Blair let Jim's cock slide out of his mouth, but kept his lips pressed to the tip, lapping up the leaking fluid, probing the tiny slit with the tip of his tongue.

Jim broke out into a sweat, squeezed his eyes shut. So good...and then Blair's was kissing his balls, gently taking them into his mouth. He was panting, now, under these ministrations — he couldn't take it, didn't deserve it, couldn't. He felt the wet heat of Blair's mouth, the sweet, careful stroking caresses of Blair's tongue. Slow. Lazy. His balls twitched...tightened...

And then Blair's tongue was sliding into the hollow behind his balls, and raking hard over his perineum, and Blair was holding his thighs in strong hands, and pushing them up, pushing them open —

— and at the first, swirling touch of Blair's tongue to his hole he came hard, just one strong convulsion that rolled over him, made him groan and splash come on his belly. And still, Blair didn't stop — it was strange, but this didn't seem about orgasm for Blair at all. Blair continued to lave him, pointing his tongue and probing, loving — like Blair was exploring and kissing his body for the sheer fucking hell of it, all orgasms aside.

Jim felt his head roll to the side; he was weak, now, with pleasure. His muscles were loose, hot, relaxed; he could only lay there, lay there and wait for Blair to be finished with him — and pray that he never would.  


Jim walked into the bullpen late on Monday — he and Blair were signed up to do the 2-10 shift. He was greeted by a bunch of flowers on his desk, and the beaming faces of his friends in Major Crimes.

Simon Banks was trying to disguise his pleasure at seeing Jim behind a scowl — and failing. "Hey, I heard there was a vicious rumor that you were back among the living. How you feeling?"

"Well, that depends." Jim replied. "How's my caseload?"

"We saved some work for you, don't you worry." Simon patted him on the back. "There's always work around here. Still haven't convinced those poor victims to stop calling us."

"Maybe the phone company can help us straighten it out, sir," Jim deadpanned.

"You're working with me today," Megan said, coming over and stretching up to give him a quick kiss on the cheek; Jim felt his face burning. "I need you to run some suspects through the computer."

"Right," Jim nodded, as Blair came into the bullpen; they had taken separate cars, just in case Simon split them up. "Lay it on me," Jim said, and Megan handed him a file.

"What about me?" Blair asked, looking around. "What am I doing today?"

"I need you to go out with Joel," Simon said. "We've had a bomb threat to the Jewish Center on 7th Street."

Blair's mouth tightened, and he nodded, folding his arms. "Sign me up, and let me at the bastards."

"Joel's down in interrogation room number two, taking Rabbi Perlman's official statement," Simon said.

"I'm on it," Blair replied, and then turned to Jim. "I'll catch you later, okay?"

"I'll be here." Jim sat down in front of his computer, and opened Megan's manila file.  


Megan's suspects were allegedly involved in an intellectual piracy ring; she was trying to find out if these apparently clean local boys had federal records. But the computers were slow; the system was down in Washington and queries were being rerouted to a duplicate server. In Tibet, apparently — it was slow as molasses. Fucking feds, Jim thought, rubbing his head.

So he put the names into the computer as quickly as it would let him, and then tried to follow up by phone. It took hours, it took what felt like years, to get answers — and even then, he didn't get all of them.

He got up, after a while, and went into the break room to split an early evening pizza with Megan. He was glad that Blair had gone down to the Jewish Center with Taggart; he took the opportunity to order pepperoni and extra cheese.

When he got back to his desk, he found that the printer had finally spit out another three reports. Good god, he thought wearily — this kind of stuff was enough to make you wish you were back on the street. He brought what he had over to Megan, and they sat for a while, discussing the results. Five of the seven suspects so far were apparently clean, but two had records. Arms trafficking — their mothers must be so proud.

He shuddered and suddenly felt itchy all over, like he wanted to crawl out of his skin. He took a deep breath, and he could smell her — she was here, she was looking for Blair, she was here. He looked up, and instantly knew her: tall, blonde, feral.

Competitor. Lover. Threat. He was sure, now.

He stood up, in a daze, and approached her. She was staring at him; she was breathing in, sniffing him. Had she smelled him on Blair the way he had smelled her on Blair?

"Can I help you?" he asked, and it took every ounce of his self-possession to be courteous.

"I'm looking for Detective Sandburg," she answered, with a cordiality that seemed equally strained.

"He isn't here," Jim replied. Deep breath, deep breath, he was thinking — and he wondered, idly, if she was thinking the same thing, if she was hearing Blair's voice too. "Can I help you?"

She tilted her head slightly to the side, and for a moment she really evoked that leopard, her spirit animal. "No," she said finally, eyes narrowing. "I don't think so."

"Do you want me to give him a message?" He was all politeness, even though his head was pounding, even though there was a thin, metallic whine piercing his brain.

"No," Alex said slowly, taking a step backwards — and he saw, in that moment, that she was afraid of him, that she knew who he was and she was afraid of him. He felt like growling, he felt like rushing her and tearing her throat out with his teeth.

"What's your name?" he asked, advancing a step — wanting her to be afraid.

She stopped, held her ground, held his eyes. "Alex Barnes," she said. "And you are?"

"James. Ellison." He pronounced his name distinctly, wanting her to hear it, wanting to carve it into her brain, into Blair's body, into the wall behind her. "Detective James Ellison."

She nodded, and her eyes were black, the pupils dilated. He could smell the adrenaline pumping through her; she was coiled, tense and ready to spring. "I see," she said, standing as still as a statue.

"Right," he replied, staring her down.

And then the moment was broken. She took a deep breath, and turned to go. "Tell him I came by," she said, over her shoulder, and silently padded her way to the elevator. He was rooted to the spot: he watched the elevator come, watched it take her away.

"Jim?" Megan said, and he turned; she was staring at him, looking concerned. "You okay? Who was that?"

"Someone for Blair," Jim muttered, inhaling sharply. "No biggie. Look, I need a minute, okay?"

Megan raised her palms, still obviously worried. "Sure. Of course."

He nodded at her, then made his way back to his desk. He felt like his legs were buckling under him as he sat — he was shaken, deeply shaken, and it was difficult to type. He brought the main search screen up for the database; beneath it were a list of possible searches.

He would do them all. He would do them fucking all. And he began typing:


into the various search engine windows, and then he sent the fingerprints Megan had taken through right after them, just in case the bitch was lying about her fucking name.  


He was startled when Blair finally came back into the bullpen — he had been staring so intently at the computer, at the printer, willing it to spit up the goddammed information. Quickly he pulled the mouse into the corner of the screen, launching the official CPD screensaver. He didn't want Blair to see what he was doing, didn't want Blair to know — not until he had some evidence, some shred of proof to back up his intuition.

"Hey there," Blair said, coming over to him.

"Hey yourself," Jim replied, aiming for breezy. "How did it go?"

"Well, it's going," Blair said, leaning his ass against Jim's desk. "We've done most of the legwork, anyway — we've got the letters, we've got employees lists, community lists, contractor lists — tomorrow I'll cross reference everything against known hate groups, etc. etc. — you know the drill."

"That might not be as easy as you think," Jim said, wryly. "The servers are all fucked up."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Oh, brother."

"I've spent all day working on this," Jim said, waving a hand at his screen. "And I still haven't gotten all my queries back."

"That bites," Blair said, sympathetically, then glanced at his watch. "We're supposed to meet Stephen in a half an hour, aren't we?"

Jim glanced at his own watch: it was nearly a quarter to ten. "Yeah. Look, I've got an idea," Jim said, actually getting one. "Why don't you go on ahead without me — go meet Stephen, order dinner — "

"No, no, man," Blair protested.

"Yes, yes, man," Jim insisted. "You should go."

"Jim," Blair objected, "Stephen's your brother — he wants to see you. And I'm not leaving you here, okay?"

"Blair, I know he's my brother. And I think it'd be great if you two know, talk a little," Jim replied. "On your own. Get to know each other — you're both really important to me." He could see Blair weakening at this appeal and pushed harder, knowing he was playing his cards right. "And I'll be right behind you — I'm just waiting on a report. Go over there, have a beer, shoot the shit. Order me something — you know what I like."

"I don't know about this," Blair said, sounding doubtful.

"It's a great idea," Jim said. "It'll give you guys some time to talk. He said he wanted to see you — and I'll be right behind you," Jim repeated, "I promise."

Blair sighed, made a face. "Are you sure? It's your first day back, you're not at full strength."

"I'm well enough to make my way to a restaurant," Jim insisted. Blair squinted at him but he insisted, "Well, I am!"

"All right," Blair agreed, finally, hopping off the desk. "I'll go meet him — just hurry on up, will you?"

"I'll hurry," Jim said. "I'll leave here the second the report comes in, I swear."

"Where is this joint again?" Blair asked.

"Pistachios. Center Street, near the Brooke Theatre. We've got a 10:15 reservation under Ellison."

"Gotcha," Blair said. "Hurry on up, man."  


It was twenty minutes after eleven when the report on Alex Barnes finally came back — by fax, oddly enough, not by computer. Rafe brought it over to him from the fax machine; Rafe and Henri were doing the graveyard shift tonight, the 10-6. "Did you request information on an Alex Barnes?" Rafe asked.

"Yeah," Jim said, quickly getting out of his chair.

Brown looked up from his desk with a frown. "Hey, wasn't she the chick who ran into a telephone pole?"

"Not according to this," Rafe said, reading the sheets. Jim extended an aggressive hand out, but Rafe coolly ignored him. "Alex Barnes," Rafe read. "A.k.a. Alicia Bannister. Warrants issued for grant theft, industrial espionage — "

Henri laughed. "The girl's not bored, man."

" — weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, and manslaughter — hey!" Rafe started as Jim snatched the papers out of his hand with shaking fingers, slammed them down on the desk, read them for himself.

Alex Barnes.

A.k.a. Alicia Bannister.

Grand theft.

Industrial espionage.

Weapons trafficking.

Drug trafficking.


Sentenced to ten years minimum at the California women's prison in Corona.

Put into solitary confinement for violent behavior.

Transferred one month ago into the custody of —

of —

The Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Supervising Agent Paul Ziegler.

White spots danced before his eyes as he stared at the name. The letters twisted into grotesque forms. Paul Ziegler. Alex Barnes. His stomach turned, and he remembered the thin, metallic whine.

A wire. The bitch was wearing a wire. Wearing a wire on Blair. Wearing a wire for Ziegler.

Paul Ziegler. Alex Barnes. Blair Sandburg. Manslaughter.

And he was scrambling for the telephone, dialing Blair's cell number.

"The customer you wish to call — "

Jim slammed the phone down, scrambled on his desk for the restaurant number, couldn't find it. He picked up the phone again, pressed 0 — asked the operator to connect him with Pistachios, a restaurant on Center Street. He waited, heard a man's voice answer, "Pistachios," and instantly asked to speak to Blair Sandburg — he was with the Ellison party. They had a reservation for 10:15.

He waited, frustrated, as he heard the waiter lay the phone on the desk, heard the sounds of music and laughter coming from the bar. He had a feeling of insurmountable dread — he'd had the woman here, in the fucking police station, and he'd let her go, he'd let her walk. Finally, he heard someone pick up the phone and he said, "Blair? Blair, is that you?"

"No, it's me," Stephen Ellison said. "Where are you, Jim?"

"Is Blair with you?" Jim asked.

"He was, " Stephen answered. "He got a call — he said he had to pop over to his office, said you'd be here in a min — "

Jim didn't hear the rest of the sentence; he was already halfway down the hall, halfway to the stairwell, but only a fraction of the way to Blair's office at Rainier University.  


Blair pulled his car into the dark, nearly empty parking lot on the side of Hargrove Hall, and jumped out, jogging quickly toward the building. He saw the dark, hunched over figure of Alex Barnes sitting on the stone steps, head in her hands, and put on a burst of speed.

He sat down next to her on the cold steps, and grasped her arm. She looked up at him, and her mascara was smeared. There were black streaks on her face. "It's all right," he assured her quickly, rubbing her arms soothingly. "It was just a zone. They happen sometimes. They're nothing to be afraid of."

And suddenly she was reaching out for him, and she was kissing him, and her hands were knotted tightly into his jacket, holding him firm. He tried to pull back, but she just followed him, leaning forward into the kiss. He tugged at her arms, but she was strong, and she had the better angle — and her tongue was in his mouth, her tongue was in his mouth.

He managed to twist his head away, and breathed, "Alex — Alex, no."

"I need you." Alex leaned forward and licked the side of his face, once, roughly — and he shivered. "I need you to do for me what you do for him. I need you to make me well."

"I'll try to help you. I'm trying to help you."

She pulled back and stared at him with narrowed eyes. "It's not enough. I'm second best. You put him first — you'll always put him first."

"I — He — He's my lover."

"I know," Alex growled. "But now I need you."

"I'll do what I can," Blair promised, feeling helpless. "I want to help you, believe me..."

"I need to go," Alex said. "Leave Cascade. And I need you to come with me."

Blair stared. "I can't go with you."

"You have to."

"I can't!"

And then she pulled her hand behind her back, and when her hand returned it was holding a sleek, deadly automatic pistol.

To his own surprise, he laughed. "Oh, come on, Alex. Believe me, I'm not worth it."

"Oh, but you are," she said, and there was no trace of humor in her eyes.

"No man gives his best at gunpoint," Blair said, trying to defuse the situation.

"I don't think you understand." Alex was pointing the pistol straight at his chest. "I lied to you — I've been lying to you all along. You want to know how I really got the sentinel senses? Solitary confinement in prison."

He stared at her — this wasn't happening, this couldn't be happening.

"I thought I was going crazy," Alex said with a hiccuping laugh. "Hell, I was going crazy. I thought I would have to live with this pain forever." As he watched her, her face changed, registering something strangely like — affection. "And if it hadn't been for you, I never would have understood what I really am. You gave me a way out — and now I have to take it, and I have to take you with me."

"Alex, this is crazy," Blair said, trying desperately to keep the conversation rational. "I'm not going anywhere. If you want me to help you, I will, but — "

She raised the gun to his face. "They're going to take me back to prison!"

He felt desperate, lost. "Well, then I'll visit you in prison. I swear I will — "

Her face changed, grew hard. "Get up," she said, jamming the pistol against his head.

"You're not going to kill me. You need me — you just said so."

"Get up I said, or I'll shoot you right here."

He sighed, and stood up in the darkness, raising his hands.

"Now move," she commanded, waving the pistol toward the parking lot.

He sighed and began to walk. "Alex, this isn't going to work. You're gonna keep me at gunpoint forever? How far do you think we're gonna get like this?"

"I'll keep you fucking chained up if I have to," Alex said, and her tone made him shiver — she sounded serious.

He stopped short next to the fountain in front of Hargrove Hall and turned to her; it was time to launch the big guns now, it was time to push her the hell into submission. "You don't want to kill me, Alex."

"But I will kill you," Alex replied. "I'll kill you if you don't come with me."

"Give me the gun," Blair said, extending his hand.

She laughed harshly, and then gave him that look of quasi affection again. "I don't think so, Blair. Keep moving."

"No," he said sadly, shaking his head.



"I'll kill you," she threatened.

"You won't," he insisted.

She was breathing hard, now — she was agitated. "I said move it!!" she cried, and trained the gun on him.

"I'm sorry," Blair said softly, and meant it.

Her hands were shaking. The gun was shaking. Blair sighed and shook his head, turned away —

— and she shot him.  


Jim took the turn into the Rainier parking lot on two wheels, nearly sending the truck crashing onto its side. He pulled up, nearly on the lawn, with a squeal of brakes — then shifted into park and jumped out, leaving the engine running.

He sprinted across the lawn toward Hargrove Hall. Impelled — out of the car and across the lawn and up the stone steps toward Blair's office. Like he'd been once before, like he would doubtless be again — it was his destiny, it was his birthplace, it was the central landmark of his universe: you are here. In the distance, he could hear sirens — Rafe and Brown, doubtlessly, coming with backup, bless them.

He reached for the door handle, tugged on it — it was locked. That stopped him for a moment, stopped him cold —

— and then he saw a glint in the shiny, silver handle, a glint of light in the darkness, and he turned and stared at the fountain.

Black water rippled in the darkness. Black fabric billowed. Black fabric. Blair's jacket.

He felt frozen — rooted — in the blackness. Black grass, black water, black fabric: the sun had gone out of the universe. Grass. Water. Stone. And nothing else. Nothing living over there — no sound of — no pulse of —

And then he was running across the black grass, hearing dialed up, slam of car doors. He was wet, he was splashing, no sound of, no pulse of, two fistsful of sodden wool, he was pulling — wet wool, no sound of, wet hair, no pulse, jesus, no —

"H., give me a hand!" Jim cried, and then Henri Brown was knee-deep beside him in the water, and they were dragging the heavy wet wool and hair and clothes that had been Blair Sandburg through the bloody water, over the stone wall of the fountain, laying him on his back upon the black grass in the darkness.

He knelt beside Sandburg in the wet grass, heard the soft beeps of Rafe's cell phone as he dialed, heard Rafe choking, "I need an ambulance! I need an ambulance! Officer down!"

He heard everything, he could hear everything for miles — he heard the soft twang of threads ripping as Brown stripped the wet coat off, heard the canned laughter of late night television blaring in the dorms over the hill, heard the hum of the electrical wires buried deep in the ground...

"I don't hear a heartbeat!" Brown demanded. "Do you? Jim, do you hear a heartbeat?"

He heard the hum of airplane engines overheard; he heard a couple arguing in Spanish; he heard the sound of chipmunks, burrowing for warmth in the cold, cold ground.

"Jim! Do you hear a heartbeat?"

"No." Jim looked up from Blair's pale face to Henri's huge, frightened eyes, unable to explain that he could hear everything else, everything else in the entire goddammed world — except the only sound that had ever really mattered.

Henri stared for a moment, then shoved hard at him "Get his airway open!"

He nodded dazedly, and forced Blair's mouth open, bent his mouth to Blair's.

Cold. Blair's mouth was cold. Unresponsive.

"One, two , three, four, five!" Henri counted, pressing down hard on Blair's chest. "Okay, again — one, two, three..."

And he was trying to breathe for Blair, to breathe for both of them, but he just couldn't — his senses were spiraling out of control. He could hear the low foghorn of a liner out on the Pacific, he could hear owls screeching in the Cascade mountains, he could hear his own heartbeat and respiration slowing, growing sluggish in sympathy.

Hardwired. He was hardwired to Blair, and that was his only comfort right now.

"All right, clear," Henri yelled. "Let's go again — one, two three, four — "

"Breathe, damn it!" Jim hissed. "C'mon, Chief — please." He bent his mouth to Blair's again, breathing in time with Henri's count — one! two! three! — until suddenly there were hands on his shoulders, pulling him away, off Blair. Two EMTs in white coats, and he nearly broke their arms.

"Leave me alone!" Jim yelled, shoving them away, sitting down hard on the grass.

"Give us room, guys," one of the EMTs said. "Check his pulse."

This can't be happening, Jim thought, staring up at the night sky. Stars. He could see stars — bright, like a thousand little suns. How could there be stars on a night like this?

He watched, dully, as the EMTs worked over Blair with the AED paddles. "Clear!" A whump of electricity, and Blair's body jerked. "Charge to 200! Clear!" Another whump — god, they were killing him, they were killing him...

They tried again, and then again. Blair spasmed violently on the grass, but stilled as they lifted the paddles. Again. Again. God — oh, god, oh, god. And then the EMTs were shaking their heads, and packing their bags, and it took a moment for Jim to process what he was seeing.

"I'm sorry, guys," one EMT said, standing up. Jim heard Rafe's soft, choke of "God, no..."

"What do you mean, 'sorry'?" Jim yelled, though he knew — he'd known from the moment he'd sensed the fountain from the top of the stone steps. "This isn't over!"

Rafe's hand was on his shoulder — -Rafe was behind him, trying to comfort him. "Jim..."

He jerked away from those dammed comforting hands. "This isn't over!" he repeated, and bent to take Blair's mouth again, kissing him once, desperately, before breathing. One, two, three...

"Jim, " Rafe said softly.

"Come on, come on, come on," Jim muttered, pumping Blair's chest with criss-crossed hands.

"Jim, he's gone. Let him go. He's gone."


"He's gone," Rafe repeated.

"Let it go, baby," Brown seconded quietly.

Jim let out a soft cry, and pressed his face to Blair's chest, to the soft, dead stillness there. God, no. God, no. His Guide — he wanted his Guide — he wanted Blair — -Blair — -

"Don't you go!" He lifted his head to yell at Blair. "Don't go! Pasukulay..." He moved his trembling fingers to Blair's cold, clammy neck, up to touch Blair's cold, smooth face. "Pasukulay — allichu hamkipuway. Allichu — allichu kunan..." He held Blair's face in his hands, praying — but Blair didn't, couldn't hear him anymore. But still he held on tightly, hoping that there was still healing power in his fingertips — but Blair was out of reach. Unreachable.

He had never felt so alone in his life.

He thought he knew what alone was, what it meant to be alone. But he didn't, he hadn't — this, this was alone. Alone on an empty shore, staring up into the sky. Watching the sun die out. Feeling the universe grow cold.

And then, in his head, a Guide's voice — Incacha's voice —

Use your spirit animal.

And the wolf howled, turned, and fled away from him, through the jungle. He coiled, sprung, gave chase — he had to catch it before it ran away. The wolf was ahead of him, ahead of him somewhere — he had to find it, catch it, get it back.

He heard the loud roar of a leopard, and stopped short. Danger here, there was danger... Ahead of him he saw the wolf, crouching ferally near the base of a large tree, pain in its eyes. There was an arrow piercing its side, and the fur around it was dark, matted with blood.

The wolf took a few steps, limping now — and he roared, calling him back, wanting him back. The wolf stopped again, turned; it was poised to bound away, its blue eyes were dilated with pain. He screamed his own pain, saw the wolf hesitate; he screamed again.

And then the wolf dipped his head, took a few steps toward him — impelled, compelled — and then it was running toward him, shakily at first, favoring its wounded side but gathering speed. And he was running too, toward, forward, and then suddenly he saw the wolf gather itself and leap and he sprang too and together they leapt into the white hot light and —

— Blair was spitting water up onto his chin, and the water was warm! it was warm! He yanked Blair up roughly, half turning him over, and held him, careful of the raw gunshot wound to his shoulder — and Blair was spewing water into the grass, violently, body seizing, heart pounding.

He felt hands gripping his shoulders — the EMTs were back again, trying to pull him away, trying to get to Blair.

Well, fuck them. No way! He tightened his arms around Blair and hunched over, shielding Blair with his back protectively. And dimly, as he held his convulsing Guide close, he heard Rafe and Brown pulling them EMTs off him, arguing with them, telling them to leave them alone, to leave them the fuck alone.

He rested his cheek against Blair's head, cradling him close as he sucked for breath, as his blood rushed through his body, as his body warmed. Blair needed him — he would hold Blair, heal Blair: he could do that. He held Blair tightly and closed his eyes against the night.

He could hear the steady, orienting lub-dub of Blair's heart. He could hear Blair's bruised lungs rasping as they strained for air. He could hear harsh braying sobs — and it took him a moment to recognize that they were his own, to realize that he was losing it, had lost it, finally.

Blair grew warmer and warmer; the sun slowly rose in his universe. He turned his head and kissed Blair's wet hair.

They would never take Blair from him. They would never take Blair, never ever, not while he was alive.

The revelation stole over him gradually, soft and sure and certain. A comforting thought, the ultimate comforting thought.

Whenever, however it happened — he knew now that he was going to die first.  

The End