Disclaimer: See home page.

Spoilers: Switchman

Warnings: This story contains a few bad words.

Author's Notes: About the Illustration: I am very grateful that Lupe, a very talented artist, has sketched an illustration for this story. Please drop her a line at mgbacke@usa.net, and view her other beautiful artwork at Lupe's Sentinel Art (http://www.lucidway.org/sentinel). Thank you, Lupe!


Driving Rain
by
Linda3

celticpryde1@insightbb.com

 

Part 1

Jim Ellison peered through the windshield as the Jeep's wiper blades tried valiantly to keep up with the driving rain. It was a miserable day to be driving but he wanted to at least get to Riverside before stopping for the night and hopefully be back in Cascade sometime tomorrow. He had unconsciously turned up his sight in order to compensate for the bad driving conditions. Having deliberately picked this lesser traveled highway to avoid hitting any traffic it had become obvious for quite a while now that very few other vehicles were braving the roads, especially during these early morning hours. Even the usually numerous truckers had apparently opted to wait out the storm. With his enhanced vision Jim was not even aware that he was looking at least a mile down the road, he just knew that, so far, he had managed to spot anything dangerous in the road in plenty of time to avoid it. Hoping to make it to Riverside before it got too late he drove on.

A few miles later Jim saw something, no someone, standing beside the road a little ways further down. A hitchhiker, out in this weather, was almost unheard of. Still, he remembered his early military days when hitchhiking back to the base after a night on the town or going to visit his latest girlfriend, was considered a viable means of transportation. He slowed down to get a good look at the person before deciding whether or not to stop. Things were a lot different now and as a detective in the Cascade PD Major Crime department he knew what sometimes happened to hitchhikers or to the drivers who picked them up.

Well, he was male, maybe early twenties, didn't look to be more than about 5'9, hard to tell his build under the (totally inadequate) jacket he was hunched into. His hair seemed reasonably short and a backpack lay at his feet. And he looked, for want of a better word, absolutely miserable. Probably a college student, although he couldn't think of any colleges or universities in this area. Then Jim caught the name on the sign the kid was holding. Even though the rain had pretty well ruined the lettering he could still make out the word CASCADE. Rainier University maybe? As he got closer he could see that his possible rider was soaked through to the bone and shivering constantly. Since there was little chance that another ride would come along anytime soon Jim decided to stop. If the kid did turn out to be trouble, well from the looks of his current condition, he didn't think he'd have any problem taking him on, but somehow Jim didn't feel as though he wanted anything more than to get out of the rain.

Jim pulled to a gradual stop next to the wet hitchhiker and pressed the button to unlock the passenger side door. A few seconds later a waterlogged but smiling face was looking up at him. "Oh m-man, you are l-like the f-first car I've seen in ages. I can't b-believe you stopped too."

Jim looked over at his soon to be companion. Yep, definitely a college student. "Might as well ditch the sign. You can't read it anymore anyway and it's too big and wet to bring in here."

The student seemed to hesitate for a moment between littering and getting in. Then he smiled, tossed the sign onto the shoulder of the road and climbed in, putting his backpack on the floorboard by his feet. "Oh well, it's b-biodegradable cardboard anyway. Won't actually h-hurt anything." He shut the door, put on his seat belt then turned towards his new benefactor. "I-I am really like so grateful you s-stopped."

Driving Rain by Lupe As he pulled back onto the road Jim glanced at man sitting next to him. Ok, so he'd been wrong about the hair, it wasn't short, it was pulled back into a thick ponytail. And how could he have missed two earrings? Even so, the poor guy still looked too miserable to be any trouble. If anything he was shivering even harder than he had looked from the outside. Without thinking about it Jim reached over and turned up the heat. "So you're headed for Cascade? You know you've got quite a long way left to go." No point in telling him that he was also going to Cascade. Not yet anyway.

"Y-Yeah. That's why I-I really appreciate however f-far you can take me." As the heat suddenly kicked up a pair of pale, reddened hands sprang in front of the vent. "Oh m-man that feels good." The hands were turned front to back several times so both sides were warmed up, then taken back down and the fingers flexed. "Hey, I think I can almost feel my f-fingers again. Oh yeah, my name's Blair and I'm trying to get back to R-Rainier University. I'm a grad student there."

Jim grinned to himself, pleased to have guessed the school correctly and for some reason also pleased to note that now that he had warmed up a bit, the kid's stuttering was almost gone. He must have really been cold.

"Jim. I'm on my way back from a convention." A very boring Fraternal Order of Police convention that Simon had finally managed to talk him into attending. That's all right though, wait until Simon gets his expense report. He had decided to go all out and treat himself right on this trip. It's the least the PD could do for sending him to that godawful convention in the first place. A grad student, huh? At least he should be able to hold a reasonably intelligent conversation. Maybe the rest of trip wouldn't be so bad after all.

Jim was watching his passenger out of the corner of his eye as he drove. Despite the additional heat Blair had his coat wrapped tightly around himself and was still shivering. Being soaking wet and in cold, wet clothes wasn't helping. He tried to distract the young man from his misery. "Open the glove box. There's a map in there already folded to our route. That's marked in red. Check how far we are from Exit 128, Clemson Road in Riverside." Of course he already knew exactly where they were and far it was to Exit 128 but putting him charge of the map might give Blair something to do to help keep his mind off how cold he was.

Blair opened his coat and reaching into his shirt pocket pulled out a glasses case then removed pair a of wire framed glasses. Once he had them on he opened the glove box and pulled out the map. He looked at it for a minute then turned to Jim with a sheepish look on his face. "Uh, Jim? Where exactly are we right now? The last guy just dropped me off where you picked me up and with the rain and not having my glasses on and all I couldn't really read the road signs as we passed them. Sorry."

The former Covert Ops Army Ranger turned police detective laughed to himself. His passenger was on the short side, had a solid but still slender build, was a college student, wore earrings and glasses and was totally clueless as to where he even was. Any notion that Blair was any kind of threat was now completely dispelled. Jim relaxed as he answered. "Don't worry about it, Chief. I picked you up just past Exit 113. You just keep up with the exits as we pass them. I was planning on stopping at Exit 119 or 120 for lunch. That sound all right to you?"

"Sure Jim, whatever you want to do. I'm just along for ride, remember?"

"Speaking of which, how did a grad student from Rainier end up hitchhiking in the rain this far from home?" Talking was usually a good distraction.

It was as if someone had thrown a switch. Blair suddenly sat upright, his face lighting up. His hands starting moving a mile a minute as he starting talking in a rush. "Oh man, it was so cool. I have this friend, Jerry, at Mt. Holyoke University, you know in Carleton. Anyway their archeology department was at this dig site they were working on of an ancient, I mean like almost 500 years old, Indian village they had discovered not too far from Hammond, that's were I'm coming back from now, the dig site. Everyone was really surprised to find an almost complete village this far north so it was like really exciting, you know? So anyway, everyone originally thought these Indians were just farmers, a real peaceful tribe. Until they found evidence of warriors. Or to be more exact, one particular warrior." If it were possible Blair seemed to get even more excited. "I'm working on my doctorate in anthropology and my thesis is on sentinels, special warriors that I think most tribes had to protect them and help them. These warriors had genetically enhanced senses that let them do things that ordinary people can't. My goal is find someone who still has these traits. But anyway, Jerry called me about the this village's warrior, thinking he might have been a sentinel, and I've been at the dig for the past couple of weeks. I got some really great pictures and tons of notes and after Mt. Holyoke gets done entering and cataloguing everything the archeology department is actually going to lend me some of the warrior's artifacts so I can do a more in depth study. This is probably the closest I've come yet to actually proving the existence of sentinels and the proof is right here in Washington. That means that there were sentinels right here and that increases the chances of my, hopefully, finding one somewhere in this area. It just mind blowing, y'know?"

Jim was stunned. Ask a simple question. And in all that, Blair still hadn't answered his original question. "That's all really interesting, Chief, but it still doesn't explain why you're hitching rides in the rain. And if you've been at a dig site for a few weeks, where's all your stuff? You didn't wear that one set of clothes the whole time, did you?"

Blair seemed to deflate right before his eyes. "No."

Well, something had definitely turned Blair's switch back to 'off'. "Hey, look, I'm not trying to pry or anything. Just making conversation, okay?"

"No, it's all right, its not really that big a deal." Blair kept talking but the earlier enthusiasm was gone. "It's just that this semester the Housing Dept messed up and didn't assign me a place to live. Hell, I've been going to Rainier since I was sixteen, you'd think by now I'd have my own personal suite with my name on it." He tried to smile, but it fell short of his eyes. "Anyway, once school starts it's real hard to find a place, especially in or around the campus. I've been bouncing around from place to place until they can find me somewhere. Most of my stuff is in a friend's basement, but they just had a baby so I really can't stay there. When I left I was staying with a couple of undergrads, not my ideal choice of roommates. They're the kind that think that college is just one big party. But hey, beggars can't be choosers, right? After the dig was over I had just enough money to get a bus from Hammond to Greenwood. One of my roommates was supposed to pick me up at the bus station there. After waiting around for a couple of hours I finally called him, but the phone's been disconnected."

Blair sighed. Jim waited for him to continue.

"I have the awful feeling that they've finally been evicted. The landlord's been threatening them about it for weeks. Sooo, unless the Housing Dept has suddenly worked a miracle, I think I may be homeless when I get back." He let out another long sigh. "I put everything except my backpack in a bus station locker—" Blair opened the breast pocket on his jacket and pulled out a key, looked at it, then put it back, "—end of story."

Jim didn't say anything. Poor kid. From discovering, what to him, must have been the find of a lifetime to finding out that he may now have nowhere to live. Well, he could at least give him a place to stay tonight and then a ride all the way into Cascade tomorrow. "Damn Chief. Sorry about the housing screw up. But if it helps any, I'm actually going all the way to Cascade myself. If you don't mind the same company for the whole trip I can least get you back to school. It's gotta beat standing in the rain waiting for the next ride."

"Oh wow Jim. Mind? Man that would be great. Believe me, I don't do cold well and as for cold AND wet—forget it. This is perfect, thanks."

Jim watched as Blair relaxed a little, leaning back more against the seat. At least one of his current problems was solved for now. They spent the next few hours just talking. Blair told Jim about some of his more colorful expeditions and Jim regaled Blair with some tales from his Army days, leaving out any mention of Covert Ops. He still hesitated to reveal the fact that he was a cop. He just wasn't sure how the long-haired, earringed college student would react to that. And to his own surprise, it somehow actually mattered to him what his new acquaintance thought of him.

"Hey Chief, what's the next exit? I'm getting hungry."

Blair looked down at the map he was still holding then squinted through the windshield. "Awww jeez, Jim. Here I've been talking away and forgot to check the exits. I'm sorry. I'll catch the next one, promise."

Looking easily through the same windshield Blair could barely squint through Jim saw the upcoming exit sign. "No problem. Exit 119 coming up. How about we stop here? That sign shows about five different restaurants at that exit."

Blair adjusted his glasses, leaned forward and stared out through the rain. "Sign? What sign? What are you looking at? I don't see anything."

Just then a large blue information sign showed up in the distance. As they got nearer Blair could read Exit 119 at the top and the logos for five restaurants printed on it.

Jim just grinned. "Told ya."

At Blair's lack of response, Jim risked a quick glance. Blair was staring at him open mouthed.

"What?"

"Do you realize, Jim, that you read that sign from almost a mile away—in the rain?"

Jim just shrugged. "Must have been a trick of the light. You know, reflecting off the rain or something." No way was he going mention that things like this had been happening a lot lately. Weird flashes of seeing or hearing or smelling things that he shouldn't be able to. Food suddenly tasting funny, like in the restaurant with Carolyn the other night. Some days his clothes itched so badly he had to go home, take a shower and change. Bad enough he thought he was going crazy, didn't need anyone else to think so too.

He just barely heard Blair whisper, "One."

Trying to change the subject he asked Blair which restaurant he wanted to eat at. When Blair left it up to him he started to go towards Denny's but decided to spend Simon's money at Red Lobster instead. Once they were seated with menus Jim noticed that Blair barely glanced at his then put it aside. Must already know what he wants. When the waitress came back Jim gave his order but frowned when Blair only ordered hot tea. Telling the waitress to wait a minute he turned back to Blair. He was paler than he had been earlier and his eyes looked duller too. "Look Chief, you need something hot and more substantial than tea in you. I'll bet you haven't eaten all day, have you?"

Blair looked down at his hands where they sat on the tablecloth. He actually hadn't eaten since waiting at the bus station some time yesterday. But that wasn't Jim's problem. Still, even as the lie was forming in his mouth he found himself just shaking his head. He briefly wondered why he felt compelled to admit that to this almost total stranger.

"Do you like clam chowder?" When Blair nodded Jim turned back to the now slightly impatient waitress. "My order and a large clam chowder and hot tea." He glanced at Blair then back at the waitress. "One check." Writing everything down, the woman turned and left them alone. When she was half way across the restaurant Jim chuckled. "Our charming waitress thinks that people should know what they want before they start to order and she thinks that you look old enough to order for yourself."

Blair's eyes opened wide. "You heard her say that? From here?"

"Yeah. It's pretty quiet in here. I guess her voice carried or something."

Blair looked down at his hands again and whispered, "Two."

Before Jim could comment Blair spoke out loud again. "You don't have to pay for mine, Jim."

"Trust me, Simon can afford a bowl of chowder."

Blair looked up. "Simon?"

"My boss. I told you, this was a work convention. This whole trip is being expensed out. Don't worry about it."

"Oh."

Blair knew that he wasn't feeling well but he couldn't let Jim know. If Jim knew he was getting sick he might not let him back into his nice, dry and even more important, warm Jeep. The thought of standing on the side of the road in the rain again was almost unbearable. And so far he had noted that Jim had two enhanced senses. What if he had more? Besides that, he found that he just enjoyed riding with Jim, much more so than with the other few people who had given him a lift. Even though they had only known each other for a few hours he felt comfortable with him. Safe even. Now where did that come from?

Jim studied Blair. The kid definitely looked worse than when he first picked him up, but he obviously was not going to admit it. Probably afraid that I won't let him ride with me anymore if I thought he was getting sick. Actually just the opposite was happening. He was finding himself becoming more and more concerned. He watched as another shiver started at the top of Blair's head and worked its way down. Blair definitely needed to get out of those wet clothes and into something warm. He just hoped that the hot chowder would help until then. There was no explaining why he felt so concerned, almost protective, towards this hippie looking grad student that he'd just met, but the feelings were there so there was no use in denying them.

When their food arrived Jim ate while he watched Blair pick. When he had finally managed to eat almost half of the chowder, he pushed the bowl away and spent the remainder of the meal just sipping his tea. Jim didn't say anything, he just paid the check and guided Blair back to the Jeep. They were barely on the highway again when Jim heard soft snoring coming from beside him. Glancing over he saw that Blair had curled up as much as possible inside his seatbelt and was now sound asleep. Without even consciously trying to listen, Jim became aware of the slightly labored breathing and the beginnings of congestion his passenger's lungs. "Go on and sleep, Chief, you need it. I can watch for the exits by myself from here on out."


Jim turned away from the AmeriSuites front desk holding two key cards. He was glad it was a slow time of year, so he had no problems switching his reserved single room with one king sized bed to a double room with two full sized beds instead. As he climbed back into the driver's seat he looked over at Blair. Poor guy hadn't moved in the past couple of hours, but his breathing and congestion were getting worse. He quickly pulled around and parked directly in front of the door that opened into the hallway where the room was located. When Jim reached the room he put his suitcase and Blair's backpack on their respective beds before going back to the car to rouse his temporary roommate. Opening the passenger door he unbuckled the seatbelt, using the opportunity to feel Blair's forehead. Too warm. He gently started shaking Blair's shoulder. "C'mon Chief. Time to finally get out of those wet clothes."

Getting no response he shook a little harder. "Come on kid. You need to get inside."

Blair started then his eyes flew open. "Huh? What?" He looked around. "Where—?"

Jim put his hand on Blair's arm. "Hey, relax Chief. It's all right. I got us a room for the night."

Blair tried to focus on the face in front of him. "Jim?"

"That's right."

"Room?"

"Right again."

"Bed?"

"Comes with the room."

"'kay."

Jim helped Blair out of the passenger seat, then held him up when he wavered a little. By the time they got into the room Blair was more awake, looking around. "Hey, this is one of those suites with a little kitchen and living room and everything. You must have a generous boss."

Jim started making sputtering noises which he covered up with a cough. Oh yeah. Until Simon sees my expense report for this trip. Bet it's a cold day in Hell before Accounting lets them send me off to another convention. He smiled at the thought.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing. All right first things first. Strip off all your clothes."

Blair froze, his eyes growing incredibly wide. "WHAT? What did you just say?"

Jim, thinking that Blair simply didn't hear him, repeated himself. "I said I take all your clothes off."

Oh God. Not Jim. He was last person he expected to be one those types of men. Guess there really is no such thing as a free ride. But this wasn't a price he was willing to pay. Blair slowly inched his way sideways until he was beside his bed. Reaching down he picked up his backpack and slung it over his shoulder, then he started edging his way towards the door, keeping a wide distance between himself and Jim. "Uh, hey look Jim, or whatever your name really is. I appreciate the ride and the meal and all but sorry, I don't do this. Never have, and sure as hell don't plan to start now. I don't want any trouble, I just want to leave. Now. So, just get away from the door and I'll be outta here so fast neither of us will even remember I was ever here."

That short speech was too much for Blair's already straining lungs, he ended it in a coughing fit that nearly doubled him over. When Jim started towards him to help, Blair quickly moved behind the small dinette set, keeping the furniture between Jim and himself. He held onto the back of a chair with both hands to steady himself, as he tried to talk while still catching his breath.

"Don't... come near me... Don't... touch me... I'm warning you."

Realization of what he said and how Blair was reacting to it finally hit Jim. It would almost be funny except that, despite Blair's bravado, he could actually smell the waves of fear coming off the smaller man. That fear was making his heart pound dangerously fast, forcing his already weakened lungs to try to provide even more oxygen. Blair's face was white, with beads of sweat across his forehead. His lungs were straining to pull in enough air. If he didn't calm down soon he was going to collapse.

"Blair, listen to me. I know what I said but I didn't mean it the way it sounded."

Blair just stared at him, still breathing hard.. "Yeah?... And just what part of... 'take all your clothes off'... did I misinterpret? Look... I just want... to leave."

Jim took a deep breath. He had to get this right. If Blair left and spent the night outside in the cold and rain in his current condition, at best he could end up with pneumonia, at worst, he might not even survive the night. He could tell that Blair's fever had risen and the congestion was worsening.

"Just hear me out before you do anything, okay? Okay?" Blair's heart rate and breathing had slowed down a bit but were still too fast. He never took his eyes off of Jim as the bigger man continued "The ONLY reason I wanted you to take off your clothes is because I wanted you to take a hot shower, to warm you up, plus the steam will help with the congestion building in your lungs. All these rooms are suites which means there are washers and dryers available for guest use. Your clothes are still wet. I was going to wash and dry them, even your sneakers. That's it. I swear. I should have told you what I was planning to do first, instead of just blurting out what I wanted you to do."

"Okay then, tell me this... what was I supposed to wear... when I got OUT of the shower? Since all my clothes would be gone?... Just prance around all night... in a skimpy hotel towel? I don't think so."

Jim looked baffled. God. He hadn't even thought about the fact that Blair had no other clothes with him. "Damn. You're right Chief. I was more concerned about your getting a hot shower and drying your clothes. It never even occurred to me what you'd wear when you got out."

Blair just raised an skeptical eyebrow at him.

"Okay, I can understand your doubts. Look, I'm going to go over to my suitcase, there's something in it I want to show you. Just stay there. Don't move, please."

Jim turned and headed towards the beds. It was as if he could actually feel Blair's eyes trained on him. Not wanting to spook Blair anymore than he already was, he made it a point to move slowly and carefully. Any sudden moves and he was sure Blair would be out the door, which was on the far side of the room from the beds. Reaching his suitcase he opened it and removed a few items which he carried back to the dinette table. Even though the table was pretty small, Jim still made it a point to stay at the far end, away from Blair. He laid down a small pile of folded clothes with a leather wallet on top. Blair glanced at the pile for a second then looked back up at Jim. His breathing had evened out some more, his heart rate slower but still elevated.

Jim started to speak, deliberately keeping his voice soft and as unthreatening as he could.

"Everything I told you about myself is true. I just didn't tell you the whole truth. There were no ulterior motives, no reason I felt I had to lie. My real name is Jim, James Ellison to be exact. I do work in Cascade—" he reached down and picked up the leather wallet, flipping it open as he continued talking, "—for the Cascade Police Department, Major Crime Unit." He held out the open wallet, revealing a gold badge and a police photo I.D. showing him to be Detective James Ellison, Cascade PD. As Blair slowly reached out and took the leather case, Jim picked up where he left off. "My boss is named Simon, Captain Simon Banks, head of the Major Crime Unit and I am heading back from a work related convention, hosted by the Fraternal Order of Police. There are some brochures and handouts in my suitcase if you want to look at them. I didn't tell you I was a cop earlier because I realized a long time ago that most people tend to act differently when they know they're around a cop. They're usually uncomfortable, feeling like they have to watch what they do or say. When I first picked you up I just figured that I give you a ride for a while, you'd leave and that would be that. I didn't see any reason to bring it up."

Blair looked up from the I.D. he was studying. "And now?"

Jim's gaze never faltered as he look directly at Blair. "And now, for reasons I can't even explain myself, it's very important to me that you trust me, that you feel you're safe with me. That you know, and really believe, that I won't hurt you. As a cop I arrest people for doing what you think I was trying to do to you. I want you to know that I actually enjoy arresting those types of scumbags and only wish I could throw away the key myself."

Looking down, his face flushed, he picked up the pile of clothes. "Uh, here. This is a pair of sweat pants, a T-shirt and socks. The pants have a drawstring waist so you can adjust them, but I'm afraid you'll have to roll up the legs a bit. The shirt might be a bit big too but you have pretty broad shoulders so I think it'll fit okay. I don't see a problem with the socks. At least you'll have something to wear. Something warm and dry. And a warm, dry, safe place to sleep tonight. If you want to." He held out the pile towards Blair.

Blair put down the wallet and looked up into Jim's face. He didn't know why but he believed him. He felt a warm sense of relief flowing through him as he concluded that his earlier assessment in the restaurant of how he felt towards Jim had been correct after all. He felt like he had known him for a much longer time than just the past several hours. And despite the unexpected panic attack he'd just had, he really did feel safe with him. Especially now. In fact he got the distinct impression that there was nowhere safer he could be than with this man. His smile was small but genuine as he accepted the pile of clothes. "I guess it would be better than mooning anyone who happened to be walking past the window."

Jim smiled back. At that moment they both felt it as something very right 'clicked' between them. A feeling that their lives were about to change forever. The moment passed as Jim saw Blair shiver again.

"All right Chief. Get into the bathroom and toss out your wet clothes as you get undressed. I'll take them to the laundry room when you're finished. I thought that then I'd pick up some dinner. You like Chinese?"

"Yeah, but I'm really not hungry." Seeing Jim's frown he added, "But how about some Won Ton soup and vegetable fried rice?" Putting the pile of clothes back on the table he slipped off his backpack and took off his jacket, hanging it over the back of the chair. Picking up the clothes he entered the bathroom. A few minutes later out came one wet sneaker followed by another then two pairs of socks then no less than three shirts and one still damp pair of jeans with the grand finale being a pair of plaid boxers.

Jim looked at the pile on the floor. "You sure this is all yours Chief? I've seen two or three people combined that don't wear this much." He heard what sounded like a muttered "Cold outside" then the shower was turned on. He laughed out loud as he started to gather up the clothes off of the floor.


Jim juggled the bags into one arm as he slid the key card into the slot, relieved when the light turned green. He didn't think he'd ever really get used to these keyless doors most hotels used now. Just one more thing to break down later. Once inside he put the large bag on the dinette table and a smaller one on counter beside the 'kitchen' sink. He didn't need to use his hearing to find his roommate. There was a large, curled up, blanket covered lump on the small couch that Jim was sure hadn't been there when he left. One of the two pillows from Blair's bed had also made it to the couch, between it and the blanket the only part of Blair that was visible was a small patch of brown hair. Jim really hated to wake him up, he needed the sleep. But he also needed to eat and take what was in the small bag on the counter. In a few steps he was beside the couch and leaning over the shapeless mass, reaching out to where he thought a shoulder might be, gently shaking it.

"Come on Chief, I know you're tired but you need to wake up for a little while."

The mass moved a little and a muffled voice could barely be heard, "'m 'sleep. Go 'way."

Jim had to smile, his younger brother used to sound just like that when he was small and someone tried to wake him up. But he had to get Blair up. "No can do, partner. You need to eat. I went out in this driving rain to hunt us down some food, the least you can do is eat it."

The blanket lowered just far enough to reveal one blue eye. "Hunt?"

"Hey, it's a regular jungle out there. I just did manage to cut off and beat this little old lady to the last decent parking space by the restaurant. She was small but feisty. Thought she was going to hit me with her umbrella."

That brought the blanket the rest of the way down as Blair started to sit up as he laughed. "Well since you obviously risked life and limb in order to get dinner, I guess I do feel somewhat obligated to eat some of it." He rubbed his face with both hands. When he looked up he saw Jim staring at him. Looking down at himself then back up again, he started coughing as he asked, "What? If it's the outfit, remember, you picked it out."

Jim blinked. "No, it's just the first time I've really seen all your hair. You've had it pulled back all day."

Blair reached one hand up to his still slightly damp curls. After keeping it in a tight ponytail all day it felt good to let it hang loose. Besides it would never dry pulled back. But Jim was ex-military and a cop, he probably had a real hang up about long hair on guys. "Hey, if it bothers you I can keep it pulled back. No problem." He started looking around for his elastic band.

"No, no. It doesn't bother me. In fact, as far as long hair goes, it looks all right. Now get over here before your dinner gets cold."

Relieved, Blair picked up his glasses from the coffee table, putting them on as he walked over to the table while Jim started taking cardboard cartons out of the bag.

"Why don't you get out some plates, glasses and silverware while I open these."

When Blair turned back to the table again he saw that besides the food there was a six-pack of beer on the table and a carton of orange juice. Sitting down he slid a plate with a knife and fork on it towards Jim then reached over to snag a beer. "Man, after a day like today I can really go for one of these." He snatched his hand back in surprise when Jim smacked it.

"No, you don't."

"Hey! What's the big idea? I'm over twenty-one. You can check my driver's license." He paused. "Oh. You bought those for you, didn't you? I shouldn't have just grabbed one like that. I'm sorry." Keeping his eyes down he slowly pulled the Styrofoam bowl of soup towards him and removed the lid. Picking up the plastic spoon that came with it he started to stir the soup, muttering to himself. "What's wrong with you? Just grabbing like that? It's not like you even helped pay for any of this." He kept stirring, but not eating, the soup in front of him.

"Blair."

When Blair looked up Jim continued. "It's not that I mind sharing with you, not at all. It's just that you can't mix alcohol with cold medicine."

"Yeah, except that I don't have any kind of cold medicine. I wasn't exactly planning on having to hitchhike back to school, especially in this weather."

Jim went over to the counter and tossed the smaller bag to Blair. "You do now."

Blair caught the bag. "Huh?" He opened the bag and pulled out a bottle of aspirin. Putting it on the table he reached in again, this time removing a box whose label stated it contained an extra strength cough syrup with a decongestant. Turning the bag upside down he watched as a smaller bag fell out, vitamin C tablets with zinc. "Oh." Picking up the box of cough syrup he read the label. 'WARNING: Do not consume alcohol while taking this medication. May cause side effects including dizziness, nausea and cramping.' That does not sound like fun. So no beer tonight. He put the box back down and looked back up at Jim. "Thanks man, you didn't have to do all this. Um, you know I can't pay you back anything until we get back to Cascade. Keep a tally of everything and I'll settle up when we get there, okay?"

Jim sighed. "I already told you Chief, the meals and room are courtesy of the Cascade PD, so don't even worry about that. And I bought the cold stuff as much for me as for you." At Blair's puzzled look he smiled. "This way I don't have to listen to you try to cough up a lung all night and all day tomorrow." He poured a glass of orange juice and placed it in front of Blair. "Now eat."

Blair picked up his spoon again, this time actually getting the soup from the bowl to his mouth, watching as Jim finally sat down and started eating his own dinner. Okay Ellison, I can buy getting the cough syrup, I guess hearing me hacking all night would get pretty annoying, but that doesn't explain the aspirin or the vitamins or the orange juice. He realized that Jim was talking and he did not sound happy.

"Dammit. I TOLD them not to use any MSG." He was making a disgusted looking face. He tried a forkful from each carton, including Blair's rice. "Well, at least it only seems to be in the Mongolian Beef. How's your soup?"

"Uh, fine I guess." Blair was staring at Jim. "Jim. Are you telling me that you can actually taste the MSG in the food? You can tell which has it and which doesn't? Have you always been able to do it?"

Well, yeah. It gives everything a bitter, 'off' taste, y'know? And no I haven't always been able to taste it, it just started lately." With all the other weird shit that's going on with me.

Blair didn't respond as he ate his soup with one hand and pulled his carton of rice towards his plate with the other. But Jim heard the barely whispered, "Three."

The rest of dinner proceeded rather quietly. Jim noticed that Blair had suddenly seemed very preoccupied. He didn't seem to be in any acute distress, aside from occasional coughing, so he put it down to Blair's being tired.

As soon as they both finished eating Jim cleared the table, putting the few dishes used in the sink and throwing away the rest. He then put the cough syrup, aspirin and vitamins in front of Blair and refilled his glass with orange juice. "Now that you have some food in you take those, in what ever order you want."

It was Blair's turn to make a disgusted face. He pulled the bottle of cough syrup out of the box and looked at it. "I hate taking this kind of 'medicine'". Besides being all chemicals, I don't care what flavor it says on the box, this stuff only has one taste—gross." He opened the bottle and sniffed, quickly turning his nose away from the offending odor. "Oh yuck."

Jim laughed. "If you take the cough syrup first you can then take the aspirin with some orange juice and then chew a few vitamin C tablets, that should kill the taste. Go on, take them so I can go check on your clothes."

"Speaking of clothes..." Blair looked down and pulled the T-shirt he was wearing away from him looking at the logo on the front. "... my Mom would probably freak if she saw me wearing a police department T-shirt. She'd think I'd gone and joined the 'other side'."

Jim knew a diversionary tactic when he saw one, but he was curious. "I take it your mother doesn't like cops."

"Naomi is a rather 'unique' individual." Blair's smile and eyes conveyed his deep affection for his mother. "She was one of the original hippies from the sixties. She embraced the counter culture movement back then and never left it. I spent my childhood constantly moving, going to sit-ins, protests and demonstrations. Let's just say that she didn't always view the cops as the good guys." He grinned and shrugged his shoulders. "What can I say? That's my mom."

"How'd your father feel about all this? Was he a protester too?"

Blair's grin vanished as he lowered his eyes. His voice dropped to just above a whisper. "Wouldn't know. Never met the man."

Obviously time to change the subject. "All right. Enough stalling." Jim stood beside Blair and put his hand across his forehead. "Yep. Low-grade fever. Be sure to take the aspirin too. It'll help with the fever and any aches and pains you may have. Then you need to get into bed. Bed bed, not couch bed. I want to get an early start in the morning and you need a good night's sleep." He watched as Blair opened the aspirin bottle and put two pills beside the glass of orange juice. Then he opened the vitamin C bag and unwrapped two tablets leaving them on the table. Once everything else was set up, he opened the cough syrup and poured it into the small plastic cup up to the prescribed line. He looked at it as if it were pure poison.

Jim smiled and shook his head. "Close your eyes, hold your nose and swallow. It'll all be over before you know it."

Blair did. The face he made definitely reminded Jim of his younger brother whenever their housekeeper made him take medicine he didn't like. He watched as Blair quickly swallowed the aspirin with almost the entire glass of juice then pop the vitamin C into his mouth. Finally.

"Good boy. Now go get into bed. I'm going to go get your clothes. I put them in the dryer on my way back in. I don't know about you but if I put on clothes that aren't just washed and dried, they bug the hell out of me all day. Sometimes even then."

Blair's tried to stay calm. "Your clothes irritate your skin? That's gotta be rough."

"Yeah." Jim looked thoughtful. "But you know it's funny. Back when I was still in the Army we'd be out in the field, wearing the same clothes, for days sometimes and it never bothered me. Same thing with long stakeouts with the PD. But now, if I can't change clothes after so many hours or if they get wet or messed up, it drives me nuts."

"Really?" Oh God, that's four. Three is practically nonexistent but NOBODY'S ever had four. "Let me ask you a totally off the wall question Jim. Have you spent any time recently totally isolated from everyone else? You know, like totally on your own?"

"Well, yeah as a matter of fact. There's this serial bomber, calls himself The Switchman, he's been blowing up buildings all over the city. I was staking out this building we thought he was using. Way out in the woods. I set the stakeout up like a recon mission and was out there for a few weeks by myself. Only had occasional radio contact with anyone. They finally radioed me that he was coming. We had several SWAT teams following him in. Anyway, at one point I almost had him..." Jim looked down, "... but he got away. We went in to check out the building. Almost as soon as we got in I smelled the bomb. I finally found it a few floors down buried under the floorboards. We all just barely made it out before the whole building blew. The whole thing had been a set up. I had him. Dammit, I had him. And I let him get away. That's when things started getting weird. Like the thing with my clothes and hearing things and other... stuff. Simon figured it was stress mixed with guilt. Since we knew his pattern and the fact that he'd almost been caught, Simon decided it would be all right to send me to this conference so I could get away from it for a few days and "recharge my batteries" as he put it."

Jim was stunned at himself. The kid asked one simple question and suddenly he was spilling his guts about everything. But at the same time it really felt good to finally tell someone everything. And he just somehow instinctively knew that if there was anyone he could tell, it would be Blair. He looked for Blair's reaction.

Blair couldn't help just staring at Jim. He smelled a bomb from a few floors away. Number five. Jim was IT. After all this time and work. He found one. He actually found one! It fit. It all fit. The isolation. The senses suddenly coming online. Everything fit. He had actually found a living, breathing sentinel. His heart starting pounding in excitement, it was getting hard to breathe. He suddenly felt very lightheaded.

Jim was watching for Blair's reaction. The last thing he expected was this look of, what, awe that appeared on his face. He could almost see the wheels turning in his brain. Suddenly Blair's face paled as his breathing got faster. He was shaking too. Jim turned Blair sideways in his chair as he knelt down in front of him, holding his upper arms as the younger man swayed a little in his seat.

"Blair? Blair! Answer me! What's wrong?"

Blair was staring at him with slightly glazed eyes. "Omigod Jim. All five. You have all five. You're real."

Jim reached up and felt Blair's forehead. The fever didn't seem any higher. Maybe it was taking all that medication at once. "Yeah Chief. I'm real and you're going to bed. Come on."

He held onto Blair's arms as he lifted him off the chair, keeping a tight grip until he was sure he was steady on his feet. "Can you make it to the bathroom all right? I'll fix your bed back up while you're in there. Are you all right now?"

Blair smiled, feeling very tired as the sudden rush of adrenaline faded away. "I'm all right. In fact everything's all right now. It's just, wow, y'know?"

Jim didn't know but he nodded anyway. "Sure Chief, whatever you say. Go on now." He watched until he was sure Blair was walking steadily, then he gathered up Blair's bedding from the couch and brought it over to the bed. When Blair emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later he was just finishing.

As Jim watched Blair walk from the bathroom towards his bed he saw the large yawn escape. He smiled to himself. Perfect timing. When Blair reached Jim he stop and just looked at him with a small, mysterious smile on his face. Just what's going on in that highly educated brain of yours, Chief? And why do I get the feeling it involves me somehow? Another large yawn preempted any answers tonight. Blair sat on the edge of the bed and removed his glasses, putting them on the nightstand then curled up in the bed facing Jim. He pulled the covers up to his neck with a contented sigh as he closed his eyes.

"You comfortable enough? You need anything?"

Blair shook his head. "Uh-uh."

Jim reached down and turned off the lamp. As he started to straighten up Blair reached out and grasped his wrist. Squatting down beside the bed he saw Blair looking at him, blinking to keep his tired eyes open. "What's the matter, Blair?"

"I-I just wanted to say... thanks. For the ride and room and all the food and the medicine and washing my clothes. No one's ever gone out of their way for me like that before and I wanted you to know that I really appreciate it." He kept his grip on Jim's wrist. "And I really want to say that I'm sorry... for thinking... for what I thought you wanted... what I thought you were trying to make me do... earlier. I know you're not like that. I just wanted you to know." He was having a hard time keeping his eyes open.

"Hey, I'm just glad I'm able to help you out. It's not like you planned on getting stranded. As for the other, well as long you really understand that I won't hurt you, that I won't let anything hurt you, then everything's okay." It was still very important to him that Blair believe he was safe with him.

Blair nodded, unable to keep his eyes open. His grip was loosening on Jim's wrist. "... accepted me as part of your tribe. Must protect the tribe..."

Tribe? Jim briefly flashed on something Blair had said earlier. About the Indian village and a special warrior whose job it was to protect the tribe. He looked back to ask Blair if that's what he was referring to but realized he'd be talking to a sleeping man. He carefully slid his wrist from under Blair's hand and slowly stood up. They had lots of time tomorrow to talk during the long drive back to Cascade. Yet somehow he had the feeling that his relationship with this obviously unique young college student was not going to end when they got there.

And that thought pleased him greatly.

As he crossed the room towards the door to go get Blair's clothes, the loud boom of rolling thunder reminded him that the storm outside had not let up yet. Just goes to show you that you never know what a driving rain can blow into your life. He was still smiling as he picked up the key card and headed out the door.


Part 2

Jim woke up slowly, his internal clock telling him it was six a.m. As he stretched he looked over at the other bed. His temporary roommate was practically buried under the covers. He had turned the thermostat down before going to bed, apparently Blair didn't share his preference for cooler temperatures while sleeping. Frowning to himself, he wondered if given Blair's current illness, maybe he should have kept the room a bit warmer. Getting out of bed he went over and raised the setting on the thermostat. By the time he finished in the bathroom the room should be warmer, he'd let Blair sleep until then.

Twenty minutes later he was showered, shaved and dressed. The room definitely felt warmer. Time to wake up his traveling companion. He leaned over the bed and poked Blair's shoulder a few times. "Come on kid, wake up. Time to get a move on."

He jerked back when Blair's eyes flew open as he threw himself across to the far side of the bed. Jim could hear his heart pounding. He made sure he stood very still until he saw recognition dawning in Blair's eyes.

"Blair? You all right?"

A red blush was spreading across Blair's face. "Um, yeah, Jim. I'm fine. You just, uh, startled me, that's all." He glanced at the window, it looked like it was still dark. "What's wrong? What time is it?" Damn. Guess I'm not quite over last night just yet. Probably scared poor Jim half to death. His heart rate was slowing back down, his eyes growing sleep heavy again as the brief adrenaline rush ebbed.

After glancing at his watch Jim answered, still surprised at Blair's reaction. "Nothing's wrong and it's almost six thirty. We need to be starting out soon." Since Blair now seemed to be choosing to ignore his initial outburst Jim decided to follow his lead.

Blair stared at him then started to crawl back under the covers. "SIX THIRTY! In the morning? Are you nuts? NOBODY gets up at six thirty unless they have to be somewhere at a specific time. We don't." He pulled the covers back over his head. "Wake me back up at a decent hour—around nine-ish." He almost totally disappeared again.

Jim smiled as he ignored the muffled coughing coming from under Blair's blanket. This kid changed gears faster than a Ferrari. But they were wasting time, they still had a long drive ahead of them and he wanted to get an early start. He grabbed Blair's foot and started shaking it. "Let's go Chief. I'm checking out of here no later than seven a.m. That means I'll need my clothes back. You can then explain to the maid why a naked man is still sleeping in a supposedly unoccupied room." It also sounds like you need another dose of your favorite cough syrup.

Blair stuck his head out and looked back at a too smug looking Jim. "You'd really do that too, wouldn't you?" Jim just gave him a evil grin. "Fine." With a loud dramatic sigh he pushed the covers off and swung his legs over the side of the bed, sitting up he scrubbed his hands over his face. "Great. Looks like I'll be doing my Grizzly Adams impression today. Just my luck, I'll probably meet some really cute girl too, with me looking all scruffy and everything."

Jim was impressed. For such a young looking kid he had a pretty good amount of stubble already. Could probably grow a full beard in no time. He walked over to his suitcase and pulled out his shaving kit, then held it out to Blair. "Here. There's a few unused disposable razors in here, help yourself. And since we're going to be in an enclosed car most of the time, feel free to use the deodorant too."

Blair took the kit. "Thanks, I think. You wouldn't happen to have an extra toothbrush in there too, would you?"

"No, and there is a definite limit to what I'm willing to share."

Blair sighed again. "Oh well, won't be the first time I've brushed my teeth with my finger. Did I tell you about the time I was—"

"Not now Chief. Move it, we're wasting daylight,"

As Blair got up he tilted his head towards the window. Through the slightly parted curtains a barely noticeable band of pink was peeking out across the horizon. "Jim, daylight isn't even awake yet. Relax man, unless you've got a hot date waiting for you in Cascade, I don't think we're going to be late for anything." He grinned and ducked past Jim as he grabbed his clothes off the dresser where Jim had put them and hurried into the bathroom, just missing a swat aimed at the back of his head.

Ten minutes later a dressed and more awake looking Blair emerged from the bathroom. He handed the shaving kit and clothes he had been wearing to Jim. "Thanks man. But why do you carry a bunch of razors with you? Just how long was that conference supposed to be?" Sitting on the edge of the bed he started putting on his sneakers.

How to explain this without it sounding too weird. "One razor used to last for a while. Now they seem to get dull real fast. It seems like one day it feels fine then the next it almost hurts to use it. So I just always keep a couple of new ones around so I can switch out whenever necessary."

Blair's head jerked up as he suddenly remembered his discovery from last night. Jim was a sentinel! How on earth could he have forgotten that? Must be this damn cold. Of course he had extra sensitive skin, he could probably feel the minutest nicks and dulling of a razor blade way before anyone else would. Oh man, this was so exciting. He had actually found a real sentinel! All he had to do now was to explain to an ex-Army Ranger, straight laced cop that he was genetic throwback to previous generations and talk him into letting him study him for his dissertation. Oh yeah, that conversation should be lots of fun. Probably best to have that little talk in the car, at least if Jim was driving he couldn't walk away. No, he could just stop the car and make him get out. But so what? Even if he did, he already knew Jim's full name and where he worked. He would just find him in Cascade and somehow convince him that he was right. But what if he really refused? What if after all this time he finally found his sentinel and he refused to even talk to him? Told him to never come near him again? He was a cop for christsake, a damn big cop too. Blair was starting to hyperventilate. He couldn't get this close to his dream and fail. He just couldn't. He wrapped his arms around his waist and started rocking slightly. I am not having a panic attack. I AM NOT having a panic attack. His inner monologue was suddenly halted as he bent over as wracking coughs overcame him.

Jim just stood there momentarily confused. When he told Blair about the razors he looked up at him but he seemed almost excited not upset. Then his heart rated started getting faster as had his breathing. That's when he did start to look upset, almost scared. Now this. He hurried over to Blair's bed and sat beside him. His hand hovered over Blair's shoulder for a moment before he tentatively put it on it. Dammit, he wasn't good at this sort of stuff. "Blair? What's wrong?" He looked around. "Where'd you hide that damn cough syrup?"

Blair raised himself back up to a sitting position. "It's all right Jim. I'm fine now." His voice was slightly hoarse from coughing. He turned and faced Jim. "You... you wouldn't kick me out of the car, would you? I mean, if I said something you didn't like, would you make me get out?" Maybe it would be better to wait until they got back to Cascade to talk to Jim. But he really needed to talk to him now.

What was the kid talking about now? You almost needed a program to keep up with him. Why on earth would Blair think he would ever kick him out?

"No Blair. I told you that you had a ride all the way back to Cascade and I meant it. When I give my word on something I keep it. What's going on here and why would you think I'd kick you out over something you might say?"

Blair just gave him a small smile. "Never mind. It's almost seven. We'd better get going." He picked up his glasses off the nightstand and put them on as he stood up and looked around. "Looks like we've got everything. I guess we're ready to leave."

Jim shook his head. He was wrong earlier. A Ferrari had nothing on Blair when it came to changing gears. The best he could do was to just try to keep up. He went over and picked up his suitcase. "I'll take this to the Jeep. Why don't you meet me at the front desk? They have a free breakfast buffet here. I thought we'd hit that first, after checking out, before we head out." He had heard Blair's stomach growling, though he doubted if Blair would have mentioned being hungry.

"Free breakfast? Man 'free' is like so in my budget. Let's get this show on the road."

"I'll go put this in the car then drive around to the front, that way we can just eat and go. Meet you at the check out desk."

"Okay." Blair picked up his jacket and backpack and carried them as he went through the door and turned right towards the main lobby.

Jim started to pick up is suitcase when he noticed the small paper bag containing Blair's medicine pushed back in a corner on the counter by the sink. He retrieved it, putting it into his jacket pocket. Nice try, Chief. Leaving the room he turned left, towards the back door that led to the parking lot.


When Jim came back inside through the front lobby doors he saw Blair standing at the front desk talking to the young woman behind the counter. His backpack and jacket were piled at his feet since he was using his hands to make his point. As he got closer he could see that the woman, though interested in what Blair was saying, looked somewhat skeptical. Blair gave him a big smile when he reached them. "Hey Jim. I was just telling Angie here about the time I was in Africa."

Angie looked at Jim as he handed her the keycards to check out. "Has he really been to all those places?" He could hear Blair's heart race slightly at the question. "Probably. After all, isn't that what archeologists do? Travel around the world digging up stuff and studying it?"

She stopped typing up Jim's bill and looked at Blair with new admiration in her eyes. "If I ever get to Cascade maybe I could look you up at the university."

Blair was beaming. "Hey sure. That'd be great. I could show you around. There are usually some great exhibits showing and then we could—"

Jim cut him off, no telling how long this could take and he was hungry. "Sorry to interrupt, but it's getting late and we have a long way to go." He handed Angie his credit card, watched her type some more, then looked over and signed the hotel receipt she handed him.

Blair looked up apologetically. "Oh right. Sorry." He turned back towards the counter as he picked up his backpack and swung it over his shoulder. "Guess I gotta go now. It was nice talking to you, Angie."

"Do you have a number I can call, if I ever do get to Cascade?"

Putting the backpack on the counter, Blair started digging through it. "Yeah. Sure. Hang on a sec. Ahh... got it." He handed the girl a business card. "This is my office at Rainier. It's... uh... better to reach me there, I sometimes work really crazy hours and the voice mail's always on at that number."

Only Jim could hear the slight hitch in his voice. And right now you don't even have a home number to give her anyway. He put a gentle hand on Blair's shoulder. "Come on Romeo. Let's go eat."

Blair put the backpack back on his shoulder and picked up his jacket. "Okay Jim. Bye Angie, maybe I'll see you soon."

She waved the card and smiled. "You never know." Just then the phone rang and she turned to answer it giving Blair a small wave good-bye.

As they headed across the lobby to the buffet Blair turned to Jim. "Hey thanks for backing me up with Angie. But for the record, I'm an anthropologist not an archeologist." He sighed. "I don't know why people keep getting it mixed up, there are so many major differences between the two." As he launched into a detailed description of both occupations Jim noticed that now that he was no longer trying to impress Angie he was moving a bit slower and wasn't nearly as animated as he had been just a few minutes ago.

The buffet bar was an open area with tables and chairs set up in front of a long counter set against the back wall. All the food, coffee and drinks were on the self serve counter. At that hour on a Saturday morning there were very few people already there so they were able to get a table with four chairs. Blair put his backpack and jacket on one chair while Jim put his jacket on another. Both men went to help themselves to breakfast.

Sitting down Jim frowned at the small amount of food on Blair's tray. Coffee, a glass of juice, a bagel and a small apple. He knew Blair was hungrier than that. It made his normal sized breakfast look huge. "Hey Chief, is that all you're having? Not much of a breakfast." Especially since he barely ate any dinner last night. He was afraid if Blair didn't eat he would get even sicker.

"Yeah. I thought I was hungry earlier but now just the thought of eating turns my stomach. I really hate being sick." He picked off a small piece of his bagel and put it in his mouth. "Sorry to be such a pain." As if to prove his own point he covered his mouth with a napkin as he started coughing again. Damn. Probably should have kept that god-awful cough syrup after all. Jim's not gonna want to have me hacking away like this all the way back to Cascade.

"Blair, you're not being a pain, you don't feel well, there's a difference. Just try to eat as much as you can, okay?"

"Okay."

Both men were silent for a few minutes as they continued eating. Jim tried to enjoy his scrambled eggs, bacon and toast as he watched Blair pick at his bagel. He still looked too pale too. He tried to lighten the new somber mood. "You know I just realized something, you know a lot about me but I don't even know your last name. If you don't want to tell me that's fine, I understand, but technically we did—" he lifted his fingers in the quotation gesture "—spend the night together." He smiled hoping that Blair wouldn't take that the wrong way, especially after what he thought Jim's plans were last night, but as he watched Blair's lips also curved up into a small smile. Blair wiped his hands on a napkin then stretched one hand half way across the table.

"Blair Jacob Sandburg, doctoral candidate and TA, Rainier University. Pleased to meet you."

Jim grinned and grasped the outstretched hand. "James Joseph Ellison, detective, Cascade PD. Likewise."

Jim noted that Blair had good, firm handshake even though his skin felt a bit too warm. Still running a low-grade fever. He didn't want to ruin the moment by bringing Blair's illness back up. "So what's a TA?"

Blair took a sip of his juice. "Teaching Assistant. Besides taking classes and working on my dissertation I also teach. That's how I make the meager funds that I live on. That and any grants I can get."

"Wow. Sounds like you stay pretty busy. And I thought being a detective was hectic."

Yeah. And now hopefully, please God, I'll get to fit studying you into all that somehow too. Blair shrugged one shoulder. "I manage, not always real well, but I manage."

Jim grinned. "Well let's finish up so I can get you back to the wonderful world of academia and me to the, by comparison, boring world of police work."

Blair had eaten most of the bagel and finished his coffee and juice when he pushed his plate back. He put the apple in his backpack. "In case I get hungry before lunch." Jim mentally shook his head. Probably plans on that being lunch. "Look Chief, why don't you at least get some more juice while I finish? You need all the OJ you can drink right now."

Blair looked a little surprised as he stood up. "Yeah. Probably wouldn't hurt."

When Blair returned he immediately noticed the dreaded paper bag from the drug store sitting right above his plate. He knew that inside the bag was the even more dreaded, totally chemical, awful tasting cough syrup. He couldn't believe that a few minutes ago he was actually wishing he still had it. Now that he had it, he knew that he definitely didn't want to take it again. Since Jim had bought it for him he couldn't in good conscience throw it away so he'd hoped by stashing it in a corner it would just "accidentally" get left behind. Who was he kidding? Jim has sentinel eyesight, he should have known Jim wouldn't miss anything. His softly muttered "Damn" was barely audible.

Jim heard the muttered curse and tried not to smile. "Good thing I happened to spot the bag or it might have gotten left behind. I know you don't like it Chief, but you've been coughing all morning and the aspirin will help your fever. Just take it like you did last night. It'll all be over in a minute and you'll feel better for a while at least." And it was very important to him that Blair feel better.

Blair sighed. Just get it over with so they could leave. Like last night he first poured out the cough syrup then put two aspirin on the table and finally unwrapped two vitamin C tablets. Picking the small cough syrup cup he scowled at it then quickly downed the medicine. It was quickly followed the aspirin and orange juice and finally both vitamin C tablets. Still grimacing over the taste he put everything back in the bag. "Okay, I'm ready."

"Well Chief, if nothing else, you're entertaining. All right, let's get out of here."

After depositing their dishes and trash both men walked across the lobby towards the front door. Blair got another wave from Angie as they passed the front desk.

"It'd be nice if Angie did come to visit, I just hope I have a place to live by then. Kinda hard to impress a girl when you live in homeless shelter."

Jim turned and looked at Blair. He couldn't tell if he was joking or not. Blair looked like he didn't know either. "Come on Chief. I'm sure it will work out once you get back. The school can't leave you with no place to live, especially since it was their fault."

Blair shook his head. "It's been a while since you've had to deal with school administrators hasn't it?"

Before he could answer they were going through the front doors into the parking lot. Jim was glad to see that the rain had slowed to a light drizzle. He led Blair over to where he had parked his Jeep. As he was unlocking the passenger door he heard a loud "Whoa!" come from Blair. He quickly turned his head. "What's wrong?"

Blair was still on the sidewalk, grinning as he stared at Jim's vehicle. "Man that is a seriously red Jeep. It was raining really hard all day yesterday and it was dark when we stopped last night, I never really saw it before. I know you're a cop and all but do you like harbor a secret fantasy to be a fireman or something?"

Jim scowled as he went to unlock his own door. He had had to put up with all this from the guys at the station when he first bought the Jeep, he didn't want to go through it again with this kid. "Just shut up and get in before you get all wet again."

Blair was still grinning as he buckled his seat belt. "C'mon man, I've only known you since yesterday and I know that this color is so not you. What's the story? There has to be a story here, so give."

Jim was backing out of the parking space, glad he had something else to concentrate on. "Fine. I tell you then you drop it. Permanently. I was still married when I bought it. I let Carolyn pick out the color. Shesaiditwasherfavoritenailpolishcolor. End of story. Now I don't want to hear any more about it." He eased the Jeep out of the parking lot into traffic, heading for the interstate.

Blair was silent for all of ten seconds before he burst out laughing. "You're driving a car that's your ex-wife's favorite nail polish color! And you don't even like the color! Oh man, that is priceless." He took off his glasses and wiped his eyes.

Jim continued to frown as he turned onto the 'on' ramp for the interstate. "Okay, that's it. Next chance I get I'm trading this in for something in a more neutral color."

Blair was still chuckling. "You know, if you really want to get rid of it, all you have to do is, when you get back, is leave it illegally parked somewhere. Everyone knows that in Cascade if you park you car illegally it gets towed away and is never seen again. Hey, is it really true that the police department has this huge secret parking lot somewhere where they sell all the towed off cars really cheap? They say you have to know someone to be able to buy one and now I know you."

Jim deftly avoided the question. "You looking to buy a car?"

"Me? No way. I have this great classic Corvair. Well, great when it's running right anyway. Someday I'll have the money to really fix her up right. I was just thinking, you know, in case I should ever know someone who needs a car."

Now Jim grinned. "A female someone if I'm guessing correctly."

"Hey, planning ahead is half the battle. Sooo, you gonna hook me up or what?"

Just then a black sports car suddenly veered into their lane barely inches from the Jeep's front bumper. Jim hit the brakes as he was forced to swerve into the next lane flinging his right arm across Blair's chest even though they were both wearing seat belts. The sports car sped up and took off down the highway.

"You all right Blair?"

"Yeah man, I'm fine. You going after him?"

Jim shook his head. "No. No point. I don't have any jurisdiction out here and he's long gone anyway. Hopefully a local cop or the state patrol will spot him before he hurts himself or someone else. I got the license plate so if we run across any other cops I'll give it to them."

Blair sat opened mouthed. He got the license plate number? Of course he did. He probably read it even as the car was speeding away. Okay, here's your perfect opportunity to start that conversation you've been putting off.

"Uh Jim. About you're being able to read that license plate..."

Jim silently cursed himself. He did it again. No 'trick of the light' explanation was going to work this time. Damn. This shit was getting out of hand now.

"Jim?" Blair took a deep breath and let it out. Just spit it out. "I think I know what's going on with you. Seeing and hearing things you shouldn't be able to. Smells are much stronger. Taste buds going wacky." He waved the fingers of one hand in the air. "Extra sensitive touchy-feely." Blair's natural enthusiasm was building again. "I've been studying people with enhanced senses. I have hundreds of documented cases of people with one enhanced sense, a few with two and extremely rarely three. But nobody has ever had four and from what I've observed so far man you have ALL FIVE senses enhanced. You're the real thing. You are a sentinel. A living, breathing embodiment of Burton's work. God, I can't believe I found you."

This was all hitting way too close to home for Jim. "First off kid, you didn't 'find' me. I picked you up remember? And who is Burton and what is a sentinel? And why do you think any of this has anything to do with me?" Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he had heard the word before, probably something to do with that Indian village Blair had been talking about yesterday.

Blair tried to calm down. Now that he had gotten started his usual excitement for his favorite subject took over. "Sir Richard Burton, no not that Richard Burton, was one of the first anthropologists. In his studies he describes these special warriors or watchman that most tribes seemed to have. These watchman, he called them sentinels, had all of their senses genetically enhanced. They were the protectors of the tribe. They could tell when the enemy was coming or the weather was changing or where the best hunting was, anything to help and protect their tribe. I've been fascinated by them for years. I've always believed that there still must be some people, even today, who still have all of these traits. I'm positive that you're one of these throwbacks to the pre-civilized watchmen. If you would just let me study you for my dissertation, that's what it's about, sentinels, let me run some tests on your senses, it would prove to everyone that Burton was right. That I'm right too."

This was the last straw on Jim's already raw nerves concerning his out of control senses. "What was that? You don't even know me but you somehow think that I'm some kind of freak of nature? That I'm not normal? And now you want to turn me into some kind of lab rat for your own personal gain?" No way in Hell was that going to happen to him. He couldn't believe how much he had misjudged this seemingly innocent looking college student. Obviously Sandburg just wanted to use him, just like everyone else.

He quickly pulled the Jeep into the emergency lane. "Get out."

Blair looked up at Jim, the little color he had drained from his face. "What? Jim, no. Listen. I'm not explaining this right. Let me try again." He just had to make Jim understand.

Jim's eyes were like blue ice. "Oh, I think you've explained yourself well enough. I don't know what your little game is but it ends here and now. Get. Out."

Blair was getting desperate. "Jim wait. You have to listen to me. If nothing else I have I have to warn you about—"

Jim cut off any further words. "Look you little neo-hippie witch doctor punk. You don't warn me about anything. This is the thanks I get for trying to help you. You call me some kind of Neanderthal throwback and want to start experimenting on me just so you can gloat to your peers. Sorry, not interested. Now get out of my car and out of my life. NOW dammit."

Blair pulled his glasses case out of his shirt pocket, put his glasses in it and returned it to his pocket; then he slowly reached down and picked up his backpack and jacket as he opened the door. Just before he got out he turned back to Jim. "Thanks for everything man, I mean it. There is no game going on, although I really do think I can help you with your senses. If you ever want any help you can reach me at the University. No strings attached." He climbed out of car.

As Jim took off he looked in the rearview mirror. Blair was putting on his jacket against the now heavier falling rain then he slung his backpack over his shoulder and started walking.

As Blair's image got smaller and smaller Jim's guilt grew bigger and bigger. No. He had every right to do that. The kid just wanted to use him. Even as he told himself that he knew it wasn't true. He couldn't see Blair using anybody. But what did he mean by tests? A picture of the typical mad scientist's lab came to mind. Yeah right. He called him a sentinel. Why did that sound so familiar? And not just from yesterday either.

Jim almost ran off the road when the answer hit him. "Sentinelale." That's what Incacha called him when he was in Peru. Sentinelale. Sentinel. The similarities in the two words couldn't be a coincidence. Sweet Jesus, Sandburg was right. He really does know what he's talking about. He was just trying to explain what a sentinel is.

Then he remembered Blair this morning, asking him if he would kick him out of the car if he said something he didn't like. He obviously knew that this conversation would come up. Probably guessed he would react like this. Yeah, and he believed you too when you promised you wouldn't kick him out. He never even mentioned the promise, just offered to help you even as he was being booted back out into the rain. Rain! Shit! Dammit! He just threw a sick Blair back out into the rain because he was afraid to talk about what was happening to him. To the probably only person who actually knew what the hell was going on. Ellison you are such a dickhead sometimes. You've been looking all over for someone with answers then when you finally find that person, you turn on him just because you don't like what he's saying. Wouldn't even bother to finish hearing him out. You've got maybe one chance to try to make this right, you better not blow it.

Jim got off at the next exit, crossed over the interstate and got back on heading back in the opposite direction. He planned to get off and cross over again, catching up to Blair from behind. If no one picked him up before he could reach him. As he neared where he had kicked Blair out he kept glancing across to the opposite side emergency lane. He finally spotted Blair, shoulders slumped, head down, slowly walking along, not even trying to catch a ride. Not that there were many other vehicles out on a cold, rainy Saturday morning. He increased his speed, finally getting off at the next exit and crossing over again. It wasn't long until he saw Blair, still walking along, not even looking up at the few passing cars.

He passed Blair then pulled off into the emergency lane. Getting out he started walking back towards him, still not sure what to say. With his head down Blair almost walked right into Jim before he noticed him. When he stopped and looked up Jim felt even worse as he saw the look in Blair's eyes. He looked like he had lost his best friend. No, he looked like he had lost his dream and that was even worse. As if that wasn't bad enough Jim was sure that not all of the tracks running down his face were caused by the rain. God, he felt like the lowest kind of heel imaginable. Before he could think of what to say Blair's eyes narrowed as he spoke first.

"Now what do you want? I got out of your car, I'm not gonna bother you anymore, isn't that enough? What, you want to beat me up too? Fine." He slid his backpack off and let it fall to the ground, then spread his arms out. "Here. Take your best shot if it'll make you feel better. Then just go away and leave me the hell alone."

Jim just stood looking at Blair. This was not going well. "Blair, I didn't come back to hit you." As if I could. "I came back to tell you that I... that I overreacted. My senses just recently started acting up and no one could tell me what was happening. Then you come along and tell me I'm some kind of pre-civilized throwback or something and start talking about labs and tests and I guess I just lost it. I should have heard you out instead of just lashing out. I do want to hear what you have to say. I'll really try to listen this time. Right now, though, you really need to get out of this rain. Come on back to the Jeep so we can continue this without you getting any wetter than you already are." He could see Blair shivering even if he seemed too upset to notice it himself.

Blair still looked doubtful. "And what if you get mad again? Nothings changed from what I said earlier. You may not like everything else I have to say either. I won't go through this again."

"You won't have to, I promise. I... I remembered something that I need to talk to you about. From when I lived with the Chopec Indians in Peru. Their shaman called me something that sounded very similar to 'sentinel'. I didn't have an English word to relate it to so I just assumed it was something strictly Chopec. I think I might have had these senses back then too."

He watched as Blair's eyes grew almost impossibly wide, he became so excited he was practically bouncing on his feet. His hands started waving around as he spoke. "You lived with an Indian tribe in Peru? With a shaman? And he called you a sentinel, even back then? Oh man, this is too cool. Maybe that's when your senses actually first came on line. Jim, you have to tell me everything that happened to you there. This is... this is... incredible."

Jim mentally shook his head. There goes those gears again. From angry and doubtful to almost bursting with enthusiasm in zero seconds flat. Trying to keep up with him was going to require some extra vitamins or something. "I don't remember much actually but I'll tell you what I can. But not standing here in the rain on the side of the road." He reached down and picked up Blair's backpack by one strap. He looked carefully at Blair. "Do you still want to ride with me?"

Before Blair could answer a strange noise drew Jim's attention onto the highway. Looking over Blair's shoulder he could see a large, bright red pickup truck zig-zagging across several lanes. The way it was moving it was obvious it was heading straight towards them. As he stared the truck suddenly filled his entire field of vision. He lost track of everything else.

Blair watched as Jim stopped moving, staring at something behind him. He watched in horror as his eyes started to glaze over. Ohmigod. He's actually in a zone out. Oh shit. Now what do I do? He turned his head around to see what Jim was staring at just as the truck started to leave the right hand lane and enter the emergency lane right towards them. Oh God. Without thinking about it he grabbed Jim and threw them both towards the far side of the emergency lane by the guardrail. He stopped rolling as he felt his forehead slam into something hard.

What am I doing on the ground? Jim slowly became aware of his surroundings. Then the memory of what was happening hit him. The truck! He looked over to where he and Blair had been standing as he picked himself up. He could see the tire tracks where it looked like the driver tried to swerve to miss them but would have ended up hitting them both before he managed to get back into his lane, barely missing the Jeep too. Oh wow. That was way too close. I wonder if Blair knows what hap— Blair! Where's Blair? Turning around he saw his new friend lying on his side facing away from him right beside one of the support beams for the guardrail. He wasn't moving. Oh God. Did the truck hit Blair after all? Why don't I remember? A few long, hurried strides and he was kneeling behind Blair. As soon as he touched him a low moan reached his hears. At least he was alive.

"Blair? Can you hear me? Did the truck hit you? Where does it hurt? Don't try to move." He immediately started checking the smaller man out for injuries, grateful that nothing seemed to be broken. Carefully turning him onto his back Jim immediately noticed the oozing gash above Blair's left eye. It sat in the middle of what would eventually become a spectacular bruise. He winced at the sight of it. That's gotta hurt. Blair was already trying to sit up.

"Uh, Chief, I don't think—"

"No, I-I'm all right, Jim. Just bumped my head on the guardrail. Help me up."

Jim carefully helped Blair into a sitting position, unconsciously keeping one arm across his shoulders. He watched as Blair gingerly touched his injury then looked at the blood on his fingers.

"Oh man that sucked. I mean that really sucked."

"Blair? Do you know what happened? One minute I'm watching this truck bearing down on us and the next minute I'm picking myself up off the ground. How did I—how did we get on the ground? Obviously the truck missed us, so what happened?"

"You zoned."

"I what?" Maybe Blair hit his head harder than he thought. He wasn't making any sense.

Blair held his head in one hand. He could feel the beginnings of one whopper of a headache forming. "You zoned. That's what I was trying to warn you about when you..." His voice trailed off.

"When I made you get out." Guilt was building up again. "I'm really sorry about that Blair. I should have let you finish instead of flying off the handle like that. I want to hear what you have to say. Everything. Especially about this... this zone thing. But right now we need to get that cut taken care of. And we both need to get out of the rain." By now they were both drenched. Jim knew that all of this was only going to make Blair worse. Even as he was thinking it, Blair suddenly doubled over as a severe coughing fit overcame him. When it was over he lowered his face into both hands. "Ohhh God," he moaned, "my head did not need that." Jim frowned. Enough of this.

Jim stood and walked over to where Blair's backpack lay. Picking it up and slinging it over one shoulder he returned and squatted in front of Blair. "Okay, Chief. I'm gonna help you up and over to the Jeep. I have a First Aid kit so first I'll see what I can do about that cut. Then we go somewhere to dry off and change into dry clothes." Just having a plan, something to do, made Jim feel better. Reaching out he grasped Blair's upper arms. "Ready to stand up?" Blair lowered his hands to grasp Jim's forearms as he started to nod then thought better of any movement involving his head. "Yeah, I guess so, just not too fast." Jim tightened his grip as he slowly started standing up, bringing Blair up with him. He kept his hold until he was sure Blair was steady on his feet. When he sensed Blair was ready to move he put one arm across his shoulders and carefully walked him towards the Jeep.

After sitting the smaller man sideways in the passenger seat he pulled out the First Aid kit and put it in Blair's lap, wrapping his hands around it. "Hold this." Having Blair hold the box would give him something to concentrate on as well as keep his hands out of the way while he worked on the cut. Opening an antiseptic wipe he warned Blair, "This may sting a little."

Blair's face scrunched up in a frown. "Yeah right. I can decode medical jargon. 'This is going to sting a little' and 'you may feel a small prick' or my personal favorite 'you might feel a slight tug or pressure' all mean one thing—this is gonna hurt like hell but we're not gonna tell you that up front. Chicken shit doctors. Go on man, just do it."

Jim smiled. The kid definitely was entertaining. He reached up and dabbed the wipe on Blair's cut. The younger man flinched slightly and held the First Aid kit even tighter but he didn't move or say a word. After he finished cleaning the injury Jim put few butterfly bandages across the cut then taped a piece of non-stick gauze over it. Leaning back on his knees he admired his handiwork. "Not bad for a former Army medic. At least it'll do until you can see a doctor." He put the medical supplies back into the kit and put it away under the passenger seat. After securing Blair in the passenger seat he hurried around the Jeep and got in, eager to finally be out of the rain himself.

After getting in and starting the Jeep the first thing Jim did was to turn on the heater. High. He put the Jeep in gear and eased back onto the expressway. Glancing over he saw that Blair had his arms wrapped around himself, still shivering. He hadn't pulled his hair back this morning so it was plastered against his head. And he was soaked to the skin. Again. And to top it all off, he was now sporting a jaunty new bandage over his eye. All of it thanks to you know who. Looking over again he saw that Blair had leaned back as far as he could in his seat and was closing his eyes, apparently attempting to go to sleep. Uh-uh. Not a good idea with a head injury, even one that seemed as minor as Blair's. Looks could be deceiving. Hating himself, even more than he already did for not allowing Blair the sleep he obviously needed, Jim reached over and gently shook the nearest shoulder.

"Come on Chief, wake up. No sleeping just yet."

Blair tried to bat away the offending hand. "Go 'way Jim. I'm wet, cold, don't feel good and now have a killer headache. A couple of hours of oblivious sleep sounds real good right now."

"Sorry Chief. I doubt if you actually have a concussion but you were out for a few minutes. That alone warrants some monitoring for a while. If everything checks out fine, then you can sleep later."

Irritation battled with curiosity. Curiosity won. "You were a Medic in the Army?"

"Among other things." Jim really did not want to talk about his time in the military again. Too many ghosts. He needed another subject to distract Blair from his misery. "So tell me about this zone thing. What happened? How do I stop it from happening again?"

Silence.

Jim looked over. Blair was scrunched down in his seat, chewing on a thumbnail, obviously reluctant to resume a conversation that had anything to do with sentinels. Not that he could blame him

"Look Blair. I meant what I said about wanting to hear about this sentinel stuff. I am sorry I over-reacted earlier. It won't happen again, I promise. So this zone thing... what exactly happened to me? Could it happen while I'm working? How do I stop it?" Come on kid, talk to me.

Blair slowly lowered his hand from his mouth and sat up straighter. He never thought about Jim zoning while doing police work. He could easily be hurt or killed if he zoned on the job. A shiver ran through him at just the thought. Even if he got pissed off at him again, he had to know about zone outs.

"Okay. But just remember, you said you wanted to hear it, all of it." He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "First you have to understand that being a sentinel is genetic, you were born with these heightened senses. Now they've come 'on-line' so to speak."

"But why now? If I was born with them why didn't I notice something sooner?"

Blair thought for a minute. "You wouldn't have really needed them as a child. Like I said before, a sentinel's main duty is to protect the tribe. As a child protection wouldn't have been your responsibility, except maybe protecting younger siblings or maybe smaller kids from bullies, stuff like that. Even if you did have them back then you wouldn't have been aware that what you could see or hear was beyond what everyone else could. You would have just accepted it as normal until someone told you different. If you did have them in childhood, for some reason you must have repressed them at some point. Then they came back later." He looked over at Jim. Jim's face was a study in concentration. "What's the matter?"

Jim answered slowly. "When you said having them as a child then suppressing them. It feels like there's something I should remember but I can't. Like a memory that's just out of reach."

Blair perked up. "That's good Jim. Maybe you're starting to remember back to when you first used your senses. But don't force it. It'll come back to you. I have some meditation techniques we can try later."

"Fine, but I don't do new-age mumbo jumbo stuff. So now what?"

Blair rolled his eyes at the phrase 'new-age mumbo jumbo'. "All right. We'll deal with that later. You said that a shaman in Peru called you a sentinel. How did all that come about? How did you meet a shaman? And how did he know you well enough to figure out you were a sentinel?"

Not getting an answer Blair looked over at Jim. His body language screamed, "I don't want to talk about this." Blair softened his voice. "It's okay Jim. I don't need every little detail but whatever you can tell me will help. I'm trying to figure out when you first consciously started using your senses. If the shaman called you what sounds like interprets to 'sentinel' you must have been using them then. Just tell me what you can."

Silence blanketed the Jeep for several minutes. Just when Blair was sure Jim wasn't going to answer he starting speaking.

"I really don't remember too much about that time. Call it repression or whatever you want but I only remember bits and pieces. It was an Army mission to help the Chopec Indians in Peru. I was in charge of the mission. Our chopper was shot down, I ended up burying all seven of my men. The Chopec found me, took care of me while I healed and I continued the mission. I lived with them for eighteen months until another Ranger unit found me. During that time I basically became another tribal member even though my main job was to protect them. And teach them how to protect themselves. I just don't remember much about those eighteen months. And I'd just as soon leave it that way."

It was Blair's turn to be silent. That must have been awful for Jim. No wonder he doesn't want to remember it. He, himself, vaguely remembered something about this. It was about five years ago though, he had been an undergrad then and really hadn't paid much attention to the news stories. But this was too important not to peruse. This could be where it all started for Jim.

"I understand that this is hard to think or talk about but try to remember at least the parts related to your being a sentinel. Do you remember using your senses at all? You know, to track game or enemy tribes? Do you recall when the shaman—"

"Incacha."

"Huh?"

"The shaman's name was Incacha. He was like my mentor."

"Oh. Okay. Do you recall when Incacha first called you a sentinel?"

Jim paused. "If I was using my senses back then I wasn't really aware of it. Nobody made a big deal about so I really didn't even notice. I was just doing what I had to do to complete my mission and help the tribe. And no, I don't remember when Incacha first started using the word 'Sentinelale`' around me."

Blair scrunched down in his seat again, staring straight ahead, deep in thought. "All right. So far it looks like you probably had and used your senses as a child until something made you suppress them. They didn't reappear again until you were in the jungle and actually needed them for their original purpose—to help and protect your tribe. You said that Incacha was like your mentor. Since he was a shaman he would be familiar with what a sentinel is and can do. He was probably helping you to develop and use them without your even being aware of it. Man, I would love to meet and talk with him. Just imagine how much I could learn from him." He let out a deep sigh. "Anyway, once you left the jungle you probably figured you didn't need them any more or you instinctively knew it wouldn't be in your best interest to let anyone else, especially the military, know what you could do. So they disappeared again. Until now."

Jim glanced over. He would swear he could actually see the wheels turning in Blair's head. If anyone could figure this all out, he had no doubts it was the cold, wet and now hurt young man sitting next to him. Even sick Blair obviously wasn't going to stop until he was satisfied he had all the answers.

"So now they're back. You must need them again. Maybe it's because of this bomber case you're working on. You said that you were isolated in the woods for a while, waiting for him. That would have been the perfect opportunity for them to come back on line. Being by yourself and having used them already in the jungle you probably didn't even notice when it happened. Was it after that that you started noticing things were different? With your senses?" Blair was looking at him now, expectantly, like he already knew the answer but was letting Jim figure it out for himself.

Jim stared straight ahead not answering or even acknowledging the question. He didn't like this. Any of it. At all. He didn't want to be a sentinel. He just wanted to be himself, Jim Ellison—cop. Not some kind of comic book character. He especially didn't like the fact that even if he did have these hyped up senses he apparently didn't have any kind of control over them. And Jim Ellison liked being in control. Of everything. His next words were not what Blair was expecting.

"So how do I get rid of them?"

Blair stared at him open mouthed. "What! Get rid of them? Why? Besides, I don't think you can. Like I told you, they're genetic, you were born with them. It's like your height or eye color, you can't change it. But even more important, why would you even want to? As a cop just think what you could do. You wouldn't need surveillance equipment. You'll be able to see and hear things that no one else can. And at a crime scene you could probably find pieces of evidence that everyone else might miss. You—you'd be a walking crime lab with organic surveillance equipment. And just think what an advantage you'd have over everybody else. These senses are a gift man. You should be thinking about how to use them not how to get rid of them."

He couldn't believe that someone could discover that they had sentinel abilities and then not want them. He would give his eyeteeth to experience heightened senses. But he also realized that it had to be pretty overwhelming to suddenly have your senses go hyper on you. Especially if you had no idea what was going on. And he had already figured out that Jim Ellison was pretty much an 'in control of everything' kind of guy. All this had to be driving him crazy. He just had to show Jim the up side to being a sentinel. Which may not be as easy as it sounds.

As if to prove his point Jim started speaking again.

"What's the point of having these enhanced senses if I can't control them? Right now I don't know when something will kick in, what I'll suddenly be seeing or hearing or smelling. Sometimes things are so far off the normal scale it's almost painful. I can't have that happening when I'm working. And now this zone thing on top of everything else. It's too dangerous. I can't being dealing with all that while I'm working. No way. Look, they disappeared before, just tell me how to make them disappear again."

Blair became thoughtful. What Jim was asking was way beyond what he had researched. "I-I don't know how, Jim. They disappeared before when you subconsciously made the decision that it was in your best interest not to have them anymore. Now somehow you've decided you need them again. Since it was your decision and you're fully aware of them this time, I think they're here to stay. I think you're going to be a full-blown sentinel from now on. Now you have to learn how to control and use your senses because they're a permanent part of you, there's no going back."

Blair felt heartsick. All those years of dreaming and hoping to find a real, live sentinel and now that he finally found probably the only living sentinel in the modern world, the man didn't even want to be one. Wanted him to find a way to help him actually get rid of his enhanced senses. He obviously couldn't force Jim to let him study him, just talking about it seemed to get him mad. Blair felt like he was watching his dissertation, his life's work and dream dissolve right before his eyes. Even more important though, he knew that Jim needed help. He was having enough trouble just trying to accept his newly heightened senses, learning to control them was not something he would be able to do on his own. Unfortunately he got the definite impression that asking for or accepting help was not something Jim Ellison did easily, if at all. But he had an overwhelming feeling that he had to help him. More than a feeling it was an actual need, like he was supposed to do this. Now how to convince 'granite jaw' Ellison to not only accept his gift but to accept him as part of the package too? Blair flinched when Jim suddenly hit the palm of his hand on the steering wheel.

"Dammit, I don't need this shit right now. I've got a serial bomber blowing up buildings like he owns the damn city and a captain who already thinks I'm losing it. I can't be worrying about when these stupid senses are going to start acting up too. And what about that zone thing? You were going to explain that to me. Is that something else I have be constantly worrying about now too?"

Okay, Blair, here's your opening—don't blow it. "Jim man, calm down, it's okay. As for the zone outs, yeah they are something you need to be concerned about. A zone out occurs when you focus too much on just one of your senses. You actually lose touch with everything concerning yourself and everything else around you. It's kinda like a waking black out. " Blair grinned. "Think of it as the lights are on but nobody's home. You're there but you're not there." He turned serious again. "So, as a cop, it is definitely something you need to think about."

"So how did these ancient sentinels deal with it? It had to be just as dangerous for them to zone, as you put it, in the jungle as it would be to have it happen to me on the street. They wouldn't have survived very long like that."

Blair tried not to get too excited. This was his chance to convince Jim that he needed him. "Yeah, you're right, it was. That's why, according to Burton, every sentinel had a companion or partner. The partner's job was to look out for the sentinel, help them with their senses, watch their back, that kind of stuff. But mainly their job seemed to be to keep the sentinel from zoning or to bring them out of a zone when it happened. Not as much is written about the companions, I call them guides, as the sentinels. I guess Burton didn't think of them as being as important as the sentinel, so not as much is known about how or what they actually did."

Blair was getting winded. Not that he wasn't used to talking for long periods at a time, he was a teacher after all, but even he could feel the strain this was putting on his lungs. He just hoped he could convince Jim to let him help him soon, before he couldn't talk anymore. Not to mention that that nap he tried to take earlier was sounding better and better too. God, he ached all over and that pounding headache hadn't lessened any either.

"Great. Just great." Jim couldn't keep the sarcasm out of his voice. "And just where the hell am I supposed to find one of these 'guides'? The Yellow Pages? It's not like I can just hop on a plane and go talk to Incacha whenever I have a problem or need help."

"Well," Blair's voice was quieter than before. "I happen to know someone who would be willing to help you."

Jim didn't even seem to notice Blair's growing misery. He could just imagine what kind of person Blair had in mind. Probably some failing student who needed an extra credit project to pass his course. "Look Chief, I'm not someone's make up work. This is my life we're talking about here. I need someone reliable. Someone who knows enough about this sentinel stuff to know what they're doing and is willing to help me. Now, do you know anyone like that?"

"Yeah, I do." Blair's voice was even softer than before. "Me."

"You?" Jim glanced over at the passenger seat. Blair wasn't looking so good. He was pale and had fine lines of pain and fatigue around his eyes and mouth. He needed to rest and soon. It didn't help matters any that he was soaked again and he probably hit the asphalt pretty hard too when he knocked them both to the ground, then hitting his head on top of everything else. Poor kid has probably been through more since yesterday morning than most people go through in a month, if even that. And yet here he is trying to convince you to let him help you.

"Yeah Jim, me." Blair tried not to sound too desperate. He just had to convince Jim to let him be the person to help him. The thought of anyone else doing it felt 'wrong' somehow. It was his job, he was sure of it. "Think about it. I've already studied people with heightened senses, granted nobody with all five but still... Also, besides Burton himself, I probably know more about sentinels than anyone else. Hell, I'm probably the only person on this side of the planet who believes that sentinels even exist. You wouldn't have to start out by trying to convince someone that the senses are for real, I already know that. And as a school faculty member I have access to the labs and equipment we'll need to test your senses." Blair looked down, fingering the edge of his jacket. "I know you were probably thinking more along the lines of some kind of doctor or someone with some kind of medical degree but," he looked up at Jim, his tired, blue eyes shining with determination, "I can do this Jim. You need me." Just give me a chance, that's all I ask.

As soon as Blair had suggested that he be the one to help him, Jim couldn't imagine himself working with anyone else. There was a certain 'rightness' to it that he couldn't explain. But Blair had told him earlier how busy he already was, he couldn't expect him to take on helping him too. "I thought you said you were already over worked, what with taking classes, teaching and working on your dissertation. You won't have time for this too." Even as he said it though he knew that that was exactly what he wanted, but he didn't want to burden the already over burdened grad student.

"Actually Jim", Blair spoke slowly, a spark of hope flickering in his chest. "Most of this will overlap anyway. My dissertation is on sentinels. You need to learn how to control and use your senses. The same tests I would have to do for my research are the same ones we would need to do to learn about your abilities and limits anyway. The more we learn about your senses the better off you'll be in learning how to use them. Now some of the tests will have to be done in a lab under strict, scientifically approved conditions. I have to be able to back up what I write with hard, accredited evidence. But a lot of it will be field observation too. Watching you use your senses in everyday situations. And that's also where we'll really find out what works and what doesn't. To teach you how to use your gift to your best ability. So that means I'll have to be with you on the job since that's where you'll probably need to use them the most. I can record the data I'll need for my paper while at the same time seeing what works best for you. I'll have to rearrange my schedule around somewhat, maybe change my office hours or something, but I'll work it out, don't worry about that." Blair was slightly out of breath, partly from the long speech and party from excitement. This is going to work out, it really will work. Despite how bad he felt he managed to give Jim one of his most dazzling smiles.

The smile almost did him in. It was good to see Blair excited and enthusiastic again. And he agreed with everything Blair said except for one major problem. "Observe me on the job? I don't think so Chief. I'm a cop remember? Some of what I do is dangerous. I won't risk a civilian getting hurt." I won't risk you getting hurt.

He didn't say 'no', he just doesn't like the observing on the job part. Okay, I can work with this. "Jim, I have to be able to be with you when you're working. That's when the sentinel part of you will be most active. You know, protecting the tribe and all. That's also when you'll be most susceptible to zoning, at least until we find a way to stop it from happening. But I have to be able to see what you do in order to know how to help you. Look, I know that the police sometimes have ride-alongs. I can do that. You'll be completely in charge, I'll do what you say when you say it. Believe me, I am so not the hero type. Besides, we're looking at what, maybe a couple of weeks, max. By then I should have enough data for my dis and you should be in complete control of your senses. It's a win/win situation for both of us. Right?" Blair would have held his breath if air wasn't getting to be in such short supply lately. He tried to suppress a yawn—definitely didn't want Jim to think he wasn't taking all this seriously, but damn going to sleep would feel so good right now. Instead he watched, fascinated, as Jim's jaw clenched and unclenched as he thought about what Blair had just said. He must be every dentist's worst nightmare.

Blair had a point. If he couldn't control his senses on the job he'd be basically useless as a cop. But taking him along out in the field? He had enough to worry about right now with this Switchman nutcase still running around loose, the last thing he needed was some untrained, civilian college student tagging along everywhere he went. And how the hell would he even explain this to Simon? That he, who had refused every suggestion of a partner since Jack disappeared, was suddenly going to allow some hippie looking kid to tag along with him everywhere. But he had no choice if he was going to survive as a cop, hell, if he was going to survive period. But at least he could do it on his terms. He looked over at Blair.

"All right. But if we're going to do this there have to be some rules. When you're with me you do exactly what I tell you, senses or no senses. And no talking about this to anyone at the station or anywhere else. I don't want anyone else to know about this."

"Whoa whoa Jim. Hang on a minute here." Blair made the 'time out' sign with his hands. "Maybe you don't have to tell anyone but I'm writing a dissertation here, not a book in private. And it's about to go off in whole new direction. I have an advisor I have to keep updated with any changes and a dissertation committee that periodically reviews my work. I can't not say anything."

"Look Chief, if word of this gets out everything I do and probably have already done will come under close scrutiny. Not only that, you might as well paint a giant bull's-eye on my back cause every two bit punk in town is gonna want credit for taking out the supercop. I can't—I won't work like that. This has to remain a secret just between us or no deal." As much as Jim hated ultimatums when aimed at himself he didn't see any other way around this. It was just way too dangerous to have everybody know about this right now, or maybe ever.

No way. No way am I getting this close only to lose it all over this. C'mon, think. There's got to be a way around this. "Okay Jim. Tell you what I can do. I can tell my advisor and the committee that I found a sentinel to study but you don't want your name reveled at this time. I can keep your identity confidential for now. It may have to be reveled later but probably just to the review board. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. That's the best I can do for now." Blair hoped he didn't sound as desperate as he felt.

Jim relaxed his grip on the steering wheel. He was secretly very relieved that Blair had found a solution to that problem. Having made his ultimatum he didn't know what he would have done if he had refused his demands outright. The thought of Blair not helping him was terrifying. But he couldn't bring himself to admitting to that out loud. "All right Chief. I can live with that. All I have to do now is find a way to explain you to Simon. He has to approve your riding with me. And I have no idea what to tell him. I mean I can't believe I'm doing this, how on earth am going to convince someone like Simon that you have a legitimate reason for being with me?" He shook his head. He knew that his captain would take one look at Blair and know that something was up. Under normal circumstances Simon knew that he would just as soon arrest someone who looked like Blair as look at him. How was he ever going to explain why he wanted the kid as a ride-along? He tuned towards Blair when he heard a large yawn coming from the passenger seat.

Blair looked slightly embarrassed as he looked over at Jim and gave a small shrug of his shoulders. "Sorry. I slept all night, don't know why I'm so tired. Anyway, let me think about what to tell your boss. Between grant requests and dealing with professors and students, trying to talk people into things is practically second nature to me. I'll come up with something, trust me." Hell, he'd sit on the man until he convinced him if that's what it would take to make this work. He had his sentinel and nobody was going to come between them now. He leaned back with a sigh. The hard part was done. The details could wait for later. Right now though he felt really lousy and all he wanted to do was sleep, for a least a week.

Jim heard Blair's small sigh as he leaned back in his seat. It seemed that now that he had managed to convince Jim to go along with him he could finally relax and let go. Or try to. A quick glance told Jim it was a toss up as to what was whiter, Blair's coloring or the bandage over his eye. The lines around his eyes and across his forehead said that he still had his headache and probably a whole new assortment of aches and pains too. Looking down the road the sentinel saw what he was looking for. "Hang in there a few more minutes Chief. Then you can sleep."

Blair turned his head and looked bleary eyed at his new friend and sentinel. "Huh?"

"Nothing." Jim grinned. "Just stay awake for me, okay?"

"Sure Jim. No problem." Neither one was very convinced by that answer.

A few minutes later Jim turned off onto an exit ramp. Turning right at the light at the end of the ramp he was soon turning into the parking lot of a McDonald's. Blair looked up as Jim eased into a parking space near the door. "Oh man, I can't eat anything right now. You go ahead, I'll just wait for you here." He tried to close his eyes again but something, or someone, was shaking his shoulder.

"C'mon Chief. We're not gonna eat yet, this is just a quick pit stop. Better go now while you have the chance. Once we're back on the road it'll probably be a while before we stop again."

Jim watched as Blair nodded then slowly undid his seat belt and pushed open the door. He looked more like an old man getting out than a young, strong college student. Poor kid's totally wiped out. Kept himself going just long enough to convince an old, thick headed detective to do what was in his own best interest all along. He got up and quickly catching up to Blair put one arm across his shoulders, gratified when the tired young man leaned against him slightly. Once inside he pointed Blair in the direction of the restrooms and got into the shortest line at the counter. He was just finishing when he saw Blair head out the door and back to the Jeep. Telling the teenager he'd be right back to pick up his order he quickly used the facilities himself, picked up his order and returned to the car.

Once back in the Jeep Jim balanced the cardboard drink holder in his lap while he started the engine and turned the heater back on, with all the vents aimed towards Blair who was shivering again. Reaching into his coat pocket he pulled out the bag of medicine from the drugstore. Blair's voice was almost a whine as he watched him.

"Awww c'mon Jim. It's not time for that yet. Besides, I'm not even coughing anymore. Just put it back, all right?"

Jim found it hard not to smile. Blair was right, he hadn't been coughing much lately and listening closely he noted that there seemed to be less congestion too. Maybe Blair was starting to get better. "Relax Chief, I'm not getting out the cough syrup." He pulled one item out of the bag. "Just the aspirin. For your headache and whatever else hurts too." Opening the bottle he shook two pills into his hand then glancing over at Blair he shook out one more. This time he had to smile at the look of relief on Blair's face.

"Oh. Okay, uh, yeah. Aspirin would be good, actually real good, right now."

The larger hand dropped the medicine into the slightly smaller upturned one then handed over one of the three cups in the drink holder. Blair seeing that it contained plain water lost no time swallowing the pills.

"Thanks man." He gave the empty cup back to Jim who then handed him a second, covered cup. Blair opened it and looking inside smiled when he saw it contained hot tea. "Ohhh yes. Now this is just what the doctor ordered." He busied himself fixing his tea with the creamers and sugars that Jim had also brought out with him while the detective did the same with his own coffee. Soon both men were leaning back enjoying the feeling of being warmed from the inside as they each sipped their hot drink.

It only took a few minutes before Jim noticed that Blair's eyes were closing again and his grip on his tea was becoming dangerously loose. Reaching over he snagged the cup pleased to note that there was only a sip or two left in it anyway. Finishing his own coffee he gathered up all the trash and took it to the trashcan sitting by the entrance of the fast food restaurant. Returning to the Jeep he regretfully woke Blair up, hopefully for the last time for a while at least.

"Blair? C'mon Buddy, wake up for me, just for a minute this time, then you can sleep."

Blair's eyes quickly opened. "Huh? What? No, I'm awake."

Jim smiled again. "Sure you are. I need you to do two things for me. First, take off your jacket."

Blair looked at him bleary eyed. "Huh?"

"You are so eloquent when your tired, you know that? Just humor me, okay? Give me your jacket."

Looking puzzled Blair leaned forward and with Jim's help managed to get his still damp jacket off then handed it to the older man. He watched as Jim started to fold it up inside out, until only the dry inside was visible.

"Okay Chief, now put on your seatbelt and lean the seat back."

Still confused Blair complied then relaxed as Jim put his jacket behind his head, making a nice soft, dry pillow. Then Jim took off his own leather jacket. Suddenly Blair had Jim's heavy coat draped over him, covering him from his neck to his waist. He could feel Jim's residual heat in the soft inner lining. Jim was tucking it snugly around him. Wait a minute. He tried to make his fuzzy brain concentrate. As good as it felt, and it felt real good, he couldn't take Jim's coat. He tried to get out from under his leather blanket.

"Jim stop. I can't take your coat. You need it. I'm all right, really."

Jim just retucked the part Blair had managed to get loose. "Be still. I'm fine. In fact with the heat on I'm actually getting too warm. Just keep it on for a few minutes at least, until you stop shivering. Now just relax, lean back and close your eyes." Jim leaned back away from Blair back into his own seat. "Go on. Get some sleep. You'll feel better when you wake up." He watched until Blair sagged back burrowing his head into his 'pillow' a little more.

"Just promise me, YAWN that if you start to get cold you'll take it back."

"No problem. Now shhh. I'll wake you when it's time to stop again." He watched as Blair nodded then closed his eyes with a small sigh.

Satisfied that his passenger was finally asleep Jim pulled out of the parking lot and made his way back onto the highway. Just as he was debating if Blair was out enough to risk turning on the radio on low volume he was surprised by a slow, sleepy voice coming from beside him.

"Jiimm? Why you doin' all this for me? You were bein' nice to me even 'fore you knew I could help you. Fed me, let me stay with you, bought me medicine. YAWN Now you stopped just so I could take some aspirin an' you gave me your coat cause I was cold. I don' un'rstand."

Blair's eyes were barely open, he was obviously fighting to stay awake. Jim felt his heart constrict as he realized that Blair actually couldn't understand why someone would be nice to him without expecting something in return. This was the second time he thanked him just for being nice to him. Just what kind of life had this kid led that he seemed to feel that he shouldn't expect, or worse, somehow didn't deserve a simple, basic act of human kindness. Is that why he immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion last night? Did he just assume that he was expected to "pay" for the ride and food? And yet despite whatever had happened to him in the past Blair had somehow managed to grow up into an obviously outgoing and caring young man who he didn't doubt would drop everything if someone else needed help. He was already ready to rearrange his whole life just to help him, a virtual stranger. Jim was beginning to worry that Blair would take his long silence the wrong way. He turned towards his young friend trying to find the words to tell him that he had helped him earlier just because he wanted to, not because he expected anything in return. But the deep, rhythmic breathing told Jim that Blair had finally lost the fight to stay awake. Jim smiled. This was twice now that Blair had fallen asleep on him while trying to talk to him. This time he would let Blair sleep for as long as he needed.

Jim sighed. Well, according to Blair he had a few weeks to try to show him that not everyone was like that. He looked over again. With the pain lines finally smoothed out and his face relaxed in sleep, Blair looked even younger than before and somehow more vulnerable. Jim knew that someone who'd been virtually on his own since he was sixteen really wasn't that vulnerable but he still couldn't help the wave of protectiveness towards his new 'Guide' that swept over him. Logical or not he resolved that for the short time he and Blair would be working together he would see to it that nothing harmed his new protectorate, physically and if he could help it, emotionally too.

Sitting up straighter, feeling better somehow for having made that decision Jim turned up the windshield wipers as the driving rain increased its intensity. Out there it was storming and chaos but in here, in this small part of his world, all was well right now. Sentinel and Guide were heading towards their city, together.


Part 3

Jim glanced over at Blair as he heard the young man begin to stir. Finally. Blair had been sound asleep for the past few hours and Jim was getting more than a little hungry. It was past the time when he would have normally stopped for lunch, taking a welcome break to be able to stop driving and get out of the Jeep for a while. But he didn't have the heart to wake his sick and injured traveling companion, especially since Blair obviously needed the sleep. Nor would he even dream of stopping and eating himself while leaving Blair alone in the Jeep. For the first time he began to consciously monitor his friend. His breathing sounded less labored than it had been and the congestion had lessened somewhat too. Reaching over he lightly placed the back of his fingers on Blair's cheek. Still too warm but not as warm as before. Satisfied that his 'Guide' was getting better, still not over being sick but at least he was improving, Jim settled back to wait for him to wake up.

Guide. Jim shook his head. According to Blair he was a Sentinel, a genetic throwback with all five senses heightened, and Blair was his Guide, the person who helped the Sentinel with his senses. He was still trying to wrap his brain around the whole concept. But he did have to admit that being called a sentinel sounded a hell of a lot better than being called insane. At least he now had a name for what was happening to him. He still couldn't get over how all the doctors he'd been to hadn't been able to tell him anything at all but barely twenty-four after meeting him, a scruffy college student was able to explain exactly what was going on and was willing to rearrange his life to help him deal with his new found senses. Life sure could throw you some strange curves when you least expected it.

Watching out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw that Blair was starting to move around a bit. He carefully watched as the blue eyes slowly blinked open. There was a brief moment of confusion and disorientation as Blair looked down at his leather blanket but it cleared up when he looked over at Jim. A hand crept out from the neck of the jacket and rubbed his eyes and face.

"I see you're back with us again."

Blair turned his head back towards Jim. "Yeah. I think. I guess so." He stretched while remaining under the jacket. "Where are we? What time is it?" Reaching down he maneuvered the seat handle until he was sitting more upright. Then his hand disappeared again. He made no move to remove the coat. He really wasn't that cold anymore but somehow its heavy weight was comforting and reassuring. Until he guiltily wondered if Jim might want his jacket back, no telling how long he'd had it for by now. "Hey Jim? You, uh, want your coat back now?"

Jim smiled to himself. He could hear the slight reluctance in Blair's voice. He could see that Blair still had the coat pulled up to his neck with both hands still inside. He wasn't shivering anymore, in fact it was rather warm in the Jeep to him, but if it made Blair feel better to keep it on, who was he to take it away? "Nah. I'm fine. But how are you feeling?"

Blair paused as he took stock of himself. He wasn't nearly as achy as before. It was easier to breath too; his lungs didn't hurt as much as they had been. Even his headache felt better. He still didn't feel totally well but he did feel better. "Better."

"How's the head?" There was more than a hint of guilt in the older man's voice.

"That's better too. Hardly hurts at all now. So, where are we?"

Now that Blair was awake Jim looked more closely. He was still pale and his lungs were still slightly congested. But the lines of pain and fatigue were almost gone and his eyes seemed clearer too. He breathed a small sigh of relief; Blair seemed to have turned the corner on his illness while he slept. "Just outside Richmond. You hungry?"

Blair shook his head as he yawned. "Not awake enough yet to be hungry." He leaned forward and squinted at the clock on the dashboard. "Wow. Have I been out that long?" He turned to look at Jim again. "Jeez man, you must be starving by now. I'm sorry. Why didn't you stop?"

"No biggie. You needed the sleep. We'll stop in Richmond. Maybe you'll be awake enough by then to eat. You need to eat something. But it'll have to be somewhere quick. Maybe just some fast food place. We're already pretty far behind schedule."

"Schedule?" Blair looked puzzled. "What schedule?"

"I wanted to be back in Cascade before it got too late. I'll need to drop you off now too." He watched as Blair slumped down in his seat.

"About dropping me off somewhere... I, uh, guess my office at the university will be okay."

Damn. He'd totally forgotten about Blair possibly having nowhere to live now. "Is there anyone you can call? Someone you can stay with at least for now?"

Blair turned to look out passenger window. "Yeah, sure. I'll make some phone calls when we stop to eat. Don't worry about it."

But Jim was worried. Yeah Blair was better but he was still sick. He needed to be in a warm, dry place. Preferably with someone to watch out for him, he'd already come to the conclusion that taking care of himself wasn't high on Blair's list of priorities. If Blair couldn't find a place himself he'd see what he could come up with. Time for another distraction to take his friend's mind off his current problems. He was sure that one particular topic would probably almost always work.

"So Chief. About this sentinel stuff. What kinds of tests are we talking about here? I mean are you planning to hook me up to all kinds of strange machines or make me do all kinds of off the wall stuff while you watch and write everything down?"

Blair turned away from the window and back towards his sentinel. He smiled to himself. His sentinel. "Well, actually yes, among other things." His smile got even bigger at Jim's face. "Hey relax Jim, it won't be that bad. It's like I told you, I will have to have some lab documented test results, some of which will involve some machines. But it won't be anything worse than is at a typical doctor's office."

"Yeah," Jim muttered, "Doctor Frankenstein."

Blair reached out a hand and smacked Jim's arm. "Quit. What's with you? Don't tell me that the big, bad, ex-Ranger cop is afraid of a few itty-bitty tests? Tell you what, I'll even give you a lollipop if you're a good boy, how's that?"

Jim was relieved to hear Blair kidding around again. He was trying hard to keep his stern expression. "What flavor?" He was rewarded for his efforts when Blair laughed out loud. This time he couldn't help grinning too.

The next ten minutes passed easily with Blair bringing his arms out from under the leather coat, but still keeping it on top of him. Then Jim noticed another blue information sign just coming into view. "Hey Chief. Food coming up. What're you hungry for?"

Putting on his glasses Blair again could just make out the sign. He tried to keep his voice level. "Read our options to me."

Without batting an eye Jim read off the list of restaurants to Blair. "The first two will take too long but either of the other two should be fine. Take your pick." He turned to see Blair looking at him grinning widely. "What?"

"Well, I'd say your first test was rather painless, wouldn't you?"

Jim frowned. "Test? What test? I didn't take any test."

"Sure you did, man." Blair was practically bouncing in his seat. "I just asked you to read the words on a sign that would have been barely visible to anyone else. And you did. Now to have it really count I would have to know exactly how far you were from the sign when you read it and just how well you could see it, factor in weather conditions, stuff like that but you get the idea."

Well, Jim thought to himself, if that was a test maybe this wouldn't be too bad after all. Really now, how many different types of tests could the kid come up with anyway? Jim turned to Blair with a slight grin on his face. "Okay then, Chief. Where's my lollipop?"

Blair grinned back. "I'll have to get back to you on that one."


They decided on a Big Boy restaurant for lunch. It was better than fast food which made Blair happy but faster than most typical restaurants which satisfied Jim. At one point Blair excused himself to make his phone calls. When he returned he had a look of resignation on his face that made Jim decide not to press the matter at that time. As they stood in line to pay after eating Blair wandered around checking out the counters around the cash register. Inside the glass cases were plastic replicas of various desserts. Glad I didn't see these before I ate. There were also some toys available for sale. His eyes widened when he spotted the bowl on top of one counter, partially hidden by a display sign. Taking a quick peek at Jim, satisfied he wasn't looking, he reached his hand into the bowl.

Back in the Jeep Jim was buckling his seat belt when he heard Blair say, "Pick one." Turning his head he saw Blair holding five lollipops fanned out like he was holding a hand of cards. Each sucker was a different color. "Go on," he urged, "you earned it."

Jim stared. "Where'd you get those?"

"There was a whole bowl full of them on the counter by the register. Now do you want one or not?"

Smiling Jim reached out and picked up the red one. "Oh yeah." As he started to reach for another Blair quickly folded the candy fan and reached for his backpack. "Uh-uh. Only one per test. I may need the others later." He put the rest of the suckers in a pocket of the backpack then sat back up. "So, how much longer do you think until we reach Cascade?"

"Not till sometime later tonight. Listen I, uh, didn't want to ask earlier but do you have a place to stay? I mean besides your office? I know you're feeling better but I still don't think it would be a good idea for you to stay by yourself right now. Did you manage to contact anybody?"

Blair sighed. He was touched by Jim's concern but his housing problem had nothing to do with the sentinel. "Yeah, I did. I talked to Robbie, that's whose house I've got most of my stuff stored at. You know, the one who just had a baby." At Jim's nod he continued. "Anyway he said that I can crash with them for now. He did confirm that my 'roommates' were evicted. He even managed to get my stuff out and add it to the rest of my things in his basement. I really hate to impose on them but I guess I have no choice. Besides," he smiled, "Robbie said that Amy will probably put me to work babysitting as soon as I get there. Did I tell you that I'm Susie's godfather? She's a great kid." He couldn't keep the pride out of his voice. "It'll only be until I can find something else, hopefully that won't take too long. My back can only stand so many nights on that old sofa bed in their den."

Jim was relieved. These sounded like good people and from the sofa bed comment it was obvious that Blair had stayed with them before. They must all be good friends too if they asked Blair to be their child's godfather. He felt his muscles relax, not even aware that he had been tense until he heard that Blair would be all right for now.

The next few hours passed quietly. Jim and Blair talked about whatever topic came up—how the Jags were doing this year, the unusually rainy (even for Cascade) weather, the best places to meet women (Jim was not surprised when Blair had some rather unusual ideas), local and national current events. Blair kept dozing off for short periods of time, always embarrassed when he woke up. It just told Jim that his friend's body was still healing and needed the rest. Blair had just woken up again when a police cruiser raced past them, lights and sirens blaring. He watched it until it disappeared into the rain then chuckled lightly, "Maybe they're still trying to catch that black sports car."

Jim snorted. "If they haven't caught it by now by they might as well give it up. It's probably at least two states away by now."

"Yeah, probably. In fact—", Blair's words were cut off as he suddenly started coughing, it wasn't quite as bad as before but it was still enough to take his breath away. Jim looked over at him, frowning.

"You all right?"

Nodding, Blair took a few breaths before answering. "Yeah. Just wasn't expecting that." He rubbed his chest, annoyed that it was now sore again. "Man, that sucked. I thought I was over all this by now."

"Blair, you may be feeling better but you're still congested and have a slight fever. You are not totally over this yet. In fact you definitely need to see your doctor as soon as you get back to Cascade."

Blair turned and stared at the sentinel. "You said I'm still congested and have a fever. In fact, now that I think about it, you mentioned my being congested before. Are you telling me that you've been able to tell how I've been doing this whole time? You can actually hear the congestion in my lungs? Feel the heat from a fever without actually touching me?" He was getting more excited with each sentence. "This is incredible, Jim. I never even thought about your being able to do something this amazing. This opens up a whole new field for testing. What else have you been monitoring? Heart rate? Respirations? Oh man, this is almost too much." Only shortness of breath stopped Blair's ramblings.

In his excitement Blair never saw Jim roll his eyes or heard him mutter, "I should've just kept my big mouth shut." He turned his head as he heard Blair reach down and open his backpack. "What are you doing?"

Pulling out a notebook and pen Blair opened it to the first clean page and laid it on his lap. He answered as he starting writing. "I should have started this as soon as I noticed your senses. I'm writing down everything that's happened so far. How I noticed each of your senses; everything you've told me about them so far, you know, like when you first started noticing them; every time you've used them since yesterday; what you just told me you've been doing with them. Basically I'm starting my research on you." He looked up at Jim, his eyes shining with enthusiasm, "God, I can't believe this is really happening. This is going to be so great. I can't wait until we can start doing the official tests and..." His words trailed off as he stared out the windshield onto the road in front of them. "Oh my God. Jim, look!"

In front of them was an older Camero IROC, its entire front end smashed against the guardrail, the rest of it sticking out at an angle onto the shoulder of the road. The police car that had passed them earlier was parked a short ways past the wrecked vehicle, it's siren silenced but the lights still flashing. The cruiser's trunk was open and they could see the officer sitting in the front seat talking into the radio. There were no other emergency vehicles on the scene.

Jim pulled the Jeep onto the shoulder a few yards short of the wreck. There were two shapes in the vehicle, neither of which was moving. He turned to Blair. "Those people need help. I want you to stay here in the car. I mean it. It's still raining pretty hard and you're still in no shape to be out in it. I'll be back as soon as I can." What he didn't tell Blair that he had a feeling that the inside of the Camero could be pretty messy and he didn't want him to have to deal with that. Convinced that Blair would remain in the Jeep he climbed out of the car and headed for the accident scene.

Blair watched as Jim approached the car. He stuck his head in the drivers' side window for a few moments then left and walked up to the police officer. As Blair continued to watch he saw Jim and the officer talk for a few minutes then both went to the back of the car and were apparently looking for something inside the cruiser's trunk. No one must be too badly injured. Neither one of them seems to be rushing to get back to the car. Probably looking for the First-Aid kit or blankets or something. Maybe if nothing else I can talk to whoever's in the car, let them know that it'll be all right, that help is coming. I can't just sit here and do nothing.

No sooner did he think it than Blair was out of the Jeep and heading towards the car intent on somehow helping the injured, even if it was just verbally. Just like Jim had done moments before he carefully put his head inside the driver's broken window, intending on comforting whoever was inside. Instead he gasped out loud at the sight of the two young men in front of him. The driver was hunched over the steering wheel, the wheel bent backwards and the steering column obviously pushed through his chest. It was the only thing holding him up right. His limp arms were hanging straight down, blood running down his chest and from his open mouth and nose. The blood and gore covered spider's web on the passenger's side windshield made the force of the impact it received obvious. But it was what was left of the passenger's face that reinforced that fact. The second man was half lying in his seat. It was hard to tell where his nose had even been, almost his entire face had been crushed in. His forehead had caved in on impact. Two brown sightless eyes seemed to be staring right at him from the blood covered farce that had once been a human face. Blair felt his stomach start to roll. He jerked his head from the window and ran to the front of the car, collapsing to his knees just as he started to violently vomit his lunch and anything else he had eaten since yesterday. When that was gone his stomached still continued to spasm with dry heaves.

Jim was helping Officer Taylor pull out the big, blue, plastic tarp when he heard a noise come the direction of the totaled Camero. Both men turned around to the sight of Blair on his knees literally losing his lunch on the asphalt. Jim muttered, "Oh shit," and started to turn away from the patrol car when Taylor stopped him with a hand on his arm. He reached into a cooler that was in the trunk and without saying a word handed Jim a bottle of water. With a small "Thanks" Jim hurried over to where Blair was just leaning back on his heels, one hand on the Camero's bumper to support himself, the other arm wrapped around his now sore stomach.

Blair flinched when he felt a hand suddenly land on his shoulder, only to sigh in relief when he saw it was Jim. What? Did you think it was one of the dead guys in the car? Get a grip here, Blair. Something round and cold was pressed into his hand. A bottle of water. "Rinse out your mouth, Chief." Oh yeah. Good idea. He rinsed and spit a few times then took a few cautious sips before putting the cap back on. With the image of the interior the car still being permanently burned into his brain an involuntary shudder ran through him. He was barely aware when Jim gripped his upper arms and started to lift him up from the ground. "C'mon Blair. Let's go back to the Jeep. I think you need to sit down for a few minutes."

It had taken almost all of Jim's resolve not to start yelling at Blair when he first reached him. Hadn't he told him specifically not to get out of the car? Not to come over here? He had been pretty sure before he got out of the Jeep that the occupants of the Camero were dead. He also knew from the exterior damage of the car that it would be rather ugly inside and he'd been right. Officer Taylor had already called it in, he had told him that all he could do now was to cover the windows and wait for the investigators and then the coroner to come get the bodies. Just as they were getting out the tarp a noise, now obviously Blair retching, caused both men to turn around. Jim couldn't believe that Blair had gotten out, back into the rain again and had actually gone up the Camero. Just what the hell did he think he was doing?

As they walked past the car Blair's eyes seemed drawn back towards the Camero's windows. Jim deliberately steered him away. Blair turned to him as they walked. "God Jim... did you see?... the driver... he was... impaled... and the other... the other guy... I swear... he was... staring at me..."

Jim finally got Blair situated back in the Jeep. He was soaked again, hell, they both were. Nothing they could do about it now. "Blair? I'm going to go help cover the car. I'll be back in a few minutes. You gonna be all right till I get back?"

Blair looked startled for a second then forced his attention away from the twisted wreck that up until a short time ago was probably the driver's pride and joy and looked up at Jim. "Uh? Oh, sorry Jim. Yeah, I'm fine now. Well, maybe not fine, but I'm all right now." He nodded towards the car where Taylor was trying to get the tarp over the roof. "Go do what you've got to do. I'll stay right here."

Jim hesitated a second then closed the Jeep door and hurried over to help Taylor finish securing the tarp over the car's windows. It would protect the interior from the elements and the prying eyes of passing motorists. Taylor had to raise his voice to be heard over the rain as they tightened down the blue, plastic cover. "Your friend doing all right? He looked a bit green there for a minute. His first DBs?" Jim tied down his end then walked over and helped Taylor finish securing his side. "Might not his first dead body but probably the most graphic. He'll be all right. He just needs a few minutes to collect himself." At least I hope so. Dammit Chief why didn't you just stay put? A few minutes later they were both convinced that the tarp was secure. The two cops shook hands as Taylor thanked Jim for his help and then he was heading back towards the Jeep and his Guide.

As he approached the car Jim could see Blair sitting in the passenger seat with his head leaning back, eyes closed. The arm holding the bottle of water was wrapped around his stomach. He wasn't sure which feeling was stronger, upset at what Blair had just gone through or pissed off that Blair had gotten out the car after he had explicitly told him not to.

Blair flinched a little when Jim slammed door a little harder than necessary when he got in. "You get everything done?"

"Yes."

Blair opened his eyes and turned his head to look at Jim, surprised at the curt tone of voice. "What's the matter?"

Staring straight ahead, his hand on the ignition key but not turning it Jim spoke just as sharply as before, "Tell me Sandburg, just what part of 'stay in the car' didn't you understand?"

Oh. So that was it. "Everything after 'those people need help'. I couldn't just sit there and do nothing, Jim. And when you and the other cop seemed so calm about everything I just figured that nobody was seriously hurt. It never occurred to me that they could be, you know... dead." He had to swallow back the nausea that threatened to rise back up as he once again saw the sickening image of the interior of the Camero in his mind. "I just wanted to do what I could to help." He turned away from the obviously still upset Jim and looked out the passenger window studiously avoiding looking at the twisted wreck in front of him.

"Next time you can "help" by doing what you're told, staying where you're told to stay." Jim wasn't sure why he was so upset with Blair, something about the whole incident just had him on edge. He started the Jeep and with barely a nod at Taylor, who was now back in his cruiser, he took off a bit faster than he had intended.

"Well next time you can help by not making it sound like a damn order." Blair's head was pounding again, his stomach muscles still ached from the strain of violently heaving his guts out. And now his damn lungs were hurting again too. But he refused to give in to it, refused to let Jim see that he was hurting. He didn't know why Jim was so upset with him for just wanting to help and right now he just didn't care.

The next half-hour was spent in silence as each man was lost in his own thoughts. Foremost on each of their minds was the fear that the other might now change his mind about their arrangement and want out of the deal. Jim stole a glance over at Blair when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Blair was sitting back again, his eyes tightly closed. The bottle of water was now beside him on the seat and as Jim watched he saw Blair raise one hand to his temple and carefully start to massage it. His other arm stayed wrapped around his stomach. Any residual anger faded away at the sight of Blair in pain.

"Headache back?"

Blair gave a small nod. "Uh-huh."

"Why don't you take some more aspirin? The bag's in my jacket pocket."

"... 'kay." Blair opened his eyes and picking up the leather jacket, took out the drug store bag. He shook out two tablets from the aspirin bottle and washed them down with most of the remaining water in the bottle. After returning everything to the jacket pocket he leaned back again with a sigh. "Sorry I kind of lost it back there. I just wasn't expecting to see... that, you know?"

"Yeah, I know. I had a feeling that it would be bad and I guess I just didn't want you to have to see it. And don't worry about "losing it". Believe me, a lot of cops have offered their lunch to the asphalt god when they get called to their first really bad accident. I guess I shouldn't have gotten so upset, I know you just wanted to help." Anger had totally given way to relief that Blair hadn't wanted to call off their new 'partnership'. But he also knew that Blair had been really pissed off at him for going off on him like he had. He was going to have to work on controlling his temper around Blair.

Blair was quiet for so long that Jim was beginning to think he had drifted off to sleep again when his soft voice reached his ears. "It was such a waste of two young lives. They were both around my age, did you notice that? That could have been me in there."

Jim had noticed, maybe that's why the whole incident had upset him more than usual. "Yeah, I noticed. Try not to let it get to you Blair, it'll just drive you crazy. Besides, I don't think you would find yourself in that exact situation, too many variables to consider."

"Like what?"

"Well, okay, first you take a fast car, with a young male driver. Add in alcohol—"

"Alcohol?" Blair interrupted, "Are you sure? I didn't notice any alcohol."

"I smelled beer as soon as I got near the car. And Taylor told me he spotted empty beer bottles on the floor. So anyway..." he continued, "... you have a fast car, young male driver and beer. Then take into consideration the bad weather and the fact that even though the car had no air bags neither man was wearing a seat belt. The whole thing was just a disaster waiting to happen. Does any this of this sound like how you drive?"

Blair was thoughtful for a minute. The Corvair was definitely not a fast car by any stretch of the imagination. And from the time he had gotten his learner's permit Naomi had stressed the importance of always wearing a seatbelt and the dangers of drinking and driving. His mother may be an unconventional free spirit but when it came to his safety she could be very conservative. "No. But I do have some friends that those guys remind me of. Guys I used to ride around with and never thought twice about. Just kind of makes you stop and think, you know, about just how fast things can change. One minute you're cruising down the highway, happy, carefree. The next minute you're whole life changes... or ends." He shook his head. "It's still such a waste of two lives."

"Yeah, it was a waste but just keep in mind that they made those choices themselves, there was nothing you or anyone else could have done to change what happened. As a cop you have to learn to deal with it and move on or after a while everything you see will begin to overwhelm you."

"I suppose so." He paused for a moment. "Jim? Do you... I mean is this the type of stuff you, I mean we'll, be dealing with when we work together?"

Jim could hear the hesitation in Blair's voice but he wasn't going to lie or sugarcoat the truth. "Usually not car accidents unless there's a suspicion of foul play. I work in the Major Crime unit. We get all the unusual, hard to solve cases. Some are robberies, arson, break-ins, threats against people or property, almost anything. Like this Switchman bomber case I'm on now. But I'll be honest with you here Blair, some cases deal with assault or murder which can get as bad as what you just saw. Hopefully for the few weeks we'll be working together there won't be anything like that. But I just never know what the next case will be."

When Blair remained silent for too long Jim began to worry. Was he thinking that this wasn't what he signed up for? If he reacted like that to a traffic accident how would he react to a brutal assault or murder? Could he handle it? And worst of all, what if Blair decided he couldn't handle it? He needed Blair. Even though he hated the idea of being even slightly dependent on someone else, it went against everything he believed about himself, right now it was also the simple truth. He was in way over his head when it came to these damn senses. Blair was probably the only person who could help him and he finally had to admit he needed help. He couldn't do this on his own, he'd tried on his own and failed. And failure was just not an option to Jim Ellison. One thing he had learned while in the Rangers was that you used whatever resources were available to get the job done. If his only resource for controlling his new found senses was a short, longhaired, sometimes overly enthusiastic grad student, so be it. He had definitely used worse at times and besides Blair had said it would only be for a few weeks anyway. He could put up with anything, or anybody, for a few weeks if it helped him reach his objective. Jim relaxed a bit. Putting this whole thing in a military perspective, with a timeframe and an obtainable goal helped make it all seem more acceptable and more doable. Now he just had to make sure his "resource" was all right.

"You okay, Chief? You're awful quiet over there."

Blair's head jerked as he turned towards Jim. "Huh? Oh, no, I'm fine. I've just been thinking. Since you picked me up yesterday I've seen you use all of your senses. Some, like sight, quite a few times. I haven't noticed you having any real problems with them. What kinds of problems are you having? Once we identify the problems we can start working on how to correct them."

"That's why you've been so quiet? I thought you were thinking about quitting. Like maybe you didn't want to have to deal with anything else like that accident.

"Quitting?" Blair drew his eyebrows together, obviously puzzled. "Why would I think about quitting? This is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me. Sure the thought of seeing anything like those two guys in the Camero makes me queasy and I can't promise that I won't sacrifice my lunch, as you so quaintly put it, if I see something even close to that again, but quit? No way man. You said that stuff like this is part of your job and since I've already told you that I'll need to be with you on the job, I'll just have to learn to deal with it. Hopefully," Blair turned his eyes upwards for a few seconds, "please God, we won't have to deal with anything really bloody or any dead bodies while we're working together. You know, just a few nice, quiet, clean robberies or vandalism, something along those lines. I mean really, how much can happen in a few weeks, right? It's not like Cascade is the most dangerous city in America or anything. Sooo, tell me the kinds of problems you've been having."

Jim just shook his head. Here he'd been afraid Blair was ready to jump ship after what he had just been through only to find that he had already accepted what he might have to face when they worked together and had already moved on. If nothing else the kid had guts and determination. Even though he hadn't been feeling well almost from the time he picked him up, Blair never once complained, in fact Jim had to almost force him to even admit he was sick. And even then his main concern had been helping him, not himself. Keeping up with Blair Sandburg was going be a definite challenge. And now, even after all that, here he was ready to actually get to work on the problems with his senses. Glancing over he saw that Blair had his notebook open again, pen at the ready, looking at him expectantly. Okay, let the games begin.

"Umm, probably the worst thing is when everything goes crazy all at once. It seems like everything is too much. Too bright, too loud, too irritating, just too... everything. I'm not really sure how to describe it."

Blair was writing as fast as Jim was talking. "Sounds like a sensory overload. All your senses spiking at once. You're receiving so much input that you can't process it all. So the first thing we need to do is to teach you some control methods. So you can, I don't know, dial down your senses so everything is more manageable. In fact the mental image of a dial just might work. We'll have to try that."

Jim was amazed. He could barely describe what the problem was but Blair not only knew exactly what he was talking about, but almost immediately started figuring out a way to try to fix it. His faith in Blair's ability to help him grew. Maybe this would really work out after all.

As it grew darker outside the mood inside the Jeep became lighter. Blair seemed to have an endless supply of ideas for tests and ways to help Jim take control of his wayward senses. Despite the occasional sniffle and shiver he seemed to actually get more energized the more they talked. Before they were aware of it they had reached the city limits of Cascade. Blair directed Jim to a modest house in a middle class neighborhood near Rainier. As he gathered his jacket and backpack he turned to Jim. "I guess I'll see you Monday. Unless you want to start trying some of these techniques out this weekend? I was gonna sleep in tomorrow but if you want to..."

"No." Jim was determined that Blair would have the weekend to rest and recuperate. It would be hard enough selling Sandburg to Simon as it was, he didn't need the kid to still be sick on top of everything else. "You rest up this weekend. I'll be fine."

There was a brief flash of disappointment on Blair's face then it disappeared. "Sure man, no problem. I'll, uh, meet you at the station. By the main desk. First thing Monday morning. Then we go talk to your boss, right?" There was no mistaking the uncertainty in Blair's voice, as if now that they were actually back in Cascade, back to their real lives, Jim might suddenly change his mind about the whole thing.

"Right. Front desk, Monday morning, eight sharp. Be there."

The relief on the younger man's face was obvious. "Okay. Hey, thanks for everything Jim. I'd probably still be out there in the rain, trying to hitch a ride if you hadn't picked me up. See ya Monday." He opened the door and step out, heading towards the walkway leading to the house's front door. Jim continued to watch from the truck. Blair had barely reached the door when it opened and a young woman about Blair's age greeted him with a big smile and a hug. After returning the greeting he turned back to Jim and waved then disappeared into the house.

Even after the door shut Jim continued to sit, listening to the sounds coming from inside the house. He heard a thud which he took to be Blair's backpack hitting the floor. A second later he heard the sound of clothing being touched then a woman's, he assumed it was Amy's, voice. "Blair! What happened to your head? And your clothes are all damp (pause) and so is your hair. What have you been doing? I thought you said you had a ride all the way here?"

"Well, yeah, I did. But we ran across this accident and well you know, I couldn't just sit there..."

"I know, I know, and you being you, you had to get out to help. So, was everyone all right?"

Jim heard the pause as if it were a spoken word, then Blair softly answered, "No."

"Oh Blair. I'm sorry, I know you did what you could. Is that how you got hurt?"

"No. That was just a little... accident. I fell, it's no big deal, really."

No big deal my ass. You were trying to save my sorry butt even after I threw you out. As Jim listened he was beginning to get a better understanding of just what kind of man Blair really was. Obviously staying behind when someone needed help was not in his nature. He continued to listen as Amy lightened her tone of voice. "All right. Anyway right now you need to get out of these wet clothes and into a hot shower. You don't look all that great yourself and I'll bet..." Jim heard skin on skin contact, "... yep, you have a slight fever. All right Blair Sandburg, shower, soup, aspirin and bed. Robbie put some of your things in the den so go find something dry to put on after your shower and I'll start heating up some soup. What? What's so funny?"

Even thought he couldn't see him, Jim could hear the smile in Blair's voice. "You've got this mothering thing down pat already don't you? Robbie and Susie don't stand a chance."

"And neither do you. Now move it, Mister."

"Yes, 'Mom.'"

Jim listened as the backpack was picked up and their voices moved farther away. Satisfied that his Guide was in good hands for now he started the Jeep and pulled away from the curb, finally heading home to his own bed. Monday morning would come soon enough.


Cascade Police Department
Monday, 8:10 a.m.

Jim paced back and forth in front of the front desk looking at his watch again, ignoring the looks he was getting. Where is he? I know I told him eight sharp. What if he's not coming after all? Just as he was beginning to seriously contemplate the idea of going and actually getting him, the squeaking sound of rubber soles running on linoleum pierced his ears. He looked up to see Blair running towards him, open coat billowing out behind him, hair flying in every direction and the obligatory backpack barely staying on his shoulder. As Jim watched his now almost 15 minutes late 'partner' hurrying up to him he was torn between being relieved that Sandburg had finally arrived, upset that he was so late and amused in general by his overall disheveled appearance and obviously distraught manner. When Blair finally reached him he started talking before Jim could even open his mouth to ask why was he so late.

"Oh Jim man, I am so sorry I'm so late. Susie kept us up half the night and when I finally managed to drag myself out of bed this morning Robbie was already in the shower so I had to wait. Then when I finally got dressed Amy wouldn't let me leave until I ate breakfast and then my car wouldn't start right away. And then when I finally got going I must have hit every single red light and is the traffic always this bad around here? So anyway I don't have a Police Dept sticker so I had to park down the street and walk up here and then I went in the wrong door and—"

Jim held up his hand in self-defense trying to stop the seemingly endless flow of words. Okay, so amused won out this time. "Jeez Sandburg, breathe already. I don't think we have time for the whole story right now, we need to get upstairs and talk to Simon some time today." He turned Blair towards the bank of elevators on the far wall and gave the younger man a slight push. "As for parking, we should be able to get you a parking sticker so you can park in the underground garage here. That is if we can convince Simon to agree to let you ride with me." The doubt in his voice was evident even to himself.

If Jim was doubtful Blair was the total opposite. He was practically bursting with optimism as they entered the elevator. "Just leave all that to me. Like I told before, talking people into things is second nature to me. I thought maybe I'd tell him I'm working on a paper on closed societies. Like police departments. And I need someone to study—that'd be you by the way. A few well chosen phrases, a little buttering up and I'll have him eating out of my hand." He watched as Jim pushed the button for the sixth floor. "All administrators are the same whether they work for a business or a university or a police department. It's all in how you phrase things."

"Simon's pretty sharp, Chief. You're not going to able to BS him as easily as you may think. And please, if you use the paper idea, whatever you do, don't use that lame 'Thin Blue Line' phrase. He really hates that."

Blair looked disappointed. "But that's one of my best lines."

Jim was still shaking his head 'no' when the elevator dinged and the doors opened. They exited onto the sixth floor and headed for the doors marked Major Crime. As they approached his desk Jim could see that Simon had someone in his office. One of the captains from another division, although he couldn't remember his name right now. At least it seemed to be a friendly meeting. Good, maybe Simon wouldn't notice that he was now twenty minutes late and would be in a good mood to boot. Grabbing an extra chair he put it at his desk and sat in his own chair. At least they had a few minutes to discuss what they were going to say before trying to explain to his captain why he wanted Sandburg to ride with him. He noticed that the other detectives were giving them strange looks. Actually they were mainly giving Blair strange looks and probably wondering why he wasn't in handcuffs. The soon to be observer however seemed oblivious to the scrutiny and was looking around with uninhibited curiosity. Not a good thing at this point. "Sit down, Sandburg. You're attracting too much attention. Cops don't like to be stared at, trust me."

Blair hung his jacket on the back of his chair then placed his backpack on the floor beside him as he sat. "You know this place really would make a great paper itself. The one about closed societies and all that. So, this is your home away from home, huh? Real cozy. Doesn't it make you nervous though, being around all these alpha male, testosterone based guys with guns?" He gave a small shiver.

"No Sandburg it doesn't, in fact I actually feel safer knowing that everyone here was trained and knows how to use their weapon should the need ever arise. And I'd suggest you keep those kinds of comments to yourself if you plan on being around here very long. But speaking of home and safe, did you ever get your Housing problem straightened out?" He'd been debating about it all weekend. He had a small spare room that could be cleaned up and used as a bedroom in a pinch. He would really rather not, he liked his home the way it was, quiet and orderly. And he liked his privacy. But if the kid was in a bind he could tolerate it for a short while.

"Actually I think I have it solved. Robbie knows someone who knows someone that rents out space in his warehouses. Which will work out really great cause I should be hearing back any day now about a grant to study the effects of violence on television on primates. One of the requirements is that the primate has to live you so you can monitor what it watches and it's reactions. I was kind of wondering how I was going to swing that living with roommates, so this would be perfect. Anyway, I'm supposed to meet with this guy tonight to see about renting space in one."

"Wait a minute, back up here. Let me get this straight. You're going to get paid to sit around and watch a monkey watch TV?"

"Jim, it's a lot more complicated than just that. It's observing the monkey's reactions to what happening on the show it's watching, compiling all the data and then being able to write a comprehensive paper based on all the data collected. This is actually valuable, serious research here."

Jim looked skeptical. "Uh-huh. And just how do you collect all that valuable research?"

Blair gave him a cocky grin. "By sitting around watching a monkey watch TV."

Jim just rolled his eyes and shook his head. Then he became serious again. "So just where are all these warehouses located anyway?"

"I'm guessing... the warehouse district maybe?"

"Sandburg, that's a pretty bad part of town. There's been a lot of gang activity in that area. Maybe you should rethink this."

"Too late now, besides, I really need a place to stay. I can't stay with Amy and Robbie much longer. Tell you what, I'll check it out, if it doesn't look good I won't take it. Okay? I just really need my own place, like now."

Jim glanced into Simon's office again. The two captains were still talking. At least they both still looked relaxed. How long was this going to take? His stomach was already in knots just thinking about the upcoming conversation, he just wanted it over with. He turned back towards Blair again. "Okay. But if you have any doubts at all don't take it. Something else will turn always turn up." He hesitated to ask but he felt he had to know. "How are you feeling? You sure you're up to this?" Blair looked better. He had a lot more color in his face and a lot more energy than the last time they were together. His eyes were also full of that same enthusiasm he had seen that first day when Blair was telling him about the dig site he had been working at before he picked him up.

"Oh man I am so pumped up for this. I can't wait to get started. And except for a few butterflies I feel fine. Amy spent the whole weekend practicing her new mothering skills on me. She barely let me up and gave me more chicken soup and aspirin than I've ever had at one time in my whole life. My own mother didn't fuss over me that much. Robbie was snickering the whole time, I guess he was just glad to have someone else in the line of fire this time." Despite his protests the affection he held for his caretaker was evident in Blair's voice and smile. "Anyway, I have now been officially nursed back into good health." He looked around. "So what's taking so long? When do we get to go talk to your captain?"

As if on cue the office door opened and the two men stepped out. After a brief good-bye the second captain turned and started walking out of the bullpen. Taking advantage of the timing Jim spoke up. "Uh, Captain, sir, can we, er, I speak to you for a minute?" Oh that sounded real good.

Simon looked at Jim, obviously puzzled by his behavior and by the grungy looking kid also sitting at the detective's desk. "You all right, Jim? Something happen while you were away?"

"I'm fine, sir."

"Okay then, just give me a minute." With that he turned back into his office closing the door behind him.

Jim sighed. He was more nervous about talking to Simon than he had been about almost anything in a long time. If this didn't work he was totally screwed. He hoped Blair was more prepared than he was. "Do you have any idea what you're going to say?"

"Not exactly. I find it's usually better if I just wing it. You know, just say whatever comes to mind, whatever feels right at the time."

Oh God. Maybe I can say he's my cousin or something. Just then Rhonda, Simon's secretary, called him. "Jim? Simon says you can go in now."

Jim nodded to her and got up. With Blair in tow he walked to the closed office door. When he got to the door he paused and turned around to look at Blair. Blair smiled and gave him a quick thumbs up as he very quietly whispered, "It's showtime!" Jim gave him a small nod and took a deep breath as he knocked on the door. At Simon's gruff "Come" he turned the knob and, with his Guide right behind him, stepped into his future.

~ End ~

Author's Additional Notes: This is where the story ends. At this point I figure that this AU version of their meeting will now merge with canon and go from there. I hope you enjoyed it and I would really like to hear any comments (good, bad or indifferent) you have on the story itself.


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Page last updated 8/15/03.