Blair Sandburg literally didn’t know what hit him. One moment he was running across the parking lot, splashing through puddles, clutching his backpack, and struggling with his car keys, and the next he was downed by a stunning blow to the back of his head. Collapsing barely feet away from the potential shelter of his old car, he instinctively curled up around his pack, wrapping his arms around his head in an attempt to protect himself from the kicks and blows that began to rain down on him.
Dazed from the first blow to his head, and sobbing with fear and pain as the silent attack continued, his last conscious thought was that he was going to die, and that he was never going to see his Mom again. As he greyed out, a violent stamp on his leg crushed and broke his ankle, and he screamed in agony as he fainted, never hearing the blaring of a car horn and the angry shouting as grey faded to black.
It was purely by chance that Mike Somersby had to deliver a package to the Anthropology Department in Hargrove Hall that evening, and he had been sorely tempted to put it off until the next morning because the early Fall rain storm was so fierce. However, he had decided to go ahead and complete his day’s schedule anyway, so entered the parking lot in time to see three hooded and shadowy figures apparently kicking the hell out of another person on the ground.
Now Mike was a big man, ex-Marine corps, and he wasn’t about to watch some street punks get away with what could literally be murder. He immediately blasted his horn, and revved the delivery truck’s engine as he closed the distance between him and the action, yelling obscenities as he bore down on the anonymous thugs.
He wasn’t in the least surprised when they broke off the attack and ran for it through the gloom of the wet evening, high on adrenaline, and laughing at their actions. He wasted little time in jumping down from his truck to check on the small, soaked figure curled up on the pavement.
Bending to check for signs of life, he was gratified to find a strong, steady pulse in spite of the young man’s pallor and ragged breathing. He fetched a tarp from the back of his truck to cover and protect the saturated body while he called for police and medical assistance, climbing back into his cab to shelter while he awaited their arrival.
He wished he could have pulled the poor little guy into the truck also, but having noted the severity of the young man’s injuries, he knew better than to move him. He set himself to wait, trying to remember everything he could about what he had seen, although he realised that it would probably be too vague to be of much help.
Staring balefully at his computer screen, Detective Jim Ellison ground his teeth in frustration as he cursed the infernal machine to eternal hell and damnation. He hated computers with a passion, only using them as necessary for his job, and never progressing beyond the basics. It was hardly surprising then that he frequently lost files or crashed the machine, and his ‘hunt and peck’ typing style meant that he limited his reports to the bare facts. Yet even so, the pile of paperwork on his desk never seemed to diminish, and his antipathy towards that aspect of police work was exacerbated on days like this when his headache threatened to blow up into full-scale migraine proportions.
Reaching over for his mug to take a gulp of dubious break room coffee, he almost spat it straight back out again as his taste buds rebelled against its bitterness, and he slammed the mug back down again with a savage oath.
Oh great! So now his sense of taste was acting up also. He was already wearing his earplugs - the type of moulded electronic plugs that shooters often wore, which allowed them to hear conversation while blocking loud noises – because his sense of hearing had been spiking on and off all day. And not only that, but he had been continually scratching and rubbing at the itching beneath his sweater sleeves, so he knew without a doubt that he would find his skin covered with hives by the time he got home tonight.
At least his sight and sense of smell were still behaving at the moment, so he was grudgingly aware that he should be thankful for small mercies.
Due to a natural genetic variation, Jim’s senses were enhanced to a remarkable degree. Unfortunately, in current medical opinion, although the condition was recognised, it was little understood. Some practitioners assumed it to be an extreme form of PTSD brought on by excessive anxiety, danger or perhaps even a mental disorder. However, less charitable physicians and colleagues alike implied that such individuals might even be hypochondriacs, or bucking for medical discharge, so Jim didn’t expect or receive much sympathy from those quarters.
It had grown so bad recently, following a particularly difficult case involving a serial bomber, that Jim had reluctantly applied for and been accepted into the Forest Ranger Service; urban police work no longer holding any appeal for him under the circumstances.
So now he was biding his time, working out his last few days’ notice, and hoping that a new job in the secluded environment of Cascade National Forest would allow him some sort of peace and respite from the overwhelming sights, sounds and smells of the city.
Just then, a bellow from the Captain’s office drew his attention, and he looked up to see Simon Banks’ frowning face peering around the doorframe.
“Ellison! My office, now!” and the other man disappeared back inside without waiting for a response, knowing that Jim didn’t need to be told twice.
Sure enough, his detective quickly entered the room, standing automatically at parade rest as he stood before Simon’s desk, awaiting his Captain’s orders.
Eyeing the impressive man before him, noting the signs of stress on the handsome face, Simon’s own gaze softened as he said more reasonably, “Another bad day, Jim? You seemed to be OK this morning. Any idea why everything’s acting up again?”
Grateful for his Captain’s bluff sympathy, Jim responded, “No, Captain. There’s no particular reason I can think of. It’s just getting more and more erratic, so much so that the danger from zoning is increasing daily.
“I’ve got to say that it’s a good thing I’ll be leaving soon, before I get someone killed while I’m off in la-la land” he added despondently.
“I guess you have a point, Jim. I mean, these zones of yours. To the rest of us, you just seem to go into some sort of coma, don’t you? What pulled you out of it yesterday?”
Reliving the incident with no little embarrassment, Jim replied, “Well, I remember entering the drug store with Megan, and seeing that crazy bastard waving his gun around. Guess he panicked when he saw us, and knocked over the perfume display. Jeez, Simon – the smell! It really knocked me out.
“Anyhow, from what she told me afterwards, Megan approached the guy, expecting me to back her up, and he took a shot at her. It was the sound of the shot that snapped me out of it, but if she hadn’t have moved so fast, he would have hit her.
“Christ, Simon, I was so ashamed...” and he tailed off, head hanging in self-condemnation.
Although the forthright Australian exchange officer had let it go, saying, “No worries, mate. I ducked in time!” Jim’s guilt nearly crushed him, and he had apologised profusely.
Nodding sympathetically, Simon said, “I know it’s getting late, Jim, and you should be on your way home by now, but there’s been another attack at Rainier, which looks very like the latest in the recent spate of hate bashings. This time, the vic survived, thanks to the intervention of a delivery truck driver who interrupted them and drove them off.
“The victim’s name is Blair Sandburg, and he’s a grad student and TA in the Anthropology Department. Apparently on his way to his car, he was jumped crossing the parking lot. I’m thinking that it was the severe weather conditions that contributed to the attack in what you’d otherwise think was a fairly safe and open location. Perps probably thought that they wouldn’t be disturbed, and they almost got away with it.
“Thing is, Sandburg’s Jewish, as you’d expect with a name like that, and he’s also shall we say, a bit unconventional-looking, according to the officers first on the scene. I wouldn’t be surprised if the perps think he’s gay also, which is another reason for targeting him.
“Anyway, since I don’t have any other people to send, will you go to the hospital and see if you can interview the vic? I want to shut down this gang, and the sooner the better.”
Expression grim, Jim nodded quickly.
“No problem, I’ll get right over there. I can’t stand that sort of hate crime, and it’d be good to work on something useful as possibly my last case.” And even as Simon inclined his head in dismissal, he was exiting the office and striding across the bullpen, snagging his waterproof jacket as he hurried off to the hospital, the discomfort from his wayward senses temporarily banished in his determination to pursue the investigation.
An hour later found Jim gazing down at the still form of Blair Sandburg, a perplexed frown on his face. On arrival at Cascade General, he had been informed that the young attack victim had been admitted for observation as his head injury was more serious than it first appeared; the first blow causing a hairline fracture to the back of his skull.
Since he was a material witness and potential target for his thwarted attackers, he had been placed in a private room with a uniformed guard until such time as he regained consciousness and was able to be discharged.
Jim knew that in all likelihood, once he had given whatever statement he could, he would probably be moved to a safe house until such time as the gang were caught and convicted, or it was deemed unlikely that he would be attacked again. Or until the DA and PD decide they can’t afford the expense of protecting him any longer, Jim thought cynically.
Normally, Jim would have returned later to take Sandburg’s statement, once he was conscious enough to interview, but for some reason, Jim found that he didn’t want to leave the young man’s bedside.
As soon as he had entered the room, he had experienced an overwhelming need to watch over and protect the injured man far beyond anything he had previously felt towards an assault victim. And not only that, but he suddenly became aware that his senses had all settled down, and were sharper than at any time since his affliction manifested itself.
Completely bemused, but not about to question the phenomenon, he utilised the opportunity to scan the small body, noting and memorising every detail.
Despite the heavy bandage covering the back of Sandburg’s head, the sleeping face had remained relatively unscathed, thanks to the victim’s efforts in protecting himself. Jim noted the wide brow and high cheekbones, neat nose and lush lips, desperately needing the young man to open his eyes, knowing instinctively that they would be beautiful, in keeping with the rest of the features. Long, dark auburn curls had been tied out of the way high up on his head, and Jim found himself hoping that Sandburg hadn’t lost too many to the doctor who had sutured the wound on his scalp.
Continuing his scan, Jim saw that both Sandburg’s right wrist and forearm and right leg from knee to toe were in plaster. When he held out his hand, hovering just above the thin bedcovers, he could discern even without seeing the deep bruising and heated flesh from contusions beneath the young man’s hospital gown.
Grinding his teeth in fury at the extent of the other man’s injuries, he knew he ought to be grateful that at least Sandburg had survived the assault, unlike two less fortunate victims, but it didn’t make him feel any better right now.
Just then, minute changes in heartbeat and respiration warned Jim that Sandburg was waking up, even without the telltale bleeps from the various monitors attached to the small body, and he was able to catch his first glimpse of deep blue, pain-filled eyes.
His concentration was broken by the entrance of a nurse, responding to her patient’s monitors, who bustled in, snapping at Jim with barely a glance in his direction.
“You’ll need to leave now, Detective. I need to check Mr Sandburg’s vitals, and the doctor will be coming shortly. Please wait outside” and she brushed past him to do what was required, assuming he would comply with her orders.
However, Jim was reluctant to leave the room, and stepped back out of the way instead, intending to remain as long as possible.
Just then, a harried-looking middle-aged physician arrived, glancing down at his notes, and approaching the bed, saying, “So, he’s just woken, Helen? Good, good! Can you hear me, Mr Sandburg? Can you tell me what you remember?” Then, spotting Jim hovering near the door, he frowned and said crossly, “You can’t stay in here, Detective! I have to see to my patient. Please wait outside!”
Knowing that now was not the time to argue, Jim nodded stiffly and stepped out, but remained close by, fully intending to confront the doctor on his exit and inform him that, as Sandburg was a protected witness, he intended to stay with him at all times.
And what Simon Banks would say to that, he had no idea.
Two hours later found Jim still seated at Blair’s bedside, having received Simon’s somewhat reluctant permission to remain with the victim, watching carefully for any signs that Sandburg was waking up again. At least the young man was now sleeping naturally, having been dosed with painkillers after his first distressed return to consciousness, but Jim was impatient to actually speak to him, anxious to hear as much as he could remember about the attack. And, truth be told, simply to reassure himself that Sandburg hadn’t been brain-damaged.
Just as he was contemplating making a quick bathroom break and coffee run, Jim looked up to see two rather hazy, slightly unfocussed but undeniably beautiful deep blue eyes gazing at him.
“Hey, you’re awake!” he murmured, a gentle smile lighting his face. “I’m Detective Jim Ellison. Are you able to talk to me, or should I get the nurse?”
When Sandburg looked a little puzzled, but shook his head minutely, licking dry lips, Jim reached for the jug of iced water on the nightstand and filled a paper cup, unwrapping and adding a straw. He raised the head of the bed slightly and leaned forward, carefully placing the straw between the other man’s lips.
After taking a few grateful sips, Blair relaxed back again, and coughed before speaking, voice still somewhat rusty-sounding, but music to Jim’s ears.
“How long have I been here? Do you know when I can go home?”
“You’ve been here since early afternoon, Chief, and it’s just gone midnight. Do you remember what happened to you?”
“Um, it’s pretty fuzzy, but I remember running to my car. The rain was so heavy; I could hardly see where I was going. Then something hit me from behind” he continued, distress evident in his eyes and elevated heart rate.
“I fell down, and they kept kicking me. Gods, I thought I was going to die!” and Jim leaned forward to pat his shoulder soothingly.
“Sshhh, it’s OK, Chief. You’re safe now. I’ll make sure of it!” he promised, projecting as much sincerity and concern as he could in voice and expression.
“Did you see your attackers at all? Anything?”
“I’m sorry, man. I didn’t see anything. I don’t even know how many there were, except that there was definitely more than one. They didn’t say anything, either – just kept kicking me....” and he tailed off miserably.
“I don’t understand, man. Why would they do that to me? I mean, OK, I’m Jewish, and I’ve always been the class nerd, so I’ve always had to put up with a certain amount of bullying, but this sort of attack – it’s just too much.”
“If it’s any consolation, Chief, I don’t think it’s truly personal. There’ve been several other attacks before you, and the only common factors were that the victims were perceived to be different – Jewish, gay, coloured, Native American, whatever. Anything that mindless skinhead types would see as a threat to their beliefs. You just fit in with their criteria.”
“Yeah, I know” replied Blair quietly. “I’m an anthropologist after all. I know these things go on. Just didn’t expect to be on the receiving end, you know? Not on campus, anyway. I’m sorry, man. I haven’t been much help, have I?”
“Don’t worry about it now, Mr Sandburg. I’m not giving up on this case. It’s probably my last, so I want to make it count!”
Blair sent him a quizzical look, but then his face suddenly creased in pain, and he gasped as a bolt of agony shot through his head.
“S s s sorry, man....hurts...!” he whimpered, and fell back on his pillows even as Jim pushed the call button for the nurse.
The following morning, Simon Banks strode down the corridor to see a rumpled-looking Jim emerge from Sandburg’s room, on his way to grab yet another cup of stale coffee from the nurses’ station.
Nodding a greeting at the uniformed officer seated outside, Simon grasped his detective’s arm saying, “Come on, Jim. You need to get some decent coffee, and something to eat. You might consider a shower also” he added, wrinkling his nose in distaste.
“Hey, Simon, since when did you have enhanced senses?”Jim joked tiredly. “I didn’t think I was that bad!”
“Well, you’re not standing where I am!” snarked his boss. “Murray here will make sure no one gets into Sandburg’s room, so you can spare an hour or so to eat and freshen up, no arguments!”
Realising Simon wasn’t about to take ‘no’ for an answer, Jim nodded and allowed himself to be led down to the cafeteria, where he wolfed down a good portion of eggs and toast while filling Simon in with Blair’s progress.
“Well, apart from the hairline skull fracture, he has a broken ankle and wrist, and some pretty nasty deep bruising. The doc’s concerned that he took some good kicks to the kidneys and lower back, but there’s no blood in his urine, so hopefully there’s no serious damage. He has a mild concussion, but his memory’s OK and there’s no sign of any dangerous swelling of the brain. But he didn’t see or hear anything useful. Thing is, when he’s discharged, he’s going to need a lot of care, so I was thinking I could take him back to the loft...”
“Why would you do that, Jim? I thought you liked to keep yourself to yourself! How come you want a complete stranger move in, even for a short while?”
At that, Jim gazed at his Captain for long moments as he formulated his response, needing to recount what he had concluded during his night’s vigil at Blair’s bedside.
“Well, to be honest, Captain, I can’t really explain it, not so’s you’d understand easily. See, it’s an instinctive reaction. I feel incredibly protective of him – and my senses feel so settled – so right – when I’m near him. It’s like a connection or something. And anyway” he added hopefully, “he’s probably going to be sent to a safe house, so where would be safer than the loft, with me to watch him?”
Holding his breath and praying that Simon wouldn’t think he’d completely lost it, he sighed in relief when Banks shook his head in mock exasperation before replying, “Anyone but you, Jim, and I’d be sending for the men in white coats, I swear! But for some reason, I believe you. Or believe that you believe it!
“OK. Say I agree, when do you think he’ll be discharged?”
“Well, I get the impression that it’ll only be a couple of days, especially as he’s going to be in good hands – so I still have time to do some following up if there’s any leads...” and the two men made their way back to Sandburg’s room, deep in discussion.
As they approached the room, they were aware of an altercation going on between Officer Murray and an agitated young woman, who was obviously intent on entering Blair’s room.
“But I know him! I work with him! Look, here’s my driver’s licence – I just want to know if he’s OK!” she was saying, pushing her pocket book in Murray’s face.
“I’m sorry, miss, I can’t let you in!” the frustrated man replied, relieved when Banks interrupted.
“Captain Banks and Detective Ellison, Cascade PD. What can I do for you, miss...?”
“Davis. Emily Davis” replied the young woman, turning gratefully to Simon and Jim.
“I’m Blair’s student helper. I heard about the attack, and I want to know how he is. And he” - indicating Officer Murray – “says I can’t go in. And the nurses won’t tell me how badly Blair’s hurt!”
“Look, Miss Davis, why don’t we go sit in the waiting room, and I’ll tell you what I can. It’s true that you can’t see Mr Sandburg, because he’s under police protection until the criminals are caught, but I can tell you that I understand his injuries to be severe but not life-threatening.”
Allowing herself to be escorted down to the waiting area, Emily sat down, and fixed the two cops with a worried but determined gaze.
“Um, if you’re sure he’s going to be alright” she began uncertainly, “I think I know who did this. Well, not the actual culprits, but the group they belong to. It’s so wrong to attack Blair, because he’s such a sweet guy, but I can see why they would have done it, the bastards!” she ended, pure venom in her tone.
“And who would they be?” demanded Jim, like Simon, leaning towards her in eager anticipation. “We need to know everything you can tell us.”
And Emily nodded, happy to cooperate for the sake of her favourite teacher.
A freshly showered Jim took his seat next to his fellow detectives Joel Taggart and Megan Connor, listening while Simon brought the others up to speed on what they had learned about the hate crime case.
“So, this student helper of Sandburg’s says that there’s been some covert recruiting happening on campus” muttered Joel, his normally genial face wearing an expression both hard and angry.
“That’s right, Joel. She says she doesn’t know them personally, but several of her friends have overheard things in the student’s coffee bars and local clubs. Seems that not a few disaffected kids have latched onto this self-proclaimed white supremacy group as a way to get their own back for poor academic performance, targeting anyone they think who are usurping their ‘rightful places’.
“It’s a pathetic excuse for laziness and stupidity on their part, but it’s disastrous for their innocent victims. Fascism at its worst!”
Shooting her partner a sympathetic glance, Megan added, “So do we have a plan, Captain? Because I for one can’t wait to get my hands on those bloody drongos!”
Jim looked from the Captain to Megan, not surprised that her disgusted expression mirrored Joel’s.
“Well, with the knowledge we now have, I’m suggesting some sort of set up to draw them out” Simon began.
“Once Mr Sandburg is discharged from hospital, Jim has suggested that he stays at the loft where he can be protected.”
Ignoring the incredulous expressions crossing Joel and Megan’s faces, he continued, “I suggest that we let it be known that he wasn’t as badly hurt as previously thought, and that he will be returning to campus to do some sort of necessary work in his office, and to pick up his car. Except that it won’t be Sandburg, but a ringer. Detective Jameson from Vice has long hair, and is a similar build to Sandburg, so if he wears some of Sandburg’s clothes and some fake bandages and plaster, from a distance I’m certain he’ll be mistaken for the teacher. And when those bastards come back to finish the job, as I’m certain they will, we’ll get them.
“I’ve already OK’d it with Captain Sullivan in Vice, so as soon as Sandburg is safely ensconced in the loft; we can set up the sting.”
As all three detectives nodded in approval, Jim said, “Just one thing, Captain. I’d like to be in on the arrest, but need to look out for Blair also....”
“Don’t worry, Jim. I’m sure we can sort something out. I wouldn’t want to stop you from making your last arrest in MCU” replied Simon, chuckling grimly.
“OK, then, people. While Jim gets back to the hospital, which I know he’s itching to do, you two can do a little nosing around at Rainier, see if you can’t come up with a bit more information...” and Simon dismissed them, already concentrating on the next item on his busy agenda.
When Jim entered Blair’s room he was pleased to see that the patient was much more alert this time, although still obviously in pain.
“Hey, Chief! You OK? How’s the headache?”
“Oh, man, I’m sorry, but I still can’t help you with your enquiries. I really didn’t see anything...”
“It’s OK, Mr Sandburg. I’m not here to pump you for information you don’t have. It’s just part of the service as far as I’m concerned, to keep you protected until the perps are apprehended. And thanks to your student helper, we may have some useful leads...”
“Em? She’s not involved, is she? Hey, Detective, she’s a really good kid, you know? One of the best helpers I’ve ever had, and really smart. She’s OK, isn’t she?”
“She’s just fine Mr Sandburg” soothed Jim. “Very worried about you, but not in any danger. It’s just that she told us what she’s picked up from her friends regarding the so-called ‘white supremacists’ who’ve been recruiting on campus, and we now have a plan to trap the bastards in the act.” He proceeded to explain Simon’s scheme to the worried young man.
A short while later, a somewhat bemused Blair responded, saying “Well, it certainly sounds like a plan, Detective, if this Detective Jameson is happy to stand in for me. But what am I going to be doing meanwhile? I mean, you said I’d be put in protective custody once I’m discharged, but where, man? Because I don’t think I’ll be able to do much for myself for a while” he admitted, looking shamefaced. “I mean, there’s Mom, I suppose, but that’s if I can contact her – she travels a lot, you see...”
“Don’t sweat it, Chief” Jim broke in with a grin. “As long as you’re OK with it, I’m taking you home with me. I’ve had medical training, and who better than to protect you but your own personal detective?”
“Um, that’s really good of you, Detective Ellison, but why would you do this for me? Or do you make a habit of offering shelter to assault victims?”
“Well, to be honest, Mr Sandburg, I do have my reasons, because you’re right. I don’t normally get involved to such an extent. But I need to explain a few things, Blair – can I call you Blair?” At Blair’s nod, he continued, “Well, please call me Jim. And what I’m about to tell you might change your mind, although I’m hoping not...” and, gathering all his courage, he proceeded to describe his ‘condition’, and Blair’s effects on him and his senses.
Long minutes later, Jim finally wound up his recitation, and gazed quizzically at his listener, who had followed every word with rapt attention.
“Um, so there you have it, Chief. And it’s up to you what you make of it...” he tailed off, more than a little embarrassed by Blair’s direct and wide-eyed stare.
Well, at least he can’t run away screaming in his condition! Jim thought, but I feel as if I’ve made a complete ass of myself. What if I’ve scared him off?
Blair’s face suddenly broke out in a huge, excited grin as he responded eagerly, “Oh, man! This is so...so...amazing! I mean, hey, this is so up there with Naomi’s Karmic, pre-destined stuff! It’s almost too good to be true! Oh, man, I’m so excited!”
When Jim frowned in consternation, Blair visibly attempted to control his exuberance, although his pleased grin remained in place as he explained in his turn.
“See, man, this could really be called Fate, Karma, what you will! You know I’m an anthropologist, right?” and at Jim’s guarded nod, he continued.
“OK, well, my doctoral studies are all centred on amazing people – people who had genetically enhanced senses – and who filled the role of watchmen and guardians for pre-civilised societies....”
At that, Jim bristled in anger, knowing that his initial instinct to such a comment would have been to throw this irritating kid up against the nearest wall if said kid wasn’t already laid up in bed.
“Are you calling me a caveman throwback?” he snarled, suddenly furious that he had revealed his secrets to Sandburg, and viciously pleased to note the hurt and fear that flashed across Blair’s face.
“Oh no, man! That’s not it at all!” the younger man replied earnestly, holding up his uninjured hand in supplication.
“I’m sorry if it sounded like I was belittling you, Jim. But it wasn’t what I meant at all! I mean, these guys – these Sentinels were fantastic, man! Revered by their tribes as protectors and so much more! And I’ve been studying them for as long as I can remember, man. I’ve wanted to find out if they still existed in modern society because you’re so special, OK? And I want to help... I can help!” Blair trailed off, desperately worried that he’d frightened off his potential Holy Grail – the first living proof that his beloved Sentinels still survived he had encountered thus far.
Jim stared at the other man for a long moment, carefully scanning his physical reactions and open and honest expression, before finally deciding that Blair was telling the truth. And it wasn’t as if he didn’t want what Sandburg was offering in expertise after all. There could hardly be two such experts in the field of – what did he say? – Ah yes, Sentinels – so Jim really didn’t have much choice.
“OK, Chief. Sorry I flew off the handle there. I guess I’m so used to having people not believe me that I’m way too oversensitive – and definitely no pun intended there!” he added sardonically.
“Anyhow, if you’re still willing to trust me, will you agree to come back to the loft with me? Because I can swear right now that I won’t ever hurt you, Blair. I don’t think it’s possible.”
And he was almost overwhelmed with relief when Blair’s smile widened to light his whole face as he said “Oh yes, please, Jim! I’d be really grateful to spend a few days with you. But I’ll try to be out of your hair as soon as I can, promise!”
And Jim suddenly realised that he might well prefer the arrangement to be permanent...
Although Blair still tired easily, Jim had spent as much time visiting with him as possible, and the two men had talked companionably on both Sentinel and personal matters, discovering that they actually had quite a lot in common, such as a love of camping and fishing, Jags basketball games and similar tastes in popular movies. They also found that they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, and a growing attraction that seemed to be more than just a ‘Sentinel and Guide’ thing.
Blair had been very forthcoming on the topic of Sentinels, and had already suggested ways in which Jim could learn to control and therefore live with his senses, although he was too unassuming to suggest that he was Jim’s true Guide.
On the other hand, Jim was sure that the young man was definitely meant to be his; his to cherish and protect, and, hopefully to convince that they belonged together. And for the time being at least, he refused to contemplate any obstacles which could be thrown in their path, and simply concentrated on winning Blair over to his way of thinking.
After all, he was pretty certain he wasn’t misreading the occasional hint of arousal he could pick up from the younger man, and he had caught more than one speculative and wistful glance cast in his direction when Blair thought he wasn’t being observed.
It was another three days before Blair was finally discharged, released into Jim’s protective custody on the proviso that he should return immediately should there be any deterioration in his condition.
“Well, here we are, Chief – home sweet home!” Jim remarked cheerfully as he steered Blair in his borrowed wheelchair into #307. Taking in the loft’s high ceilings and light, spotless interior, Blair murmured, “Oh man, this is really cool, Jim! And the balcony! Even from here I can tell you must have a great view down to the waterfront. Perfectly in keeping with a Sentinel’s natural desire to look over his territory,” he added with a sly grin.
“Yeah, yeah!” responded Jim with a wry smile. “Whatever you say, Darwin! Meanwhile, let’s get you settled on the sofa, huh? You’re still looking pale, Chief, and I think your headache’s back, am I right?”
Knowing that he couldn’t fool a Sentinel, Blair nodded a little abashedly, saying, “Yeah, a bit, man, but not too bad. I’ll be OK after I’ve rested awhile, honest!”
“No problem, Chief, but I want you to take one of the painkillers the doc prescribed. Yes, I know you said you don’t like prescription drugs, Blair, but the journey here will have stressed you, so do me a favour and take your medicine, OK? And while you’re resting up, I’ll prepare dinner. Pasta OK with you?”
And he was more than pleased when Blair acquiesced with no further complaint, simply smiling at the older man in happy anticipation of Jim’s cooking and allowing himself to be settled comfortably on the sofa, tucked up in a warm afghan and with several pillows propping up his injured limbs.
A short while later, both men had eaten their fill, and Blair complimented the chef.
“That was great, man. It was really good of you to prepare lasagne, because at least I could manage to eat with one hand – I was a bit worried in case you might have had to feed me!” he continued, blushing shyly. “And I know I’m going to be a nuisance to you, Jim. I’m so sorry. I just hope it won’t be too long until I can cope well enough to go back to my place.”
“Ah, well, as to that” Jim began, seizing the offered opening, “I really don’t mind looking after you, Chief. It feels kind of right, somehow. And about your place... I hope you don’t mind, but I checked it out yesterday before visiting you. That warehouse is awful, Blair! The block’s one of the roughest in the dockside area, and I’m sure I could hear rats running around inside. I don’t want you going back there, Chief. I’d be worried all the time...”
“Oh man, look, I appreciate your concern, but I can’t afford anything better. All the decent apartments are snapped up real fast at the beginning of the academic year, and I was just too late getting back from my last expedition. I’d had to let my other place go because I couldn’t afford to pay the rent while I wasn’t living there. And I’ve got lots of traps...” he tailed off in embarrassment.
“I understand, Chief. I really do. But I have a proposition for you which I hope you’ll like, and it’ll make me feel much better too. I’d like you to move in here with me, Blair. That room under the stairs could be yours permanently if you want, and I don’t expect you to pay much rent – just help out with the upkeep and groceries, and when you’re fit again you can do your share of the cooking and the chores.
“After all, I’m hoping you’ll be working with me, helping me to get a handle on these senses, so it seems only logical that you stay close by. What do you say? We can go fetch your stuff as soon as you’re up to it, and once the operation’s gone down, whatever the outcome. Just think about it, OK?” and he settled Blair once more on the sofa, not wanting to pressure the other man too much, but hoping that Blair would accept his offer.
The following morning, it was a much quieter and more introspective Blair who munched half-heartedly on the toast and bagels Jim had procured for breakfast, trying to eat more than he really wanted simply because he didn’t want to appear to throw Jim’s hospitality back in his face.
Aware that Jim was probably somewhat concerned – and confused – at his demeanour, yet he still hesitated to open up and explain how he was feeling.
The previous evening, he had had a lot to think about following Jim’s proposition, and he had felt increasingly shy and awkward at the amount of help he had required to perform basic ablutions and get to bed in the small room Jim had readied for him. Eventually he had come to the uncomfortable conclusion that he wasn’t at all happy to be such a burden on the big detective.
For now, however, Jim had had enough, and was prepared to broach the subject, if only to clear the air and find out where Blair was coming from.
Having cleared away the breakfast dishes, he plopped down opposite Blair, who was sipping a final cup of coffee and had every appearance of a condemned man awaiting his sentence.
“OK, Chief. Enough’s enough. I know you’re worried, and I’m assuming that a lot of it’s to do with what I said last night. I didn’t intend to upset you. If it’s so reprehensible a proposition, then you should feel free to tell me. I’m a big boy, and I can take it, even if I won’t like it. I just want you to open up and explain what’s gone so very wrong between us!”
Looking up guiltily, stricken with wide-eyed anxiety, Blair responded quickly, not wanting Jim to misunderstand.
“I’m sorry, Jim! I didn’t mean to upset you, I swear! It’s just that I’m having trouble processing everything that’s happened to me recently.
“I really appreciate your help, man, and your invitation to stay just blows me away! But, um, see – I’ve never had to rely on anyone to help me before. I mean, I’ve always been independent. Had to be, because I’ve always pretty much had to care for myself.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, my mom Naomi loves me, but she was never big on the nurturing, maternal thing, know what I mean? So I had to grow up fast and rely on myself. Started at Rainier at sixteen, and have hardly seen her since then, except for flying visits.
“And it’s really hard for me to accept your help for basic stuff like using the bathroom, dressing and bed” and he blushed deep red from neck to hairline. “How can you do it, man? And you’ve barely known me a week?”
Relieved that at least it wasn’t the offer to move in in itself that posed the problem, Jim tried to find the right words to reassure his Guide and persuade him to stay.
“Well, for starters, Blair, it’s really no problem looking out for you. Army medical training, remember? I can assure you I’ve had to do far worse, and for guys I didn’t even like all that much, so you can stop worrying about that aspect. I seem to have this instinctive urge to keep you safe, Chief, and if that means taking you to the bathroom, then no problem, OK?
“And you can quit worrying that you’re an unwelcome guest, Blair. I don’t make offers lightly, and I want you to know that I really want you to stay. I need to keep you close, and I hate the idea of you living alone in that rat-infested warehouse.
“And it’s not all unselfish, Chief. For the first time since these senses kicked in, I have someone who truly believes me – believes in me! And not only that, who can help me also! When you’re near me, everything becomes easy – natural – and I feel good. So good, in fact, that I almost want to withdraw my resignation from the PD and carry on working as a cop.
“So I’m asking again, Blair. Will you move in with me? I won’t pressure you into any type of deeper relationship that might make you uncomfortable. Just be here with me, friends and roomies if that’s as far as you want to take it. What do you say?”
And there was only one answer Blair could make. Sure, he wasn’t naive enough to imagine that everything was likely to be as simple as Jim made out, but the Sentinel’s conviction was absolute, so he schooled himself to make a leap of faith.
“OK, Jim, and thank you. I can’t promise that I’ll be the perfect ‘roomie’, because no one’s ever put up with me for long before. I guess I talk too much, and I’m not very tidy. But if you really want me, I’ll stay. But I don’t want to outstay my welcome, man” he added, self-doubt rearing its ugly head again. “If you want me out, just tell me, OK?”
And Jim’s answer was to reach for him, carefully pulling him close while mindful of all the smaller man’s injuries, tucking the curly head gently into his neck.
“I want you in, Chief. That I can promise you. And if you ever feel you need to go, all I ask is that you talk to me first, because I have a strong suspicion that I’ll want to go with you!”
And Blair nodded against Jim’s chest, relaxing into the warm embrace and feeling like at last he’d come home.
Later that morning, Simon Banks called from the MCU to advise Jim and Blair that the operation was going ahead that evening. Detective Jameson had made quite the show of being ‘discharged’ from the hospital a few hours after Blair’s own surreptitious departure, for all the world as if he was being escorted back to his warehouse home, accompanied by a couple of uniformed officers for protection. Wearing Blair’s clothes, and sporting a few well-placed, concealing bandages plus a fake plaster cast on his leg; Simon assured the two men that Jameson looked very much like the real Sandburg, but a more mobile and less damaged version.
Later that afternoon, the cops would drive him to Hargrove Hall, where he would go to Blair’s office ostensibly to ‘work’ for a while. To add a little realism, Simon had sought and received Emily Davis’ full cooperation, and she assured him that she would be there to greet the fake ‘Blair’ on his arrival, after which she would meet up with some friends and go to a tutorial, thus keeping out of harm’s way.
Later still, ‘Blair’ would return to his car across the deserted night-time lot to drive back to the warehouse, but crucially without his police escort. They would apparently receive an urgent call and would leave the campus, lights and sirens on as if going to an emergency. And after that, it was up to the thugs to take the bait.
“So, Jim. That’s the plan. Bill Jameson’s waiting in Mr Sandburg’s...um, accommodation, and as soon as Joel, Megan and a couple more unmarked units are in place in and around Hargrove Hall, he’ll be good to go.
“Now I know you said you wanted to be in on the capture, so I’m sending a unit to watch your place, and Officer Murray has volunteered to stay at the loft with Mr Sandburg. I’m not expecting any trouble, because I don’t believe those guys will have noticed the switch, but I want to play it safe anyway.”
“Thanks, Captain. I think you’re right, and we’ve managed to fool them so far. I just hope they feel strongly enough about being disturbed mid-attack to want to finish what they started. I want them to pay for Blair’s suffering, and those other poor victims!”
Just then he looked over at Blair, who was watching him, wide-eyed and worried from his position on the sofa, chewing his lower lip in distress.
“Can you hold on a minute, please, Simon? I just want to clear things with Blair...” and Jim put the handset down for a moment as he crouched down in front of the smaller man, gazing earnestly into the troubled blue depths.
“You OK with this, babe? You’ll be safe, I promise! And you already know Murray as a trustworthy guy. He’ll take good care of you!” and he squeezed Blair’s thigh comfortingly.
“Oh no, Jim, it’s not that, honestly! I’m not worried for myself, and I really like Sam Murray. I’m just concerned for you and the other officers. I mean, I know you guys are all trained and everything, but I don’t want those crazies hurting any of you, or any innocent bystanders. And I need to know you’ll be OK with your senses.
“But I know they have to be stopped...” he tailed off, voice soft and expressive face displaying his conflicting emotions: the gentle pacifist within him warring with the realist who knew that the likely outcome of a successful operation would almost certainly entail a degree of violence.
Understanding and sympathising with his new Guide, Jim was warmed and gratified by his concern, but wanted to reassure Blair that everything would be OK.
“We’ll be fine, Chief. We’ve done this sort of thing many times before, and understand the dangers.
“And as for the senses” he continued quietly, “Now I understand them better – thanks to you – I promise I’ll only use them sparingly. No trying to show off without you, babe, trust me?”
And Blair had to be satisfied with that.
The hours following Jim’s departure to take his position in the stakeout at Rainier were hard on Blair. The wait for news seemed interminable, and the young man’s anxiety levels seemed to ratchet impossibly higher as the afternoon and evening wore on. If it hadn’t been for the company of Officer Sam Murray, Blair was sure he would have been a gibbering wreck long before. As it was, Sam kept him supplied with conversation, endless pots of coffee, and dealt with any needs the injured man had with good natured competence and a down-to-earth attitude for which Blair was extremely grateful.
He still had plenty of time for introspection, however, and some of his thoughts were both surprising and troubling.
Although he had no problem with the concept of being attracted to another man, since his free-wheeling Mom had always taught him that it was the person, not the package that was important, he had little self-esteem. It seemed incomprehensible to him that a gorgeous hunk like Jim could actually want him. But that seemed to be the case, however improbable, and his heart swelled with joy at the notion. He was definitely very fond of Jim, the connection between them already strong, and even if he was not yet in love with the man, he had no doubt that he soon could be.
But how much of their relationship was determined by the needs of Sentinel and Guide? Could he see himself working alongside Jim for the rest of his life, giving up the greater part of his own independence and ambitions for the good of the tribe? That was something they would have to talk about in depth.
But for now, his nervousness overrode his ability to dwell on such potentially life-changing decisions, and all he wanted was for Jim to return to him unharmed, and soon....
As it turned out, in the end the operation went like clockwork.
Just as Simon and his team had hoped, the attackers had indeed wanted to ‘finish the job’, spurred on by other gang members and their escalating blood-lust; arrogantly believing that they could get away with it as easily as they had before.
After ‘Blair’ had been dropped outside Hargrove Hall, to be greeted enthusiastically by Emily, the undercover cops in one of the unmarked vehicles in the parking lot reported three suspicious-looking characters loitering around the area, covertly watching the scene as they pretended to chat amongst themselves.
Once their descriptions had been relayed to the other watchers, the whole team were able to track the thugs’ progress as they meandered around the vicinity awaiting the opportunity to ambush their victim again.
For Jim, who had carefully studied and recorded every detail of their appearance, the wait seemed excruciatingly long, but eventually the team’s patience paid off.
As planned, the unit supposedly ‘protecting’ the victim roared out of the campus on its way to the fake ‘emergency’. As night fell and the campus grew steadily more deserted, ‘Blair’ limped out of Hargrove Hall and slowly made his way across to where the real Blair’s car was still parked at the far side of the lot. Even as he neared his destination, the thugs moved in quietly behind him, pulling up their concealing hoods as the ringleader withdrew a vicious-looking club from inside his jacket.
However, forewarned via the transmitter hidden beneath his clothing, Jameson ‘Blair’ whipped round to face them, gun in hand and an unholy grin on his face as he snapped out “Cascade PD! Freeze!” – a command that was echoed by Jim, Joel and Megan as they surrounded the three. Caught completely unawares, like most bullies, the thugs turned out to be cowards at heart, surrendering immediately much to Jim’s irritation, since he had been really looking forward to giving them a taste of their own medicine for resisting arrest.
As Joel read them their rights before handing them over to the uniforms waiting to take them downtown for booking, Simon’s sedan drew up and he approached the group, cigar gripped between his teeth as he grinned wickedly.
“Good work, people! I do like it when a plan comes together, and I’m sure these jokers can give us plenty of useful information, given the right encouragement” and he chuckled at his own dark humour.
“And now I think you’d better get back home, Jim. I know you’d like to do a little of the ‘encouraging’ yourself, but I think it’s probably more important that you go and put young Sandburg’s mind at rest. From what I understand, Murray’s had to darned near sit on him to keep him still these last few hours!”
And Jim just had to agree with him, and turned to run to his truck, wanting to get back to his new Guide as quickly as possible; his colleagues’ cheers and well-wishes ringing in his ears.
If Blair could have bounced into the loft, he would have, but he had to be contented with a steady limp as his heavily braced right ankle still needed the support of crutches despite his cast having been removed just that afternoon. In the three months since his assault, his head injury had healed well, the most recent CT scan showing that the hairline fracture had knitted satisfactorily, and the debilitating headaches had become more infrequent as time went on. As far as his wrist was concerned, he was continuing with his PT exercises, but although he still needed to wear a brace at night for protection, he could now manage to do most things for himself, and he was typing again, albeit a little slower than he was accustomed to. It was more than enough to help Jim plough through his reports, though, for which the older man was extremely grateful.
Unfortunately, his ankle injury had been much more serious, what with the crushing and compound fracture caused by one of his attackers jumping on it. But at least now he was able to walk, if not drive, relying on Jim to ferry him around for the time being. Nevertheless, he was both relieved and excited at the results from his latest check up, and Jim was equally thrilled at seeing the proof of his Guide’s improving health.
“Hey, babe! Looking good there! But I have to say, you still need to take it easy, ‘cause the doc warned you about overdoing it...”
“I know, Jim, really! And I promise to take it easy, honest! It’s just so good being finally free of the cast. I can take a shower without wrapping myself in saran film like a sandwich!” and Blair grinned happily at his Sentinel, basking in Jim’s overt love and concern for him.
Just then, Jim noticed the flashing light on their answer machine, so he checked the number and called back, saying over his shoulder, “It’s Simon, babe. He says he has the latest on the hate-crime trial results. Let me talk to him, and I’ll fill you in OK?”
Nodding worriedly, but sitting down to wait with no little impatience, Blair gazed at his big roommate, eyes wide and anxious, because he really didn’t want to be called to the witness stand, knowing that he could add little to the evidence against the gang.
Long minutes later, still nervous since all he had been able to pick up were the fairly non-committal ‘ah has’ and ‘yeahs’ from Jim, he was almost thrumming with tension when Jim finally hung up and turned to him.
“Well, Chief, looks like it’s all over. DA’s cut a deal so those three get their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. They’ll escape the death penalty because of all the information they gave the FBI. Turns out the Cascade cell was only part of a nationwide neo-fascist group. Unfortunately, the ringleaders have already managed to evade capture so far, although all their local members and student recruits have been picked up.
“The ones who attacked you were all athletes who’d been kicked off their respective teams for failing grades. Two footballers and one wrestler. Only one of them had actually been in your class, Chief, and it was only one of several he failed, but again, I think you provided them with a legitimate target. In their eyes you’re a Jew and a teacher. And one of them said you were a fag anyway, so you deserved it.”
“Shit, Jim! I find it so hard to understand how anyone could be so crass! It’s so sickening that extremists like them take it on themselves to judge others and find them wanting, just because they don’t hold the same beliefs! I know it happens all the time, but it doesn’t make it any easier for me to accept. And this time I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, I guess” he tailed off sadly.
Hugging the smaller man to him, Jim murmured, “S’OK, babe. At least it’s done now, and we can get on with our lives together.”
And as Blair nodded and snuggled against him, he considered how their lives had changed for the better.
With their mutual attraction growing daily, they had decided that Blair should finish his dissertation on modern-day Sentinels, so that others like Jim could benefit from his knowledge, and would be released finally from the mis-diagnosis of PTSD. With Simon’s blessing, Jim had withdrawn his resignation. Once fully fit, Blair would join him as a partner and consultant, dividing his time between Rainier and the PD, thus enabling Jim to utilise his senses to the full with his Guide’s grounding support.
They also hoped that recognition of the importance of Guides would encourage those with the appropriate talent to come forward, so that Sentinel and Guide pairs would once more work together to the benefit of society as a whole.
On a personal level, they had indulged in plenty of kissing and cuddling, but until now Blair had remained in the small bedroom downstairs, since his casts and injuries had made it too uncomfortable for him to sleep upstairs with Jim.
Now, however, his leg cast was gone, so Jim hoped that Blair would join him upstairs that night.
“Hey babe. Are you up to moving to a comfortable bed with me tonight? We’ll still take it easy, I promise, because you’re not fully healed yet. But I don’t want to wait any longer to hold you and make love to you Chief. What do you say?”
And Blair gazed up at him with eyes brimming with love, as he murmured, “Do we have to wait ‘til tonight, Big Guy? ‘Cause I have to say I’d rather not wait any longer!”
Jim responded eagerly with a huge smile.
Kissing Blair gently, he wrapped an arm around Blair’s waist to help him climb the steps as he said, “I love you, Blair. I want to cement our bond forever. You chose to stay with me, help me so I could remain a cop, and now I choose you as my companion for always. It’s the sensible choice after all!”
And grinning happily up at him, Blair couldn’t agree more.