Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. I use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.

Spoilers: Sentinel, Too (minor)

Author's Notes: In answer to DawnC's challenge on the SentinelAngst List to finish the story she started with the first three paragraphs hereof.


Matchless
by
Ismaro

ligela@sympatico.ca

 

"Sandburg!" Jim's voice boomed through the bullpen.

Blair, perched at the edge of Brown's desk, stopped his conversation with the detective and looked up. "Hey, J—" His greeting faded when he saw the unrestrained rage on the Sentinel's face.

"YOU SON OF A BITCH!" In three long strides, Jim closed the difference between them, pulling his arm back as he delivered a powerful blow to Blair's jaw.

They had to pull him off Sandburg before he killed him. As it was, he left his best friend, Guide and Shaman lying broken and bloody on the floor by his desk, covered with report forms readied by the injured man for his signature. An act of love by a Guide for his Sentinel.

"Call an ambulance!" Simon shouted needlessly. Rhonda had gotten there before him, and even as the Captain of Major Crimes realized that it was his best team, and they the best of friends, that had formed the violent spectacle of the day, EMT's were charging through the department door.

Jim was actually foaming at the mouth, being held back from attacking Sandburg again only by Megan at the collar, Brown around the waist, and Rafe at the knees.

The EMTs apparently decided he was in good hands, and they hastened to the aid of Blair Sandburg, groaning and only semi-conscious on the ground.

"We need to get him to a hospital," said one of them, a chunky black woman in her thirties with the nametag 'Brogan', who was feeling along the sides of the battered rib cage. "He may have internal injuries." Her partner was tending the facial cuts and bruises, checking the arms for breaks to bones held up to deflect the big man's fists from the smaller one's face. The skinny blond kid in the uniform that looked too big for him, Wittinger, reported into his shoulder microphone, "Possible internal injuries, could be a concussion. Readying for transport."

They gave Ellison a glance and the other detectives made rapid assurances that he was uninjured and they would 'take care' of him.

It wasn't said nicely.

Simon Banks was torn. He could either accompany Blair to the hospital and show his support for the man who was an unpaid, unofficial, and mostly unrecognized member of his staff; or he could stay behind and determine what should be done about one James Joseph Ellison, hitherto Simon's own best friend, and the very official Officer of the Year.

He made the only choice he could, the only choice open to a man in his position. He sent Rafe and Megan to the hospital with Blair, and between himself and Henri Brown, manhandled the steadily cooling Ellison into the Captain's office.

"Give me your shield and your gun NOW, Detective," Banks yelled into sensitive ears.

Jim winced, then a glazed look entered his eyes. He fell where he was as his legs gave way, and Brown just barely manoeuvred him into a chair before he hit the ground. Jim sat sprawled, breathing shallowly, licking at the remains of the foam dried upon his lips.

H delivered the gun and the badge to his Captain.

Then both men surveyed Jim Ellison from a distance, wondering with all their intellect what could have driven a man so full of honour and decency to beat his best friend nearly unconscious. A best friend whom he protected as thoroughly and completely as a lioness with one cub from the risks of riding with the premier detective of Major Crimes.

Apparently there was one risk from which Jim Ellison could not protect Blair Sandburg.

Simon moved closer, peering into Jim's eyes. The man was nearly passing out before him. Briskly he batted Jim's cheek, first the one side, then the other, and again, and again. "Come on, Jim! Come out of it! Come on! Come on!"

Ellison shook himself like a prizefighter leveled and down for an eight count. Then he looked up at Banks, over to Brown and down to his own grazed knuckles.

He blanched whiter than whitefish. "Blair," Jim choked out hoarsely. "Where's Blair? Gotta find him! There's trouble, some, some kind of trouble, Simon!" He reeled as he started up out of the chair, and was pushed back into it by Brown, firmly but not ungently.

"Leave him to me," Banks said, jutting his chin towards the door to his office.

H looked down at Ellison. "Uh, Captain? How do you want to handle this?" He seemed to be at a total loss.

"I'll let you know," Banks said, almost in a whisper. God knew he had no idea how to handle something like this. He was watching Jim Ellison's hurt and baffled eyes, bleeding his soul from their sockets, when Henri left. "Great God Almighty, Jim, what came over you?"

"Simon?" The question was honest and tortured. "What, oh, God, what did I do? Where's Blair?" Jim was enough himself again to leap forward from the chair and pound his damaged fist on the Captain's desk. "Where's Blair?" he screamed in primal fear.

"Shh, hold it, Blair's in the hospital..."

"Gotta get to him, Simon, he's not safe there, gotta..."

"Jim, Jim, JIM!"

He managed to attract the sentinel's attention with the last yell, sensitive ears having already been assaulted by that thunderous voice.

"Simon?"

The small plea for information was so pitiful that Simon Banks had to clear his throat before he answered. "Sit down, Jim."

Ellison lapsed back into his chair and, drawn and shaky, waited for the sentence to be passed.

Simon sat as well. He was speaking to the Jim Ellison he knew, the Jim Ellison who was Blair Sandburg's Blessed Protector. He didn't know if he could actually stand on his own two feet when he broke Jim's heart for him.

"Blair arrived before you, straight from the U., I think," Simon started slowly.

Jim's mouth hung down, lines of worry and doubt criss-crossing his face when he nodded.

"You came in about half an hour later, and, well..."

"Simon," said the Sentinel quietly. "Just tell me."

Simon looked up from his cigar, which was not at all as interesting as he had been pretending it was. Looking straight into his closest friend's face, he just told him. "You shot in like a bat out of hell and went for him, Jim. He didn't put up much of a fight."

"He wouldn't," Jim acknowledged sadly. "He couldn't, either."

Simon Banks looked at the ex-Ranger with the body of a professional weightlifter and sighed. "We called the EMT's and they transported him to hospital." He went back to investigating his cigar.

"How bad was it?" Jim's voice was soft with sorrow.

Simon's head came up sharply. "He's gonna live, Jim!"

"Oh, thank God!" A tremulous wind filled the room. "What damage did I do, then?"

"Some solid punches to the face and upper body. You played fair."

"Fair? FAIR?"

Ellison was about to rocket out of his chair, but Banks beat him to it.

"SIT DOWN, DETECTIVE!"

And again the commanding tone and Ellison's own discipline turned the tide. Jim sat down.

"They'll check him out for broken ribs and concussion."

Jim nodded, his gaze never wavering from his Captain's eyes.

"What the hell brought this on, Jim?" Simon asked at last.

"Damned if I know, sir," Jim answered dejectedly, and he hung his head in his hands and wept.


Over an hour later, Blair was in the E.R. waiting area of Cascade General, Megan and Rafe flanking him, and still unattended by any medical personnel, when his partner arrived with Simon Banks. It had taken that long for Jim Ellison to persuade his boss to trust him around Sandburg.

The Guide's first glance at Jim made him blink rapidly and try again. No, despite his swollen right eye and the pounding headache, Blair realized, he was right the first time. Jim had his shoulders drawn back oddly and his jacket was hung loosely across his shoulders.

God damn, son of a bitch, Jim had been cuffed behind his back!

"No, no, no," Blair started as he rose to his height, only to find balancing as he stood up so quickly to be out of his capacity. He half-fell back and pushed up off the arms of the chair to a steadier position, his feet well apart.

Megan and Rafe, on either side, reached out to help him stand, but he shrugged off their hands and their words as well. All his concern was for his partner and best friend.

"Simon," he hissed, heedless of the stares of the other patients waiting for medical aid, "turn him loose! Now!"

But Jim it was who answered. "Uh-uh, Chief. This is for your own good." He managed a turning up of his lips as he began to cross the long room toward his partner.

Simon grabbed him when the steps became hurried and the snarl broke from Jim's lips. Megan and Rafe upped and pushed Jim back to the opposite wall.

Blair stared, as unbelieving as when Jim had first attacked him in the bullpen.

But back against the wall, Jim was once again himself. He shook his head to clear it, and looked around at his three captors. "I'm okay. I'm okay."

Simon said, "I don't *think* so," and tightened his grip on his detective's arms. Megan and Rafe held firm.

"No, really, I'm okay," Jim said again, and went on to prove it. "There's some kind of—limit to this, you know, some kind of boundary that I can't cross without freaking, but I'm okay here. I'm okay, Chief!" He raised his voice at the last, and the other detectives evaluated the sincerity of their colleague's assurance in his voice, his face, his muscle tone. As he relaxed, they did too.

But Simon never let go entirely.

Finally, Blair became aware that they were not alone. He sat back down, looked around surreptitiously, and spoke into his hand as if coughing, only loud enough for the Sentinel to pick up.

"Jim?"

A nod acknowledged that Jim could hear him.

"Um, is it like there's a limit of some kind? You get just so far and then totally lose it?"

Jim smiled with appreciation. Damn, but his partner was good! He nodded again.

"Okay, I want to find out the limit. Ask them to walk you forward, and you be on the look out for any kind of attitude change. Not when it happens—they'll do that—but how it feels, what triggers it, 'kay?"

Jim scowled forbiddingly and shook his head.

"Look, man," the Guide replied, "I am not willing to just let this ride—"

Jim nodded forcefully then shook his head, apparently not knowing how to signify his agreement to this.

"—And I am not willing to become your punching bag whenever the mood hits you."

Jim swallowed hard and nodded again.

"If you expect me to do anything other than move out of the loft permanently tonight, man, we're gonna do tests, Jim. Starting now." There was no room for mistake in this pronouncement of Jim Ellison's future. The Guide had spoken.

Jim looked up at Simon. "Walk me forward. Step by step. Stop me at the first sign of any kind of change."

Simon looked from Jim to Blair, and found the injured man waving a curled hand: Come on!

"Okay," the captain of Major Crimes announced to Detectives Conner and Van Rijn. "We're gonna take it slow and easy, and stop at the first sign of trouble, but we're gonna walk Jim as close to Blair as he can get."

"Captain," Rafe started in outrage, although Megan was looking from Jim to Blair with a considering gaze.

"Detective, I didn't ask for your advice on this!" Simon snapped as if he had any idea whether or not the plan cooked up by Sentinel and Guide was safe for all concerned. He wished heartily for a cigar, a nice Cuban, all rolled up in a slick metal tube, way too expensive for his pocketbook, then brought himself back to the present. "Jim, you ready?"

"Yeah."

So Ellison started to pace off the steps, his captain at his side, Rafe slightly in front and Megan behind. Slow and easy.

Until he got within ten feet of Blair Sandburg and then there was a wrestling match UPN would have been proud to air. Jim nearly won.

When he was back against the wall again, and the other three heaving with relief, Jim's horrified gaze fell on his Guide's features.

"I'm cool, I'm cool. We're good, we're good," Sandburg said, hasty with nervousness. "Um, guys?" Now it was the Guide raising his voice to his friends. "Can someone help me out here? I don't think I wanna spend the whole afternoon in this place."

Simon made absolutely sure of Jim's peaceableness and then went immediately to the police observer's side. Megan and Rafe settled—well, manhandled—Jim into a chair and settled themselves on either side. Megan pulled up his jacket where it had slipped off Jim's shoulders. He gave her a tired smile, then put his head down, unable to meet the eyes of anyone else, including his Guide.

"Sandburg, are you crazy?" Banks whispered noisily. "This isn't safe!" He felt an unnerving desire to swat the unofficial member of his best team. It wasn't the first time he had felt that way, but it was the first time he had felt it when Blair was hors de combat.

But Blair Sandburg was smiling into his eyes, and when Blair smiled at someone with that wholesale affection shining in his smile, there was little else to do but smile back. Simon Banks loosened up without knowing it.

"It's okay, Simon," Sandburg said. "It's safe. Jim's over there and I'm over here and it's safe, and we're gonna make it entirely safe before suppertime."

Simon looked skeptical. It was an expression he had had much opportunity to perfect since Blair Sandburg had gotten his ride-along credentials. "Really," he returned with sarcasm dripping from both over-pronounced syllables. "I find that hard to believe somehow."

"Hey, believe it, Simon!" Blair shot a sidelong smile of affection at his partner, who somehow knew it was time to raise his head and caught the fondness in his best friend's face. Jim too relaxed under the Blair Sandburg seal of approval, but he heaved a heavy sigh of compunction as he did so. "I am gonna have to crash at your place unless and until we've got this thing licked!"

Banks almost laughed. "We can't have that now, can we?" he declared. "Done by suppertime?"

"Yeah, and it's Jim's turn to cook so you're invited to stay. Megan and Rafe too."

"I doubt Jim is gonna have time to cook."

"That's what credit cards are for, man!" Blair mustered a chuckle. "And it's gonna be Jim's turn to cook forever, y'know?"

Simon Banks dropped a careful hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "You need a little help, huh, son?"

Blair's eyes took on the puppy-dog cast as he became cognizant of pain again. "Uh, yeah, a little, I guess, Simon."

The captain of Major Crimes had the E.R. dancing to his tune instantly. Blair soon found himself being poked and prodded and ow-ing at every turn, but the final diagnosis was simple enough. He had major bruises and contusions spattering his upper body, and a sprained left wrist, plus a case of bruised ribs. An X-ray, somehow taken and read and interpreted within the space of twenty minutes, confirmed that all Blair really needed was bandaging around his midsection and lower left arm and hand.

Ten minutes later they were on their way out.

Banks drove Blair in his own car, while Megan and Rafe (who had had to be talked into doing it by Simon, Megan and Jim while Blair nodded and shooed from the other side of the room) took Jim in the squad car in which they had brought Blair to CGH.

Their destination: the loft.

Simon and Blair entered first, and Blair decided the safest and easiest thing to do would be to hide in his room until Jim could be brought in and led up the stairs to the landing outside his own bedroom.

As the manoeuvre was completed and Blair emerged without Jim going berserk, Simon decided he could afford a little slack in the surroundings where he, Jim and Blair were most comfortable. "Rafe," he barked, "you're off duty. Take the car back to the precinct and sign out for the day."

"But, what..." the young detective spluttered. "Blair... Jim..."

"We can handle it from here," his captain assured him. "Right now, we have too many people in this enclosed space."

The young man looked around the spacious loft and peered in incomprehension at his superior officer. "Huh?" he said intelligently.

Megan was there, ushering her co-worker out. "Yeah, mate. We can handle it from here," she echoed Simon's words. "Jim and Sandy just have some... issues to work out. That's all."

As Rafe van Rijn left and Megan regained the flight of stairs, Jim caught the whole of the younger detective's parting, sotto voce spiel on that version of the battering Blair had taken at his hands. If it had been anyone else, he would have laughed out loud. But just then, Jim felt like crying.

Megan recognized the crumpling of the Sentinel's body as some of the adrenaline of facing the unknown wore off. "Here, let's sit down," she suggested, lending two hands to the cuffed man as he teetered. "This is a Sentinel thing, right?"

Jim dropped hard to the top step. "Yeah, it's a Sentinel thing," he confirmed.

Blair made his presence known again. "Okay, Jim, I need you to tell me about when you went out of control."

"I just—I just went out of control," his best friend answered helplessly. Blue eyes scanned blue eyes and Blair Sandburg heard the note of fear in his Sentinel's voice. "I just went out of control."

It was Jim Ellison's greatest fear come to pass. His pain was almost tangible.

"Okay, that's fine, we understand that," the Guide soothed his Sentinel's rattled nerves with his honeyed voice, "you *were* out of control but you're *in control* *now*."

Jim closed his eyes for a long moment and then opened them with new confidence. His Guide's utter faith in his abilities and his character always worked magic with the Sentinel of the Great City of Cascade. "I'm in control now," he affirmed. "What's next?"

The note of relish in Blair's next remark had Megan and Simon exchanging unspoken remarks about the sanity of one Blair Sandburg. "We're gonna do tests, man! We're gonna do tests!"

But it raised a hint of a grin in Jim Ellison's features, and he replied, "Okay, Chief, bring 'em on."

A pair of dining room chairs served to seat Blair and Simon at the foot of the staircase, while Megan and Jim were cosied side by side at the top. Blair sent nods of acknowledgement to all three of the others, and took charge of the operation.

"Jim, we're gonna have to do one of the meditation exercises to bring back your recall on this, 'kay?"

"Okay, Chief."

"Simon, I want the cuffs removed."

"Sandburg, you are certifiably crazy!", "No way, Chief!" and "Sandy? You nuts or what?" collided in mid-air.

"He can't relax properly in that position. I want the cuffs removed. Now."

Simon glared at the observer as if it were he who had beaten himself up. Then he swore a stream of curses that did bring a lift to Jim's lips, and tossed the key up the stairs to Megan who caught it smartly and freed the Sentinel's hands.

Jim shook his arms a little and tried to look normal.

Blair knew better. "It's okay, Jim. This is gonna work. I promise."

Jim began to roll his shoulders, relieving the tension of hours, unaware of his own movement. "You promise? Is this like the 'I'll do the laundry later tonight' promise of yesterday or the 'I'll get to bed as soon as I finish marking the exams, no later than three' promise of the day before, or..."

"I promise, Jim." Again there was that note of finality that somehow managed to end all debate with the Guide.

Jim shook himself all over like a wet dog and acquiesced. "What do you want me to do?"

"Okay, everyone get comfortable." At Simon's long-suffering sigh, Blair amended that directive. "As comfortable as possible."

Simon and Megan fell into poses of deep interest. Though they were the only keepers of the secret of fate which Jim and Blair shared, neither one had seen the Guide and Sentinel interact in this way, Blair clearly in charge, Jim clearly trusting himself to the will of his partner. Fascination held them frozen.

Then Blair talked Jim through the process of meditation and drew his attention to the attack at the bullpen. "So how far away were you from me before you freaked?"

"About twenty, twenty or so, feet," Jim said haltingly. "I don't have an exact memory. It's like I'd been whacked with a pile driver. No exact details, kind of."

"How did you feel when you hit that twenty foot limit?"

"There, there was trouble, big trouble, I didn't know what it came from, but I knew there was real trouble, and I wanted to protect you, and I couldn't and I was scared for you and then Blam! I recognize that the trouble *is* you and I lose it." Jim's voice got higher and higher, faster and faster, as he went along.

"Okay, okay, relax," Blair crooned softly. The change in the tense of Jim's recitation had not gone unnoticed. "This is a memory, you're not living it, you're in control now."

Ellison swivelled his head on his neck. "I'm in control now. Okay. I'm in control."

Blair nodded, but only Simon and Megan saw him. Jim was looking into his own heart.

"Okay, how did you know there was trouble, Jim?"

"I could—sense it."

All three of his hearers were bobbing their chins at this. They were alone in their knowledge of Jim's hyper-acuities, and they understood what others would not.

"Which sense, Jim?"

"Don't know, Chief. Everything just went off, all the alarms, too fast to recognize."

"All right, how about at the hospital? You remember anything? The first time? The second time?"

But all of Jim's answers were in the negative.

"Okay, then we're gonna have to test it here."

Jim's lids flew open, Simon reached out as if to keep Blair from moving towards his Sentinel and Megan spouted, "No, no way, boyo", but whether to Blair or Jim she could not have said.

Sandburg would not be moved. "We're gonna test it here. That's how it is. If we don't get a handle on this now, there isn't gonna be a tomorrow for us."

A spark of horror darkened the eyes of all the listeners.

"I wanna be cuffed," Jim growled, lowering at his partner. "No way unless I'm cuffed."

Blair looked searchingly into the Sentinel's face. He paused, and gave way. "One hand, cuffed to the railing."

Everyone looked at the rail beside Jim's torso, considering whether it would hold.

"Not strong enough," Simon started, but Blair cut him off.

"Strong enough to give you guys time to subdue him and me to get away, and I don't think we're gonna have anything that dramatic happen. I don't do pain well." There was humour in his tone. "I do not want to go through a repeat of lunchtime. It's not gonna happen."

The three members of Major Crimes checked each other for the reliability of Blair's assurance, and all three turned to blink at the Guide. He raised his eyebrows at them. "What?"

The mutters that inquiry drew could hardly be called speech. They were more like primal babbling.

"Get with the program," Blair exhorted the others. "I haven't had lunch and it's almost suppertime and I'm hungry and it's Jim's turn to cook."

Jim was surprised. "I cooked yesterday!" He sounded abused.

"Remember who's in charge here, Jimbo!" Blair shot back. "You'll cook until I get tired of your cooking and I have to do it for myself!"

It wasn't very funny, but suddenly everyone started laughing, and a surge of relief rattled the windows of the loft. When it was over, Jim held out his left hand for Megan to cuff, then fitted the other armhold to the railing himself. "Ready when you are, Chief," he called down the stairs.

"Okay, then. Step by step. You pay attention, Jim. You guys, too. The first sign of change, you tell me!"

He got halfway up the staircase before Megan yelled and Simon bellowed and Jim roared, and he fell back three steps immediately.

"Okay, okay, I'm good." There might have been a flutter in the Guide's words but there was none in his courage. "Who noticed what when?"

Megan and Simon earned the honours. They had both seen Jim's body language change before he himself noticed any conscious response. "Sixth step from the bottom," they chimed.

Blair returned to his chair. Jim was breathing hard, chanting, "I'm in control, I'm in control."

When the Sentinel had calmed himself, the Guide took the lead again.

"Twenty feet at the office, ten at the hospital, about seven here, but maybe a little less, we should rectify for height differences," Blair mused out loud. He took the temperature all around. "It's something that wears off. Or something Jim becomes accustomed to quickly. I'd think it's something that wears off, myself. You don't get conditioned that fast to something that violent."

Jim cringed at the last word, and only he could hear Blair's "Sorry, Jim, sorry, sorry."

"It's okay, Chief. I know it was violent."

"So how does that sound to the rest of you?" Blair asked.

Simon looked astonished. "You're asking *me*?"

"Yeah, why not?" Blair was full of curiosity.

"I didn't know we got to speak," Simon confessed.

"Well," Blair said agreeably, "you didn't before but you do now." He held his hands out. "Whaddya think?"

"Sounds sensible, pardon the pun," Megan allowed.

Jim drew a chestful of air and let it out on a long sighing, "Yeah."

Simon just went for his cigar case. Blair and Jim sent missiles in his direction and Simon put it back in his pocket. "A guy can wish," he said longingly.

"Okay, back to theorizing." Sandburg was bent forward in his chair, leaning towards his best friend again, looking into Jim's face fixedly. "It's something that wears off. We're not in contact, so forget touch. We're face to face and it doesn't make any sense that this is something that depends on visual distance, right?"

Jim agreed silently.

"Taste is obviously out. Have there been any changes in my voice as I get closer to you?" Blair pondered of Jim.

"Huh-uh, Chief." There was an abrupt fondness on Jim's face, and Simon and Megan tumbled to it that Blair was speaking of emotional nuances rather than timbre or tone.

"Okay, what's left?"

"Scent."

"Smell."

"I hate the Socratic teaching method. Smell."

Blair glared at Captain Banks. "Get over it." He turned back to the class. "Smell. You are picking up some odour of some kind on me."

The next few minutes saw three people watch the cogs working in the fourth's head. Then Blair's focus took in the room and its contents again and he smiled.

Jim looked scared.

"What is it, mate?" Megan asked.

"I know that smile."

Simon just dropped his head into his chest and whistled something atonal.

"Connor? He's gonna do more tests."

Jim sounded so forlorn that everyone burst out laughing again, with the exception of Jim Ellison himself. "Okay, be like that," he grumbled. "I *am* doing the cooking tonight."

"Your credit card is doing the cooking tonight," Simon corrected him.

Jim looked askance at him.

"Blair said so!" Simon justified his statement.

Jim replied gustily. Blair said it and so it was. The credit card was doing the cooking tonight.

"What's the test this time, chum?" Megan wanted to know.

"I'm gonna shower," Blair announced, "and get this scent off me if I can, and then we'll see."

"You have a plan?" Jim was still alarmed.

"Always."

"Like hell," his best friend scoffed. "You make it up as you go along! You're always doing this to me. Why do you do this to me?" A plaintive wail lingered on.

"Because it's fun."

Everyone was laughing again and Blair wore satisfaction like a robe on his way into the bathroom, leaving Megan to uncuff Jim again.

Of course, Blair needed help in the shower, and of course Simon had to provide it, and of course, each man wished that Connor could have served the purpose instead, and of course, Conner snickered through the whole thing, and of course Jim didn't, and of course none of it made any difference as Blair shouted out for Jim to stake a claim on the couch and Jim shouted out for Blair to take his pain meds and Simon shouted out nothing of any importance whatsoever.

Then the three members of Major Crimes were seated around the conversation pit of the loft, unwanted furniture pushed aside, as Blair waited by the door, behind his partner, out of visual range.

"Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"I want you to turn down the dial on smell. Okay? Bring it down to 1. Don't turn it off. I think it would be a mistake to turn it off."

"Why?" someone asked.

"He'll be hearing me but not seeing or smelling me. Maybe picking up heat patterns, do you do that, Jim?"

"Only if I make a conscious effort."

"Okay, then I don't want to limit your sense capabilities to one sense only. And I don't want you too focussed either. No zoning allowed. You need to be able to scent me too, even if it's a really faint trace."

"Gotcha, Chief."

And Sandburg wandered in slowly, wearing only a kilt of towelling fastened with a velcro strip.

"Jim? You picking me up on scent?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Just asking. I'm gonna have to get close up." The Guide had paused a few feet behind the couch. "You ready?"

"As I'll ever be," Jim returned.

Simon and Megan were beside Jim and on the sofa next to him, both filled with grim determination.

"Then here I come." Blair rounded the couch, passed Simon and came to stand immediately in front of his partner.

Jim looked up at his Guide. "Nothing." Jim broke out into a beaming grin. "Nothing. I don't feel a thing!"

Blair sent that smile of approval back and Jim's grin grew even wider. "Good, good. That's great. That's really great!"

Jim sat back, spreading out on the couch, his limbs free and his body easy for the first time since the assault took place. "Okay, what now?"

"Now we turn the dial up slowly to normal. You can do that without worrying, I'm pretty sure, but you have to keep a watch out anyway, 'kay?"

Everyone nodded at the Guide. He started the coaxing, and Jim slowly rose to the middle range of his sense of smell without incident. Blair stopped and they all looked at him again.

The teacher was in his domain. "Now, we're gonna have to focus on how I smell to you normally."

"What?" Jim's disbelief resounded in the chambers of the other's hearts.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, man, it'll work. It's for comparison purposes. It's the control group, kinda."

Jim ran a hand over his face. "Okay, then."

"I mean, Jim, do you really consciously think about how I smell?" Blair persisted, without anyone else in the room wanting the answer but not caring a hang for them.

"No, Chief, I have to say I don't."

"Okay, then. Just do it." The teacher was getting a trifle impatient with the student body. "You know the drill."

Jim did, and he did it all. He tuned out all visual input except for the sight of his partner, dimmed the sense of hearing, and upped the sense of smell.

"C'mere, Chief," the Sentinel said at last.

"Where, here?"

"Close enough to touch."

Blair moved up close enough for their knees to knock together and squatted down.

Jim lifted Blair's wet curls, drawing the locks up and sniffing them at the ends. Blair looked excruciated. Megan choked back a laugh.

Then the investigation got even more close up and personal and Blair's breath, sweat glands and other interesting areas were monitored. (Jim made allowances for the towelling.)

"Feet, Chief."

"You're joking, right?" Blair was certain Jim was getting back at him for the dinner ploy.

"No!" The stern look on his Sentinel's face might have given the others reason to shrink away, but Blair just appeared martyred and sat back on his haunches and elbows. "Feet," he mumbled, and lifted one foot after the other, his small grunt of achiness lost in the pinpointing of the last area of memorization.

"I'm done," Jim announced and Blair let out a draft of windy impatience, readjusting his body to a less troublesome position.

"Great, terrific, what do I smell like?"

"Jeez, Blair!"

Both men were so into the testing that they missed the fact that it was providing entertainment for the masses.

"I have to know, you have to know. We can't go on unless we're both sure you've got this knocked."

"Okay, okay. It's just a little, intrusive."

"It's *my* body odour. What do you have to complain about?"

Rather than answer, Jim launched into a description. "You've used the scentless brands of shampoo, conditioner and deodorant that you never use unless I've come down with an allergy to something and you're trying to make it easier for me to live in this environment."

Sandburg nodded.

"Different parts of you smell—different. I can tell the differences but it's hard to put into words."

"Try."

Jim finally lost his cool. "Chief, I'm getting pheromones!"

Blair scuttled back. "Pheromones? What the fuck? I am soooo not attracted to you! You're just getting back at me over dinner, aren't you?"

"I'm not the only other person in the room, Sandburg."

At this rejoinder, Blair and Megan stared at each other for a full minute, during the first two seconds of which they went from ivory porcelain to death-defying crimson. Then they looked anywhere except at each other.

Simon grinned evilly from his corner.

Jim had to call his Guide back to business. "Hey, Chief? Is it time to order in now?"

"No, not yet. But think about what you want."

Chinese was the unanimous favourite, and the testing went on while Megan and Simon made a list of Cantonese and Sezchuan items.

"So we're at the interesting part, now, Jim. You have to go back into that meditative state and pull up the scent memory from earlier today and then contrast it with the memory you just made now. Allowing for pheromones, of course," the Guide added under his breath.

"Sandburg, you don't exist without pheromones."

"If this is another table leg joke..."

"If the shoe fits, you wolf..."

"Hey guys? How do you like your shrimp?"

Both of the men turned to Megan and went scarlet. "Okay, then," she said, having had no reply, but looking immensely satisfied nonetheless as she got out her cellphone and Simon wrote out a phone number. "Go back to whatever that was you were doing."

So they did.

"I just don't know, Chief. There's something but I don't know what it is."

"You not only can't identify it, you can't describe it either?"

Jim bit his lower lip in thought. Blair sat cross-legged, his head in one hand.

"Okay," Blair came out with after a quarter of an hour. "There's only one thing I can think of that I didn't take into consideration when I got you to memorize my scent."

"What?" Jim demanded to know.

"You."

The simple statement provided no explanation. Jim demanded again, "What?"

"You, Jim," Blair insisted. "You're always touching me in a bunch of ways. Right, guys?"

Megan and Simon started on the varieties of Jim-touches Blair generally endured in day, from the playful ruffling of his long hair to the pulled punches to the biceps, and the arm flung round his shoulders and the hand steering him at the back.

Jim looked impressed. "I do all that?"

"Oh, yeah, and more," Megan confirmed.

Jim said, "Oh." He had never realized the extent to which the sense of touch had been an important method of establishing the presence and well-being of his Guide.

"So maybe your own scent on me is a factor. You don't actually know what you smell like, do you?"

Jim took the question entirely seriously. "Not a guess."

"Okay, so we need to control for that. Jim, now you've got to, you know, do the swats and stuff and then imprint my scent again so you can compare it to the others. Got it?"

"Got it." The ritual of swatting, punching and other companionable touches began, and was followed by the second scenting procedure.

Then Jim sat back to ponder.

Almost immediately, Jim's face shone with an enormous recognition of something very serious indeed.

"Chief? I've got it!"

"What, what do you have?"

The others were rivetted on the Sentinel and Guide.

"I know what it was, the odour you washed off. I had to delete your smell to find it. Three times over."

"So what was it?"

Jim held out a little longer for the privilege of annoying his partner. "I went through all the other scent memories I have. There aren't that many, actually." He paused.

"I don't care if you've smelled everyone in the U.S. and Peru both!" Blair yelped. "What the hell set you off?" He threw his arms out and winced slightly as his ribs twinged.

Jim cut the cackle. "It's something that set me off once before."

Blair hesitated to breathe. "Alex." The murderous bitch who had drowned Blair before trying to seduce Jim. The Sentinel from Hell.

A whisper ran around the room. "Another Sentinel in town."

"There's another Sentinel in town?" Blair was absolutely amazed.

Jim groaned out, "Yeah. Only three I have scent imprints for, him, me and Alex, and you've come into contact with him today."

"Him?"

"Yeah."

"How'd you know it's a him?"

"No pheromones and different emotional response."

"You tossed me out on my ear last time."

"Yeah, but I didn't beat on you like a Cascade Symphony tympanist."

"Tell me the difference between Alex and this new Sentinel."

"With Alex, there was this whole sexual competition thing going."

"There was?"

"Yeah, she touched you, I think she kissed you once, and I had that mating drive and she did too and probably caught my scent on you, even before we met, and between feeling like you were betraying me as my Guide and feeling like you were competition for me sexually, I got that 'Gotta get rid of Sandburg' thing going, even though it didn't make any sense. And I'm sorry."

Blair reached out and patted Jim's knee. "It's okay. I know."

Megan and Simon turned away for a moment while the Sentinel and Guide communicated in some language other than words, reinforcing the bond which was the only thing that could keep them together as they faced the threat of another Sentinel in Jim's territory.

"So it's a he," Blair restated to get the verbal conversation going again. "This is really great work, Jim. You're doing terrific here. It's a he."

"Yeah. And now if I smell his scent on you, I'm getting the feeling that the trouble *is* you, confusing you with him, the smell of him on you makes me feel as if you're betraying me and the tribe too, it's a greater threat so I'm responding more harshly and directly to you." 'And I'm sorry' was written all over Jim's face, while 'It's okay, I know' was reflected back to him.

Then, his face wrinkled in concentration, Blair interjected, "I think there might be some of the Blessed Protector stuff going anyway."

Jim's jaw dropped.

"Hey, you coulda killed me. Ex-Ranger, advantage of a surprise attack, plus you're way bigger and stronger than me. But you didn't and I only have a bandaged wrist and sore ribs to show for it. Huh? Huh? I am right, right?"

Jim began to look a little less drawn and his mouth tightened a trifle, a grimace of a burden lifted. "So who is he, Chief?" Jim finally got around to asking.

Blair sat back again, shocked, blank. "I haven't got a clue. He could be anyone, Jim. Anyone at all." He began to shiver feverishly.

Later Megan and Simon agreed: Sentinel and Guide were the very picture of stunned horror.

All four had felt the shiver down their spines.

The knock at the door startled everyone, including Jim, who had been so deep in reverie that even the come-hither scent of garlic shrimp couldn't reach him.

Simon snatched the card which was responsible for dinner, and opened the door himself. While Blair betook himself into his bedroom to throw on a set of sweats, the others laid out places for four, including forks, chopsticks and beer.

By the time the Guide was back in the dining room, Jim, Simon and Megan were all seated, open cartons of Chinese delicacies scattered around them. But no one was eating.

No one but Sandburg. He grabbed the butterfly shrimp and loaded three onto his plate. A nest of lo mein followed, and then there were barbecued ribs, spring rolls, chicken with snowpeas and orange beef to join the rest on the now-full plate.

Blair had shovelled about a third of his food down a ravenous gullet before he looked up and took in the glum expressions on his friends' faces. "What?" he asked blankly. "The stuff's good. Why isn't anyone eating?"

Simon cleared his throat as Jim and Megan tossed hopelessness between them like a sea-anchor. "It's suppertime," the police captain said.

"I know. That's why we're doing supper," Blair returned. "Or at least why I'm doing supper. I'm starving. Aren't you? How come no one else is eating?" He grabbed at the garlic shrimp container and unloaded an enormous glop onto his plate.

"Um, it's suppertime and it's not all fixed," Simon reminded the injured man. "Not safe."

Blair was having no problem with chewing, despite the solid sock to the jaw earlier that day, probably because of his pain meds. "Yeah, it is," he garbled out around a mouthful of lo mein.

The three others stared into the air, trying to figure out what he meant.

"Sandy?" Megan inquired. "I don't get it. How can it be fixed now? You don't know who the other Sentinel *is*?"

Jim stared at a plate with a few bits of orange beef and a spring roll on it, pushing the stuff around with his chopsticks.

"Doesn't matter," Blair replied. "We know enough to go on with. It's fixed." He plowed into his dinner once more.

Jim was barely there. He was in no shape to ask questions, so Simon filled in the gaps. "Just exactly how are we going on with this? Just what makes it safe for you, Sandburg?" He founded a fist on the tabletop in frustration.

Surprised, Blair looked up at that. "We know enough to continue the tests"—Jim groaned, then immediately went back to trying to slink beneath the table—"and so it's safe for me. You guys are gonna help make it safe, tonight and tomorrow."

"You can stay at my place," Simon offered, and Jim went white.

But Blair was smiling at his Sentinel. "No need, Simon. I'm safe right where I am."

A little of the normal tan colour returned to Jim's cheeks.

Megan was responding to the utter assurance in Blair's voice, and had begun to select cartons to eat from. "Gonna tell us how, Sandy?" she asked and dipped a batterred shrimp into sweet-and-sour sauce. (If they couldn't agree on what kind of shrimp they wanted, Megan had figured she might as well order all kinds. There could never be enough shrimp on the barby, in her estimation.)

"Not until after we've eaten," Blair stated firmly. "First food, then tests."

Jim groaned again, but he reached for the butterfly shrimp anyway.

"Jim will do tests," Simon announced. "Any test that need doing, Jim will do!"

The Sentinel flushed and mumbled an agreement, but Blair talked over him. "Um, Simon, this time the test involves..."

"Yes, what, son? Spit it out!"

"You. The test is about you, Simon." Blair turned baby animal eyes beseechingly on Captain Banks, made all the more pathetic by the blackened one and the bruised forehead. "I need you for the test, Simon."

Simon squirmed. He had heard all about Blair's infamous tests. Jim was hiding a smile, and Megan was grinning like a ghoul. "You need m-m-me?" he stuttered weakly.

"Yes, but it's not going to hurt, Simon. Just eat, guys, before I swallow everything on the table. I can't afford a whole new wardrobe because I'm eating for four!"

Somehow, that got the other three down to the business of supper, and soon there was nothing left but cardboard. Replete, everyone pushed his or her chair back slightly, and six pairs of eyes swivelled to look into another pair, one blue, one black.

"Give, Chief," Jim said at last.

Blair peered at his Sentinel closely. Jim was definitely stressing over this. Blair didn't like that at all.

"Okay, then, see, Jim has scent impressions for three Sentinels," he lectured as his students nodded, "and one Guide."

There were more nods.

"Now, what Jim doesn't have is a scent impression for a male who is not a Guide. Your ordinary, average, generic..."

"Run-of-the-mill," Megan put in helpfully.

"Everyday," Jim lent his aid.

"Common garden variety human male," Blair finished.

"Enough!" Simon roared, and, as Blair sank back in his seat pitifully, working the captain with all his consummate skill, Banks squirmed some more. "Okay, okay, what do I have to do?" he capitulated.

Then Jim and Megan were left to clear the table and wash the plates and cutlery while Blair introduced Simon to the unscented bath products and the shower. Jim popped his head in with fresh towels and his own terrycloth wrap for Simon to wear afterwards. Then Sentinel and Guide left Jim's boss to his ablutions, seating themselves in the living area, waiting.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" came a most impressive screech.

Jim and Blair flinched. Megan looked mystified.

"Uh, the hot water tank," Blair started and then stopped.

"Doesn't hold a lot of hot water," Jim finished.

Megan burst into chuckles and the roommates shared a glance part of mirth, part of concern.

"Megan?" Blair asked suddenly.

The Inspector raised her eyebrows.

"He doesn't deserve mockery," Blair went on quietly. "He's a good man and he's helping us out, and he's gonna suffer a real loss of dignity with this. He doesn't deserve to be laughed at."

Megan stared at Blair for a minute. This was another facet of the Shaman of Cascade which she hadn't come across before. He was protecting a member of the tribe with every bit as much dedication as Jim, its Sentinel, did. "Okay, Sandy. No joking around," she pledged.

"Good, good."

No sooner were the words out than the bathroom door was flung open and a large, looming black shadow began to descend on the living room.

Everyone snapped on lights, Jim automatically dialling down his sight acuity, and it was Simon again, helping his friends out.

Blair told Jim and Simon simply to follow the same procedure as Jim had first done with him. Then he took Megan over to a corner of the room where he regaled her with stories about visiting Swaziland, complete with photos and a description of the Incwala ritual.

"Hey, guys!"

Jim's yell broke the police observer and the inspector out of their enjoyment of each other's company.

"We're done."

"Great, great!" Blair enthused, dropping the relics and escorting Megan back to her set on the sofa, taking his place beside Jim while Simon drew back into the yellow chair, trying not to be present at all. "What can you tell us, Jim? What about his scent?"

Jim scrunched up his face in thought, and the cycling of his inner musings could be read in his expression. Simon tried even harder to meld with the upholstery. 'I have no cigar,' he said to himself, 'therefore I do not exist.'

"I know what it is!" Jim shouted and gave that tremendous, sunburst smile hardly anyone but Blair was ever lucky enough to see. "I have the difference, Chief!"

"What is it, Jim?" The scientist was back in control of the experiment. "What do you have? What's the difference?"

"Shush up and I'll tell you," Jim scolded, and Blair's lips twitched in relief that his Sentinel was coming out of his funk.

"Okay, man, tell us!" The Shaman flung his arms open in invitation.

"Well, there's a difference," Jim started slowly, "but it's not really a matter of smell."

Simon shrivelled even more.

"What is it then, Jim?" Blair sounded puzzled. "What are you picking up?"

"I don't quite know, Chief. It's like the sense of smell, but not it. But it's definitely there for you and not for Simon."

"It's not just something like Simon's cigars, is it?" Megan asked with interest. "Something Simon is around all the time but Sandy's not?"

"Oh, no," Jim tossed over his shoulder, his eyes never leaving Blair's. "0No, I filtered out all the scent factors for both, and I'm left with something for Blair that Simon doesn't have, and that I think Incacha had too, but I don't know if that's memory or imagination, the bit about Incacha."

"Jim," Blair started slowly, not wanting to interfere with the test but not sure his partner had the words to say what he needed to say, "Back in the days of witch-hunting, there used to be people called witch-smellers, who claimed to be able to sniff out witches with a sense that wasn't physical." He left Jim to draw his own conclusions.

"God, yes, Chief, that's it exactly!" Jim stood up in triumph and batted his partner's hair. "It isn't physical at all! It's, I don't know, spiritual, I guess."

"So Sandy smells witchy?" Megan asked with some uncertainty.

"No, he doesn't smell 'witchy'," the Sentinel responded, with a tone of offence. Didn't Megan listen? He sank back into his seat again. "He smells—Guide-y."

"Guide-y," Blair repeated softly, trying the word out. "Guide-y. I smell Guide-y." He was apparently tickled by the description. "Hey, guys, I smell Guide-y!"

The room smiled at him, even Simon coming out of his doldrums at Blair's enthusiasm.

"Hey, Jim," the Guide asked. "How does Guide-y smell?"

The Sentinel bit his lip for an instant. "It's something spiritual, like those witch-smellers you talked about."

"Yeah, yeah, go on!"

"This is hard to describe," Jim complained at his partner's urging. "It's like, I don't know, it's like there's a kind of dimension of natural sweetness, like honey, yeah, like clover honey, I pick up from you that just isn't there in anyone else."

Blair went utterly red at being called 'sweet', though the word didn't faze any of the other hearers, who were fairly certain that it was an accurate description.

Jim spoke into the silence again. "There's something more to it than that, though. It's a kind of feeling—an energy or something—and all I can liken it to is hot steel straight from the forge."

"You had this with Incacha too?" Blair wanted to know, in his persistent quest to discover all things Sentinel-related. "He was your Guide, too. Did he smell Guide-y, Jim?"

Jim looked into a slightly troubled face and smiled. "He smelled Guide-y too, but not like you, Chief."

"No?" There was much relief in that one word.

"No. He had this 'smell' or whatever in the spiritual realm too, but he smelled more like herbs than like fresh flowers or fruit."

Blair was back to being red.

"Incacha had a kind of tang rather than the energy I get from you, too, Chief. Like the smell of rain. Very different, the two of you, but both Guide-y." Then softly, only for his Shaman's ears, Jim whispered, "I really like your Guide-y scent, Chief."

Blair Sandburg would have burst his buttons if there had been any on his sweatsuit. "Oh, man, Jim!"

Jim Ellison smiled wholeheartedly at his partner. The rift caused by the attack earlier that morning was completely healed.

Now to make it a thing of the past, and no threat to their future.

Blair hoisted himself off the sofa with an 'Oof!' that spelled a strict period of mother-henning in the near future. "Jim and I have to work out the details, but if you two will help us, tomorrow we can take care of the situation totally."

Simon and Megan exchanged considering glances. "Okay," they said as one.

And while the police captain drove the inspector home, Jim got down to the business of double checking his best friend's strained wrist, various bruises and cuts; then found a good massage oil to help Blair work out the stiffness of all the day's strain. Making a joint plan to handle the new Sentinel in town helped the Guide to bear with his Sentinel's protectiveness. Both men were far more relaxed than they had been in days when the rub-down was over. Blair fell asleep before Jim was even out of the room.

And when Jim went back up the stairway to his loft bedroom, he picked up the handcuffs from the landing where they had been discarded, no longer necessary.


Morning started a little later than usual. When he had driven Megan home, Simon had okayed the day to be spent on the 'Sentinel Thing' and after a really good think about Blair's bruised face, detailed Megan to help out.

So it was just after 9:00 a.m. that the Inspector's knock at the door rousted Sentinel and Guide out of bed and up getting a laidback breakfast for three, or trying to. The participants were comfortable in close quarters from prior stake-outs, but Jim was a little jumpy, and, as to be expected, guilt-ridden.

Blair was blending an algae shake while Jim tended eggs and Megan put on coffee. She had brought a baguette and cinnamon cream cheese to round out the meal.

"So, gentlemen," the tall brunette asked, licking a scrap of speckled white cheese off her thumb, "what's the plan?"

Jim and Blair exchanged glances. Jim shrugged, and Blair rippled his fingers down the side of his shake glass.

"We haven't actually, um, got a 'plan', per se," Blair started.

"Oh, we're making this up as we go along, then?" Megan concluded with a wicked smile.

Jim almost bridled but Blair's real chuckle grounded his Sentinel and Jim relaxed enough to twitch his lips up.

"Yeah, we're gonna make it up as we go," Detective Ellison conceded. "The PD is off the to-do list, though."

"How come?" Megan asked. She reached for her cup of coffee and found it drained. Blair moved back to grab the pot and refilled it. He spoke over her murmured thanks.

"Jim figures, since he didn't pick up anything until he got to the doors of Major Crimes, whoever I came into contact with must be someone from somewhere else I'd been without him." Blair butted an elbow into his best friend's ribs and at the return nod, filled the detective's cup up.

"Oh, I get it," Megan beamed at the two of them. "Good idea, Jim. More cream cheese?" She passed the treat to Jim. His nose had been pointed in its direction all through breakfast. His guilt complex wouldn't let him have it until he had earned it, though.

In the hands of two master Sentinel-handlers, Jim relaxed even further. He could smile and eat the calorie-laden cinnamon spread now. Megan and Blair winked at each other across Jim's head.

"So where are we off to first, mates?" Megan asked breezily, snatching the heel of the baguette up before one or the other of the two predatory beasts on either side could strike.

"A weasel," Blair said blackly. "Yeah, Megan's spirit guide is definitely a weasel." He shook his finger at her as she laughed.

"Ouch! You should listen to him, you know. He is the Shaman of Cascade," Jim put in with wise warning.

Megan was sending a disbelieving glare the Sentinel of Cascade when the Shaman twitched the bread from her hand, tore it in two and tossed half to his parner in crime. They swallowed without a glimmer of remorse while Megan bitched, and then Jim was up and clearing the table and sweeping them both out of the door of the loft.

"I figure we start with the places I stopped at on the way to and from the U," Blair suggested.

"Makes sense," his laconic partner agreed, "only wait a moment. I'll be right back."

Jim Ellison bolted into the drugstore that sold much more than drugs and while Blair and Megan watched through the windows, he came out with a cane and a paper bag.

"What's this?" Blair asked, annoyed, as Jim thrust the cane into his hand.

"Half the disguise," Jim explained.

Megan was watching with an eyebrow cocked.

A pair of dark glasses was perched on Blair's nose next, and only Jim could see the look his best friend was shooting at him behind the lenses.

"The other half of the disguise," said the detective. "Now, I'm your buddy as per usual, and Megan is the detective investigating your mugging."

The last was said very self-deprecatingly. Both of the detective's hearers knew how bad Jim felt about the events of the day before. Both knew the urge to comfort him.

"Hey, Sandy, Jim can guide you for a change!" A laugh wavered on the breeze.

Jim half-smiled.

"Hey, yeah, temporary blindness, good cover story, Jim!" Blair spouted. "Gives us a reason for us all to be together, and explains away the bruises."

Jim made it to a full smile then and when Blair insisted he take the front passenger's seat of Megan's sedan on account of his longer legs, he let himself be persuaded. Blair was driven in state in the backseat, Chief of his own tiny fiefdom.

The trip to Rainier University was uneventful, though dotted with fruitless stops at a gas station and a herbalist on the way. Jim advised Megan to park in Chancellor Edwards' empty spot, the one with her very own name stencilled on it, which was much closer to Blair's office than the general parking lot was. Megan was more than happy to oblige, though Blair was hardly sanguine about the Chancellor's response.

"Shh, Sandy, she'll never know it had anything to do with you," Megan said calmly. "She doesn't know my car, or that I'm a colleague."

Blair thought about that for a minute. "Hey, Megan," he asked in the end, "wanna drive me to school every day?" The eyebrows were waggling evilly.

"Nah," the Australian returned. "She'd catch on too quick."

"You could borrow Rafe's now and then," Blair suggested.

"Or Henri's."

"Or Simon's."

Pause.

"Naaaaah!" two voices said in concert.

Between them they had Jim snorting genteelly before they reached the path to the Anthro Building.

At that point Blair started handing out last minute instructions.

"Okay, Jim, turn smell down."'

"How far?"

"Two. Two is good. How close does someone have to get before you pick up on them at two, Jim?"

"Five feet for a normally strong odour, like being doused with perfume or cologne. Ten feet for someone who just climbed out of a dumpster or off a five-day bender."

"That good!" Megan said in astonishment.

"Oh, yeah, Jim's good," Blair said seriously. "S'why he needs a Guide."

"Sandburg keeps me in focus. It can get tough, too much input from too many sources. Don't know what I'd do without him." Jim put his hand under Blair's elbow and took the pose of helping Blair as navigator, relying on the dark glasses for an explanation.

Blair fell into the role easily while Megan muttered to herself about how she really didn't think she wanted Sentinel senses after all, and Jim just smiled.

They reached Blair's office without incident. There, Blair closed the door and set aside the cane and glasses.

"Okay, Jim, is there anything you can pick up on here, now?"

Jim shook his head. "Uh-uh, Chief, just the ordinary scents, plus Chanel no. 5."

Megan went scarlet as a peony.

"Hey, I like Chanel no. 5 on a woman," Blair put in. "Makes me think of romance." He sent a quick glance of appreciation the Inspector's way.

"Everything makes you think of romance," Jim started, but was cut off.

"How would you like your shrimp, boys?"

The boys went more scarlet than any peony, and Megan nodded. "That's what I thought. Carry on!"

The boys abandoned the routine as they had the night before, and went back to work.

"Okay, then, Jim, up the sense. Through three..." Blair paused as Jim raised and swivelled his head carefully, then, "... Four... Five."

Jim grimaced and took one last look around. "Nothing, Chief. Just you, and Megan."

"S'okay, then it wasn't anyone who was in here yesterday."

"How many people does that eliminate, Sandy?"

"A bunch of guys from the football team, for one. There was a kind of delegation on behalf of one of my students. He's not doing so well, but he went to them first instead of me. I told him I would tutor him or get another student from the class to do it, if he'd prefer, and gave the guy a bonus assignment for extra credit. He'll make it. The other guys thought it was a fair deal, and they'll see he keeps to it."

"Okay, the football team first stringers are out then," Jim said. "Anyone else?"

"A couple of the other RF's and TA's. We were discussing Edwards' latest brainwave, a weekly report on what she calls 'special students'—only to her the only students who are special are those who aren't just in trouble academically, but also whose daddy's or mommy's have lots of money waiting to be donated here." Blair sighed. "She is soooo predictable. The kid from the team wouldn't have made it onto her list. He's on a scholarship."

"Good thing his team backed him, then," Jim offered.

"Yeah, it's a good thing to have a team to rely on," Blair smiled back, looking from Megan to Jim.

Jim very carefully bopped the top curls of his hair as Megan shook her head at them both. But then they had to get back to work.

"Okay, then I ran into the guy in the halls or he's a student in a class," Blair deduced.

"Only, I've never smelled this before, Blair," Jim said, "and your course is mid-term now. So we can cancel out any students you've ever come into contact with so far."

Blair got out his rosters for his classes and started flicking pencil marks at names. Megan watched from an armchair, while Jim perched on the edge of the desk, overseeing the lists.

"Well, half the students are women, the football team is out, and since I meet with the students on their outlines before they complete their first paper, I can rule out all but three of the male students."

Blair tapped the pencil at two names on one sheet and a third on another.

Jim frowned and Blair watched him steadily. "Say, Chief," Jim announced suddenly, "are any of these new students, who didn't start with the regular classes?"

Blair looked startled and Megan took new interest, leaning forward.

"Yeah, Jim, this guy, Trevor Beatty," the grad student said, "he transferred in about a week ago. Is that important?"

"Uh, yeah, I think so, Chief," Jim mumbled uncomfortably. Megan took an even greater interest. It was so much fun when Jim got flustered.

"So, why?" came the obvious question.

"I, um, I ah, you, well..."

"C'mon, Jim, what, you sniffed me like a bloodhound eight days ago or something?" Blair charged with disbelief.

"Uh, well, yeah," Jim admitted, beetroot becoming his couleur du jour.

Megan had an undisguised sniggering attack and had to retire to the corner to try to regain control.

"You sniffed me like a bloodhound." Blair's voice was flat with incomprehension.

"Yeah, Chief, I did," Jim muttered from somewhere in his diaphragm.

Megan was in stitches, her ribs hurting too much to breathe.

"Well, why the fuck did you do it, Jim?" Blair was still in shock.

"Um, you seemed to me to be..."

Blair waited but the answer was not forthcoming. He repeated, "I seemed to you to be... what? A pre-op transsexual on hormone treatments? I can't think of any reason you'd do that. You don't sniff men in general, do you?" His academic interest was beginning to border on the horrific. "Why did we have to go through all that last night if you had a scent memory on me, anyway?"

"I thought you were coming down with the flu, all right? Only I wasn't, um, paying attention to anything but the flu, you know?" Jim yelled, throwing his hands up in the air. "Yeah, yeah, Connor, you can laugh now, but just you wait until you need back-up. You're gonna get yours."

Megan was stuffing tissues into her mouth to keep the noise level down.

"You thought I was coming down with flu so you sniffed me up?" Blair asked, in a 'Just the facts, man' tone.

"Yeah. I did. So sue me," Jim defied his Guide to his face.

"No, actually, it makes sense and I'm kinda touched, only NEVER DO IT AGAIN!" Blair shouted at Jim. Then he pitched a quick stare at Megan, still out of it due to hilarity and in desperate need of the ladies' room, before going on to attempt to set the tone for the rest of the day with as much dignity as possible. "We have one specific suspect, Trevor Beatty, and every other male on campus I might have brushed up against by accident. Only I spent all my time here in the Anthro building, other than going in and out."

"So Trevor is the best guess. Where would he be now, Chief?" Jim had decided that Megan was only a pretty doorstop, albeit a squeaky one.

"H'mm. Good question. He's a second year student, taking first year classes he missed at his old U. I remember he told me there was only the Intro course available to him there and that's why he transferred, 'cause Rainier's into anthropology. I'm teaching Anthro 102, which is what he's in, and there's Greta Jardine's 103 class, which starts—five minutes ago." Blair was consulting his watch.

He and Jim shot each other a glance. "Sounds like a plan," Jim said.

"Huh?" Megan asked, unstuffing her mouth at last.

"We go down to the Anthro 103 class and observe," Blair said patiently, recapturing his glasses and cane as he took on the role of mugging victim again. "Jim checks out the guys there and identifies whether there's another Sentinel sitting in the class."

"It's safe?"

"Yeah, if I keep it down to one and don't move it from there. I didn't even go ballistic on Alex with my senses up, when I got within spitting distance of her."

"Swapping spit distance," someone whispered and got another bop on his curls for the comment.

"What are we hanging around here for, anyway?" Jim said impatiently. "Let's go, Chief. I want this done and over with."

There was a note of pleading in that last order that only Blair caught, but he instantly responded. "We're so outta here!" and tapped over to the door, which he magnificently allowed Megan to open.

The doorstop is useful, on occasion, Jim thought, at Blair's elbow, and allowed his inanimate colleague to take up the rear.

The small parade waltzed through almost empty halls to the door of a standard lecture pit, seating a few hundred students in arcs at gradated levels. Outside the room, Jim looked through the window as Blair hung back.

When Jim pulled away, Blair asked, "Anything?"

"Yeah," Jim stated grimly. "Whoever it is is in there." He looked like an eagle about to swoop upon a hapless mouse.

"Okay, okay, okay," Blair blurted breathlessly. "Um, we can deal with this. Jim, if you up it to two, can you tell which guy it is?"

Jim nodded silently.

"Is this gonna be dangerous," Megan demanded to know, "because if there is any chance of Sandy getting hurt..."

"Take him down there," Jim gestured towards an intersection of the hallway with a perpendicular aisle.

Blair was protesting as Megan dragged him out of harm's way, but gave in at Jim's look, half determination and half outright terror.

When the graduate student was out of harm's way, Jim Ellison upped the dial and closed his eyes.

"Piggyback sight on smell, Jim," came the Sentinel-soft instruction from the Guide.

Jim nodded and, fixing his mark, opened his eyes, to narrow in on the other Sentinel. "Got him!" he crowed.

"Good, good, good, good, good! Now scale it back and I can check out if it's Trevor or not," Sandburg said.

Jim blinked and beckoned to his partner and their friend. When they joined him at the door, Jim pointed out the young man he had identified as the interloper in Cascade, a fellow barely twenty, if that, in jeans and a red sweater and black leather jacket, brown haired and eyed, well-built, with a good profile, but otherwise, nothing obvious.

"That's Trevor Beatty. Man, you're getting good at this, Jim!"

Ellison closed his eyes and breathed the fresher air of the hallway again. "Yeah, but, Chief, what now?"

Blair tilted his head down, and Megan wasn't laughing any longer. "I..I'm not sure just what. I think it would be best to put distance between you and Trevor. You I.D.'d him through a wood and glass door, in the middle of a couple of hundred people. I'm actually amazed you could do it, Jim," he confessed to his best friend. "I thought the door would stop your sensing."

"It's not a physical sense, Chief. So physical objects like doors aren't gonna work like barriers to it," Jim explained, clearly impressed by his own realization that he understood something important about this new wonder ability.

"You mean that dialing it down to two wasn't safe at all because you weren't USING YOUR NOSE?" Megan shrieked.

A student suddenly opened the door to the room. "The teacher said for you not to disturb the class again, please." The door closed again.

The three from Major Crimes shame-facedly withdrew to the aisleway. Jim reconnoitred with his senses up again and gave the okay to talk freely.

"It was safe, Connor," he assured her.

Blair put in, "Yeah, it's all about Jim's ability to control what his senses do. There aren't any real dials in his head, y'know? He does it himself!" Blair was so proud of his partner that his partner bopped him a third time.

"With a little help from my best friend," Jim allowed. Sentinel and Guide smiled at each other, in perfect charity and much heartened by each other's presence.

Megan felt a pang of envy at their closeness, but knew it was unworthy of her. She made herself smile. "So, Sandy, you are the focus, the microscope or the telescope or whatever, for Jim?"

Blair smiled back so warmly that she felt washed clean of the meanness of her earlier reflection. "No, he does it all himself."

"Not all. Most."

"Yeah, all. Only you have to learn the techniques."

"Oh, you're the Instruction Booklet," Megan concluded triumphantly.

"I'm the Guide."

"He's the Guide."

"When something's out of whack with Jim, it's time to RTFM."

"Which is why Simon's always so tense around Blair," Megan decided. "He can't RTFM."

The others laughed.

"Yeah, but sometimes Jim and I aren't on the same page, which is really a problem," Blair chuckled.

"Sometimes not even the same chapter," Jim said with raised eyebrows.

"Gotta flip ahead, Jim."

"Gotta stop flipping to the end of the story, Sandburg."

"Gotta make a plan, boyos!"

The reminder brought everyone back to reality.

"You think you have enough control of this Guide-smelling ability now?" Blair reddened even as he heard himself use the new term.

Jim smiled tightly, but was looking at him critically, consideringly, lingering on the dark glasses a little too long. "I won't take the risk," he said with finality.

"So what do we do, Jim?" his partner gave over control to the Sentinel at last.

"We withdraw and do reconnaissance. Let's go outside. We can watch the classes come and go from the quad. I'll keep my eye on Beatty and if he moves in the building I'll track him. You guys just come with me."

"Works for me," Megan agreed.

Blair flung his hand out. "Lead the way, Jim."

They waited until they were out of doors before they went on with the discussion. Hanging around a stone bench, they went on batting ideas back and forth.

"You know, Jim, you can take him any day," Blair said thoughtfully.

"Yeah, I can." The detective who had been a Black Ops Ranger had no doubt about that. He plopped onto the bench. "He's not packing. He's younger, but I've got the experience and training. He doesn't. I can tell."

Megan was watching, new respect in her eyes.

"So... why get your knickers in a twist?" Blair asked with a twinkle.

Jim laughed at the Australianism his Guide had borrowed. Megan made a little face at them both.

"There was a lot of 'Protect the Guide' in my instincts yesterday," Jim said slowly. "It started like that and then it turned into "Annihilate the threat' and I misidentified you as the threat."

"So I was the object of your protection, and by misadventure became the object of your aggression."

"Yeah," Jim said regretfully.

Blair ignored what he considered an inappropriate emotion for his Sentinel, who was such a mother hen he sniffed him for flu signs, to have. "Is there any spiritual connection going on here? 'Cause if the stimulus is not material, I'd think the mechanism isn't as easy as the 'flight or fight' instinct, Jim."

Jim sat like a statue on a bench made of stone. Megan and Blair exchanged glances and kept mum. The pause dragged into a long period of reflection. Megan opened her mouth, only to have Blair silence her with a tap on her arm. She subsided.

Jim looked up at last. The campus had begun to come alive around them; some classes had been dismissed early. The class Beatty was in was still in session; perhaps their earlier disturbance had made a difference to its normal schedule.

"Blair," Jim started, looking deep into his Guide's eyes.

Blair's gaze widened at Jim's intensity and the unusual use of his given name, seldom found in his Sentinel's mouth. "Yeah?" he subvocalized.

"What happened the day we met?"

Blair looked around at Megan, and Jim caught his hand lightly, so as not to bruise already injured flesh.

"Don't worry about her," Jim urged. "Just say it."

"I heard about you. You were in the hospital for tests. I went to see you and lied to you to get you to come out here to Rainier." Blair's face was vivid with blood again.

"Okay, okay, keep going," Jim encouraged him.

"So, uh, you got out of hospital without the tests showing anything even though your senses were way beyond the curve and you were in real trouble."

"Right, right."

"And you came here to see me, at my old office. I said you were a caveman, kinda, and you got mad..."

"And I threw you up against the wall," Jim said impatiently, not allowing his Guide to spare his feelings. Connor could make of it what she would; the real point had yet to be told.

"Uh, yeah, and then I said you needed me to tell you what was up with you, but you walked out before I could tell you about zoning..."

"Shut up!" Jim ordered, jumping to his feet. He spiralled, and the look of the Sentinel opening his senses wide crossed his features.

Megan and Blair held their breath.

"There, there!" Jim was pointing across the quadrangle. "Do you see her?"

"Who? What?" Blair asked excitedly.

"See what?" There was a little disgust in Megan's voice. "We are not Sentinels, Ellison! What's the point?"

Jim sat back again, a small smile on his lips. "Wait for it," he said. Megan forced Jim over and motioned for Blair to sit down.

"If we're gonna wait for it, mate, we'll wait in comfort." There was a lot of disgust in her voice this time.

Trevor Beatty had exited through the same door the three friends had taken, and was on the same path to the parking lot which they had trodden before. Everyone pivoted to keep him in view.

"Okay, Jim," Blair said. "What are we supposed to be seeing?

"Check out the blonde with green eyes. The one with the long braid over her shoulder, in jeans with a zipped up jean jacket. See her? Over by the three black vans parked next to each other," Jim directed them with a discreet flip of his index finger.

"Yeah, so, Jim, is she special? What is it, Jim?" Megan asked.

"She's...?" Blair asked hushed.

"Yeah. Her," Jim answered.

"Oh, man," Blair breathed.

Megan spared them a very disgusted look and went back to watching the undergrads.

Trevor Beatty was standing behind the black van furthest from the three of them, fumbling with his keys. The blonde was sauntering slowly toward them all from the other end of the parking lot, the van that was Trevor's closest to her.

Everything happened at once.

The black van first in line revved into life and was pulling out without any regard for the pedestrians around it.

Trevor was frozen behind the opened hatch, a spell of stupefaction on his face.

The blonde dropped her books, sprang forward and dragged Beatty bodily out of harm's way, pushing him between his van and the middle one.

The first van tore off the hatchback.

Then there was a driver spouting apologies and a blonde taking numbers and a dazed brown-haired man who couldn't look at anything or anyone except the blonde.

"There," Jim said with satisfaction. "It's done."

Blair put his hand on his Sentinel's shoulder and squeezed hard.

Megan looked as if she were about to implode. "WHAT'S DONE?" Then under her breath, she swore a blue streak.

Blair reached out with his other hand and took one of hers. "The day Jim and I met, after he stormed out of my office..."

"Yes? Yes?" Megan couldn't contain herself even for the sake of hearing the story. Blair clasped her hand more tightly.

"He was crossing the road when he zoned."

"It was a frisbee, bright red. I couldn't see anything else," Jim recalled. "Red was all there was."

"A garbage truck was headed his way."

"It almost got me."

"So I..."

"So Blair..."

"So Sandy pushed you out of the way?" Megan guessed.

Jim and Blair smiled laughingly at each other.

"Oh, worse, far worse," Jim said teasingly.

"ELLISON!"

Blair took pity on her. "I had to grab him and push him under the truck."

"You pushed him under the truck? So how'd you do that? He's a great lump of a man, and an immoveable object if I ever saw one!"

"He turned me, pushed me forward onto the pavement and then threw himself on top of me."

At Megan's horrified gasp, Blair said, "Well, it was more like fell on top of you. Pushing you off balance sorta left me following your lead, Jim."

Both Sentinel and Guide began to guffaw.

"And, and you've been, uh, following me, uh, ever since," Jim gasped out.

"Hey, I, uh, followed you, uh, home, didn't, uh, I?" Blair was sobbing for air. "Know, uh, a good thing, uh, when I see one."

Megan looked back to where the brown-haired man and the blonde woman were trying to stash the ripped off van door in the van's back. "So that's like them? What is she, his Guide?"

"Yep, she's his Guide, whoever she is," Jim declared. "They're gonna be the future of this city, Chief, when we're old and grey."

"She's got the Guide-smell?" Blair asked, ever the scientist.

"Yeah, very flowery, but there's this underlying scent of the earth. This is one strong woman we're looking at."

"She'd have to be," Blair muttered, and got an arm carefully slung around his shoulders for his remark.

"Yeah, just like you, partner," Jim said.

The two men leaned into each other until they rested their foreheads each against the other's.

Megan watched quietly. This was a pair of men whose love for each other was almost palpable. She was glad she had come to understand it before she became involved... There was a hint of a rosy future ahead, and the Inspector from New South Wales did not expect to be spending it in Australia. She smiled quietly, too. This was something she had never heard of, and she knew herself privileged to see it, to learn how it had come about.

After a few minutes the two men moved apart and Blair stood up and scooted Megan over until she sat between the two of them.

"Low voices now, Megan."

Megan blushed prettily. Blair loved seeing her blush and made a spot decision to try to cause the reaction as often as possible.

Jim twisted toward her. "I picked her out of the crowd. She's a Guide, and there's only one Sentinel on this campus, other than me. And I've got a Guide, and I intend to keep him."

Blair heaved with silent chuckles. "I know her, you know," he finally forced out. "She's in my class too. Manda Longworth. She's, ah, noticed him before now, but he couldn't see her at all." He responded to the lowered eyebrows. "What? A teacher notices this kind of thing."

Jim just shook his head, although Megan was still suspicious. The Sentinel shifted the discussion, "Well, he's no threat to me or my Guide now. He zoned, on the exhaust from that other van, I think. She did the rescue. So he's bonded."

"Bonded?" Megan asked, feeling as if she were being pulled into quicksand. "I don't get it."

Blair recaptured the lost hand and squeezed again. He got the blush for his reward. "Well, when I sorta, you know..."

"... Saved my life. Jeez, Sandburg, for such a mensch you can be a real chickenshit!"

"This from a man who sniffs me up and won't tell me? I don't think you have..."

"Enough! Someone tell me what went on here! I have a gun and I know how to use it and I'm sure I've got PMS, but it could just be you guys instead. Maybe I should shoot you and find out."

Blair surprised her with a quick kiss on the cheek and she stopped in delight. "Jim's whole attitude changed toward me then, Megan. He had been about to shake me down for drugs, and suddenly, he saw who I really was. He went past the package to the person."

"I... wasn't good at that, you know," Jim said uncomfortably. "I never have been. The whole spiritual side of things—you know, Incacha saved my life too, but it was nothing like you, Blair."

"Oh, yeah? Was he what kept you from being killed as an enemy in Peru?"

"Yeah, he was. But he just gave an order to the tribe. He didn't risk his own life to do it. That's what makes the difference. It's a blood bond, Chief. We have it, they have it now. That's all the difference in the world."

No one could speak after that. There were dry throats that weren't really dry, all around.

At last Megan stood up. "C'mon, buckos. It's lunchtime and I'm starving. Which of you lucky men is going to take me to lunch?"

"He is!" Two right hand index fingers pointed in opposite directions.

"Well, all right then!" Megan concluded. And linked arm in arm with the Sentinel and Shaman of Cascade, she walked off with the prize. Two matchless men who had found their spiritual matches in each other. What a fortunate woman she was.

She began to hum.

~ End ~


E-Mail Ismaro at ligela@sympatico.ca
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Page last updated 8/15/03.