Rating: NC-17

Pairings: J/B

Warnings: m/m, Alternate Universe

Archive category: Alternate Universe, First Times

Disclaimers: All recognizable Sentinel characters are copyright of Pet Fly Productions and Paramount. No infringement intended on my part....just doing some wishful thinking. :-)

Author's notes: Well, this is my first foray into the world of AU writing. But I couldn't resist working canon into the story as well. See how many references you can find! My utmost thanks to my ever faithful beta reader, CJ, who went above and beyond the call of duty on this one. And thanks also to my other friends who provided valuable input as well: Larrkin, Linda, Vickie and Peanut. Thanks everyone!

Date completed: February 9, 2000

Summary: During an undercover assignment to catch a serial killer, Detective Jim Ellison meets male model photographer Blair Sandburg -- who happens to be his main suspect.

 

Picture Perfect

by Barbara Nice-Miller

AgtSpooky@aol.com

 

 

"Ellison! My office!"

Detective Jim Ellison groaned inwardly at his captain's bellow and continued to massage his temples at his desk in the bullpen. Christ, he was tired. More than tired, actually. Exhausted would be a better description. Everything felt like it was too loud or too bright...even his skin hurt. And it was obvious by Simon's tone that whatever he had to say wasn't going to help his headache or his exhaustion one bit. The last thing he needed was another assignment. Not now...

Taking a deep breath, Jim wearily pushed himself up from his chair and headed across the room to his captain's office, walking in and shutting the door behind him softly. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

Captain Simon Banks looked up from the paperwork on his desk and took in the haggard appearance of his best detective and good friend. He gestured to one of the chairs.

"Sit down before you fall down, Jim."

Jim complied silently, his face a stony mask, knowing what was coming. And Simon didn't disappoint him.

"I've got a new case for you --"

Jim shook his head, cutting him off. "Simon, please...I can't handle this right now."

Simon sighed and removed his glasses, rubbing a hand over his face. "Don't do this to yourself, Jim. It wasn't your fault."

Jim exploded up from the chair. "The hell it wasn't! I let her get away from me."

"Guilt's a good motivator, but don't take more than your share. The feds screwed it up and you know it."

Jim stalked over to the window, anger radiating from every pore. "But I knew their intell was wrong! And now those people are dead."

"Dammit, Jim, you did everything you could to convince Matthews and you know it. It was their case, from the moment they walked in brandishing their paperwork. They're the ones who pulled you from your surveillance and put you out in the woods instead. You had no choice but to do what they said. I hated it as much as you did, but my hands were tied, too." He paused for a moment then continued quietly, "Let it go."

Jim turned a stricken face to Simon. "I can't," he said simply.

"She wanted to destroy you, to punish you for something that was completely beyond your control. And now she's dead. Don't let her win from beyond the grave. Don't let her make you fold. Because that's what she wanted." Again he paused. "Get the justice you deserve and avenge those people's needless deaths by doing the job you were trained for. By making sure someone like Veronica Sarris can never hurt anyone again."

Jim leaned his head back against the window with a tired chuckle. "You should've been a psychiatrist, Simon."

Simon chuckled, "Trust me, sometimes it feels like I'm running an encounter group around here. I just don't get paid the big bucks." Then he sobered. "I know that you've still got a lot to work through on this, but I need you right now. Can I count on you?"

Jim let out a breath, the pain of his self-imposed failure still written plainly on his face, but his voice was strong when he answered. "Yeah. Yeah, you can count on me."

Simon smiled as Jim pushed himself away from the window and sat back down in the chair. He knew that Jim wouldn't let him down. It wasn't in his nature to give up, and this proved it all over again.

"So, what've you got for me?"

Back to business, Simon leaned forward, resting his arms on his desk. "Looks like we've got a serial killer on our hands. Four young men in four months. They were drugged unconscious first, then strangled with a yellow scarf. Afterwards they were stabbed multiple times in the chest. Each body was found dumped behind a different outdoor mall around Cascade. Homicide asked for our help this morning. Well, they asked for your help."

"Really? Why's that? High profile case like this, you'd think they'd want it all to themselves."

"They've got a suspect and need someone to go undercover. You fit the bill perfectly."

"You're losing me, Simon. They've got plenty of guys that do undercover work. Why me?"

Simon passed Jim a manila case folder. "You're going undercover as a male model."

"A what?!" Jim started shaking his head. "No way, Simon. No way in hell am I taking off my --"

"Jim!" Simon stopped his detective's tirade. "We're not talking Playgirl, here. The suspect works at a male modeling agency that does fashion photography. Underwear, to be precise. Think...Calvin Klein."

"Think about getting yourself another detective."

"Jim, have you looked in a mirror lately? You're perfect for this case. None of those overweight schmucks in Homicide would have a prayer of pulling this off."

"So send Rafe!" Jim pleaded, referring to Major Crimes newest detective, who happened to look and dress like a model straight out of GQ magazine.

"Brian's a rookie and you know it. He doesn't have the experience necessary to do an undercover assignment like this." Simon smiled and leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. "Face it. You're it."

Jim glared at his boss, jaw clenched, muscle jumping. After a brief staring contest it became apparent that Simon wasn't going to back down and Jim sighed, admitting defeat. He looked down at the case file in his hands and flipped it open. "So what's our suspect's na--" He cut himself off as he laid eyes on a color photograph of the most gorgeous man he'd ever seen. The young man was in his late twenties or early thirties, fresh faced, clean shaven, with a mane of chestnut curls that cascaded down just past his shoulders. But it was the eyes that mesmerized Jim and took his breath away. Their blue depths pulled him in till he felt like he was drifting in the most calming sensation he could remember experiencing. And even though he knew he'd never laid eyes on this man before, there was something so familiar about him, like he should know him, that it was important for him to know him...

Simon's voice cut through his musings. "Suspect's name is Blair Sandburg. Age 29. Works at Eye Spy Photography. During Homicide's investigation of the four murders they came across three common denominators: all the men were clients of Eye Spy, all had been photographed by Sandburg, and all had seen Sandburg socially. All they've got is circumstantial evidence at this point and they didn't want to show their hand by bringing him in for questioning. So he's been under surveillance for two weeks, and until last week they thought they had the wrong man. But then the team lost Sandburg for a few hours and the next morning they found the fourth body."

Jim shook his head. "This guy? A serial killer? I think Homicide is barking up the wrong tree."

"Jim, you've been a cop long enough to know that looks don't mean squat. This is the guy Homicide has pegged as their best, if only, suspect, and it's your job to get close to him."

"You mean you want me to be bait."

"I mean I want you to use your best judgment to either draw him out or prove him innocent." Simon stood up. "Take the file and the rest of the day off. Get some rest. Read up on Sandburg, Eye Spy and the victims. You've got an appointment for your first session at the agency at ten tomorrow morning."

Jim stood as well and walked to the door, stopping at Simon's parting words. "Oh, Jim. Don't forget your Speedos."

************

Jim stood on the balcony of his third floor loft apartment and gazed out at the Cascade skyline shimmering in the moonlight. His beer sat on the balcony wall, next to the open case file and Blair Sandburg's photo. He knew he shouldn't be able to read the file and see the photo so clearly in the near darkness, yet he could. He also knew he shouldn't be able hear the bathroom faucet dripping from here, but he could. He sighed and let the warm summer breeze caress the bare skin of his chest and legs. His headache had returned with a vengeance when he arrived home from the precinct, along with a feeling as though his clothes were suddenly made of sandpaper. He couldn't remove them fast enough, scratching almost violently at his skin until he was wearing only his boxers.

The aftereffects of the Sarris case were taking their toll on him. A solid month of intensive work on the Switchman (aka Veronica Sarris) serial bomber case had nearly paid off. He'd been within days of making an arrest when the feds barged in and took control, shrugging off all of his hard work. They then sent him out into the woods north of Auburn for five days on a useless solo surveillance of a mill they said the Switchman was using as her hideout. But Jim had known better, he knew that the Switchman was going to target the Green Street Bridge next, on the day of the bridge's grand opening. But Matthews hadn't listened, saying their intell was correct, that the Switchman's next target was going to be the bus station. Matthews had then threatened to pull Jim's badge if he didn't keep his ass out in the woods. And Jim, with his back against the wall, had obeyed, praying that he would be the one to be wrong.

He wasn't. While he sat out in the woods the Switchman had blown the bridge, killing 15 people, along with herself accidentally, during the ribbon cutting ceremony. Jim had never forgiven himself for not standing up to Matthews, no matter the cost. Even though his hands had been officially tied, as Simon had pointed out.

But this case had been personal. Veronica had perpetrated the bombings to exact her revenge on Jim. She had targeted him specifically, daring him to catch her. She was punishing him for the death of her father years before when Jim and he had served together in the Rangers. An ill-fated mission to Peru had resulted in the downing of their chopper, killing everyone but Jim. And even though there was nothing he could've done, Veronica irrationally blamed him for not being able to save her father.

But these people he should have been able to save. This time he could've done something.

So now his nerves were shot and he was exhausted, both physically and mentally. He was hallucinating from the lack of both sleep and decent food for almost a month. What else could explain these bizarre sensory episodes? He had to pull himself together and work through his feelings of guilt, get past it and get back to normal, or these sensations would drive him mad. God, a psychiatrist would have a field day with him.

Jim absently rubbed his aching temple again with one hand, while the other drifted over to rest on top of Sandburg's photo. What was it about this man that stirred something deep within him? His looks, to start. As a gay man, Jim was no stranger to the beauty of the male form, and Sandburg was definitely a prime example of the best the species had to offer. But it was more than just a physical attraction. It was like they were...connected somehow. But that was crazy. He didn't even know the man!

But he tomorrow he would.

************

Eye Spy Photography

Downtown Cascade

10am

Jim shifted restlessly from foot to foot in the elevator, fighting the urge to remove his suit and scratch at his skin. The sensory hallucinations were getting worse, not better. His head was pounding, and he was loath to take off his sunglasses when he arrived on the 30th floor for his appointment. It was so damn bright and why was everything so damn loud? As the digital display in the elevator counted upwards to thirty Jim swallowed and tried to take a steadying breath. He had a job to do. Now was not the time to lose it. And with no way for an underwear model to wear a wire, Jim was on his own. No one to watch his back on this assignment. He needed to focus, get his mind on the case.

With a soft <ding!> that sounded like cymbals crashing together to Jim, the doors opened and deposited him in the midst of the chaos called Eye Spy Photography. Men and women were moving around everywhere, talking, laughing, holding portfolios or paperwork, or looking at photographs spread out on tables. Phones were ringing and flashbulbs were going off down the hallway. Jim's headache got worse, if that was possible.

"Can I help you?"

A female voice to his right drew Jim's attention and he looked over to see an attractive green-eyed brunette smiling at him from behind a desk. Her name tag said "Tina". Jim moved toward her, taking off his sunglasses, wincing at the harsh fluorescent lighting. "Yes, I'm Jim Tanner. I have an appointment."

The receptionist looked down and consulted her book. "Ah, yes, here we are. With Blair. Oh, there he is now." She stood and waved, calling out, "Blair, darling! Your ten o'clock is here!"

Jim tried not to cringe as her voice pierced his eardrums, turning to meet his suspect. And his breath caught in his throat. Blair Sandburg's photo did not do him justice. The man was even more handsome and sensuous in person. Jim watched as Blair walked toward him. No, make that bounced toward him. The long-haired man practically vibrated with surpressed energy, hands gesturing animatedly as he talked to people he passed, the two silver hoop earrings in his left ear dancing with each step he took. The brightly patterned vest he wore over top of the white, open-collared shirt, along with the pair of snug-fitting, worn and torn jeans, gave the photographer the appearance of a carefree hippie.

Then the hippie was standing before him, a smile lighting up his face, hand extended. "Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg."

Jim took the offered hand...and the world went quiet.

His eyesight was back to normal, his skin stopped itching, his headache disappeared and the littlest sound was no longer pounding at his eardrums. Like someone had just flipped a switch. The change was so sudden, so unexpected that Jim took an involuntary step backwards, taking Blair with him, as he was still holding his hand.

"Are you OK?" the young man said worriedly.

Shaking his head slightly, Jim cleared his throat. "Yes...yes, I'm fine. Jim Tanner, nice to meet you, Mr. Sandburg." For a split second Jim had an irrational fear that if he let go of Blair's hand the sensory hallucinations would reappear, but then Blair was letting go...and things stayed normal.

"Please, call me Blair. Can I call you Jim?"

"Of course."

"Great! Let's get started then. Come on, follow me." Then he was walking away, bouncing back down the hallway from which he'd come. Jim trailed behind, trying to get a grip on what was happening to him.

"So, Jim," Blair began as he entered one of the photography studios, closing the door behind the two of them, "You're here to do a spread for Undergear, right?"

Jim nodded. They had arranged his cover with Undergear, a leading men's underwear magazine, in case Blair was their killer and checked up on him. "That's right. But this is my first modeling job ever, so I'm a bit unsure of what to do."

"Hey man, no problem," Blair smiled. "I'll be gentle with you."

I'll bet you could be... The stray thought flitted through Jim's brain before he could rein it in. God, get a grip, Ellison! You're here to catch a serial killer, not make a date! What the hell's wrong with you?

"The dressing room's just around that corner," Blair was saying, pointing behind Jim. All of your stuff's already in there. Just pick one, put it on and go out the other door in the dressing room. It leads to the backdrop I've got set up."

Without waiting for a reply from Jim, Blair turned and walked off, yelling to someone Jim couldn't see. "Derek! You got everything ready?"

**********

Once in the spacious dressing room, Jim took a moment to collect himself. With the hallucinations coming and going and his unexplainable attraction to Blair, things were rapidly getting out of control. He never should've taken this assignment, no matter what Simon said. He was just too burned out. And that could get him killed.

Blowing out a breath, Jim nervously removed his clothes. He neatly folded his boxers and socks, placing them on a nearby chair and took his suit to the overstuffed clothes rack to find an empty hanger. A flash of color caught his eye as he pushed the garments aside to make room for his own. Reaching in, Jim pulled out a scarf. A yellow scarf. One that looked all too familiar from the crime scene photos. Clenching his jaw, Jim quickly stuffed the scarf in his pants pocket. He needed to get it to Forensics.

Naked, he turned to the low table to peruse the outfits he would be wearing. Skimpy didn't begin to describe the underwear. But there was quite a variety -- from boxers to briefs to thongs. Feeling incredibly self-conscious, Jim chose a pair of deep blue silk boxers, the ones with the most material. Slipping on the underwear, Jim padded across the dressing room and out the other door.

Time to catch a killer.

***********

2 Hours Later

Eye Spy Photography

 

"OK, Jim, you're doing great, man!" Blair called out in encouragement. "Now turn to the side...more, more...yeah, that's got it!"

Shutters clicked and whirred and flashbulbs popped, barely heard over Blair's shouted instructions and the upbeat rock music blaring from the speakers on either side of the backdrop. Music was a staple when Blair worked, he'd explained to Jim. It relaxed the models and let them really get into the groove, as opposed to a silent, echoing studio. And Jim had to agree. Completely uncomfortable when the session first started, he had gradually relaxed with Blair's gentle encouragement and suggestions for this first time model. And the music helped him to time some of his movements to the beat.

And Jim wasn't the only one moving to the beat. Blair was in constant motion with his camera, not using a tripod like Jim had expected. Instead, the young photographer had moved from side to side, circling Jim and capturing shots from every angle. But now, two hours and six outfits later, both men were starting to wind down. The shoot was for three days, so there was plenty of time to photograph all of the outfits. No need to rush things.

"All right, Jim, one more set up and we'll call it quits for today. Let's do this series on the bed."

Jim nodded and walked the short distance back to the king size bed that was set up on the stage/backdrop area. It was made up to look like an upscale, male bedroom, with lots of deep colors - blues, grays, greens. He sat on the edge of the bed, awaiting Blair's instructions.

"Let's start with you kneeling in middle of the bed, holding on to the footboard with your right hand, facing the side, towards me," Blair said. Jim nodded and moved into position, adjusting himself slightly inside the white, skin tight boxer/briefs he was currently wearing, as Blair raised his camera and started clicking away.

"Looks great, Jim...now tip your head back...put your other hand just under your waistband...yeah, that's got it...."

The directions continued, each pose for this final set becoming sexier and more suggestive. First kneeling, then on all fours, then sitting on the edge of the bed, legs spread wide...Jim was finding it more and more difficult to concentrate on Blair the suspect instead of Blair the man. He felt like he was performing an exhibition for his lover in their bedroom instead of gathering information on a possible killer.

"Just a few more shots, Jim. Lay back against the pillows this time, on your side, facing me."

Jim complied, sliding up the silk sheets to the head of the bed, where he stretched out on his side.

Blair chuckled, "You look like a board, man!" The young man moved to the side of the bed, inches from Jim's body. "Here, prop one leg up like this...bend your knee..." The hand not holding the camera gently took hold of Jim's bare leg and moved it into the correct position. At Blair's warm touch, Jim sucked in a sharp breath, and found it difficult to breathe when the photographer left his hand resting on Jim's upper thigh.

"You're doing really good, you know," Blair told Jim, his hand starting to softly knead Jim's flesh. "You have a gorgeous body. I can't believe you've never modeled before."

It took a moment for Jim to find his voice, awash in the sensations that Blair's hand was creating. "Never thought of myself as particularly good looking, I guess."

Blair laughed, blue eyes sparkling. "What, you don't own a mirror?"

Jim smiled and was going to reply when he felt Blair's hand slide higher up his leg, nearly to the leg band of the boxer/briefs. His eyes flicked down and Blair noticed his response.

"Sorry...am I making you uncomfortable?"

Jim shook his head, fighting to keep his imagination from conjuring up images of that hand sliding up inside the underwear. "No, not at all."

Another smile from Blair. "Good, because I'd like to know if you'd have dinner with me tomorrow night."

In a split second, Jim's cop instincts kicked in. Is this how he starts off with his victims? With a seduction? Then he recalled his conversation with Simon the previous day, 'You mean you want me to be bait'.

"I'd love to have dinner with you." I'm on your hook, Sandburg. Reel me in.

"Great! Why don't we --"

{CRASH!}

Both men jumped at the sudden noise, Blair nearly falling backwards off the stage as Jim sat bolt upright, eyes scanning the area. What he first saw was an overturned spotlight with a man standing next to it on the edge of the backdrop area, staring at Jim and Blair with an angry look that disappeared almost as soon as it was formed. It was Derek Bowman, Blair's 35 year old assistant who Jim had met briefly at the beginning of the session, and who had made his skin crawl for no apparent reason.

What Jim saw next was a complete transformation of the young photographer standing next to him. Where Blair had been all sweetness and light only moments before, his face was now a mask of fury, startling Jim with its intensity.

"Dammit, Derek! You clumsy idiot! What the hell are you doing?!" Blair screamed at the man, taking off at a jog toward him. "Do you have any idea how much that light costs?!"

Jim slid off the bed and snagged the robe left there for his use between setups, slipping it on as he followed Sandburg. His cop instincts came on line, once again taking everything in. Quite a temper you've got there, Sandburg. Enough to drive you to kill?

Blair was still yelling when Jim caught up to him, his arms gesturing now as well. "What are you doing out here anyway? Didn't I tell you to get those proof sheets ready? Can't you do anything I tell you to?" Blair ran a hand through his curls, looking down at the shattered light. "Christ, what a mess."

"I--I'm sorry, Mr. Sandburg," Derek apologized. "It won't--"

Blair held up a hand. "Save it, Derek. I don't want to hear another one of your excuses." He thrust the camera at Derek, who nearly dropped it, earning another angry look from Blair. "Do you think you can handle unloading this without exposing the film?" he snapped.

Derek swallowed visibly and nodded his head, his dirty blond ponytail bobbing. "Yes, Mr. Sandburg." The he turned and hurried off towards the darkrooms.

Blair watched him go for a moment, jaw set, then walked over and flipped off the music. The studio was plunged into silence as Blair faced Jim.

"I'm sorry you had to see that, man. I didn't mean to go off like that. He just pushes all my buttons," Blair explained.

"Sounds like he's pretty incompetent," Jim observed. "Why do you keep him as your assistant?"

Blair sighed. "Because Derek's mother, Beverly Bowman, is the CEO of Eye Spy. I got saddled with him when I first started working here. Beverly told me I'd be a good influence on her son, that he could learn a lot from me. At first I didn't mind. I love working with people, teaching them new things. I thought I could help Derek. And he seemed like a nice enough guy, if a bit odd. I know he has some mental problems, so I just chalked it up to that. But he's just a jerk, plain and simple. I think he resents his mother making him work here." Blair threw up his hands. "But what am I gonna do? Tell that to Beverly? I don't think so. I like my job, thank you very much."

"Looks like you're stuck between a rock and hard place."

Blair nodded. "That I am. But it's certainly not your problem. I didn't mean to dump on you like that."

Jim shook his head. "No problem at all." Keep on feeding me that background information, Sandburg.

Blair smiled. "Thanks, man." Then he clapped his hands together. "So. We're finished here for today. See you back here tomorrow at three for another shoot and then dinner, right?" he asked hopefully, taking a step forward and laying his hand on Jim's upper arm. "I'd like to get to know you better, Jim," he said quietly.

"I'm looking forward to it," Jim answered, soaking up the warmth of Blair's touch. "I'd like to get to know you better, too, Blair."

But which part of you, Ellison? The cop or the man?

The feel of Blair's hand on his body and the answer to that question plagued him for the remainder of the day.

***********

Jim was not in a good mood.

His dreams last night had been filled with images of him and Blair, alternating between making passionate love to the young man and watching the photographer turn into a killer, attacking Jim with a knife. All a product of the conflicting information he was receiving about the young man. One minute he's charming and seductive, the next he's pissed and tearing into someone. Quite the puzzle. As were Jim's feelings toward him. There was no doubt that he was attracted to Blair, and he was afraid he'd let those feelings interfere with his investigation, cloud his judgment. It was every cop's nightmare - becoming emotionally involved while undercover. He'd have to watch himself, not let his hormones run away with him. As much as his gut instinct told him that Blair couldn't be a killer, looks were deceiving and he needed to be objective. Easier said than done, though.

As if his dreams and emotions weren't troubling enough, the sensory hallucinations were back with a vengeance. After the disappearance of them the day before, Jim was unprepared for the onslaught of their return this morning. The shower felt like thousands of little knives piercing his skin, he could have been eating cardboard instead of toast, the smell of his under the sink garbage can made him nauseous...the list went on. But this time the hallucinations seemed to alternate, each one spiking at a different time.

Trying to keep calm, trying not to think that he was losing his mind, Jim donned his sunglasses, downed as many extra strength aspirin as was safe and headed out in his F150 pickup truck to the first crime scene. He'd read the reports, but he needed to see for himself, see if he could find something that Homicide had missed.

Something to either clear Blair of suspicion or help to facilitate his arrest.

***********

Crime Scene #1

Mt. Rainier Mall

Before Jim exited the truck in the parking lot of the mall he checked in with Simon to give him a report of yesterday's events. Simon in turn told him that Forensics was still working on the yellow scarf he'd dropped off yesterday after leaving Eye Spy. But preliminary results made it out to be identical to the ones found on the murder victims. He'd have more tomorrow. Then Jim also checked in with the surveillance team, making sure that Sandburg was where he was supposed to be, at Eye Spy. He was.

That done, Jim began his investigation by walking the exterior of the mall, getting a feel for the area and taking in the shops there: a shoe store, a video arcade, a one-hour photo shop, a jewelry store, a bakery...nothing unusual he could pick up on. Next he stopped at the rear of the mall where the body of the first victim, Billy Meyers, had been found in the large dumpster.

The smell of the rotting garbage was an assault on Jim's hyperactive olfactory sense that nearly gagged him and sent him to his knees in a fit of coughing. A cursory exam was all that he could manage, finding nothing the Homicide team could've missed. Really not surprising, considering it was a three month old crime scene, but he still had to try.

His sense of smell seemed to be back under control as he returned to the truck to write down his notes, but the headache was still with him as he drove to the second crime scene.

***********

Crime scene #2

Marina Mall

Victim number two was Jonathan Watkins, once again found in a dumpster behind the outdoor mall. Jim started off the same way, taking in the exterior of the mall and the shops: an ice cream parlor, toy store, pharmacy, camera shop, record store... Then it was back around to the rear of the building, this time steeling himself against the stench. And it did seem to have a small effect. This time the rotting garbage, mixed with a very faint odor of a strange chemical, was still overpowering, but it didn't drive him to his knees this time.

He spent a little more time here because of that, again not expecting to find much at a two month old scene, but he examined the area around the dumpster as closely as he could before the smell finally drove him back to the truck. A few minutes of note taking and he was off to the third scene.

***********

Crime Scene #3

Cascade Commons Mall

As was his routine, Jim walked the outside of the mall first, observing the area and the shops: a barber, wedding photography studio, men's clothing store, book store, sunglasses shop...then to the rear of the mall to yet another dumpster.

Victim number three was Martin Brooks, found a month ago, and Jim could see small tatters of yellow crime scene tape still attached to the dumpster as he rounded the corner. He had once again willed himself to ignore the smell, but the odor of rotten garbage still came through loud and clear, as did the same chemical scent he had picked up on at the previous scene, but stronger this time. Intrigued, Jim searched the area, trying to pinpoint the source of the chemical odor, but all he ended up with was dirty, smelly shoes and an even worse headache.

Admitting defeat, Jim went back to the truck, jotted down his notes and drove off to the last crime scene. Trying not to dwell on the fact that the smell was probably a figment of his imagination, thanks to his sensory hallucinations, he was more disturbed than ever about his mental health.

***********

Crime Scene #4

Harbor Tower Mall

Jim looked at his watch as he walked along the outside of the mall at the last crime scene, taking note of the stores as usual: real estate agent, florist, one-hour photo shop, travel agent, comic book store...

One-thirty. Hour and a half before I need to be at Eye Spy. Plenty of time.

Walking around to the back of the mall, Jim easily spotted the dumpster where the body of Daniel Cooper had been found the week before, the yellow crime scene tape still mostly in place, marking off the area.

Even preparing himself for the assault on his sense of smell couldn't entirely block out the garbage...or that same chemical odor he'd detected at the previous two crime scenes.

All right. Enough's enough. What the hell is that?

Determined to place the smell, unable to shake the feeling that it was somehow important for him to identify it, Jim took a chance. He inhaled deeply, concentrating solely on the chemical odor...and felt his world unfocus...go gray at the edges...then darkness...

{BANG!}

Jim's entire body jerked at the loud noise of a metal door slamming shut nearby, and he took a stutter step backwards, blinking rapidly, completely disorientated. He looked wildly around, heart pounding, trying to remember where he was.

The dumpster. The mall. I'm at the crime scene.

Taking a deep breath, trying to figure out why he suddenly felt so confused, he noticed that he was standing completely in shadows behind the building, whereas a few minutes ago he'd been standing in the sunshine. Removing his sunglasses with one hand, he raised his watch up to peer curiously at it.

Two-thirty.

Jim dropped his arm to his side in shock. That's impossible! I've only been here a few minutes. What the hell's going on...I... He swallowed deeply and ran a shaky hand over a suddenly perspiring face as realization dawned on him. Oh, God...I blacked out...oh shit. Jim leaned back against the brick wall and closed his eyes. I can't put this off any longer. I need to see a doctor about this before I lose my mind or get myself killed. Even a rubber room is sounding pretty good at this point.

Deeply shaken over his missing time episode and worsening sensory hallucinations, Jim made his way slowly back to the truck. Once there, he sat for many minutes, trying to write his notes and compose himself before his appointment with Blair.

***********

3:15pm

Eye Spy Photography

 

His blackout episode throwing off his schedule, a still shaken "Jim Tanner" hurried through the lobby on his way to Blair's studio, knowing he was late. Opening the door, his sensitive ears were hit with the powerful strains of a rock song Blair already had blasting from the speakers. He cringed, putting a hand up to his head, just as Blair, who was on the phone, turned and saw him. Seeing Jim's reaction to the music, he quickly ended his call and turned the volume down, then jogged over.

"Jim! There you are, man. I was getting worried."

"Sorry I'm late," Jim apologized. "There was an accident on Granville that held me up."

"Sure, no problem," Blair replied, then seemed to notice Jim's slightly pale and sweaty face, and the way he was squinting in the harsh fluorescent lighting. "You OK, man?" Blair asked, concerned. "You don't look so good."

Damn, is it that obvious? Jim waved off the concern. "I'm fine, just a migraine," he lied.

"There's some aspirin in the bathroom connected to your dressing room. Help yourself," Blair offered.

With the way his hearing and sight were acting up that sounded like a pretty good idea. "Thanks, I think I will. Give me just a minute to change and I'll be ready to --"

Jim was cut off as the door directly behind him opened suddenly and Derek barreled through, plowing straight into Jim's back, knocking him forward into Blair. All Jim's brain had time for was that smell... before Blair's arms were around him and the world once again went back to normal.

He felt Blair's arms come around his back, steadying him, and Jim allowed himself one brief, guilty moment to revel in the feel of the young man's body pressed tightly against his own, before reluctantly straightening up. He noticed that Blair kept his hands on Jim's hips, however.

"God, Jim, you OK?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."

Blair peered around Jim's shoulder, glaring at Derek, who didn't look the least bit sorry. "Why the hell can't you watch where you're going?" Derek opened his mouth but Blair continued. "Think you can make it back to the darkroom without causing anymore damage?" he snapped, and Jim took note once again of Blair's quicksilver temper.

With a look that clearly showed that he was sizing up how close Jim and Blair were standing, and the fact that Blair hadn't let go of Jim, Derek mumbled, "Yes, sir," and headed off to the darkroom, deliberately jostling into Jim again. He felt Blair's hands tighten on his waist as he was bumped forward again and saw the photographer staring daggers into Derek's back, muttering, "Damn that guy," before looking up at Jim.

"Man, I'm really sorry about that. I just don't know what's gotten into him lately." He paused and Jim felt his hands start to gently caress his hips. "Are you sure you're OK?" he asked softly. "The door didn't hit you?"

Jim found himself mesmerized by the wide blue eyes looking up at him with such concern, could feel the heat of Blair's body so close to his and he could swear he could hear the beautiful man's heartbeat... He licked his lips and bent his head down...all he wanted was just one taste of that sensuous mouth...his eyes started to slide shut as he saw Blair's go a little wider, a small smile of acceptance gracing the young man's face, his body pressing closer...

"Blair, darling?"

Jim sprang back from Blair, banging into the door, as a disembodied voice from Blair's speaker phone filled the studio. Blair sighed and hung his head, his hands falling from Jim's sides.

"Yes, Tina?" he said irritably into thin air.

"You have a phone call, sweetheart. Line two." There was a small <pop> as the receptionist disconnected.

Blair raised his head, a slight blush tinting his cheeks. "I, uh...I need to get that," he gestured nervously.

Jim started edging sideways toward the dressing room. "Yeah, sure...I'll, uh, be out in a minute," he rambled and then retreated hastily to the safety of the dressing room, closing the door and leaning heavily back against it, releasing a shaky breath.

Jesus Christ, Ellison, get a grip! What the fuck were you thinking, trying to kiss him?! He's a suspect for Christ sake! What is wrong with you?

Berating himself for his out of control hormones, he moved to the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face, spying the bottle of aspirin Blair had told him about sitting on the counter. Unconsciously, Jim reached for the bottle before realizing that his headache had vanished. And not just his headache, but his sensory hallucinations, too. Just as they had disappeared yesterday after he was at Eye Spy, he realized, then thought a little deeper about the strange phenomenon. No, his headaches and hallucinations didn't disappear when he entered the studio.

They disappeared after he touched Blair.

Sitting down in the nearest chair, Jim leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. What the hell is going on?!

***********

After Jim and Blair got over the initial awkwardness of their aborted kiss, the afternoon photo session went well, with Jim falling easily back into the role of professional male model.

There were a few things different from the previous day, however. First was the fact that Jim kept spotting Derek hovering in the background behind Blair, unlike yesterday. What was it about the assistant that bothered him so? Just a feeling of unease he couldn't put his finger on.

The second thing was that Blair was taking longer breaks between setups, sitting and chatting with Jim, finding any excuse he could to touch the older man. Jim was still warring with himself over his physical and emotional attraction to the photographer and his professional duty to get close to him. But how close was too close? When was he going to start losing his objectivity? Or had he already? Was he letting his attraction to Blair cloud his judgment on whether or not he could be a killer? Did he just not want to believe it was a possibility?

And above all that, he couldn't shake the feeling that he and Blair were somehow connected, just as he'd felt the first time he saw Blair's photograph. Like he needed to know this man, that it was important to both of them. Was there something larger at work here? Could that explain his out of control feelings? He knew it was wrong to get personally involved when working undercover, especially when the other person was a suspect in several murders...but he couldn't seem to back away. Was he about to step over the line? And did he care?

***********

5:30pm

Eye Spy Photography

 

Blair wrapped up the day's shoot with poses of Jim in a pair of barely-there black Speedos in front of a tropical backdrop. To complete the beach scene feel, he had sprayed Jim down with water, and now he stood in front of the photographer, body glistening with moisture, as they made their plans for dinner.

"How 'bout Mario's?" Blair suggested.

"Sounds good," Jim agreed. "I love Italian."

"There's a few things I need to wrap up first. Can we meet back here in an hour?" Blair asked.

Jim nodded. "Sure. I need to go home, clean up and change clothes anyway."

Blair licked his lips and gave Jim a hungry look, shrugging his shoulders. "Why? You look great just the way you are."

Then with a smile and a sly wink, he was walking off towards the darkroom, camera in hand, leaving Jim to stare after him.

This was going to be one interesting evening.

***********

7pm

Mario's

 

After meeting Blair back at Eye Spy, now freshly showered, shaved and dressed in a charcoal gray suit, Jim had suggested he drive them both and would return Blair to his car at the studio after dinner. The cop in him was telling him to maintain as much control of the situation as he could.

It was only a short wait for a table, and the two men soon found themselves making small talk about everything from the weather to sports to politics throughout the appetizer and salads.

Jim found his attraction for Blair growing with every minute he spent with him. He watched as Blair's hands were constantly in motion while he talked, giving him an animated quality. He was once again mesmerized by the young man's wide blue eyes, which matched the silk shirt he was wearing. His smile was infectious, lighting up the room, and his laughter was soothing to Jim's abused sense of hearing. There was no denying that Jim was falling for the young photographer.

When the main course was served, Jim subtly switched into interrogation mode. This was the opportunity he'd been waiting for, to find out if Blair truly warranted the suspicion Homicide had placed on him for the murders.

"I heard quite a few people talking at Eye Spy today about Daniel Cooper. I read about his murder in the paper, but I didn't realize he worked for Eye Spy. Did you know him?"

Blair clenched his jaw and looked away, swallowing deeply. "Yeah," he whispered. "Yeah, I knew Danny. I photographed him for a spread for GQ. He was a great guy, we even went out a few times. He didn't deserve what happened to him."

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize you knew him that well. I wouldn't have brought it up."

"No, that's OK. I'm just so pissed and upset that the police haven't done jack to find his killer. 'Cause he wasn't the first one, you know."

"What do you mean?"

"Danny was the fourth model associated with Eye Spy to be killed in the last few months."

"You're kidding."

"Nope. And it's got everybody at the office really freaked."

"Have the police talked to all of you?"

"Pretty much. That's when I found out I was the last person to see Danny alive," he said quietly.

"Did you know the other models?"

Blair nodded. "I photographed them all, saw them socially, too." He pounded a fist gently on the table, eyes suddenly bright with unshed tears. "Dammit, why did it have to happen to them?" He rubbed a hand across his face then pushed his chair back and stood. "Excuse me, I need to use the bathroom," he mumbled, then walked off toward the rear of the restaurant.

Jim watched him go, a thoughtful expression on his face, digesting what he'd just seen and heard. His knee-jerk reaction was Nice act, kid, but then something niggled at his brain and he wasn't so sure. He'd done enough interrogations in his career to be a good judge about whether someone was lying or not. And Sandburg did seem pretty sincere in his emotions. Homicide may very well be barking up the wrong tree. He wasn't 100% positive Blair was innocent, though.

But act or no act, there was no doubt that Blair was still connected in some way. It was too much of a coincidence that he knew all the victims, both personally and professionally.

Blair returned to the table a few minutes later, his eyes a bit red rimmed, and Jim decided to change the subject before the silence became awkward.

"So, how'd you become a photographer?"

"How'd you become a model?" Blair countered.

Jim chuckled and shook his head. "Uh-uh. I asked first."

"C'mon, humor me," Blair replied. "My story's long and boring and you are anything but boring."

Jim leaned back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest. OK, he'd go first. "Not much to say, really. I was in the military, did my time and got out, feeling kind of directionless. Worked a bunch of jobs till I ended up in construction. That's what I was doing when this guy from Undergear spotted me on a scaffold about a month ago. He told me who he was, gave me his card and told me to come in for some photos. I thought he was a nut, someone trying to scam me. But the money he told me I could make was too tempting not to look into. So I went to his office the next day and now here I am." He leaned back towards the table. "See? Boring. Now it's your turn."

Blair shrugged and Jim saw a faraway look come over the young man's face before Blair glanced away for a moment, out into the restaurant. "I was a teaching fellow at Rainier University, trying to get my Ph.D., working on my dissertation. But I lost my grants when my dissertation subject didn't pan out and I couldn't back up my theory. I kept missing deadlines to turn in my completed chapters and the committee finally told me I had to pick a different subject or leave the university, minus my dissertation and degree." He sighed. "I was just so passionate about my subject that I couldn't imagine picking another topic at random and spending months of my life writing about it. Because I knew I was right about my original theory. I just couldn't find my missing link." He gave a sad smile. "So I walked away. Teaching has always been my passion, working with people. It hurt like hell to leave that behind, but I guess it just wasn't meant to be." He shrugged. "During my summers at the university I worked at the Cascade Herald newspaper, where I got really interested in photography, so when I left Rainier, I decided to try my hand at it full time. And here I am, almost two years later."

There was no mistaking the longing he saw in Blair's eyes when he talked about his dissertation and it compelled Jim to ask more about it.

"So what was your subject?"

"I'm sure you really don't want know."

"Yeah, Blair, I really do want to know. It sounds like it was very important to you."

Blair nodded. "It was. Still is, actually. Just because I'm not actively studying it anymore doesn't mean I've stopped thinking about it."

"So? What was it?"

Blair smiled. "Sentinels."

Jim's brow furrowed, unfamiliar with the term. "Excuse me?"

Blair laughed. "Sentinels. See, the idea goes like this. Hundreds of years ago, in all tribal cultures, every village had a Sentinel. This was someone who patrolled the borders."

"You mean like a scout?" Jim asked.

"More like a watchman. The Sentinel would watch for approaching enemies, changes in the weather, movement of game. Tribe survival depended on him."

Blair leaned forward, his excitement on the subject nearly palpable. "A Sentinel was chosen because of a genetic advantage...a sensory awareness that could be developed beyond a normal human's. These senses were honed by solitary time spent in the wild. These men, or women, could see for miles. They could detect the smallest scent or could hear a hummingbird's wings beating in a raging thunderstorm. They could name every ingredient that went into making something by tasting the smallest bit of it and use their fingers to pick out a tiny imperfection in nearly any material.

"But when a Sentinel's working his deal, he gets oblivious to the outside world, sorta like the blinders are on. They'd 'zone out', kind of like black out, if they concentrated too hard on one of their senses. So the Sentinel usually had a partner along, a Guide, to watch his back."

Blair paused to take a breath, his blue eyes sparkling. "I was just fascinated by the concept. I read everything I could on the topic and was determined to find a modern day Sentinel that I could write my dissertation on. But all that two years worth of work produced were hundreds of cases of people with one or two heightened senses. Like people who have a heightened sense of taste and smell that work for coffee or perfume companies. But I couldn't find one single subject with all five heightened senses. And when I couldn't find one, that was the end of my academic career." He pinned Jim with an intense stare. "I know there's one out there, though. I can feel it. And one day I'll find him."

How Jim managed to hide his shock at Blair's words he didn't know. Years of police and military training kicked in automatically, keeping his expression neutral. But inside, thoughts whirled chaotically through his head, nearly too fast to identify.

Heightened senses...zoneouts...Blair had described his condition exactly.

His condition was...genetic? Natural? There were others like him? There was an explanation for his sensory hallucinations? He wasn't losing his mind?

Sentinels...Guides...

What were the odds that he would meet someone like Blair who studied this phenomenon? Astronomical! This was...this was impossible!

But it went a long way towards explaining the feeling he'd been experiencing about Blair since he'd first seen the young man's photo. This...connection, like he needed to get to know this man, that it was important for him to.

This had to be why...but did he trust Blair enough to reveal himself as one of these mythical Sentinels?

***********

They left Mario's an hour and a half later, Jim stunned nearly mute by this recent development throughout the rest of dinner. But if Blair noticed his distraction he didn't mention it. Instead he regaled Jim with tales of his anthropological expeditions around the globe. For once Jim was grateful for the photographer's non-stop chatter. He needed time to process everything that he'd learned tonight.

Once back at Eye Spy, Jim walked Blair over to his car, a well cared for Corvair convertible. Just as Jim was trying to figure out a way to end the evening, Blair began patting his pockets.

"Aww, man," he muttered, running a hand through his curls in frustration.

"What is it?" Jim asked.

"My keys," Blair replied. "I must've left them up in the studio."

Jim crooked his thumb at the building. "Come on, I'll walk you up and see if they're there. If not, we'll go back to Mario's. Maybe you dropped them there."

Blair smiled. "Thanks, Jim."

Using Blair's swipe card to gain access to the lobby of the building, now that it was after-hours, and again to enter the 30th floor studio, the two men walked along the deserted hallways of Eye Spy that led to Blair's studio. The photographer opened the door and flipped on the lights, heading for his desk as Jim entered behind him and closed the door.

While Blair rummaged around in his desk, searching for his keys, Jim took the time to look around the studio. He noticed how much more intimate it seemed at night, with just the few overhead lights on, illuminating the bedroom backdrop, and no rock music blaring from the speakers. It was quite a contrast to his photo shoots during the day.

"Damn."

Jim turned at the expletive. "No luck?"

"No. I can't find them. Wait," Blair snapped his fingers. "Can you look in the dressing room for me? I changed in there before you picked me up. I might have left them in my other pants."

Jim nodded. "Sure. Be right back."

"Great, I'll keep looking here."

Once in the dressing room, Jim found Blair's jeans hanging on a hook behind the door. A quick search revealed no keys. As he was preparing to look around the rest of the room, faint strains of music reached his ears. It was coming from the studio. Puzzled, wondering why Blair would have music playing now, Jim exited the dressing room.

"Blair?" he called out, "What --"

Jim stopped dead in his tracks at the sight before him. The overhead lights were now off. The only illumination came from the mocked up bedroom set on the stage, where a dozen or so fat, white candles burned brightly. A ballad was playing softly from the speakers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I need you tonight

I need you right now

I know deep within my heart

It doesn't matter if it's wrong or right

All I know is, baby

I really need you tonight

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim's heart began beating triple time at the too-true words and the scene in front of him. Oh God, Blair. Don't do this to me...don't tempt me like this...

"Jim?"

At the quiet voice, Jim turned his head. Blair stepped from the shadows and walked toward him. "You had this planned all along, didn't you?" Jim said with a sweep of his arm. "There were no lost keys."

Blair was now standing inches in front of him, smiling. "Guilty as charged." Then he sobered. "If this isn't what you want, too, tell me right now. We'll stop and pretend this never happened, OK?" He reached out and took Jim's hand. "But can't you feel it?" he whispered. "This...connection we have? This...attraction? I can't explain it, but I feel like I've been waiting to meet you for a very long time."

Jim found himself nodding, agreeing with the young man's words. "Yes..." he breathed. "I feel it, too."

Blair stepped even closer, placing his palms flat on Jim's chest, tilting his head to the side, rising up a bit on his toes. Every cop instinct Jim possessed was screaming at him to back away, that he was about to cross the line, that he was on the job for God's sake, don't do this...

But then Blair's lips were on his and there was no more thinking for a long time.

The moment his mouth made contact with Blair's, Jim's senses, which had gone quiet since touching Blair earlier that day, kicked into high gear. He gasped as his body came alive, and Blair took the opportunity to slip his tongue inside Jim's open mouth.

Jim groaned as their tongues met, tasting Blair for the first time. He reached up and threaded his hands through the smaller man's silky curls, feeling each strand wrap around his fingers, holding him there. He tilted Blair's head a bit more, deepening the kiss, feeling Blair grab fistfuls of his shirt, pressing his body even closer to Jim's.

As their lower bodies came into contact, the solid evidence of their arousals was immediately apparent. Jim let one hand slip from Blair's hair down his back, to just below his waist and pressed their groins tightly together. Blair gasped and broke the kiss, head hanging back slightly. He looked at Jim with undisguised hunger in his blue eyes.

"Please, Jim...I need you so bad..."

Jim could only nod, rocking his body against Blair as his answer. Blair smiled and took Jim's hand, leading him toward the bed. Once there he didn't give Jim the opportunity to have second thoughts or be nervous, capturing Jim's mouth for another searing kiss.

As their tongues danced together, hands and fingers were busy undoing buttons and zippers. The need for oxygen finally broke the kiss and the two men parted enough to finish removing each other's clothing. Bit by bit, they revealed themselves to one another until no cloth barriers remained.

Jim stared unabashedly at Blair's nude body, drinking in the sight of the gorgeous man before him. Whereas his own body was long and lean, Blair's was more sturdy and compact. Still muscular, but in a different way than Jim. And where Jim's body was nearly hairless, Blair's chest, arms and legs were liberally dusted with dark curls, culminating at his groin. There the patch was darker and thicker, framing an aroused, erect cock, which jutted proudly from Blair's body.

As Jim raised his eyes they were met by a pair as blue as his own, rising up to meet his glance after their own inspection.

"You're beautiful," they said in unison.

Blair smiled and moved to sit in the middle of the bed. He tucked a few wayward strands of hair behind his ear, exposing his hoop earrings, then held out a hand to Jim. "C'mere," he whispered.

Jim took Blair's hand and allowed the young man to guide him to the middle of the bed. Jim stretched out on his side while Blair turned and lay on his back next to him. Jim reached out a tentative hand but stopped just above Blair's skin. His heightened sense of touch allowed him to feel the heat radiating from Blair's body even at this distance.

"It's OK, Jim," Blair reassured him. "You can touch me."

And Jim did just that for many long minutes. His newly developed sense of touch driving not only Blair's arousal but his own higher and higher as his fingers traveled over every inch of Blair's naked body. When he repeated his movements using his mouth and tongue, Blair was moaning and clutching the bedsheets in moments.

Unable to get enough of the way Blair tasted, Jim blanketed him with his body and turned his attention to a flat, dusky nipple peeking out of Blair's springy chest hair. The one with the hoop of silver threaded through it. He licked and sucked till the nub was pebble hard, then gently tugged on the nipple ring. Blair cried out and clutched at Jim's shoulders, hips thrusting up into Jim's stomach.

"Oh God, Jim...more, please..."

And Jim complied, sliding lower down Blair's body until his head was even with Blair's groin. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, imprinting Blair's musky scent into his memory. For once his senses were a blessing, not a curse, as he cataloged every aspect of his new lover's body in painstaking detail.

Reaching out, he cupped Blair's balls in his hand, lightly squeezing the heavy sacs. Blair released a long, low moan at Jim's touch, hips bucking upwards. At the sound, Jim turned his head to look up at Blair. The young man's head was thrown back, chestnut curls spread out on the pillow, eyes closed, mouth slightly open. His body was covered in a fine sheen of perspiration and Jim was mesmerized by the play of candlelight along his face and chest. As he watched, Blair's eyes opened and he turned a passion filled gaze on Jim.

"Taste me, Jim. Please..."

Blair's hips twitched again, making the meaning behind his words clear. Jim licked his lips, heartbeat accelerating in anticipation. Blair shifted, spreading his legs wide, and Jim moved between them. Placing a gentle hold on Blair's hips, Jim bent his head down and flicked his tongue across the engorged head of Blair's cock. Blair's most intimate taste exploded across Jim's tongue as the photographer moaned.

"Yesss....God, Jim, do it..."

A moment later, Blair's cock was in Jim's mouth, sliding in and out between his lips as he sucked the rock hard organ. Blair's hips began to move again, trying to thrust upwards. Jim loosened his grip on his hips and allowed Blair to slowly fuck his mouth. Within moments, Blair's gentle thrusting became more erratic, and Jim knew he was straining for release.

"I'm gonna come, Jim...just a little more," Blair mumbled. "Feels so good..."

Hoping to push Blair over the edge, Jim slipped a hand between Blair's legs. With one finger he sought out the puckered opening and pressed in gently, barely breaching the muscle.

With a strangled scream of Jim's name, Blair climaxed. His warm seed filled Jim's mouth and slid down his throat in waves, as Blair shuddered through his orgasm. Jim swallowed everything Blair gave him, reveling in yet another taste of the young man. As Blair's tremors subsided, Jim let the softened cock slip from his mouth. His own arousal reaching a crescendo with the sight, sound, smell and taste of Blair's orgasm, Jim surged up the bed to capture Blair's mouth for a deep, demanding kiss. He began to thrust his erection frantically against Blair's body, his own crying out for release. Blair kissed him back with equal passion before suddenly rolling Jim over onto his back. Jim moaned at the loss of friction and blindly reached for Blair again.

"Wait, wait," Blair soothed. "Let me do this for you."

Reaching under the pillow, Blair brought out a tube and squirted a small amount of it's contents into his palm. Shifting his body to nearly cover Jim's, with one leg between both of the bigger man's, Blair kissed him to distraction. So focused on the feel of Blair's body covering his and the intensity of the kiss, Jim was unprepared when Blair took his straining erection in hand. Jim bucked up into the touch, his cock sliding effortlessly against Blair's lubricated palm. A deep moan was dragged from him and one hand slid up to bury itself in chestnut curls while the other slid downwards to cup Blair's ass to press him even closer.

Blair's hand continued it's magical work on Jim's cock, enlarging it even further, till it was nearly painful. It slid slickly up and down, pumping the shaft, over the head and dipping down to brush against balls that were already drawn up tight. Jim could feel his orgasm building deep inside and he began pressing his erection harder into Blair's hand.

The photographer must have also sensed Jim's impending climax, for he broke the kiss to whisper erotically in Jim's ear.

"You're almost there, aren't you? God, you look so hot... Feel my hand on you, Jim...pumping you, stroking you. Yeah, Jim, fuck my hand, just like that. Let go, Jim...let me see you come..."

And with Blair's words, Jim's world was suddenly reduced to the feel of Blair's hand on his cock. Nothing else existed, only the sensation of his erection thrusting into a tight channel, and then of his orgasm, which ripped through him like lightening at the same time he felt his world unfocus...go gray at the edges...then darkness.

***********

"Jim? Jim?! Please, man, wake up. Jim, can you hear me? Come back to me..."

Jim blinked sluggishly as Blair's words penetrated his fog covered brain.

"Blair?"

"Oh, thank God! Jim, are you OK?"

Jim opened his eyes fully and took in his surroundings. He was still at the studio, on the bed, naked, with an equally naked Blair sitting next to him. The young man's face was creased with worry and Jim struggled to sit up, Blair supporting his shoulders. Jim groaned as he came upright, a headache pounding at his temples. He groaned again and covered his face with his hands.

"What happened?" he asked Blair.

"I was hoping you could tell me," Blair replied. "One minute you're coming all over my hand and the next you're catatonic! It's been almost 20 minutes and I couldn't wake you up. Scared the shit outta me! I mean, I know I do OK in the sex department, but I didn't know I could make someone pass out," he chuckled weakly.

Jim looked at Blair with a stricken expression. Oh God, another blackout. "Not again," he whispered, not realizing he'd spoken out loud until Blair answered.

"Again? Jim, this has happened before?"

Suddenly on the spot, Jim had a split second decision to make. 1.) Lie, and try to salvage what he could from this undercover assignment, continuing on as "Jim Tanner" or 2.) Tell Blair the truth and hope he could help him with his senses. He seemed to know what he was talking about at dinner, and if these blackouts and sensory spikes continued it could get him killed. Especially on the job.

Jim decided on a compromise, realizing that the line between his professional duty and personal feelings was now so blurred it might as well have been non-existent. But he'd deal with that later, when he was alone and could think.

He turned to look at Blair. "Do you believe in fate...destiny?"

Blair blinked at the sudden topic shift. "You don't strike me as a very philosophical guy, Jim. But yeah, I do. Why?"

"Because you were right about feeling we were connected to each other in some way. And now I know why."

Blair took Jim's hand. "What is it?" he asked quietly.

"I'm a Sentinel."

Blair blinked again and went absolutely still. "What did you say?"

"It's true. Everything you described at dinner. Five heightened senses, blackouts...you just saw one."

Blair started shaking his head, running a hand through his curls. "This is impossible! I can't believe this. I mean, what are the odds?" He looked directly at Jim, blue eyes wide with excitement.

"Astronomical," Jim answered, then shrugged. "But here we are." He squeezed Blair's hand. "Help me, Blair. Please. My life is out of control."

Blair squeezed back. "God, Jim, yes I'll help you. You're not alone anymore." Then he leaned forward and softly kissed the older man for long minutes, reassuring him.

When they pulled back from the kiss, the excitement was back in Blair's eyes. "I have so many questions for you. There's a million tests I need to run. I need to get you into a lab, start taking notes --"

"Whoa, whoa, slow down," Jim said, backing quickly off the bed. "I'm not ready for all that right now," he continued, pulling on his discarded clothing.

Blair held up his hands. "OK, OK, I'm sorry. I was getting ahead of myself. I know you must be completely freaked by what's happening to you. Please don't go yet. Let me ask you just one question."

Jim stopped buttoning up his pants. "OK. One question."

Blair sighed in relief. "Have your senses just recently come on line, or have you had them your entire life?"

Jim sat back down on the bed. "It happened about four days ago."

"Wow..." Blair breathed. "According to a text written by Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor," he clarified with a smile, then continued, "A Sentinel's senses usually appeared after a trauma or a prolonged period of isolation. Has anything happened to you recently?"

Think fast, Ellison. "Well, I was out camping a few weeks ago, in the woods north of Auburn," he lied. "I ended up getting lost and I was out there for five days before I was found."

Blair nodded. "That could've done it. You're sure you never experienced anything like this before?" he questioned. "I know you said you were in the military. Did you have any solitary missions?"

Jim looked away. "I was marooned in the jungles of Peru for 18 months. Our chopper crashed and I was the only survivor."

"Oh my God...I'm so sorry, Jim. A year and a half spent in the bush, the sole survivor of your unit...? I'm no psychiatrist, but that sounds pretty damn traumatic to me. And trauma tends to get repressed. I think it could be connected to what's happening to you now."

Jim shrugged, uncomfortable with the personal information he'd given away. "You're the expert." He ran a hand over his face. "Look, can we talk about this tomorrow? It's late, we should be getting out of here."

He moved to go, but Blair put a hand on his arm. "Jim...thank you for tonight," he said softly.

Jim's answer was to cup Blair's face with one hand and kiss him gently before gathering up his suitcoat and tie and walking to the door. He stopped with one hand on the doorknob and spared a glance back. Blair was just as he'd left him, naked in the center of the bed, bathed in candlelight.

Jim closed the door behind him, wondering how he'd let a simple undercover assignment get so far out of hand.

***********

Midnight

Jim's loft

 

When his anxiety, guilt and confusion over sleeping with Blair finally drove him from his bed, unable to sleep, Jim had taken out the case files on the four murder victims, along with his notes from the crime scenes. There had to be something he was missing. Something that would prove Blair couldn't have done this.

Sitting down at his kitchen table with a notepad and pen, Jim began to list out everything he knew.

First, the victims had all known their killer. There were no signs of forced entry or struggle at their homes.

Second, the victims had all been drugged unconscious and then strangled inside their homes first, then moved to the dumpsters. The knife wounds to the chest had been done post-mortem. And the wounds to the chest were curious because they were deep puncture wounds, not slashing wounds. Forensics said they could have been done by a long, thin knife or an ice pick.

But what could the wounds signify? The victims had all been models. Handsome men. By carving up their chests, the killer was marring their beauty, perhaps? Jealousy over their looks as a motive? Pretty slim.

Third, the strange chemical odor he had detected not only at three of the four crime scenes, but twice now at Eye Spy. Once was early yesterday morning. He detected it briefly just after entering Blair's studio, after Derek had run into him. The second was last night. Well, just a few hours ago, actually, after he'd left Blair. He was down in the parking lot and had just opened the door to his truck when he caught a whiff of the odor. He'd looked around and thought he'd seen someone under a tree at the edge of the parking lot, but that was it.

Fourth, there were the malls themselves that the bodies had been dumped behind. Why those particular four? Why not any other mall in Cascade? Homicide thought the choices were just random. Jim didn't, so he took out his notes and poured over them again, looking for some sort of connection.

And found one.

"Son of a bitch," he muttered, slamming his fist down on the table.

There was one particular thing each mall had in common: a store dealing with photography.

A one-hour photo shop at Mt. Rainier Mall.

A camera store at the Marina Mall.

A wedding photography studio at Cascade Commons Mall.

A one-hour photo shop at Harbor Tower Mall.

So much for random choices. This was no coincidence. This was premeditated on the killer's part.

Jim pushed his chair back angrily from the table and stalked across the loft to the open balcony doors. Once outside he braced his arms on the low wall and hung his head.

The victims had let their killer in their homes - Blair had not only known the men, but dated them as well.

The yellow scarves - Jim had found one in the dressing room.

The strange chemical odor - Jim had smelled it twice at Eye Spy.

The photo shops at the malls - Blair was a photographer.

Jim clenched his jaw and looked up into the night sky. In his search to prove Blair innocent he had done the exact opposite, and now the enigmatic young man held not only his sanity in his hands...but his heart as well.

***********

9am

Cascade PD

Simon's office

 

After yet another sleepless night, Jim was not looking forward to this meeting, in more ways than one. Unable to reconcile what his head was telling him with what his heart was telling him, Jim spent the night out on the balcony until the sun came up. Blair a killer? It just couldn't be. But the evidence said otherwise.

And now he had to present that evidence to both his own captain and to Bert Walters, the captain of the Homicide division. Jim felt like he was going to be sick.

He'd no more than taken his seat across from Simon and Walters when they got down to business.

"What've you got for us, Jim?" Simon asked.

"I found a connection between the shopping malls that Homicide missed," Jim admitted.

"Oh, really?" questioned Walters snidely. "Do tell, Detective."

"They all have stores that deal with photography," Jim shot back.

Simon smiled as Walters fumed silently. "Excellent job, Jim. And we've got good news for you, too." He slid a file across the table. "Forensics confirms the yellow scarf you found at Eye Spy is the same kind as the ones used on the murder victims."

Jim closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Was this the last nail in Blair's coffin?

"Damn," he muttered.

"Excuse me?" Walters said, confused at Jim's reaction. "Pardon me, Detective, but you don't sound too pleased we've found the evidence we've been looking for." He crossed his arms over his chest. "And I wonder why that is," he said sarcastically, glaring at Jim.

Jim leaned back in his chair and regarded the man coolly. Bert Walters was a 15 year veteran of the department, balding, overweight and with the temperament of a grizzly bear with a thorn in its paw. And he hated Jim. Why? Because he was both gay and a cop. A double disgrace to Walters.

"Just what the hell's that supposed to mean?" Jim questioned angrily.

Walters leaned forward. "You know damn well what it means," he snarled. "You refuse to believe Sandburg's our killer because you've gotten involved with him!" he accused.

"I'm doing my job, Walters!"

"Oh, really? And does your job include sleeping with your suspect?"

Simon turned his head sharply toward Jim at Walters accusation, to find the detective's jaw clenched painfully tight.

"The surveillance team had been following you and Sandburg since the two of you left the studio," Walters continued. "After dinner you both went back to the studio, where you stayed for quite a long time. My team was getting nervous, and they were about to enter the building when you finally came out. I don't need to tell you they saw you still putting your clothes back on!"

Jim's heart nearly stopped at Walters words. He had completely forgotten about the surveillance team.

"You asked me to get close to Sandburg. Both of you. There's a reason you picked a gay man for this assignment," he snapped. "You wanted me to be bait and now I am."

Walters thrust a finger at Jim. "You crossed over the line! What's the matter, Ellison? Couldn't control yourself around pretty-boy Sandburg? You just had to get a piece of his ass, didn't you?"

Jim made to lunge across the table just as Simon bellowed, "Enough!" and slammed his hand down. "Jim, sit down," he commanded then turned to Walters. "One more comment like that and I'll have you up on harassment charges so fast it'll make your head spin," Simon vowed. "My detective's lifestyle is his own business, do you hear me?"

"Not when it affects an ongoing investigation it isn't." Walters pointed at Jim again. "He's off the case, Banks."

"The hell I am," Jim growled, blue eyes flashing.

"You've lost your objectivity and you know it!" Walters countered. "And besides, we've got enough evidence now to bring Sandburg in. You're finished," he snapped.

"But Sandburg hasn't done anything yet," Jim replied. "You bring him in now with nothing but circumstantial evidence still and you'll get nowhere."

"Jim's right," Simon interjected. "You may not agree with his methods, Walters, but he's right where we need him. Pull him now, before Sandburg makes his move, and you can kiss your case goodbye."

Walters glared at the two men for a long moment before standing up and addressing Jim. "Well, hotshot, since you seem to have everything well in hand, I'm pulling the surveillance team starting immediately. You're on your own." Then he was gone, slamming the door behind him.

Jim took a deep breath and covered his face with his hands. "Don't say it, Simon," he said, forestalling his boss's tirade.

Simon let out a deep sigh and strode over to the windows. "Dammit, Jim. You're not in Vice anymore. This wasn't part of the assignment."

"I know, Simon. I know. It just happened. It's complicated. I don't know how to explain it." He paused. "I do know one thing, though. Blair didn't do it."

"What?! How can you say that? Look at all the evidence --"

Jim rose from the chair, throwing up his hands. "Call it a hunch! And with my conviction rate over the past five years I think I know what I'm talking about when I say something doesn't feel right."

"I think Walters is right. You've lost your objectivity."

Jim shook his head. "I haven't, Simon. Look, I'll stay on Sandburg, but let me play my hunch, too," he compromised.

Simon nodded. "OK, what've you got?"

"I want to look into Blair's assistant, Derek Bowman. There's just something about him..."

"Didn't Homicide already clear him?"

"Yeah, and they also missed the photography shop connection at the malls," Jim pointed out.

"Good point," Simon agreed. "I'll put Rafe on it. Make sure he digs deep."

Jim nodded and turned to go. "Thanks, Simon."

"Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"You're walking a fine line here. Fall off again and I'll pull you myself."

***********

10am

Eye Spy Photography

 

Jim stepped off the elevator on the 30th floor, still unsure as to how to play his relationship with Blair. Not only did he have the new evidence to contend with, but also the "morning after" feelings. Once again it was his head versus his heart. The cop versus the man. He didn't know which would win, and that scared him. Simon was right. He was walking a fine line. What would it take to make him fall off?

A possible answer to that question hit him almost immediately as he was walking through the lobby on his way to Blair's studio. The sound of the young man's laughter caught his attention as he passed by the doorway of the employee lounge. Curious, Jim stopped and looked inside.

Blair was leaning with his back against the wall directly opposite from him, an amused expression on his face. In front of Blair, with her back to Jim, was the receptionist, Tina. The tall, slim, leggy brunette in the mini skirt was leaning towards Blair. One hand was propped on the wall next to the photographer's head while the other toyed with the first button on his shirt.

Jim was hit with an immediate, uncontrollable wave of jealousy. Shocked by his own reaction, Jim started to step away from the doorway, but the movement caught Blair's attention.

"Jim!" he called, his eyes lighting up. As he extricated himself from Tina's grasp, Jim could've sworn it was relief he'd heard in Blair's voice.

Tina turned as Blair walked away, nodding her head at Jim. "Mr. Tanner."

"Good morning --" was as far as Jim got in reply before Blair took hold of his arm and propelled him down the hallway.

"Perfect timing, Jim." He lightly slapped the larger man on the back. "Thanks for the rescue."

"Didn't look like you needed rescuing to me."

Blair stopped in his tracks, forcing Jim to do so also. He smiled at the older man, blue eyes twinkling. "Jim, man, are you jealous?"

"What?!" Jim practically squeaked. He cleared his throat, regaining his composure. "No, Sandburg, I'm not jealous," he lied.

Blair threw up his hands and laughed. "Take it easy, big guy! You're just too much fun to tease, you know that?"

The men started walking back down the hallway and Jim asked, "So, are you going to tell me what that was all about in the lounge, then?"

Blair shrugged. "Tina's been coming on to me, asking me out, nearly everyday since she started working here six months ago."

Jim was confused. "But you're --"

"--gay," Blair finished for him. "Yeah, I know, and so does she. But she thinks it's a waste," he smiled. "She's convinced she can 'make a man out of me' and save me from my sinful life." He chuckled and shook his head. "She's harmless, just annoying. Kind of like Derek," he finished.

Jim went on alert at the assistant's name. "Been having problems with him today?" he asked casually.

Blair sighed and stopped outside the door to his studio. "Same ol', same ol', I guess. Today he's on his 'please Blair' tear. He goes from being completely belligerent and ignoring everything I say to falling all over himself to do everything right." He threw up his hands. "I don't know which I hate more! But even though he's a head case personality wise, I can't fault him for his work, when he does it. He's truly a master in the darkroom. It's amazing the things he can do with a photo."

He ran a hand through his curls and opened the door. "But enough about my crazy assistant, who is at this moment in said darkroom loading my film for today." He led Jim to the dressing room and ushered him inside, closing the door behind them. "Let's talk about something else instead."

"Like what?" Jim asked, not sure if he was ready for the answer, and the resulting conversation.

"Like this," Blair breathed, before he stepped closer and touched his lips to Jim's.

The contact was electric, frying every logic circuit in Jim's brain, and he knew he was lost. The heart was victorious over the head, the man victorious over the cop. And the consequences be damned. All that mattered was right here, right now.

Blair grabbed two fistfuls of Jim's shirt and backed them up forcefully into the wall. Jim spread his legs wide to fit Blair between them and crushed the smaller man to him. The kiss was hard, fast and furious, their need for each other apparent in the way they tried to crawl inside the other's skin.

As their tongues did battle, Jim buried one hand in Blair's long curls while the other pressed their lower bodies together. He felt Blair moan into the kiss as their groins made contact and each felt the other's growing hardness. Blair immediately started humping against him and Jim began pushing back, kneading Blair's ass as the same time.

Their completely clothed bodies provided wonderful friction and Jim gave into the sensation of his quickly building orgasm. He encouraged Blair to move harder and faster against him, wanting to bring the other man off at the same time. Remembering Blair's reaction from the night before, Jim slid his hand from Blair's hair to his chest, fingers searching for the pierced nipple hidden beneath the t-shirt.

One small tug was all it took. Blair threw his head back and gasped, his body stiffening against Jim's as he came. The smell of Blair's release was overpowering to Jim's sensitive nose, pushing him over the edge to his own climax, his warm semen flooding the inside of his pants.

Long moments later, still slumped against each other, just as their breathing was returning to normal, there was a knock at the door.

"All finished, Mr. Sandburg," came Derek's voice.

Blair chuckled against Jim's chest. "We sure are," he mumbled to the bigger man before raising his voice. "Thanks, Derek. We'll be ready in a minute."

Blair sighed and relaxed into Jim's embrace for a moment before reluctantly straightening up. He looked Jim in the eye.

"I know things have been moving really fast between us, but I wanted you to know...I'm not just looking for a fling here. Not with you. I think we can have something really special together. But only if you want it, too. " He paused. "And no matter what your answer is, I'll still help you with your senses, I swear. I just need to know where you want this to go."

Jim swallowed and took a shaky breath. "I--I want it, too, Blair," he answered honestly, from the heart, even as a small part of his brain told him he may have just signed his death sentence.

***********

While Blair changed into a clean pair of jeans, and Jim into his first outfit of the day, they made plans to go to Blair's apartment after the session to begin the testing on Jim's senses. A short while later they were out in the studio at work on the final layouts for Undergear.

Blair was definitely right on the money about Derek's attitude today, Jim thought as he observed the assistant constantly hovering in the background. He was doing everything he could to make sure the session ran smoothly, trying to please Blair and garner his praise. And it was exactly this hot and cold temperament that set Jim's cop instincts on edge. Unstable didn't begin to fit the bill, which is why he wanted Bowman looked into more thoroughly than Homicide had.

Or is it because you're in so deep with Blair now you're grasping at straws to prove him innocent?

Before he could tell the logical part of his brain to take a hike, Blair's raised voice drew his attention. They were just getting ready to do shots of Jim against a swimming pool backdrop and he was waiting on the stage for Blair to reload his camera.

"How many times did I tell you that I was going to shoot this last layout in black and white?" Blair demanded, exasperated. "Derek, you've got to listen to what I'm telling you! Now get back there and load up the black and white," Blair ordered, pointing toward the darkroom.

Jim watched as Derek obeyed silently, but his entire body language radiated anger as he stalked off.

Blair turned his head toward Jim. "Take five, man."

Jim nodded and slipped into his robe while he walked over to Blair. He was about to say something when a rhythmical pounding reached his ears.

"What's that noise?"

Blair groaned and rolled his eyes. "Derek's at it again."

"What's he doing?"

"Have you ever seen someone lay their hand flat on a table with their fingers spread wide, then take a knife or something sharp and stab it in the opening between each of their fingers? You start with the space between your thumb and forefinger and go around to your pinky."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, in the military. Guys used to do it on a dare, to see how fast they could go around their hand. Damn good way to lose a finger."

Blair agreed. "Yep, that's what he's doing. Scared the shit outta me the first time I saw him do it, so I talked to his mom. She said not to worry, that's his way of venting his frustration. Told ya the guy was a nut."

Jim couldn't have agreed more.

***********

Since Derek decided to make himself scarce after the mix-up with the film, the remainder of the shoot passed uneventfully. Soon Blair clicked the shutter for the last time and the modeling career of "Jim Tanner" came to a close.

"You were incredible, man," Blair complemented Jim as he stepped down off the stage. "I still can't believe you've never modeled before. You were a natural."

Jim shook his head. "I had a good teacher."

Blair's face lit up at the praise. "You're my number one student, then. Speaking of which, why don't you go change while I finish up out here and then we can head over to my place to start those tests."

"Sounds good," Jim agreed.

"Derek will have the proof sheets done tonight. I thought after the tests we could grab some dinner and swing back here to take a look at them."

"Yeah, I'd like that. Let me go get dressed and we can get out of here."

***********

Twenty minutes later Jim was in his truck following Blair to his apartment, calling the precinct on his cell phone.

"Rafe? It's Ellison. Tell me you've got something for me on Bowman."

//Sure do, Jim. On the surface he's clean. Had a few brief stays at a couple of mental health institutions, but he's kept out of trouble. When I dug a little deeper, though, I found out he's got a juvenile record. The actual contents are sealed, so I don't know the specifics, but I do know he was a suspect in the stabbing death of his father. The case was never solved, either.//

Jim smacked his hand on the steering wheel. Looks like my hunch may pay off after all.

"You're beautiful, Rafe! Thanks for the good work. Tell Simon I may have something for him tomorrow."

//You got it. Good luck.//

Jim ended the call, his spirits high. Mental instability, Derek's prowess with a knife and a prior suspect in a stabbing death. Plus Derek easily had access to the dressing room where Jim had found the scarf. The scales were now tipping. But Blair had been the one to have a connection with all the victims, not Derek. Or did he?

Jim was sure as hell going to find out.

***********

"You live here?" Jim said incredulously, looking at the old warehouse in front of him.

"Hey, man, where else am I gonna get 10,000 square feet for $850 a month?" He slapped Jim on the shoulder and laughed. "C'mon upstairs. It's not that bad, you'll see."

And once inside, Jim had to admit that it wasn't. Blair had carved himself out a warm, functioning living area from the cavernous depths of the warehouse. It reminded him a lot of his own loft, actually. But where Jim's living space had walls, Blair's had large, accordion-like partitions. They separated the bedroom, main living room, small kitchen and bathroom.

Expecting overhead florescent lighting, Jim was pleasantly surprised to instead find that Blair had installed tall floor lamps. They bathed the area in a soft glow. Looking around, Jim also saw a small, cluttered computer center and an area that Blair seemed to have set up as his private photo studio, complete with backdrop and spotlights.

"Well, man, what do you think?"

Jim nodded approvingly. "I like it."

"Told ya," Blair smirked.

"So what happens now, Professor?"

"Well, I've still got a lot of friends at Rainier, but I haven't been able to secure a lab yet. So we'll just work here in the meantime. I just want to do some basic tests today, see what the range of each of your senses is. That OK with you?"

Jim shrugged. "You're the expert."

Blair smiled and slugged Jim in the shoulder. "Then let's get started."

And so the testing began.

For the remainder of the morning and throughout the afternoon, Jim became a human lab rat. Blair worked each sense one at a time, both inside the warehouse and outside, up on the roof. He was teaching Jim what he could do, at the same time searching for Jim's limits.

During all this, Jim's emotions were all over the map. He was at once excited and scared of his newfound abilities, and became quickly frustrated when they didn't obey his commands. Like the three times he zoned. Once each on smell, sight and taste. But each time Blair had been able to bring him out of it more quickly than the last. Jim realized that this spoke volumes about their growing relationship. That it was Blair that Jim responded to. His voice, his touch...not outside influences. Yet another connection between the two of them.

Blair, for his part, was acting like a kid in a candy store. He was absolutely beside himself now that he'd found a living, breathing Sentinel. His hands never stopped writing in his notebook and he barely came up for air while speaking. Which was practically non-stop. Jim felt as if he'd awakened a passion inside Blair that had been dormant for a long time. It was a breathtaking sight to see the young man even more vibrant, more alive, more energized than ever before.

And while Jim knew that Blair had never encountered someone with all five senses heightened, it didn't slow him down one bit in the testing department. It was like he'd already had the tests outlined and had been waiting for someone to perform them on.

By the time late afternoon arrived, Jim was exhausted, but Blair was excited. They had learned what Jim's current limits were, but more importantly, they learned what Jim's main problem area was: control. It was always the same. Whenever he concentrated on one of his senses it was always too intense. He was bombarded with input, unable to pick out one smell or one sound. It was all a jumble. And if he pushed himself he usually zoned.

Hearing seemed to be the worst. That was the last sense they were working on, up on the roof. But as Jim winced in pain and developed an immediate, intense headache as the sounds of the city overwhelmed him, Blair wisely decided to move the testing indoors.

"How're you doing? Any better?" Blair asked softly as Jim sat down on the couch.

Jim closed his eyes and dropped his head back against the cushion. "Not really. I think it was the car horn that did it." He blew out a breath and began rubbing his temples. "I've never had an intense pain like this before. It's killing me."

Blair sat on the low coffee table, facing Jim. "I've got an idea. Now just relax. Breathe deep and slow. Let all of the tension just flow right out of your body. Yeah, that's it."

Jim breathed quietly for a moment before opening his eyes and shaking his head, frustrated. "It still hurts."

Blair put his hand on Jim's leg. "C'mon, man. You've got the attention span of a gerbil! Now just close your eyes and relax."

Jim sighed and leaned back against the couch again.

"Good. OK, now lets journey to that part of your brain where your senses converge."

"What is this? Fantastic Voyage?" Jim said sarcastically.

"Jim, if you don't want to cooperate..." Blair trailed off, beginning to become exasperated.

"All right, all right." Jim put up his hand. "I'm converging," he said placatingly.

"You've got to be able to control the intensity level, turn it up and down at will," Blair stated. "Now picture something that you can control. Picture a dial."

"Got it," Jim replied, eyes still closed.

"OK, now imagine yourself turning it down, sorta like the volume control on a television set. Only you determine how much you feel." Blair paused as Jim struggled with the mental exercise at first. Then Jim's face relaxed. "Yeah, that's it," Blair encouraged.

Jim opened his eyes and smiled, the tension gone from his features. "Wow...yeah..." he nodded in wonder.

"It worked?" Blair asked with a touch of amazement.

"Yeah...yeah, I can barely feel the headache now. And I feel all relaxed, too."

Blair jumped up from the coffee table, gesturing animatedly. "Jim, this is a major breakthrough." He pinned Jim with a blinding smile. "This is the first step into a larger world for you, my friend."

Jim couldn't help but smile and share in Blair's excitement, as he felt it, too. This was the first time since his senses had awakened that he actually felt in control of them. That for once they weren't running his life.

Blair plopped back down on the coffee table. "How 'bout another test on your hearing?" he asked eagerly.

Jim groaned and sighed at the same time. "I think this lab rat's had enough for one day."

"C'mon, just one more," Blair pleaded. "I want to see how well you can control the dial." When Jim still didn't look convinced, Blair sweetened the deal. "Tell you what. Do this one last test and you can pick where we go for dinner. My treat."

With that Jim gave in, visions of Wonderburger dancing in his head. "OK, Professor, you win. What do you want me to do?"

Blair clapped his hands together in delight. "Yesss! OK, lie down on the couch and close your eyes." As Jim did as he asked, Blair continued, moving to kneel beside the couch. "Now I want you to breathe deep and relax for a minute. Then picture the dial in your head, set at the lowest setting. Now open up your hearing and tell me the first thing that you hear..."

The answer was almost instantaneous. "You..." Jim breathed.

Blair was taken aback, not expecting that answer. "What? Me?"

Jim nodded, eyes still closed. "I can hear your heartbeat.." he whispered in amazement. His hand reached out and he placed his palm on Blair's chest. Only then did he open his eyes to look directly at the young man. "Why, Blair?" he questioned. "With all the sounds around me, why was your heartbeat the first thing I heard?"

Blair swallowed deeply and Jim heard his heart start to pound faster. "Remember I told you that a Sentinel had a partner, a Guide? Maybe I'm it for you. I told you I felt connected to you as soon as I saw you. This could be why," he finished quietly.

Jim nodded and moved his hand to cup the side of Blair's face. "There's something I haven't told you," he started. "But now...after what you just said...it's all starting to make sense now."

"What is it, Jim?"

"The first day I met you, my senses were out of control. But the minute I touched you, when we shook hands, everything instantly went back to normal."

"Wow..." Blair breathed.

"That's not all. It happened again the next day, too. I'd just had one of those zoneouts before coming to the studio. But when Derek opened the door and knocked me into you...I felt fine again."

"Oh my God...Jim, this is amazing." Blair reached up and took Jim's hand in his own. "I'd read about this bond that Sentinels and Guides shared, how deeply connected they were to each other. I never thought I'd understand it, though." He smiled. "But I do now."

Jim tightened his grip on Blair's hand. "What do you understand?" he asked softly.

"That we were meant to be," he replied passionately.

Then he was kissing Jim deeply, the older man responding instantly, trying to pull Blair down across his chest. But the photographer broke the kiss and chuckled.

"Uh-uh," he shook his head. "That's dessert, and you haven't had dinner yet," he teased.

Jim groaned and reached for Blair, but the younger man jumped up, laughing, and headed for his bedroom and the connecting bathroom. "I'm gonna grab a quick shower, then we can go," he said. "Make yourself at home."

But Jim didn't move, remaining slumped on the couch, as thoughts once again whirled through his head. But before he could pin one down and realize how far gone he was, a sound caught his attention. Blair had started the shower.

Telling himself he was merely testing his senses and the dials, Jim closed his eyes and tuned into the young man's movements. He heard everything, becoming more aroused by the moment. The water sluicing down bare skin and the soap as it was worked into a lather. The contented noises Blair made as he worked the shampoo deep into his long curls, and the quiet plopping sounds of the lather being washed down the drain. The soft rubbing sounds as Blair soaped up, then rinsed off his body...face, arms, legs. And then the hitch in his breathing as he stopped to concentrate on one area. As the slick sounds reached his ears, Jim could almost see Blair pumping his cock, the soap and water easing his movements, hips gently thrusting.

Before he knew it, he was off the couch and on his way to the bathroom, leaving a trail of clothes in his wake. Naked, he stood outside the shower curtain for a moment, letting the steam envelop him and the sound and smell of Blair's arousal excite him further. Pushing aside the curtain and stepping inside, he was pleased to see Blair just as he'd imagined him.

Blair jumped at Jim's sudden appearance, hand falling away from his erection. But then his blue eyes darkened with hunger. He arched one of his eyebrows. "Didn't I tell you that dessert was for after dinner?"

"Then I guess I'm gonna spoil my appetite," Jim growled in reply before his mouth descended on Blair's.

This time Jim was the aggressor, backing Blair up against the shower wall, just underneath the warm spray. He pressed his body full length against the smaller man's, feeling Blair's hands come around his back and settle on his ass, their erections lining up. Jim began rocking against Blair, the water and soap aiding his movements.

As they continued to kiss, Jim felt Blair's hand begin to move, fingers searching, and he spread his legs wide in silent invitation. He moaned as Blair's finger found it's mark and pressed gently against his most private place.

Jim broke the kiss to look down at Blair, and in his lover's eyes he saw the unspoken question.

"God, Blair," he ground out. "Do it."

Blair swallowed and nodded. "I'll make it good for you," he swore, before sealing his vow with a tender kiss.

He slid out from in front of Jim, leaving the bigger man facing the wall, forearms resting against the tile. He then reached up and adjusted the spray so that the warm water now flowed down Jim's back and lower body. Jim arched briefly into the water, enjoying the sensuous feel as it ran between his legs, caressing his heavy balls.

He felt Blair move away for a moment, heard the snap of a bottle cap opening, then the fresh scent of Blair's shower gel reached his nose. Then Blair was back, pressing his body against Jim's, placing a soft kiss between the bigger man's shoulder blades. Jim shivered in anticipation of what was to come, and Blair whispered, "Turn up the dial, Jim. Let yourself feel it all."

"But what if--"

"Shh, don't worry," Blair soothed his fear. "I'm here. I won't let anything happen.

Just let yourself go."

And Jim did, moaning out loud as one gelled finger entered him, stretching gently. It had been a long time for him, and Blair seemed to sense that, taking infinite care not to move things along too quickly. He waited until Jim grew accustomed to the feeling of one finger before moving onto two. And waited again until Jim began thrusting back against his hand before adding a third.

As the third gelled finger slid in, Jim gave a little grunt and faltered in his movements. It had definitely been a long time since he'd done this.

Blair kissed his back once again and slipped his free hand around to grasp Jim's erection. He started pumping slowly.

"That's OK...take your time," he told Jim. "There's no rush..."

Jim sucked in a breath at the feel of Blair's hand on his cock, and he pushed his hips forward, causing Blair's fingers to slide partway out of his ass. He groaned at the dual sensation and quickly fell into a rhythm - thrusting forward into Blair's hand and backwards onto Blair's fingers.

"God, Jim...if you could only see yourself. You're so hot..."

Jim's breathing increased and his brow furrowed as he felt himself drawing closer to the edge. But he didn't want it to end like this. He wanted more.

"Please, Blair...I need you in me..."

"I thought you'd never ask." Blair smiled and removed his hands from Jim's body. The bigger man groaned at the loss of contact.

Again the scent of shower gel reached Jim's nose and he knew Blair was slicking up his own cock. And then it was there, the blunt head pressing against the opening to his body. Jim pushed back, not waiting for Blair, needing to feel the young man inside him now.

Both men gasped as Blair's cock breached the muscle and slid halfway in. Blair's hands came to rest on Jim's hips, his forehead dropping down onto Jim's back.

"God, Jim...you're so hot, so tight..."

Jim's breath came in short pants as his body struggled to accommodate Blair's large cock. He'd never felt so stretched, so full in his life. It bordered on painful, but he loved it. And he wanted more.

"Move, Blair...please," he urged.

And Blair did. Slowly at first, dragging out the exquisite sensation of his cock sliding in and out of Jim's body, then faster, as Jim began thrusting back.

It was destined not to last long, this first, urgent joining. As Jim let himself be carried away in sensory bliss, Blair reached around his body. Jim cried out as his cock was pumped in counterpoint and he knew he was about to go over the edge. And once again, Blair sensed it.

"Yeah, Jim, that's it...just let go..."

Then Blair changed the angle of his thrusts and Jim saw stars as his prostate was stimulated.

"Blair!" he cried out, bucking back forcefully. "Again..." he pleaded.

And Blair complied, stimulating Jim's prostate with each thrust, till Jim was nearly incoherent with pleasure.

"Now do you understand, Jim? Do you feel it, too?" Blair pleaded passionately.

"Yes!" Jim gasped. "I feel it, I feel it...Oh God...I love you, Blair, I love you..."

And then Jim was coming, his body spasming with it's powerful release, warm semen flowing over Blair's hand to be washed away by the shower's spray. A long, low moan behind him signaled Blair's climax and Jim could actually feel Blair's cock enlarge as he thrust in one last time. Then Blair released his seed deep inside Jim's body, flooding it with warmth. Jim's knees practically buckled at the erotic sensation, and he reached behind him to press Blair even closer, wanting Blair's cock even deeper inside him.

As his shudders receded, Blair wrapped his arms around Jim's chest and kissed his back.

"I love you, too."

***********

 A short time later both men were dried off and under the blankets in Blair's large bed. Tired, sated, they lay wrapped around each other. Blair drew aimless patterns on Jim's bare chest while Jim idly toyed with one of Blair's stray curls.

"Jim?" mumbled Blair.

"Mmm?" came the sleepy reply.

"I've been thinking about something."

Jim opened his eyes. "What is it?"

Blair propped himself up on his elbow. "You know the reason I left school is because I couldn't finish my thesis. Because I couldn't find a Sentinel."

Jim narrowed his eyes. "I don't think I like where this is heading."

"Jim, just hear me out. I've waited my whole life for you. And now that I've found you, I want to write about you. I want to go back to school and get my doctorate. Get back to teaching. It's all I've ever wanted to do," he finished softly.

Jim looked into those wide blue eyes and faltered. What could he say? "No, Blair, you can't write about me because I'm really a cop and this could get me killed."? Yeah, right. He was supposed to be a male model.

"Blair, I don't want people to know about me, about what I can do. I already feel like a freak. I'm sorry."

"Jim, I swear I'll keep your name out of it. No one will know who you really are," Blair promised. "Please, Jim."

Jim gave a long sigh and shook his head. "I don't know..."

"OK, tell you what. Just promise me you'll think about it? Please?"

"All right, I'll think about it," Jim compromised.

Blair smiled and gave Jim a lingering kiss. "Thank you." Then the grumbling of his stomach made both men laugh.

Jim swatted Blair on his bare bottom. "C'mon, Professor. Let's go get dinner."

***********

8pm

Eye Spy Photography

 

After a leisurely dinner and a stroll through Holden Park to walk off their Wonderburgers, Jim and Blair drove back to the studio to look at the proof sheets. Blair once again used his swipe card to gain access to the building, since everyone had gone home for the night.

Once inside Blair's studio, the photographer headed for his desk, where the proof sheets should have been. But they weren't there.

"Can't that idiot ever do what I ask?"

"Derek again?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, Derek again," Blair said furiously.

"Do you think he'd have left them somewhere else?"

"The darkroom, maybe. Let's go have a look."

Once there, Blair paused outside the door. "I don't know what he's got going on in there. Let me turn on the safelight first." He flipped a light switch. "OK, let's go."

The moment Blair opened the inner door of the darkroom, Jim was nearly driven to his knees, coughing, overcome by a powerful odor. A very familiar odor. It's that same smell!

Blair whirled around. "Oh, shit! I'm sorry, Jim. I forgot how strong this would be to your nose! Dial it down like you practiced. You know how to do it," he coached.

After a moment Jim straightened up, olfactory sense under control. "What is that smell?"

"Photo developer," Blair replied. "It's one of the chemicals Derek uses."

"What about you? You work back here, too?" Jim asked innocently.

"Me? Nah, never. This is Derek's lair," Blair joked, then looked around the room, searching for the proof sheets in the blood red glow of the safelight. "Ah, ha! He did leave them back here." He moved away from Jim to a low table, picking up two envelopes marked "Tanner". He showed them to Jim. "Looks like I caught him before he delivered your set."

"Deliver them?"

"Yeah, Derek usually drops off a set of proof sheets at the model's house for me. Or sometimes Tina does. Cheaper than a courier service and I know they'll get there undamaged. Why?"

Alarm bells were going off in Jim's brain. You wanted a connection between Derek and the victims, Ellison, and now you've got one.

"Oh, no reason," Jim lied.

Blair tucked the envelopes under his arm, then gestured toward the door. "Let's go have a look at these out in the light."

Jim hesitated. "Uh...do you mind if I have a look around in here? I've never been in a darkroom before."

Blair shrugged. "Knock yourself out, man. I'll go set up the proof sheets on the light table outside. Oh, just don't touch anything," he warned. "I so do not want to have to deal with Derek on a rampage if he finds out that someone's been messing around back here."

Jim watched Blair go, then turned and began walking slowly around the room, mentally ticking off the points in his case. With this new information, the last pieces of the puzzle were finally falling into place.

He already knew about Derek's mental instability and his prowess with a knife. And the patterns of the deep, puncture stab wounds on the victim's bodies fit Derek's way of "venting his frustration". Then there was the matter of Derek being a suspect in the stabbing death of his father. Plus he also had easy access to the dressing room where Jim had found the yellow scarf.

And now he had a connection between Derek and the victims - Derek dropped off their proof sheets. They had already guessed that the victims knew their killer and now it fit. The dead men had all known Derek from their time at the studio, and would have let him into their homes without question.

But it was the identification of the mysterious smell that sealed it for Jim. It was present at three of the four crime scenes, and most likely had been at the first scene as well. But even Sentinel senses couldn't detect it at a three month old scene.

Then there was the fact that he'd smelled it twice at Eye Spy. But when had he smelled it? Thinking back, it was not around Blair. The first had been when Derek opened the door and banged into him. He hadn't smelled it prior to that as he stood talking with Blair. And the second time had been when he was alone in Eye Spy's parking lot the night he and Blair made love. Or had he been alone? He had thought he'd seen someone lurking in the shadows at the edge of the lot.

Now he had a name for the odor - photo developer. Now he knew that only one person worked with it and was around it so often in an enclosed area that it permeated his clothes and skin.

Derek Bowman.

But what he didn't know was why. What was Derek's motive for brutally murdering four men? What would drive him to--

Jim cut off his line of thinking and his movement when he saw something white out of the corner of his eye, near the floor. It looked to be a tiny sliver of light coming out of the wall. Definitely out of place in the red glow of the safelight.

Remembering what Blair had taught him, he carefully focused his sight in on the light, letting it brighten the area for him. And in the increased visibility, Jim was able to see a long, thin line that extended from the floor up the wall approximately seven feet.

What the hell? A false door in the wall?

Stepping up to the wall, Jim rapped his knuckles along it, listening for a difference in sound.

And there it was. There was another room behind this wall. And Jim wanted in.

He pushed against the panel in several places, but nothing happened. When he placed his palms flat against it and pushed sideways, however, it moved, sliding to Jim's left. The crack of white light was now plainly visible. Jim hooked his fingers around the edge of the panel and slid it all the way to the side.

And stopped breathing.

Oh my God...

Hundreds of photos were taped to the walls of the small room. Hundreds of photos of Blair. Capturing nearly every aspect of the unsuspecting young man's life for what appeared to span several months, if not a year. And interspersed among them were torn and mutilated photos of the four dead men.

You wanted a motive, Ellison. Now you've got one.

Jim backed quickly away from the perverted shrine and ran for the darkroom door. He needed to get Blair out of here now.

He burst through the outer door and sprinted down the corridor to the main part of the studio. Drawing closer, his Sentinel abilities detected the unmistakable odor of photo developer, somewhere ahead of him.

Too late. Derek was already here.

Skidding around the corner, Jim saw Blair bent over the light table, examining the proof sheets. The young man looked up, startled, at Jim's abrupt entrance.

"Blair!" Jim yelled, running towards him. "Get outta here! Call -- ugh!"

Jim's warning was cut off as Derek burst from the shadows on Jim's left, slamming into the larger man full force. Their momentum sent them crashing into Blair's desk and Jim went down hard, landing on his back on the floor. He dimly heard Blair scream out his name, but the gleaming blade suddenly in Derek's hand demanded his attention.

Jim scrambled backwards as Derek slashed downward, missing the detective by inches. Jim regained his footing and pushed himself back up into a standing position. Derek charged forward and Jim sidestepped the attack, his right fist smashing into the left side of Derek's face.

But the killer reacted quickly, too quickly, and slashed backwards with his left hand. Unable to move away fast enough, the knife opened up a long gash in Jim's abdomen. The Sentinel cried out in pain and surprise, his right hand clamping down over the bloody wound.

Jim's distraction gave Derek a chance to turn back around and rush at the wounded man again. Jim tried to back away, but his right foot struck the edge of Blair's over turned desk chair and he felt himself falling backwards. In desperation, he swept out his left leg, trying to catch Derek with it.

It worked. Jim's foot struck behind Derek's right knee and the killer pitched forward, right toward Jim's fallen body. As the knife plunged downward, Jim pushed hard against the arm and hand holding it, twisting viciously. Jim's strength won out against Derek's, and the knife was suddenly pointing in the opposite direction. Unable to stop his fall, Derek hit the floor, impaling himself on his own knife. One scream was all he had time for before his eyes closed forever.

Breath coming in short, hard pants, Jim rolled away from the body, coming to rest on his knees. He pressed his hand against his wound, his shirt now soaked with blood, his belly on fire. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he looked around the studio, searching for Blair. Not seeing him immediately, Jim began to panic.

"Blair?!" he called out. "Where are --"

"Over here."

Jim turned his head sharply at the female voice, coming from the direction of the light table. The owner of the voice then appeared, stepping out into the light, pushing Blair before her.

It was Tina. And she had a gun to Blair's head.

Jim blinked at the sudden development and Tina laughed.

"Don't look so surprised," she told Jim. "Did you really think Derek had the brains to pull this off by himself...Detective Ellison?" she sneered.

Blair looked sharply at Jim in disbelief at Tina's way of addressing him. But Jim ignored him, his features once again schooled to give nothing away. Even though his heart was pounding inside his chest as his cover was blown.

"Who in the world thought that putting you undercover in a modeling agency was a good idea?" she asked incredulously. "Faces are our business. And yours, my dear Detective, is well known." She paused, reaching in her pocket and pulling out a sheet of folded paper. She shook it out, but kept the image facing towards her. "I knew I recognized you the first day I saw you. But it wasn't until yesterday that I put my finger on it." She turned the paper around.

It was the front cover of NewsUpdate magazine, from five years ago, with Jim's face emblazoned on it. The caption read, "Beyond The Call - GI Survives Jungle Ordeal"

"You were big news back then, Jim. In all the magazines and newspapers. Even on TV. A regular hero. And after not only surviving a helicopter crash but 18 months in the jungles of Peru, who wouldn't be?" She let the paper flutter to the floor. "From there it was quite easy to discover you'd gone on to become a cop. I can't tell you how many times your name appears in the Cascade Herald. You're quite a distinguished officer." She cocked the gun. "Too bad this will be your last case."

"Aren't you going to tell me why?" asked Jim, stalling for time.

Tina looked confused at the question. "For Blair, of course. I'm saving him. Saving him from men like you, who would corrupt him, turn him to unnatural, sinful acts. He needs to be with a woman. He needs to be with me," she stated firmly, eyes wild.

"Then why partner with Derek, if he's everything you find unnatural?" Jim wondered.

Tina glanced down with disgust at Derek's body. "He was simply a means to an end. He wanted Blair for himself, so he hated the men as much as I did. Just for a different reason."

"You're the one who delivered the proof sheets then," Jim concluded. "Then you drugged and strangled them."

"Give the man a prize," Tina replied sarcastically. "I needed someone to dispose of the bodies," she shrugged. "And Derek wanted to take out his anger with his knife, so we made a perfect match. Then when I found out you were a cop, I had Derek follow you. That's how we knew you were here tonight."

During Tina's explanation, Jim caught sight of Blair gesturing with one of his fingers. He kept pointing to his right. Jim subtly shifted his line of sight and saw Blair's camera sitting on the edge of the light table. The strap was hanging off the side.

Jim knew what Blair wanted to attempt, and everything inside him screamed "No", that it was too dangerous, that it could get Blair killed. But he also knew it was their only chance. He was weaponless, hurt, and too far away to attempt anything himself. He took a breath and barely inclined his head toward Blair. The young man stopped pointing, so Jim knew he'd gotten the message.

As Tina wound down, Jim said loudly, "Then let Blair go. It's me you want." Then he lurched to his feet, his sudden and abrupt movement startling Tina, just as he wanted. She swung the gun away from Blair towards him, giving the photographer the opening he'd been waiting for.

Quick as lightening, Blair's right hand shot out and snatched the camera strap. In one fluid motion, he swung the camera across his body as hard as he could, catching Tina full in the face with it. She cried out then crumpled to the floor like a rag doll, unconscious.

Jim stumbled over to her prone form, snatching the gun from her hand and ejecting the clip out onto the floor. Then he turned to Blair, just as the young man let the camera slide from his grasp, a stunned look on his face.

"Blair, go call 911. I need to tie her up before she comes to."

But Blair didn't move. Instead, he pinned Jim with a look that was so full of hurt, anger and betrayal that Jim felt as if he'd been hit in the stomach with a baseball bat.

Then Blair turned and walked away without a word, and Jim felt his heart shatter into a million pieces.

***********

4 hours later

Eye Spy Photography

 

Jim and Blair were once again alone in the studio, the chaos around them finally having subsided a few minutes earlier.

The Cascade PD had descended upon the photography studio en masse after Blair's 911 call. Both Simon Banks and Bert Walters had led the charge. Following close on their heels were the paramedics, the forensic team and the coroner's wagon.

In the ensuing hours, wounds were attended to and statements were given. Photos were taken of Derek's shrine and Derek's body. Tina was carted off to a jail cell and Derek's body was carted off to the morgue.

The paramedics were the first to leave, with the coroner and forensic team close behind. The uniformed officers departed next, the Homicide detectives soon after. And last but not least, were Simon and Walters. But not before grilling Jim to within an inch of his life and exacting a promise from him to be at the station first thing in the morning.

Now all that remained was a bloodstain, yellow crime scene tape and two men floundering in the aftermath of a terrible crime and a web of lies.

Blair turned sad, desolate eyes on Jim. "I didn't want to believe it, you know," he said quietly, voice nearly devoid of emotion. "I thought Tina was wrong about who you were. What you were. She had you mixed up with someone else, I was sure of it..."

Jim swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. "Blair...I can explain..."

"Explain what?" Blair shouted, his eyes and voice suddenly full of fury and hurt. "Explain how I was your assignment? Your job?" he demanded, advancing on Jim. "Explain that the reason we made love, the reason you told me you loved me was because you were ordered to?"

Jim shook his head desperately. "No...that's not how it was..."

"Then why don't you tell me how it was, because I sure as hell don't understand." But before Jim could answer, Blair continued. "What I can't figure out is, why didn't you just tell me the truth from the beginning? Why beat around the bush, asking me questions about myself, about Derek and Danny...If you were here to protect me from Derek and Tina, why didn't you just say that? Why all the lies? Why...?" he finished in an anguished whisper.

Jim knew that telling Blair the truth about his undercover assignment could destroy any chance he had at salvaging his relationship with the younger man. But one more lie would certainly destroy it.

"Blair, I couldn't tell you who I really was because I wasn't here to protect you," Jim admitted. "I was here to arrest you. You were my suspect for the murders."

"You bastard!"

Blair's fist appeared out of nowhere, swinging up and around, catching Jim full force on the jaw. The unexpected blow nearly laid the bigger man out, but he caught himself before he fell.

Blair was shaking his head in disbelief. "How could you? How could you think that I..."

Jim removed his hand from his bruised jaw. "Blair --"

"Get out."

The words were deadly calm and they sent a chill down Jim's spine.

"Blair, listen to me," Jim pleaded. "Yes, I may have been role-playing at being a model, but my feelings for you are real." He paused and drew in a shaky breath. "I love you. And that's the truth."

Blair laughed humorlessly. "How could you think that I would believe anything you said ever again?" He pointed to the door. "Now get out!" he yelled, his voice breaking, eyes suddenly bright with unshed tears. "And I never want to see you again."

***********

10pm

3 weeks later

 

Jim stood in his darkened loft, beer in hand, staring out the balcony doors though a light summer rain at the Cascade skyline. The moonlight reflected off the waters of the harbor, providing enough illumination for Jim to see his own reflection in the glass doors. And he didn't like what he saw. Tired, haggard, depressed...the same as he'd been three weeks ago. And now it was Friday night. Only two more days to go until he had to return to work. His grace period was up and he needed to pull himself together. Get on with his life.

Without Blair.

It was clear now the young man wanted nothing to do with him. It was a conclusion that made him heartsick just to think about.

The morning after the Bowman case wrapped up, Jim was at the station to give his statement and type up his report. Simon and Walters had in turn both congratulated him on a job well done and reamed his ass out for not keeping them better informed. But in the end, the case was filed under "Closed" and Simon put Jim on a week's medical leave to recuperate from his stab wound. Jim immediately asked for his two weeks vacation on top of that. After the physical and emotional stress of both the Switchman case and the Bowman case, he needed the downtime to get his head on straight. Simon knew the stress he'd been under and granted the extra time off.

But now that time was at an end. And what had he accomplished? Nothing, as far as his relationship with Blair was concerned. Though it certainly wasn't from lack of trying.

For that first week he'd tried everything he could to get in touch with Blair, to see him. To no avail. He'd tried his warehouse apartment first, but Blair refused to answer the buzzer. Then he tried seeing him at Eye Spy, but Blair must have told the new receptionist about him. She said Blair wasn't in, but Jim had seen his car in the parking lot and heard his heartbeat, clear as a bell, inside the studio.

He tried phone calls next. But Blair refused to take his calls at work, and let his answering machine take the calls at home. So Jim left messages, both on Blair's voice mail and machine. He always said the same thing.

"I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you. Please let me explain. Give me another chance. I miss you. I love you."

Blair never returned his calls.

The photographer even went so far as to make Simon promise him that Jim wouldn't be at the station when he came in to give his formal witness statement. When Simon told him this, warning him to stay away, it hurt more than the damage Derek had done to him with his knife.

But Jim obeyed and stayed away. And that's when he stopped trying to contact Blair. It was time to face the fact that he'd lost the only person in his life he'd ever truly loved.

As for the other aspects of his life, things weren't much better. He was lucky if he had intermittent control of his senses. They were more "off" than "on" anyway, and that suited Jim just fine. One less thing to worry about. He never wanted the damn things anyway. They were just a nuisance now. It was hard enough just to think about them, let alone practice the techniques Blair had taught him. The memories of he and Blair working together were just too painful. He'd rather blunder through his cursed existence figuring things out himself as he went.

Jim raised his beer bottle to his lips and drank deeply, the cool liquid sliding easily down this throat. He continued to watch the rain fall, longing for it to wash away his feelings of loneliness and hopelessness.

The sound of footsteps outside his door caught his attention and he turned his head. Who would be visiting him at this hour? Before he could decide whether or not to use his senses to determine who was on the other side of the door, a large manila envelope was slipped underneath it. But the shadow of the unknown person remained.

Curious, Jim stepped away from the balcony doors, placing his bottle on an end table. Crouching down near the door, he picked up the envelope, opened the flap and slid out the contents.

It was a note and three sheets of paper. The first sheet of paper was a copy of his NewsUpdate magazine cover. The second was a copy of a newspaper article from last year, when he'd won the Officer of the Year award. And the third was a 8x10 glossy photo of himself from his first day at Eye Spy as a model.

The attached note read:

It doesn't matter who you were, who you are now, or who you pretend to be on the outside.

It's what's inside that counts. And that's what I fell in love with.

Suddenly lightheaded, heart pounding in his chest, Jim threw open the door. And there he was.

Blair.

"Hi," he said shyly, nervously pushing a curl behind his ear. "Ummm, can I come in?"

Jim nodded mutely and stepped aside, allowing Blair in. The photographer stopped in the middle of the loft and looked around, peering through the darkened interior. Jim closed the door and reached for the light switch, but Blair stopped him.

"No, don't. The moonlight's nice."

He walked over to the balcony doors. "Wow...what a view," he complemented.

Jim swallowed, trying to find his voice. "How did you find me?" he finally asked, walking over to Blair.

Blair turned around. "I had a talk with Captain Banks."

Jim cocked his head, surprised. "You did? About what?"

"About you," Blair replied. "And about the Bowman case."

"Blair, please let me explain --"

Blair held up his hand. "Wait. Let me finish." He waited for Jim's nod before continuing. "I never realized how overwhelming the evidence against me was until Captain Banks spelled it out for me. You had every right to treat me like a suspect. He also told me you were upset as the evidence kept mounting, that you couldn't shake the feeling that I was innocent. And that it was you who insisted that Derek be investigated deeper, despite what the Homicide detectives said." Blair paused. "He also said that sleeping with me was not part of your assignment and that you had no intention of revealing what we'd done until Captain Walters forced you to."

"It's all true," Jim confirmed, mentally reminding himself to buy Simon a case of cigars for his help.

Blair nodded. "I know that. Now. But three weeks ago I was hurt...angry...feeling betrayed. I thought I'd given you my heart and gotten a lie in return. But now I know that's not true. I just needed these last few weeks to sort out all my feelings."

"And have you?" Jim asked quietly, his heart in his throat.

"I think my note said it all. I love you, Jim. But I think we need to start over with a clean slate. This time with the real you. That's who I want to get to know. No more secrets, no more lies. What do you think?"

Jim stepped forward and cupped Blair's face with his hands. "Hi," he whispered brokenly. "My name's Jim Ellison."

Blair choked back a sob and placed his hands on Jim's chest. "Blair Sandburg," he whispered back. "Nice to meet you."

Then they were moving, entwining themselves together, eyes sliding closed, lips meeting tenderly.

Knowing there was no need to rush, they indulged themselves in a series of long, sweet, heartfelt kisses that served not only as an apology, but spoke of promises of a new start.

Long moments later, as they parted slightly, Jim sighed happily and rested his forehead against Blair's. "There's so many things I want to tell you," he breathed.

"There's so many things I want to know," Blair answered with a smile as Jim lifted his head. "Starting with your Sentinel abilities. Have you given any more thought to me studying and writing about you?" he asked hopefully.

Jim sighed. "Blair, I'm not sure. I don't want every lowlife in town knowing I've got an edge. Especially one I can barely control."

"And now that I know you're a cop I can understand your reluctance. But Jim, think about it. You're a detective with hyperactive senses. You're a monster, man! A human crime lab with organic surveillance equipment!" Jim smiled at Blair's enthusiasm. "I wanna help you, Jim, at the same time helping myself. This is like a dream come true for me. What do you say?"

"What exactly would this entail?"

Blair smiled, knowing Jim was warming to the idea. "Basically the same kind of testing we were doing before, but now that I know what you really do, I'll want to observe you in the field, too. Think you can swing one of those civilian ride-along things?"

Jim looked thoughtful for a moment. "And this project would stay strictly confidential? You'll keep my name out of it?"

"I swear it, Jim."

"Then I say OK...partner."

Blair let out a whoop and clapped his hands together. "You won't regret this, Jim. I promise."

Jim chuckled. "I think I already am."

"So...partner, huh? Do I get a badge?" Blair joked.

"First I have to find a way to clear it with the Captain. And then you'll have to go through the Academy, just like any other cadet," Jim said smugly, patting Blair on the cheeks.

The young man backed up, a stricken expression on his face. "Cadet? Cadet? Wait a minute, man. I am not cutting my hair!"

Jim laughed and reached forward, snagging Blair around the waist and pulling him against his body.

"Are you kidding me?" Jim said, burying his hands in Blair's long curls. "No one will touch one hair on your gorgeous head. I won't let them."

"You have no idea how relieved I am to hear you say that," Blair stated, sagging against the bigger man.

They stood like that for long moments, wrapped in each other's arms, listening to the rain falling gently outside. Content. Happy. Knowing this is exactly where they were meant to be.

It was Jim who broke the silence. "My turn now. There's something I want to know."

"Mmm? What's that?"

Jim turned Blair around in his arms so that they were back to chest, facing the balcony doors. He wrapped his arms around the smaller man, Blair dropping his head back to rest on Jim's shoulder, Jim resting the side of his face on the top of Blair's head.

"Well," Jim started, "This Sentinel project sounds pretty intense. And you said you need to observe me. We've taken care of the daytime hours, with you riding with me at work. But what if something happens with one of my senses when you're not with me? Like at night or on the weekends? So I was thinking that maybe...you should move in with me. All in the interest of science, of course," he finished in a rush, trying unsuccessfully to hide a smile.

Blair grinned back, seeing Jim's smile in their reflection in the glass. "So this is for purely scientific reasons, then?"

"Oh, of course," Jim replied, mock seriously.

Blair turned back around in Jim's arms. "Then I accept your offer." He stretched up for a quick kiss, a sly expression on his face. "After all, there will be a chapter on the mating habits of a Sentinel."

***********

THE END

Thanks for reading! Comments are always appreciated. :-)

Barbara Nice-Miller

AgtSpooky@aol.com

 

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