"Right. Okay," Blair bent down and as he mopped up the floor, said,

"The reason I was asking about the question you used to ask Abbott the


"Sandburg, can it."

Blair straightened and chuckling, walked into the kitchen and tossed The paper towel into the trash.

"Get to the point," Jim added as Blair walked back over to him.

"Did you ask, 'Mr. Abbott, where were you when Henderson was killed?'

or did you ask, 'Mr. Abbott, where were you between the hours of seven and


Jim wracked his brain, then shook his head. "You're not making any sense. For a moment, I thought I knew where you were headed, but now, I'm lost. I asked where he was when Henderson was killed, as opposed to where he was between seven and nine. Which, I suspect, is what you thought I might have asked."

"Wrong. If we're right and Abbott killed Henderson, he killed him where?"

Jim shrugged and said, "It had to be at Abbott's home."

Blair's eyebrows rose in expectation. "And?"

"And?" Jim questioned, then his expression cleared and he snapped his fingers. "*And* Abbott told me he was at—home."

"Bingo. He didn't lie to you."

"Damn, I've missed you these last couple of weeks," Jim said without thinking. He moved quickly to the phone, picked it up and dialed Connor's cell.


"We're not going up to the ranger station. Meet Sandburg and I at the PD in thirty."

<<Ellison, I'm ten minutes from your place.>>

"Which means you're also ten minutes from the station." Jim hung up and faced Sandburg. "Come on, shake a leg. We have a rich, influential man to bring down."

As Jim moved to the door and grabbed their jackets, Blair shook a leg and said, "Gee, Simon will be so proud."




Connor looked from one man to the other, then said, "So how do we catch him? The victim was found in his car, miles from Abbott's home. And based on that, what makes you think Henderson was killed *at* Abbott's?"

Jim felt himself deflate. Damn the woman. He turned to Sandburg. "Oh, Chief? Hel-lo?"

Blair looked up from the full file on Henderson and smirked. He held Out a sheet of paper and as Jim took it, Blair said, "You guys do good work."

"Um, Chief? This is simply the report on the area where Henderson's vehicle was found. Forensics combed it thoroughly, as did yours truly, albeit days after the fact. Hikers paradise. No distinguishable footprints. No evidence worth a damn."

"The area where the car was found is less than two miles from a CTA stop, Jim."

Megan nodded her agreement, then said, "So what? Five bus lines run through that stop. Graves and Evans in Homicide ran pictures of their prime suspects *and* everyone Henderson worked with, by each driver on duty that night. No one was recognized."

Blair looked at her over the rim of his glasses. Jim smiled and said, "I'm thinking that neither proves nor disproves anything. Abbott would hardly be out and about following a murder in one of his Saville Row suits. We need to check out the bus stops near his home, Connor. Now."

"Okay, but I'm thinking you two are barking up the wrong tree."

She walked off as Blair mouthed "woof-woof."

Jim burst into laughter.



Fifteen minutes later, Connor walked over, perched on the edge of Jim's desk and said, "Well, you may be onto something, Ellison. CTA route number 12 goes from where Henderson was found to Fifth and Amberson. At that point, CTA route number 5 picks up and goes within three blocks of Abbott's estate. One transfer, that's all he'd have to make. The travel time would be less than forty minutes."

Blair looked up and smiled. "Cool."

"But that still doesn't prove Henderson was killed at—" Connor started to say, but Blair interrupted her.

"I'm thinking our intrepid gossip mongering reporter dug up something on Abbott. I'm thinking he confronted Abbott and Abbott killed him."

Megan's left eyebrow arched. "Oh, really, Sandy? And how did he do that in his home without Detective 'I can smell anything' Ellison catching it?"

In a gesture that politely suggested Megan keep it down, Blair waved His hand impatiently. "Geesh, Connor, advertise, why don'tcha?"

"Oh for heaven's sake, Sandy. We're practically alone. No one heard me."

"Just be more careful, okay?"

Connor patted his shoulder reassuringly. "Have no fear. Now, where were we?"

"*We* were just about to explain to *you* where Abbott killed  Henderson,  weren't we, Chief?"  Jim looked expectantly over at his partner.

"Yep. Abbott killed Henderson in the driveway of his home."

Jim turned to Connor and said, "See?"

"No," Connor said disbelievingly, "I don't see."

Crossing his arms over his chest, Jim said smugly, "Sandburg, explain It to her."

One eyebrow raised, Blair said sarcastically, "Sure, Jim. No problem.

Abbott walked Henderson out to his car and when Henderson climbed in,

Abbott shot him in just the manner suggested by Forensics. He went back

inside, changed, then came back outside. He slid the body over—"

Connor held up a hand. "Whoa, wait a minute. No blood on the other seat. Nothing to indicate he'd been moved."

"Henderson drove a classic, cherried out Ford Fairlane. One long bench seat in the front. All Abbott had to do was spread something over it, like one of those large trash bags or something. Anyway," Blair went  on, gathering speed in his excitement, "he slid the body over. Got  in, drove the guy to where he was found, then got out, pulled the body  back, grabbed whatever he'd used, then whistling, he walked the two miles to the bus stop. End of story."

Grinning, Jim said, "I like the whistling part, Chief."

They winked at each other, then Connor said, "So he just climbed onto a

bus, in a raincoat probably covered with blood, and carrying a trash

bag with blood—"

"Connor, I know you have more imagination than that. How would you have done it?" Blair asked.

"What do you mean?"

"If you'd shot Henderson in front of your home, how would you have gone about all of this?"

Realizing that Sandburg was serious, Megan gnawed on her lower lip, Then sighed and said, "I'd have two coats on. Just in case. And the trash bag, I'd have buried it or dumped it on the way to the bus stop, along with the extra coat."

Blair touched his nose. "He may not have had the crime planned, but Once Henderson was dead?"

Connor nodded excitedly, now completely caught up in Blair's scenario.

"So instead of the mountains, we go back to where Henderson's car was

found and walk the two miles, with our own personal houn—"

"Connor," Blair warned, "if your life means anything to you at all, say no more."

Megan made a zipping motion on her mouth. Groaning, Jim got up and headed toward the elevators. "Coming, guys?"

Connor and Sandburg scrambled after him.


It took ten minutes for Jim to find the bag and the raincoat. He was focused, paid attention to Sandburg's coaching and honed in on the evidence as if it were a buried Double Wonderburger with the works.  They dug it up, bagged it and the two detectives and one observer triumphantly returned to the station.

Jim turned everything over to Serena Chang with a plea that she hurry the results. She never even blinked, not with Sandburg standing behind the taller man and batting his lashes at her. With a smirk, she turned away, saying, "Sure thing, Detective Ellison. I'll call when I have anything."

Her smirk widened when she heard Ellison say, "See? That's how you handle Serena. Simon should take a lesson from me."

She wasn't surprised to hear Blair say, "Oh, yeah, right, Jim. You're a real charmer, you are."


The break room was empty so both Jim and Blair sank gratefully into the seats at the table, hot cups of coffee in both their hands. From the  time they'd left Forensics, they'd been pulling up every bit of information they could find on Abbott. So far, they'd come up empty-handed. Connor was currently holding up her end of the investigation by putting their ducks in a row and conducting an on-the-phone interview of Geoff Tallon.

"You know what we need to do, don't you?"

"No, but I'm betting you're going to tell me, Chief."

"We need to get me to Henderson's office, or better still, his home."

"Oddly enough, I was thinking the same thing. Everything we know about Henderson says that whatever he had on Abbott, he put into column form and it *has* to be on his computer. Which begs the question; why wasn't he killed long before now?"

"Good question. But since it's not about to be answered, why don't we check out his home?"

"After we finish this coffee."

"Well, duh."


Jim let them in and immediately moved to the balcony and opened the windows. Henderson's apartment hadn't been occupied in over a week and the musty smell was overwhelming Jim's senses. As he took a couple of deep breaths, he said, "His computer is in his bedroom."

Blair made a beeline for said room. He came out a few moments later and said in surprise, "Jim, where's his laptop?"

"What are you talking about? I saw his computer and there was no laptop."

"He has a docking station."

Puzzled, Jim followed Blair into the bedroom. The computer station took up one entire wall. The large, fancy computer Jim had first seen took stage left. The hard drive, the keyboard, the monitor, the speakers, everything was exactly where it should be. He saw nothing that looked like a *docking station*. Maybe Sandburg had been watching too many Star Trek reruns.

"Chief, I don't understand—"

Blair walked to a small on-wheels filing cabinet and pointed at a weird piece of black plastic and metal. "This is a docking station and it's hooked up to the monitor. You slide your laptop in here," he  indicated the opening, "Turn it on, and you're good to go. That's  why this second keyboard is here." He pulled out a shelf to reveal the second board. "This isn't dusty, Jim. The guy's laptop *was* here, he did use this thing."

Rubbing at his neck, Jim said, "This makes no sense, Chief. Why would a man have both in the same place?"

"Look at the other computer and keyboard, Jim. They look brand new and barely used. No worn off letters or numbers on the keyboard, no prints on the glare screen, nothing. I don't think he'd had the chance to actually used that one. And being a columnist, I bet he wrote wherever and whenever and on his favorite laptop. We just need to find it."



Their search of Henderson's apartment yielded absolutely nothing.  Unless you counted Henderson's collection of porn. Jim held up one magazine and crossed his eyes. "I don't think this position is even remotely possible, Chief. This has to be a manipulated photo."


Blair glanced up, then back down to the drawers he was checking out. "No, it's possible. Kind of erotic too."    "Chief, don't even try to tell me that you've done this—tried this or ever even *contemplated* this—"    "Okay, I won't."    "You have," Jim said with a mixture of disgust and admiration in his voice.

"You told me not to tell you—" Blair's voice trailed off as he lifted out a clear plastic box that held a large selection of slides. "Um, Jim?"

"Let's not jump to any conclusions, Chief. They're probably just shots of his—family. You know, nieces and nephews, that kind of thing."

As Jim spoke, Blair opened the box and held one of the slides up to the light. He blushed a bright crimson.

Jim focused, gasped, then plucked the slide *and* the box from Blair's fingers. "Well, I'll be damned," he said. 

"Jim, I don't think those are pictures of—Henderson's family."

Jim whistled low, then said, "I'd have to agree, Chief."

"Jim, Henderson was—was—I can't even come up with the right word."

Jim put the slide box back, since it wasn't really evidence, then Said, "Yeah, pervert just doesn't—cover it."

"I was thinking of something more—adventuresome, you know?"

Jim glanced over at his partner and shook his head helplessly.  "Sandburg, considering the color your face turned when you took a look at that slide, I've come to the conclusion that you're all talk, buster."

"Now that was a mean thing to say about anyone, Jim. I'm—insulted.  Really. Insulted. And let us not forget that when you looked, well, you did a fine job of mimicking a sheet. A white sheet."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"Did not."

"Did too."

Jim's eyes narrowed and he took a deep breath. "We have a laptop to find, Sandburg. Let's get cracking."

"Well, you did," Blair said petulantly.

Jim flipped him the bird.



Thoroughly dejected, they sat silently in Jim's truck. They'd searched both Henderson's apartment and his office and no laptop had been found.  Now they were parked in the underground garage of the PD, but neither man showed any inclination to get out and go up to Major Crime.

"Maybe a girlfriend, Chief?" Jim finally asked.

"The file says he had no current girlfriend."

"Oh." Suddenly Jim slapped his head. "What's wrong with me? He had it in his car, Chief. Abbott took it."

"Damn, you're right. Of course. Henderson took it everywhere—"

"Just like you do."

"Yep. So now what?"

"We hope Serena has something for us, then we take everything to

Simon, he takes it to the DA, who takes it to a judge—"

"Search warrant."



Serena looked up at one very depressed Jim Ellison and said sadly, "Sorry, Detective."

"That's it, Serena? That's all you've got for us?"

"I hope you weren't expecting your suspect to have his name stitched into the raincoat, Detective Ellison?" she said with a smile.

"That would have been helpful, yes."

"So the blood matching the victim isn't enough?"

"I could use a bit more, Serena," Jim said, looking hopeful.

Slowly Serena Chang brought her hand from behind her back. Dangling from her fingers was a plastic baggy. "How's this?"

Both Jim and Blair leaned forward to peer into the bag.

"It's a pin, Detective. Sons of Texas."

"Oh my God," Blair breathed out.


"Sons of Texas. Elite group of Republicans. Abbott was one of the founding members. His move from Austin to Cascade did nothing to lessen his involvement." Sparkling blue eyes looked up at Jim.  "We've got him, man. We have *so* got him."

"Tell me our guy wasn't stupid enough to have that pin in the lapel?"

Serena's grin widened. "No. I found it in the pocket, Detective Ellison. I suspect your perp checked the pockets, but as I nearly missed This little thing, well, I'm betting so did your guy."


"...so that's it, Sir."

Simon sat back in his chair and with a very satisfied grin, took out his celebratory cigar, sniffed it appreciatively, then said, "Good work, Jim, Connor."

Someone cleared their throat heavily. Without looking up, Simon said, "You too, Sandburg."

"Aw, shucks, Simon, no need to get all fuzzy with me or anything.  Just give me one of those macho pretend punches to the gut and I'll be happy."

Simon looked up from the love of his life long enough to say, "Jim, get him outta here."

"Yes, sir."

Jim and Connor rose, Jim with his fingers tugging at Blair's earlobe.

"Come on, Sandburg, we have a man to see."


Abbott had been so confident about getting away with the crime, he still had Henderson's laptop sitting in the middle of his desk. The owner and publisher of Cascade's leading gossip magazine took his arrest well.

"You don't really think I'll be convicted, do you, Detective?"

"As a matter of fact, Mr. Abbott, I do," Jim said as he cuffed the second richest man in Cascade.

"Then you think wrong, Detective. Henderson was scum. He was probably blackmailing half the influential people in the city. Henderson might have been the most read columnist in Cascade, but he was also the most hated. I'll walk, Detective."

Without another word, Jim turned him over to the squad car that had accompanied him, Sandburg and Connor to Abbott's home. As all three watched the blue and white disappear, Connor said quietly, "You know, I bet he does walk."

"With a jury of common folk? I don't think so, Megan," Blair posited.  "Juries aren't known for their sympathy when dealing with the rich and stupid," Blair finished.

"He's got a point, Connor. Abbott's going down."

After a few moments, the three started for Jim's truck.


"What do you call a partnership of three?" Megan asked happily as she climbed out of Jim's Ford, Blair sliding after her.

Tossing his keys up and catching them, Jim winked and said, "I believe that's a threesome, Connor. And who knew you could be that kinky?" The Aussie froze. She turned toward Ellison, eyes narrowed, lips twitching. "The two of you couldn't handle me, Ellison. I'm too much woman."

Blair walked confidently between the two sparring detectives and said easily, "Move it, people, short guy coming through, and actually, you two couldn't handle me. I'm too much of everything."

He kept going, leaving a stunned Jim and Megan in his wake.


Blair silently read the report back to himself, then satisfied, hit

print. Jim rose, picked up the papers as they shot off the laser

printer, stapled them, then walked over to Simon's office and knocked.

"Enter if you dare."

Jim quirked an eyebrow, but walked in.

"The report on Abbott, Sir?"

"Oh, good. Hand it over. And tell me this arrest is a lock."

Puzzled, Jim nodded. "It's a lock, Simon. Abbott's not even trying to hide it now. Why?"

"The Mayor, the Commissioner, you name them, I've been on the phone with every high mucky-muck in Cascade all morning."

Jim sat down in front of Simon's desk and as his boss poured him a cup of his newest brew, said, "They weren't really putting pressure on you to let him go, were they, Simon?"

Banks handed off the steaming mug as he shook his head. "No, just the opposite. They're all double checking that we've got him cold."

Jim gave a dry chuckle, then said, "Henderson might have been the prime gossip monger for the Whisper, but Abbott was the mover. I think fear might have been behind those calls, Simon."

"You have a point. How did the interrogation go?"

"It went for exactly three minutes before his lawyer, Nathan Biggs, showed up. All communication came to a grinding halt."

"Has Sandburg had any luck cracking Henderson's computer?"

"Not yet. He stopped long enough to write yet another science fiction novel on the tracking down of evidence by yours truly. But he's back on it now. He's good, he'll find what we need."

"I hope so, Jim. We might have physical evidence, but motive would look real good now. In fact, without it, all the physical evidence in the world—"


Jim cocked his head. "Sir, unless the Marines have just landed, I think that was—"

"Sandburg. Yeah, I noticed. Let's go."

Both scrambled up and tried to beat each other to the door. Jim, being closest, won. He got it open and as the two men entered the bullpen, they froze.

Blair was at his desk, Henderson's laptop opened in front of him. And he was cackling. Jim looked at Simon. Simon looked at Jim.

"Sir, I think he's broken the code of life."

"I'm thinking he just found Jimmy Hoffa."


"So that's it? That's his blackmail material?" Simon asked doubtfully.

Blair, eyes glued to the screen, nodded. "That's it, Simon.

"Uh, Sandburg? That's not very—um, people don't usually kill over something like being the owner of a company."  

Blair shook his head and rolled his eyes. Both Simon and Jim were sufficiently cowed. When Sandburg did both—it was not a good thing.

"Simon, do you know what Bullets, Inc. is?"

"Yeah, it's the name of the company Abbott owned, Sandburg. And while

the paper trail was tricky—"

"Bullets, Inc. is the primary mover and shaker in the entire Pacific Northwest for gay porn. Soft, hard, videos, magazines, you name it, Bullets, Inc. makes it."

Blair swiveled in his seat to look up at his partner. "Get it, Jim? The slides? The magazines? We had our hands on Henderson's evidence." With that, Blair sat back and crossed his arms over his chest, his  expression quite smug.  

Simon pinched the bridge of his nose. "Okay, running the largest gay Porn industry in the Pacific Northwest would be pretty damaging for the upright Abbott. His rag of a paper might have been about gossip, but it was about *righteous* gossip and putting the evildoers of Cascade in their places. But if it got out that he was manufacturing porn of any kind, yeah, that high moral ground of his would seem pretty shaky."

"That's a bit of an understatement, Simon," Jim observed with a satisfied grin.


"Not a bad day's work, Chief, not a bad day's work at all."

Blair glanced at his partner and smiled. They were in the truck, their day finally over. Abbott was in jail and bail had been denied. The man was toast.

"Yeah, Jim, not a bad day at all."

"And I'm proud to say—no zones."

"You noticed that, did you?"

"Is that sarcasm in your voice, Chief? That's so beneath you."

"Why, I don't know what you mean, Jim. How 'bout Italian for dinner?"

With narrowed eyes, Jim swung the trunk into traffic and headed for Michelina's Pizza Palace.


Pepperoni pizza didn't usually contain the answers to the mysteries Of life for Jim, but as he stared down at the slice in his hand—answers were indeed provided. Maybe it was the pattern of pepperoni?  Kind of like palm reading or the reading of bumps on one's head? Or maybe Jim was simply going crazy?

He could buy the latter. But until the men in white coats actually came for him, he'd be satisfied with the secrets revealed to him by the pepperoni. No, that wasn't right. The secrets were horrendous. It would be better if he *were* carted off to a padded room somewhere because the alternative was too shocking.

He'd zoned without Blair.

Blair had been the only one to bring him out.

The only one.

"Jim, you okay?"

If Blair were the only one, if Jim zoned *only* when Blair wasn't around—

"Jim? Man? You okay? Are we off in sentinel la-la land again?" then that meant—


"Well, at least you didn't zone. What the heck were you thinking about, man?"

Jim blinked a couple of times, then put his pizza down onto the plate.  Suddenly, he wasn't hungry anymore. At least not for pizza. Pepperoni pizza.

"I'm fine, Sandburg. I wasn't thinking about anything."

Blair looked doubtful as he said, "You were wearing a pretty  thoughtful expression, Jim. You also lost all the color in your face." Blair's voice lowered as he placed his hand over Jim's. "Come on, man,  talk to me."   Jim pulled his hand out from under Blair's as if he'd been burned. He then got so busy grappling in his pocket for his wallet, he failed to notice Blair's expression of shock and hurt.

"Look, I'm not hungry after all, Sandburg." He tossed a twenty and a five down onto the table, then said hurriedly, "Pay the man and have everything boxed up. I'll be in the truck." Without a backward glance, Jim was gone.


"Was there anything wrong with the food tonight, Blair?"

Blair tore his gaze from the entrance and looked into the concerned eyes of their host, Michelina. Waving his hand abstractly, Blair said, "No, no, Jim doesn't feel well, that's all. Can you," he twirled his finger over the table, "box this up for me, Mickey?"

"You got it, Blair."


Jim found that his hands were actually shaking. Shaking. Him. But hey, this was worth shaking over. The night cloaked Jim from the rest of the world as he sat in his truck and contemplated the truth he'd  finally found.

He needed Blair Sandburg.

No, that wasn't right either. He'd accepted that fact quite a while  ago.  He knew that he needed Blair's voice, his energy and intelligence,  his moving hands, his smile and scent, his cooking and laughter - his friendship. But to need Sandburg for his senses? To need the younger  man in order to be a sentinel? No fucking way. That was inconceivable.  Intolerable. Unfair.  

To Blair.

Jim dropped his head to the steering wheel and moaned softly. God, What did this really mean? Was Blair tied to him for as long as he was A sentinel? Forced to be by his side while Jim went around as the Sentinel of the Great City, arresting the bad guys and making the world safe for—Wonderburgers?

He pounded the dashboard and immediately regretted it as the pain raced through his hand, up his arm, to lodge finally at the base of his skull.

"He didn't sign up for this," Jim said softly to no one. "He's a scientist, he'll get his doctorate and make a name for himself. He can't be chained to me—he can't be chained to me."


By the time Blair opened the door of the truck, Jim had regained his self-control. As Blair hopped in, balancing the pizza box, Jim was able to start the engine without any telltale sign of his previous shakes. He backed out of the parking space, put the vehicle into drive and tore out of the lot.

Three blocks from the loft, Blair asked, "You gonna tell me what's wrong, Jim?"

"Nothing's wrong, Sandburg. Just lost my appetite, that's all."

"Huh-uh. I see. Just lost your appetite."

"Drop it, Sandburg."

With a shrug, Blair held up his hands. "Consider it dropped, man."

The remainder of the trip was made in silence, a silence which continued into the lobby, up three flights of stairs and finally, into the loft.

Blair put the box in the fridge, pretty certain that Jim wouldn't be eating any of the pizza that night. He pulled out a bottled water and as he twisted off the cap, he watched his partner.

"God, I hate it when you do that, Sandburg."

Blair cocked his head. "When I do what? Drink water? This I do badly?"

"I don't give a shit how you drink water, but it bothers the hell out of me when you watch me with that expression on your face."

Looking skeptical, Blair said, "We have eyes in the back of our head now, do we?"

Jim pointed at the windows. "Reflections, asshole."

"Isn't that a little like calling the kettle black, Jim?"


Truly confused, Jim twisted around until he could see the real thing.

"What?" he queried with a shake of his head. "What did you just say?"

"Calling me an asshole. Kettle black. Yadda-yadda."

Jim stood up. "You saying *I'm* an asshole?"

"Yeah. And a black kettle too." Blair punctuated the last part with a sharp, satisfied nod of his head.

"You know what your problem is, Sandburg?"


"You're—impossible to fight with. No one can have a decent discussion—you're too weird."

"Gee—thanks," Blair said brightly.

With a disgusted look on his face, Jim shook his head and started for the stairs. "I'm going to bed."



Blair watched Jim walk upstairs, his expression now as thoughtful as worried. Something was wrong, but he had no doubt that he'd get it out of Jim—sooner or later.


Sleep eluded Jim and he found himself tossing and turning as his brain kept shouting about chains and Sandburg being a prisoner of the Sentinel of the Great City. It was after one before Jim asked himself The important question: What would happen if he stopped being the Sentinel of the Great City? Would Blair be free then?

Okay, that was two questions. But hell, he was entitled.

Wasn't that the answer then? That he simply went back to being the  plain old, everyday detective of yore? Sure, why not? There'd be no  more sentinel sight (which had allowed him, so far, to catalogue over  ten shades of brown and five shades of red in Blair's hair). No more  sentinel scent (that could tell him when Blair was upset, or sick, or  mad). No more sentinel hearing (that could pick out Blair's voice from  miles away) or touch (that could distinguish a relaxed Sandburg from a  tense Sandburg, thanks to a guiding hand placed at the small of Blair's back).

No more enhanced taste buds (that knew when Sandburg was swapping tofu for cheese or eggs). No more dials or piggybacking or any other brilliantly conceived Sandburg techniques.

No more obfuscations explaining how they came about their evidence (Simon might be tickled pink about that), just good old detective work.

Blair would be free and Jim could go back to being—what he'd been before.


Jim threw back the covers and climbed out of bed. He should be thrilled that he'd come up with the answer to Blair's emancipation. So why wasn't he?

Because—Blair would—leave.

He'd be gone. No sentinel, no Blair.

Jim groaned.

The very thing that kept Blair in his life, was the thing that when gone, would take Blair out of it.

"But I have no choice," Jim said in the darkness of his room. And he was right. Blair's happiness came first. His freedom came first. After all, Blair had never signed on for life here.

Depression hit Jim then, hit him hard and deep. He reached over and took his robe from where it was hanging and quickly put it on. With a sadness deeper than any he'd ever experienced, he walked downstairs and over to the windows. Jim pushed them open, but remained just inside.

As he listened to his city, he tried to puzzle out the whole zone thing. There had to be a connection between the sentinel and his back-up, something that Blair had missed, or Burton hadn't known about.  A connection that tied the back-up to his or her sentinel forever.

Or until—the sentinel was no longer a sentinel.

It suddenly struck Jim that by doing away with his sentinel thing, and not telling Blair why—he might be, no, *was*, robbing Blair of some pretty important information for his dissertation.

Come to think of it—

No. Blair had said himself that he could have written a dozen dissertations by now. This wouldn't hurt his doctorate, and if one little piece of information was missing—well, what Blair didn't know existed, could hardly be missed.

Swell. Now Jim felt like a total slug. Lower than a slug.


Caught completely unaware, Jim whirled around and into Sandburg. He put out his arms to keep them both balanced and realized that Blair was wearing nothing but a tank top and his boxers. Jim's arms wound around the younger man to keep him upright and the warmth spread through Jim and damn, but he felt dizzy.

"Whoa, Jim, you okay?"

Jumping back, Jim nodded. "I'm fine. You just surprised me, that's all."

Blair scratched at the back of his head. "Gee, Jim, I can't remember the last time—no, wait, I've never surprised you. You're, like, you know, a sentinel."

"Thanks for the news bulletin, Winchell."

Blair's expression brightened. "Ooh, I get that. Walter Winchell."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Okay, what the hell are you doing up this late?"

"Um, Jim? *You* woke *me* up."

"I don't think so, Sandburg. I haven't made a sound."


"Jim, those sighs of yours could be heard by the Chopec in Peru, all right? Now, are you gonna tell me what's going on, or what? And don't try to buffalo me, I'm wise to you and always have been. Cough it up, Ellison."

"Nice speech, Chief."

Grinning and bouncing on his toes, Blair said, "It was, wasn't it?"

"You think you're good, don't you?"

Blair nodded, still grinning.

The moon came out from behind a cloud and bathed both men in its silvery glow. Jim could see the smiling face below him, but he could also see the stubbornness in Blair's eyes. For all their banter, Blair was serious and Jim wasn't fooling him one bit. But the truth—wasn't an option, was it?

"The truth, Jim."

How the hell did he do that?

Jim took a deep breath and not having a clue why, said, "I only zone when you're not around and you're the only one who can bring me out, Chief."

"Uh, Jim—"

"Don't you get it, Sandburg? It's some kind of sentinel thing and if I remain a sentinel, I can't do it without you. You're tied to me as long as I'm a sentinel. Or I should say, that as long as you stay, I can be a sentinel. You're trapped, Blair, unless I stop being a sentinel."

Blue eyes widened and Blair's mouth opened, then shut, then opened again.

Jim shook his head helplessly.

"Good impression of a Koi, Chief."

Blair snapped his mouth shut, then opened it to ask, "Jim, did you come up with that hypothesis all by yourself?"

"No, smartass, I brought in the United Nations. What do you think?"

"I think the United Nations is way smarter than you.  You *should* have roped them in on this, because then you'd come up with the right answer instead of this—crap."

"Crap? Did you just say *crap*?"

"Yes, Jim, I did. C-r-a-p. Crap."

"I'm about to make this grand sacrifice for *your* freedom and you call it crap!?"

Blair did a kind of double take, then said, "Sacrifice?"


"Yeah, s-a-c-r-i-f-i-c-e. Sacrifice. I'm about to give up being a sentinel so that you can have your freedom, asshole."

"Jim, you hate being a sentinel. Where exactly is the sacrifice?"

Jim lowered his head and mumbled something. Blair leaned in close and said, "Jim? Care to try that again?"

Almost defiantly, Jim lifted his head and stared at Blair as he said in a stronger voice, "I don't hate it."

"Do too."

"Don't. I—like—love—being a sentinel."


Blair's eyes narrowed as he tilted his head to give Jim a closer look."Oh, really? Since when?"


"Oh, good answer, Jim. Very detailed. However, just a few weeks ago—"

"Sandburg, we're straying from the original point here. Namely that I'm not going to continue being a sentinel if it means—"

"Jim, you zoned because I've been so busy at Rainier."

Jim shook his head and made a motion as if clearing his ears of water.

"Uh, Chief? I think I already said that."

"No, Jim. *You* said you zoned when I wasn't with you. Not the same thing at all."

"Chief, I'm standing here in my robe, you're wearing next to nothing, the lights are out, it's after two in the morning, what say we—"

"Get out the pizza?"



Blair smiled brilliantly, then headed for the kitchen while Jim turned on a light and took his seat on the couch. He had no idea where this was going, but he had no doubt that the journey would be good because Blair was leading the way. For the first time in hours, he felt—okay.

Blair returned with two paper plates, two beers and the pizza box. He set everything down on the coffee table and helped himself to a piece.  Jim did the same, then they both sat back and ate and drank in silence. Companionable silence.

When the box was empty and the beers gone, Blair said quietly, "And you zoned on—me, Jim."

Jim stared at his partner. Two revelations, both so totally out there.

"You're gonna have to explain yourself, Chief. First you say I zoned because you were at Rainier. You claim that's different from what I said, namely that I zone when you're not around. And now you tell me I zoned on you—when no matter what, we've both established that I zone when you're not—here."

"You zoned *because* I wasn't around. Remember how your emotions can guide your senses? Well, you were—missing me. The bouncing balls?  The soft sounds of the ice cream truck? My leather tie in your pocket And tasting my Veggieburger? This isn't a sentinel thing, it's a Jim thing."

"A Jim thing? You're saying that because I missed you, I zoned on anything that reminded me of you?"

Grinning smugly, Blair nodded. "Yep."

"Okay, smartypants, why are you the only one who can bring me out of a zone? If this isn't a sentinel thing, why couldn't Simon or Megan bring me out?"

"Jim, the answer is so simple. Come on, use that brilliant brain of yours. And smartypants? Mature, Jim, very mature."

"You know, the idea that I could miss *you* is—totally ludicrous."

Blair's right eyebrow simply rose. The smug expression stayed firmly in place.

"Okay, I give up. Why are you the only person who can bring me out of a zone?"

Blair leaned over until his face was inches from Jim's, then whispered, "Because—I'm the only person you wanted to bring you out."

Eyes fixed on Blair's mouth, Jim said, "Because you're the only one I *wanted* to bring me out?

"That's right, Jim. Because you wanted me to bring you out."

Unconsciously, Jim leaned in toward Blair. "Why would I want you to bring me out?"

"Gee, Jim, why *would* you want me to bring you out?" 

Blair really had beautiful lips, Jim thought. Really, really beautiful lips. What had they been talking about?

Oh, yeah. Zones. Reasons. Blair.

"So," Jim said softly, "I missed you, huh?"

"Yep. You missed me something terrible."

"So I zoned and remained zoned until you showed up, huh?"

"That's about it, Jim."

"Because I missed you?"


Their mouths were so close, Jim could feel the moisture on Blair's lips. "So while I was zoning because I was missing you, what were you doing?"

The beautiful mouth smiled. "Me? I was forced to look up things like Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy when faced with them on an exam."

"Chief, you teach Anthropology 101, not applied anthropology."

"I was subbing for Professor Klinzman, remember? That's *why* I've had to spend so much time at Rainier lately. Paybacks."

"So your point about Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy?"

"Jim, Jim, Jim. Classical Adlerian psychotherapy is characterized by a diplomatic, warm, empathic, and Socratic style of treatment. This climate embodies the qualities of respect and equality necessary for building a trusting, cooperative relationship. A full psychotherapy can be envisioned as a progression though twelve stages. These stages should be—"

Jim placed two fingers against the beautiful lips. "Chief? Your point?"

"I know Classical Adlerian psychotherapy like the back of my hand."

"Ah. So that means that you had to look it up--"

"Because I was missing you."

"Because you were missing me."

"I'd swear I just heard that somewhere," Blair said with a grin.

Jim smiled softly. "So while I was missing you—you were—"

"Missing you."

"I'm gonna assume this missing thing was beyond, say, brothers-in-arms?"

"Beyond simple partners?" Blair added mischievously.

"Beyond a deep and abiding friendship?"

"Way beyond, Jim. For instance, when I'm not around that superior ass of yours? I get downright cranky. Just ask all my students if I don't."

Jim wiggled his index finger between the small space that existed between them. "So this is a—physical—thing?"

"A lust thing," Blair said, his voice suddenly husky.

"A love thing," Jim added, his own voice going just as husky.

"Oh, yeah," Blair breathed out, "definitely a love thing. Maybe even—a great—love thing. Like, a one true love, forever thing. Maybe."

"Maybe?" Jim challenged, one eyebrow rising.

"Definitely a forever thing."

Jim slid his arm around Blair and pulled him over and the next thing Blair knew, he was straddling Jim's lap. Laughing, he said, "Oh, yeah, this is definitely a love forever thing. And," he glanced down between them, "a lust thing. A really, really big—lust thing."

Jim buried his face against Blair's neck and inhaled deeply. God, he loved being a sentinel. "You're the only one," he murmured into the sweet skin, "I want to bring me out of a zone, Chief."

Blair dropped his head down on top of Jim's and said softly, "But you'll let others bring you out, if I'm not around, right?"

Jim lifted his head and sighed as he gazed at the handsome face. "Do I have to, Chief?"

Blair cupped the beloved face between his hands and nodded. "Yeah, you do."

"Unless," Jim said, his eyes darkening with passion, "I'm really— horny."

"Okay, you can hold out until I get there—if you're really horny."

Jim nibbled at Blair's lower lip, then said, "Gee, thanks, Chief."

"You're welcome, Jim."




### The End ###