Chasing the Storm by Alex McLeod

Chasing the Storm - Alex McLeod

27 April -- Cascade: The Loft

"Hey, listen man. I have until June 5th before the next class starts," Blair told Jim as he shoved some more clothes into his duffel bag. "I'll be back before you know it. It's only a month."

Jim stood at the door of Blair's room, helpless to stop him. "But you'll be back, right?"

"Hey man, you can't tell me you aren't happy to have a break from me, especially now," Blair replied, zipping up the bag. He swept up his backpack, dumping the contents on the bed. Grabbing his laptop and several other books, he looked over his shoulder at Jim, ignoring the expression on the other man's face. As he stuffed them back into the worn pack, he asked under his breath, "After what happened, how can you not be?"

"Blair, you don't have to leave," Jim started, moving out of the way as Blair shouldered his now full backpack and duffel. "It's fine, we can talk about it...deal with it.

"I need the time...hell, we both need the time, Jim." Blair stopped at the door to grab his jacket. "I'll be back before you know it."

Blair finally hazarded a glance at his partner...and almost lost his resolve. Jim was looking poleaxed; for the entire world like he had been hit in the gut by a two-by-four. Relenting, Blair dropped his bags and his jacket, took two steps to Jim and wrapped him in a tight hug. Then, with two pats on the back and a quick kiss to the cheek, Blair was gone.

Jim stood frozen in the empty apartment that echoed hollowly from the slammed door, and wondered what the hell kind of turn his life had taken.

28 April -- Boise, Idaho

Blair couldn't believe he was driving...to Oklahoma! 'Oh my God,' he thought, 'I can't believe that I really left Jim standing there all alone.' But he knew that if he didn't get out of there right then, he would be disgraced by throwing himself at Jim's feet and begging for forgiveness. Jim had already told him that it wasn't his fault...not the same as saying 'I forgive you'. Whether he liked it or not, it was his fault; his fault that he had not put the diss in a safe place, his fault that he hadn't censored out the Sentinel's name from the very beginning.

Blair had to get away and when Dean Spencer phoned, it was the perfect reason to get out of Dodge, or out of Cascade, as the case may be. Dean and Blair had met when Blair was staying with some friends in Denver one summer. Could have been ten years ago? They had been like two peas in a pod then, both scrawny with long hair and a bit height challenged. People were always mistaking them for brothers, although Dean's eyes were this amazing green that girls loved. They had written and phoned over the last few years, keeping in touch, but Blair hadn't seen Dean in years.

It should be good for a change of scenery. But he wondered if he would trade rainy Cascade for dry, dry Oklahoma...and people who wouldn't know about the diss, and far away from his extremely hard bodied and sexy sentinel? 'No, not mine...never mine,' Blair thought in sadness.

Blair could have flown, but he needed the time to process what had happened...or maybe some little part of him just wanted to make it a little harder in case Jim tried to find him. Not that he would...he was probably already boxing up all of Blair's things.

He knew that he had betrayed Jim, broken his trust. 'But how am I going to do this? God, I miss him already.' Blair wiped at the sudden tears that were prickling his eyes.

28 April - Cascade: Cascade Police Station

"Jim...Earth calling Jim...ELLISON!" Simon bellowed from the doorway to his office. His hands were on his hips and his eyes on his lead detective. Jim's head snapped up, eyes focusing on the Captain. From the tone of his voice Jim figured the captain had called his name more than once.

The noise level in the bullpen dropped to zero, as everyone turned to look. Dropping the pen he was holding onto his desk, Jim got to his feet and headed toward the other man.

"Yes, sir." Jim stopped in front of him. Simon motioned inside, followed Jim in and closed the door.

"Sit, Jim," Simon said softly as he went around his desk and offered Jim a cup of coffee. Gratefully he accepted and sat down in one of the chairs.

As Simon sat, he asked with a concerned look, "What is with you? Is it because of Blair leaving?"

"Sorry, Simon. I'm just having difficulties focusing on the work today," Jim replied, running a hand around the back of his neck. "Yeah, probably," he added after a minute....

"I know Blair grounded you, kept your senses in whack," Simon said uncomfortably, while keeping a close eye on the other man's face. "Tell me the truth, Jim. How are your senses?"

"Pretty much gone, Simon. Sometimes I will catch a smell, a sound, or something but they just come and go." Jim shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. "I can still do the job without them, Simon. I did it for years before."

"I hope so, Jim. Listen, I need you and Rafe to run over to Hayesville Jewelers...they were robbed last night. No sign of forced entry, so it could be an inside job. Look around and see what you can find out." Simon handed a file over the desk to him. "Let me know if you need anything. And Jim, I do mean anything."

"Thanks, Simon." Jim got to his feet and left, pausing to grab his jacket and the other detective before heading cross town to the jewelers.

30 April - Oklahoma City

Blair finally arrived in Oklahoma City in the late afternoon, after three long days on the road, including one semi-miserable night sleeping in the rented Jeep outside of Table Rock, Wyoming.

Blair saw Dean as soon as he pulled into the motel parking lot, waiting for him at the front door, just like he had promised Blair. The long, straight, black hair was gone; replaced by a short military cut. A tight t-shirt and tighter jeans had replaced the baggy clothes he once favored. It registered that Dean had grown a good six inches and packed on about twenty-five pounds in the last ten years, but he still had the amazing green eyes that had drawn Blair to him in the first place.

Pulling up to a parking spot in front of Dean and killing the engine, Blair took a moment to look him over before getting out of the Jeep and giving him a big grin.

Dean walked right up to Blair and threw his arms around him. Blair was lifted off his feet in a giant bear hug. It wasn't a long one, couldn't be in this neck of the country. Then Blair was set back down and Dean stepped back. Looking up into his handsome and tanned face, Blair caught his breath and smiled at the heated gleam in those eyes.

"Gee, Bear, looks like I way outgrew you." He chuckled and wiggled his eyebrows.

"So what...why would I want to be that tall? Hit my head on things...no way, dude. I have enough issues without being black and blue from that." Blair answered seriously, then laughed, patting his own head.

"You look pretty good to me anyway. Where's your stuff? We can throw it in the room and then get something to eat if you're hungry."

"Just these two," Blair grabbed his bags from behind the seat. Dean took one and led the way into the motel. Handing Blair a key card, he opened the door and tossed the bag onto the nearest bed. Throwing down the other bag, Blair stripped off the flannel shirt and the sweaty t-shirt underneath. "Whew, it's hot here."

He went into the bathroom and splashed his face with cold water before wetting a washcloth and wiping his neck, arms, and chest off.

"I told you it was warm here. Well, at least warmer than Cascade. Today isn't even that warm," Dean said, snickering. "The room is air conditioned and so is my truck. Aren't you the one that always moaned because you were 'always' cold?"

"Yeah, yeah...I don't think I will be complaining about being cold here. Although I'm happy that I didn't decide to come later in the summer." Opening his bag, Blair grabbed a fresh t-shirt out and pulled it over his head.

"Late summer is too late to chase tornadoes, Bear." Dean slid on his sunglasses, the mirror image reflecting Blair's own tired face back at him. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes, I am." Blair's stomach rumbled right on cue, causing Dean to laugh and shake his head.

"Let's go fill that pit of yours," he replied. "That place across the street has the best food."

As soon as they were seated, Blair grabbed the menu, almost ravenous by then. His stomach continued to growl loudly and he took a large drink of water to assuage it.

"God, Bear." Dean shook his head, laughing.

"I'm sorry. I guess it's has been longer than I thought."

When the waitress returned, Blair ordered a chicken fried steak with all the trimmings, creamy broccoli soup, and a large salad. Finishing the order with a large order of sweetened ice tea, Blair handed the menu to the lady, and she disappeared. Dean stared at him a minute before a rueful smile came to his handsome face.

"I've really missed you, Blair. I can't believe it's been ten years. You still look," he paused, eyes roaming his old friend's face appreciatively before leaning across the table and whispering, "pretty fucking hot!"

Damn! Blair had thought by this age that he was pretty much done with the blushing thing, but darned if he didn't feel the flush come over his cheeks. Raising his eyes to Dean's, Blair was caught in the lustful look he saw there.

Thankfully, the waitress broke the spell, setting down the drinks and Blair's salad. Otherwise, he might have forgotten that they were in a public place and crawled over the table to Dean. Blair had forgotten what it was like to be desired by a man. All sweat, strength, and unimaginable pleasure....

Dean laughed as Blair purposefully directed the conversation back to what was going on in their lives. Blair told him about life in Cascade and before long, he found himself telling Dean the whole truth behind the disastrous dissertation, finding 'his' Holy Grail, the months of learning how to deal with Jim's senses, learning about police work; really pouring out everything.

Running out of words and steam, Blair sighed and finished, "I just don't know if he will ever trust me again after this."

"From what you're telling me, it wasn't your fault, Blair. It was that meddling mother of yours! God, she was always sticking her nose in trying to help you and it backfired on her every single time." Dean took a deep breath and blew it out noisily. "I'm sorry. You know I never saw eye-to-eye with Naomi."

"I know. It's okay. I'm still ticked at her myself." Finishing the last bite of his meal and pushing the plate away, Blair changed the subject. "So tell me about this project."

But before Dean could start telling him about what he was getting himself into for the next several weeks, Blair yawned; one of those 'dislocate your jaw' type yawns.

"Come on, Bear," Dean said as he grabbed the check. After paying the cashier, the two men walked back across the street to the motel. "You need sleep."

Once in the room, Blair grabbed some clothes from his bag, took a quick shower and brushed his teeth. Then, sitting with their backs against each headboard, Dean proceeded to tell Blair about his team.

"In the main chase vehicle are Jace and Jaedon Woodson. They're twins. They take turns driving, but Jaedon is responsible for helping our meteorologist, Sam Jenson, by watching whatever may need watching at that specific moment, and Jace helps with the recording equipment. They're young but very conscientious and smart. Tobi Montevega is the navigator and tells us where to go...and not just to catch the tornadoes, either." Dean chuckled. "She is very outspoken and decisive...most of the time."

"What do you mean?" Blair asked, trying to form a picture in his mind of these people.

"Well, she can't seem to decide which brother she wants. Jace or Jaedon. They don't seem to have issues sharing her; they say that they have been sharing everything all their lives, and as long as she doesn't pit them against one another I won't say anything." Dean winked at Blair. "I don't blame her. They're identical and smokin' hot. I'm not sure I could pick only one, either."

Blair started laughing but his mouth cracked open with a huge yawn. Dean snorted and said, "Okay, time for sleep."

Finding no good reason at the moment to struggle to stay awake, Blair turned on his stomach, pulled the sheet up around his shoulders, and slid into dreamland.

30 April - Cascade

Knocking on Simon's door, Jim waited for the response, and then headed in. As he dropped wearily into a chair, Simon looked up from his paperwork.

"The Hayesville Jewelry Store robbery was an inside job. One of their employees, Justin Monroe, had a huge debt with one of our better known bookies. Amazing what a threat breaking your kneecaps can be," Jim told him.

"Good job, Jim." Simon beamed at his lead detective. "Where's Rafe?"

"He's in booking, with the kid. He'll be up soon and we'll get the paperwork started." Jim leaned back and closed his eyes.

"Any word on the kid?" Simon asked.

Not bothering to open his eyes, Jim frowned and shook his head. "I don't even know where he went."

"But he said he'll be back, right?" Jim nodded and Simon continued, "Well, try not to worry...yeah, I know that he seems to attract trouble no matter where he goes. But I'm sure Sandburg will be back. He's invested."

"Invested, Simon? What the hell is that supposed to mean? We're almost forcing him into the police academy; his work is down the drain, and without the sentinel thing, why would he be invested in anything?" Jim's face showed a range of emotions, from anger to concern to loss. "Hell, I'd be gone."

"No, you wouldn't! Listen, Jim. I haven't said anything, because frankly it really isn't any of my business. But Sandburg...Blair...is here for more than the sentinel thing." Simon looked straight at Jim, waiting to see if the other man would buy a clue or he would have to spell it out for him.

Jim looked confused. Simon rolled his eyes and said, "He cares about you."

"Well yeah. I guess we are really good friends."

"Good grief, Jim. He loves you...he's 'in' love with you," Simon replied, getting up and moving around his desk to sit on the edge. He could see that Jim was trying to process that information.

"No way, Simon. He's just...well, he's Blair. He's like that with everyone. He's never shown the least interest toward me or any other man."

"Just telling you what I see. Simon smiled at the uncertain look on his friend's face. "Tell you what...why don't you take the weekend and relax. Go fishing or whatever... think, read, sleep... you know, relax."

Jim stood up and replied absently, "Yeah, Simon. Maybe I will. Now, I better go and help Rafe with the paperwork. Thanks."

"You do that."

At the door, Jim paused. Without turning to Simon, he said quietly, "Thanks for the heads up, Simon."

"Sure, Jim. Now get out of here and let me work," the Captain said gruffly. But he smiled as his best detective and good friend left. Sitting back down in his chair, he wondered where the kid was.

1 May - Oklahoma City

Blair woke up slowly, comfortable and warm in the sheets. It took him a minute to realize that he wasn't at home in the loft, sleeping on the futon. He didn't have to hurry and get to school or the station. Stretching, Blair felt the burn in muscles that were just starting to unclench after days on edge. He knew it was still night due to the lack of light through the space between the motel's curtains.

Hearing a soft snore, Blair turned his head, before rolling over on his side to admire at the form in the other bed. Dean was naked from the waist up, maybe even farther, but the sheet was covering the rest. He smiled when he saw the ankh tattoo at the base of his friend's spine; he had a matching one in the same spot on his back. There had been this wild party one night and the tattoos had been part of the aftermath. So was their short-lived sexual relationship.

Lost in his memories, Blair barely noticed when Dean turned over in the bed. It wasn't until he spoke that Blair looked up.

"Blair?"

He saw Dean's sleepy green eyes and a smile on his lips...then Blair watched him flip the sheet back to reveal his hard dick. "Interested?"

Blair stared at him for a moment, fighting the feeling that he was cheating on Jim, but shook himself out of that line of thinking. This was freely offered, with no strings attached. Tossing back the covers, Blair swung one leg out of bed, and was on top of Dean before the other man realized it.

It had been so long since he had felt a man's body next to him, the hard dick lying next to Blair's own, which was waking up and letting him know that it was just fine with this. Gazing into Dean's sleepy but desire laden eyes, Blair whispered, "I missed you."

Dean smiled and closed the inches between their lips. At first tasting, slowly and sweetly, then as the testosterone took over, with more strength until the room was heated both by their sweaty bodies and the sounds of their moans and whimpers.

Teeth scraped across Blair's skin, making the hair across his body stand on end. Blair tried to center his mind in the moment, but his heart kept wishing for Jim. Running his hand across Dean's short hair, he closed his eyes as he felt his friend's lips close around his dick. It was all he could do to bite back a moan that could have been Jim's name.

A condom was pressed into Blair's hand and he found himself lying over a broad back, kissing the vertebrae along the spinal column. Blair gently prepared Dean for his entry and when he entered him, he had to close his eyes and make a conscious effort to not cry out Jim's name, reminding himself all over again who he was with. But it didn't stop him from mindlessly moaning out Jim's name at the peak of his orgasm before slumping over and falling asleep.

1 May - Cascade

Tossing and turning in his loft bed, Jim was in the throes of a nightmare the likes of which he had never had before; Blair walking out the door into someone's arms, telling Jim that it was fun while it lasted, the 'maybe see ya around' type of goodbye. He woke awash in sweat, his heart beating a million miles an hour, grabbing for Blair and gasping his name, even though he knew he wasn't there.

Swinging his legs off the bed and sitting up, Jim put his head in his hands and tried to calm his heart. Finally feeling like he had a grasp on his emotions, he looked at the clock. 5 AM. He might as well get up...maybe take a run, get rid of some of the overwhelming feeling of loss he had. With a large sigh, Jim stood up, padding down the stairs and got into the shower...trying not to think about Blair.

Oklahoma City

Waking up for the second time definitely wasn't as interesting as the first. For one thing, Blair was alone, but he could hear the shower running in the other room. Sitting up and stretching, he noticed all the little aches and pains from the three days in the Jeep and the sex earlier.

Hearing the shower shut off, Blair sat up in the bed and pulled the covers over his lap. Dean walked out of the bathroom naked, using a towel to dry himself off. Looking over, Dean noticed that Blair was awake, but smiled ruefully and sat on the end of the bed.

"We've been always honest with each other, Blair, right?" Dean asked as he grabbed a pair of socks off the other bed and started to dress.

"Well, yeah, of course. What's wrong?"

"God, Blair, I don't know how to say this except right out...you screamed your roommate's name when you came," Dean said, shaking his head gently as he saw the embarrassment on Blair's face. "You know that we don't have that kind of relationship so I'm not mad or anything, but...I don't know, I guess I wanted to know what was going on. Why can't you tell him? Is he straight or God forbid, a homophobe?"

"Dean, oh man, I am truly sorry. Honestly, I wasn't purposefully thinking of him. I was here...with you! But it all just kept coming back to him." Blair closed his eyes in embarrassment and shame. "I don't think he hates gays or anything, but to look at this guy, man, you can't think he's anything but straight as an arrow. Ex-army ranger, cop, built, you know the type. And an ass you could bounce a quarter on."

"That hard, huh? Hmm.... I wouldn't mind a look at that myself." They both laughed, then Dean laid his hand over Blair's on the bedspread. "So, you haven't given him any signs?"

"No. I'm too chicken that he would throw me out on my ear. And I can't imagine not being around him. Even if it's just as his roommate." Blair took a deep breath, letting it out in a gust. "Okay, enough of this maudlin crap. I'm going to hop in the shower, then hopefully, you intend to feed me breakfast?"

"Ha ha, sounds good, Bear. We're rendezvousing with the rest of the team at the restaurant." When Blair stood up, Dean hugged him. "You know I'm always here for you, right?"

Blair hugged him back and laughed. "Thanks, Dean. And for what's it's worth I am sorry. I enjoyed being with you again."

"Hey, man...who wouldn't?" Dean waggled his eyebrows in jest and they both burst out laughing. "Go take your shower, pipsqueak."

Leaving Blair's rental at the motel, they headed out to meet the rest of Dean's team at a small strip mall on the western edge of Oklahoma City. He pulled around back and Blair got his first glimpse of the people he was going to learn from, practically live with, and chase storms with for the next couple of weeks.

They all gathered around Dean's truck as he pulled up and seemed as interested in looking Blair over as he was them. All had welcoming smiles on their faces except for one man hanging toward the back of the group. He looked faintly pissed, and Blair wondered what it could be about.

"All right, hush!" Dean said laughing. "Y'll are like dogs with a new toy. This is Blair Sandburg and he is going to be chasing with us for awhile. He has no experience so I'm counting on all of you to help answer his questions and watch out for him. Blair will be helping take pictures and video as well as learning some of the technical equipment. These two mutts are Jace and Jaedon. "

Blair could see immediately why Tobi had issues deciding which one she wanted. Tall and handsome men, with clear blue eyes and jet black hair, their cheekbones gave away some of their ethnic origins. In their early twenties, the only difference between the two appeared to be the length of their hair and one had small diamond studs in both ears. Blair thought the long haired twin would have looked right at home with riding bareback across the plains in deerskin with a tomahawk.

"Hey, Blair. I'm Jace," the short-haired one said. He tapped his brother on the chest, "This is my baby brother, Jaedon."

"Woopty doo. You're older by five whole minutes, you toad," Jaedon retorted. "Besides, you know that I'm the cuter one!"

"Yeah, in your dreams, dweeb...."

Blair just had to laugh. In some ways, they had the same camaraderie that Jim and he shared...well, used to share. Dean laughed at them and motioned Tobi to step forward. "This is Tobi."

"Hi, Mr. Sandburg." She was about Blair's height with white blonde hair and expressive brown eyes.

"Hi, Tobi." She was very pretty, and if he was still interested in female companionship, which he wasn't, she would have been on the top of Blair's phone list. "You can call me Blair."

"I'm Sam Jenson," said the man who was standing in the back. He came forward and offered his hand.

"Sam is the other meteorologist on the team," Dean said. "He and I have been working together the last several years. He seems to have a nose about tornadoes and where they will drop."

Sam turned his head to smile at Dean and Blair noted, with interest, that the expression in Dean's eyes warmed at the smile. There was something between the two of them and Blair was determined to find out what before he headed back to Cascade.

"Okay. Now that everyone knows the probie kid, let's get some breakfast, look at the reports, and see what the plan is for today." Dean jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the restaurant behind him. Jace (or maybe it was Jaedon, Blair had already forgotten which was which) let out a whoop and Tobi snorted beside him.

"He's always hungry," Tobi supplied. "I'm told it's the growing boy thing, but at twenty-four, I think it's just an excuse."

"Hey, baby, you know that Bette's has the best pancakes and it's all you can eat. What could be better?" They both linked arms with her, laughing and heading toward the restaurant. The rest of the crew followed behind.

"I already got us a table, they're holding it for us," Sam said as they entered the foyer. The waitress led them to a small room off the noisy main dining room; a room with an accordion door, where a table was set up with coffee and menus.

Gathering around the table, they took care of the first order of business - deciding what to eat. Blair was on his third cup of coffee before the waitress came back. That being done, Sam got up and moved to another table that Blair hadn't noticed when he first entered the room. The table held several area maps and a laptop.

"I think that we might have some activity toward the west today." Sam brought up a graphic on his laptop and pointed at the morning's radar report. "They had some rain in the Rockies last night and that air is moving toward us today. In fact, it might set up for several days of a cold front. With that heat wave in Texas, the odds are we might see some real rockin' storms."

"Do you know anything about radar?" Sam asked Blair.

"Well, let's see what I remember. Ah, the green is the lightest precipitation with the magenta being the heaviest."

"Very good, Mr. Sandburg," Sam replied. "We look for the storm bands and head to watch them. As the storms build, we look for rotation in the skies themselves, and on the radar, we look for a hook echo at the back of the storm. That's where tornadoes are formed."

"How do you know which thunderstorms will become tornadoes?" Blair queried.

"We truly don't. Only one in a thousand thunderstorms becomes a supercell, which are the basis of tornadic activity. And only one in six supercells might grow into a tornado." Dean tapped the panhandle of Texas. "Let's head down here, toward Amarillo. Then we can follow the storm line north."

Sam checked his watch and added, "It'll take us about four hours to get to Amarillo; about eleven hundred or so."

Hearing the clink of plates, the three men turned around to see the waitress setting their plates on the table. Jace and Jaedon had already started in on their food, while Tobi was waiting for the others to sit. Small talk came and went as the group ate their breakfasts and drank their way through several pots of coffee.

Soon, they were ready to head out and while Sam gathered his laptop and paperwork, Dean suggested a trip to the bathroom for all before they headed out. "It will be a while before we stop for gas, and unless you want to piss in a bottle, I suggest you hit the head."

Blair did as he was told, knowing that he really didn't want to make use of the bottle while Tobi was present. Soon, they all met out front and walked out to a strange looking vehicle that Blair hadn't noticed in the dim light of an hour ago.

"What the hell is that thing?" he asked Dean. It was about ten feet long, eight feet tall, and resembled a giant, silver robot boot.

"THAT is something that Sam and I designed and built about two years ago. We call it OTTER," Dean said, patting the metal shell.

"Which stands for what exactly?"

"Operational Tornado Tracking and Emergency Response," Dean explained. "Remember my little sister, Nancy? She came up with the name and it suits. We track them, and if needed, we can help with an emergency. We all have basic first aid training."

"Of course I remember her. She always had her nose buried in a book." Blair laughed and patted Dean on the back. "Lead on, my friend. Show me what OTTER is made of."

Opening the door, Dean ushered Blair inside. It was small and pretty cramped. There were six seats, one of which faced toward the rear, surrounded by computer terminals, gauges, and a Doppler radar screen.

"We have the smallest Doppler radar unit in the world. It can bounce the lasers all the way to ground level. Most Dopplers stop at thirty feet. This can be a huge asset when you can't see the tornado, either because of debris or moisture distortion, or at night."

"We also have a hygrometer, which measures humidity, an anemometer, which measures wind speeds, a GPS unit, satellite phone and Internet hook-ups, ham and citizen's band radios, and of course, a barometer and thermometer," Sam added, pointing out the items which were on the inside. "If there is room for something, we put it in."

Blair took a step back as Sam tried to slide by him, but realized the truth about the cramped quarters when the older man had to brush against him to move to the other end of the vehicle. He also noticed that Sam slid behind Dean, lingering there a moment as he tapped a gauge above Dean's head.

"We're going to leave our vehicles in the parking lot," Dean said. "I have an agreement with the owner."

As the rest of the crew got in and took their seats, Blair settled, and fastened his seat belt. When Jace started up the vehicle, Blair was surprised at how quiet the interior was. He asked Dean the reason for this.

"That was Sam's doing," he replied, turning to smile at the man sitting in front of the computer terminals. "He thought since we would be spending hours in here at a time, that we should be able to listen to music or talk, without the added background noise of the Cummins diesel engine. Somehow, he came up with a way to soundproof it."

Sam nodded but seemed to be only paying a small amount of attention to the conversation as he was going over minute by minute weather reports. Tobi turned in her seat and asked Blair what had brought him out tornado chasing with them.

"Well, I've been partnered with a detective in Washington for the past three years and just decided to attend the police academy next month. Dean has been telling me about his experiences in emails over the last year and had extended several invitations. I decided to take him up on it, before the cop life of never ending bad guys becomes permanent."

"I thought Dean said you were a teacher or something."

"I did teach some anthropology courses," Blair said, hoping she wouldn't ask more questions. But, as usual, what Blair wanted and what he got, were two separate things.

"So why change anthropology for being a cop? I would think that those two careers are so far apart that you wouldn't even think about it," Sam piped up from the back, turning in his seat just in time to catch Blair's look of discomfort.

"Not as far as you might think. I was going to do my dissertation on the closed police society; you know, brothers in blue, the thin blue line type of thing. But I figured I would have a more meaningful impact on society if I wore the badge instead of teaching about it."

"Tell us about this cop you work with." This came from Jaedon, sitting in the front seat with a laptop mounted in front of him.

"Well, ah, his name is Jim Ellison. He's been a cop for almost ten years. Before that he was an Army Ranger."

"Ellison, Ellison. Why does that name ring a bell?" Sam thought out loud. "Oh, I remember. He was on the cover of a magazine. Something about him being the only survivor of a helo crash, presumed KIA for almost two years...right?"

"Yeah, that's him." Blair turned around in his seat, looking toward the front of the vehicle and hoped that there would be no further questions about Jim. He was missing him terribly and wondered what he was doing. Hours later, Blair looked up at Jace's shout. He could see the huge storm system out his window to the left and suddenly saw the small rope funnel protruding through the tail of the storm. "It's so small. It hardly looks dangerous."

"Something that size doesn't usually do too much damage. We're out in a fairly unpopulated area. That might tear some shingles off. And that storm doesn't look organized enough to throw out a big twister. Not right now, anyway," Dean answered, snapping pictures. "Why don't you pull over, Jace?"

Jace pulled the rig to the side of the road and everyone but Sam, who was busy mapping oncoming storm possibilities, climbed out. Blair brought his camera up and focusing on the rope funnel he could still see hovering in mid air, started taking pictures. The only sounds they could hear were the cars passing by them.

"Hey!" Sam shouted from inside OTTER. "We've got a really good looking storm about forty miles north northeast of here. Let's head up there."

Blair was not sad to get into the strange vehicle and get moving. What he had seen so far was fascinating but he was truly hoping to see a tornado. Within minutes, they were all strapped in and heading north until they were able to find a road that Sam deemed hopeful in their quest for catching the next storm.

Within an hour, they had moved in close enough to catch the rear flanking downdrafts of the storm. The vehicle was rocking back and forth, and rain started pelting the roof.

Dean grabbed Blair's arm and shouted over to him, "Noisy isn't it?"

Blair looked over at his friend with wide eyes and queried, "Are we that close?"

"We're in the RFD. That's the Rear Flanking Downdraft. Here we get the wind and sometimes the rain. If we were in front, we would be getting the hail in the forefront of the storm," Dean explained, with his mouth close to Blair's ear.

Blair happened to glance back toward the computer screens at Sam's station but instead glimpsed his face, which was full of longing. The scientist noticed Blair watching him and quickly turned back to his instruments.

"It should pass in a minute. It looks like this one is dying out," Sam yelled, and then looked sheepish when he realized the wind had died and quiet had descended again.

"There it goes." Jaedon pointed at the funnel retreating into the clouds which were dissipating quickly, leaving the sun shining over the Texas panhandle.

The team got out of the vehicle and marveled at the freshness of the air. There was even a rainbow over the area, which Blair snapped pictures of, along with the members of the crew.

Soon, they were back in the rig and heading to the next area where Sam thought a storm cell looked promising. This was the course of the next three days...checking satellite photos, listening to weather reports, and Sam's uncanny way of predicting where a tornado might drop.

3 May - Cascade

Jim walked into Simon's office and dropped the file folder on his desk. "That's the file on the Topeka case."

"Great. The DA has been on me all day about it. I'll get the courier to take it over to their office. That should get them off my ass for today at least," Simon replied with a large smile on his face. "Coffee?"

"Sounds great, Simon." Jim sat down and accepted the hot cup that Simon handed to him. "Since that's done, would I be able to get out of here early?"

"Well, yeah, Jim. Geez man, you work harder than most of them anyway. Sure. No problem. Got any plans?"

"Not really. Maybe just laze around the house. Don't know yet. Just...I don't know, feel the need to do something." Jim shrugged, uncomfortable with something that he couldn't put words to yet.

"Okay. If you need anything, give me a call. I'll see you tomorrow," Simon answered. He had come to understand the almost symbiotic relationship that Blair and Jim had developed and wondered how the young man was doing.

3 May - Oklahoma

By Monday morning, Blair was getting good at reading the instrumentation and was excited at taking so many pictures of such beautiful storm clouds. They had covered over three thousand miles by this time, from the panhandle of Texas to the northern part of Nebraska. Now they were sitting at a mom and pop diner outside of Enid, Oklahoma, discussing how to approach that day.

"Looks like the Rockies have a good system passing right now. It should peak over us this afternoon and evening." Sam pointed out the storm on his laptop. "I suggest we go to the southwest of Oklahoma City; early afternoon or so. We should be able to catch something."

Dean nodded, agreeing with Sam. After eating a hardy breakfast, they were off. They were getting a later than usual start, but since most of the storms came in the afternoon, they all felt that the delay was fine.

Heading out from Enid, the team hit the highway. Wichita Falls, Texas was their destination. The first weather reports of the day were coming in, and they were predicting hot and humid.

By the time they hit the Oklahoma-Texas state line, almost four hours later, there were several counties in Northern Texas and Southern Oklahoma that were under Severe Thunderstorm Watches.

"A watch, be it thunderstorm or tornado, covers the next six hours. They will re-issue it if it's necessary," Sam explained to Blair. "It becomes a warning for a thunderstorm, if it produces one inch hail or larger. That's about the size of a quarter. Wind speed is another issue. For a tornado, it's changed to a warning if one is spotted. Sometimes the radar will catch it. Other times, it has been tornado spotters."

By four o'clock in the afternoon, they were watching several strong systems moving north-northeast. Sam and Dean conferred over the radar screens and maps, while the others stood outside of the OTTER. Blair was photographing the clouds swirling above and around them and trying not to feel the nervousness of the others.

They all were wearing grim looks on their faces. He caught Tobi's eye and sputtered out the question on his mind. "What's going on? What am I missing?"

Jaedon answered him without taking his eyes off the northern sky. "It looks like these systems might collide. If that happens, it could be the biggest tornado ever seen."

"Is that what Dean and Sam are looking at? To see if they are on a collision course?"

Jace nodded and pointed, "There's one dropping."

Blair looked where Jace indicated and saw a delicate and wispy funnel drop out of the clouds. By the time it hit the ground, it looked huge. A debris cloud totally obscured the funnel itself. This was sometimes a bigger danger because the cloud was blinding to those watching.

"Let's go!" Dean yelled from inside the rig. "They've passed us and are headed away. We need to try to keep up with them. Watch for funnels. If these merge into one huge storm, we need to get the warning out quickly."

Several times over the next couple of hours, the team watched tornadoes drop from the three storm systems. None of them stayed down for any longer than an hour and so far, no buildings had been hit. One had crossed the highway several times, catching the OTTER and its occupants.

Blair was scared to death and he was pretty sure he wasn't the only one. The wind picked up quickly as they came up over the crest of a hill. The hail hit and they found themselves being bombarded by hail stones the size of tennis balls.

"Crap! Tennis ball size means the updrafts are in the area of 77 MPH. Jaedon, fire the bolts," Dean yelled, smacking Jaedon on the shoulder.

Jaedon reached up to a red button on the dashboard, hitting it with his palm. Blair heard four 'pops' that Dean had explained earlier were shotgun shells that propelled foot-long stakes into the ground to hold the vehicle in place. Since the vehicle had been sliding into the ditch and yanked to a halt, Blair figured the spikes had done their job.

They could hear the howling of the wind all around them, but all they could do was hang on and wait for it to pass. Sam's instruments were still reading wind speed and he yelled out the number, "One-sixty, one sixty-five, ONE-SEVENTY."

Blair happened to catch Tobi's eye and noticed that she looked absolutely terrified, Blair fought to keep his own panic down. They were jolted by the high winds and rain, but they stayed in place at the edge of the road. And then, all of a sudden, it was over. The vehicle stilled and the noise ceased.

"It pulled up. It's over," Sam said, relief evident in his voice. Dean unbuckled himself and moved to open the door of the vehicle. As soon as he did, the team piled out of what they'd thought might end up being their coffin.

"I don't ever want to do that again," Tobi cried. Both Jace and Jaedon hugged her tightly.

Sam was standing shoulder to shoulder with Dean, watching the cloud continue its path to the northeast. Blair noticed their fingers touch and he realized his earlier thoughts about Sam were right. He cared about Dean. Blair watched Dean turn his head to give the other man a puzzled look, before shyly smiling at him. Evidently mutual then, he thought.

It only served to make Blair feel more alone. As soon as this week was over, he would go home to Jim, the academy, and whatever relationship he could have with his sentinel. If they were destined to just be friends...well, so be it.

Dean turned to Blair and asked him if he was okay. Blair nodded and gave Dean a shaky smile. "Never better. But I'm with Tobi.... Let's not do that again. At least while I'm here."

"Yeah, we'll try. But now, we need to keep following these storms. People need to be informed as quickly as possible," Sam responded.

The team hopped back in, disconnected the spikes, and started up the highway. It was slow going, as they had to drive around debris in the road. Some items were recognizable as tables and couches, but most were formless pieces of lumber and metal.

As darkness fell, the three storm cells the team had been chasing collided. Soon, they saw multiple funnels dropping and Sam immediately put in a call of warning to the Storm Prediction Center.

"This is Sam Jenson from the Northern Oklahoma Storm Research Center. We are heading north on Highway 81. The system we are following was three cells, now one huge cell. They spawned multiple tornadoes before combining; now we have one system with three touchdowns so far. It's headed north north-east at approximately 60 MPH, toward Highway 92. If it continues on this path it will hit OKC. To repeat--it will hit OKLAHOMA CITY."

Blair couldn't hear the other side of the conversation but as soon as Sam laid the phone down, warning tones came over the speakers that sat above their heads.

"BEEP BEEP BEEP"

"BEEP BEEP BEEP"

"Tornado emergency in Grady County. At 6:57 PM, several large tornadoes were moving toward Highway 92, on a heading of north north-east. On its present path, this large, damaging system will enter the southwest sections of Oklahoma City between 7:30 and 7:45. Persons in Grady, Canadian, and Oklahoma counties should take immediate tornado precautions! This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation. If you are in the path of this large and destructive tornado, take cover immediately! Doppler radar indicates that this storm may contain destructive hail to the size of baseballs or larger. We will continue to keep you updated as we can on this radio channel."

Blair could feel his heart pounding in his chest and almost wished that he had stayed in Cascade. At least there the terror was in small doses, not this all encompassing fear that he felt at the moment. Not just for himself and his fellow tin-can captives, but for the people in the path of this monster.

All they could do was try to keep up with the storm and call out information about the path and strength. As they came across a small hill, they could see the lights in the town in front of them blink out. When the group got closer, they could see that the tornado had hit Morgan, Oklahoma--population 3,005, according to the city limit sign.

"We have to stop and help where we can," Blair cried out, looking at the destruction around them. People were beginning to emerge from whatever shelter they had taken. There were cries of horror and terror in the stillness. "It looks like a bomb went off here."

"No, we follow the storm," Sam stated.

"We stop." Dean held up a hand, waving off Sam's protest. "There are others out there watching the system. We are the first responders here."

Jaedon pulled off the road in as clear of a spot as he could find, making sure that there was a path for any other responders. They hopped out of the vehicle and Blair followed Jace around to the rear compartment, which he opened. Removing bright orange backpacks, he handed them one to each person.

"These contain water, flashlights, a thermal blanket, and a strobe light to call for help. We team up in twos. Go find who you can, help who you can. If you need immediate medical attention, turn on your strobe light. Hopefully the town's emergency personnel are able to get here soon. If there is one left," Jace instructed, showing no sign of the carefree young man that Blair had met only days before. "Team up. Jaedon take Tobi; Dean, you and Sam. Blair, you're with me."

They took intersecting streets, calling for anyone that might need help. Several houses on the block were completely destroyed, but Blair could see a white shape that looked like it was moving. As he traversed the debris, Jace called to him to stay nearby.

Blair called that he was just going to check around the foundation that remained and trotted there as quickly as he could, dodging pieces of lumber, freezers, and other bits of peoples lives.

Arriving where he thought he saw someone moving, he was heartbroken to find a small child, obviously dead. "Oh, little one, I am so, so sorry. Where are your parents?" he murmured to the tiny form lying in the debris, feeling the sting of tears in his eyes.

Catching a noise, Blair turned his head and could hear someone calling for help. Wishing that Jim were with him, he leapt to his feet, yelling to Jace that he had someone alive. Running toward the noise, he suddenly tripped over a large branch. Putting his hands out in front to catch him as he hit, he was surprised to feel the earth was actually wood and it broke under his weight. Falling was the last thing of which Blair was aware.

3 May - Cascade

In the loft, Jim was tossing and turning in the throes of a nightmare. Everywhere he looked, was a jungle of debris. It looked like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion and it seemed like he was the only person alive.

"Blair, Blair, where are you?" Jim walked around and tried to concentrate his hearing to see if he could detect anything. His guide's heartbeat was ingrained in his mind and he knew he was listening for that specific sound. Coming around the corner of a partial building wall, he could see a figure across the yard from him. The sound he was hearing clearly was the heartbeat of his guide. But as he ran across the grassy area, he was horrified to see Blair impaled on a branch of a tree. Jim dropped to his knees at the base of the tree, sobbing.

"You didn't save me, Jim. How could you abandon me? I needed you and you didn't stand up for me and help." Dead Blair raised his head, staring at Jim through milky eyes. "You couldn't love me so you figured I was disposable?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't know. How could I?"

"It was right in front of you!"

"Blair!" Jim yelled, reaching up as if to take Blair's hands. "Don't leave me."

Jim's watch alarm started beeping and he stared at it in stupefaction, wondering why he had set it. As Dead Blair started cackling, Jim woke up covered in sweat, tangled in the blankets, and realized it was the phone beeping.

"Blair?" Half of him was still lost in the nightmare and the name that spilled from his lips was almost a scream.

There was silence for a moment, and then a man's voice asked, "Ellison? Jim Ellison?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry, ah, speaking. Who's this?" Jim questioned, sitting up in bed and trying to free his feet from the tangle of the sheets. He wiped his brow with the corner of the sheet and thought, disgustedly, that he would have to do laundry tomorrow. Catching a quick glimpse of the clock, he amended that to today.

"My name is Dean Spencer. I'm in Oklahoma," the man said.

"Yeah, okay," Jim replied, getting up and trotting down the stairs to get a glass of water.

"Blair didn't call you, did he?"

"Blair's with you?" Jim stopped in his tracks, his hearing sharpening at the man's nervous heartbeat.

"Not at the moment. Dammit, Blair. He was supposed to call you and let you know where he was. I guess he didn't get the chance to." Dean exhaled sharply.

"Where is he? Let me talk to him." Jim sat down hard on the steps, sure that he wasn't going to like what this man had to tell him.

"Ah, well, that's why I'm calling. We are in Morgan, Oklahoma. A F5 tornado came through town and we were helping with search and rescue. Blair was out with one of my team and we couldn't make contact with them. We searched the area that they headed to and found my man unconscious from getting hit on the head by debris. We haven't been able to find Blair."

Jim headed up to his bedroom, grabbing a bag out of the closet. He growled into the phone, "How long has he been missing?"

"Almost two hours. I'm sorry. There's no polite way to say this. I know about your, ah, special talents. You may be the only one who can find Blair," Dean said earnestly.

"He told you?" Jim stopped dead in the midst of checking his ready bag for necessary items.

"Yeah. We've been friends for years. He needed someone to talk to that he knew he could trust not to tell anyone else," Dean replied. "Can you come?"

"Of course I'll come. I need to make arrangements and I'll call you back when I have more info. What's your number?" Jim tossed some clothes in another bag, and after zipping both up, he turned to pull clothes from his dresser.

"Actually, I have a cousin that flies a Cessna out of Tahoma City Airport. How soon can you be there?"

Jim calculated the distance in his head, replying tersely, "An hour and a half."

"Good. His name is Peter Carlson and he will be waiting for you at the main gate. Know where it is?"

"I'll find it." Jim scribbled down the phone number that Dean gave him and gave him his number in return. After obtaining a promise from Dean to call if they found Blair, Jim took a quick shower, got dressed, and after grabbing his bags, exited the loft.

On the road to Tahoma, Jim called Simon to fill him in and let him know where he was headed. Simon wished him luck and offered prayers, demanding a telephone call as soon as Jim knew something. Jim could tell by the other man's voice that he was concerned about Blair.

When he was done with the call, Jim put the bubble light on top of his truck, and hopped on Interstate 5. The blue light cleared a path, although the traffic was fairly light for a Monday evening. All Jim could think about was that it might be too late.

Arriving at the small airport just a little over an hour and a half later, he saw a man at the gate and pulled up. The gate slid open and he drove the truck through. The man closed the gate and ran up to Jim's truck. Jim opened the door and he got in.

"Hi. Pete Carlson. You must be Ellison." Without waiting for an answer, the man motioned off to the right side of the field. "My plane is over next to that hanger. You can park your truck inside while I'm doing my pre-flight."

Jim nodded his understanding and raced over to the hanger Pete indicated, barely noticing the man grab onto the dashboard to stop from sliding across the seat. Stopping next to the plane, he allowed the man to jump out before driving into the hanger and parking it. Tucking the keys above the sun visor, he hopped out, and grabbed his bags from behind the driver's seat, before running out to the small plane.

Opening the side door and tossing his bags behind the seat, Pete handed him a headset, waiting until he donned it, before telling him they were ready to go.

Jim nodded and said a quick thank you.

Soon they were in the air and starting the long flight to Chickasaw, which Pete told him was the nearest airport that was open at the moment; Will Rogers Airport was closed due to heavy debris and damage.

Jim settled back into his seat and tried to catch some sleep, knowing that once he arrived, he wouldn't rest until he found Blair one way or another!

4 May - Oklahoma

Jim started awake at the tap on his arm by Pete who waited until Jim looked at him before turning the cockpit communicator on. "We'll be landing in about twenty minutes."

"Thanks, Pete. I really appreciate the ride. If I can ever do anything for you, let me know," Jim said earnestly. He pulled a business card out of his wallet and handed it to him.

"Any friend of Dean's is a friend of mine. I'll say a prayer that you find your friend." Pete tucked the card into his shirt pocket and started his landing checklist with Jim helping. Jim barely noticed the smooth landing. His mind was focused on his partner and guide.

"Good. Dean's truck is right there," Pete said as they taxied to the hanger. Jim looked over to where he was pointing and saw a large pickup with the engine running. His vision tunneled in to see a good-looking man of about thirty in the driver's seat. He was on the phone and flashed his lights at them.

"Thanks again, Pete." Jim exited the cockpit and grabbed his bags. He shut the door, lightly tapping the window with his hand, and hurriedly trotted to the pickup. Throwing his bags in the back, Jim hopped in the passenger seat and buckled up. Turning to the driver, he introduced himself. "Jim Ellison."

"Dean Sinclair. I wish we had met under different circumstances." Dean shook Jim's outstretched hand, then put the truck in gear, and wheeled it around to exit the field. "It will take us about an hour to get there. Once we get closer, there will be a lot of debris on the road, although the highway department is trying to clear it as quickly as they can."

"Is there any word?" Jim said tersely, wishing like hell that he was driving, but since this man was the one who knew where he was going, he had to sit and will the truck to fly.

"No," Dean replied, keeping his eyes on the road. The truck was pushing sixty-five but when they hit the edge of the debris covered area, they would have to slow to a virtual crawl. "The other guy that was with him, Jace, hasn't regained consciousness. But we have the area down to a block. We just can't seem to find him. It's almost like he disappeared into thin air."

Jim was surprised to hear Dean chuckle under his breath and growled at the other man. "What?"

"Just remembering something from when we were kids. These bullies would try to beat us up at least once a week. Blair found a hole for us to crawl in and I swear he pulled it in around us. They would look for hours all over the general area, but they never found us." Dean's emotions finally came to the surface after hours of hanging on the edge of desperation. He choked up and blinked furiously, trying to clear his eyes of the welling water.

"I'll find him. Trust me on this." Jim laid his hand on the other man's shoulder, trying to share his confidence.

"What Blair said is true? You have heightened senses?" Dean asked, pulling a hankie from his rear pocket and wiping his eyes.

"Yes. It's true. And he's my partner, my guide. Without him, I would be a blathering idiot. We save each other all the time," Jim said, taking a deep breath. He could smell the fires on the breeze already; they were getting close.

"We're getting close," Dean confirmed a few minutes later, slowing down as they started seeing mud and debris on the roadway. Slowly driving around it, sometimes having to use the 4-wheel drive to go off-road, they made their way into town where Dean parked next to a huge aluminum-looking vehicle.

Jim could smell the death, smoke, and natural gas in the air. There seemed to be people everywhere and lights set up along the edge of what remained of the road.

Dean hopped out without waiting for Jim and ran to an older looking man. "Any word on Blair or Jace?"

"Jace is awake. He doesn't remember much at the moment. Says the last time he saw Blair, he was yelling that he heard someone calling for help. Jace was running to help and that's the end of his recollection," Sam answered, pulling Dean toward him in a hug. The men clung to each other for a moment, sharing relief that Jace was awake but still concerned over Blair's whereabouts.

Sam turned to Jim, who had joined them after retrieving his ready-pack, and introduced himself. "Hi, Sam Jenson. Jim Ellison, right?"

Jim took the offered hand and responded affirmatively. "Hi. Can you take me to the area where Blair was last seen, please."

"Sure. I just came from there. I needed fresh batteries for my flashlight. Let's go." Sam started leading the way down the block.

"I need you both to do a couple of things for me. Keep the light away from my face and once we get to the area, be quiet, okay?"

They both agreed to Jim's requests as Sam led the way to the edge of a property at the end of the block. "Last time that Jace saw Blair, he was moving that way."

"Okay, be still now." Jim closed his eyes and took a deep breath, starting to filter out all of the smells in the air. He was looking for the specific scent of his guide--Blair's underlying personal scent. There were so many smells; food, death, fire, gas, wood, and ozone. He dug his fingernails into his palms and kept himself from zoning. He felt a hand on his shoulder and knew it was Dean lending support; or maybe Blair had explained that touch helped 'ground' him.

"He's here." Jim frowned, trying to locate the slight whiff he had gotten off the breeze. He opened his eyes and peered through the darkness, picking his way through the debris. Moving his head slightly from side to side, he made his way to a huge large fallen tree. He could see a scrape along one of the limbs and a bit of denim on another. "He's somewhere around here...BLAIR...BLAIR...!"

Listening for any sound of Blair, Jim cautiously made his way around the tree, finding a deep hole in between several of the larger branches. He made his way to the edge of the hole, being careful of his footing. He could smell the rotten wood and didn't want to fall through. Jim knelt at the edge with Sam and Dean moving behind him, carefully keeping the light away from his face.

"I see him. He's down at the bottom of this. Looks like an old barn cellar or something. It's about twenty feet down." Jim pulled his pack off and removed a coil of rope. Sam grabbed the end and tied it around the tree, smiling faintly as Jim checked the knots. "Here's the plan. I'm going to go down there and assess his condition. One of you needs to stay up here and the other go get help. We're going to need a stretcher and a couple of more guys to pull him up."

They nodded and Sam took off at a trot. He had been here on scene for hours and met the people in charge. He would find who he could to help them in their rescue effort.

"Be careful," Dean whispered to Jim.

Jim looked up at him and grinned. "He's alive. Let's hope he isn't too badly hurt."

Carefully, Jim lowered himself into the hole, cringing as bits of dirt and grass fell onto Blair's motionless body. He could hear Blair's heartbeat; it was strong and steady. He landed with one leg on either side of Blair and called up to Dean. "Can you toss my pack down?"

Dean's face came into view over the edge of the hole and his hand dangled the pack for a moment before dropping it. Jim caught it lightly and moved to carefully kneel next to Blair.

"Blair. Can you wake up for me?" Jim ran his hands over the still body of his friend. Gently he combed through the brown hair, down his neck and over his torso; searching for injuries. Then he moved his hands lightly down both arms, locating a broken left wrist. Jim checked down both of his legs, finding swelling in the left ankle but thankfully, no more broken bones. Between those two things, Blair would be okay, if they could get him out of this hole before he became hypothermic due to the chilly temperature below ground. He softly kissed his friend on the forehead and whispered his name again. "Blair?"

He saw no signs of returning consciousness from his friend and quickly pulled out the thermal blanket from his pack, tucking it around Blair. Jim could hear people coming, and within minutes, a light shone down into his eyes, temporarily blinding him, before it was pulled away by Dean.

"What's your situation down there?" Jim could see a man with a white Fire Chief helmet on. He was keeping his flashlight aimed away from Jim's face.

"I have a 29-year-old male, he's got a broken wrist and swelling in the left ankle. No signs of head trauma. He is breathing and has a steady heart rate," Jim yelled up.

"You have medical training, son?" the Fire Chief questioned.

"Yes, sir. I was an Army medic," Jim replied. "If you can send down some supplies to splint his wrist and wrap up his ankle, and a stretcher, I can get him set up and you can haul him up."

"Need help down there?"

"No, sir. He's my partner. I'll do it." Jim smoothed Blair's hair back from his face, knowing the man up above couldn't see his actions.

"Okie dokie. Here comes the splint bag down and when you're ready, we'll send down the stretcher." A rope with a red bag slid slowly down as Jim watched. "Name's Roy, by the way. Chief Whitlock if y'll need the formality."

"Jim Ellison, Roy. Cascade PD in Washington State." Jim untied the bag from the rope and set it aside. Calling up to the surface, he asked for the stretcher. It came over the edge of the hole, dropping bits of board and dirt down. He shielded Blair from the worst of the deluge but one large clod glanced off his head. Jim was surprised to hear a low moan from Blair.

"Blair? If you can hear me, try not to move." Jim placed the stretcher to the side and started immobilizing Blair's wrist and foot. He saw the other man moving his head slowly from side to side, trying to wake up.

"Jim?" Blair replied weakly. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm playing Blessed Protector, Chief. You were lost and your buddy, Dean, called me." Jim finished tending to his injuries and moved to the other side of Blair, dragging the litter basket closer to Blair's side. "Think you can help me a little? I need to get you in this basket so we can get you out of here."

Blair nodded groggily, wincing as Jim lifted his wrapped ankle up and held his arm out of the way. Blair was able to push up with his good arm and leg, gaining the inches he needed to lay in the basket. Jim put the thermal blanket back around him and strapped him in.

"Keep your eyes closed," Jim warned. "They're going to pull you up and I'll be up in a second."

"Yeah," Blair replied, not quite with the program, but as usual, he put his trust in his friend.

Jim yelled up to the people on the surface, "He's in. Slowly and gently; he's almost awake."

He heard the order given and helped steady the litter as it rose off the ground, slowly rising to the earth above. Within minutes, Jim was holding one end of the litter, Dean at the other end, walking toward an ambulance waiting in the cul-de-sac. Blair was still not fully conscious, which made Jim glad, although he knew the bumps, bruises, and broken bones would hurt more later.

A medic helped load Blair in the ambulance, not even giving Jim a second glance as he hopped in and sat next to his friend. "We're taking the injured to a hospital about thirty miles away. It was the only one in this area that wasn't hit by the twister. Oklahoma-Providence took a direct hit."

Blair stirred only fitfully during the seemingly endless drive. At long last, they pulled into the ambulance bay and Jim watched them wheel Blair into the trauma ward and close the door in his face, promising to get back to him as soon as they could. He listened to Blair's steady heartbeat, reassuring himself that Blair was alive.

Knowing there was nothing at the moment he could do, Jim headed toward the restroom and washed his hands and face. Remembering his promise to call Simon when he had news, he left word at the information desk that he was going to step outside to make a call.

"Hi, Simon," Jim said when the other man answered the phone. "We've got Blair. He's got a broken wrist and I think he wrenched his ankle badly. Bumps and bruises, but he'll be all right."

"Great! That's wonderful news, Jim," Simon replied. "Where was he?"

"He was at the bottom of an old cellar or something. It looks like he fell into it when he was out looking for victims. You know Blair." Jim gave a small and shaky laugh. "Oh man...."

"What time is it there?"

"Almost 3 AM. As soon as I talk to the doctor about Blair, I'll try to get some sleep. I'm not any good to him if I'm tired and cranky." Jim ran a hand over the back of his neck. Now that Blair was safe, he was starting to feel the exhaustion of the last hours.

"And after you both get some rest, you can tell him how you feel. I've known you for a lot of years, Jim. And the changes in your behavior, attitude, and general demeanor have changed ten fold since he came traipsing into your life." Simon snorted. "You two belong together."

"You know I didn't realize exactly what I felt for him until we had that talk a couple of days ago...geez, it seems like a lifetime ago at the moment." Jim shook his head. "But thanks, Simon for the heads-up."

"Sure Jim. That's what good friends are for...to kick you in the ass when you can't see the truth. Update me when you can. And get some sleep." With that, Simon hung up.

Jim took a deep breath and wandered back into the hospital. He bought a hot cup of coffee from the vending machine and was debating about getting something to eat, when he heard his name called by a man at the other end of the corridor.

"I'm Jim Ellison," he said, hurrying to meet the man.

"Doctor Jackson. I've been assessing your friend, Blair Sandburg. They told me that you said he had a broken wrist. How did you know that?" the doctor questioned.

"I felt the deformities," Jim said. "I've dealt with broken bones before; on myself and others. I'm a cop in Washington, but I was an Army Ranger and have medical training."

The doctor nodded, not convinced, but too weary to question him further. "We splinted his wrist, wrapped his ankle--it’s just twisted--and did a head CT. He's got a hard head, hasn't he?"

"You don't know the half of it, Doc.," Jim chuckled, then queried, "Are you going to keep him overnight?"

"We're a small place and he isn't one of our more seriously injured patients. He's awake and even though he doesn't remember how he got here, he is remarkably coherent. Can you stay with him?”

"Of course I can. I need to find a motel room. Is there a comfortable one close? But I don't have a vehicle, are there any taxis running tonight?

The doctor looked him over and pulled his keys out of his pockets. "Again, under normal circumstances I would never do this, but take my car. There is a little place about a mile down the road. I'll draw you a map. Tell the night clerk I sent you, she's my sister-in-law."

"Thank you, Dr. Jackson. You don't know how much I appreciate it." Jim smiled broadly at the man, shaking his hand and taking the offered keys. "I'll return your car tomorrow afternoon."

"Sounds fine and you're welcome. Mr. Sandburg is in Trauma Room C. Down the hall and to the right. I'll send someone in with his pain prescriptions, instructions, and the directions to the motel." With a nod of his head, Dr. Jackson turned and headed back down the hall.

Before finding Blair, Jim decided he should let Dean know what was going on. Finding the number on the cell phone, Jim rang him and gave him a quick update. He also let him know about the doctor's offer and the motel. He couldn't tell the other man the name but made a promise to call so they could get together in a day or so; Dean wanting to see Blair in person.

That done, Jim swiftly located the correct trauma room and was happy to see Blair in a recliner, wrapped in a blanket looking dirty and tired, but alive.

"Jim?" Blair whispered, raising his head slightly to see his friend. "I thought you were a figment of my imagination, but you're really here?"

"I'm here, Chief," Jim said as he pulled a chair over to sit by him. "Your buddy, Dean, called me last night and told me you were missing. It seems like he had this idea that I might be the only one that could find you, special senses and all."

"Oh God, Jim, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have told him, but I just had to tell someone that I wasn't a frau...." Blair was cut off mid rant when Jim his hand gently over his mouth.

"It's fine, Blair. Really it is. Frankly I'm glad that you did. If you hadn't," Jim paused and shrugged. "Well, maybe you wouldn't have such a good prospect for recovery or worse...."

Blair closed his eyes and Jim could feel the smile beneath the sensitive skin of his palm. Lifting his hand, Blair enjoined softly, "Thank you. I appreciate you rescuing me. Again."

"That's what friends do. You've rescued me just as many times." Jim turned Blair's hand over to clasp it. "I just hope it isn't too late for me to tell you I've been an idiot."

Blair opened his mouth to question Jim but was interrupted by the nurse coming into the room. They were given instructions on the care of Blair's cast, precautions, his prescriptions, and how soon to schedule a recheck. Within a half hour, Jim had Blair seated in the doctor's sedan and was pulling out of the parking lot.

"All right, where did you get the car and where are we going?" Blair wiggled around, trying to find a comfortable angle to sit.

"Your doctor loaned me the car. Guess we looked needy." Jim shrugged at Blair's look and continued, "And we're heading to a motel that his sister-in-law runs."

Blair chuckled wearily and leaned his head against the window before jerking up with a start. "Is everyone else okay? I mean the twins, Tobi, and Sam?"

"I didn't meet Tobi, Sam's fine; he seems quite friendly with Dean, and whichever twin you were with, has a concussion after being hit by a tree limb during the search."

"But he's okay?"

"He was the last thing that I heard. I was pretty focused on finding you." Jim pulled into the parking lot of the motel and turned the engine off. "I'm going to get a room. I'll be right back."

He smiled at Blair before getting out of the car and up to the door, ringing the night bell. Within a few minutes, a light came on in the office and a small lady opened the door to admit Jim.

Inside, Jim picked up the keys off the counter and took the wrapped package the desk clerk offered to him with gratitude and thanks. He went out to the car to find Blair asleep. Not bothering to wake him, he started the car, drove it around the motel in the direction the woman had instructed. Finding the number of their room, he parked in front, and leaving Blair in the car for the moment, opened the door.

Finding two queen beds, a small bathroom, TV, coffee pot, and refrigerator, he put the food on the counter, turning on one of the lamps. Jim returned to the car, grabbing Blair's crutches from the backseat, along with his bag.

After tossing them in the room, he gently woke his friend. Blair wasn't supposed to put any weight on the ankle and as drowsy as he was, Jim knew there was a good chance that Blair would fall if he tried the crutches, so he carefully helped support the other man as he stood.

"jimmm...."

"It's okay, babe. I'm just going to help you in and lay you on the bed," Jim replied, softly, bumping the car door closed with his butt. He carefully guided Blair around the front of the car and into their room.

"Oh...okay...." Blair laid his head against Jim's upper arm. Jim couldn't' resist bending his head to kiss him on the forehead gently.

"Sleep now. We'll talk later. I'll be here," Jim promised, laying Blair gently on the bed. Although the hospital had given Blair a pair of surgical pants and a scrub top to wear, he was still dirty. Jim wanted to get the worst of the dirt cleaned from Blair's body. Going into the bathroom, he ran warm water into the ice bucket, throwing two washcloths into it.

He gently slipped the pants off over Blair's wrapped foot and pulled the top over the tousled head. Leaving the boxers on, Jim carefully and slowly washed the dirt off the other man's body, making note of each scrape and the bruises that would color in the next few days. Soon, he had his sleeping friend looking much cleaner.

Then he gently moved Blair's legs under the covers. The covers were very tight...easy to fix. He just pulled the sheet and blanket out from under the bed. Next, Jim placed a pillow under his foot and one next to his foot to keep the weight of the blanket off of his injured extremity.

Blair had slept through the entire process; therefore Jim felt safe enough taking a quick shower to wash the dirt and dust off. While he showered, he thought about which bed to sleep in. He didn't want to jostle Blair so maybe the other bed would be the best bet.

Drying off, he put on a pair of briefs and returned to the bedroom. It didn't appear that Blair had moved at all and he looked comfortable, but Jim took the extra blanket out of the cubby and threw it on the end of the bed in case he woke up chilled later.

A huge yawn told the sentinel that Blair wasn't the only one who needed sleep. He crawled in the other bed, mentally adjusting his sense of touch and smell down as low as he could. For a sentinel, hotel/motel sheets were always scratchy and you could smell the sanitizer that was used in the rinse process. It wasn't a nice scent.

Finally, Jim was as comfortable as he was going to get. He fell asleep watching Blair from his lonely bed.

LATER

Blair woke up several hours later, needing to go to the bathroom badly. He tried to roll over to get out of the bed, but the pain from his ankle caused him to moan loudly.

"Blair," Jim said, waking immediately at the sound. He sat up in the bed and reached for Blair. "It's okay. I'm here."

"What the hell happened?" Blair said groggily, checking out the purple cast on his wrist. "Purple...I have a purple cast?"

Jim chuckled. "Yep, it's purple all right. How are you feeling?"

"Like I was run over by a freight train...or fell in a hole. That's what happened, right?"

"You remember?"

"Vaguely. Oh God, I really need to go to the bathroom." Blair grabbed the covers with his good hand and pulled them off, noticing for the first time that he was almost naked. "Ah, is there a robe or something?"

"Sorry, no robe. I have sweatpants and a t-shirt in my bag." Jim got up at Blair's grunt and grabbed the items. "Do you want them on now?"

"No, I'm actually kind of warm. I think I'll just hobble into the bathroom and then back to bed. Thanks, though." Blair soon found that his coordination was off enough that he almost ended up flat on his back on the bed when he tried to stand up. Sitting up, he took the crutches that Jim had grabbed and stood up. Jim hovered around him until he looked steady enough to navigate into the bathroom without help.

After taking a much needed leak, Blair slowly washed the fingers of his injured hand as best as he could while looking into the mirror. His face was pretty bruised up on the left side and he had a knot on his right temple. When he remembered that a lot of people probably died in the terrible storm, he knew he had no reason to feel sorry for himself. Patting his hand dry with a towel, he hobbled back out into the bedroom to find Jim pacing near the door, waiting for him.

Once he sat down on the bed, got comfortable and covered, Blair peered up at Jim and said, "Stop pacing. I'm fine. Well, I'm a little sore and probably will hurt worse in the next few days, but I'm okay at the moment."

"Luckily it was only your wrist that broke and not your head. Your ankle is just twisted. It will be painful for awhile but will heal fine, as will your hand." Jim shook his head, trying to get the image of Blair lying so still, again, out of his head. He looked toward the small fridge and asked, "How about some food? Are you hungry?"

"Yes! I could eat a horse." Blair smiled at Jim's chuckle.

Jim pulled out a wrapped dish from the refrigerator and opened it up. "Tuna fish sandwiches. Want one?" Jim asked, smiling at Blair's nod. "Good, then you can take another pain pill."

Blair rolled his eyes, but took the offered sandwich. Jim pulled on his jeans and announced his intentions to find the pop machine. Soon he was back with several bottles of water and they shared the sandwiches.

"Blair, we need to talk," Jim said softly when they were done eating and Blair had taken his pill. "I...I...well, I'm in love with you. And I'm not going wait another day to go by in case I never get another chance to tell you how important you are to me."

Blair sat there with wide eyes, uncomprehending for a moment what his friend had said. A slow smile curved at the corners of his lips and his whole face lit up with the knowledge. "Really?"

"Yes, really. And I hope that you feel the same," Jim replied, taking Blair's good hand between his palms.

Blair stared in wonder at his friend. Leaning forward, he surprised Jim by kissing him lightly on the lips. "Yes, I love you. I have forever. Jim. I just never thought you would feel the same way."

"I guess I didn't recognize it for what it was. I didn't think that I could love another man. But I love you, I need you, and I want you...to be with you, to keep you safe, to laugh and live with you."

"Man, that kind of sounds like forever to me." Blair smiled, his eyes roaming over his new lover's face. "Do you think that you might want to sleep with me? Keep me warm?"

"Anytime, baby, anytime," Jim replied, gently crawling into the bed on the other side. Blair turned on his side, putting a pillow between the cast and his other foot. Jim snuggled up behind him and quietly soothed Blair with his hand.

Blair was half asleep, feeling warm and safe in the arms of his soul mate, when he felt Jim's lips on his shoulder, and heard the low moan from him. "Jim?"

Blair pushed back against Jim, feeling his hardness rubbing against his butt. He whispered quietly, "You don't have to hide that from me...." And with those words half turned his body, reached his arm around Jim's head and pulled him down for a kiss.

Jim moaned deep in his throat and wrapped his arms tighter around Blair. "You're hurt; I don't want to make the pain worse."

"The only way you could make me hurt worse, is to deny this. I want you. I want to experience this with you," Blair replied. "How about we just touch each other and see what happens?"

"Are you sure?" Jim said dubiously.

"Have you ever done anything like this?" Blair whispered.

"Ah...no," Jim whispered back.

Blair ran the tips of his fingers on his casted hand along Jim's pectoral muscles and up his neck. He was surprised by the growl that came from Jim's throat as the larger man gently rolled him on his back. "Is there any lotion or anything like that?"

Quickly hopping off the bed, Jim went into the bathroom and grabbed the lotion. As he got back on the bed, he took up a position of lying half over Blair, being careful of his foot. He started kissing his new lover, feeling Blair's hand running over what ever he could reach, and felt his foot come up over his calf and rub gently up and down.

Blair could feel himself lengthening and growing, arousal coming from the electric kisses Jim was bestowing on his lips and neck, and from the sweet friction of Jim's own hardness rubbing against his.

"Underwear," Blair gasped as Jim gently bit his nipple. His hips came up off the bed, seeking more friction. Jim sat up on his knees and after slipping his fingers in the waistband of Blair's briefs, he lifted them up and over his erection but brushed it as he pulled them down, his blood close to boiling at the sound of Blair's moan.

Jim absentmindedly thought that they shouldn't be doing this with Blair's injuries, but he was overcome by the emotions flowing over both of them, along with the smell of their arousal, mixing in the air of the room. Rising off the bed, he shucked his own boxers off and grabbed the lotion, pouring some into his hand to warm it, before settling next to Blair.

"Please," Blair moaned. "I can't wait anymore. I've wanted you for so long."

"Oh, Blair, baby, I love you, hang on, I'm coming," Jim whispered, licking the shell of his ear, moving his lotion slick hand over Blair's erection. Blair groaned heavily and his hips moved in small circles, easily thrusting into Jim's closed grasp.

Jim rolled on his back and pulled Blair on top of him. Their hard shafts brushed against each other causing both men to gasp. "I love you," Blair moaned, moving his good hand to touch whatever part of Jim he could reach. The two start a slow push and pull against each other, gentle and small flexes that soon become frenzied as their bodies raced toward completion.

"Ah ah ah," Blair cried out as he came, his release spraying over Jim's cock and belly. The warmth of his lover's orgasm, combined with the noises coming from his mouth, pushed Jim over the edge; completely overcome by his lover's peak and having no control over his own. He tried to bite back a scream but it worked its way out of his mouth.

"Shh, shh, it's okay," Blair murmured, calming his lover down with kisses. Caressing Jim's warm muscles, he lost himself in the suppleness of the other man's skin. Before he knew it, the combination of prescription pain meds and a stunning orgasm caused him to fall asleep, still lying on top of Jim.

Once Jim got his wits back, he opened his eyes to see why Blair had stopped kissing him. Realizing he had fallen asleep, Jim smiled for Blair was even more handsome asleep; the long, black eyelashes lying on his cheeks, the lush and swollen redness of his full lips, and his hair, hardly tame on most days - well today it was a complete rat's nest. And Jim loved it all.

He gently rolled Blair over and went to the bathroom where he ran water until it was warm enough to wash their dried spunk off with one of the washcloths. After drying off, he wet the other washcloth, carrying it out to the other room. Tenderly, he cleaned off the drying evidence on the other man's hairy belly. Jim paused, running his fingers over the silky brown hair that covered Blair's chest...so soft, he thought.

Tossing the cloth on the other bed, Jim eased Blair back onto his right side, propping his foot on a pillow, and snuggled up against him. Pushing Blair's hair away from his neck, Jim kissed him gently along the shoulder and neck, murmuring nonsensical words, just soothing and loving his mate.

Later they could talk about what this would mean for their life in Cascade. Jim had already decided that if Blair didn't truly want to become a cop, then he would go wherever his mate wanted to go, supporting Blair for once. It was only fair, since Blair had been doing things Jim's way for the past three years. That decision made, he tucked his nose in the warm junction of Blair's neck and shoulder, tightened his arms around his chest, and fell asleep, secure in the love that bonded them together.

~Fin~

Back to Stories.

Acknowledgments: I wish to thank my betas for this story: Natalie L. and Annie. Also my faithful cheerleaders: Nat, Bee, Jen, and LA. And last but not least, I'd like to thank the "Clucky Ducks" for their input, and the Chief Duck for use of her plot bunny.

Artwork: Big Bang artwork by Alyjude. Thank you so much, Aly, for the stunning cover. It suits this fic perfectly.

Author's Notes: This story was written for the first Sentinel Big Bang event. It came about as an adopted plot bunny, which the "Clucky Ducks" were going to write as a collective. As it turned out, that idea fell apart, but from that, three similar but different stories are emerging. Some ideas from the collective brainstorming have been used in this story and, therefore, some of the elements in this story may be similar to elements in the stories written by the other two authors who also took on this challenge. No plagiarism; just great minds thinking alike. (Although I did plagiarize this bit-thanks Natalie.)

If you would like to read one of the other stories generated by this plot bunny, may I direct you to Winds of Change by Natalie L.