Visions in Time by LilyK

Visions in Time - LilyK

Notes: First published in the zine Sensual World #5 by Mkashef Press (www.asidozines.com).

Opening his eyes, Blair Sandburg blinked slowly. His vision cleared and the first thing he saw was his partner, Jim Ellison, peering anxiously down at him, his eyes full of concern.

"Why am I on the floor?" Blair asked, glancing quickly around from his position on the cold tiles of the bullpen. Several other members of the Major Crime unit stood in a loose circle around him, troubled expressions on their faces.

"You fainted, Chief," Jim replied. "Relax," he entreated when Blair tried to rise. With a hand on Blair's shoulder, he lightly pressed down with his palm. "Just catch your breath for a second."

Blair nodded, immediately contrite at the tension in Jim's voice. He'd frightened his partner by collapsing without warning. Hell, he'd frightened himself. Rubbing his forehead with slightly shaking fingers, he whispered, "I'm -- okay, I think. I don't feel dizzy or anything."

"Do you think you can get up?" Jim's watchful eyes searched Blair's face. Taking stock, Blair knew. Listening, smelling, cataloging his bodily responses.

"Yeah, man. Give me a hand." Blair chewed on his lower lip before he huffed out, "This is damned embarrassing."

"Don't worry about it. As long as you're okay." With a hand under Blair's elbow, Jim slipped his arm around Blair's back and under his other arm, helping his partner to his feet. "Get him a chair, please, Henri." When a chair appeared quickly, he said, "Thanks."

Blair gratefully sat down and took a sip of water from the glass that was held in front of him, clutched in a large black hand. Glancing up, he nodded and drank the cool liquid before he handed the glass back. "Thanks, Simon."

"Are you okay, Detective?" Simon asked. "What happened?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry about that. I just fainted."

"Don't worry about it. You need to see a doctor?"

Blair adamantly shook his head. "Nah. I think it's because I skipped breakfast and lunch. I didn't get much sleep last night and we've been so busy..." His voice trailed off with a tired sigh.

Jim hunkered down beside Blair's chair. "We're taking a few hours off, Simon," Jim said firmly while looking directly at his partner, his gaze practically daring Blair to disagree. "Blair needs a good meal and a bit of time to catch his breath. We both do."

"Go. Take a couple of hours." Simon responded, his own voice tight with worry. "Unfortunately, nothing's happening anyway."

Jim rose and with a hand on Blair's shoulder, said, "I know. It's frustrating for all of us."

Blair felt his chest tighten with dismay. "Jim, we need to keep at it! Those girls need us!" He rose slowly, taking stock of his body. When Jim's hand reached out, he brushed it away. "I'm fine," he snapped.

"Blair, please..." Jim's eyes pleaded silently for understanding.

Blair saw the look in his partner's troubled gaze and nodded with a deep, exhausted sigh. "Okay. You're right. You're right. I'm useless like this."

"Sandburg, you're never useless. Besides," Jim said, huffing out his own tired breath, "I really need a cup of hot, fresh coffee."

Blair glanced into Jim's face. He could see the concern and yes, even the love in the expressive eyes. Even though Jim's face never betrayed his feelings, Blair knew. It had taken a lot of time and effort, but together they'd worked their way through distrust, misunderstandings and disasters, and now, they understood each other. In the year since Blair had made detective and took his place officially at Jim's side, they had sealed their relationship with trust, respect and commitment. While actual words had not been spoken, mutual agreement had been met. They were true partners.

Now, understanding Jim's need to protect his friend, Blair finally smiled and waved a hand in the air. "Lead on, partner."

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Putting down his fork after finally managing to finish most of the roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy that he'd ordered, Blair carefully aligned the implement up with the edge of the tile on the table's top. "Jim..." He stopped, unsure what to say next and waited until Jim finished his last bite of baked chicken with rice. He had to admit, the home cooked food from their favorite neighborhood restaurant made him feel a lot better. He wasn't light-headed any longer and he felt some of his exhaustion abating with the fuel his body needed.

Jim wiped his mouth on a paper napkin before crunching the paper into a ball. He tossed it onto his plate and sat back, coffee cup in hand, carefully observing his partner. "What is it?" he asked quietly. "You can tell me. You know that, don't you, Chief?"

Blair nodded, always in awe of how Jim knew exactly what he was feeling and what words he needed to use to entice him into talking. Blair was good at getting other people to talk, but he tended to prefer to have his own emotional breakdowns in private.

Gracing his partner with a warm smile, he said, "I know. Thanks. I appreciate that, but this is just so strange." Jim waited patiently, sipping his coffee, and after a few moments, Blair finally continued. "When I was out for those few moments, I saw -- something." Even though Jim's right eyebrow raised slightly, he nodded encouragingly. After another moment's hesitation, Blair went on. "An eagle. I saw an eagle soaring and I heard Steve Miller singing." When Jim's eyebrow rose even more, Blair sighed and shrugged. "I know. I know! It sounds nuts, but I heard "Fly Like an Eagle" and I saw a damned bird!"

"Whoa there, partner. I believe you!" Jim said firmly. "What do you think it means?"

Unfairly, Blair bristled at Jim's apparent ease in believing his statement. "How in the fuck do you expect me to know what it means? You're the one who's merged with spirits before! You're the one who's talked to a dead Shaman, not me. I don't have a fucking clue!"

Blair started to rise, but Jim leaned forward and with a raised hand, said lightly, "Sandburg, calm down."

Keeping his seat, Blair's eyes narrowed. "Don't you dare tell me to calm down."

Jim's lips tightened into a thin line and he fell silent.

Blair said bitingly, "I hate when you do this!"

"What's that?"

"Be all understanding and accepting!" Blair crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. He wallowed in anger for a few moments before he huffed out a shaky breath. "Jim, I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I'm still not feeling one hundred percent, and this incident is just about all I can take. That wasn't a nice thing to say. I'm being a real asshole." He gave Jim a shaky smile. "Listen. I appreciate your not thinking I'm nuts right off, but I don't need some illness to put me on the sidelines right now! There are two young girls who need us!"

Jim nodded in understanding and smiled in sympathy. "I know, Chief. Trust me, I know. It's hard when all the leads dry up and in spite of everything you've done, you can't do what you know you need to do; what you want to do. I want those girls found as much as you do."

Blair sighed again. "I just wish this damned cold would go away! My mom swore that these lozenges would do the trick," he explained, patting his coat pocket where the small box of cold tablets rested. "They taste okay, and my chest feels better, but my head feels like mush." Blair coughed lightly into his hand before he asked, "So... Do you think it's a clue?"

"What? The eagle? The song?"

"Yeah."

Jim considered carefully for a moment before he shook his head. "I have no idea, but I don't think so. Then again... Hell, I'm at a loss here. Maybe it was just a random thought. Maybe you heard the song on the radio and it was running through your head like songs do sometimes. It's happened to me often enough. They seem to get -- stuck."

"Yeah, maybe." Blair rose. "We'd better get back to work."

"No, partner. We're going home, taking a shower and changing clothes. I feel like shit and your shirt is starting to stand on its own."

"Okay, Jim. I'm too tired to argue with you. I know we need a few hours to regroup."

Jim smiled and lightly touched Blair's arm. "You're a good partner."

Blair returned the smile, knowing Jim's simple words conveyed a lot more. Jim loved him, Blair knew. And he loved Jim. They shared an apartment, and a life, and Blair wanted nothing else in the world than to be with Jim. With a tired but contented smile on his face, Blair followed his friend from the diner.

-------------------------------------------

"Sandburg!"

Feeling weak and hot, Blair slowly opened his eyes to the sound of Jim calling his name.

"Blair?" Jim called, his voice tight with fright. "Shit! Blair!" A warm hand touched his forehead, making him shudder.

"Jim?" Blair said roughly. "Oh, God."

"I've got you, Chief."

Blair nodded, finally realizing he was clutched in Jim's arms with his head resting against his partner's broad chest. For a moment, he allowed himself to relax in the strong grasp and he lightly rubbed his left cheek on Jim's flannel shirt. "Sorry," he mumbled, leaning heavily against Jim's body. He groaned softly, feeling his head throb. Jim's arms instantly tightened, making Blair raise a hand and clutch at his shirt. "Did I -- pass out again?"

"Yes. You almost took a header down two flights of stairs!" Jim's anxious eyes peered down into his. "We need to get you to the hospital."

Even though Blair could see the fright in Jim's eyes, he adamantly shook his head. "No way. Not now. I had another vision."

"I don't care about a fucking vision! I care about you," Jim said roughly, still holding Blair firmly.

Blair managed a wan smile. "Love you, too, man. Thanks, but this is important. I just know it! Besides, I feel okay."

"No! No more visions! We have to find a way to stop them, not encourage them!"

Blair could see the tension in Jim's body, and his jaw muscle twitched. He steeled his resolve to give in to Jim's demands and said, "Jim, it's been forty-eight hours since the girls went missing. You know as well as I do that the longer they're gone, the less likely it is that they'll be found alive. Now help me up."

Jim's jaw muscle jumped again, but he remained silent and helped Blair sit on the landing. Immediately, he slid close to his partner and slipped an arm across his shoulders. Blair leaned his head against the inviting shoulder, wrapping an arm around Jim's waist, and taking comfort in his strong presence. Hearing footsteps on the stairs above them, Jim reluctantly released Blair and rose.

"Up you go," Jim coaxed softly.

Flashing his partner a grateful smile, Blair whispered, "Thanks." Their eyes met and they stopped, gazes locked. Smiles were exchanged, understanding flowed before they descended the final flight to the parking garage.

Jim glanced around to be sure they had some semblance of privacy before he asked, "Did you have another one?"

Blair nodded, rubbing his eyes.

"Can you tell me?"

Blair pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger before he said with an exasperated sigh, "Neptune."

"Neptune?"

"Yeah, and a trident."

"A trident."

Blair glanced over at his partner and said with amused exasperation, "Will you stop repeating everything I say?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Sorry. I was just trying to get a handle on this."

"No shit," Blair said smartly. "It's just as freaky to me. But what good are visions if you can't make any sense of them? A trident, an eagle, an ancient Roman god." Blair chewed on his lower lip.

"How about something to do with the natural history museum? An employee maybe?"

Blair slowly nodded. "It's worth a shot. How about history teachers? Even theology professors. I'll call Simon and have him put Rafe or Brown on it right away. One of them can search the criminal database for anybody fitting the MO with an interest in archaeology, anthro, history or theology. Maybe there's somebody with a record who'll stand out."

"Good job, Chief." Jim graced Blair with a warm smile. "If you believe that the visions have something to do with the case, we might as well do what we can to figure this out."

"Don't thank me until we find those girls. They must be so scared!" Blair climbed into the passenger's seat of Jim's truck, coughing lightly. He pulled out his cell phone and after explaining to Simon the next step in their investigation and asking for the search that he and Jim had discussed, he disconnected. Rubbing his throat, Blair groused, "Damn it anyway. This cold is driving me nuts!"

"Did you take another of Naomi's miracle cure pills?" Jim said with an amused chuckle. "I think a gallon of orange juice and a good dose of regular old cold medicine might work better, though."

Blair nodded. "Yeah, I had one a while ago. It helped a bit, but the darned cold insists on hanging on. I'm tired of it. And besides, they aren't pills, they're soothing throat lozenges that are supposed to attack the cold germs and destroy them. Naturally, of course."

Jim laughed. "So it's okay to kill defenseless germs?" At Blair's look of exasperation, he laughed again before asking, "Let me see this miracle cure your mother sent you." When Blair passed over the small packet, Jim sniffed the small wooden case in which the lozenges were housed. "They smell like... eucalyptus, honey... Something else. I can't quite isolate it..."

While Jim sniffed again, Blair shrugged. "Mom didn't say. She just said they're guaranteed to work. One of her friends over in Hopback Commune makes all of their health remedies."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Is this the same guy who gave you that Geneva Indian junk that Simon had analyzed when I saw spirits? Maybe that's why you're having visions. You're drugging yourself."

Blair shook his head. "Not Geneva, Jim, Genjaka. There are no illegal drugs in these medicines. And besides, herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years. I'll have you know-"

"I sure don't smell any illegal drugs," Jim mused, effectively cutting off Blair's lecture. He sniffed theatrically once again before passing the box back. "How about we have some nice hot chicken soup? We'll run by the deli and get a fresh batch. My treat."

Blair had to laugh. "You are worse than a mother hen when I'm sick."

Jim shrugged. "It's my job, Chief."

"Yeah, right. Your job is to take care of me when I'm sick?" Blair asked, as always, intensely curious about the idea of his Sentinel's feeling he was responsible for his Guide's well-being. He knew it had to do with their special Sentinel/Guide relationship, and he was always interested in hearing Jim's take on that link. He knew he felt very protective whenever he felt Jim was in jeopardy, no matter how minor the incident.

With a nod, Jim said, "Yup. I promised your mother."

"You did? When was that?"

"Last time we talked."

Blair was shocked. They'd talked? He knew they exchanged hellos when Naomi called, but when did they actually have a conversation about him? Surprised, all he could say right now was, "Oh."

Jim, however, seemed to have more to say. "I always keep my promises. Besides, I have an ulterior motive," he said, quickly glancing over at Blair to waggle his eyebrows before returning his eyes to the road.

Seeing Jim's eyebrows dancing made Blair grin. "And what ulterior motive is that, may I ask?" he asked with a laugh.

"I love you, dork."

Blair was quiet for a second while he let Jim's admission sink into his brain -- and heart, before he joined Jim in laughter. "Yeah, man. Me too," he admitted before adding under his breath, "Putz."

Jim snickered. "You kiss your mother with that mouth, Sandburg?"

Blair decided to go for broke when he quipped, "I'd rather kiss you with it."

"In your dreams, Chief."

Jim's voice was light and teasing, making Blair feel really good in spite of the cold that made him feel really bad. Dreams? Blair knew that in his dreams, he often had Jim's mouth on his, warm and oh so inviting. With a thoughtful smile, Blair responded smartly, "There too." He was pleased when Jim laughed out loud again. He loved Jim's laugh. It was rich and melodious, and it made him tingle with pleasure.

The rest of the drive home passed by quickly as the two partners exchanged jibes and barbs amid shared laughter. They were both grateful for anything that helped to relieve the tension surrounding their inability to solve the current kidnapping case.

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Dinner eaten and showers taken, the partners lounged on the sofa in front of the television for a short while before they both nodded off, the last few days of no sleep and even less luck solving the case catching up with them.

Blair snorted in his sleep, jerking awake, bouncing Jim's head from his shoulder where he had apparently slumped after he'd fallen asleep also.

"What?" Jim asked.

"Sorry. My nose is acting up again."

Jim nodded and sat up, stretching, while Blair grabbed the box of tissues from the coffee table. He rose and smiled down at Jim, who blinked sleepily up at Blair. With a catch in his breath at Jim's vulnerable, trusting look, he reached out to lightly touch his partner's shoulder. "I'm going to hit the sack. Night."

Jim nodded. "Night, Chief."

With a final smile, Blair walked away. Jim rose and followed his partner to his small room. Leaning on Blair's door frame, he cleared his throat. Blair pulled down the comforter and fluffed up his pillows. He cast a curious glance over at his friend. "You okay?"

"Sleep with me."

"What?" Blair asked, turning to fully look into his partner's face, giving him his immediate attention.

Jim shrugged nonchalantly. "My bed is bigger," he stated.

"Bigger than what?" Blair asked with amusement.

"Than yours," Jim responded suggestively.

"All right," Blair drawled, pausing only momentarily before he added, "Let me just grab my pillows and tissues..."

Jim smiled. "Come up when you’re ready."

Blair slowly nodded, briefly thinking about the pleased look he saw on Jim's face. The man was obviously happy that Blair had acquiesced to his request. "Okay. I'll be up in a minute." He waited, listening until he heard Jim climb the stairs, then he gathered his cold supplies, his glasses and his two pillows before climbing the stairs. Jim lay on the far side of the big bed and he had obligingly turned back the covers on the unoccupied side -- Blair's side?

Blair stood for a few moments, wondering exactly what was going on when Jim casually said, "Get the light, Sandburg."

Stifling his first impulse to minutely examine the situation by asking far too many questions, Blair arranged his pillows on the bed and put his tissues, glasses and cold lozenges on the night stand before he clicked off the light. He cautiously climbed into bed and lay a bit stiffly on his back. The blankets were flicked over his body, tucked around him so that he was nicely covered, and before Blair could even think to ask any questions about the new sleeping arrangements, warm lips very lightly touched his temple.

"Sleep tight," Jim said.

Blair lay very still, listening carefully to Jim's movements. He turned to his side away from Blair, snuggled down into the covers, and sighed contentedly. Blair focused as intently as he could on the sounds of Jim's breathing, which quickly evened out as he fell asleep. Apparently, the new sleeping arrangements didn't affect Jim's ability to sleep.

Blair's brain buzzed for a few minutes while he wondered if Jim were coming down with some unknown Sentinel disease that made him act so strangely. Not that he didn't like being beside Jim, being close to him. It always made him feel -- cared for. Protected. He tried to sort out his thoughts about this new development in their relationship, but his exhaustion took over; he was asleep before he had time to further delve into the matter.

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Henri Brown jumped from his chair and waved a paper in Jim and Blair's faces the second they walked into the bullpen.

"What have you got?" Jim asked.

Henri's face beamed. "I got a possible!" he chortled, holding the paper just far enough away from Jim so that he couldn't quite reach it. After several tries to grab the paper, Jim dropped his hands and scowled.

"Great!" Blair unsuccessfully tried to hide a smile while he tugged the sheet from their friend's waving hand. "Good job, H."

"You look like shit," Brown remarked, giving Blair the once over.

Blair rolled his eyes and dabbed his nose with a tissue after he'd passed the sheet of paper to Jim. "Thank you for your kind and generous comment about my personal appearance, Detective," Blair grumbled, making Henri chuckle. "It's this darned cold. I've never had one so determined to hang on before."

"So much for tribal remedies," Jim muttered, scanning the paper before he said to Blair, "Don't take your coat off, Chief. Let's go and see what -- Baxter Levine has to say about his whereabouts for the past seventy-two hours."

Blair coughed into his tissue, nodding. He cleared his throat before he managed to croak out, "Let's do it." With a glance at Henri, he smiled. "Thanks, man. We appreciate the help."

"For you guys, anything," Brown replied with a wide sweeping gesture of his arms.

Jim shook his head in amused exasperation while Blair laughed, asking, "Does Simon know about this lead?"

Brown nodded. "Yeah, all covered. Let me know if anything comes of this one. He looks like a class-A psycho."

"The worst kind." Jim scowled, heading for the elevator.

Blair caught up with Jim at the door and looked into his partner's angry face. "He's a bad one, Jim. Child molestation, pedophilia, sexual assault of a minor..." Blair scanned the paper detailing Levine's arrest record once again. "Says he's been in and out of jail for the past twenty years. Has a serious drug and alcohol problem."

The elevator doors opened and the men entered. Jim punched the button for the parking garage and as the doors closed, he turned to his partner and said, "If this is our man..."

Blair stared at the metal doors for a second before he looked at Jim. "Jim, man, if he's our guy, you have to hold it together. I know your first instinct is to pound him into a spot on the floor and I don't blame-"

"Save it, Sandburg. No emotions, right? Besides, I have you to keep me on the straight and narrow."

Blair raised an eyebrow, seeing the red spot of anger on Jim's cheek. "Right," he drawled. "No emotions."

They rode the rest of the way to the garage in silence and it wasn't until they were in Jim's truck heading down Rampart Boulevard that Blair finally said, "You're the best cop I know, so I know you'll do the right thing. Working with you... It's been the best thing that's ever happened to me."

Jim looked very serious for a moment before his face broke into a crooked smile. "Okay, you win. I won't lay a finger on the asshole. By the book, right?"

Blair grinned. "Right."

-------------------------

"What do you mean, he's not our guy?" Banks bellowed.

"Simon," Blair said evenly, "yelling won't change facts." At Simon's scowl, he merely shrugged. "Jim and I questioned Levine for two hours! He's a first class downright nasty guy, but he's not our guy in this case."

Jim sighed. "Blair's right. I wanted Levine to be the perp, Simon, but he's-- I was going to say clean, but that's a laugh. Levine's a piece of scum, and I'd be more than happy to send his ass back to Clallam Bay in two seconds flat, but he's not the kidnapper. At least, not this time. Everything checks out."

Banks slumped down into his chair, pushing back and rolling his eyes upward. "Well, shit."

"Yeah," Blair seconded. "Shit."

"So now what?" Banks asked.

Jim shrugged. "I don't have a clue. Well, technically, that's not true. We have clues, we just can't find those kids!" Jim rose, pacing in irritation. He abruptly stopped and pinched the bridge of his nose. "This is ridiculous! When I need my abilities, they're useless!"

Blair rose also. "Geez, Jim, you're a guy with heightened senses, not some super hero with telepathy. Let's talk this through again!"

Jim sighed and nodded, remarking somewhat sarcastically, "You're right. You're right! Let's talk about it yet again."

"Get a grip," Simon barked before he asked, "The clues from Blair's visions are...?"

Blair raked a hand through his hair before he flopped back down into his seat. "Neptune, a trident, an eagle, a song..." He paused when Jim's hands rested on his shoulders, lightly pressing into his skin through his shirt. He closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the contact. Opening his eyes, he glanced up into his partner's concerned face. Jim's gaze asked for forgiveness for his short temper. With a knowing look and an understanding smile, Blair relaxed for a moment under Jim's touch.

"What do we have?" Simon mused aloud. "Wait. Wait. A trident and an eagle. I've seen those symbols."

"Yeah," Jim said, perking up. "Why didn't I see it earlier? I'm so fucking stupid sometimes!"

"No, Jim," Blair said firmly, "you're not stupid. You're exhausted and overworked, just like the rest of us this week. So what is it?"

"Naval insignias."

"Naval?" Blair echoed.

Simon nodded. "Yes, of course! Jim was Army. I was in the Marines. We know military. I should have put the pieces together!"

Blair sat up, his tiredness forgotten. "Which division?"

"The trident is from the Naval Oceanographic Office," Jim supplied.

Simon nodded his head in agreement. "Right, and the eagle is on a naval officer's uniform."

Blair looked from one man to the other. "So our guy could be a naval officer, either currently or ex. Or is possibly a military buff." He thought for a moment before he asked, "What about Neptune?"

Jim and Simon exchanged glances before they said simultaneously, "It's a ship!"

Jim immediately headed to the door, pulling it open. "Come on, Chief."

Blair jumped to his feet. "The old navy yard!"

Jim didn't stop, but strode through the bullpen, yanking his and Blair's jackets from the coat rack on his way through. He tossed Blair his coat when he stopped to punch the elevator button. "It's an excellent place to hide the girls."

"About half of that place is deserted. The rest is warehouse space for shipping containers. There's some activity every day, but it's still pretty darned easy to maneuver without being seen, especially at night."

Jim shrugged on his coat. "Night security at those places is pretty lax. They don't look for a single guy moving in and out, especially if he's careful."

"Are you okay for a search?" Blair asked, lightly touching Jim's arm.

"I'm good. Jazzed now that we might actually be doing something worthwhile."

"Jim, everything you do is worthwhile. Don't forget that."

Jim looked into Blair's eyes and smiled. Seeing Jim's affection reflected in the clear blue depths, Blair grinned. "Same to you," he whispered.

-----------------------------------

"Jim, we've been at this for hours now. I'm starting to see double." Blair turned another corner, slowly maneuvering the truck down the center of the deserted road. On both sides, the empty warehouses loomed dark and gloomy, and the truck's headlights barely cut into the blackness of the night. The moon that was hidden behind storm clouds did nothing to dispel the inky darkness.

"One more time, Chief," Jim muttered absentmindedly, scanning the warehouse to his right. He leaned over in that direction so far that his head was out the open window, almost as if he thought if he could get physically closer to the street that he would be able to hear better.

"Okay, Jim. One more time. Then we'll have to go in." Leaning forward, Blair glanced skyward. "It's going to pour-"

A huge clap of thunder made him jump and the rain suddenly deluged them. Large drops slapped against the truck's roof and metal bed. Jim angrily cranked the window closed seconds before the rain turned into hail. Marble-sized balls rained down on the truck, singing a sharp, annoying staccato.

Blair quickly stopped and put the transmission in park. He turned to his Sentinel, who had been working with his hearing cranked up to the maximum as he tried to locate any sound of the kidnapped children. The sudden blast of the thunder, followed quickly by the rain and hail, had made Jim grimace and slap his hands over his ears. Blair reached out to gently rub Jim's arm.

"Dial back, man. Are you okay?"

"Oh, man," Jim groused, opening and closing his mouth while he struggled to equalize the pain from the sudden noise. "Wow. That hurt!"

"Relax. Breathe slowly in and out until you feel better."

Nodding, Jim closed his eyes for a second before he swallowed hard. "I'm okay."

"You were so focused, you didn't hear the thunder in the distance, did you?"

Jim shook his head. "Nope."

"One of these days..." Blair deliberately let his voice trail off while he shrugged and put the truck in drive.

"I'm going to hurt myself?" Jim finished.

"You sound like I tell you that a lot."

"You do. Daily."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Well, it's true!" Carefully, peering anxiously through the slapping windshield wipers, he drove toward the main highway. "We can come back and try tomorrow." Jim remained silent, staring out the window.

With a sigh, Jim finally offered, "How about a tracking dog?"

"Jim, you're way better than any bloodhound. If those girls are out here, you'll find them."

"But I haven't found them yet! Do you really believe that they're still alive?" Jim growled. "Let's face it, Chief, we're getting nowhere!"

Blair quietly drove for a few moments before he said, "You're still their best chance."

Jim snorted quietly before he asked, "Do you have that much faith in me?"

"Yes," Blair said firmly. "And then some."

Jim turned away for a second before he glanced over at Blair. "Let's go home. You're still fighting that cold and it's way too damp out here for those lungs of yours. You need some hot food."

With a nod, Blair smiled at his partner's concern and headed for home.

---------------------------------

With what had become a nightly ritual, when Blair went into his own room to get ready for bed, Jim would materialize in his doorway. He would give Blair a somewhat solemn look and ask, "Upstairs?" Tonight was no exception.

When the invitation was made, Blair's face beamed. "I'll be up in a sec."

Jim nodded and flashed Blair a quick smile before he practically darted away. His footsteps danced against the wood, making Blair grin and shake his head. Jim was, also as usual, obviously tickled that Blair had accepted his invitation yet again. Gathering up his supplied and pillows, Blair turned out his light and headed up to Jim's bed. Maybe tonight he'd stake a real claim. Then he wouldn't have to keep responding to Jim's invitations. He could just take his rightful spot next to his partner.

As was the usual game plan since this little dance had started, Jim was lying with his back to the steps, covers pulled up to his chin. Sometimes he would bid Blair a good night; other times, he didn't say a word, but Blair could tell he was listening to his movements. Tonight, however, when Blair approached the bed, turned out the light and crawled in, he didn't move. Listening carefully in the dark with the rain pelting the skylight, Blair realized that Jim had already fallen asleep. He wasn't surprised. Jim was exhausted after using his hearing at maximum for hours on end while they searched the old naval yard for the kidnapped girls.

With an affectionate smile, Blair turned to his side, moving closer to the appealing body. Under the covers, snug and warm, he wrapped an arm around Jim's waist and pressed his cheek against Jim's skin. Placing a small kiss on the bone of the closest shoulder blade, Blair smiled, closed his eyes and slept.

------------------------

"Morning."

Lying on his back, Blair heard Jim's husky voice. His eyes slowly opened and a lazy smile crossed his lips. "Hey." Rested and languid, he stretched fully before he rolled to his side to face his partner, who looked delectable with his hair mussed from sleep.

Their eyes met and they exchanged lazy, if somewhat disconcerted smiles. Jim didn't move but said, "I like waking up with you."

Blair blushed. "Me, too." He tentatively reached out and touched the side of Jim's head, running light fingers through his hair. When Jim's eyes fluttered closed, Blair took in a shaky breath before he slowly released it. Accepting the wordless invitation, Blair slid his head a few inches along the pillow and tenderly pressed their mouths together, making Jim moan softly. Blair pulled away for a moment and waited until Jim's eyes opened.

"Jim," Blair whispered. "Sorry. I almost forgot. I mean, I feel a lot better this morning, but I don't want any residual cold germs invading you-"

Pressing his fingers against Blair's mouth, Jim ordered softly, "Kiss me again."

With a quick smile, Blair nodded. Happily, his cold symptoms seemed to have finally gone, so he did as bid. He closed his eyes and moved the last few inches until his mouth rested against Jim's. Their kiss was long and slow, light and arousing. Blair felt himself grow warm; his toes tingled and his breathing started to escalate. Pulling back a fraction, Blair lapped his tongue against Jim's lips, tasting their combined flavors.

"Oh, Jim," Blair said softly, his warm breath brushing against Jim's face while his hand moved carefully to rest against his solid chest, Jim's nipple grazing his palm.

Jim shuddered against Blair's hand. "Chief..." he murmured. "Is this okay?"

Blair slowly nodded, moving close again to capture Jim's mouth with his. With a hand on Jim's shoulder, he pushed until Jim was lying on his back flat against the mattress. With their mouths still fused together, Blair slid onto his lover's body, stretching his length against what felt like acres of warm skin. When Jim's hands circled his waist, Blair's breathing hitched and he let out a throaty moan. Jim's lips parted. With another groan, Blair slipped his tongue into the welcoming mouth, tasting, exploring. Jim's essence burst on his tongue, making him shiver with arousal.

Blair yanked his mouth away from his lover's, breathing harshly, while Jim growled out in protest at the lack of contact. His head came off the pillow as his lips searched for Blair's. With a soft hand, Blair pressed a palm against Jim's cheek, stilling him.

"How do I taste?" Blair demanded. "Tell me."

"I- You taste..." Jim licked his lips. "You taste salty. I can still taste the orange pekoe tea you drank-"

Blair covered Jim's mouth with his, drinking down his next words. With a hand on either side of his lover's face, he controlled the kiss. His tongue gently explored while his thumbs rubbed against Jim's cheekbones. Kissing deeply but softly, Blair possessed his lover's mouth until Jim's body broke into a sweat and he trembled. Feeling the slickness against his chest, Blair wiggled, rubbing his crisp-soft chest hair against Jim's smooth surface.

Jim let out a muffled cry, hips bucking. A warmth spread between them coating Blair's pelvis and belly. He smiled, slipping his legs along the outside of Jim's, holding their bodies together with his strong thighs while Jim's body released its seed. Using his knees to control his stroking, and Jim's come as lube, he thrust against his lover's belly. Mouths still fused together, Jim's hands scrabbled against Blair's backside. The wide hands spread over the cheeks and he used his strong arms to aid Blair's movements. With his own muffled cry against Jim's mouth, Blair came in a hot gush.

Refusing to allow the wonderful feelings to end so quickly, Blair moved his mouth away from his lover's only long enough to take in a shaky breath before he returned to it. With his teeth, he nipped the reddened lips and sucked on the tongue Jim thrust out wantonly, begging for more.

Sucking harder, he again rubbed their bodies together, their combined essence, still warm and sticky, provided a slick surface. He continued his loving until he felt Jim's mouth fall slack under his lips. Knowing that Jim was skirting the edge of a zone, Blair moved away from the tantalizing mouth and slid his come-covered body down Jim's until his mouth found a soft nipple. Suckling, he worked the flesh until Jim shuddered back to awareness, arched his back and cried out in pleasure.

Blair grinned around the flesh in his mouth before he lightly gnawed the hardness. Jim's hands slapped against the mattress; his mouth fell open and he panted harshly.

Blair released the reddened nipple. "You are so responsive," Blair cooed. "So willing. So -- beautiful."

Jim groaned deeply, making Blair chuckle. He slipped from Jim's body and arranged his lover's arm so that he could pillow his head on it. Not caring about the mess on the sheets, he tossed the covers over their sticky skin. With Jim's muscles still quivering, Blair plastered himself along his sweaty length and covered the recently suckled, damp nipple with his palm, rubbing the spot with the heel of his hand for a few moments, before he settled on possessively resting his hand splayed open just under Jim's throat with his thumb mesmerizingly caressing the hollow there.

"It's still early. Go back to sleep," Blair said quietly, his voice moderated to coax his Sentinel into a relaxed state. They would be coated with dried semen, but he didn't care; they would shower together, another plus as far as Blair was concerned. He carefully listened to his lover's breathing, not the least bit surprised when Jim almost immediately fell into a deep sleep. With a satisfied smile, Blair fell asleep also.

-----------------------------------

"Eat while it's hot," Jim coaxed, spooning a large helping of scrambled eggs onto Blair's plate.

"Whoa, Jim! I'm not going to be able to eat all of this!" Blair looked unhappily at the mound on his plate, his stomach tightening and his nose itching. "Damned cold. Why is it that a few hours ago, the stupid thing was gone, and now, it's back? It's just not fair!" he whined, coughing lightly. "I thought I was over it."

Jim put down the pan he was holding and rested his hands on Blair's shoulders. "I think you might consider seeing a doctor. This thing seems to be holding on an inordinate amount of time, and with your lungs..." He paused, unwilling as usual to mention Blair's drowning, and rubbed the slim shoulders. "Three hours ago, you were fine. Now you're sick again. I don't want to take any chances with your health."

Blair patted Jim's fingers. "Thanks for the concern, but I'll be all right. I think a couple of more days of mom's remedy and I'll be over this crap once and for all."

"Blair..." Jim said warningly.

"Jim, drop it. If it's not gone in say, forty-eight hours, I'll go to the doctor. Deal?" Jim chewed on his lip for a moment before he nodded. "Cool. Now let me up so I can brush my teeth."

"You haven't eaten yet!"

"Sorry, man. I'm not feeling all that great." Blair rose and started toward the bathroom. Stopping, he turned and walked back over to Jim. Knowing how silent Jim usually was on emotional matters, he cleared his throat and plunged ahead. "I know we haven't said a whole lot about last night, but before we rush off to work, I want to say that it was the best sex I've ever had."

Jim nonchalantly shrugged. "Good. I enjoyed it too."

Blair intently watched Jim's face. He saw Jim's uncertainty flash by, and he saw the hard shell that he kept firmly in place to protect his heart. Determined to crack through that shell, Blair stepped close enough to brush his chest against Jim's and said softly, "I love you, you schmuck." At Jim's surprised expression, Blair chuckled while he turned toward the bathroom.

"Chief..."

Pausing, Blair glanced over his shoulder. Jim looked a bit anxious and almost shy. "Yes?" Blair asked encouragingly.

"Me, too."

Blair smiled. He saw the hesitation on Jim's face, but he also saw the love reflected in his eyes, so he did his best not to throw himself into his lover's arms and gush like a fool. With a nod, he simply said, "Cool."

Jim nodded back. "Go, brush your teeth. I'll fix you a travel mug of tea to sip on the road."

"You're too good to me."

Jim laughed. "I know."

-------------------------------------

"...852 Prospect, and hurry."

Jim's anxious voice cut through the fog around Blair's brain. "Jim?" he croaked.

"Chief! Don't you dare move! Not one inch," Jim ordered, his hands clamped down on Blair's shoulders.

"What... happened?" Blair glanced around. He was lying smack dab on the sidewalk in front of Collette's with Jim's coat under his head. "Oh, shit."

"You fainted... again." Jim's head cocked. "Ambulance is coming."

Blair knew that Jim could hear the sirens from blocks away, so he struggled to rise. "No way, man. I'm not going to the hospital."

Jim's face turned to stone. "This is not up for debate."

"Jim, please."

Their eyes met. Jim sighed and put a firm hand against Blair's chest. "No. Now you listen to me," he said softly, his voice tender, "remember when my senses were going nuts back when we were trying to nail Tommy Juno?" When Blair nodded minutely, he continued. "You made me go to the hospital and I submitted to a full battery of tests even though I didn't want to. I took your advice because I trusted you."

"But-"

"Hang on. Let me finish. I know that it was important to rule out anything physical, before we explored Sentinel stuff, so please let's have you tested. If everything comes in clean, we'll know it's Sentinel related. If it's physical..." Jim's gaze held Blair's. "I can't lose you, Chief. You're -- too important to me. Right now, you don't know when these episodes will occur. You can't drive, that's for sure. And you could really hurt yourself if you fainted in a dangerous situation!"

"But the visions-"

"Not now! No visions. No nothing! Hospital first!"

"Jim, Jim. Okay. Okay, you win." Blair sighed tiredly, almost relieved at Jim's insistence. This latest spell had definitely scared him. With a hand clamped around Jim's wrist, he said, "You're right." He closed his eyes briefly before he opened them to whisper, "Thank you."

Jim's face broke into a smile. With a nonchalant shrug, he said, "You're my partner."

---------------------------------

"So?" Jim asked, the second Dr. Jeff Roberts walked into the ER examination room.

Jeff looked positively puzzled. Glancing at Blair, who sat on the edge of the gurney with his arms crossed, Jeff shook his head. "I'm flummoxed."

"You're flummoxed," Blair echoed. "Great. That's just great. I spent six hours having my body turned inside out and you're confused!"

"Geez, Chief, give the guy a break. He's a doctor, not a magician."

Blair glared at his partner. "Good observation, Detective," he said derisively. "I agreed to come here so we could figure this out."

Jeff put a hand on Blair's arm. "And I have. I'm just confused and I'm not afraid to say so. I want what's best for you. So here's the deal. You're one healthy guy, except for what you described perfectly to me as a heart arrhythmia. Now I wasn't able to capture an episode on your EEG or sonogram, but everything else almost checks out."

"Almost?" Jim repeated. "What doesn't?"

Jeff rubbed his chin. "Blair's blood test is abnormal." At Jim's wide eyes, Jeff rushed to add, "Nothing bad, trust me! It's just that he does have high amounts of certain chemicals that could cause a heart arrhythmia in some people."

"So," Blair said, "my heart has been beating irregularly because of chemicals. What kind?"

"All common, but in your case, you had abnormally high levels in your blood when it was drawn two hours ago. I believe this chance combination contributed to each episode. What I need is a complete list of everything you ate or drank prior to each spell. Something had to send your body into the arrhythmia. I need specific information about any goods containing large amounts of," Jeff glanced at his notes, "mostly caffeine and alcohol."

"Jeff, you know I don't drink, other than an occasional beer," Blair protested.

"Let me explain. You most likely have a susceptibility to a heart arrhythmia. Under most circumstances, chances are you could never have had an episode. But you hit just the right combination of chemicals, not once but three times in five days, enough to make your heart rate react. Your heart beats irregularly for a few moments. You black out. It's called syncope, by the way. A sinking episode, if you will."

"But," Jim said, "he wasn't out long and..." He shifted uncomfortably.

"And...? Tell me, Jim," the doctor encouraged. "I need to know, no matter how strange or unusual."

Blair raised an eyebrow, tugging at the hospital gown that kept flapping open in the back, sending cold air down his spine. "And you seem to think Jim or I could possibly be involved in anything strange or unusual," he said mischievously.

Jeff laughed. "From you two? Now why would I expect anything weird from a guy with heightened senses who has visions and a partner who keeps the guy from zoning out? And both men happen to have animal spirits that they can see at certain times and under certain circumstances. What could be strange about that? Give me a break here!" Jeff held out his hands pleadingly. "I'm your friend, as well as your doctor."

Jim stood very still until he glanced at Blair, who looked back, confused at the intent look Jim was giving him. Before Blair could ask Jim what he was thinking, he picked up Blair's jacket and pulled out a small wooden box. "Blair's mother sent him a special, all-natural cold remedy. The episodes happened a short time after he took one of the lozenges."

"Jim! Give me a break. My mother wouldn't try to hurt me!" Blair cried indignantly.

"Chief, I didn't say she would, but think about it. You fainted after taking the medicine. You've had more than enough tea and coffee to add to the heightened caffeine level. We've had a few beers also, and if I remember from my medic days in the military correctly, an irregular heartbeat can also be aggravated by stress. That combination... This week has been one big stress test."

Jeff took the package and opened it, peering at the contents. "I'll have the lab test these, but if Jim's right, Blair, this could be the cause of the episodes. Or at least the trigger."

"But-" Blair started to say.

"No!" Jim interrupted. "No more visions!"

Jeff stared at Jim before he looked at Blair. "Blair?"

With a dejected sigh, Blair finally admitted, "It seems like whenever I take one of these lozenges, I have -- visions while I'm unconscious. But... they've been giving me clues about two kidnapped kids we've been searching for every minute of every day for the last five days."

"Blair, you can't keep doing this if this is the cause," Jeff said, shaking the small box. "It's dangerous. You might not die from the arrhythmia itself, but if you're driving, you could cause a huge accident, killing yourself and who knows how many innocent people. What about if you're just walking across the street or down a flight of stairs? Let's not even talk about during a gun fight or chasing a perp."

Jim nodded. "He already passed out on the steps in the precinct. If I hadn't been there..." Glaring at his partner, Jim fell silent, crossing his arms.

Blair saw Jim's jaw muscle twitch. "I know," he said softly. "I'm sorry."

"I think I'll leave the part about the visions out of my notes, but no more homemade cold remedies. In fact, I want you to stay away from a variety of cold and cough ingredients, and some common chemical additives. I'll give you a list of acceptable over-the-counter medications that hopefully won't trigger another episode. And you go easy on the caffeine. Decaf coffee and tea from now on. Limit your chocolate intake also. I have a few brochures about this, but I honestly think if you avoid what's on the list, and you reduce your stress, you'll be fine."

"He'll do it," Jim said firmly. "I'll watch out for him."

Jeff smiled. "I know you will." Turning to Blair, he added, "You're a lucky guy."

Blair gave Jeff a nod while he glanced over at Jim. Flashing his partner a warm smile, he said, "Yeah, I know."

"Good man," Jeff said. "Get dressed while I send this to the lab. I'll meet you at the nurses' station and give you those hand-outs."

"Thanks, man. You're a good friend."

"Any time," Jeff said with a final pat to Blair's arm.

Jim smiled. "Thank you, Doc. I appreciate your looking out for Blair -- for both of us."

"Sure, Ellison. Take care." They shook hands and after Jeff left, Blair started to dress.

"Ask me, Jim," Blair said, pulling on his t-shirt. Bending down, he pulled on socks and tied his hiking boots.

"Did you see anything else this time?"

"Yes."

"What?"

Blair stood up and took his jacket from Jim's hand. "Thanks. Let's get out of here and I'll tell you."

"You need something to eat."

Blair rubbed his stomach. "I am kind of hungry. Maybe this cold is really going away."

"One can only hope, Chief."

--------------------------------------

The remnants of two large Philly cheese steak subs lay spread out on the table between the partners. Jim picked at the cheese melted on the plate, nibbling the crispy edges.

Blair sipped the orange juice he'd ordered in lieu of coffee. Finishing the cold drink, he wiped his mouth on a napkin before he finally said, "Benjamin Atkins."

"Excuse me?"

With a sigh, Blair repeated, "I saw Benjamin Atkins."

"Okay," Jim said slowly. "And he is...?"

"My geology professor from my freshman year at Rainier."

"Geology professor?" Jim said, confusion etching his tone.

"Yes, Jim. Geology. You remember, the study of the science of the Earth, and its physical makeup and history."

"You have such a smart mouth," Jim groused.

Blair grinned, leaning back in the vinyl booth of the Fifties diner that they both enjoyed. Eddie's was a Cascade landmark and had been for almost fifty years. The waitress appeared and started to clear the table.

"Anything else, fellas?" she asked.

"I'll have a chocolate malt," Jim said, licking his lips.

Blair raised an eyebrow. "You have room for ice cream?"

"There's always room for ice cream, Chief."

Blair shook his head, laughing. With a smile, he told the waitress, "I'll have a single scoop of vanilla with strawberries."

"Be right back with your desserts."

Jim smiled. "I see your appetite seems to have returned."

Shrugging, Blair grinned. "I feel pretty good. So what do you think?"

"Professor Atkins. Geology." Jim said, chewing his lower lip. He considered for a few moments before he asked, "Anything else?"

"Well..." Blair fidgeted for a second. At Jim's raised eyebrow, he sighed. "Okay. Professor Atkins was -- reading tarot cards."

Jim was silent for a moment before he finally asked, "So did your old prof have an affinity for the occult?"

"Not that I know of," Blair answered with a shrug. Rubbing his temples with the tips of his fingers, he sighed. "Why would Professor Atkins be reading tarot cards?"

"Any particular kind of tarot cards?" Jim asked seriously, causing Blair to now raise his eyebrow.

"You know that there are different types of tarot cards?" Blair questioned incredulously.

"No, Sandburg. I've been living under a rock for the past thirty years, and other than you neo-hippy, witchdoctor types, none of us know that there are hundreds of different kinds of tarot cards."

Blair held out a hand. "Whoa. Sorry, man. I didn't mean to cast aspersions on your character. I know you're a smart man, Jim. I was just teasing."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Sometimes, Chief, you are such a dick."

Blair grinned and shrugged. "Yeah, but you love me anyway. Right?"

Jim glared at Blair for a long moment. It wasn't until Blair started to shift in his seat and play with the button on his shirt that Jim let out a bark of laughter. "Got you," he said softly, making Blair glare in return. When Blair stuck out his tongue, Jim shrugged. "Keep that up and I'll have to show you something else for which that particular body part is extremely useful. Other than acting like a spoiled brat, of course."

Blair's eyes grew wide when he saw Jim's eyes narrow and when Jim's tongue teasingly licked his own lips, he attentively sat up in his seat. "Yeah? Like what?"

Jim nonchalantly shrugged. "You'll see."

Blair felt himself shiver. "Jim..." he whispered, his voice dropping while he grabbed his runaway thoughts and libido, and forced them to behave. "So-" When the word almost squeaked out, Blair cleared his throat. "Geology. And cosmic tarot cards."

"Okay. Let's talk it through. You saw your geology professor, so there's something about the Earth. Rocks. Dirt. What? And tarot cards..." Jim leaned back in his seat, considering. "Hang on. This time you said cosmic tarot cards. You didn't mention that earlier." Jim's voice dropped, but his excitement was evident to Blair. "Did you see anything else?"

Blair started to shake his head when he suddenly stopped. Closing his eyes briefly, he nodded. "One of the cards -- fell to the floor."

"Which one?"

"I'm not sure... It fell face up. I know I saw it, but now... Wait! I know!" He jumped up and threw out his arms. "The hermit!"

Several patrons in the diner turned to look at the loud man who had disturbed their dinner. Jim affectionately shook his head. "Sit down, Chief, before they toss us out on our asses."

"Jim, man, I saw it! The hermit..." Blair chewed on his lower lip, his forehead wrinkled in thought. "Hermit... Geology..."

"Hermits live alone," Jim offered.

"Usually in remote places... And in the movies, they tend to live in caves."

Blair rested his chin on his hands, elbows on the table while he considered the new information.

Jim remained silent until the waitress brought their cold treats. "Thanks," he said when the woman set the frosty glass down in front of him.

"Thank you," Blair also said, picking up his spoon.

"Enjoy," the waitress said while slipping the check onto the table and clearing the last few dishes before she left.

"Mmm. Good stuff." Blair licked the spoon appreciatively. "This was a great idea, Jim."

Jim took a few sips before he said, "Very good. I remember having malts here when I was in high school."

"Wow. I didn't know they'd invented ice cream that long ago." When Jim gave Blair a disgusted look, Blair chuckled. "I couldn't resist." After a few more bites, he asked, "So the girls are being kept in a remote place. No big surprise there."

"By somebody who is a loner. Doesn't work with a partner. Maybe he's so unobtrusive that he can come and go unnoticed, even when he's surrounded by people."

Nodding enthusiastically, Blair said, "Sounds good. You know what a lot of people say after the serial killer who's discovered to have been their neighbor for ten years? 'He was such a nice, quiet man. Never bothered a soul.' It's really creepy."

"Makes sense," Jim mused. "If he were a raging lunatic, the neighbors would have noticed him and called the cops before he could successfully go on a killing spree."

"True," Blair agreed.

The men finished their ice cream and rose. Jim pulled out his wallet and picked up the check. "I'll get this if you'll get the tip."

Blair smiled. "Thanks, man." After leaving a tip on the table, he followed Jim to the register counter to pay their bill.

Jim tossed a twenty and two fives on the counter. "So now what?"

Blair shrugged. "I'm running out of ideas."

"Me, too, Chief," Jim said with a soft sigh. At the checker's inquiry about their dinner, he nodded. "Everything was fine. Thanks." Taking his change, he shrugged into his jacket while he followed Blair to the truck.

---------------------------------

Parking in his usual spot in front of the loft, Jim waited at the back of the truck until Blair joined him. He smiled at his partner, making Blair grin in return.

"Chief..." Jim's gaze searched Blair's face.

"Hey, I know. Me, too." Blair gave Jim a tender smile, lowering his voice. "Without you as a partner..."

"If I forget to tell you sometimes, I want you to remember that you're important to me, to the squad and to... everybody. Okay?"

Blair rocked back on his heels, stuffing his hands in his pockets. He blushed and nodded. "Thanks." Jim ruffled his hair before they both headed across the street and into the building where Jim punched the button for the elevator. On the ride up, Blair moved closer and said quietly, "I could take another one of Naomi's-"

"No!" Jim turned and clamped strong hands on Blair's shoulders. "Promise me you won't do it! It's too fucking dangerous!"

"If it helps-"

"No!" Jim said again. "Nothing, and I repeat, nothing is worth your health -- your life!"

"That's not true, Jim, and you know it."

"We'll work it out! There is no way I'll ever agree to you deliberately putting yourself in a dangerous situation. You know what Roberts said! You could possibly damage your heart, or worse..." Jim turned his face away.

Blair gazed at his partner. Jim's clenched jaw looked like it would crack and the muscle on the side of his cheek jumped with irritation. "Jim..." He moved closer and touched his partner's arm. "I promise I won't take anything dangerous. Okay?"

Jim nodded curtly.

"Jim, please..."

Jim suddenly grabbed Blair and pulled him close. Tightly, he clutched his lover. "Blair..."

"I'm sorry," Blair whispered, slipping his arms around Jim's waist. "I promise." When Jim's lips brushed his temple, Blair shivered with desire. "Jim," he pleaded, "please..."

The elevator lurched to a stop. Jim took Blair's hand tightly in his. With his free hand, he fished his keys from his pocket and unlocked the door. Not releasing his partner, he closed and locked the door before pushing Blair back against the firm surface.

When Jim's body blanketed him, Blair trembled and tipped his head, giving his lover free access to his mouth. Warm lips covered his mouth while Jim's fingers laced through his own. Jim raised his arms and pressed Blair's hands against the door on either side of his head. Jim's hips firmly held Blair's body in place, and when he shifted slightly and slipped his thigh between Blair's legs, rubbing his growing erection, Blair gasped into Jim's mouth.

Taking advantage of Blair's open lips, Jim delved in, thrusting deeply into the wet depths, making Blair whimper with need. With his arms pinned and his body effectively immobile, Blair shuddered when Jim shifted, again teasing his crotch with a muscled thigh.

Jim released Blair's mouth momentarily to take in a deep breath, giving Blair a chance to also breathe. Blinking lazily, Jim gave Blair a satisfied smile before he clamped strong fingers around his wrist and tugged him through the kitchen to the bathroom. Closing the door behind them, Jim began to swiftly undress his willing lover.

Blair closed his eyes and let himself be stripped. He lifted his feet and arms when asked, but otherwise, he remained silent and passive, waiting for what Jim would do next. The anticipation made his respiration quicken and his heart rate accelerated. He felt his body respond; the solid length of his penis felt heavy and full, and Jim's fingers touching his body made him want to shout with pleasure.

Blair heard when Jim turned on the water and adjusted the spray. He felt the warmth from the water as steam wafted through the air and he felt Jim's hands on his body when they ghosted down his shoulders to stop at his buttocks, cupping them in wide palms. Moaning softly, Blair shuddered. Jim's deep chuckle made him shiver even more and his eyes slowly opened to Jim's loving gaze.

With a light touch, Jim guided Blair into the shower. He quickly undressed himself and joined his lover. With guiding hands, he pressed Blair's hands to the shower wall and with a pat to each hand, he wordlessly asked Blair to remain in position. With a slight nod, Blair acquiesced. His reward was a quick kiss to his now wet shoulder blade.

With firm hands, Jim lathered Blair's body thoroughly. Starting at his neck, he coated his back, buttocks, thighs and calves with slick shower gel. Moving closer and pressing his body against Blair's, his hands danced over the front of Blair's body. With the detachable wand, he rinsed the soap away, allowing the pulsing water to find Blair's genitals. Blair's mouth fell open when the water's fingers lightly massaged his thick penis and heavy sac, and unconsciously, he spread his legs. When Jim returned the shower wand to its holder, Blair waited with breathless anticipation as to what would happen next. While he wasn't sure what to expect, he was indeed shocked when Jim swiftly fell to his knees, clamped strong hands on his ass, spread his cheeks, and began to lick his cleft with his tongue.

Blair finally did scream aloud when Jim explored him fully. His knees shook and he almost collapsed at the overwhelming sensations. Only Jim's strong hands kept him upright. When the tender, virgin entrance was breached, Blair screamed again, his orgasm wrenched from his body. Shaking with desire, he leaned against the wall, his forehead pressed against the warm tiles while his body shuddered through his coming. Blair didn't realize that Jim had risen from his knees until his lips were pressed to Blair's ear.

"That's what tongues are for," Jim whispered, referencing his earlier promise at the diner before adding, "Want you -- now."

Dazedly, Blair nodded.

"Are you sure?" he asked softly.

"Yes," he responded just as softly.

"We've never... I've never... And I know you haven't..."

"It's okay," Blair whispered.

Ignoring the water dripping from his arm, Jim reached into the cabinet under the sink and rooted around. Blair blinked away the water, seeing the unopened tube of lubricant that had been in Jim's bathroom since he had moved in more than a few years ago. He briefly considered the idea of Jim buying and stashing that same tube, and he had more than once wondered exactly what Jim had planned to do with it. In an instant, he knew that Jim had hoped for years that Blair would one day be the one on which he used the lube. The very thought that Jim had secretly desired him for so long made his body respond. He felt himself start to grow hard again, and when Jim positioned himself behind Blair, leaning lightly against his back to nuzzle his ear, Blair's penis filled even more.

Jim's teeth worried Blair's earlobe, sending goose bumps down his arm. He cried out when Jim's teeth then found the sweet spot on the top of his shoulder. When the teeth bit down, Blair shuddered and let out a small shout. Distracted, he realized with surprise that Jim's fingers were buried in his ass. Still and solid, Blair's muscles clenched around the invaders. Slick fingers moved slowly outward before pushing in.

"Jim!" Blair cried.

"I've got you," Jim reassured, wrapping an arm around Blair's waist. With his foot, he nudged Blair's legs apart even further, and thrust the three digits in deeper.

Blair cried out when something happened. A new sensation zinged through his body, sending waves of pleasure through him. "Jim!"

Again and again, the feeling continued, rushing over him, making him shake. He knew in the back of his mind what Jim was doing. After all, he was well-read and quite intelligent, but he had no idea that his prostate was capable of producing such intense pleasure. He almost sobbed with the depth of his love for Jim while Jim continued to explore his body fully.

"Going to take you now," Jim warned. "Be gentle. Be gentle," he whispered.

When Blair realized that Jim was telling himself to take care with his lover, he felt even deeper feelings explode from his heart. He loved Jim body and soul. Now and forever. "Jimjimjim," he whispered, closing his eyes and trusting his lover.

"Love you. Love you," Jim crooned into his ear.

Blair felt the head of Jim's penis touch his center. With some anxiousness, he started to brace himself for whatever pain would occur until Jim's hand wrapped around his flagging erection. Again, he was momentarily distracted, this time by the firm grasp of his lover's hand that firmly stroked him. Blair thrust his hips forward and then back, not even realizing that he had relaxed enough for Jim to painlessly begin to slip into his body. While Jim remained still, Blair's hips bucked, first into Jim's fist and back onto Jim's cock, driving it deeper on each motion.

With a guiding hand on his hip, Blair felt his body accept Jim's. Waves of intense pleasure washed over him. His own erection swelled and he thrust back, brushing his own prostate. With a shout, he lurched forward into the fist. Mindless now with the sensations tingling his entire body, with orgasm as his goal, Blair continued to fuck Jim's hand while Jim fucked his ass until Blair was on his toes, shaking and spurting thick come onto the shower tiles once again.

Jim gave a shout, his strong fingers grasping Blair's hips, holding him steady while he slipped deep into Blair's body. Pulling back slowly, it took only two quick jabs and Jim was crying his release, shouting Blair's name.

Sagging down into the tub, Jim lay back, cradling Blair's body on top of his. Lazily, his hands ghosted down the wet, furred chest, gently tweaking the hardened nipples. Blair shuddered under his lover's hands while they touched him intimately once again, exploring the lax penis and spent balls. Blair lay back bonelessly, allowing Jim to explore to his heart's content. Grateful that the extra-large water tank kept the water at a reasonably warm temperature, he sighed with pleasure and closed his eyes. It wasn't until he felt himself being guided out of the tub by strong hands that he realized he had fallen asleep.

Drowsy with satisfaction, he mumbled something nonsensical as he was placed on the closed toilet seat. Leaning against Jim's body, Blair was vaguely aware that he was dried with a fluffy towel and led to his room where he was tucked into the warm flannel sheets. He felt his lover slip onto the bed behind him. Jim molded their bodies together; the wide chest covered Blair's back, a strong arm wrapped around Blair's waist while his lover's crotch gently cradled his newly deflowered ass. Content, warm and fulfilled, Blair slept.

--------------------------------

Waking with a start, Blair jerked.

"Chief?" Jim asked sleepily.

Blair rubbed his face with his hands. "Sorry. Sorry. Just a bad dream. Go back to sleep," he murmured reassuringly.

"You sure?"

"Yeah." Moving closer to Jim's warmth, Blair shivered.

"You're trembling."

Jim's hot breath brushing his ear made Blair shudder again. "God, man. Are you trying to kill me?"

"What did I do?" Jim asked innocently.

Blair lay quietly for a moment before he said, "Nobody's every done that to me before, Jim. Nobody."

Jim chuckled softly. "What exactly is that, Chief? When I rimmed you or fucked you?"

"Made love with me that totally," Blair corrected firmly.

Nodding, Jim smiled against Blair's shoulder before he kissed the skin. "Made love with you. I like that."

Blair blinked in the dark and turned on his side to face his lover. "It was wonderful."

"Good."

"Better than I could have imagined."

"I enjoyed it too."

"I... Jim... Oh, shit." Blair quickly rolled away and started to rise from the bed but Jim's hands grabbed his arm.

"Blair?" he asked anxiously.

"Sorry." Blair swallowed noisily. "Sorry, Jim. Really. I didn't mean... You don't have to... You know, promise me anything. I can't help..."

"Slow down. One thought at a time, please."

"I know you don't want mushy words and junk like that. I know we're guys and we're supposed to -- you know, fuck and run. But I just can't!"

Jim tugged on Blair's arm until he finally acquiesced and returned to lie down. "Listen to me," he said softly, brushing a stray hair from Blair's eyes. "This is not a fuck-buddy relationship."

"It's not?"

"Of course not!" Jim said testily. "What kind of guy do you think I am? You think that me being your first guy doesn't mean something? That it isn't important?"

Blair shrugged. "Well... I hoped it did, but I didn't want you to feel... obligated. I mean, I know you said you loved me, but I figured... We need each other with the Sentinel thing and all... And in the heat of passion..."

"Blair Sandburg, you are such an idiot."

Blair pulled his head back and squinted in the dark. "And why is that, pray tell?" he asked smartly.

"Because I am in love with you, dick head. Everything about you. Not just for sex, but for life. Get it?"

"What?" Blair asked incredulously. "Really?"

Jim sighed. "Oh for God's sake, Sandburg. Will you marry me?"

"What? Really?" he asked again.

"Of course, really!" Jim almost shouted.

"Yes!" Blair shouted in return, throwing his arms around Jim's neck and kissing him firmly. "Jim, I -- I love you."

Jim glanced at Blair with puzzlement for a moment before he said, "Geez, I know that. I love you too."

"Oh man. Oh man. That is so great!"

"Chief, go to sleep."

Blair grinned and snuggled close to his lover. "'night, Jim."

Jim pressed gentle lips to Blair's temple. "Good night, my love."

Grinning widely, Blair closed his eyes and slept.

----------------------------------

Blair laid several sheets of paper down in front of Jim, who sat at his desk, once again studying their latest case. Two fourteen-year old girls snatched from the street on their way home from school six days ago. No witnesses. No clues. No ransom demands. Blair knew that Jim's gut was twisted up inside at his inability to find the girls. Hell, his own stomach ached almost constantly too. He knew what the lack of evidence and contact meant: the girls were being raped and tortured. They could very well be dead by now. Someone wanted them for his own demented horrible use.

With a sigh, Blair sank into his seat. "The closest caves are forty miles north of Cascade. Simon alerted the local sheriff and he's on his way with a team to see what he can find. They have two more teams checking out a couple of abandoned mines in the area as well."

Jim nodded curtly, barely acknowledging Blair's statement.

"Jim?"

"What?" he said shortly.

"I still think they're alive."

Jim's gaze flicked over Blair's face before he shrugged and returned to the computer screen. "I hope so, but I doubt it. According to statistics, almost seventy-five percent of children who are abducted by strangers are murdered within the first three hours."

"But that means twenty-five percent aren't. Let's hope and pray the girls are in the second group instead of the first," Blair insisted.

Jim shook his head. "The odds are against them."

Blair put a hand on Jim's arm. "I know, but I can't think about that right now. I have to think about us finding them, alive and well."

With a sigh, Jim turned to Blair. "You keep me sane," he said softly.

"Anything you need, Jim. You know that."

Nodding, Jim gave Blair a quick smile while he rose and picked up his cup. "I'm going to freshen this coffee. You want anything? Earth to Blair... Chief? Sandburg!" Jim's unhappy voice finally broke through Blair's muddled hearing. "-burg! For heaven's sake, Blair, don't do this to me again!"

"Jim?" Blair blinked slowly several times before he felt Jim's fingers digging into his upper arms. He glanced around into the concerned faces of his colleagues. Jim's hands trembled against Blair's skin. Wrapping his hands around Jim's lower arms, Blair whispered, "Batman."

"What? Batman? What the hell is going on?"

Blair swallowed noisily. "I had another one, I guess."

"Another vision? You didn't pass out. What happened? Did you take anything, Sandburg?" Jim demanded, roughly shaking his partner. "Did you?" he shouted. "You'd better tell me the truth!"

"Ellison!" A large black hand clamped on Jim's wrist. "Stop right now!"

Jim's own hands immediately dropped and he rose, stumbling back a few steps, staring down at them. Blair raised his confused eyes to look into his partner's stunned face.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Jim whispered, shaking his head. "I didn't mean... God, Chief, I'm so sorry."

Crossing his arms, Blair's hands unconsciously rubbed his biceps where Jim had held onto him. "It's okay, Jim. It's okay. I didn't mean to freak out on you."

Simon hunkered down next to Blair. "Are you okay, Sandburg?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Really."

"What's going on?" he demanded.

With a shrug, Blair said, "I had another -- I don't know, vision I guess. It was more like this... flash across my mind and for a second, all I could see was Batman. And a mushroom."

"A mushroom?" Simon echoed.

Jim sank back into his chair. He repeated, "Mushrooms? Batman? What the hell is going on? Why did you have another one if you didn't eat or drink anything to instigate a vision?"

"I didn't pass out, Jim, I just sort of zoned for a second."

Simon rose. "If you're sure you're okay," he said uncertainly.

"I'm fine. Thanks, Captain," Blair said reassuringly.

Glancing around, Simon cocked a head toward his office. "Let's talk."

"Right." Blair rose and followed his captain.

"You, too, Jim," Simon called over his shoulder.

"Yes, sir." Jim followed somewhat reluctantly.

Blair carefully watched Jim. He knew how Jim thought and felt, and he also knew that Jim would beat himself up a hundred different ways for even daring to touch him harshly, in spite of that fact that his small zone had frightened and upset Jim. But only because he cared, Blair realized. Blair stopped at Simon's door and waited for Jim to catch up.

"Everything is okay, Jim," Blair said quietly. "Everything. Do you understand?"

Jim nodded curtly, almost avoiding Blair's gaze. Blair would have said more to reassure his partner, but Simon called, "In, gentlemen, and close the door." When the door was closed, Simon automatically poured coffee. "Sit, please." He passed Jim a cup, but when he started to hand Blair his cup, he almost spilled the hot liquid. "Damn it, Sandburg, I almost forgot."

Blair smiled. "Hey, Simon, no problem. Thanks for offering. I'll have a bottled water, if you don't mind."

Simon chuckled. "No, Detective. I don't mind." He set the coffee cup down and grabbed a fresh bottle from the small fridge nestled next to his credenza behind his desk. "Nice and cold."

"Thank you," Blair said with a grateful smile. He popped the top and took a deep draw while he watched Jim from the corner of his eye. Jim sipped his coffee in silence, his face revealing nothing. With a small roll of his eyes , Blair smiled and said to his boss, "Batman lived in cave. Mushrooms grow in caves. Right?"

Jim shrugged. "Technically, Bruce Wayne lived in a mansion. He kept his crime fighting gear in the cave."

Blair nodded. "But there was a cave."

"Yeah, there was a cave," Jim agreed. "And we're already examining any caves in Cascade or the surrounding area."

Simon took a sip of his coffee before he added, "Plenty of old mining caves in the Cascade Mountains. My older brother and I used to hike a lot back in the day."

"But they have to tie in with the other clues. What about the naval hints? The eagle. The trident. The ship, Neptune." Blair rubbed his chin where a twenty-four hour growth of stubble scratched his palm. "How about the old brig at the naval base? Was it underground?"

Jim considered for a minute before he offered, "You know, I'm not sure, but I doubt it."

The men drank their chosen refreshment in silence until Blair slapped the bottle of water down on Simon's desk and abruptly stood up. His mouth fell open and he stared from Simon to Jim and back to Simon.

"What?" Jim and Simon asked together.

"Fall out shelters."

Jim's eyes grew wide. "Oh my God! I never thought about that!"

"Me neither, but they're definitely underground," Blair said.

Simon nodded. "There are several in the city, but they've all been sealed for a long time. Huge safety hazard. I know some are on private land, and a few are on government property." Simon fell silent for a moment before he added, "There could be a couple on private property that weren't properly closed up."

"Can we get a list or a map or something?" Blair asked.

Jim rose also. "There should be something in the database even though they were built in the fifties and sixties during the bomb scares."

"Jim, man. This could be the break we've been looking for." Blair started toward the door, but Simon's voice stopped him.

"Sandburg, not to rain on our parade, but why would a fallout shelter fit the clues? They're not related to the navy or to the other clues."

Blair threw out his hands. "I don't know, Captain, but I have this feeling that this means something."

"Okay. Go. Out. Follow it up. We don't have anything else to go on. Keep me posted." Simon waved his men out of the room.

------------------------------------------

Sitting at his desk, Blair accessed the police informational database while Jim did a general net search. It wasn't long before the men looked at each other and both of them shook their heads.

"No luck, Jim," Blair offered first. "General information about fallout shelters. How to build them. What started the fad back in the Fifties and Sixties, but nothing specific to our areas."

"That's pretty much what's here also, Chief. I think we need another resource." Jim slipped his tongue under his lower lip and stared at the computer monitor. "Maybe..." Turning to Blair, he scooted his chair closer, "Sorry about earlier... That was out of line."

"Hey, I said it was okay."

"No, it wasn't okay. I don't have any right to touch you like that. Ever. I'm sorry."

Even though Jim tried to hide it, Blair could see how upset Jim was, so he looked directly into his partner's eyes and said, "I accept your apology. Thank you."

Jim slowly nodded before returning his attention to the case. "I'm going to call Bill Richmond over at City Planning. He knows more about Cascade than anybody I know. If anybody has a clue about the location of old fallout shelters, he will."

"Okay, Jim. Good idea. Maybe our luck's changed and tonight, we'll find those girls."

------------------------------------------

It was cold and rainy. The wind whipped around Blair's head and shoulders, and sheets of rain drenched his jeans in seconds. Jim had insisted that he dress warmly after his recent cold bout, and he had put on long-johns and an extra sweater. In spite of the extra clothing, the cold bit through to his skin. His fingers, freezing in spite of the gloves he wore, were latched firmly onto one of the straps of Jim's backpack. Jim led the way, of course, through the black night. At first they tried using flashlights, but the pelting rain rendered them almost useless. The clouds obscured any light from stars or moon and seeing anything in the darkness for a man with normal eyesight was impossible.

When Jim had finally suggested that they turn off the flashlights and rely on his senses, Blair followed his Sentinel's advice. It turned out that they covered more ground once Jim took the lead, and Blair blindly walked behind, trusting his partner. He realized that Jim would take the best and fastest route to the deserted shelter built forty years ago on the edge of the Cascade National Forest, and long since unclaimed and abandoned. The logging road they walked along hadn't been used in many years, and it was littered with rocks, debris from old mudslides, fallen trees and overgrown weeds. Jim successfully moved or skirted each object and as long as Blair stayed behind him, his feet took him on a clear path.

Jim came to a stop and crouched down. "He's been using a dirt bike," he observed. "I can still see a lot of the tracks here -- and here where the overhanging branches from the pine trees have covered the path and the tracks have been protected from the rain." Jim was silent for a moment before he added, "Looks like he's made one or two trips a day from the number of imprints. I count more than ten different layers of tire tracks."

"I'll take your word for that, Jim. I can't see a thing," Blair groused.

Jim rose, patting Blair's arm. "Stay close."

Blair rolled his eyes, blinking away the cold wetness. "Thanks, Jim," he muttered, again latching onto Jim's backpack.

"Any time, Chief," Jim said with a touch of amusement in his voice.

After walking for more than thirty minutes along the trail through woods and past several open fields, Jim turned and pulled Blair close. Pressing his lips to Blair's ear, he said quietly, "I smell things that shouldn't be here. Stuff out of place. I smell... oil, motor oil, and gasoline."

Nodding, shivering in spite of the heavy raincoat and wool hat, Blair shifted the backpack strapped to his shoulders to make it more comfortable while Jim tightened one of the straps holding his own pack in place. To Blair, the first aid kit, emergency supplies and blankets felt as if they grew in weight, the longer they hiked. Jim touched a wet glove to Blair's shoulder as a signal before he turned and once again, led the way. With his fingers tightly holding onto Jim's backpack, Blair closed his eyes and followed, trusting Jim to guide his feet through the inky darkness.

Jim stopped. Blair bumped into him, hands automatically reaching out to steady himself. Turning, Jim once again put his lips to Blair's ear. "Ahead, on the right. More gasoline..." Jim fell silent before he leaned down and picked something up. He lightly sniffed toward his fingers "Cigarette butt... A little old, maybe three, four hours." Blair blinked the water away and stared intently into Jim's face. If he squinted, he could just see the sparkle of his eyes and the occasional flash of white teeth while Jim spoke. "I hear... They're alive, Chief!" he said, holding Blair's arms. "It's right here! We need to find the way in! Help me look. Turn on your flashlight! Hurry!"

Blair fumbled with the lantern, his cold fingers refusing to cooperate. Jim turned on his own light before he handed it to Blair and took Blair's from him. Using Blair's light, Jim quickly flipped it on and scanned the thick forest floor with the beam of light. Blair followed behind his partner, his own light searching the ground as he kicked away pine needles and yanked downed limbs aside, until Jim stopped, shouting and pointing, "There! Give me a hand." Jim started pulling away a pile of broken pine branches and handfuls of pine needles. Blair joined in, his cold hands pulling away the branches. Adrenaline kicked in, allowing Blair's cold body to start to warm. His fingers once again began responded to his demands and after scraping away the needles, a rusted, metal door was revealed.

Both men stood for a moment, staring down while their flashlight beams danced on the wet metal that lay flat on the ground, looking much like a manhole cover on a city street. There was a metal handle, which Jim grasped with both hands before hunkering down for leverage and pulling up. Blair clenched his teeth, expecting the hinges to screech the way rusted metal tended to do in the late-night horror movies. He let out a breath of relief when the hatch quietly opened. Peering down into the opening, he expected to see something, but saw only blackness.

"Jim?"

"There's a ladder, Chief. Follow me, and be careful. The metal's old. It could be rusted through."

Nodding, Blair held his light so that Jim could see, forgetting for a moment that Jim's eyesight was better than his, and that he certainly didn't need the light from a lantern. With a wry grin at himself, he nevertheless felt better shining the light down into the black hole. When Jim's head disappeared, Blair carefully put a foot on the first rung and started down, making sure that his backpack didn't snag anything on the way down. The vertical tunnel seemed to go on forever. Blair counted twenty-five steps before he let out a small squeak and stiffened when hands touched his calves. Realizing that Jim was helping him the last few steps, he forced his feet to take the last few rungs slowly. When he touched solid ground, he let out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding.

"You okay?" Jim asked quietly.

"Yeah, fine. Where are they?"

"Just a second."

Blair heard the small clicking sounds and it took a second to realize that Jim was flipping a light switch. Then he heard several more little sounds before Jim returned to his side and said, "No power. There should be a generator, but it's not working."

"Great," Blair muttered. "Let's find the girls and get the fuck out of here. This place gives me the creeps."

Jim cocked his head, listening before he lightly sniffed the air. "This way." With Jim's light bouncing off the smooth concrete walls, Blair followed his quick steps down a short hallway to a metal door. When their lights scanned the door, Blair felt as if he was looking at the hatch of a submarine. Jim turned the large metal wheel that kept the door sealed shut and this time, Blair did jump when the hinges screeched in protest. Their lights revealed a room set up as a main living area. There was an old table and three chairs, a ratty sofa, dusty shelves along one of the walls that held many volumes of old books, as well as a sink, refrigerator and stove pushed against another wall. Half-eaten food and dirty dishes lay scattered about the room. The odor of decaying food made Blair swallow hard and he tried to breathe through his mouth. He figured Jim must be almost gagging at the smells. There were several picnic coolers on the floor that looked relatively new, and had probably been used by the kidnapper to store food and water. All in all, the room was a mess.

Jim crossed the room, stopping before another hatch. Again, he turned the large wheel and again, Blair cringed when the metal hinges grated harshly. The sound actually made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Jim hesitated for a moment before he moved into the second room. Standing briefly at the threshold, the first thing that hit Blair was the stench of human waste and unwashed bodies. Jim started coughing, clamping a hand over his nose and mouth. Blair put a hand in the center of his back to steady him. With a nod of thanks, Jim flashed his light around the large chamber.

"Oh good God," Jim said softly, taking two more steps into the room. When Jim moved forward, a piercing wail cut the air. Jim stumbled, dropping his flashlight. He hunched over, covering his ears with his hands while the high-pitched sound bounced off the walls.

Blair followed quickly, scanning the room with his light. "Please!" he shouted. "We're the police! Please stop screaming. We're to help! We want to get you out of here!"

"Mel, shut up!" a scared voice cried out before calling out, "Please... Help us!"

Blair moved forward, shining the light on the cots situated against the far wall where two sets of eyes showed in the beam. "I'm Blair. I'm a cop. Jim's my partner. Jim? Are you all right?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. Let's get out of here, and make it quick."

Blair moved quickly toward the cots, relief evident in his voice. "Chrystal? Melinda? It's going to be okay. We're here to take you home."

----------------------------------------

Blair Sandburg smiled. Reclining back against the heavy metal wires circling the balcony next to their bed with a pile of pillows behind his back, he held Jim close. With his arms wrapped around his lover's shoulders and his hands clenched together, he lightly kissed Jim's forehead, pleased when Jim laughed at the tender gesture. Jim's right hand held Blair's sock-clad shin, and he leaned comfortably back against Blair's chest.

With a wide grin and a deep laugh, Jim managed to say, "Wow."

Blair laughed too, his right hand moving to run the backs of his fingers down the side of Jim's warm cheek, wiping away some of the residual sweat still clinging to his lover's skin. "I'll take that as a compliment."

Jim laughed again, his motion jiggling his lover. "Definitely."

"Cool."

The lovers fell silent for a few minutes before Jim wiggled slightly and sighed contentedly when Blair's arms once again captured him, squeezing lightly. "Blair..."

"Hmmm?" Blair murmured, lips pressed against the top of Jim's messy hair.

"Thank you." Craning his neck sideways to look into Jim's eyes, he raised a questioning eyebrow. Jim smiled and said, "I love you."

"Me, too, Jim. Very much."

Patting Blair's hand with his, Jim nodded. "We did good."

"Yeah, we did. The girls are safe. The doctors say they'll be all right, at least physically after a few more days in the hospital." Blair sighed unhappily. "I'm not so sure about psychologically. It will be a long road for them to travel." He gritted his teeth. "It still makes me so damned angry to imagine what they suffered."

Nodding, Jim said, "Yes, it will be a long process, but they have loving parents and they have each other. There are good people to help them work through the sexual abuse and the kidnapping."

"I know. I just hate that anybody, especially kids, have to go through that. It's just not fair."

"You're a good man, Blair. You care. Some cops... Well, after a while, it's sometimes hard to care."

"Geez, Jim, you care too!" Blair's arms tightened and he laid his cheek against the top of Jim's head in a comforting gesture.

"I do. I do care. It's just easier for me, I guess. I can put whatever happens in this little room in my mind. I had to learn to do that when I was in Covert Ops, or I wouldn't have survived." Jim moved a hand to lace his fingers with Blair's. "It's you who I rely on now. You take care of me. You love me..." Jim chuckled, "...very well, I might add. I'm happy."

"Geez, Jim, you sound almost surprised that you're happy."

Shrugging, Jim responded, "I never thought I'd find happiness. After Carolyn, and -- well, the others -- I pretty much gave up. But with you..." He shrugged again. "I'm happy," he repeated.

"Me, too," Blair whispered, again kissing Jim's forehead. "How do you feel?"

"Oh, God. I feel -- very good and fucked to within an inch of my life. Who knew you were such an animal in bed?" Blair blushed, letting his hair fall over his face. Jim craned his neck to look up. "Are you embarrassed?" he asked with a chuckle.

Blair shrugged. "It was the first time I did that."

"And you did it very, very well."

"Thanks," Blair said softly, making his lover laugh.

"And in a few hours, you're going to do it again," Jim added.

"I am? Really? I'm happy it was good for you. It was for me as well."

Jim suddenly turned in Blair's arms. He rose to his knees between Blair's outspread legs and with large hands on Blair's waist, he tugged his lover down onto the mattress. Hovering over him, he said firmly, "You're a hero, you know. Besides being damned exasperating."

When Jim leaned down and kissed Blair lightly, he returned the kiss with pleasure. "I didn't do anything you wouldn't have done." Blair's hands ghosted down Jim's wide shoulders and around his back where he tugged until Jim was once again snuggled close.

Rubbing a finger over Blair's ribs, Jim finally admitted, "You really scared me for a moment."

"Sorry about that. I didn't even think about it. Just did it."

"I know. You tend to do that, you know." Jim raised his head and glared at his partner.

Blair gave Jim a shocked look. "I do not!"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Need I remind you of several occasions when you seemed to have a death wish? Does the name Katria Kamerev mean anything to you? Not to mention baseballs, and wrenches, and the occasional vending machine. Oh, and let's not forget about the chair leg and the telephone."

With an exasperated look, Blair studied Jim's face. "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time."

"So let me get this straight," Jim said. "We were waiting for the cavalry to come with transportation to get the victims to the hospital. We heard the motorcycle approaching the shelter, and I told you to get out of sight. Right so far?"

"Yes, Jim," Blair answered.

"So the girls heard the motorcycle and the chopper, and panicked, thinking their kidnapper was coming back for them. They started screaming. I grabbed them both to move them off the road and out of harm's way. But instead of moving like I intended, they both latched onto me, screaming and crying. Correct?"

"Yes, Jim."

"So while I was coping with the girls, what did you do? You found a huge branch, waited until the time was right, and when the motorcycle reached us, you rushed out and whacked him off like Babe Ruth hitting one out of the park. Did I get any of that wrong?" Jim asked exasperatedly. Holding up a hand, he added, "And before you answer that, need I remind you once again that the SWAT sniper and the other officers in the helicopter were quite capable of intercepting the guy and taking him down; a fact that you seemed to have forgotten in the heat of the moment."

Blair grinned, not looking the least bit contrite by his partner's admonishment when he answered, "You seem to be forgetting something, Detective."

"Oh? And what's that?"

"The glare from the chopper's search light blinded you for a second, and with the girls hanging onto you, you were out of the game momentarily. I didn't want that idiot getting away so I wasn't taking any chances. I see what happens on television. The bad guy always seems to get away from the authorities at least once." Blair shrugged. "Besides, I was pissed off."

"You were pissed off," Jim echoed with a laugh. "Remind me not to ever piss you off, Chief. I might end up in pieces."

Blair joined Jim in laughter for a few moments before he touched Jim's lips with his fingertips. "Guess you'd better keep me happy and content, Partner. For a long, long time."

Jim chuckled. "Guess I'd better. I think I'll start right about now." Latching his lips on Blair's nipple, he sucked on the rapidly hardening nub, making his lover very, very happy.

-------------------------------------

Blair shuffled his feet and shrugged. "Sorry, Captain. I guess I was one hundred percent wrong. I've studied all of the photographs that Forensics took of the crime scene and there wasn't one thing that related to anything I saw in my visions. No naval uniforms or insignias. No pictures on the walls with Batman or Roman gods or war ships. Nothing at all. Not a mushroom in sight. Not even an eagle feather. Sorry about that." Looking embarrassed, he added, "You can bet you won't be hearing about any more visions from me."

"Sit down, Detective." Simon leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. He glared at Blair for a moment before he finally sat up and flipped open a file. "First of all, you and Jim did find those girls. They're alive today because of the good work of you and your partner. Let's not forget that. As for the other -- clues... Well, let me get this straight. You had visions of an eagle, a trident..." Simon studied the paper. "...the god, Neptune, one Superhero -- Batman to be exact -- a hermit, and a mushroom. Does that about sum it up?"

"Simon," Jim interrupted, "Sandburg didn't-"

Simon held up a hand. "Save it, Jim. I know you'd go to great lengths to protect your partner's reputation."

Jim bristled. "But Blair-"

"Jim!" Simon said firmly. "Be quiet!"

"Yes, sir," Jim said tensely, walking over to the window and turning his back on his superior officer.

"If you and Sandburg would give me a chance to get a word in edgewise before you come to each other's defenses, I might be able to say that Blair was not only not wrong, but," Simon gave Blair a mischievous glance, "one hundred percent right."

"What?" Blair quipped. "I was?"

Jim swiveled on his heels. "He was?"

"Yes, he was. Check these out." Simon spread several photographs along the edge of his desk, where Jim and Blair intently peered at them.

"Oh my God!" Blair cried, picking up a photograph with each hand. His head swiveled from one to the other. "This is just too creepy, even for me!"

"Chief, now I'm really scared," Jim said with surprise.

"These photos are authentic?" Blair said incredulously.

"Yes," Simon confirmed. "Our perp was photographed at the hospital by the staff while he was being treated for the injuries he sustained during arrest." Simon's voice dropped when he said, "Too bad the guy ran into that low-hanging branch. It wiped him right off that bike, didn't it?" When Blair shrugged, Simon chuckled. "Anyway, this is your man, Robert Marsh, in all his glory."

"I don't believe it," Blair whispered.

"Believe it. The guy was covered in tattoos. He has a pretty darned ominous-looking fellow on his right bicep. Looks like Neptune to me. He has a huge bat across his back from one shoulder blade to the other, a quite well done eagle on his left pectoral, along with a bunch of mushrooms in a band on his right ankle."

"This is amazing, Simon," Jim said with awe. "Absolutely amazing."

"A crab?" Blair asked, his tone incredulous. "The guy has a crab on his body? If that's a hermit crab, I'm really, really freaked out now."

Simon laughed. "His birthday is July first. He's a Cancer."

Jim rolled his eyes. "You're kidding? His zodiac sign is the crab? Geez, Chief, just what in the hell did you tap into?" Pointing at one of the photographs, he noted, "He also has an elk standing in a field in front of a mountain range." Jim paused for a moment before he said, "Didn't you say that Atkins was your geology professor?" At Blair's slow nod, Jim looked as surprised as Blair, when he reminded his partner, "Geology. Mountains. Another hit, it seems."

At a complete loss for words and totally stunned, Blair again peered closely at the photographs before he blurted out, "Oh, good heavens."

"I thought that might catch your attention," Simon said smugly.

Jim glanced over Blair's shoulder before looking at his boss. "Is that what I think it is?"

Simon nodded. Blair shook his head in utter amazement. "Wow. The trident is on his- Doesn't that hurt?" he asked, glancing up at his partner then at his captain.

Laughing together, Jim and Simon nodded. Jim answered, "I'd expect so. A spear on his spear."

Simon guffawed. "Does one have to be ah, erect to have a tattoo placed on one's penis?"

Blair shuddered. "I don't know and I don't plan on finding out."

Jim laughed again. "Come on, Chief. I can see you giving it a try."

"No way, man. Not on my- Well, just no."

"Gentlemen!" Simon's voice cut through the teasing. "Don't you have work to do?"

Jim nodded quickly. "Yes, sir."

Blair grinned. "Right, Simon. Captain. Sir. Come on, partner, let's get to it."

As soon as Simon's door was closed, Jim said, "How about some lunch?"

"I could eat."

Casting around the nearly empty bullpen, Jim leaned over Blair's shoulder and whispered, "How about that Cascade PD insignia tattoo you offered to get a while back? Remember? Or maybe my name on your backside."

Blair's eyes grew wide and he stepped away from Jim. "No way, man. My body is sacred. Nothing is touching this skin."

Jim followed Blair, moving close once again, his eyes sparkling. "Now that's not exactly true, Sandburg. I happen to know that you have that nipple ring in right now. The one that I seem to remember from the other night. So, why not think about it?"

Blair glared. "Keep away from me."

Jim laughed. "Okay. Okay. Point taken. No tattoos. How about-"

"No!" Blair shouted. "No, nothing!" Walking quickly to the elevator, he punched the button for the parking garage.

Jim sidled close behind Blair and spoke softly. "Come on, Chief. Be a pal. How about a Prince Albert on your-"

Blair glared over his shoulder, punching the elevator button with impunity. "You're not serious."

Jim laughed. "No, I'm not. Besides," he said, glancing around to insure privacy, "I have other uses for your parts."

Blair relaxed minutely. "So... do you or do you not want to go to lunch?"

"Sounds good. Let's go over to Wonderburger on Fremont. There's a tattoo slash piercing parlor right down the street-"

Blair's mouth fell open. He quickly entered the elevator, laughing. "Keep away from me!" he called, holding out a hand.

Jim entered the car, grinning. "Hey, you're the one having visions. Do they tell you where you're getting your new tattoo? Or did they show you a new piercing? Have I mentioned that I have a thing for belly button rings? It's a secret fetish of mine."

Blair looked thoughtful for a second before he said, "For you, Jim, I just might almost consider it." The sound of Jim's delighted laughter made Blair's heart flutter for a second and the sparkle in his partner's eyes made him grin. "I have a feeling that you and I have a lot to discuss over lunch. Your treat, by the way. It's the least you can do if we're discussing anything touching my body." Pushing the button for the parking garage, Blair dropped his voice to add, "Anything other than you, of course."

With a bark of laugher, Jim ruffled Blair's hair. "You're on, Chief. Lunch is on me."

The doors closed on the laughing partners.

End

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Acknowledgements: Thank you to Ankaree for the beautiful cover art.