"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
"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
"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
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,
"Okay, but I'm thinking you
two are barking up the wrong tree."
She walked off as Blair mouthed
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.
"But that still doesn't
prove Henderson was killed at—" Connor started to say, but Blair
"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,
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,
"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
"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,
Connor and Sandburg scrambled
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
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
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
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
Blair made a beeline for said
room. He came out a few moments later and said in surprise, "Jim, where's
"What are you talking about?
I saw his computer and there was no laptop."
"He has a docking
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
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
"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
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
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,"
"Jim, I don't think those
are pictures of—Henderson's family."
Jim whistled low, then said,
"I'd have to agree, Chief."
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
"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."
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
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
"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—"
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
"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.
Both Jim and Blair leaned forward
to peer into the bag.
"It's a pin, Detective. Sons
"Oh my God," Blair
"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
"...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."
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
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
"The report on Abbott,
"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,
"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
"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
"I hope so, Jim. We might
have physical evidence, but motive would
Jim cocked his head. "Sir,
unless the Marines have just landed, I
"Sandburg. Yeah, I noticed.
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"And I'm proud to say—no
"You noticed that, did
"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
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?"
"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,
"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.
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
"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
"God, I hate it when you do
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.
"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
"You know what your problem
fight with. No one can have a decent discussion—you're too weird."
With a disgusted look on his
face, Jim shook his head and started for the stairs. "I'm going to
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
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?
He'd be gone. No sentinel, no
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
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
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
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*
"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,
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."
"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,
Blair snapped his mouth shut,
then opened it to ask, "Jim, did you come up with that hypothesis all by
"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
"Yes, Jim, I did. C-r-a-p.
"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?"
Sacrifice. I'm about to give up being a sentinel so that you can have your
"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
Almost defiantly, Jim lifted his
head and stared at Blair as he said in a stronger voice, "I don't hate
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
"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,
"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
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.
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.
"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
"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
"So your point about
Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy?"
"Jim, Jim, Jim. Classical
Adlerian psychotherapy is characterized by a
Jim placed two fingers against
the beautiful lips. "Chief? Your
"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
"I'd swear I just heard that
somewhere," Blair said with a grin.
Jim smiled softly. "So while
I was missing you—you were—"
"I'm gonna assume this
missing thing was beyond, say, brothers-in-arms?"
partners?" Blair added mischievously.
"Beyond a deep and abiding
"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 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."
challenged, one eyebrow rising.
"Definitely a forever
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
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 ###