A Helping Hand by Mostcrazylady

A Helping Hand - Mostcrazylady

ONE

Blair Sandburg trudged through the forest, his anger building with each step. Two months ago he had been a graduate student starting work on his doctoral thesis at the University of Washington in Seattle. Two months ago he had had a promising future in his field of anthropology. Two months ago he had had a job, a home, and a car. Now he was reduced to his laptop, a sleeping bag and the barest necessities for camping. All because some stranger had decided after twenty-three years to acknowledge him as his son and leave him his considerable wealth which he wouldn’t be able to collect until his next birthday.

Blair sat on a fallen log to rest and considered his situation. He didn’t like being angry but he liked being afraid for his life even less.

This whole mess had started almost three months ago when he had received a letter from a law firm telling him his father had died and his presence was requested for the reading of the will. For once he had been able to track down his mother Naomi who had always implied that she didn’t know who his father was. She admitted that yes this man was his father, she had met him at a commune and fallen in love with him and thought he loved her too. However, when she happily told him that she was pregnant, he accused her of being after his money (which she knew nothing about) and called her a slut (she’d been with him and no one else) then packed up and went back to his wealthy family in Seattle.

Outraged on his mother’s behalf, Blair declared he wanted nothing from this man but Naomi insisted that he deserved to inherit something so at her urging and against his better judgment, he agreed to attend the reading of the will. And that’s when he met the family. The Mathers. Delightful people. Since the man had never married and hadn’t even hinted about the existence of a child, they had expected to inherit everything. To their shock and anger, the lawyer smugly introduced them to the young man who would be the sole heir on his next birthday.

As the family stormed out of the lawyer’s office, Blair caught his cousin’s muttered “If he lives until his next birthday.” He wished now he’d taken the lawyer’s words more seriously. “Be careful, young man. I’ve known this family for quite a few years. They’re a greedy bunch and they’ll do whatever they can to cheat you out of your inheritance. You might be wise to hide out for the next few months.” But Blair had always looked for the good in people and refused to believe that they might try to kill him just so they could have money they really didn’t need.

<<<>>>

Two weeks later the warehouse where he was living burned to the ground. Blair had been exhausted and was sound asleep. He woke to what he swore was the sound of a wolf howling and found the air thick with smoke, flames dancing everywhere. He barely had time to grab jeans, shoes, jacket and backpack and make it out the door before the roof came crashing down. He was further stunned when the police hauled him down to the station for questioning. By the time they decided he wasn’t the arsonist and he made it back to the site of his former home, he discovered that what parts of his car hadn’t been damaged by the fire had been totally vandalized.

<<<>>>

A couple of days later, as Blair walked toward the homeless shelter where he was staying he was accosted by two muscle-bound men. One carried a baseball bat and the other brandished a rather nasty looking knife. “I don’t know how you managed to survive the fire. Too bad you won’t survive a mugging,” the one with the knife sneered.

Blair dodged the swinging bat and did the only thing he could do. He ran. As the two gave chase he dodged down an alley that led to another street. With his knowledge of the area, he hoped to find a safe hiding place before they caught up with him. Several alleys later, he ducked behind a dumpster and held his breath as the would-be muggers ran past. He was about to move when he heard them coming back.

“I can’t believe we lost that little bastard. That’s twice now he’s gotten away from us,” one complained. “That Mathers bitch is gonna be pissed when she finds out we missed him again.”

“Relax, will ya?” the other grumbled. “We got plenty of time before his birthday. We’ll find him again and next time he won’t get away.”

“He better not. I want my share of that twenty thou she said she’d pay us for offing him.”

As their voices and footsteps faded away, Blair huddled behind the dumpster and fought his panic. “My god, the lawyer was right. They are trying to kill me.” He thought of going to the police but then remembered how they’d treated him after the fire. They probably wouldn’t believe him and he didn’t trust them to help him. He recalled the lawyer’s advice and decided to get out of town and find a place to hide.

He waited until it was dark and after a furtive stop at an ATM made his way to the interstate where he found a truck driver willing to give him a ride. The friendly driver dropped him off in a small town just north of Cascade where he found a store that sold fishing and camping supplies.

Blair bought a decent sleeping bag and two ground tarps, a collapsible fishing rod, some odds and ends for cooking and all the MREs he could carry. He looked wistfully at the hiking boots but they were too expensive. The hi-tops he wore were almost new and they would have to do. He added a pair of jeans, two flannel shirts and a package of heavy socks to his purchases.

He followed the store owner’s directions to a trail head and chose a path at random. After a short time he left the trail and headed off into the forest. He needed to stay away from other people. He didn’t know what kind of a search the family would make for him and he didn’t want to be recognized by anyone who might turn his location in for a reward. Above all, he didn’t want some innocent getting hurt or worse by the hit men sent after him.

The first few days saw him moving deeper into the forest until he found a decent spot to set up camp. After that he moved his camp every couple of weeks hoping to keep from being discovered. It had been a long two months and it was time to move again.

Blair was startled out of his thoughts when a raindrop landed on his nose. How long had he been sitting here? Obviously long enough for the sky to fill with grey clouds and rain to start falling. With a disgusted sigh, he pulled out one of his tarps and draped it over some branches to form a make-shift tent. This wasn’t the best place to set up camp, but it would have to do until the rain stopped.

Thank God for the expeditions he had been on that taught him how to rough it and live off the land or he wouldn’t have lasted out here in the forest as long as he had. The loneliness was the hardest part. Blair had always been a social person and he missed having someone to talk to. If he could just make it for another month and a half, he could hopefully sneak back into Seattle and collect his inheritance. The Mathers would call off the hit and he could get on with his life.

The rain stopped after an hour and Blair moved on. He needed to find a decent spot to set up his new camp, hopefully before it started to rain again. In his haste to beat the next shower, he slipped on some wet leaves and found himself tumbling down a slope. His progress downhill was halted by a large tree. He sat up dazedly and shook his head.

This was the last straw. All his frustrations and the anger he had been fighting boiled to the surface and exploded.

“Son of a fucking bitch!” he shouted. “Damn you dirty greedy bastards! This is all your fault! You’re sitting around in your fancy house with your fancy friends eating fancy food drinking fancy wine and I’m stuck out here in the woods scrounging for my next meal sitting in the rain! It’s not fair! I hate you! I hate you for making me angry! I hate you for making me hide in the woods! I hate you for making me hate you! If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have fallen down the damn hill! God, just kill me now and put me out of my misery!” He pounded his fists on the ground and let out a primal scream. He took a deep breath in readiness for another scream.

“You look like you could use some help,” a calm voice behind him stated.

<<<>>>

TWO

Jim Ellison wandered through the rain dampened forest near his cabin and contemplated his life. The shower had lasted for a little over an hour and now the air smelled fresh and clean. If only he could start his life over fresh and clean. He would go back five months to the time before he started losing his mind. To the time when he was a damn good cop, a detective with the Cascade police force.

To a time when the light didn’t blind him and when voices and everyday sounds didn’t make his eardrums feel like they were bursting. To a time when he could eat anything because food tasted good. To a time when he could stand the smell of the city and the people around him and his clothes didn’t make him break out in a rash. To a time when he was sane.

After his senses had started acting strange and he found himself losing time, Jim had gone to various doctors who had sent him to specialists. They all pronounced him fit and declared there was nothing physically wrong. The episodes were unpredictable but somehow he managed not to have them where anyone could observe them. Finally in fear of putting his fellow officers in danger and causing innocent deaths, he asked his captain for time off. Lord knows he had enough vacation and comp time coming to last six months.

When Captain Simon Banks refused his request citing case loads and lack of man power, Jim tried to resign. Only then did Simon take him seriously and allow him a one month vacation. That same day Jim closed up his loft apartment and retreated to his isolated cabin in the forests north of Cascade.

Things were better here. Oh he still had some episodes, but they weren’t as bad and didn’t last as long. Jim’s month was almost up and even though he felt better he knew he still wasn’t ready to return to the city. Simon wouldn’t be happy about that but too bad.

Jim was living the simple life and found he didn’t need a lot. True he had a satellite dish for television and computer and his cell phone got a good signal but he rarely used any of them preferring the quiet peacefulness of his solitude. With a nice trust fund to fall back on for unforeseen expenses, he could afford to quit his job and that’s what he had decided to do.

He was enjoying his walk when he thought he heard a wolf howl. Startled by the unexpected sound he unconsciously listened harder and heard an angry male voice.

“Son of a fucking bitch! Damn you dirty greedy bastards! This is all your fault!”

Jim frowned and followed the diatribe until he made out a boy, no, a young man sitting by a tree at the bottom of a short hill. He noted the long curly brown hair, the torn and dirty flannel shirt and jeans, and the odds and ends from the half-opened pack that traced a path down the hill to the tree. He wasn’t sure what to think when the kid shouted “God, just kill me now and put me out of my misery”, pounded his fists on the ground and screamed.

“You look like you could use some help.”

He was unprepared for the reaction he got to his quiet words. The young man gave a startled gasp and twisted himself around to face him. Jim looked into the bluest eyes he had ever seen and saw nothing but terror in them.

Blair went from anger to near panic at the sight of the tall well-built man, barely taking in the short brown hair and blue eyes regarding him as he frantically tried to scramble backwards. For a moment he flashed back to the two thugs who had chased him through the alleys of Seattle.

“I’m sorry God! I didn’t mean it! I don’t want to die. Please don’t kill me! Whatever they’re paying you, I’ll pay you more! Just please don’t kill me!”

Jim took a step forward but stopped when the young man cringed. He crouched down trying to appear less threatening and held up his hands in a placating manner. “Calm down. I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I suppose it’s not going to hurt when you kill me? Isn’t that what hit-men do?”

Jim frowned in confusion. “Whoa. I’m definitely not a hit-man. I’m a cop with the Cascade police department and I’m certainly not going to kill you for wandering across my property.”

“Your property?”

“I’m Jim Ellison. I own this piece of land.”

“Oh great. Now I’m a trespasser.” He put his head in his hands but quickly pulled them away and stared at his red fingertips. “A bleeding trespasser. And the good times just keep rolling.”

“Looks more like a scrape than a cut,” Jim commented. “You’ll have a nice bruise though. It appears you took quite a tumble down the hill.”

Jim watched the kid’s expressive face as he finally spotted his scattered belongings on the hillside.

“Oh no!” Blair wriggled out of his backpack and frantically rummaged through it until he pulled out a laptop which he worriedly examined. “Oh God, please don’t let it be busted. That’s all I need.” Finally he sighed and muttered to himself, “I won’t know until I plug it in. At least it’s not dented.”

He started to stand but fell back with a grimace as he clutched his left ankle.

“Sit still until we see how badly you’re hurt.” Jim moved forward cautiously until he was close enough to examine the injuries. “Well it’s not broken. Just badly sprained.”

Blair eyed him warily, surprised at the gentle touch. “You can tell that just by feeling it?”

“I had medic training when I was in the army,” Jim shrugged and held Blair’s chin while he examined the scrape on his right temple. “Headache? Any blurriness or double vision?”

His attention seemed to fade away for a moment until Blair answered, “Slight headache but my vision’s fine.”

Jim nodded and stood. “Take it easy while I get your things. I’ll take you back to my cabin and doctor you up there.”

Blair watched Jim as he carefully moved around gathering up his strewn belongings. There was something about this big man that gave him a feeling of safety that he hadn’t felt since his home had been destroyed. His size? No, the thugs that had chased him were almost as big. Because he was a cop? No, the cops in Seattle hadn’t made him feel safe. Maybe it was the matter of fact way that he took charge of the situation. After two months of being totally alone, it was kind of nice to sit back and let someone else make the decisions for a while. Blair was so tired of being alone. He would enjoy having another human being to talk to even for a short time.

Jim returned with the items he had collected. “This looks like everything. Let’s get you back to my cabin before the next storm hits.” He peered at the overcast sky and took a deep breath. “There’s a big one moving in and I’d rather be inside when it arrives.”

Jim helped Blair to his feet and easily supported his weight as he hobbled along. “What’s your name kid?”

“Bl--BJ Sa--amuels. BJ Samuels. Nice to meet you, Jim. I appreciate your help.”

Jim decided to ignore the hesitation over the name for now. He’d have time later to find out the real name and who the kid was running from.

THREE

They’d barely gotten inside when the sky opened up again. Blair was impressed by what he saw as they entered. The main room held a small kitchen area on the left and a comfortable arrangement of couch and chairs near a fireplace on the right. There was a short hallway in the back that he assumed led to a bedroom and bathroom. Everything was so clean and tidy it looked like a model home instead of a rustic mountain get-away.

Jim wrinkled his nose. “No offense, Chief, but why don’t you take a hot shower before I wrap your ankle and put some antibiotic cream on that scrape?”

Blair’s eyes widened. “A real shower with hot water? And real soap and shampoo and shaving cream?”

“You sound like it’s been awhile,” Jim chuckled as he steered him to the bathroom.

“About two months, as if you couldn’t tell,” Blair answered ruefully. “Soap, shampoo, and shaving cream weren’t on my list of things necessary for staying alive. A dip in a cold stream only rinsed off the worst of the dirt. I have missed being able to get really clean.”

Jim showed him where everything was and after being assured that Blair could manage on his own left him to his own devices.

As soon as Jim heard the shower start, he picked up his guest’s backpack and quickly searched through it until he found an old beat up wallet. Inside he found a driver’s license and a university ID. “Hello, Blair Sandburg from the University of Seattle,” he murmured and slid the wallet back into the pack. In addition to the laptop and some very basic camping supplies, he also found a few clothes in need of laundering, a notebook and two pens. Nothing to explain his unwillingness to trust Jim with his real name.

Jim took two steaks out of his freezer to thaw and started a fire in the fireplace. When the shower finally shut off, Jim knocked on the bathroom door and asked, “Are you decent?”

“No, but I’m a lot of fun,” came the unexpected answer as the door opened to reveal Blair with a towel around his waist and idly rubbing his wet hair with another towel. Jim found himself staring at the dusting of chest hair on the almost too thin body.

Blair belatedly realized that he was standing in front of a stranger in nothing but a towel, a stranger whose gaze was wandering over his semi-naked body. “Sorry. I’ve been alone in the woods too long. I need to get back into polite society mode. Just ignore anything weird I say.”

Jim closed his eyes for a second and cleared his throat. “That’s a nasty bruise on your side. Any trouble breathing?”

“No, it’s just a little tender. I think that’s where the tree jumped out and grabbed me,” Blair smiled self-consciously then froze as Jim’s hand touched his side.

Jim felt the warm skin under his fingertips and if he concentrated harder he could almost feel the broken capillaries that formed the bruise. Everything else began to fade away as he recognized the onset of one of his spells and with an effort managed to pull himself back. “Nothing’s broken. Just bruised.”

“How can you tell just by touching?” Blair wondered then remembered the other man’s words when they first met. “Oh right. Medic training.”

Jim became all business as he efficiently wrapped Blair’s sprained ankle and doctored his scrapes. When he finished, he nodded at the items he had placed on the counter. “There are clean sweats you can wear. They might be a little big but they’re warm. Why don’t you get dressed and shave while I get supper going?”

Blair blinked as the big man disappeared out the door. “Damn,” he thought. “What is going on? You spend all this time avoiding people so whoever’s trying to kill you can’t find you, and then you go home with a total stranger. And what is with him? That was really weird the way he seemed to fade out when he was checking my injuries. But still I feel safe with him. Why is that? Maybe I have been alone too long.”

He shrugged and decided to think about the puzzle that was Jim Ellison later.

Jim turned from the stove when the bathroom door finally opened and smiled as he listened to his guest’s muttering. “Damn! It’s not easy hopping on one foot. If God wanted me to hop he’d have made me a rabbit.”

He quietly helped the young man to the table then went back to the stove to retrieve their plates. When he placed them on the table, Blair’s eyes widened.

“Is that steak? Real steak? And real potatoes? Oh man, I love you. I want to bear your children.”

“It’s only steak, Chief,” Jim chuckled. “I don’t think you have to go that far.”

“Hey, you try living on fish and rabbits and MREs for two months. A hot shower with real soap, now real food. I have died and gone to Heaven.”

They dug in and Jim found himself enjoying his guest’s appreciation of the simple meal even as he pondered the mystery that was Blair Sandburg a.k.a. BJ Samuels. He considered what little he knew. Blair had been terrified when they met, way beyond being simply startled by the unexpected appearance of a stranger. He had lied about his name. He seemed to be more concerned about damage to his laptop than he was about damage to his body. What was on that laptop? He was doing a good job of pretending to be at ease but his heart was still beating faster than it should be. Not to mention the fact that he was traveling light with only the barest minimum of supplies.

After the initial hunger pangs were satisfied, Blair swallowed a mouthful and casually asked, “So, Jim. You’re really a cop?”

Jim nodded. “With the Major Crimes Unit at the Cascade PD. I’m on vacation right now.” He hadn’t done it often, but he could play good cop when he had to and it looked like that would be the best way to get any answers in this case.

“So, BJ. What brings you out to the middle of nowhere by yourself?”

“Research,” Blair answered after a slight hesitation. “I’m going to use my experience to write an article on how to survive by living off the land. I figure I can sell it to one of those outdoorsman magazines.”

Jim smiled. “Considering how I found you, looks to me like you could use some more experience before you write that article.”

“Hey, I have plenty of experience. I’ve been on several expeditions to the jungles in South America to live with and observe the native tribes. Talk about living rough. They don’t have western world luxuries and that’s where I learned to survive without them. These last two months I made fish traps out of twigs and snares to catch rabbits and squirrels. I’ve been doing all right.”

“What about getting out of the weather? What happened to your tent?”

“Tents are bulky. Two ground tarps weigh less and can be folded small enough to easily fit in my pack.” Blair sighed at the look on Jim’s face and patiently explained. “You drape the first tarp over some low branches and anchor down the ends. Then you cut some pine boughs and lay them on the ground under the tarp, lay the second tarp on top of them and your sleeping bag on top of that. It’s not a feather bed but it’s not the cold hard ground either.”

Blair was obviously proud of his resourcefulness but Jim couldn’t resist commenting, “You still ended up injured and half-starved.”

“You know, just because I’m not some big muscle-bound macho man doesn’t mean I can’t take care of myself.” Blair was suddenly annoyed with his host’s attitude. “Yes, I’ve lost weight but I’m not weak from starvation. I wasn’t having any problems at all until I got careless. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry to find a decent camping spot I wouldn’t have slipped on those wet leaves and fallen down that hill. I have a first aid kit and I could have wrapped my ankle myself and done just as good a job. I could have managed just fine without anybody’s help.”

He grimaced and shook his head. “Shit, that sounds so ungrateful. The truth is I could have managed but it wouldn’t have been easy. I’m glad you came along when you did.”

“I tend to forget that appearances can be deceiving. I’m sorry.” Jim said quietly.

Blair sighed tiredly. “No, I’m sorry. Here you are nice enough to put a roof over my head for the night and feed me and I thank you by being rude. I really do appreciate your help even if I do sound like a two year old.”

“I think you’re just tired,” Jim graciously replied. “Get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow you’ll be a different person.”

He helped Blair get comfortable on the couch for the night then began to clean up the kitchen area. When he finished, he saw that his guest was sound asleep so he quietly stepped out onto his front porch and sat down.

The storm had finally blown over and the evening was cool but not uncomfortably so. Here and there the cloud cover was breaking up and a few stars were peeking bravely through. In the quiet peacefulness, Jim considered the earlier conversation. There was nothing in it that screamed ‘This kid is a criminal’, yet Jim knew he wasn’t being told the whole truth and that annoyed the detective in him.

“Who are you, Blair Sandburg and why are you hiding in the woods?” he whispered to the night. When no answer came he sighed and muttered “So much for good cop’s efforts. Let’s see what kind of a story he gives me tomorrow.”

It was late morning before Blair finally woke. He glanced fearfully around the room until he spotted Jim and remembered where he was. He allowed Jim to check his ankle and help him to the table where he was handed a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

“Oh, man. I’ve missed having a cup of coffee in the morning,” Blair grinned as he inhaled the aroma.

“That’s the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen,” Jim thought. “God, I hope he’s not dirty.”

Blair paused in his enjoyment of the coffee. “I really appreciate you letting me crash here for the night. As soon as I’m dressed, I’ll get out of your hair.”

“I threw the clothes you were wearing into the wash. I took the liberty of checking your pack and found the rest of your clothes. I tossed them in too.” Jim casually mentioned and noted the guarded look that crossed his guest’s face as if he were trying to remember if the pack held anything secret that Jim might have found. “For someone who is out in the middle of nowhere doing research for an article, you didn’t come very prepared.”

“The whole purpose was to live off the land,” Blair answered warily. “I only brought what was necessary.”

“A laptop is necessary for living off the land?”

Blair’s unease visibly increased. “Where are you going with this?”

“When we first met you weren’t just startled by my sudden appearance, you were scared to death of me. Why would you think I was a hit man? What’s your real story?”

“I told you my story,” Blair frowned.

“No, you told me a story. I don’t think you’re out here to do research. I think you’re living rough because you don’t have a choice. Want to try the truth this time starting with your real name?”

“Why should I trust you? How do I know you’re really who you say you are?”

Jim pulled his wallet out of his pocket and tossed it onto the table. His gold shield gleamed dully in the morning light shining through the window and confirmed his status as a detective with the Cascade police. He watched the young man examine it and could almost see his mind developing a new improved version of the story he’d already told.

“I guess you’re really not a hit man,” Blair remarked quietly.

“How about we quit playing games, Chief,” Jim demanded. “Who are you really? Why are you so convinced that a hit man is after you? Who are you hiding from? With all this traveling you’ve done, maybe you’ve been hanging out with the wrong people? Maybe smuggling something for them that you decided to keep for yourself?”

Blair stood and glared at his interrogator. “What is it with you cops? First arson, now smuggling? Man, I do not need this.”

“Sit down,” Jim ordered. “How far do you expect to get on that ankle? Just answer me one question. Are you running from the law?”

“No I’m not running from the law. I haven’t done anything wrong except get born and that was Naomi’s fault not mine.” Blair’s voice rose then he slumped back down in his chair and whispered, “Oh, God. I want my life back. I’m so tired of being scared and alone.”

“Then don’t be alone anymore. If you haven’t done anything illegal then you have no reason to be afraid of me. Maybe I can help you if you’ll give me a chance. Why don’t you tell me your real name and the truth about what kind of trouble you’re in? Let me help.”

Jim watched as the anger on Blair’s face slowly turned to resignation. Blair stared at the tabletop and took a deep breath. “My name’s Blair Sandburg. I got a letter from some lawyer telling me my father had died and I needed to attend the reading of his will.”

As the story unfolded, Jim was surprised at the anger he felt toward the people who had caused this innocent young man so much grief. He was especially angry with his brothers in blue. Yeah, they were in a different city but they were still cops and they had no business harassing a victim until he was too afraid of them to ask for their help. Even Blair’s mother had left him on his own to deal with the greedy relatives. He found it sad that Blair had gone into hiding simply because there was no one he could turn to.

“You don’t believe me,” Blair sighed dejectedly when he finished and caught a glimpse of the grim look on Jim’s face.

“No, I do believe your story. I’ve been a cop for eight years and I still can’t believe the things people will do for money.” Jim considered Blair’s situation for a moment. There was no way to prove that his relatives were trying to kill him unless they caught the thugs who had chased him and got them to roll over on whoever hired them. In the meantime, the kid needed protection and a safe place to hide out. What could be safer than a secluded cabin in the forest especially when no one knew he was there? Jim’s Army Ranger and police training more than qualified him to look after Blair. As long as he didn’t have one of his spells at an inopportune moment.

Just like that, his mind was made up. “Stay here with me. Nobody knows you’re here. I’m a cop but I was also Special Forces in the army. I can protect you. And when the time comes, I’ll personally escort you to that lawyer’s office. What do you say?”

Blair studied the other man’s face then smiled shyly. “It’s really weird. I’ve been so scared of everyone since this started but I feel safe with you in spite of the way I was acting before. I’ll take you up on your offer. Thank you.”

The two were shaking hands on their agreement when Jim tilted his head as if he were listening to something.

“There’s a car coming up the road,” he announced.

“I don’t hear anything.” Blair listened carefully but it was a few moments before he barely heard a distant engine. “How’d you hear that from so far away?”

“I have good ears,” Jim answered uncomfortably then added quickly, “Go wait in the bedroom until I see who it is.”

He hustled Blair out of sight before he could ask any more questions and stepped out onto the porch. It only took a moment for his vision to locate the vehicle and he immediately recognized the driver.

“Aw, shit,” Jim whispered disgustedly.

FOUR

Captain Simon Banks prided himself on a well-run department and no one from the mayor on down could say that his Major Crimes Unit with their high solve rate wasn’t the best run department in the city. And right now he needed his top detective back on the job not loafing around in the mountains.

“Play time’s over, Jim. Time to get back to work,” he muttered as he maneuvered his car up the winding dirt road that led to Jim’s cabin.

He hadn’t been able to see the cabin until he entered the clearing where it sat so he was surprised by the sight of Jim standing on the porch as if he were waiting for him. However, judging by the man’s posture and the look on his face, his detective was not pleased to see him. Simon parked next to Jim’s truck and waved as he got out of his car.

“Your time off seems to have done you some good, Detective. You look a hell of a lot better than you did the last time I saw you.”

Jim nodded in acknowledgement. “Captain. Come on in.”

Simon’s smile disappeared as he followed him inside. “Why do I get the impression you’re not overjoyed to see me?”

“You should have called before driving all the way up here.”

“Well if you’d returned to work yesterday like you were supposed to, I wouldn’t have had to drive all the way up here.”

“Yesterday? It’s been a month already?” Jim was surprised. It hadn’t seemed like he’d been here that long.

“Yes it’s been a month. I need you back on the job, so let’s get you packed and back to Cascade where you belong.” Simon rubbed his hands together and glanced around the room as if deciding where to begin.

“I’m not ready to come back.”

As Jim’s quiet statement registered, Simon frowned and studied the other man more closely. “All right, Jim, what's going on? You threatened to resign unless I gave you time off, so I okayed your vacation. I know your last case was a bad one and you were under a lot of pressure to solve it but you’ve had plenty of time to rest up. So what’s the problem now?”

“I need more time off,” Jim shrugged.

“Are you nuts?”

Jim ran his hand over his hair and sighed. “I don't know. Maybe. I had a blood test run to see if I'd been drugged, but I'm clean.”

Simon raised his eyebrows. “Hey, what are you talking about? What drugs?”

Jim turned away and shrugged again. “How else can I explain what happened to me when the Switchman got away, Simon? I didn’t tell you that I fell off the back of her bike because I was seeing things.”

“Look, you were stressed, okay? You saw something. You smelled some fumes that made you dizzy and you fell off the bike. You still caught her before she could blow up those people on that tour bus. And now you want more time off?” Simon was clearly annoyed.

“You just don’t understand.” Jim tried to explain. “I went to all kinds of doctors and specialists before I requested this time off and they all said there’s nothing physically wrong with me. But I’m seeing and hearing things that aren’t there. Half the time I can’t eat because the food smells and tastes horrible. Some days my clothes give me a rash. I even have spells where I lose time. All I know is I can't do my job this way. I'm losing control of my senses, Simon, I don't know how else to describe it. It's scaring the hell out of me.”

Simon shook his head is disbelief. “All right, so let me get this straight. This is all about you being scared?”

Jim sighed in resignation. “Yeah, I’m scared that somebody’s going to end up dead.”

“Oh, come on. Is this the guy that toughed it out in the jungle for a year and a half?” Simon rolled his eyes. “All right, look, you can take another week off. But that's all the slack I can cut you, Jim.”

“Well, that's not enough. I need at least another month, maybe longer.”

“Two weeks and that’s the best I can do. That should give you more than enough time to get over - whatever this is,” Simon huffed as he stalked out the door. “I’m going back to Cascade. Some of us care about doing our jobs.”

Jim stood in his doorway and grimly watched as his captain drove away. “Thank you, Captain Banks for being so concerned,” he muttered.

“Man, talk about a condescending attitude.” Jim turned to find Blair standing beside him. “He’s not even trying to understand why you don’t want to go back.”

“And I suppose you do,” Jim frowned.

“Well yeah. He thinks you’re afraid for yourself but he’s mistaken. You’re afraid you’ll have one of those spells at the wrong time and someone else will get hurt.”

“How much did you hear?” Jim sighed.

“Most of it. Those symptoms you described sound familiar. I know I’ve heard about something like that. Give me a minute to think.” Blair limped to the couch and sat down. His brow wrinkled in concentration as he searched his memory.

“My symptoms sound familiar?” Jim asked skeptically as he put a throw pillow on the coffee table and rested Blair’s injured ankle on it. “None of the doctors seemed to know what was going on with me.”

Jim relaxed in the chair opposite the couch and contemplated his young house guest. Simon had been his friend as well as boss for several years now, yet he dismissed his problems as nothing more than excuses for not returning to work. He’d known Blair less than twenty-four hours and he was taking Jim seriously.

Blair suddenly sat up straight and snapped his fingers. “I know!” he exclaimed excitedly. “About a year ago, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Eli Stoddard. He’s a big name in anthropology. Anyway, his lecture was about a study he had done on people with heightened senses. He got interested in the subject after he read a monograph by an explorer named Burton. According to this guy, all ancient tribal cultures had a special guardian to watch over them, a person who Burton called a sentinel. This person could see farther and hear sounds before anyone else could. He could tell if food or water was tainted just by smelling or tasting it. He knew if a storm was coming and how bad it would be. This guardian was the most amazing person.”

“And you’re telling me this because?” Jim asked.

“I’m telling you this because,” Blair snickered, “Dr. Stoddard wondered if the gene for heightened senses was still around or if it had disappeared because it was no longer needed in the modern world. So he went looking and he found a lot of people with one or two heightened senses like people who work in the perfume and wine industries. He found a chef who could taste something and name all the ingredients in it. And he even found a doctor who could tell body temperature and vital signs just by touching his patient. He didn’t manage to find anyone with all five, but he believed that if the gene for one or two is still around, then it makes logical sense that the gene for all five is out there too.”

“And you think that’s what’s wrong with me? I’m one of these sentinel-type people?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Jim,” Blair smiled gently. “Your senses are heightened because of the genes you carry and that’s just as normal for you as it is for that doctor or that chef or those wine tasters.”

“Great. I had to leave Cascade because I couldn’t stand the noise and smells anymore. Things are better here but they still act up on me. There must be some way to control them,” Jim grumbled.

“According to what Dr. Stoddard said,” Blair continued thoughtfully, “every sentinel had a companion who watched his back and helped him when he used his senses. But ancient sentinels must have been able to control their senses on their own. I mean his companion was obviously with him when he was on duty protecting the tribe but I doubt that they were together 24/7. Even married couples need a break from each other now and then so they don’t drive each other nuts.

“I’m sure there were times when the companion wasn’t available, like when he was sick or injured or making out with his girlfriend. And I’m also sure that when the sentinel was in bed with his wife he wouldn’t want the companion standing there taking notes.”

“You mean the sentinel and his companion weren’t into threesomes?” Jim chuckled.

“For all we know they may have been into wife-swapping,” Blair grinned back at him for a moment then became serious again. “Give me a little time, Jim. I’ll figure this out.”

“Why are you so willing to help me?” Jim wondered.

“Why are you so willing to help me?” Blair countered. “I help someone, you help someone, that person helps someone else. Everyone needs a helping hand now and then. My mom would say we’re just making good karma, man.”

“Well if there’s a solution to be found, Chief, I believe you’re the one who’ll find it.” Jim smiled at his new friend. “Personally, I’m glad we found each other.”

FIVE

Jim wandered leisurely through the forest near his cabin. What had felt like despair and fear such a short time ago had turned into hope and a new appreciation for life. And all because he had befriended a fugitive. He smiled as he thought about the interesting young man sharing his home.

Blair had insisted on officially hiring Jim as his bodyguard, of course he wouldn’t be able to pay him until he collected his inheritance, but Jim could name his own price. Blair didn’t care about the money; he just wanted to stay alive. Jim didn’t care about the money either. He wasn’t sure where this feeling of protectiveness came from but he was determined to keep his new friend safe and he didn’t need to be paid to do it.

Blair had been delighted when he plugged in his laptop and found that it was undamaged. He was even more delighted when Jim mentioned that he had internet access from his satellite dish. After a quick check of his email and a disappointed sigh at no messages from his mother, Blair got to work searching for everything he could find about heightened senses. It took him a couple of days before he was able to provide Jim with the little bit of information he had found, mainly because he kept nodding off in the middle of his searches.

When he mentioned that he didn’t know why he kept falling asleep, Jim merely shrugged and said, “You were out there alone and what sleep you got probably wasn’t very restful. Now you know you have someone to keep watch over you and it’s safe to let your guard down. You’re just making up for lost time.”

“It feels good to know someone is keeping watch.” Blair smiled shyly and Jim couldn’t help thinking that he wanted to see that smile more often.

They had carefully gone over the meager information and quickly discovered that while there were plenty of examples of what the sentinel used his senses for, there was nothing to tell them how he controlled them other than the passing mention of a companion who helped him.

Blair groaned in frustration. “The sentinel had to have had a way to control his senses; otherwise he would have been of no use to the tribe. When the input got too intense he must have had a way to turn it all down.”

“Turn it down?” Jim asked. “You mean like with some sort of a dial?”

“That’s it! A dial! What a great idea!” Blair actually bounced in his seat with excitement at the suggestion.

Jim still didn’t know what had possessed him to pull up his shirt and examine his chest. “I don’t see anything that looks like a dial.” He made pretend twisting motions over first one nipple then the other and sadly shook his head. “Sorry, nothing that works like a dial.”

Blair looked shocked then began laughing so hard he could barely get words out. “Not on the outside of you, you doofus.”

Oh yeah. He liked the sound of Blair’s laughter. Definitely looking forward to hearing more of it.

When they finally calmed down Blair began to explain about visualization techniques, breathing exercises and meditation and damned if they didn’t work. With Blair’s careful guidance Jim was able to picture a dial in his mind and use it to adjust his senses one by one until everything felt normal again.

The following days were spent getting familiar with using a dial to control his senses and the evenings were spent learning more about each other. Blair talked about his unconventional mother and his nomadic childhood which ended when he entered the university at the age of sixteen. Jim reciprocated by telling of his overly strict father who had driven him to leave home and join the army. Blair told tales about the expeditions he had gone on and Jim mentioned the time he had spent in Peru after his helicopter had been shot down. Although he didn’t remember a lot about that time, he thought that maybe his senses had been heightened while he was there.

“Well, heightened senses are genetic,” Blair reflected, “so you’ve had them your whole life. Sounds like they were dormant most of the time. You must have had some control over them if you used them in Peru.”

Jim considered this for a moment then suddenly remembered. “The tribe that I lived with, their shaman Incacha helped me when I used them.”

“He was your companion. How cool.”

“But why would they be normal between the time I got back and now?” Jim wondered.

“Maybe they’re only on-line when you have a companion or you’ll soon be meeting someone who will become your companion.”

“Maybe,” Jim agreed and regarded Blair thoughtfully.

“What?” Blair asked as he noticed the way Jim was looking at him.

Jim shrugged. “I don’t get it. I haven’t talked about half this stuff with people I’ve known for years yet I’ve only known you for a couple of days and I’m telling you my life story.”

“I know what you mean,” Blair grinned. “Maybe we were friends in a former life and that’s why we’re comfortable telling each other personal things.”

“I don’t believe in reincarnation, but then I didn’t believe heightened senses were possible either.”

<<<>>>

Jim was startled out of his reverie by what sounded like a wolf’s howl though he knew there were no wolves in this part of the forest. Jim cautiously extended his hearing and began to filter out sounds the way Blair had taught him to. He smiled as he picked up the sound of Blair puttering around in the cabin then pushed his hearing out a little further. His smile died as he picked up the sound of a car engine, an engine he had heard before. An engine that belonged to the car owned by Simon Banks.

“Aw hell,” he muttered as he hurried toward home, hoping to get back to the cabin and get Blair out of sight before Simon could arrive.

<<<>>>

Blair was thinking about making sandwiches for lunch as he stepped out of the bathroom and almost collided with a tall African American man.

“Who are you?” the big man demanded.

“Who are you?” Blair countered and hoped he sounded braver than he felt. He’d only caught a glimpse of Jim’s captain as he drove away after his last visit but he was pretty sure that’s who he was facing now.

“I’m Captain Simon Banks, Cascade Police, Ellison’s boss and friend. Now I believe I asked you a question.”

Blair almost took a step back as Simon loomed over him but halted as his nervousness suddenly vanished. He crossed his arms over his chest and regarded the belligerent man facing him. “You know, that’s very interesting that you describe yourself as Jim’s captain first and his friend second. Of course that really shouldn’t surprise me, considering how you talked to him the last time you were here.”

Simon blinked at the unexpected response. He was accustomed to using his size and authority to intimidate others when necessary but this long-haired kid in the faded jeans and too-large t-shirt merely stared at him disapprovingly. He was further amazed when the kid stepped into his personal space and poked him in the chest.

“Yeah, I heard what you said to him and the tone of voice you used and believe me, that didn’t sound like any friend I’d want to hang around with. He tried to tell you about the problems he was having but you really didn’t want to hear it. A friend would have listened and taken him seriously. A friend would have shown some concern and sympathy for him. That’s not what I heard from you. You gave him the old brush-off. Instead of trying to understand what your ‘friend’ was going through and helping him, you practically called him a coward. What has to happen before you take him seriously? Does he have to have one of his spells in the middle of a shoot-out and get himself killed? Or worse, in his mind, get his fellow officers killed? What would you say then? ‘Oh, sorry Jim. I guess you really do have a problem.’”

As Blair stepped back to catch his breath, it occurred to him that he might have gone too far berating a man big enough to easily snap him in half like a twig. And judging by the look on that man’s face he was about ready to do just that.

Simon scowled and rested his hand on his holster. “Who the hell are you, you little punk. I’ve a good mind to arrest you for breaking and entering. God knows what you’ve done to Jim.”

Blair’s eyes widened as he held up his empty hands. “Whoa, Joe Friday! Unarmed civilian here!”

Both men jumped as the door slammed open and Jim strode angrily into the room. “Back off, Simon,” Jim snarled at his captain as he stepped protectively in front of Blair and put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “You all right, Chief?”

“Yeah, Jim. I’m sorry.” Blair sighed.

“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left you alone.” Jim frowned at Simon. “You have no right to treat a guest in my home like some kind of perp. What are you doing here anyway? Don’t tell me it’s been two weeks already.”

“Close enough,” Simon answered. To say he was confused by his detective’s reaction to his presence was putting it mildly. He’d seen Jim turn that icy look on plenty of prisoners in the interrogation room but he’d never had it aimed at himself until now.

“You’ve wasted another trip, Simon. I’m still not ready to come back and the way I feel right now retirement is sounding better and better.”

“Talk to him, man,” Blair murmured. “Some day you may want to go back and burning bridges is never a good idea.”

Jim considered this for a moment then nodded. “Sit down, Simon. We need to talk.”

“What the hell is going on, Jim? Who is this kid?” Simon never could rest until he’d solved a puzzle and this was definitely a puzzle in need of solving. His voice of authority had always made an impression on his detective in the past but Jim was almost treating him like a stranger. He made note of the brief touches the two exchanged and the way Jim’s expression softened as he looked at the kid and wondered how long Jim had known him and what kind of relationship they had.

“I tried to tell you what was going on the last time you were here.” Jim drew Blair down beside him on the couch and nodded for Simon to take one of the chairs. “But you didn’t really want to hear it. I’ve learned that I have what’s known as heightened senses, all five of them. They were on-line when I was in Peru and I was able to use them there. Then they went back to normal until the Switchman case. I didn’t remember much from my time in Peru, that’s why I didn’t understand what was happening to me.”

“You said the doctors told you that nothing was wrong with you,” Simon frowned.

“That’s right,” Blair stated. “There’s nothing wrong with Jim. Heightened senses are genetic. Whether on-line or off, they’re perfectly normal for him.”

Simon glared at Blair suspiciously. “We still haven’t been introduced.”

Jim leaned forward partially blocking Simon’s view. “This is my friend BJ. He helped me figure out what was going on with my senses and he’s working with me on getting some control over them.”

“Does BJ have a last name?”

“Why?” Jim challenged. “So you can run him through the PD database and find out if he’s a criminal? He’s no criminal, Simon.”

“Could have fooled me with the attitude he was giving me before you came in.”

“I heard the entire conversation, captain first, friend second. I heard BJ sticking up for me. That’s what friends do and I won’t make him apologize for it.”

Jim’s defiant words made Simon uncomfortable and he found himself unable to maintain eye contact, not sure whether he should be embarrassed or annoyed that Jim had heard.

The resulting tense silence was broken by Blair’s voice. “How far from the cabin were you?”

“I don’t know,” Jim shrugged. “Couple thousand yards maybe.”

“Wow, you’re really getting the hang of it. But you still need to be careful extending your senses when you’re alone,” Blair cautioned.

“I was,” Jim reassured him. “I had a rough piece of bark in my hand. The sharp texture kept me grounded.”

“Very good!” Blair’s smile showed he clearly approved of Jim’s resourceful thinking as he patted him on the shoulder.

Simon watched with amazement as the expression on Jim’s face went from proud to pleased at the younger man’s praise and could only think of a dog being patted on its head by its owner after the successful completion of a new trick. Was this his bad-assed detective who was secretly referred to by his colleagues as ‘Iceberg Ellison’? Jim and Blair continued to grin at each other until Simon cleared his throat as a reminder that they weren’t alone.

“So what the hell are heightened senses?” he grumbled.

The two exchanged glances and Jim gave a slight nod. Blair explained about Dr. Stoddard’s lecture and his belief that if the gene for one or two heightened senses still existed then the gene for all five must still be out there too. He followed that with the results of his own research on the internet and what he had learned about ancient sentinels.

Jim took over the mini-lecture by detailing the various exercises Blair had developed for helping him control his senses and the progress that had been made. Seeing the skeptical look on his boss’s face he proceeded to give a demonstration. Once he was sure that Simon was beginning to believe them, he concluded by stating that while he was getting a handle on things he wasn’t confident enough yet to return to the city and his job.

Simon looked at them both thoughtfully. “If all this is true, then these senses should be a big help in solving crimes.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Blair enthused. “He’ll be like a walking organic crime lab and a human lie detector. Once he has full control there’ll be no stopping him.”

“You’ve got a lot of confidence in me, Chief.”

“Look at the progress you’ve made already and it’s only been a couple of weeks.”

“I’ve had you to act as my companion and help me.”

“We’ll find you a suitable companion helper. Someone on the force,” Simon stressed and glanced pointedly at Blair.

“Not just anyone can be a companion, Simon,” Jim frowned. As far as he was concerned, he had found his companion and he wasn’t willing to accept any substitutes. “We didn’t tell you yet about the downside of heightened senses. Like the sensory spikes I have when there’s too much input or it’s too intense. I can’t function when I’m doubled over in agony because suddenly lights are too bright or sounds are too loud or I smell something that makes me gag. I told you I was having spells where I lost time. BJ says those are called zone-outs when I concentrate so much on one sense that I lose track of everything else. If any of those things occur at the wrong time, one of my fellow officers could end up dead and I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.”

“And that’s why Jim doesn’t want to come back to work yet,” Blair interrupted. “Sure he’s made a lot of progress in a short time, but he still has a ways to go before he has full control. I know I’d be scared to death if my senses started going wonky on me and I didn’t know how to get them back to normal. At least Jim knows what’s going on now and what to do about it but he still needs a lot more practice both in extending them and in bringing them back under control.”

“That’s why it’s important that I have the right companion to help me,” Jim emphasized. “It can’t be somebody off the street corner. He has to have the right sounding voice to talk me through the spikes and bring me back from a zone. He needs to be compassionate enough to not make me feel like these spells are my fault. He needs to have enough empathy to understand what I’m going through.”

Simon shook his head in resignation. “How much time do you think you’ll need before you have enough control to do your job?”

“Couple of months at least,” Jim shrugged and glanced at the young man seated beside him who nodded in agreement.

“Fine,” Simon sighed in defeat. “You’ve got enough unused vacation days to cover another couple of months. But I expect you to keep me updated on your progress.”

Jim smiled. “Thanks, Simon. I appreciate your help and I promise to keep in touch.”

The two men were saying their final good-byes at the door when Blair jumped up from the couch with a loud gasp.

“Oh, man. I just thought of something else. You’ll need to be careful of who knows about Jim’s senses. If the criminals find out he has an edge they might try to take him out by using his senses against him.”

Both stared at him blankly for a moment until Jim ran his hand over his hair and groaned. “Shit. Now that you mention it, I worked covert ops long enough to know that something like this might catch the government’s interest. He’s right, Simon. You can’t let anyone else know.”

“Don’t worry, Jim. I won’t betray your confidence.” Simon sent another pointed look in Blair’s direction then clapped Jim on the back. “We’ll get everything worked out.”

Simon opened his car door then turned and pointed a finger at Blair.

“And you, BJ with no last name. If I find out you’re running some kind of scam on Jim, there won’t be enough left of you to put on trial for fraud.”

“Congratulations. You’re starting to sound like a friend,” Blair nodded approvingly.

Simon harrumphed in disgust and climbed into his car.

As they watched the captain’s car disappear down the road, Blair softly chuckled, “Man, I don’t think he likes me very much.”

“What’s not to like?” Jim grinned and wrapped his arm around the smaller man’s shoulders. “You’re handsome, intelligent, compassionate, understanding, and brave enough to speak your mind.”

Blair flushed at the compliment. “Yeah, well, Simon didn’t seem to appreciate hearing me speaking my mind.”

“He also didn’t appreciate the lack of information about you,” Jim smirked and shrugged dismissively. “He’ll get over it. He might not have liked having to be reminded of the definition of a friend, but he’s a good man. Once he has a chance to think about it, he’ll do the right thing. So what do you say, my faithful companion. Shall we have lunch?”

“I’m with you, Kemosabe,” Blair laughed and followed his sentinel into the cabin.

SIX

Jim stood in the front yard and practiced extending and pulling back his senses along with the other daily ingenious exercises Blair had developed for using them. Blair stood beside him, watching him closely and occasionally touching his arm or back whenever it looked like Jim was beginning to lose himself in the sense he was concentrating on. Jim actually looked forward to these practice sessions and secretly enjoyed the knowledge that during them he had Blair’s full attention.

“What do you hear?” Blair quietly asked.

Jim tilted his head slightly and listened carefully. Wind in the treetops. Bird song. A small animal rustling in the undergrowth. And a soft rhythmic thumping that he had come to know so well over the past weeks. It was the last sound that he heard as he drifted off to sleep at night and the first sound that he listened for when he wakened.

“I hear your heartbeat.”

“Really? Man, that’s so cool,” Blair grinned then quickly added, “I mean as long as my pulse doesn’t start annoying you.”

“Actually, it’s rather soothing. So’s your voice for that matter.”

Blair smiled shyly. “I’m glad you think so. You’re doing good with identifying and filtering out sounds until you get to the one you want to hear. Let’s try scent.”

Jim closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Pine trees. Wild flowers. A skunk was wandering around out there but was far enough away to not worry about. And something very pleasant. He sought out the origin of that enticing odor and realized it was coming from right beside him. Jim leaned close enough to bury his nose in Blair’s hair and inhaled deeply. He tilted Blair’s head to the side so he could pursue that wonderful scent down the younger man’s neck to a place just below his ear. He gave in to a sudden impulse to taste and ran his tongue over the spot. He groaned as a marvelous flavor exploded across his taste buds and he slowly began to move his lips along the firm jaw searching for more.

“Um, Jim. What are you doing?” He barely registered the timid question as his tongue brushed over Blair’s lips.

“I’m not sure,” he whispered and silenced any further questions with a gentle kiss that left them both slightly breathless.

Blair sighed regretfully. “I - I don’t think this is a good idea right now considering how long we’ve both been out in the woods alone.”

Jim felt as if a bucket of ice water had been dumped on his head as the quiet words registered. He suddenly realized what he’d been doing and quickly stepped away from Blair. “You’re right. This is a bad idea. I’m just – gonna – take a walk.” Jim strode off into the forest before Blair could say anything else.

Blair flopped down on the step. What was going on? One minute Jim’s kissing him and the next he’s taking off like demons are chasing him. There was no use pretending that he hadn’t enjoyed that kiss and he sure hadn’t tried to avoid it. Hell, Jim was a handsome man and he’d often found himself trying not to stare at the powerful muscles that rippled as a shirtless Jim chopped wood. Was he falling for the big guy or had he just been alone too long?

He leaned his head on his hand and stared glumly in the direction Jim had gone as he sighed and answered his own question. “Oh, man. You are so screwed.”

<<<>>>

As soon as he was out of sight Jim halted his hasty retreat and parked himself on a fallen log. He kept his hearing tuned to the cabin fearing that he’d hear the sounds of Blair packing and was temporarily relieved to find that all was quiet so far.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Ellison? How could you be so stupid? Oh God, what have I done?” he silently berated himself.

He had given in to an impulse which would probably drive the young man away. Just the thought that he’d never see that smile or hear that laughter again gave him a sharp pain in his stomach. He realized that what he felt was more than just a physical attraction.

It had been a long time since he’d felt anything more than a vague interest in another man. He’d indulged himself a few times when he worked vice, always careful that his fellow officers only knew about the women he equally enjoyed dating. That had ended when he transferred to the Major Crimes unit, partially because he didn’t think his new colleagues would approve and he wanted to fit in, but mostly because he just hadn’t met any men he really wanted to sleep with. Then he met and married Carolyn and life was great until she decided that she could do better than him.

After the divorce he wasn’t very interested in men or women. Until he found a certain bedraggled kid in the woods. Blair was strikingly handsome with eyes so blue, Jim felt he could sink in them and never come out again. A well-proportioned body and a smile that could light up a room. Yeah, he was physically attracted, only a blind man wouldn’t be.

But it was more than that. Blair didn’t bat an eye when he described his symptoms. He didn’t tell him to take a couple aspirin and get back to work or imply that he was a coward or crazy. No, Blair got right down to the business of finding a solution. Blair understood him the way that no one else had even tried to.

Several times he had noticed Blair covertly watching him as he worked around the cabin. He had enough experience to know when someone was admiring the view. He picked up more than one hint that his new friend might be interested in more than just helping with Jim’s senses. Jim didn’t know where that kiss had come from but he hadn’t given a thought to the idea that the recipient might not be all that receptive. He had been so sure that Blair was attracted to him the same way.

“Yeah, keep telling yourself that, Ellison,” he ridiculed himself. “Just because the kid enjoys window shopping doesn’t mean he actually wants to buy anything.”

Might as well face the music and see how much damage had been done. He stood and reluctantly headed back.

<<<>>>

Jim cautiously approached Blair who was sitting with his elbows on his knees and chin resting on his hands staring off into space. When he showed no acknowledgement of Jim’s presence, Jim cleared his throat and quietly said “Hi.”

“Not yet. Thinkin’ about it.”

Jim blinked at the unusual answer then feeling a little bolder at the lack of hostility ventured, “You look like you’re deep in thought.”

“Pondering the mysteries of life,” Blair replied absently and patted the step beside him until Jim sat down, careful not to sit too close. “Like why do drive through ATMs have Braille on them? Did you ever wonder about that? I mean, it’s not like a blind person will be behind the wheel. At least I don’t think they issue driver’s licenses to blind people.”

“Not that I’m aware of.” Jim was glad that Blair was talking to him even if it did seem to be a strange conversation.

“See, that’s one of life’s mysteries,” Blair continued. “Ranks right up there with the way my life’s been going lately. Man, I’ve had weird things happen to me but nothing like what’s been going on since I got that letter. Makes me feel like life is one big joke and I’m the only one who doesn’t get the punch line.”

“I know that feeling,” Jim agreed.

“There are times when I feel like I can’t take any more and I just want to give out with the old primal scream. Naomi says nothing makes a stressed out soul feel better.” He turned to Jim. “That’s what I was doing when you found me, you know.”

“And did it make you feel better?”

“Nah. It just gave me a sore throat,” Blair smiled ruefully.

They sat quietly for a moment until Jim got up enough nerve to bring up what had happened between them.

“Look, I’m sorry about earlier. I don’t know what came over me. You smelled so good and all of a sudden it was like something took over and I just had to taste you and fill my senses with you.”

“You mean like you wanted to imprint me on your senses?” Blair considered that possibility.

“Yeah,” Jim realized. “I’m sorry. I won’t let that happen again.”

“Damn, it was probably all just a sentinel thing.” Blair wasn’t sure how to feel about that thought but knowing Jim was uncomfortable, he hastened to reassure the other man. “It’s all right Jim. I think I might understand what was going on. I’ll bet the ancient sentinels imprinted their companions on all five of their senses. It would make it easier for him to locate the companion when he needed to. He could listen for the sound of his voice or heartbeat or even follow his scent when necessary. I’m really not upset with you.”

“You have no idea how relieved that makes me,” Jim smiled and visibly relaxed.

“Did you imprint Incacha?” Blair wondered.

Jim thought for a moment before replying. “I spent a lot of time with him and I could locate him anywhere so I guess I must have imprinted him without realizing it.”

“Definitely a sentinel thing,” Blair thought and was surprised by how disappointed he felt.

Jim fidgeted a little as if he had more on his mind but he wasn’t sure how to say it. Finally he took a deep breath.

“There’s something else I need to tell you. I discovered early on that I liked men as much as I liked women though I’ve tended to stick pretty much with women after I became a cop. You’re the first guy I’ve felt any attraction for since before I was married.”

“You’re married?”

“Divorced. Some times things don’t work out. No matter how hard you try.”

Blair pondered this revelation then asked, “Were you attracted to Incacha?”

Jim shook his head. “Our relationship never went in that direction. He helped me use my senses and that’s all he did. I considered him a good friend and I was very relaxed and comfortable around the man, but I had no desire to sleep with him. I have to be honest, Blair. I am attracted to you and I would like us to be more than friends.”

“It’s more than just a sentinel thing.” Blair was suddenly delighted with that thought.

“Well I don’t have a problem with your sexual orientation. I’m on friendly terms with a couple of guys who are gay and I’ve been hit on by guys and wondered what it would be like but I was never attracted to anyone enough to satisfy my curiosity.”

“Oh,” Jim sounded worried that he might have pushed things too far. “You’re right. Taking our relationship beyond friendship is a bad idea. I won’t bring it up again.”

“No, no, I didn’t say it was a bad idea.” Blair hurried to explain. “I just think this is bad timing. I mean here I am hiding out afraid for my life and you offer me your protection. Here you are having trouble with your senses and I offer to help you with them. I’m grateful for your protection, you’re grateful for my help. Believe me, I think you’re a very handsome man with the kind of body I’d always wished I had and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t attracted to you, Jim. But I’d like us to be more than just a fling because of gratitude or curiosity.”

“I don’t want just a fling either,” Jim nodded in understanding.

“I just think we need to be sure that we’re getting together for the right reasons and not because we’ve been alone in the woods too long and our hormones are getting carried away. I really do like you Jim. When I desperately needed a friend, there you were offering to help with no strings attached. Most of the people I know are fair-weather friends. You know the kind? They tell you to let them know if you ever need help, then when you’re down on your luck they suddenly have a gazillion excuses for why they can’t help you. Why do you think I was sleeping in that homeless shelter after my place burned down?”

“If I’d known you then, you wouldn’t have been sleeping in a homeless shelter. You wouldn’t have been living in a drafty old warehouse to begin with.” Jim frowned at the thought of Blair having no one to help him.

“You’re very protective,” Blair chuckled. “Look at the way you jumped on Simon for threatening to arrest me.”

Jim shook his head in confusion. “I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it but I have this overwhelming need to keep you safe. I’ve felt this way since the moment I met you.”

“I think protectiveness is part of being a sentinel, you know, taking care of the members of your tribe and especially the one who helps you use your senses. Oh, wow. I guess this means I’m your companion.” Blair grinned then grimaced as a new thought occurred to him. “Oh man. Simon is not gonna be happy.”

“Tough. He’ll just have to get over it,” Jim smirked.

The two sat in companionable silence for a while and enjoyed the peacefulness of the forest until Blair gently nudged Jim and quietly asked, “Are we okay, Jim?”

“Yeah,” Jim answered. “We’re okay. I’m just wondering where we go from here.”

“I think our main priority is to get your senses under control. At the rate you’re improving you should be able to adjust the input automatically before too much longer. Our time should be spent practicing with that dial until you can use it without consciously thinking about it. I mean, I’m safe at the moment. I’m keeping a low profile and no one except Simon knows I’m here. We need to put off thinking about anything else until my birthday’s out of the way.”

“That makes sense, Chief. I’m glad to see that you’re more than just a pretty face. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders.”

“So can we just be friends for now?” Blair asked and held out his hand.

“Friends,” Jim agreed as he took Blair’s hand. “With potential.”

SEVEN

Blair had just finished folding the last of the clean laundry when he saw Jim’s truck pull into the yard. His surprise at seeing Jim back from town so soon quickly turned into concern as he watched the other man jump out and run toward the cabin.

Jim was hardly in the door when he began shouting orders as he headed for the bedroom.

“Get your things packed. We’re leaving. Move it.”

Bewildered, Blair trailed after him and stopped in the bedroom doorway to watch Jim drag out two large suitcases and begin to throw clothes into them.

“What’s going on, Jim? What’s happened?”

“No time to explain. Get packed. We have to leave now. Let’s go! Move! Move!”

Blair tried hard not to panic as he frantically shoved his clothes into his backpack. While he unplugged and packed his laptop, he could hear Jim in the bathroom collecting personal items. As he gathered up his notes and checked to be sure he hadn’t missed any, Jim hurried out the door with the two large bags which he tossed into the truck.

Jim reentered the cabin and began packing perishables in his cooler. Blair set his backpack beside the door and turned worried eyes to his friend.

“Jim, please. What’s happening?”

“Two big guys were showing your picture around town. We have to get out of here before someone remembers you bought camping supplies there.”

“Oh my God,” Blair gasped and ran to make sure windows were closed and that he hadn’t overlooked any of his belongings. By the time he was finished, Jim had placed the cooler and his backpack in the truck and was returning to lock up.

“Get in the truck, down on the floor and stay out of sight,” Jim ordered as they passed each other.

Blair barely had time to follow those instructions before Jim climbed into the driver’s seat and pulled away from the cabin. When they reached town Jim carefully looked around and smiled grimly when he spotted the gray SUV parked in the same place he had last seen it.

“Good, they’re still in town. Stay down,” he admonished as his passenger tried to peek out the window. “Was that the store where you bought your camping gear?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, don’t panic,” Jim soothed. “Number one you haven’t been back to town since?”

“No, I stayed away from people and I left the trail before I got to the campgrounds. I made sure no one saw me when I did.”

“Good. Number two the picture they’re showing is your University I.D. You had short hair and it’s grown quite a bit in the last few months. It changes your appearance just enough to make you harder to recognize unless someone looks close.”

“How do you know it was my University I.D.?” Blair wondered. “I never showed that to you. When did you see it?”

“Um, the first night you were at my place.” Jim squirmed guiltily. “You were in the shower and I... sorta looked through your backpack.”

“You what?”

“Hey, I’m a cop, you were acting suspicious. Haven’t you ever heard of probable cause?”

“So you knew my name before you gave me the third degree? Oh, man!” Blair huffed in disgust.

“Are you mad at me?” Jim asked quietly.

“No point being mad at you now.” Blair shook his head and sighed. “Man, good thing I didn’t plan on a life of crime. I sure wouldn’t get far without being caught.”

After a few miles, Jim was sure they weren’t being followed and he allowed Blair to get up on the seat. Blair hooked his seatbelt and found he had so many questions he wasn’t sure which one to ask first.

“So what were they saying about me?” he finally wondered.

“One of them claims you’re his step-brother,” Jim answered. “According to him, you had a fight with your mother a couple of months ago and took off. Now he’s being the noble step-son and trying to track you down to make her happy. He’s even offering a reward for any information that helps him find you.”

“That’s crap,” Blair frowned indignantly. “No way is Naomi the marrying kind especially after what happened with my father. You don’t believe him, do you?”

“Of course I don’t. That’s why we took off like we did. I didn’t want to take any chances that they might wander up near the cabin and spot you there.”

Blair watched the scenery go by for a moment before he asked, “So where are we going?”

“Back to my place in Cascade. Hopefully they won’t be able to follow you there.”

They rode a couple more miles before Blair broke the silence. “I don’t understand. Why would they be looking for me in a tiny little town like that?”

Jim shrugged. “Apparently they didn’t think you were bright enough to leave the city so they’d confined their searching to Seattle until they happened to meet a truck driver who remembered giving you a ride.”

“Oh, man. That trucker was driving all the way to New York. I was hoping that by the time he got back to Seattle he’d have forgotten all about me.”

“Face it, Chief,” Jim smirked. “You’re unforgettable.”

“Yeah. Lucky me.”

<<<>>>

As they approached Cascade, Jim cleared his throat to get Blair’s attention.

“I want to call Simon and have him meet us at the loft. I think it’s time to let him know what’s going on with you. We might need some back-up if those goons manage to follow us.”

“Do you think Simon will believe my story?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Jim wondered.

“Maybe because he definitely doesn’t like me? He already thinks I’m some sort of con man.”

“He only met you once.”

“You thought I was a criminal at first. Why did you believe me?”

“I could hear your heartbeat,” Jim admitted. “It was a little fast because you were upset but it held steady through your whole story. What? You did call me a human lie detector.”

“Wow, you really are good.” Blair’s pleased smile showed how impressed he was.

Jim shrugged modestly. “So, is it okay with you if I tell Simon your story?”

“You’re the bodyguard. Do whatever you think is needed.”

“We might end up having to set a trap for them and possibly using you as bait though I’d really hate to do that.”

“I trust you Jim. I know you won’t let anything happen to me if you can help it. Do whatever you feel is necessary to get them off my back.”

Jim felt humbled by his friend’s trust in him and was even more determined to keep him safe.

Shortly after crossing the city limits, Blair noticed that Jim was frowning and he was gripping the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles were white.

“Jim, what’s wrong?” he asked.

Jim grimaced. “I’d forgotten how noisy and smelly Cascade was. That’s why I left in the first place.”

“Pull over and we’ll adjust your dials,” Blair instructed. “I should have thought about this. You’ve been living in the forest where the air is clean and it’s quiet. We just need to get you acclimated to the city again.”

“That simple, huh?” Jim inquired skeptically but did as he was told. With Blair’s help he was able to adjust his senses until he was comfortable again. They continued on with Jim pulling over every few blocks to make further adjustments until they arrived at his home on Prospect.

<<<>>>

“Can’t you just keep them away from me until after my birthday?”

Simon had arrived at the loft shortly after they did and had quietly listened to Blair’s story. He wasn’t sure if he believed it or not but it was clear that Ellison did and he was not a man with a reputation for being gullible. Besides, Jim had never looked healthier so it was obvious that whatever mumbo-jumbo the kid had used on him had done him no harm. Best of all he now knew the kid’s full name and could run a make on him. All this made Simon feel generous.

“We need to catch them and find out who hired them,” he patiently explained.

“Why?” Blair questioned. “After I collect my inheritance there won’t be any point in killing me. Mom is my beneficiary and everything I own would go to her.”

“And if she died before you collect?”

“You think someone’s out there trying to kill her? Good luck. She moves around so much I have trouble tracking her down even in the best of times.”

“How’d your father find you?” Jim asked.

“His lawyer said he hired a private investigator who located Naomi…. Shit.”

“Exactly. If his P.I. found her, how do we know that someone else’s hasn’t found her by now? Have you heard from her recently?”

“Not since I got the letter and she told me to go to the reading of the will. I tried to call her afterwards but I was told that she’d taken off for parts unknown to ‘cleanse her aura’. I tried to find her after the warehouse burned down but no one knew where she’d gone so I left messages with Moonbeam and Sunflower that I needed to talk to her.”

“Moonbeam and Sunflower?” Simon smirked in disbelief.

“What can I say, man?” Blair shrugged. “Long live the sixties. Anyway I sent her an email then all hell broke loose and I ended up in the woods with no internet until Jim took me to his cabin. I sent her a couple more emails from there but she hasn’t answered any of them. She could be anywhere at this point. God, what if something’s happened to her?”

“No news is good news. Let’s keep a good thought, Chief.” Jim squeezed his shoulder in sympathy. “Damn that woman. What kind of a mother takes off and leaves her kid to deal with a mess like this on his own?” One look at the scowl on Simon’s face told him that his captain was having the same thoughts.

After agreeing to meet at the station in the morning to check mug books and make further plans, they bid Simon good night.

EIGHT

At first Jim wasn’t sure what had woken him; then he realized that he was hearing Blair’s racing heartbeat. Before he had a chance to investigate, he heard Blair cross the room below and rush breathlessly up the stairs only to halt at the top and look around in confusion as if he wasn’t sure how he’d gotten there.

“Hey, are you all right?” Jim asked quietly.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up. Sorry.” Blair self-consciously turned to leave.

“It’s okay, Chief. You’re allowed to be in my bedroom,” Jim hastened to reassure him. Even in the darkened room, Jim could see the younger man was shivering so he lifted the corner of his blankets in invitation. “You look cold. Come get warm.”

Blair hesitated then slipped under the covers to lie beside Jim.

“Nightmare?” Jim inquired gently.

“Yeah,” came the quiet reply.

“Want to talk about it?”

“No.”

Jim considered his shaky bedmate and wished there was something he could do to comfort him. Then a distant memory came to him of himself as a young child suffering from his own night-terrors.

“When I was little and had a nightmare, my mom would give me a hug. Would you like a hug?”

Blair nodded and moved into Jim’s welcoming embrace. They lay quietly for a few minutes and he could feel Blair slowly relax.

“I dreamed I was in the warehouse where I lived,” Blair whispered softly. “It was on fire and the smoke was so thick I couldn’t find my way out and I couldn’t breathe. I heard a voice telling me that it was time for me to die and then it started laughing. I was so scared.” His voice broke and Jim could feel the dampness of tears on his chest. “Why are they doing this to me? I don’t even know them.”

Jim held him tighter and murmured soothingly, “You’re safe now. Nobody’s going to hurt you. I won’t let them.” Finally Blair calmed enough to slip into sleep.

Jim’s thoughts kept him awake. It had been a long time since he’d held someone as they slept and it felt good. The two had managed to stick to their friends only decision and regardless of their flirting and exchange of innuendos they had continued to sleep apart, Jim in his bed and Blair on the couch. Jim had tried his best to move beyond the touches he needed to stay grounded as he practiced with his senses but Blair would only smile ruefully and remind him of their priorities. He knew the attraction was mutual for he often caught the scent of Blair’s arousal in spite of his damn ‘first things first’ attitude.

Jim suddenly realized that what he was feeling was way beyond lust and physical attraction. Maybe it was a good thing that Blair had stopped him after that one kiss. As a result, they had taken the time to get to know each other and Jim had discovered that the younger man really was more than a pretty face. He had a quirky sense of humor and a head full of knowledge about any subject Jim could think of. He found himself truly enjoying Blair’s company and couldn’t imagine life without it.

“So this is what love feels like,” Jim thought to himself and decided he liked the feeling which made him think of a new problem. Once Blair collected his inheritance he would be a very wealthy young man. He could go wherever he wanted and with his looks he could have whoever he wanted. Jim needed to figure out something that would make a grad student want to stay with a cop.

<<<>>>

During breakfast the next morning, Blair started to speak several times and stopped himself. Finally as they were cleaning up the dishes, he sighed and quietly said, “Thanks for last night. I know I came across like a spineless goober.”

“You’re definitely not spineless,” Jim disagreed. “You got yourself out of a burning building, you got away from two guys intent on murdering you, and you lived off the land alone for how long? That’s pretty brave in my book.”

“I crawled into your bed like a little kid afraid of the dark.” Blair’s self-disgust was evident.

“I’d say you have a good reason for having nightmares and there’s nothing wrong in taking a little comfort when it’s offered,” he was reassured. “Besides, you’re always welcome in my bed. I liked waking up next to you, even if all we did was sleep.”

“I liked waking up next to you too,” Blair smiled shyly.

“Are you really going to make me wait until it’s your birthday before I get more than a kiss? How much longer?” Jim mock-whined.

“Four more days. You’ll survive.”

“Four more nights,” Jim put on his most dejected look trying for sympathy but the amused expression on Blair’s face told him that he wasn’t falling for it. He decided to change tactics and his voice became sultry as he drew Blair close and wrapped his arms around him. “Are you sure we still have to wait? I’d really love to imprint you on all my senses.”

Blair let himself be held for a moment then regretfully stepped back and sternly shook his finger at the larger man. “Remember our priorities, Ellison,” he reprimanded him then sighed deeply. “Damn, it’s hard to say no to you.”

“Good,” Jim leered and wiggled his eyebrows. “My plan’s working.”

The two grinned at each other until Blair finally said, “Speaking of working, somebody’s waiting for us at the station.”

<<<>>>

As expected, Simon had mug books waiting for them along with some other information.

“There was a missing persons report filed on you about three and a half months ago.” Simon consulted his notes. “You were reported missing by a Felicia Mathers. According to her, you had suffered a head injury just before you disappeared and were confused. She didn’t want anyone to approach you, just notify her of your whereabouts and she would handle it from there.”

“I’ll bet she would,” Blair snorted and shook his head.

“You know her?”

“My cousin. She’s the one who made the comment about me not making it to my next birthday.”

“What else did you find out, Simon?” Jim asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Come on. We know you ran Blair through the data base the minute you found out his real name. He’s clean, isn’t he?” Jim stated smugly.

“Yeah, he’s clean,” Simon answered grudgingly. “Not even a damn parking ticket.”

“I’m sorry, Simon,” Blair said sweetly. “We could always pretend I have a criminal record if it would make you feel better.”

Jim hustled him out the door before Simon’s look of outrage could get any worse. “Come on, Chief. Mug books are waiting.”

Simon scowled at the retreating backs of the snickering pair as they headed for the conference room.

“Smart assed long-haired neo-hippie flower child,” he grumbled then shook his head in annoyance and decided he deserved a cigar.

<<<>>>

It was just after lunchtime when Blair spotted the mug shot of the man who had wielded the baseball bat. About an hour later he recognized the man who had threatened him with the knife. Both men had done time for petty crimes. Jim quickly confirmed that these were the two who had been showing Blair’s picture around and they took the information to Simon.

Simon had gotten over his irritation and had already made some plans.

“We’re going to put you in a safe house.” He held up his hand to forestall any arguments. “Let me finish, Detective. There will be round-the-clock surveillance. I’m going to call Ms. Mathers and tell her that Sandburg is known to be living at that address. Then we wait. If those two show up we’ll have a pretty good idea who told them where to go. Once we have them in custody we shouldn’t have any problem getting them to roll over on whoever hired them.”

“I want Sandburg someplace safe away from the action,” Jim objected.

“Jim, I have to be there. If they check out the address and I’m nowhere to be seen they might not fall for it. And besides, you need to catch them in the act in order to arrest them.” Blair sighed and shrugged. “I get that you don’t like the idea of using me for bait; hell, I’m not enthused about it. But I know you’ll be near-by keeping me safe and besides, I’ll be surrounded by cops. I don’t see any other solution.”

Faced with his companion’s trust in him, Jim grudgingly gave in.

<<<>>>

The capture of the bad guys was rather anticlimactic, Blair considered to himself as he stood behind the one-way mirror with Jim and Simon and watched Detectives Rafe and Brown conduct their interrogation of the man who had menaced him with the bat.

The two thugs had walked right into the trap set up by Jim and Captain Banks. They were so confident of their success that it was almost too easy for Blair to get them to admit to the two attempts they had made on his life in Seattle. They were even happy to tell him how much money they were being paid to ensure he didn’t make it to his next birthday, never realizing that their every word was being recorded by the police surveillance unit set up outside the safe house.

When the police burst in, they calmly surrendered, certain that they would only be charged with breaking and entering and quickly out on bail. Blair was sorry that they didn’t resist arrest. He would have enjoyed a little payback for the aggravation they had caused him. He had to admit though; the looks on their faces were priceless when they were told that the cops had the whole conversation on tape.

Now all that was needed was the name of the person who had hired them. He returned his attention to the room on the other side of the mirror.

“You and your buddy are going down for attempted murder and the person who hired you is going free. No matter what you were told, you won’t get a penny for this deal,” Rafe frowned at the prisoner.

“You’re wrong. She promised she’d take care of us if we got caught.” The thug was trying for a show of bravado, but Jim could see the minute twitches that gave away his unease.

“Right,” Brown snorted derisively. “You really think ‘she’ is gonna give a damn about you when you’re sitting in prison? Uh, uh, my man. She’s gonna be walking around free, laughing about what fools you were to believe her.”

“Give us her name and we’ll see what kind of a deal we can get for you,” Rafe urged. “Wouldn’t you like to know that she’s sitting in prison too?”

“Come on,” Jim whispered. “We’ve got a good idea who hired you. Just say her name.”

As if he had heard, the prisoner scowled and resentfully complied.

“Felicia Mathers, the bitch. Talked to us like we were dirt. Let’s see if she’s still so high and mighty when she gets put away.”

Simon wasted no time calling the Seattle police and filling them in on the case. He requested the arrest of Felicia Mathers for conspiracy to commit murder. A few hours later, he received a call from his Seattle counterpart to inform him that Ms. Mathers had been apprehended at her family’s home and placed under arrest.

She reportedly threw quite a temper tantrum, screaming that the money should have been hers. She hadn’t spent all that time being nice to that nasty old man just to have some trailer trash bastard come along and take it away from her. Her parents and brother had been appalled at her confession; apparently they were too well-bred to stoop to something as low-class as murder.

With Felicia and her hit men behind bars, it was finally safe for Blair to return to Seattle and collect his inheritance.

<<<>>>

EPILOGUE

True to his word, Jim personally escorted Blair to the lawyer’s office and remained beside him as he signed papers and took care of his business. The only disagreement came when Blair requested that the lawyer give Jim twenty thousand dollars for acting as his bodyguard and Jim promptly refused to accept it.

“Felicia was going to give those two men twenty thousand dollars to kill me. Why shouldn’t I give you the same amount for keeping me alive?” Blair reasoned. “It’s not like I can’t afford it.”

“I don’t want your money, Sandburg. I told you that when we met,” Jim answered gruffly. “All this time I was nothing more than a bodyguard,” he thought and felt almost painfully disappointed.

“But you deserve it, Jim. I’m sitting here now because you earned every penny of it.”

“I don’t want it.”

After deciding that he’d listened long enough, the lawyer suggested that Jim accept the money and donate it to the Police Benevolent Society or The Widows and Orphans Fund and they moved on to other business until finally the last paper was signed and the pair was able to leave the office.

They stopped on the sidewalk outside and Jim turned to Blair. “I guess this is it. You’ve got your inheritance, the lawyer’s making all the arrangements to pay off your bills and set up bank accounts for you. Looks like you’re all set. Happy birthday, Chief.”

Blair held out his hand. “Thanks for being there to help me when I needed it.”

“Thanks for your help. I should be able to manage my senses okay now and I told Simon I’d be back at work on Monday.” Jim returned the handshake and felt strangely reluctant to release the other man’s hand. He swallowed. “So, now that you’re rich have you made any plans?”

“I’m going to find a place to live and I’m going to get my doctorate,” Blair stated decisively.

“Well good.” “Someplace in Seattle,” Jim thought glumly but put on a cheerful face anyway. “That’s good.”

“I hear that Rainier University in Cascade has a pretty good anthropology program,” Blair spoke seriously. “And since I’ve got a very special friend who lives in Cascade, and since I definitely want to see a lot more of this friend, I’ve decided to transfer there for my degree.”

“Sounds good.” Jim began to smile then looked thoughtful. “Of course, you’ll need somewhere to stay while you’re looking for a place to live.”

“Hey you’ve got a spare room. How about I stay there?” Blair asked hopefully.

“I don’t know about that.” Jim pretended to consider the request.

“Oh come on, just for a week. One week should be all I need.” Blair turned his most pleading look on his friend.

Jim narrowed his eyes and tried his best to look stern. “A lot can happen in a week,” he warned.

“That’s what I’m counting on.” Blair started toward the truck then looked over his shoulder at Jim, gave him a definite ‘come-hither’ look and winked.

“Oh yeah, Chief.” Jim grinned and in three long strides, caught up and draped his arm around the smaller man’s shoulders. “Me too.”

Blair snickered at a sudden thought.

“Oh, Man. Simon is really not gonna be happy.”

The end

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Acknowledgments: Thank you to Patt for the artwork.