A Sea-Change, Part Three by Laurie

A Sea-Change - Laurie
Part Three: Carelessness, Crankiness, Concealment, Crimes, Confessions

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Let your indulgence set me free The Tempest: Shakespeare.

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Notes: This is part 3 of a WIP, Part 1 and Part 2 are available as listed.

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I wanted to pace in the bullpen, to move, to... to... prowl, as Sandburg would have put it. The florescent lighting was making my eyes feel like they were filled with sand and the air hung with too many unpleasant odors. I wanted to leave, but I had a job to do. No matter how much I wished I was out of the office and out in the late spring air.

I'd felt on edge for a couple of weeks now, and I didn't know why. My irritation level had climbed, so much so that my guide was avoiding me. But maybe that was a good idea. I didn't want to say something to him in a flash of anger that would make his features tighten into his 'Whatever you say, Jim' mask.

Snarling under my breath, I forced myself to file away the case notes on the last investigation Blair and I had closed. These were my copies; I'd already sent Blair down to Filing with the originals, and that had been a good hour ago. Uh-huh, he was avoiding me. Probably down there flirting with Aimee again. They hadn't gone out, not yet, but it was just a matter of time before her name was added to the long list of women Blair had dated since returning to Cascade. Not that it really meant much. Blair would lose interest after a couple of dates and move on. It was as if he was held back from forming a deeper relationship with another partner - male or female. At least out of deference to me, he didn't date men at the PD. No, Rainier and bars were his stomping grounds for connecting with other men, but all the potential lovers he sought - boys and girls -- would shift to just friends or drop him after the brief sexual encounters were finished.

The sound of Brown and Conner play-sparring with each other drew my attention away from shoving papers into the correct folders, and I watched them for a moment until one of Conner's fancy kicks came a little too close to my work space. With gritted teeth, I admonished her. "Conner, go kick Brown's ass somewhere else; you almost knocked shit off of my desk."

"Always the happy camper, aren't you, Jimbo? Where's Sandy? Out flirting again? Drives you right up the wall when he's busy chatting up a girl instead of being your shadow, doesn't it?"

Megan Conner wasn't known for pulling her punches, physically or verbally, and she waited to see if I would poke back at her. I waved my hand for her to disappear and she walked over and gave Brown, who was slouching at his desk, a love-tap on the back of his head before pulling up a chair next to him.

Blair did go out a lot, but at least he hadn't brought any of his dates back to the loft to fuck. I'd made it a house rule -- no Sandburg slash date-of-the-week sex in my loft. He'd agreed to that condition when that crappy warehouse he'd lived in down by the docks had exploded, along with the drug lab next door, and Blair had in desperation asked if he could stay with me until he found a new place. He'd had Larry, his hairy little roommate, to deal with, and believe me, it's not everybody who would let a guy move in with his Barbary ape buddy. But Blair had pleaded with me, and I couldn't stand the thought of my guide being homeless, so against my better judgment I had said he could. He could stay for one week, I'd told him, remembering the first time Blair had stayed with me. I had thought it would be tough to see him in the mornings, sleepy-eyed and tousled, and not want to push past the boundaries we'd established after his decision to stay in Cascade and be my guide. And it was. But it was sweet, too.

Larry had tossed the place twice before Blair finished his research project and returned the little guy. Actually, I had liked Larry. It was kind of fun sharing popcorn with him while he watched the endless rounds of movies Blair subjected him to in order get data on exposure to TV violence. But when Larry moved back to Rainier's labs, I hadn't wanted to let Blair go back to living by himself.

We'd had a long talk, my ex-lover and I. But even though my marriage to Carolyn had fallen apart after eight months of less than wedded bliss and I'd been divorced for a good five months by then, I still hoped to get married again someday. When I suggested he continue to live with me and that we could resume fucking each other, he'd reminded me that I couldn't have my cake and eat it, too. If I was stuck on only seeing women openly, then I wasn't going to fuck him on the side in secret. I'd agreed in order to get him to stay with me. We'd just be friends and roommates, I'd told him.

But I touched him much more than was acceptable between friends. He never stopped me and I wasn't going to quit it unless he told me it was making him uncomfortable. I did try and tone it down while he was with me at the PD. But at home, I often pulled him over next to me on the couch and held him securely against me, reveling in touching my guide. I enjoyed those small indulgences and I knew Blair did too. I was a sentinel, and my guide had taught me to recognize the truth through scent.

I started to close my file drawer, but was caught, as I usually was, by the sight of two case files. I could never see Lash's name without remembering that terrible day when the crazy motherfucker had taken Blair and tried to assume his life. I'll never forget locating my guide in the maze of abandoned warehouses down by the harbor through hearing him taunt the serial killer, or seeing him tied up, helpless but defiant, in that dentist chair of Lash's. My Blair had balls, all right. IA had been a little skeptical as to why I'd shot the bastard so many times, but they couldn't deny the imminent harm to Blair if the fucker had survived. God, I'd wanted so badly to make love to Blair when I got him home from the hospital. But he had said no. He did sleep with me for a couple of days afterwards, but he made it clear that he was there for comfort, not sex. In my bed I had pulled him in tight and whispered to him that he was safe. It seemed to help him relax and recover from that terrifying occasion. Lash was dead and when I saw his name I always felt a sense of relief that he couldn't hurt my guide ever again. Case closed.

I brushed my hand over the other file and decided to pull it out. I opened it and looked at Jack Pendergrast's photo. I'd finally cleared his name, but it was small consolation, considering he had died in that kidnapping case. All the speculation that Jack had stolen the money himself to pay off hidden gambling debts had been laid to rest once his car and his body - with the money - had been discovered in a river, but damn, I missed the man. He'd been my only cop partner in Major Crimes; he'd gotten me to shape up and stop being a horse's ass in a lot of ways. Blair had taught him how to bring me out of a zone - it was best if Blair did it, but sometimes Blair wasn't around - and Jack had been able to handle me. I smiled a little, remembering how Jack had gotten Blair to reveal his method of betting on the horse races, in exchange for Jack learning how to deal with my sentinel senses. Jack had believed in 'quid pro quo.' Blair believed in Karma, and between the two of them they used to really shovel the shit during all night stakeouts.

Jack and Emily had broken it off, shortly before he disappeared, and Caro and I had been divorced for a month, when Em and I had made love. It had been awkward, and we both felt like we were cheating on Jack and had decided we couldn't see each other anymore. I believe Emily would have gone back to Jack, if he hadn't been killed. Not knowing what had happened to him had been extremely hard on her.

It had been hard on me, too.

One last time, I touched his picture and replaced it in the folder. Shoving the file back into my desk, I stood up, left the bullpen, and hiked down to the men's room; I needed an excuse to leave and move around, and visiting the restroom was good cover. I stalled for a while after using the john, and after I washed my hands I stared at myself in the mirror. I looked tired and edgy. What in hell was wrong with me?

I hadn't been sleeping well. I'd had some of my vision dreams but all I'd seen in them was a spotted jaguar. Shit, I wished Incacha had shown up in those dreams so I could've asked him about the big female cat, but he hadn't obliged me. And I didn't want to talk to Blair about it because being around him was giving me an unsettled feeling. He... didn't smell right anymore. He hadn't for a couple of weeks. It was driving me nuts, since I kept bouncing back and forth between telling him to move out and wanting to strip him and wash him and then lay myself over him - and fuck him.

I stifled the urge to give myself the finger as I looked at my reflection in the mirror - all I would need would be for Brown or somebody to walk in and the story would be all over the building. I decided to ask Simon if I could take some flextime. Maybe go camping, try and get my head together. Before I'd almost drowned, I would have headed for the beach and the waves, but I hadn't been on my board for three years now. I kept telling myself that someday I'd tackle it again and get over this ridiculous phobia, but so far that day hadn't arrived. Blair, on the other hand, was always clamoring to go down to the ocean. Usually he went alone. Sometimes I went with him, but we only walked or watched the waves. He never tried to swim - well, he would need a wet suit and he didn't have one - but he could sit for hours and watch the ocean swells and the waves crashing on the shore.

At times like those, watching the expression on his face as he gazed out at the sea, I'd wonder again about my half-baked idea that he was a selkie. I never had given him back his choker, although I wore it less and less, especially if he was spending the day with me. Blair's presence and the frequent touches between us would ground my senses and I hardly ever zoned anymore if he was around.

I walked out of the men's room, and on a whim, I headed down to Forensics. Carolyn was in her office when I pushed open the door.

"Jimmy? What can I do for you?" Carolyn smiled at me, and I was very glad that our divorce hadn't been bitter. We both had decided that it had been a mistake to get married. I realized a month or so after our vows were exchanged in Los Vegas that I'd been more enthralled with the idea of being married than with the person I'd actually married. Caro had found out that compromising with a marriage partner wasn't something she wanted to do, not when she wasn't in love with her husband and he wasn't in love with her. Oh, we'd grown to love each other, but we'd needed the head over heels feelings, too, in order to make the marriage work. So we had divorced with a sense of relief and had remained friends.

There'd been a few other women who had caught my eye over the last several years, but nothing had clicked for more than a few dates. Except for Lila, when she'd chosen to look me back up. And she'd died in my arms.

"Caro, I don't know what to do with myself. So, I thought maybe I'd invite you out to dinner tonight, before I leave tomorrow to go camping. If Simon will agree to me using up some of my flextime, that is."

"I don't have dinner plans, so sure, as long as you don't drag me to Wonderburger. Is Blair going camping with you?"

"No. I feel like I need some space from him. And I don't know why; he hasn't done anything recently to get on my nerves."

"Jim, maybe you should talk to him. He's your guide and this could be related to your senses."

I eyed her in bemusement. "That's a switch, you wanting me to spend time with Sandburg." Caro had never really taken to Blair; he knew it, but he said he liked her anyway and just hoped that she'd warm up to him someday.

She looked away for a moment and then met my gaze. "I admit I felt jealous of him, of the way you would mention him all the time, and the enjoyment I knew you had in his company. I didn't like feeling that way and I've been working on letting it go."

'Letting it go?' That sounded suspiciously like one of the hippie sayings Blair was fond of quoting from his mother.

"You've been talking to Sandburg. I recognize the lingo." I pulled up a chair and sat down.

"Well, you know, for a while he was hanging around here a lot, when he and Sam were... dating." She trailed off, probably trying to think of a better word to describe the interactions between the beautiful but demanding lab technician and my partner.

"Yeah, dating doesn't seem to cover the part where she tried to burn his face." I hadn't much cared for Sam before that incident, and afterwards I'd wanted to throttle her for trying to hurt Sandburg. Not that I hadn't warned Blair that messing with her was going to end badly. I'd seen that train wreck coming a hundred miles away. But had he listened to me? Nope, and I'd told him I hoped he learned his lesson from playing with fire.

"That incident cost her a pay raise because of the disciplinary action I had to take against her. But Blair and I ended up having a talk one afternoon - about you. He told me that, anthropologically speaking, relationships don't end just because the judge decrees a divorce is final. And that I would probably always feel a connection to you and that it was okay to feel that way. Oh, I don't know, Jimmy. I'm not sure how he managed it, but I don't resent him anymore, or how well you two get along. I think he'd do anything for you. And I saw how much you cared about him when Lash almost killed him. The way you used your senses to figure out where he'd been taken was, to quote your guide, 'Awesome.'"

I leaned back in my chair and stared at the ceiling. "You're right about talking to Sandburg, but I'll do it after I spend some time alone. Right now, I'm afraid I'll say something to anger him, and since I don't even know what it is that's making me feel so... irritated about him, I'd better figure that out first. I mean, yeah, we'd had words about the first chapter of his dissertation - I wish he'd get over using the term 'fear-based response' as the reason for the choices I've made - but I apologized for reading his introduction when he asked me not to, and we were good again after he agreed I could read his diss before he turns it in. All of that was settled. I don't know why being around him now makes me feel frustrated and annoyed... But never mind me dumping my problems with my guide on you." I rubbed at my temple. "When can you get away from here?"

She glanced at the clock on the wall and back at the paperwork on her desk. "I need to finish up this report on a string of robberies that've been taking place. Although I have a feeling Burglary and Theft is about to toss the case upstairs to Major Crimes. This thief has been amazing in the way he or she has gotten around the alarms. Give me a half an hour - without interruptions - and I'll have it completed." She nodded towards the door and I got up.

"I'll go talk to Simon. And then tell Sandburg to take the bus home." He'd ridden one from Rainier to the PD after he'd taught his 101 Anthro class this morning. He was fine riding busses. He didn't need me to chauffeur him around.

"Jim, why don't you go with me and let Blair drive your truck home?"

I thought about it for a moment, but shook my head no. "If I'm not there, I don't want him messing with my stuff. It's... part of this irritable thing. He can catch a bus."

I headed out, with a little wave to Carolyn, but she'd already gone back to working on the computer.

Walking back up to Major Crimes, I thought about where to camp for a long weekend. And how to tell Sandburg I needed some time alone.

** ** ** ** ** **

Dinner with Carolyn was like old times. Too much so, because I had a flare-up of my taste buds going crazy again. At least by now, I knew it was me, not the food, and I managed to not make a scene or accuse the chef of trying to poison his customers. Damn. I'd left the choker in its hiding place on the bathroom shelf and hadn't worn it, since Blair was going to be tagging around after me for part of the day. Of course, I hadn't touched him much today or even in the last several weeks, so I guess I was throwing myself off balance by not connecting with him... I went through the exercises my clever guide had devised to help me through sensory spikes and soon I was able to finish eating. Carolyn brought up some Plummer family news: her screwball sister was about to get married again for the fourth or fifth time and her dad was retiring. More importantly, she told me she'd applied for a job as head of all the forensic labs at the San Francisco PD. She said that she felt she needed to stretch herself, and that it would be a substantial pay raise. She was flying down for an interview next week. I could tell that she was feeling good about making a change and I wished her luck. And told her I would miss her.

We both were feeling kind of nostalgic, talking over some of the better times of our marriage, when she brought us back to the PD parking garage. She had left her briefcase in her office so we both got out of her car and she walked me over to my truck, shaking her head as she always did when she saw my Sweetheart. Caro had no appreciation for my classic '69 Ford. Her own cars had always been the latest models and she traded them in yearly.

"Jimmy, I hope that at least your vehicle insurance is lower since you've been driving this relic."

"As a matter of fact, it is." It wasn't the only reason I drove an older model, but it did help lower my premiums. A guy has a few accidents in the line of duty and the insurance companies jack his rates up sky-high. The bandits.

She laughed, and I felt a flash of the old attraction. I moved closer and kissed her. I put into that kiss all the affection I had felt for her - actually still felt for her -- before I'd realized that it wasn't enough to base a marriage on. She melted into me and passionately kissed me back. When we separated, she touched my face.

"If you'd kissed me like that when we were married, Jimmy, we might still be married." Then she smiled ruefully at me. Compatibility in bed hadn't been enough for either of us, though. It was in satisfying her emotional needs that I'd failed. Or so she'd told me. And told Sandburg, when he'd interviewed her for his diss. It had pissed me off, when I'd read that in his introductory chapter.

She walked away and over to the elevators. As she went inside I said, loud enough so that he could hear me, "You can come out now, Sandburg."

Annoyed, I watched as my partner came around the pillar he'd been hiding behind. I assessed him as he came closer -- Blair had told me cataloging his body when seeing him after we'd been away from each other was a natural thing to do, according to his research -- he didn't look much different from the hippie boy I'd picked up in that little bar in La Push three years ago. Except for his expression. There was wariness on his beautiful face that I knew I was responsible for putting there. And I was sorry for that, but I just couldn't shake this irritability about him off.

"Hey, Jim."

"Spying on me, Sandburg? Thought I told you to take a bus home. Let's go."

After I'd pulled out onto the street, Blair began talking.

"Jim, how are things going for you? You've hardly said two words to me in a row for a while now. Have you been feeling okay? How are your senses?"

And I knew he was just doing his job as my guide, but his scent was making me want to tell him to get out and walk, and I ended up grousing at him.

"What I'm feeling here, Chief, is the need for a little space. And have you changed your soap or deodorant? The way you smell is seriously bothering me."

Blair looked worried. "I haven't changed anything, Jim. Can you tell me more about what's bothering you about me?"

I fought down the urge to tell him 'everything.' It wasn't true, for one thing. I loved Blair, and this was why I'd been avoiding having this conversation. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I'd figure out what wild hair had crawled up my butt and was making me feel so cranky, and then I'd be able to tell him about it.

"Just... let it drop. I'm sure it's me, not you, but I can't be around you right now. Simon okayed me taking a long weekend, and camping sounds pretty good."

He looked over at me eagerly. "Okay, I'm down with that. Where do you want to camp? I'm always up for going to Deception Pass."

I snapped then, throwing away my intention of not hurting his feelings. "You don't really listen to what I tell you, do you, Chief? I said I can't be around you because you bother the hell out of me. I'm going alone to try and figure this thing out. And I'm not interested in camping at Deception Pass; I'd rather skip the beach and go up high into the mountains." I sighed. "Blair, please, we'll talk after I come back."

"Well, can we at least talk about something other than how I smell to you? Jim, I've tried to tell you about this woman I've met--"

"Forget it, Sandburg. I'm not interested in hearing about your latest girlfriend." If Blair didn't shut up soon, he was going to find himself walking home.

"She's not my girlfriend. Jim, I think she's--"

"One more word, Sandburg, and you're walking. You. Have. To. Shut. Up. Now!"

Blair gave me an exasperated look and mimed closing his mouth, locking it, and throwing away the key. At last, he got the message.

We rode home in blessed silence.

** ** ** ** ** **

I'd left in the morning before Blair had even started doing his morning wake-up rituals. After all this time, I knew them by heart. First, he would start flopping around in bed like a fish resisting being reeled in. But he wouldn't be awake. Then his eyes would start to open, but they'd drift shut again. He still wouldn't be awake, but he would answer you when you talked to him. He never did make any sense, which could be amusing. I liked to tease him sometimes by telling him later what he'd said to me. Chief, did you know that what you wanted for breakfast today was a case of motor oil? In a last ditch attempt to avoid totally waking up, he would start awake, sigh, then put the pillow over his head and try to go back to sleep. After a few moments, though, he would give in to the inevitable and toss the pillow away and stare up at the ceiling. Or at me, if we were in bed together. Back when we'd been having sex, that would be when he would sidle over to me and start caressing my chest, letting his hand roam further south until I got tired of him teasing me, and then I'd roll on top of him. Morning sex with him had been slow and sweet, his body warm and pliable, relaxed from his night of sleep.

Funny how being away from him was allowing me to think of him tolerantly, even allowing me to bring up some cherished memories.

The primitive camping area at Big Grieder Lake was where I'd chosen to set up, and I was able to secure one of the three sites high up the rocky basin. I loved being in the Cascade Mountains; for most of the day I'd hiked, and then fished for my supper till close to dusk. The two bass I'd caught were more than enough for the evening meal and breakfast. After I'd cleaned up, I'd done a lot of staring into the fire, trying to clear my mind before I'd went to bed.

I'd slept well, but didn't remember any dreams, blue ones or not.

The next three days were a welcome repeat of the first day. The weather was good and I could feel myself relaxing. I decided that my crankiness towards Blair had just been the result of my needing a little vacation and that I'd been unfairly dumping my resentment at my responsibilities in life on him. I would apologize to him when I returned tomorrow morning.

When my dream that night shifted to the blue spectrum, I wasn't expecting it to happen anymore. And there was the spotted jaguar again, sleek and dangerous; I felt an impulse to shoot the big female cat with the crossbow I was carrying, but then my attention was caught by another animal. A wolf -- male, and beautiful -- was circling the jaguar. Sometimes she would snarl at him and sometimes she would be still, allowing the wolf to move slowly closer to her, getting down on his belly at times. The wolf wasn't aware of me. But the jaguar was. She looked right at me and let out a roar that I knew was a mating cry. Then she leapt away, leaving the wolf behind. The wolf took a few hesitant, skittish steps in her direction. I didn't want the wolf to go after the jaguar, and I raised my bow and shot him.

The wolf was dying as I came closer to him. And then his body began changing, the fur morphing to skin. With a sense of horror, I realized that I'd shot Blair. He lay on his side, naked on the jungle floor. Dead. I'd killed my beautiful guide.

I woke up sweating, remembering how in my dream I'd been dressed much as I had when I'd lived with the Chopec -- camouflage markings on my face, my worn-out camo fatigues, shirtless, and with the deadly crossbow that I'd used to kill my partner.

This dream was a warning. The irritation I'd felt back in Cascade towards Blair was going to return when I went home. In a fit of anger, I was likely to hurt my guide. He needed to be kept safe, and it looked like the only way to do that was not to be alone with him. He wouldn't be able to go with me to crime scenes or to interview witnesses, for right now, unless I took another detective with me. Conner would do it, and I hoped I could keep from blowing up at her, too. Megan and I were like oil and water. We just didn't mix well. Not since the first day that she'd worked with Major Crimes in the officer exchange program with Australia. But she had figured out what I was, after the hints that I was psychic failed to keep her focused on the wrong theory. She was an excellent detective - not that I would come out and tell her that -- and she'd pestered me about the way I just knew things till I let her in on the secret of my enhanced senses. Unlike me and Conner, Blair did get along with her. More than just get along, actually. They acted like a cross between long lost siblings and best friends from third grade. They'd even exchanged some kisses when they were undercover, but it hadn't gone anywhere. Not that they'd told me that. I'd noticed when I'd done my usual daily assessment of Blair that his lips were touched with her scent.

I could always tell when Blair had had sex with someone - and who that other person was, if I'd met him or her. I'd kept that observation to myself from my very own researcher, though. He didn't need to know everything about me.

Shit -- he couldn't stay with me anymore. I'd have to move him out. After working my way free of my sleeping bag, I started packing up the tent. I needed to get back to Cascade as soon as possible.

** ** ** ** ** **

I had just crossed into the city limits when I caught sight of the spotted jaguar. The animal kept pace with my truck as I drove the streets, and I wondered what the hell was going on. I looked around to see if the wolf - Blair's spirit animal - was tagging along with her, but she seemed to be alone. Coming to a halt for a stoplight, I was startled when the spirit guide jumped up on the hood of my truck, and stared at me. She was powerful, beautiful, and deadly. I sat quietly and watched her - knowing from the times when I'd seen my own black jaguar that I was the only one around who would be able to see any on-the-loose spirit animals. Drawing attention to myself by yelling at something nobody else could see was not the way to go here.

Time ticked away as the cross traffic flowed in front of me, and the spotted jaguar opened her mouth and roared, while her eyes locked onto mine. Just as in my vision, I knew this was a mating call. So what the hell did the owner of this cat want from me?

The light turned green, and before I could hit the gas to cross the intersection, wondering if the cat was going to be my new hood ornament, she jumped off and bounded away.

I sighed. I fucking hated the spirit world.

** ** ** ** ** **

I was putting the last of Blair's research papers into moving boxes when I came across his cassette tapes and documentation folders for the interviews he'd conducted with Incacha. Suddenly wishing for his counsel, I stuck one of Blair's tapes in the player so I could hear my old friend's voice again. I sat on the bare futon and looked around at the now bleak little room, while I listened to Incacha answering Blair's questions and my own voice translating the answers.

Blair, of course, had been delighted to have a Peruvian Chopec shaman willing to discuss his people's belief system and shamanistic rituals with him. Sandburg hadn't just focused on the watchmen myth or what Incacha knew of the Temple of the Sentinels, although Incacha's wording had translated as the 'Holy Place of the Bond.' No, Sandburg's curiosity seemed to have known no bounds, from which medicinal plants Incacha used for the tribe's benefit to how Incacha would enter the spirit plane.

And Incacha had been just as curious about Blair.

I listened to Incacha talking to Blair.

"You belong to two worlds, apprentice. You could walk between two worlds. When the time is right, come back to me for instruction."

I shut off the tape recorder.

I had questioned my old friend about what he meant by that on the trip back to his homeland. He'd just repeated the words he'd already spoken. Blair had thought that Incacha was referring to how shamans travel from a physical reality to the spirit world and that he considered Blair a latent shaman. Blair had been thrilled and honored, and convinced that Incacha was mistaken about his potential to become a shaman.

I wasn't so sure that Incacha was only referring to shaman stuff, myself. 'You belong to two worlds,' he had said. Incacha was very precise in his choice of words - and not inclined to explain what he meant to others. He liked them to consider his words and find their own meaning in them.

My feelings about Incacha coming to Cascade had been very mixed. I had been surprised to see my old friend from my days of living with the Chopec appear in my city. He and several other members of the tribe had come to Cascade to stop Cyclops Oil from destroying their lands. And during his time here he had gotten a serious wound from being shot by the Cyclops Oil executive responsible for the ravaging of the Chopec lands.

He'd almost died on my couch and had needed several blood transfusions before he'd begun to recover. Blair or I had stayed with him constantly at the hospital, to help him deal with the culture shock of twentieth century medicine and to make sure his needs were understood by the medical staff. Blair didn't speak much Quechua, but I taught him a few essential phrases and anyway, he seemed to have a sort of empathic sense with Incacha. Maybe because Incacha was a shaman. He'd named Sandburg one, too, and had laid his hands on my partner, saying he was passing the way of the shaman to Blair, while I was trying my damndest to keep him from bleeding out on my sofa.

We had escorted Incacha home, when he was healed, and stayed with him for three weeks afterwards. I found that I remembered more of my time with the Chopec, and Blair had been in hog heaven between testing my senses in the jungle environment and observing the culture of the Chopec. Incacha had spoken to the rest of the tribe and named him his apprentice, but hadn't taught Blair to spirit walk. He told him the time was not right. I was relieved. The jungle plants consumed by shamans had to be used precisely to avoid poisoning the partaker, and still made you pretty sick, and I didn't want Blair to take a chance on harming himself.

Incacha had had a few private words for me. He had made me sit with him, in his hut, and as the afternoon wore away, he had softly quizzed me on my senses, and my guide. Then he had held out his hand and said, "Show me, Enqueri."

I'd debated acting dumb, but this was Incacha. He could enter my dreams and communicate with me. He would know if I lied. And I'd known what he was asking to see.

I'd removed the choker from my ankle and handed it to him. He'd felt the texture of the skin, and pulled it between his thumb and forefinger.

"This was not freely given."

I'd shaken my head.

Incacha had handed it back to me.

"You must face your fears, Enqueri."

"Incacha, is Blair... different?"

"Yes, Enqueri. He belongs to two worlds."

But that was all he would say.

Angrily, I finished packing the last of Blair's belongings, and carried the box out to stack it with the other ones near the front door. I knew this was the right thing to do, to save Blair from me, but I didn't have to like it. And the scent of Blair's body in the loft still was not right and the peace I'd gained in the mountains was being slowly leached away from me. Blair should have enough cash to get a new place; he hadn't given me the rent money yet this month. He would be okay. Better than if he stayed with me, and I needed to remember my anguished feelings when the wolf spirit guide had changed to Blair's naked and dead body.

This was Blair's life I was trying to save, and I was going to have to be harsh to get him to leave. I wouldn't even have to act, not really. I just needed to open the floodgates of the irritability with him I'd been experiencing for weeks now.

Once the loft was emptied of Blair's possessions, the visible proof of his entanglement with me, I waited for him to return. I felt like my spirit animal, readying myself to pounce on my victim when he came through the door.

I didn't give Blair a chance to really talk to me, after I told him I wanted him moved out. He wanted to. He asked me to talk to him, but I cut him off and told him I wanted him and his stuff gone by the time I got back.

I left our home, then, with Blair's bewildered face etched into my memory. When I walked back in, hours later, I was relieved that he was gone, that I didn't have to smell that wrong scent about him anymore. I also felt depressed. But I would still see him at the PD, where he would be safe from me. I hadn't told him his ride-along was over, and Blair would be there. He wasn't done with either of his dissertations; the one on closed societies, which was his cover story, or the one on me. Sure as God made little green apples, Blair Sandburg would be at the PD.

I would have to fend off his questions about my actions. And right now, I didn't want to tell him about shooting him on the spirit plane. He might never trust me again if I told him that. If things changed and I felt it was safe for him to come back, then I could tell him it was a sentinel thing that had made me act so crazy.

It would be the truth, after all.

** ** ** ** ** **

Caro had been right on the money; the case she'd been working on had been jumped up from Burglary and Theft to Major Crimes and had landed on Conner's desk. Simon assigned me to partner with her, which suited me fine - although I grumbled about it, knowing it would make Banks and Conner suspicious if I didn't - because now Blair could accompany us safely.

Conner and I watched the security footage from the Oberon warehouse, and the way the thief reacted to the alarm strongly reminded me of the way I reacted to loud noises when my senses were spiking. I had a hunch that I was no longer the only sentinel in Cascade, and Conner went with me to Rainier to pick up Sandburg and get his take on my theory.

He wasn't in his office but a beautiful, tall, blonde was, and as I stared at her - hardly able to put two words together to ask her where Blair was -- she morphed into the spotted jaguar from my dreams and jumped through the stained glass window in the office door and disappeared.

It was all in my head, though, because in reality, she was still in Blair's office.

"Inspector," she said neutrally to Conner.

"Ms. Barnes. You're feeling better, I see."

The woman nodded stiffly, put down the small figurine she'd been holding -- eyeing me in a challenging kind of way, and pushed past me. The scent from her body was familiar and I sniffed deeply, trying to place where I knew that fragrance from because I sure as hell had never met her before today. I may have zoned a little, because Conner grabbed my arm after the woman was gone and gave me swift shake.

"Look, mate, snap out of it. Let's go see the department secretary and find out where Sandy is."

But that wasn't necessary because I listened for him and got a fix on his whereabouts in another professor's office. Blair was talking to him about taking one of the professor's labs for him while the man was out of state at a conference.

"He'll be back in a moment. Conner, who was that woman and how do you know her?"

"About three weeks ago, on my way in to the PD, I saw a bingle, and I came across her sitting on the ground, acting a bit wobbly. I thought she'd taken something to make her act that way. But her tests were clear so I let her go." Conner was looking thoughtful.

"What?"

"What Megan said is that Alex was in a car accident and throwing a fit about the light hurting her eyes. Thinking that Alex had taken some hallucinogen, she had a tox screen run on her; when it came back clean she let her go." Blair had stepped into his office.

He looked tired, but I put that aside to question him.

"Who is she, Chief? Why is she here? Are you dating her?"

He gave one of his mirthless chuckles. "She's not interested in dating me, man. I met her when Megan brought her into the PD; been helping her deal with her senses, just like I do - did - with you. I think she's a sentinel, too -- kind of an atypical one, though, because she's not involved with any of the occupations that are more protective of people. I was going to introduce you to each other, after I ran a few more tests. And if I could get you to listen to me. Jim, I tried to tell you about her, but you kept blowing me off."

I was starting to see red. "You went behind my back, sniffing around another sentinel? I consider that a real breach of trust." I strode over to where he stood inside his doorway. I pulled him close to me and breathed in his scent.

"You stink of her. I've smelled that scent on you for weeks now, and it's been driving me crazy."

"Jim! Are you saying that a guide shouldn't interact with another sentinel? Is she a sentinel? Tell me what you're feeling, man!" Blair was looking up at me with confused eyes and I moved away from him, so Barnes' scent on his body wasn't right in my face anymore.

"Pissed off. And she's a sentinel, all right. Conner, catch Sandburg up on the Oberon heist and what we suspect. I'm going back to the station and run her name. Alex Barnes, correct?"

"Alex Barnes came up clean when I ran her name the night I took her in. Sandy, is that the name you know her by?" Conner was eyeing me, and not in an approving way.

Blair nodded, his expression worried. The woman who'd left this office was a sentinel. I could feel it. My guide had been at the beck and call of another sentinel. I flashed back to my vision of the wolf fawning around the spotted jaguar. I had shot Blair with my crossbow to keep him from following the other sentinel, and I had to keep control of my temper, before I did something to hurt him.

I walked over to the small laughing Buddha on the desk and wrapped it in a Kleenex.

"She was touching this when we came in. I'll see if Caro can expedite a fingerprint search on her. Let's see if she's got another name - and a record for robbery." <

"She's an artist. I've seen her work and it's fantastic. Jim, she's been painting the temple that Incacha told us about. The paintings are just like what he described. She couldn't be a criminal; wouldn't I know if she was bad? How can a sentinel act against the tribe? Jim? Wouldn't I know it if a sentinel was doing something wrong?"

I didn't answer him. Not out loud, anyway. I stole something from you, Chief -- and you didn't know it. Blair didn't want to believe that his other pet sentinel had lied to him. Didn't want to believe sentinels could be something other than the heroes he'd always wanted them to be.

My old guilt and my current anger welled up in me. I had never asked to be Blair's hero. I had never asked to be this mythical sentinel. I needed to leave.

"Sandburg, stay with Conner. Barnes could be dangerous. If she's the robber, then she didn't hesitate to shoot a guard and kill him. Conner, I'll meet you back at the PD. See if you can run down any more leads on our artistic Ms. Barnes."

I hadn't told Blair about my visions of the spotted jaguar. Conner knew I was a sentinel, sure, but she didn't need to know the details of just how weird that truly made me. I'd tell him later. He'd be safe with Conner.

Away from me.

** ** ** ** ** **

I felt increasingly hemmed in as the afternoon waned away, waiting for Caro to get back to me about checking Barnes' fingerprints. She was calling in some favors to get them looked at immediately, and I had promised her a dinner at the best restaurant in Cascade in the way of thanks.

My paperwork was caught up, and I kept obsessively going over the details of the burglary reports we suspected were perpetrated by the same person. The descriptions certainly fit Barnes' physical attributes. I visualized her body - tall for a woman, certainly taller than Sandburg -- the strength that powered her every move. I remembered the look she had given me, challenging and assessing, and my sense memory replayed the scent that had clung to her. Funny, now that it wasn't overlaying Sandburg's own scent, it didn't strike me as being fundamentally wrong anymore. It was... alluring. Criminal or not, Alex Barnes was an attractive woman and... while Sandburg had often told me I was clueless most of the time about dealing with women, I knew she was interested in me. Sexually.

Not that it meant anything. If she was responsible for that guard's death and the thefts from Oberon Securities, then I was going to put her away.

Closing the folders, I replaced them in my file drawer. I'd seen enough. I rubbed my forehead, feeling a headache lurking under my temples. My desk seemed too cluttered to me and I began throwing shit away that didn't need to be there, wondering when Conner and Sandburg would show back up.

Why Sandburg insisted on leaving some of his knick-knacks strewn in my space I couldn't guess, but they were going to be boxed up. His other crap I filed in the wastebasket.

I hesitated at the photograph from the racetrack of Jack and Emily, me, Sandburg, and Carolyn. Simon had taken it one day when we'd all made another trek back to try our luck on the ponies.

Three of a kind and a joker. It was my own private joke -- Jack was the joker, of course, and Em, Caro, and Blair were ex-lovers of mine.

I didn't get rid of the photograph, but I did put it in my drawer; I didn't want their eyes on me. I stood up and went down the stairs to Records to see if I could cadge an empty paper box to dump Sandburg's belongings into.

My simmering irritation zoomed right up into serious annoyance when I returned. There at my desk sat Brown, using my phone, his half eaten sandwich and a case file parked on my desktop.

Well, I'd make sure Brown and the rest of the slobs crowded into Major Crimes understood that my desk -- my phone -- my space-- were off limits.

** ** ** ** ** **

I was pissed that Simon had sent me home just for making it clear to my co-workers that I expected my desk to be forbidden territory to all of them. But I hadn't wasted my time once I was back in the loft. The place had needed a change; it had been cluttered with useless stuff. A man could hardly move through the place without bumping into furniture or coming eye to eye with unnecessary crap, so I had gotten rid of the junk. Stored some downstairs or threw it out.

I checked the doors and window again, to make sure they were secure, then took up my post at the balcony windows. I scanned my neighborhood, and waited while the daylight darkened into dusk. My guide and Conner would no doubt be making an appearance soon. As soon as they showed up at the bullpen Simon would have bellowed at Sandburg to come to his office. He would have demanded that the guide fix the sentinel. I snorted. I didn't need fixing. I was just paring down my life to the essentials. Sandburg should get that - wasn't he always going on about focusing on the important things in life and not letting yourself get distracted by unnecessary stuff? It was why he meditated all the time, staring into a candle. I liked my way better. More productive to actually physically move things until your home, your space, felt right.

Finally the two of them drove past the loft and parked at the first available spot, which was way down the street. I zeroed in on the conversation they were having as they approached the building.

"I hope Jimbo's over the tantie he threw in the bullpen. He's been acting stranger and stranger every day." I scowled. I hadn't thrown a tantrum; I'd been laying down some boundaries with the meatheads I worked with in that office. You didn't see me dropping crumbs and mustard spots on their desks, or stacking up my paperwork on top of their files.

"Megan, we should cut him some slack. I'm probably to blame, coming around him with scent markers from another sentinel - damn, I wish there were more references to sentinels coming together. I'm guessing that it's not really a good thing. I'm Jim's guide and on a subconscious level he must have been feeling rejected by me; he's sure been in a pissed off mood for weeks now. I should have put together the implications before this. And I still don't get how somebody with the gifts Alex has could use them the way she does."

Conner sighed. "Mate, you always want to think the best of people. And I love you feeling that way. But our Alex Barnes is just no good. She's responsible for more deaths than that poor guard's. Still, Captain Banks said it's been a bit dicey, convincing a judge to sign a warrant to search her apartment. Without the fingerprints proving she's not who she says she is, he didn't think he'd have a chance of getting it."

Blair shook his head. "Such a wasted life. You know, she's a really good artist. And I've been to her place and I don't know that we're going to find anything incriminating there. Hell, she might have left the country already. She must have recognized Jim as a sentinel, the way he knew her for one. Why would she stick around?"

"Maybe she's got another job to do? I just hope Ellison gets his head screwed back on straight and isn't a bloody nuisance instead. Oops... Sandy, are we getting in range of Jim's hearing?"

"Yeah. We'd better shut up. He might blow up at me for talking about him out of his presence."

I could see Conner pat him on his back as they walked down the street. "It'll work out, don't you worry. And you're not sleeping at that fleabag motel tonight. If Jim isn't ready for you to stay with him, then you're coming home with me. I insist on it."

They fell silent and I watched them till they entered the building. I anticipated the knock on the door, and when I opened it I saw Sandburg's eyes widen and Conner do a double take.

They both stepped in and Blair started walking around the room, a surprised and worried expression on his beautiful face. Now that I knew what was causing this problem between us, I figured he could set things right. I sniffed him when he passed by me. Crap, he still smelled of the other sentinel. Well, there was no time for a bath now, or to cover him in my own scent. I'd just have to grit my teeth and deal.

"Ellison? Where's your bloody furniture?" Conner got right up into my personal space. She never let anybody intimidate her. I liked that about her.

"It was in the way, so I got rid of it."

"Oh, that was brilliant, mate. Listen, Alex Barnes turns out to be Alicia Bannister, a lady with a long history of breaking the law. We're going to go stake out her studio - Sandy said it's a combination of an apartment and workshop - and when the uniforms deliver our warrant we're going to take a look around. You coming?" There was a note of doubt in her voice, but I ignored it.

I ushered them towards the door, laying my hand on Blair's back to give him a little shove since he kept stopping and looking around the room as if he expected the couch and the coffee table to suddenly appear.

"I think you should take Conner up on that offer for a bed at her place tonight, Chief."

"Jim, you could hear us talking earlier? Without me to ground you?"

I thought to myself that I had been grounded. The sealskin choker had done the job, as usual, when Blair wasn't around.

"All my senses feel really strong, Darwin. C'mon, pick up your feet. Barnes is going down."

** ** ** ** ** **

I typed up my report on the fiasco that had been this evening's event. And I was feeling sick inside.

I didn't want to believe that my guide could have sabotaged our efforts to capture Alex Barnes, but I couldn't ignore the fact that he'd blinded me with his flashlight when I had her cornered on a fire escape after she'd stolen a laser from the van transporting it. And just how had Alex Barnes known the cops were after her? Could Sandburg have called her to warn her away, in an attempt to save his other sentinel?

I replayed the sequence of events in my mind again.

The three of us, Conner, Sandburg, and I, had just walked out of my building to go stake out Barnes' studio. But I had heard sirens in the distance, and I'd had an eerie feeling that I should check it out. Dispatch had given me the details. A laser had been hijacked right out of a van attacked on the street, but we had a description of the vehicle the perp was driving and Conner and I had responded to the call. I told Sandburg to ride with Conner - he needed to get rid of Barnes' scent before I could have him that close to me in a small space.

We got lucky and intercepted the thief. I had Barnes cornered on the fire stairs - I knew it was her, knew the other sentinel was there - and I'd identified myself as police. I'd pinned down her exact location by focusing in on her heartbeat, and I was ready to shoot her if she didn't surrender.

I'd had my gun cocked and aimed at her - it was dark, but that was no hindrance to me - when Sandburg fumbled with his flashlight and shone it directly into my eyes. I was disorientated by the dazzling light -- like looking at the heart of a star. My eyes teared up and while I was yelling at him for being such an idiot, Barnes went up to the roof and we lost her.

Of course, he'd apologized. And I had taken him at his word. It wasn't until later that doubt about his actions crept into my mind -- after we'd gotten to Barnes' place, and I'd smelled the plastique and I realized Barnes had booby-trapped her studio. I'd had to tackle Conner - who'd gone, warrant in hand, to kick in the door - to keep her from being blown to smithereens. I'd already known Barnes wasn't in there; no heartbeat inside that place.

Had Barnes figured out on her own that she'd been made? Or had a certain sympathetic anthropology graduate student tipped her off? Blair didn't want to believe a sentinel could also be a criminal. Had he deluded himself that everyone else was wrong about Barnes - a.k.a. Bannister - and that he could rescue her?

But I was reluctant to question him. If I was seeing a problem where one didn't exist, then I would be adding to the strained feelings between us. And I didn't want to alert Conner to my suspicions, either. She wouldn't be able to be objective enough to even consider that Sandburg might have made a stupid mistake by trusting Barnes to be innocent. Conner wasn't at the PD anyway, right now; she and Blair had gone to get sandwiches from the deli down the street from the station.

I needed to talk to Simon. I'd ask his advice - and if there was questioning to be done, I'd let him do it and I'd use the tricks Blair had taught me to decide if my guide was lying or not. I hit the print button on my computer and walked over to the printer, waiting for the machine to spit out my report. Then, report in hand, I knocked on Simon's door.

** ** ** ** ** **

I never even got a chance to eat my roast beef sub before Conner and I'd had to leave the bullpen to investigate a break-in at Rainier's HazMat Research Lab. Two canisters of nerve gas - incredibly deadly stuff - had been stolen.

Conner and I were sure Barnes was the thief. It all fit. Rainier used Oberon Securities, and a mostly destroyed portable hard drive with a disk in it was found in the bombed out studio. Forensics had called us while we were at Rainier to confirm what I had guessed from feeling the letters 'Ober' on the disk -- it had been stolen from Oberon Securities. And the partially recovered data had contained the plans for the HazMat Lab's security.

Unfortunately, at the time their office had been broken into, Oberon had refused to contact the companies that they had consulted for to tell them a security compromise was possible. They didn't know which particular security system plans had been stolen and didn't want to lose customers by alarming them. And without something else to narrow it down, there was no way the PD could stake out every company on Oberon's client list on the chance that a robbery would take place.

But a robbery had taken place, and the final step in the heist had been the use of a high-powered laser - like the one Barnes had stolen from a van earlier today.

It was kind of ironic that Rainier had stepped up its security after the last theft from the lab -- ironic because Sandburg and I had been involved back then, too. Lee Brackett had stolen a vial of Ebola virus and blackmailed me into stealing a prototype plane from the Air Force for him -- or he was going to release that lethal disease to harm the people of my city. Sandburg and I had worked together to stop him.

But Sandburg wasn't with me on this part of the investigation. Simon had listened to my concerns, and decided that the possibility of Blair sabotaging the case needed to be looked into. He and I had both been cops long enough to know the lengths some otherwise smart and law-abiding people would go to - if their principles or their hearts were involved. Why, just last week, in California, a woman who'd been running a dog-training program at a prison had helped a convict escape. In love with the clown, I guessed.

The call from Dispatch stating there was a break in at Rainier - nothing reported stolen as of yet -- had come in shortly after Conner and Blair had returned from their food run, and when Blair put his jacket back on, wanting to go with me and Conner, Simon came out of his office and told Blair he needed to talk to him and that he wouldn't be doing any more observing tonight. Megan intercepted him, gave him a house key, and told him to let himself in and that we'd be tied up till the wee hours of the morning. She hugged him and expressed that he looked like he needed to get some sleep. And I made some noise about him having classes to teach in the morning, seconding her suggestion to get some rest. He did look like he was running on fumes; he probably didn't sleep well after I'd kicked him out of the loft.

We left then, with me listening to Simon ushering Blair into his office, telling him to first finish his meal, and then he wanted Sandburg's report on what had happened during the attempt to arrest Barnes this evening. No chance now to listen in and decide if Sandburg was lying about Barnes.

It was way past the wee hours of the morning before Conner and I parted to go to our homes. We had alerted the airlines to watch for a woman with Barnes' description and briefed the FBI on the case. We'd also put the word out on the street that any information on Alex Barnes and anybody connected with her would be welcomed with the legal tender. And FBI agents had bigger expense accounts than an inspector from Australia and a detective from Cascade; we felt no guilt in waving the FBI's money around.

I had felt strange all night -- uneasy. I'd called Simon at his house around midnight and he was short with me; he'd said he'd talk to me in the morning and that Sandburg had gone to Conner's place about a half hour after we'd left the bullpen. He did say that Sandburg had brought up fumbling the flashlight and took responsibility for Barnes getting away. Told me to go home and get some sleep.

So I went back to the loft, and being in my own space did make me feel better. I'd moved the bed to the basement, but I dug out my sleeping bag and camping pad and fell right into a blue vision.

** ** ** ** ** **

Before I told Conner the truth about being a sentinel, Blair and I had let her believe I was psychic. Well, she had come up with that idea, and we hadn't corrected her about it. But I was beginning to think maybe there was more of a psychic part to being a sentinel than Sandburg or I had known.

In the morning, the ringing of the phone woke me up. And the wrong feeling was back. Intensified. I stumbled down the stairs and picked up the receiver as the voice on the other end was beginning to leave a message. For Sandburg. Who had apparently missed teaching his ten o'clock class and his department head wanted to know why.

I let the secretary give her message without actually talking to her. Then I called Sandburg's office. No answer. I called his cell phone. No answer. I called Conner. And found out that he hadn't slept at her apartment last night after all -- she'd assumed he'd either made up with me or had gone back to the motel room. She told me the name of the place, and I winced. It was one that was popular for prostitution and drug deals. The rates were very, very cheap for a reason.

The manager was used to the cops making inquiries about his clientele and, with a grunt of exasperation, gave me the room number and rang the room. No answer. I called Conner back and arranged to meet her at the motel room.

Blair was in trouble. And maybe of his own doing. I couldn't help but wonder if he'd met up with Barnes and left with her. But could he have hidden that kind of thing from me? Wouldn't his very pores have signaled his betrayal? And would he become ill, like he had before when he'd left me? And if he'd left with her, he knew nothing about the nerve gas she'd stolen. Blair would never do anything that would cause other people to come to harm. But he could have been taken in by a story she might have fed him.

I thought back to the conversation between Conner and Blair I'd overheard yesterday. Conner had said something about Blair wanting to believe the best of people. And Blair thought sentinels were the best example of humanity there was to be found.

I knew different. I knew sentinels could be devious and underhanded. If it suited them. And I wasn't talking about Barnes.

** ** ** ** ** **

There was nothing to be found at the motel room, except that Blair had come for his things apparently sometime in the night. He hadn't bothered to check out; had left the key locked in the room. Conner and I banged on the neighboring doors but nobody had noticed when he'd come and gone. Half of the motel's denizens would have been too drunk or stoned to notice a parade outside their window, let alone a quiet guy who probably had been in and out in less than fifteen minutes.

I called his office and his cell phone again. Nothing. Conner followed me to Rainier and I figured he wasn't there because his car wasn't in the parking lot. We walked up to Hargrove together, to check out his office, and I decided it was time to fill Conner in on my reluctant theory that Sandburg had gotten himself entangled with Barnes and had left with her. She didn't buy it.

"Sandy knows her record. There's no way he would join up with her. You're dead wrong, mate." There was so much firm conviction in her voice that it made feel ashamed that I doubted Blair.

"I hope so. I really hope so. But where the hell is he? It's not like him to blow off his teaching responsibilities. He would have gotten a sub for his class if he knew he couldn't be there. And I'm not getting any sense at all of where he is and usually; if I try, I can get a kind of directional feel regarding his whereabouts. This is all so screwed up. It has been for weeks, ever since my guide started messing around with another sentinel. He should have told me."

Conner gave me the hairy eyeball and I amended my statement.

"Yeah, you're right. I should have listened when he tried to tell me about the woman he'd met. You see, I thought she was just another one of his fly-by-babes, and I'm tired of hearing about the revolving door of his love life."

"Do you ever wonder why Sandy doesn't settle in with somebody? Ever think it might be because he's in love with someone else, someone who he dreams someday might love him back? Even though it's probably hopeless? You really should think about that, Ellison." Conner sounded... pitying. Of me?

I didn't like where the conversation was going. It sounded like she was saying that Blair was in love with me... and of course we loved each other. He was my guide; I was his sentinel. But he'd stopped us from having a sexual relationship years ago and... no. He couldn't be waiting for me to change my mind about openly acknowledging him as my lover. He knew my closet door was shut. I'd told him a long time ago how it was with me. He couldn't expect me to change. If he was... Oh, Blair. God, I hoped Conner was wrong, because that was just heartbreaking to think he was... We really needed to talk.

I didn't respond to Conner's comments, just pulled out my phone and called Simon. Sandburg hadn't checked in at the PD, but there was a report that a woman who could be Barnes had flown to Colombia last night. The FBI had alerted the authorities in Bogota, and were awaiting confirmation that Barnes and the nerve gas were in custody. Simon would call us back as soon as he heard anything.

We entered Blair's building and went downstairs to his basement office after stopping to get the key from the department secretary. I knew he wasn't there. No voice, no heartbeat. And my unease and certainty that something was wrong increased tenfold as we opened his office door.

There, waiting for me, was the spotted jaguar. Barnes' spirit animal was on Blair's desk and looked straight at me and roared the mating call again. I stared stonily back at it, sending the message that I wasn't interested. And why the hell was the jaguar here, in Blair's office?

"Jim... Hey, Jim. Ellison, tell me you're not in one of those zones Sandy warned me about. Ellison!"

I was intent on watching the spotted cat and I ignored Conner until she gave me a shove, which was a far cry from the way Blair would have brought me out of a zone. I muttered to her that I hadn't been zoned, and then I moved toward the spirit animal.

The jaguar -different from my own spirit animal but yet similar -- jumped then. Jumped straight through me and I shuddered as a flood of feelings bombarded me.

"Ellison! What the bloody hell is wrong with you, mate?" Conner's anxious voice penetrated the daze I'd gone into from the impact with Barnes' spirit guide, and I felt her hard hands on me again. She gave me a vigorous shake, and I looked around for the spirit guide that had briefly merged with me. It was gone.

I shook my head to clear it, and held up a hand to ward off Conner's version of first aid before she left bruises on me. She stepped back, then, as I found my voice.

"Barnes was here. Uh... she left me a kind of message. You know..." And I gave a vague flutter of my fingers to indicate meta-physical crap.

"Well, are you okay now? What, ah... can you tell with your sight? Damn, this is a lot harder than Sandy makes it seem."

Conner was right; I needed to focus with my senses and learn what I could from any clues that had been left in Blair's office.

But before I could get started, I noticed the envelope with my name on it, in Blair's handwriting, in plain sight on his desk.

I slipped on gloves and carefully untucked the flap; he hadn't bothered to seal it. I read it through and showed it to Conner, then slid it into an evidence bag.

"You don't believe him, do you, Jim? You can't believe he went with her of his own free will?"

Trust.

Did I trust Blair or not?

I closed my eyes and felt for him. But it was like there was heavy static on the sentinel-and-guide-bond channel.

I flashed on all the ways Blair had helped me over the last three years. All the accommodating he had done. All the love he'd shown me... And the love he'd tried to hide from me. Damn. He had never stopped being in love with me. I'd just been willfully blind to it because... oh, hell. This was not the time or place to figure out what Blair and I could be, should be to each other. Instead, I let my feelings of trust in Blair swell up - like the tide, like a tsunami.

He was gone.

But he hadn't gone willingly.

"She took him." I looked around the room. "There's no sign of a struggle." I opened up my senses, which I had protectively dialed down when the jaguar jumped me. And that had been the message -- Barnes wanted to jump my bones. Not likely, lady. And taking my guide wasn't the way to my heart. Why would a crook want to have any dealings with a cop, anyway? Didn't make sense. Unless... Maybe her spirit animal wasn't on the same page as the criminal? Maybe her spirit guide was influencing her despite what her sense of self-preservation would be screaming. Huh... I wished I could have Blair's take on her motivations. Well, the sooner I found him, the sooner I'd be able to ask him.

I catalogued the room, noting the scent of gun oil, and Blair's scent, which was heavy with fear, anger, and anxiety; Barnes' scent stank of satisfaction, of cruelty, and of arousal. She had gotten off on making Blair do her bidding -- or on thinking of me finding this note. But she couldn't think that this pathetic scribble was going to stop me from looking for Blair. Or keep me from bringing her to justice.

I pinpointed where the arousal smell was heaviest and pulled an unmarked envelope from the top shelf where the university's artifacts were stored. She'd held the letter down to her crotch, evidently, letting her woman's scent permeate the thing. I opened it gingerly.

To normal eyes it would have been a blank piece of paper, but she'd taken something, a toothpick maybe, and written me her own letter.

I swore and had to keep myself from balling the letter up. She was blackmailing me.

"What is that, Ellison? What's going on?"

Conner already knew I was a sentinel, and Blair had explained to her that we were bonded -- making sure to tell her that bonding could be accomplished by just a lot of touching, not just through sex, and letting her assume that our bond was the G-rated version. And Megan was a friend; besides -- she adored Blair. I made the decision to tell her.

"The bitch thinks I'll just hand over Blair and let everybody think he left with her on his own. Listen; this is what she's scratched on this paper."

I read it out loud to her.

"Ellison, your guide has been a careless, careless boy. He's left both of our names in his research about sentinels. Expect proof that the boy betrayed you.

"Now, I don't care if the world recognizes my powers, but you don't want yours made public. And it's all in Blair's notes -- which are in a safe place, where nobody will read them. Unless I'm arrested, or I end up dead, then the world will know all about you. All of dear Blair's years of research would be published. It would be a media circus. Oh, I'm sure you'd deny it, but the damage would be done, wouldn't it.

"So easy to avoid: you don't come after me and I keep Blair; he's a pretty boy and while he's not really my type for fucking- I like large, strong men -- I'm sure he'll learn to do things to please me. And he has knowledge I need. You don't appear to want him anymore - he told me about you throwing him out of your home -- so this should be an easy deal for you. You know, Ellison, you are my type; if you do find me, there are other things we can do besides play cops and robbers.

"Of course, my little professor is coming with me because he thinks he's saving his sentinel. I was considering killing him, since I don't like leaving loose ends, but this way works, too. He's safe, as long as he behaves. And you behave. Welcome to the jungle, lover."

I choked on that last sentence. >

"Does she really think the rest of us are going to ignore what she's done? Even if she does make it seem like Sandy left with her willingly? And she didn't have to take him - she could have blackmailed you with just the material. What does he know that she needs?" Conner was angry, her hands had kept bunching up into fists while I'd read Barnes' note to her.

"There's... the guide stuff. How to avoid zones and spikes and how to piggyback your senses." And I rubbed my hand over my face. But Blair had already been teaching her that kind of thing for weeks now. At this point wasn't it mostly practicing what he'd taught her?

"Does she want to bond with him? Is she going to force him to have sex with her?"

Conner sounded sick, and knowing Blair was Barnes' hostage made me want to hit something so badly. And Shit, I really didn't know what would happen to our bond if Barnes made him have sex, or even if she just touched him a lot. I looked in dismay at Conner and then closed my eyes. My Blair, being raped - I was going after Barnes. Maybe the threat was a bluff. Yeah, Blair had said everything in his research would be confidential. There wouldn't be anything to connect me to the sentinel he had done the research on. But I didn't want to show this note to the Feebs. I'd let Simon know the whole story and to others I'd say the wording in the letter Blair had left convinced me that he'd been coerced into leaving.

Actually, we only had Barnes' word that Blair was agreeing to the blackmail. I could smell gun oil in the room. She'd probably held a weapon on him, maybe handcuffed him and gagged him.

And she'd probably had at least one accomplice. This was a big undertaking for just one operator. But so many people trooped in and out of Blair's office daily that no other scents jumped out at me as Barnes' stooge.

I opened my eyes and started to pace around the dimly lit basement room. What did she need Blair for? To be her guide, to bond with her? Unlikely. They'd been meeting for weeks and Blair had indicated there was nothing sexual between them. To keep showing her how to use her senses? Maybe. And if that was the case, Blair would become a loose end again, when she caught on about how to work the dials or whatever he'd come up with to help her manage.

And she took care of loose ends.

What else might Blair know about that Barnes wanted enough to drag a hostage with her?

My eye was caught again by some paintings that had been placed on the back of his ratty couch, leaning against the wall. I'd seen them earlier and dismissed them, but after a second look they were... intriguing. And very familiar... I went closer and stared at the vibrant artwork -- I had seen this statue before. And that symbol, too.

I was aware that Conner was calling Simon, filling him in on what we'd learned, asking that an APB be put out on Blair's car. I could hear Simon telling her that the woman who had been thought to be Barnes had been confirmed to be an innocent passenger. I was aware of all that, but my mind was on those paintings.

And then I touched the one with the statue.

** ** ** ** ** **

Simon came to the door of his office and caught my eye -- he knew that I knew the Feebs were in there. I'd been afraid they were going to want to talk to me. Damn FBI. And I only had half-truths to tell them. I couldn't say that I'd had a vision when I touched Alex Barnes' painting - that her obsession with the Temple of the Sentinels had come through loud and clear. And I'd made the connection to the real reason she took Blair with her. He knew the location of the Temple. Well, close enough, anyway. He had Incacha's information, and he'd been corresponding with an archeologist whose research was complementing Blair's own work and who'd found some corroborating evidence regarding the temple from a ruin in the Yucatan. Hell, Blair and I were planning on collaborating with him on an expedition to study the temple, providing Blair could scare up some grant money. And there would be grant money, even if I had to funnel it to him myself under the cover of a donation.

Blair probably had talked to Barnes about the temple, in awe of her ability to tap into the spirit world and show her connection in the form of her paintings. And I'd remembered after touching her painting that I'd dreamed of the temple last night. I hadn't recalled it till I'd traced the jaguar statue's outline with my finger.

In my dream, in the endless blue twilight that was the spirit plane, I had been my spirit guide and I'd circled the Temple of the Sentinels. In the depths of the jungle, I heard the mating call of the spotted jaguar and an answering roar tore out of my throat. I paced around the entrance to the temple, waiting, waiting. Finally she approached. The female of my kind. And she was accompanied by a wolf. He whined and she snapped at him. He lay down obediently between us and rolled so his stomach was bared. Then, looking at me, the spotted jaguar raked his belly with her claws.

Blood welled up in the deep scratches and the spotted jaguar stepped over the wolf toward me. And I was paralyzed between wanting to mate with her and wanting to lick the blood from the wolf's wounds.

That was as much as I remembered; although, given my track record for repressing unpleasant memories, I knew there might have been more to the dream. Fuck. Thinking about the bright blood that had marked the wolf, I was worried sick for Blair.

At least my little trip to Psychic-ville had resulted in another lead. In a succeeding vision from touching her paintings, I'd seen Barnes with a man. Intimately seen her with this man, and she loathed him. But it didn't stop her from having sex with him and enjoying the sheer physical release he gave her body. Somehow I knew his name was Carl, and he was her partner. So I'd had an artist's sketch done and from there we'd located him in our records. Carl Hettinger. International weapons trafficker with recent ties to Mexico and South America. The FBI's information had him traveling twice to Sierra Verde in the last three months. That was Carlos Arguillo's territory; he was a nasty customer who was the probable buyer for the stolen nerve gas.

But I didn't want to have to explain to anybody just how I'd come up with Hettinger's name or how I knew he was connected with Barnes.

Simon had let me stall for a few more moments, but now he waved his hand in a sharp movement for me to join him. Fuck. I did not want to do this.

I walked into his office and practically saluted.

"Sir."

"Have a seat, Jim. You met Agent Nickols and Agent Harriman last night, I believe. They want to discuss Sandburg's involvement."

I sat down ramrod straight in the chair Simon pointed at, and tried to keep from bristling at the Feds.

"Blair Sandburg is a victim, kidnapped by Barnes because she's got an obsession about some old ruin and thinks he knows where it's at. He was forced to write that note. She obviously dictated it to him; it's not his usual writing style at all."

The older of the two men, gray-haired, tired looking, said mildly, " And you know that because you would be familiar with Sandburg's writings? From him making grocery lists, or leaving notes about phone messages? We're aware Blair Sandburg lives with you, Detective. Or to be more accurate, did live with you. I believe you asked him to leave several days ago? Why was that, Detective Ellison?"

I went with the truth, short and sweet. "Because I was being an asshole. Look. Blair's a great kid; he's a consultant for the department and is doing a dissertation on police work. He met Barnes here, after she was brought in following a traffic accident. He heard her complaining about a health problem he had some knowledge about and offered to help her with it. That's all. He wasn't dating her; it was a professional kind of thing. He didn't have a clue she was as crooked as they come."

The gray-haired guy, Nickols, sighed and said, "Barnes is a very attractive woman; Sandburg is a young man, and from what I've learned, quick to flirt. They met, they formed a bond -"

"They didn't have a bond. I'm telling you, Blair met with her out of kindness but he wasn't dating her. I asked him." Hearing the Feds coming up with the same wrong theory that I had held earlier was disturbing. I had to make them believe it was a totally crap assumption.

Harriman chimed in. "It's a shocking concept, but perhaps he didn't tell you the truth, Ellison. Let's say she charmed him. Let's say that he felt something for her, didn't want to see her go to prison. Maybe he got in over his head. Maybe she talked him into helping her with the robberies; maybe he made sure that when she was cornered, she could escape. We've read your own report, Detective. It was his fault Barnes got away on the fire escape. And she tumbled awfully quickly to the fact that the cops were on to her. Perhaps her new friend gave her a quick call? And why was he at his office at Rainier last night? From statements given by, well, your own captain, for one," and he nodded toward Simon, "Sandburg said he was going to Inspector Conner's residence to sleep. Instead he ends up at his office. What's your theory on that, Detective?"

I ignored his last question. I was still trying to come up with some reason Blair had gone to Rainier myself. Conner and I had wondered if he'd been coming to join us at the HazMat Lab, despite our strong suggestions to get some rest, but the lab wasn't anywhere near Hargrove Hall.

"When I find Blair, I'll ask him for you. And you can forget trying to tie him into the robberies. He was with Conner and me when the laser was stolen and when the nerve gas disappeared. And he was taking a night class when Oberon Securities was broken into; the professor will alibi him."

"We're not saying he's wanted for anything at all, Detective. But he is going to be listed as a person of interest and if he's found, we will be talking to him. He wouldn't be the first man to do something stupid because of a woman." Harriman studied his fingernails while he spoke.

I stood up. "We done here? My partner's life is in serious danger, and you're wasting my time. Sandburgo was taken by that bitch and I'm going to find him. And the nerve gas. Shit, if you knew even a little bit about the kind of man Blair Sandburg is, then you'd know he'd never be involved with something that would kill a single innocent person, let alone the countless numbers who would die from exposure to a toxin like that gas. Anything else you need? Captain?"

Nickols again. "Interesting connection to Carl Hettinger you made. Care to share with the class?"

Crap. "Sorry, no can do. Confidential informant. Has the FBI been able to put Barnes with Hettinger from any other sources?"

"Yes, and we're looking at the two of them for a few other unsolved robberies. We'll send you the information we've got. And you'll do the same; won't you, Detective? You'll let us know if you have any more... informants wanting to share."

Simon spoke up. "Jim, you can go. And yes, Agent Nickols and Agent Harriman, we'll copy you on any leads we develop."

I grabbed onto Simon's words like a lifeline, and with a nod to the FBI, left his office. Could have been worse. At least an arrest warrant hadn't been issued for Blair. I wasn't sure, though, what was going to happen with his job. I'd tried to do damage control with his department head; told him that the PD was considering it a kidnapping when I'd called him earlier, but the FBI agents had also been around to talk to the guy, and they probably had insinuated he was Barnes' accomplice.

I wished that I had paid more attention to Blair's discussions with Incacha and that other guy, the one who kept emailing and calling Blair about getting an expedition together to discover the temple. Santiago, that was his name. I decided to go home and call him, ask him to send me all the information he and Blair had put together about where the temple might be found. Without it we would be up shit creek without a paddle. Barnes hadn't been kidding about stealing Blair's research -- I'd looked through his office and his tapes, his notes, and his files were all gone.

She would make her way to the temple. I knew it. And I could set a trap for her there. But she would have done the deal with the nerve gas first, and recovering it had to be my first priority.

I left the PD, turning over the legwork of checking back in with our informants to Conner. Simon was putting together the Hettinger and Arguillo dossier. We would have no jurisdiction in Sierra Verde, and there was a good chance the local law enforcement was in cahoots with the drug lord; by rights we shouldn't be going at all. But we would. The nerve gas had been stolen from my town, under my watch. I felt responsible for not figuring out Barnes' plans earlier.

And she's taken my Blair. I was going to get him back. And then try and make it up to him for how I'd acted the last couple of weeks. And maybe the last couple of years.

I drove my truck in tense silence and thought about the most recent time Blair had driven home with me. I'd made him shut up, and now I'd give anything to hear him chattering away about his studies, or devising tests for me to take.

I walked into my building and got the mail. I hadn't checked it in a couple of days and I started flipping through it while I climbed the stairs to my apartment. I swung the door open; the place didn't look uncluttered to me anymore. It looked... sterile. Bare. With no indication that anybody even lived there. It looked so wrong, and I felt a sense of disgust that I'd allowed myself to get hijacked by the weird-ass sentinel shit.

But at least the irritation I'd felt towards Blair was gone. And by that, more than anything, I knew Barnes had left town. I set the mail down, having only partly gone through it, and went to the phone. Santiago had called not too long ago and I hoped his number was still listed on the memory log. Otherwise, I'd have to search through the boxes I'd packed for my address book.

I was in luck and called the man. I told him what had happened to Blair, and he agreed to fax to Simon all the research on the temple's location he had. He asked me to please let him know when Blair was rescued.

My only other task was to pack, and I accomplished that swiftly. I found my passport and went through the rest of the mail, so I could leave.

And that was where I found a cassette tape and a photocopy of some of Blair's notes. And was dismayed to learn that Barnes hadn't been bluffing about Blair leaving our names in his research after all.

** ** ** ** ** **

Blair's voice filled the truck cab. "-- face off in some territorial rivalry? Now if in fact my secondary subject does turn out to be a sentinel, I'm going to have to bring them together in a carefully controlled situation. So at the present time, I've decided not to tell Jim Ellison or Alex Barnes about one another..."

I shut my tape deck off. Jesus Christ, Blair! If I wasn't so worried about his safety, I'd be enraged that he had been so sloppy - throwing my name around like that in his research. As it was, I couldn't deal with my feelings about this... exposure right now. I had to concentrate on the mission.

But when he was safely back with me, then Mr. Sandburg and I were going to have a little chat regarding confidentiality and keeping promises. I shoved any thoughts of the fallout if Barnes released her little bomb of information to the back of my mind. What was important right now was finding Blair and the nerve gas.

My cell phone rang and I answered it, barking out "Ellison" into the receiver. I listened to Simon telling me that Sandburg's car had been found, and that he was calling the techs to come and check it out. At that point I made an illegal U-turn and flipped my lights on as I raced to the address.

** ** ** ** ** **

"What in the blue blazes does he think he's doing?"

"Shut up, Ricco. This guy's got some kind of mojo when it comes to figuring shit out. I've seen him do it on other cases. He'll be done soon and then we can start bagging evidence. Go get the fingerprint kit ready, okay?"

I didn't bother to let the two men waiting to check out the Volvo know I'd heard them. Why add to the 'mojo' mystique if I could avoid it? But hey - if Barnes' booby trap did get sprung everybody and his brother was going to know what I was capable of doing. Then Ricco and McDonald could say they'd seen me doing my weird-ass sentinel shit. And I wasn't supposed to be thinking about that now. Focus, Ellison.

I could smell Barnes' scent mixed in with Blair's. They'd been together in the car. And Blair had been scared. No doubt the bitch had continued to hold a gun on him; the gun oil scent was too strong for the weapon to have been concealed. And for that knowledge I could thank Blair for testing me on similar situations.

Most of Blair's belongings were thrown in the back of the car, but his backpack was gone. His cell phone was on the passenger floor and I slipped gloves on before I carefully picked it up. I checked his messages and his received calls list. And wasn't that interesting. Somebody had phoned Blair around midnight... from his own office phone.

Blair must have driven to Rainier because of whatever he'd learned from that last phone call. Barnes had set a trap for him. He wouldn't have gone if she had just asked him to meet her there in his dingy basement office... Not without police backup. Blair had been observing the PD for over three years now. He wouldn't have made such a rookie mistake. So, she wasn't the one who had phoned him. Maybe she'd had Hettinger make the call. And I wondered how on board her lover was with taking a hostage with them to Sierra Verde.

I didn't find anything else useful in the car, and I turned it over to the waiting techs. For a messy kind of guy, Blair did keep his car fairly neat - to impress his dates, I figured. But anybody who spent much time with Sandburg soon realized that neatness was not a natural trait of his. I'd spent years working on him to just follow a few simple house rules.

And my stomach muscles clenched when I thought that I might never again get the chance to yell at him about wet towels on the floor or... Shit, Blair. Please be all right.

I checked out the surface of this rundown parking lot behind the decrepit warehouse for any indication of the vehicle that they'd switched to, and found some footprints and tread marks. I called McDonald over to point them out. Maybe it would help find the current vehicle they'd been driving.

All the airports, commercial and private, were being monitored. I figured they'd had a plane waiting at a small landing strip and by now were in Mexico. I tried to see if I could feel where Blair was, sort of a guide GPS system, but it was still no good. Whatever Barnes was doing with Blair was fucking it up.

Simon called me on my way back to the PD; a flight to Mexico City was leaving in forty-five minutes, and he and Conner were heading to the airport. I put on my lights and siren and thought of how much I wanted Alex Barnes -- Ms. Alicia Bannister -- to be safely back in prison where she belonged.

And Blair back with me, where he belonged.

** ** ** ** ** **

The police in steamy Sierra Verde had a surprise waiting for us when we arrived at the local comisaria. After showing them a snap shot of Blair, emphasizing that he was a kidnap victim, and mug shots of Barnes and Hettinger, we were told that Carl Hettinger's body was in the morgue.

Ortega, the police chief, escorted us to view the body, and he made noises at Simon indicating that really, he had heard nothing about any nerve gas, and no, no, Senor, no arms dealer used his town as a base of operations. Of course he was familiar with the name Carlos Arguillo, but the man didn't conduct his business in Sierra Verde. However, there were other men who might be potential buyers, middlemen who would resell the gas. He would meet with us at the hotel at four o'clock and bring us any word on potential contacts. And if he learned anything about Senor Sandburg, he would make sure we would know immediately. He left then, wishing us luck in our search, and assured us that we had the cooperation of the policía of Sierra Verde.

Total bullshit, of course. You didn't have to be a sentinel to hear the lies in his words.

Once we were alone in the morgue, I dialed up my senses to examine Hettinger's body. The police chief said the coroner thought Hettinger had died from an accidental fall, but I could see the marks on Hettinger's throat where he'd been choked. And I could detect the scent her body had left on her ex-partner. I touched his lips and felt the slick texture of Alex's lipstick. She had kissed the man and then snapped his neck; she was violent, and not afraid to use her own hands to kill. I felt cold sweat break out on my face; Blair was with her, and he had a way of being defiant to people who had the means and motive to hurt him. I hoped and prayed that he was safe.

I touched Hettinger's lips again and felt the power of the second sight overwhelm me.

I saw Barnes and Hettinger, on a stairwell, saw her kiss him and then twist his neck. She watched his body fall down the steps of the motel. Then she went inside her room and came out with Blair. He stared, shocked, at the body lying at the foot of the stairs, and tried to jerk away from her grip, but she pulled him to her and hissed at him to cooperate or her 'friend' would go ahead and send the media the very interesting information she had left with him. Blair looked at her with an expression I'd never seen on his face before, and I realized with a jolt that it was hate. Blair hated Barnes for what she was threatening to do. But then he allowed himself to be hustled down the stairs and into the waiting car. My vision ended after that.

Simon grabbed my arm, and pulled me away from the naked body on the exam table.

"Jim, get it together. Did you just have another one of those image-things? What did you see?" he said to me in a low voice.

I was a little dizzy and I welcomed his strong hand on my arm. "Granny would say that I've got the second sight now. Shit. But it's been useful so far, or I wouldn't know that Blair was here, in a motel with Barnes. They left shortly after she killed Hettinger. She kissed the son-of-a-bitch, and then she broke his neck. And she's still threatening to blow the sentinel shit sky high, to get Blair to cooperate."

Simon gave me a small push towards the door and Conner stepped up beside me.

In a matter of fact voice, she said, "Let's go and refuel. We need to brainstorm about who Barnes sent Sandy's research off to, to hold for her. And I want to go over what you saw, Jim. You know I've worked with psychics before, in Australia."

I nodded. It couldn't hurt and I wanted to try and visualize the car I'd seen in my brief dream. Maybe we would end up with a useful solid lead for tracking down my missing guide.

Barnes was playing her own hand now, having dealt Hettinger right out of the game and into a grave. And I could feel the sense of her again. And the memory of how her jaguar had jumped through me made me shiver; I felt my dick grow hard. Oh, no fucking way.

She was so fucking dangerous, and not just because she'd stolen the nerve gas, or had taken Blair. I was afraid she was dangerous for me.

Back in Cascade my instincts had taken over the driver's seat. And look at how I'd emptied my place of all my furniture, and how I'd treated Blair. I didn't want to fall under some sentinel spell that would have me wanting to have sex with her -- a killer, a kidnapper, a cold-blooded criminal.

No. Fucking. Way.

** ** ** ** ** **

Working out of my motel room, the three of us came up with the short list of who to investigate for retaining Blair's research for Barnes.

It would have to be somebody she could rely upon to not cheat her and steal the information, which pretty much eliminated anybody she'd worked with on a business level. So, no fences, no partners in robbery. Those guys would be all over this mysterious package, and Barnes would have known that. Look how she treated Hettinger, her own partner and lover. No trust or love lost there, that was for sure.

Close personal friends? I seriously doubted that she had any, but that was one line of investigation to pursue. Family members she could count on? Maybe. But she'd seemed solitary to me. Wasn't really sure what I was basing that impression on, but I was dubious that she had any close family.

No, I thought it most likely that she'd contacted a lawyer, probably one she already knew. And where do criminals mostly meet lawyers? In court. With her long history of involvement with the legal system, she must have been represented by quite a few. Her lawyer would be bound ethically to follow Barnes' wishes, not that there was any guarantee her lawyer would be the ethical sort. But following client's instructions was something that money could buy. And the lawyer could truthfully claim he didn't know there was stolen property in the package; his function was to deliver it to the TV stations and newspapers.

Simon called Joel to pass on our hunches to him, because the big man had a soft spot for Blair and was discreet; he said he'd get right on it. He'd call the prisons Barnes been incarcerated in and find out who'd had visitor privileges. He'd get a subpoena to compel her former lawyers to turn over the research, if they had it; after all, it was stolen goods.

We left it in his capable hands, and Conner walked me through what I'd seen in the vision. Simon phoned in a description of the car to the policia, and asked for an APB to be put out.

Again we were assured that the local cops were nothing but cooperative with us norteamericanos; he description of the car would be circulated immediately to their officers.

And again, I had qualms. Something about the tone of voice of Police Chief Ortega made me think he was blowing smoke up our asses.

I became convinced of it when a tank rolled down the street and shot up the little café while we were meeting with Ortega to get his list of possible middlemen buyers in the late afternoon. He slipped away as tables were exploding and windows breaking from the rounds fired from the tank. A tank! Who but an arms dealer is going to be able to lay his hands on a fucking tank? Arguillo was warning us off of his territory. And Ortega would hardly be the first cop to make a truce with the local gang leader in order to have some kind of peace in his town.

Luckily, none of us were hurt but we opted to leave the motel; instead we stayed at a small Catholic church for the night. The pews were hard, but sanctuary was an ancient concept that we hoped was still respected here. Simon and Conner fell asleep fairly quickly, Simon's snores echoing through the church.

Staring at the rows of small, lighted candles in the nearby nook, I felt unsettled. I tried to get some sleep, but I missed Blair and I wished he were with me right now. He'd be telling us about the origins of the concept of sanctuary, and probably throw in a couple of stories to boot. Still, I closed my eyes and tried to rest.

I guess I did fall asleep because I dreamed I saw Alex walking on the beach as the sun was rising. I saw myself meeting up with her and the two of us falling to our knees in the sand, kissing each other passionately.

I woke up with a start and realized it was only a dream. I was hard, and I cursed my unruly dick for having absolutely no sense of propriety; I mean, sure, she was beautiful, but that hardly made it okay for me to want her. She'd taken Blair; she was playing around with thousands of lives with that nerve gas. I closed my eyes and felt for Blair once again with the internal guide finder, but like every other time I'd tried since he'd been taken, I couldn't get a sense of where he was. Sighing, I awkwardly turned sideways on the hard pew; I told myself that my dick did not rule me, and went back to sleep.

** ** ** ** ** **

I was dreaming again, the same damn dream, where I was drawn to Alex on the beach. We met and stared at each other, and without a word she was in my arms. Her lips were so soft, her skin so warm against mine. I felt... elemental. My senses were singing and I was a part of the wind, a part of the ocean. The sand was cool as I sank to my knees, bringing her down with me. My mate. The female of my kind. I had never met another, and I ached to rut inside of her.

She slipped my unbuttoned, long sleeved shirt off, freeing my arms, and I began to touch her under her clothes, to pull at her clothing to free her breasts. I wanted to lick and suck on them. I wanted to taste her skin.

And then her hands were hot on my body, pushing me onto my back, moving the hard object away that was poking me as I lay down on the shifting sand. She was kneeling next to me and running her hands possessively down my chest, and reaching under my undershirt to trace the muscles there. I trembled under her hand, my eyes closed, and her touch felt so good. She moved her hands down my legs, a sensual massage that made me lose myself in the pressure of her hands against my pants. She covered my ankle with her hand and I felt a distant concern, but when she stroked my erection with her other hand, making it strain against the fabric of my khakis, I shifted my attention to what her skillful fingers were doing to my dick.

I don't know how long we stayed like that, my hands caressing her breasts and hers teasing my dick... until we were abruptly interrupted.

"Jim, Stop! What the hell are you doing, man?" I knew that voice. It belonged to my guide. My one-time lover. My friend.

Who was missing.

Fuck! This was no dream.

I opened my eyes, really opened my eyes, and saw that Alex was standing up about eight feet away from me.

She had my gun.

She was pointing it at Blair.

"Alex, put the gun down and you won't be hurt. C'mon, now." She looked disorientated to me, and I guessed that she had felt the same dreamy impulse to meet on the beach that I had felt.

I saw her shake off the remaining confusion. She slowly backed away from me even further, becoming more alert. But Blair seemed paralyzed, until he jerkily migrated a few feet towards Barnes, stopping with a confounded look on his face.

I slowly gathered myself to stand up so that I could leap for her, trusting that Blair would drop to the ground when I did. He was my partner; he'd know my intentions. Alex interrupted my movements.

"Don't move. I'll shoot him before you can reach me. And I can feel it now, Jim. Can't you feel it, too? We're being drawn to it, like we're being drawn to each other." Her heartbeat was steady; she was breathing quietly. And when she spoke it was still with a tinge of the dreaminess that earlier had come over both of us.

"I don't need Blair anymore. Do you want him, Jim? Do you want him to suck your cock? His tongue's agile -- I put it to better use than him talking. Oh, he cares for you, Jim. He was a good little hostage and did everything I told him to, so I would keep your secret. But I don't need him anymore. He's a... loose end."

She licked her lips, the lips that I had kissed. and I felt sick. What in the fuck had been wrong with me! Damn the sentinel shit, always fucking up my life.

She smiled at me. "It's time to tie up my loose end."

And she shot him. I heard the bullet impact his skin, tear through the muscle under his shoulder. I leaped at her but she had stepped back as swiftly as I had come up from my crouch and she held the gun on me. Her eyes were cold, hard, and I knew that the criminal was back in control, not the sentinel. She would kill me without a second thought.

Blair had fallen to the sand. But he was shifting, crab-crawling towards the ocean, his right arm hanging limply. I could smell his blood in the air and see the trail of crimson liquid he was leaving in the sand. I felt a murderous wave of anger at her, and made an urgent motion towards him, but Barnes said flatly, "Budge an inch and I shoot you. And I'll aim for your spine. I'll make you a cripple if you don't do exactly what I say, and you know I've got the sight to do it. So freeze. And if you decide to be a hero, I'll shoot him again, after I do you."

Alex and I watched Blair reach the waves and fall face first into the ocean. She watched him calmly, still holding the gun on me, and I watched him with dread. I was afraid he had lost a fair amount of blood, and I needed to help him. Barnes must have sensed my decision to try and overpower her, now that Blair was in the ocean and not such a target, because she said, "Your choice, Jim. You can try to take this gun away from me - and I won't hesitate to shoot you - or you can go to your guide. He's still alive, but you know what? I don't think he's breathing. Your choice."

I chose. And I ran for Blair, away from Barnes. Damn it, she had shot Blair for a distraction so that she could get away. I raced down the beach, to where he'd entered the water.

And I didn't see him making any attempts at breathing. He was floating face down, the waves pushing him towards shore and pulling him back.

Oh, God! He wasn't breathing. I waded out to him and rolled him over, supporting him in the waist-deep water. Blood was still pumping from his wound. He had a heartbeat, or blood couldn't drip from him like that. But he wasn't breathing.

I dragged him to the beach and laid him down on the sand, the sunrise sending a red tinge over his skin. I listened for any breathing, my ear to his mouth. Nothing. Right.

Start rescue breathing.

Angle his head back. Cover his mouth with mine. Breathe into his mouth and watch his chest rise. Breathe. Watch. Breathe. Watch. Breathe. Watch. Breathe. Watch...

Time seemed to slow, the waves acting as a metronome for the rhythm of my actions. There were only two actions that mattered. Breathe. Watch.

Breath. Watch. A tremor. Inhalation. Watch. Inhalation. Watch.

It wasn't a fluke, he was breathing on his own. And coughing. I rolled him to his side in the rescue position and put pressure on his bullet wound.

He was alive -- but unconscious and bleeding heavily below his shoulder and from the exit hole on his back. He needed to get to a hospital. I stripped off my undershirt and used it for a makeshift pressure bandage, tearing part of it into strips to bind the bandage to his shoulder. His arm needed to be splinted, to keep it immobile, and I worked his pants off of his body and used them to achieve that task.

I would have to move him myself -- there was nobody on this beach who could go for assistance. I crouched beside him, working my hands under his shoulders and knees. Heaved him up and stood, glad for every hour I had sweated in the gym, glad for the strength in my arms and legs.

He was dead weight, limp as I staggered through the sand with him. Focus on finding help. Don't think about the fact that he almost died. That he had been drowning. Bleeding. He'd gone to the ocean. Why? Had he thought he would be safer in the water? Had he had an instinctual response to danger, to dive down deep and swim away? Don't think about what that means. But if he'd been wearing his choker maybe he'd have been safe. If he'd transformed... Maybe the process would have healed him? But he'd been a selkie without his skin. No, don't think about this now. Find help.

Focus.

** ** ** ** ** **

"Jim. He's going to be all right. C'mon and sit down. You heard what the doctor said. He's lucky the bullet missed that major artery and nicked a smaller one instead. Some new blood and stitches and he should be fine. So, come on, settle down."

I ignored Simon; I kept standing at the door of the small waiting room and extending my hearing so that I could keep tabs on Blair. And listen in case that crazy bitch showed up to try and finish killing him; he hadn't seen her kill Hettinger, but he could place her at the scene. Blair was right down the hall, and nobody could get to him without passing us.

This hospital was so small, compared to Cascade General, and I wondered if they really knew what they were doing. Blair'd had emergency surgery to repair the damage done below his shoulder, and I was both relieved it hadn't been worse and angry that he'd been hurt in the first place.

I'd had to tell Simon the reason Barnes and I were on that beach when Blair was shot, and it had been humiliating to see the look in his eyes when I explained the lack of control I'd had over myself. And I felt a hot flush of shame again as I thought of what Blair had seen when he followed Alex to the beach. Her. Me. Having sex. We hadn't gotten very far along, thank God, but he would have seen her stroking me and me playing with her breasts. God. I fucking hated the sentinel stuff sometimes. And the worse part of all of it was that I knew he'd forgive me when I explained that I'd been under a compulsion to find Alex and mate with her.

He shouldn't forgive me. He should be angry with me. For a lot of reasons.

Blair was in recovery and probably would be out of it for hours yet. I didn't want to leave him alone; I wanted to see him and prove to myself that he was still breathing. I was listening to his inhalations and exhalations but I wanted to watch his chest rise and fall. I knew I was being a little bit nuts but I'd almost lost him. Maybe I could talk the doctor into letting me see him.

Well, here was my chance. The doctor was headed our way.

I stepped back as the doctor opened the door. He was a short man, gray peppering his black hair, and he looked tired. Not surprising, since this emergency at dawn had probably shortened his sleep.

"Senor... Ellison, and..." He looked at Simon and gestured inquiringly with his hand.

"Captain Simon Banks, Cascade, Washington; Sandburg is a consultant with my police department. Thank you for coming back and giving us an update on how he's doing."

The doctor smiled at us. "He is young, strong, and should be fine. He needs rest, and to watch for infection in wound, and to look out for the pneumonia, since he drown. We give him blood and still for days the antibiotics. And he is on the oxygen, of course. But his breathing is good."

"When will he be awake?" My voice sounded hoarse to my own ears.

"Yes, I understand you were police officers from America and the young man is taken from your country. You have need to examine him, to question him. But he will not be... um, sense, sensible for several hours, even if he seem awoke."

"He's my partner and my friend. I don't care about questioning him: I just want to see him." There was a note of pleading in my voice that even I could hear and the doctor patted me on the back.

"Yes, for fifteen minutes you sit with him. You go with him in the ambulance, yes? He die and you gave him life again? I understand. God answered your prayers but it will not be real until you see the young man for yourself. Come." He motioned for me to follow him and gave a nod to Simon. "Senor."

I shot a look at Simon as I turned to follow the doctor and he said, "Go on, Jim. I'll be here and when you get back, we'll talk."

I followed the doctor down the hall, through a set of double doors and into a room where Blair was lying on a gurney, IVs dripping blood and saline into him, and a canula inserted in his nose to give him oxygen. The blip-blip-blip of monitoring devices blended into the background noise. Oh, Blair, buddy - I wish it had been me she shot, rather than you. The doctor startled me out of my thoughts when he handed me medical gloves and a gown to slip over the pants and shirt Simon had brought for me.

He patted my shoulder and said, "Fifteen minutes, Senor," then left the room.

I walked up close to Blair. God, he looked pale. I could hear his heartbeat and it was steady, but I wanted to feel it, too. I bent over him and placed my hand on his chest.

I could feel the drumming vibration of his heart, sense the pulsing journey of his blood through his body. I watched his chest rise and fall with a steady rhythm and I felt something inside me relax and stand down.

He was going to be okay.

And I had a confession to make.

I sat down in a chair next to the gurney and picked up his lax hand. "Blair, I'm so sorry. Sorry that you saw me like that with Barnes. Sorry that I treated you like shit these last couple of weeks. Sorry I read the first chapter of your dissertation."

I swallowed. He'd almost died, damn it. I had taken something that I knew belonged to him and maybe it was only a sealskin choker and maybe my granny was right and selkies do exist, and I'd stolen his coat. Whatever that leather necklace meant to him, it was his.

I pictured him again, falling into the ocean, looking for safety from the predator on land. And I thought of how we'd met, how he'd saved me from the cold waters of the Northwest Pacific, how we'd bonded together as sentinel and guide.

How he'd stayed in Cascade even though I knew I had broken his heart when I told him I couldn't openly be his lover. I loved him; I did. And maybe I should re-think my stance on not coming out. God knows, maintaining that I was only heterosexual hadn't brought me what I wanted in life.

He stirred in the bed and I felt his hand tighten in mine. His eyelids fluttered while he was coming awake. Raising them slowly, he looked at me, his blue eyes hazy and confused.

"J'm."

"Yeah, Blair. I'm here. You're going to be okay; you're in the hospital."

"Z'hos'tal?"

"Yeah, the hospital at Sierra Verde. You were shot, but the doc fixed you up. Go back to sleep, babe -- when you wake up again things will make more sense to you."

"Dreamed. Swimmin'... Go down deep, deep. Ocean's so beautiful. So lonely. Jim..."

He sounded sad, and a little panicky when he said my name. I hushed him and he closed his eyes.

"Jim..."

"It's okay, Blair. You're safe. And I'm sorry for so many things. We'll talk when you're better."

"I don' know the real name of m'father. I don't know what his people call themselves. I wanted to know... I can't find them now. I lost it, Jim. I lost it and I can't be like them no more. And I lost you. You don't want me, either. Alex?... No!... Jim?"

"Hush, Blair; you got me. Don't worry about anything; go back to sleep. And Alex can't hurt you anymore."

"Alex... need to find her, now. Don't want to."

"Go to sleep. I'm so sorry, Blair."

He sighed and his breathing deepened into sleep. I held his hand and indulged myself by stroking his curly hair, till a nurse came in to check on him and sympathetically told me in Spanish that my time was up.

** ** ** ** ** **

Blair's condition improved, and he was moved into a regular hospital room several hours after I'd seen him. By that time, Conner and I were out doing recon for the mission. Conner had gotten her hands on some surveillance equipment from the Australian embassy in Mexico City -- supposedly state-of-the-art -- and while Simon and I had been waiting to hear how Blair's surgery had gone, she also had hunted down the address of Arguillo's compound. We were hoping we'd be able to learn where he would meet with Alex.

Unfortunately, my ability to track the other sentinel wasn't a big help. I could sense Barnes, but not with the accuracy that I generally had with finding Blair's location. Maybe if I let myself go into a trance or slept again and dreamed, I could do it better... but I was worried I'd lose any control I had over myself if I let my subconscious into the driver's seat.

While Conner and I were checking out Arguillo's place, Simon had stayed behind to coordinate information from Major Crimes and the FBI and to keep an eye on my partner. But probably Alex wouldn't try and kill Blair again. Probably. Nobody wanted to take that chance, and Simon had set up shop right outside of Blair's hospital room.

It turned out that Arguillo's equipment to keep snoopers out of his business was better than Conner's listening devices; the feedback squeal had been like an ice-pick into my eardrum So we did it the old-fashioned way -- she distracted the guard by driving right up to the compound entrance and pretending to be lost. While she was flapping a map in his face and asking for directions to somebody else's land, I was able to infiltrate the house. At the most, I'd hoped to overhear Arguillo talking to one of his men about the buy, but instead, I was there when Alex herself called him. She doubled the price for the toxic gas and brokered a meet tomorrow afternoon at five o'clock, at a set of coordinates on the riverbank. She was asking for a lot of money, but Arguillo agreed without trying to barter her down. And that made me suspicious about a double-cross.

Conner had long ago left and I cautiously maneuvered through the house and the grounds, glad that my sentinel senses could actually be of some use on this trip. Arguillo's compound was at the edge of the jungle, and hearing and smelling the tropical rain forest made me think of Peru... and Inchacha. I would have liked to talk to my old friend about Alex. I'd gathered from him and Blair that sentinels didn't stay together; they lived with different tribes. "Relocating scarce resources for maximum efficiency" or something like that, was what Blair had said. Neither of them had talked about this mating drive, or the need to find the Temple of the Sentinels. Although Alex was more obsessed with it than I was.

I met up with Conner without any trouble, and we went back to the hospital to see how Blair was doing and exchange information with Simon. He had checked in with the FBI and Major Crimes; Joel was still doing legwork on tracking down the recipient of the stolen sentinel research, and the FBI still wanted to talk to my partner. Maybe, since they knew that Barnes had shot Blair, they would drop the theory that the poor kid had come with her willingly.

Blair was asleep, but Simon said the doctor was pleased with his progress. Simon had gotten Sandburg's statement; I read it over and the sparseness of it bothered me. I concluded that Blair had told the truth - but not the whole story. And Simon said the FBI was sure it was bullshit.

Conner took the evening shift guarding Blair, and gave me the late night one, so Simon and I went back to the church to get some rest. Father Castillo fed us enfrijoladas and enchiladas and let us use his small bathroom to clean up in. We gave him a donation for the church and he supplied us with blankets for the night, again, as he had the night before. He was a good guy, Father Castillo.

I was tired and hoped I could drop off to sleep, but first I needed to get Blair's choker out of my bag and put it on as a safety measure against my senses going wonky from the long day. And because I was going to give it back to him tomorrow, and I wanted to feel it against my skin one more time. I hoped he would forgive me for keeping it. And I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't admit that I'd considered lying to him about just where it had been for the last three years. I had thought about telling him that, yeah, I had found it in the bag with my sex wax, and brought it down to him: I hadn't touched my surfboard in the last three years, so it was a plausible lie.

But I was done lying to him.

He might never want to see me again. I couldn't claim ignorance about the importance of his sealskin choker to him. He had told me, the night he decided to stay in Cascade and be my guide.

So, a deliberate lie from a lousy thief.

I was not proud of myself. Yeah, being out of control with my senses scared me. And I'd latched onto his choker like a drowning man grabs a life ring. But my comfort could have cost him his life. Transforming might have healed... No. I needed to keep my ridiculous speculations that he was a selkie to myself. It was a keepsake from his father's family. Maybe something they would use to identify themselves with, like some families or clans used tattoos. Just because he'd been high on the anesthetic this morning and had babbled about swimming in the ocean and about something being lost and his father's family, it didn't mean what I kept trying to make it mean.

This was the twentieth century, almost the twenty-first century. There were no selkies. No mermaids, no were-wolves, no Sidhe, no hollow hills.

But there was violation of trust. And I'd almost lost Blair today. Now, I had a second chance to do the right thing by him, and that meant handing his choker to him tomorrow along with an apology.

I'd rummaged all through my bag while I was thinking about what to say to him tomorrow and I hadn't felt it.

I took everything out, carefully, shaking each item of clothing and setting them in a neat pile. I inspected the empty bag, reached in all of the corners.

I searched all of the pockets on the bag. Then I checked my clothes and my dirty pants pockets.

I scrutinized the floor and the pew where my things had been. Simon asked me what I was doing and I told him that I was looking for something that belonged to Blair, a leather choker that I'd had with me. He hadn't seen it, either.

I went outside and hunted through the beat-up rental car for it, then I slumped down on the church steps and looked out at the brilliant stars hanging over the ocean. I could hear the sound of waves and smell the brine-scent in the air.

Clearing my mind, I reviewed the steps for the exercise my guide had taught me in order to bring hidden memories out where I could examine them.

I started with last night. I'd been wearing the choker when I'd lain down to sleep. I moved forward through my recollections to the dream I'd had of meeting with Alex on the beach, and then to waking up in the church. It'd been on my leg at that point.

I had worn it when I'd grabbed my shirt and gun and left the church to go to the beach. I'd felt it wrapped around my ankle when I'd met with Alex and we had dropped down in the sand, kissing each other.

It was there when she'd been touching me, touching my chest, and legs and...

I felt her hand on my ankle, warm and covering the choker. Then her other hand was stroking my dick and I was distracted while she...

She unwrapped the choker from my ankle.

God damn it. Alex Barnes had taken it from me. Why? There must be something about it that called to a sentinel -- maybe the texture of the leather? Shit, what difference did it make why sentinels were attracted to Blair's choker; what was important was that I couldn't give it back to him.

'And if he's a selkie, he's now bound to her, not you,' my God-damned superstitious mind supplied.

And I felt a chill go through me when I remembered what he'd said before falling asleep again after his surgery.

'Alex... need to find her now. Don't want to.'

** ** ** ** ** **

Blair woke an hour before dawn while I was standing guard outside his door. I let myself into his room quietly and turned on the light.

"Blair, you doing okay? Can I get you anything?" I said to him softly as I approached his bed.

He shook his head and sat up in bed, wearing a sling on his right arm. He was still on oxygen and saline, but the bag of blood had been removed and he no longer was attached to any monitors, except for the pulse oximeter on his finger. He moved the covers off of his legs and planted his feet on the floor.

"Bathroom?" I asked.

"Yeah." And he pulled off the finger monitor, removed the canula and laid it on his pillow, then stood up and pushed his IV stand toward the bathroom.

Obviously he was feeling stronger. That was good. It also meant I didn't have an excuse to avoid telling him what a monumental jerk I'd been.

He pulled the door shut with a click and I went and sat on his bed. I probably shouldn't have listened to him in the bathroom, but I told myself that it was because he might get shaky and need help. Then I called myself a liar.

I was listening to him because today might be the last time Blair Sandburg was ever going to be in the same room as me. I would treasure every last sound he made, even if it was him flushing the john or brushing his teeth.

Blair looked straight at me when he came out of the bathroom and there was no hint of a smile on his face, and that lack made me realize how much I did associate a grin, a smirk, a smile, or a laughing pout with him.

I got up when he shuffled to the bed, ready to help him back in, but he shook his head. He sat down on the mattress and looked up at me.

"I know what you're going to say, Jim. And you're right. There is no excuse for my actions. I've let you down; I've acted unprofessionally, and I'll do whatever it takes to make it right again."

He looked down at his bare feet while I shifted gears mentally to catch up with what he was telling me.

"Blair..."

"Even the kidnapping was my fault. If I hadn't handed Alex such a key for blackmail, I could have gotten away from her. Well, maybe. Maybe not. She might have just shot me earlier, in my office. Except for a while she figured I could take her to the temple. I could be useful to her, she said. Guide her to the Temple of the Sentinels, and... and... service her on the side. After she killed that guy, Carl, she was really horny. Made me bring her off three times that night. I guess that was part of my Karma, for not safeguarding the sentinel material better - sentenced by my own stupidity to be her whore."

His words rocked me back on my feet. I was all set to confess my wrongdoings, and Blair thought he had deserved being raped, being sexually assaulted by that bitch? Oh, no, no, no. I couldn't let that crazy thought fester in his head.

I knelt down in front of him and said softly, "Blair, look at me."

He slowly raised his eyes until we were making eye contact. Good. "You're not a whore; you didn't ask for or deserve what she did. She coerced you; that makes it rape, Blair. Do you get it? Because I'm just going to keep repeating that it wasn't your fault you were raped until you believe it."

Blair stared at me, and I could see his eyes getting brighter. Not with happiness or anything like that. Nope. Those were tears, and I reached out and patted him on his thigh.

He swallowed and scooted sideways, away from me, then stood up and walked over to the window, pushing his IV pole with him. I got up from my knees and walked closer to him, but not close enough to send him scuttling away from me. He smelled so wrong still; traces of Barnes, the ocean, medicine, blood, and sick despair. I supposed he found something fascinating to watch out in the parking lot, because he wouldn't turn around when he began talking to me.

"I thought you'd be yelling at me by now, Jim. Guess I made myself sound too pathetic, and you're afraid I'll fall apart if you tell me what a putz I was. You can't tell me that you didn't want to throttle me when you got Alex's secret decoder ring message on that blank piece of paper. She told me what she wrote, you know. Laughed about it and then made sure you'd notice where she hid the envelope in my office."

He scrubbed his hands through his hair. "Jesus, Jim. There's really no excuse. I just got lazy with my notes. I kept meaning to go back and secure everything; it was all on my to-do list, but I hadn't got around to it yet. Just like I meant to really organize my office, and do a hundred other projects to get my shit together. God, has the story broken yet?"

"Not that we've noticed. And we've got Joel helping us out; he's looking into where the blackmail material ended up. Do you have any idea where she sent it? Anything she said in boasting or gloating that would give us a clue?"

He shook his head. And I resisted my desire to go to him and pull him into a hug. Right now, he wanted distance. I'd give it to him - for a little while, anyway, until he felt comfortable with me touching him again. The poor kid.

"Blair..."

He gave a little hiccup of a laugh, and then covered his mouth with his hand.

"You keep calling me Blair. Shit, Jim. You only do that when something's wrong. What haven't you told me?"

I took a step closer, then stopped. I was going to covert ops his personal space until he was in my arms. I wanted to try and make him feel safe. And loved. Other... things could wait.

"Blair... Do you need to be tested for STDs?" If so, the sooner the better.

He replied very softly, "Uh... I guess I better... She made me go down on her. She's crazy, Jim. And she's going through with selling the nerve gas. I thought maybe I could talk her out of it, but she doesn't care who gets killed. I knew I had to get away, and try and get help to stop her. Even if it outed you and you hated me."

Another step. "I could never hate you, and I'm so sorry she hurt you, Bl- Chief. But in your statement you left out being forced into doing oral sex on her. When we take her into custody, we can bring her up on charges for sexual assault."

He shook his head and said tiredly, "It would be my word against hers. And you can't tell me that people wouldn't look at her and then at me and ask what was I complaining about -- a nerdy little guy like me getting to have sex with a blonde goddess like her? I'd just get a lot of shit about the whole thing, so why put myself through that? And if you can arrest her, she's going to go down for a lot worse than what she did to me. Karma will catch up to her, and that will have to satisfy me. So, yeah, I didn't tell Simon. Don't you tell him, either. Or Megan."

I took another step towards him. "All right. But you talk to me, buddy, if you feel shaky because of it, or start thinking anything she did to you was your fault, okay?" Another step. "Tell me, when she left you alone and went down to the beach, why did you follow her? Why didn't you run for help?"

He turned and looked at me, his eyes a window that revealed everything he felt for me.

"I didn't follow her, Jim. I didn't know she had gone to the beach. I was running to you, man. I was coming to you. And then I saw..." Anger crept into his voice, and I welcomed it.

"Christ, I'm sorry you saw us like that. I... I was compelled to meet her. I wasn't in control of myself, Blair. It was more like a dream, and I had a dream vision earlier when I was asleep that I was on the beach with her. And then later I really found myself with her, just like my vision, when your voice broke the spell. And I don't think she could help herself, either. It's as if we're two sentinel dolls and some power is making us act this way." I tightened my fists. "I fucking hate not being in control because of some stupid instinct. You've got to help me figure out how to keep it from happening again, okay?"

By now I had positioned myself right next to him, and I tentatively put my arm around his waist. He didn't move away or tense up, so I snugged him up against me.

"I've got a lot to tell you about, Blair. For one, the reason I kept bitching back in Cascade and why I threw you out of the loft. The visions I had, too... in the blue jungle, I saw your spirit animal and I kept seeing Barnes' spirit jaguar there, also, and all over Cascade, before I met her. I haven't been honest with you about a lot of things, and I want to come clean. Will you listen to me, Blair?"

He nodded, but I could feel him shivering. "Let's get you back in the bed, okay? You need to rest."

Blair let me help him fix his oxygen line and get him back under the covers; he scooted over so that I could sit next to him. I arranged the pillows to support his hurt shoulder. Then I turned off the light, not to make him more comfortable but to make it easier for me to confess.

We were touching, my hip to his side, my hand clasping his. And I told him plenty about the strange shit that had been happening in Cascade that tied in with Barnes. How in a blue dream I'd seen a wolf with a spotted jaguar and how I didn't want the wolf to be around her - so I shot the poor beast. And the horror I experienced when the wolf changed shape into him. Naked. Dead.

Blair was mostly quiet, taking in what I was telling him, but he stopped me when I'd recounted how scared I'd felt at seeing him dead on the jungle floor.

"And that was why you kept pushing me away? Never letting me stay with you alone? Kicking me out of the loft?" His heartbeat started picking up and his breathing did also.

I smoothed his hair with my free hand, wanting to keep him calm. "Yeah, I was afraid I would hurt you. Physically, you know. I knew you were wondering why I was being an asshole to you, but you just smelled so wrong to me. It kept coming down to either staying away from you, or hustling you into the bathroom and washing you myself, then dragging you to bed and making sure my scent was on you - inside and outside. And I couldn't fuck you without screwing up our agreement. And I didn't want to tell you about the crazy shit that was going on with me. We'd just gotten back on track about me reading the first chapter of your dissertation. I didn't want to derail us again. I knew you hadn't done anything wrong; it was all me. That was why I went camping, to try and figure out why I was being so on edge about you and cranky as hell about everything else, too.

Blair let out a long, soft exhalation... And his heartbeat had dropped back to normal. "But all of that was my fault, Jim. I should have made you listen to me when I tried to tell you I found a woman who might be a sentinel. I let you shut me up, and that's not like me. I should have done a tribal dance around you till you agreed to let me tell you. Hell, I should have threatened to make fried tofu sandwiches until you caved."

I tugged on a curl I held between my fingers. "You shouldn't have to do outrageous things to get my attention. No, Darwin, it was my fault. You've told me and told me I need to let you know when things feel strange, and both you and Incacha should kick my butt for not telling you about the dream visions I was having."

Blair gave me a small, forgiving smile. "I'll give you a pass, but you're on your own with Incacha." I felt that smile go through me like Cupid's arrow. He was such a great guy, and I was coming to believe I'd been a fool about more than the sentinel shit.

Footsteps coming down the hall alerted me to get up off the bed and I cracked the door to see who was coming. It was the nurse who had checked on Blair a couple of hours ago, and I stepped out of the room while she took care of my partner.

Blair said, "Jim?" quietly, under his breath, and I re-entered. The nurse, a thin woman who was tapping her foot and who also smelled irritated to me, was removing the saline IV from his arm, capping it off.

"What's up, Chief?" I asked.

"I told the nurse you'd stay in the bathroom with me while I take a shower. Please, Jim. She's in a hurry and was just going to run a washcloth over me, but I want a real shower. She said I could if you agree to help."

The nurse told me in Spanish that she was going to get plastic to wrap around Blair's shoulder and hurried out the door. I wondered if maybe there was a little more to it than Blair not wanting to settle for a half-assed bed bath. Maybe he didn't want to be touched intimately by a woman right now.

"You need me to help you wash up?" I eyed the mop on top of his head. "I don't think you can get your hair by yourself, Chief."

"I'll try, and if I get stuck, you can come to my rescue." He smiled at me, a little shyly for Sandburg. "You're good at the rescuing. Thanks, Jim. You saved my life."

I slowly stretched my arm out and gave him a light noogie on the top of his head and we waited for the nurse to come back.

** ** ** ** ** **

After watching Blair drop his towel while trying to dry his wet hair, I picked the terrycloth up and wrapped it around his head, and grabbed a second one to absorb the water droplets on his clean skin. He smelled so much better, just his own unsullied scent and soap, but there was something I wanted to add to that bouquet.

When he was mostly dry, I put my arms around him and pressed us close together. I was shirtless, since Blair had needed my help with his mop, and he was naked. Blair startled a little but I rubbed my hand up and down his back and he relaxed.

"I want... uh. I want -- no. I need to do this, Blair. I... oh, shit. I don't know how to explain it."

Blair smiled against me. And used his good arm to hug me back. "Want me to give it a shot, Big Guy?"

"Be my guest, Sandburg." And I dropped a kiss on the top of his head. Kisses between us had been on the not-allowed list, but I figured just this one time, we could ignore that restriction; it wasn't every day that Blair almost died.

"Well, I've been through a tough time, being kidnapped and shot and all, and I probably need a hug. Alex used my body, and yeah, it was rape - I kept telling myself that at the time, but sometimes, I dunno... I guess I wigged out a little and went with the old 'It was my own fault' screwed up explanation. Anyway, maybe you're trying to replace her bad touch with good touch. But Jim, I wouldn't let just anybody touch me right now. Only you, man. And you went through a bad time, too. I wasn't breathing and you had to breathe for me. You had to carry me off the beach to get help. So maybe you need a hug, right?"

He pulled away for a moment and looked up at me.

"And maybe there's something a little more primal at work here. I'm your guide; I belong with you. Not belong to you, with you. See the difference? But then I started smelling like Alex -- because, yeah, sometimes she would kiss me on the cheek to thank me for helping her, and she would stand too close to me, or she'd take me by the arm to show me her latest paintings - and, well, I see now that her scent on me bothered you. More than bothered, you, actually. I was your guide but I was marked with another sentinel's pheromones and smell. I was betraying you, according to your nose."

He laid his cheek on my chest, and swayed a little.

"So I'm thinking that you're making it clear to anybody who can tell that I'm back with you. You want me to smell like you, and I'm okay with that. And I'll tell you a secret, Jim. After we'd made love, years ago, I liked smelling you on me and me on you. You don't have to be a sentinel to feel territorial, man. So..." He looked questioningly up at me, and I smiled ruefully back. "How'd I do? Did I nail it?"

I gave him a hard squeeze and stepped backwards. I handed him a clean gown and helped him get his arms into it and replaced his sling. "You've earned a gold star, Chief. But you're getting tired. The nurse left fresh sheets; let's get you back into a clean bed. And I've got more to explain about. A lot more and some of it you're not going to like, Blair. You're not going to like it at all."

** ** ** ** ** **

After I'd made Blair comfortable in his hospital bed, I dragged a chair over next to him and described the visions I'd had from touching Barnes' paintings, and how I'd fingered Carl Hettinger as Barnes' accomplice. I had to keep him from sitting up in excitement about how I seemed to have gained the second sight. His enthusiasm made up for my own lack of elation about the whole damn thing, although I conceded that it could be useful in a pinch. If it continued.

He lost the pleased and intrigued look on his face, though, when I reluctantly told him he was under suspicion by the FBI of helping Barnes to steal the gas. As his face tightened with apprehension, I assured him that it was a ridiculous theory and that he shouldn't worry about it.

"Crap, easy for you to say, Jim. I did write that note saying I was running off with her. But you would have told them she made me do it, right? So what else are they holding against me?"

"My own report, for one thing," I replied glumly. "Sorry, Chief, but the Feebs are speculating that your butterfingers with the flashlight that let Barnes get away on the fire escape was deliberate. And that your innocence is questionable since you met with her in your office when you'd said you were going to Conner's place to get some sleep. They think that you're a young guy who had a big crush on her and that she used your interest in her to get you to help her with the robberies. It's all speculation, your supposed involvement, there's nothing that can stick. And she shot you -- that's got to make them realize that you were kidnapped."

Blair bit his lip and looked up at the ceiling. "Or, they're going to say that we had a falling out and she shot me because of that. Hell, she's even got a track record for killing her boyfriends - look at that asshole Carl."

I tapped him on the nose. "Don't worry about it, okay? You've got alibis for all the robberies she did in Cascade. And just to verify what you told Simon -- a man who identified himself as a security cop from Rainier called you from your office. He said that I asked him to contact you, that I needed you to come get me because I was sick and was going to lie down on your couch till you came, is that right? Were you worried that I'd had a zoning spell and wasn't quite recovered from it?"

"Yeah. I was concerned about you; I had stopped at the motel and picked up my things and I really was going to go to Megan's place..."

A slightly shifty look crossed his face and I interrupted him.

"After you had swung by the HazMat lab to see if I needed any help, right?"

Blair made a face at me, and I bent over him and kissed him on the forehead. "It's okay. You've been the best friend, the best guide to me, even when I've acted like an asshole, and I don't deserve what you do to help me. So... Alex, and Hettinger, her thug, were waiting for you in your office?"

Blair nodded and made an unhappy drone of agreement. "Carl - I wasn't told his last name -- wasn't happy that she took me hostage, but he went along with it. She told me she had confiscated my research, and that if I didn't cooperate it would be released to the media and you would be outed as a sentinel. And she bragged about stealing the nerve gas, and I thought maybe I could talk her out of her plans, appeal to her as a tribal guardian. Oh, man - she did not want to listen to me at all. She said that the only reason she didn't kill me was that I was meant to lead her to the Temple of the Sentinels."

He rolled over onto his side, facing me. "She made me drive my car to a warehouse down on Harbor Street, and then we switched to Carl's car and went to a little airstrip about half way to Seattle and flew down here." He laughed a little, but it wasn't a happy sound. "Jim, she's not like you. I don't know what went wrong with her but she's a sociopath with sentinel senses. She really doesn't care what happens to other people."

He looked puzzled. "I can sense her, Jim. I can tell what direction she's in and if she's close or far away, and I've got to find her. I guess because she needs to be stopped. I don't know. This is kind of new, I didn't know I could do this before I saw her on the beach." A sick expression crossed his face. "Jim, what if I've bonded to her? God, I don't want to, and I don't care how ill it makes me feel if I go away from her; I'm not going to be her guide. But I feel as strong a compulsion to find her as I did to find you after I'd met you at La Push. Yet I still feel bonded to you, too."

He closed his eyes, and I replayed in my mind those hesitant steps he'd taken toward Barnes, on the beach, before she'd shot him. She'd had the choker. Was that why he felt drawn to her now?

He opened his eyes and looked at me with relief. "I can feel us, Jim. I couldn't when I was with her; it was like the signal was jammed. After she left me alone in that beach house, I could sense you again. I was so happy to know you were here, except I knew you had every right to never want to see me again, because of my fuck-up with the research. But I wanted to be with you, with my sentinel who would never harm the tribe. Even if it was only until you decided to break our bond. I wouldn't blame you, you know. You trusted me and I let you down."

I kissed him again on the forehead. I was reluctant to destroy Blair's faith in me -- the trust he was talking about was a two-way street and I'd lied to him ever since he'd come to Cascade.

An aide coming down the hall delivering breakfast gave me an excuse to latch onto. Blair was going to be upset when I finally told him the truth about his choker. He should eat first; he needed the food to help recover. I'd tell him when he was done with his meal.

** ** ** ** ** **

Before Blair had finished his coffee, I heard Simon coming down the hall, which was going to give me another reprieve from having to admit what I'd done. I knew I couldn't keep putting it off much longer, though.

I opened the door for Simon right before he could reach for the doorknob and ushered him in. He huffed a little; it was his pet peeve with me that I always opened doors before he could knock. Sitting down in the room's only chair, he gruffly asked Blair how he was feeling and when the doctor thought he could be discharged. Simon informed us that he'd hired a driver, a man who Father Castillo recommended as being reliable and honest, to take Blair to the nearest airport when he felt well enough to travel.

Blair protested that he needed to stay with me, and not go back to Cascade, but Simon and I both vetoed that idea. I wanted to put as much distance as possible between my guide and Barnes.

In a low voice, Simon shared that the CIA had contacted him and they were taking over the retrieval of the nerve gas. Conner, Simon, and I would be allowed to join with them to ambush Barnes at the meeting with Arguillo this afternoon, and that an agent would be here in about thirty minutes to interview Blair. My partner wasn't happy to hear that at all.

"Simon, do they think I stole the nerve gas, too? That Alex and I were partners and that I should be arrested?"

I could see Simon debating whether to soothe Blair or tell him the truth. He opted for the truth.

"They haven't said anything like that to me, but it's certainly possible that they might ask you some hard questions. I'm sure the FBI alerted them as to their suspicions. Just tell them what you can, and make sure they know about her obsession with that temple. Tell them she wanted you to take her to it, but she decided she didn't need you after all, and shot you."

He leaned over and patted Blair on the arm. "You didn't do anything wrong, Blair, and you're not in any trouble. I think this interview should clear things up, but if you want to have a lawyer represent you, then just tell them that and they can wait and talk to you back in Cascade."

"God, if Naomi knew that the FBI and the CIA were trying to hassle me, I'd never hear the end of how my Karma from working with the cops was coming back on me." Blair was trying to grin, but I could tell he was really worried.

Simon sighed, "Actually, Sandburg, your mother knows already, at least about the FBI. They contacted her when you were kidnapped. Apparently, they ran their theory that you'd stolen the nerve gas by her, and she's been driving Joel right up the wall demanding that he make the FBI leave you alone. I imagine she gave agents Nickols and Harriman an earful. She'll probably be in Cascade by the time you go home; she told Joel she was coming. And she's been informed you escaped from Barnes and were shot, but that you're expected to make a full recovery."

Blair groaned theatrically, but I could tell he was pleased that his mother would be visiting. I just hoped she would leave my furniture alone this time, then I remembered that there wasn't anything left in the loft for her to shift around, anyway.

Simon stood up and walked to the door. "Jim, we need to leave to meet with the CIA soon -- I've been given a location out of town -- and the agent coming by will also do guard duty, until either Sandburg is discharged or we return here. I'm getting some coffee before the guy shows up; you want any?"

Almost absentmindedly, he asked me, "Hey, did you remember to give the kid back his necklace -- that leather choker you said belonged to him?" To Blair he added, "He was looking all over for it last night; didn't know he concerned himself so much with your jewelry." I didn't respond - knowing that it was time to face the music. Simon shrugged and walked out the door.

I looked at Blair, at his confused face, and I waited for him to say something.

"What's he talking about, Jim? I don't have any leather chokers."

Quietly, I said, "Yes, you do, Blair. You lost it years ago, back in La Push."

The light dawned and he looked so happy. "Jim! You found it? Man, I can't believe you found it after all this time. This is really great; I can't wait to see it again. Remember, I told you it was my connection to my father's family? This is so cool; I thought I'd never wear it again. Where is it, Jim?" And he held out his hand.

I shook my head and sat down heavily in the seat Simon had vacated. "Blair, I'm really sorry. I've done an absolutely shitty thing to you. I didn't just find the choker recently; I've had it since you left it in the motel room at La Push. I kept it because it made me feel better when my senses were acting up. I wore it before you came to Cascade. Later, when you showed up, I was afraid you might leave and if I gave it back, then I wouldn't have anything that could help me keep from zoning or my senses from spiking. But that's no excuse. You asked me if I had found it, when you came back to Cascade, and I lied to you, Chief. I knew it was special to you and I lied and kept it anyway. I'm sorry. I really am. But I don't have it now."

Blair stared at me, his eyes wide. "You kept my choker. You lied to me. You... you stole it from me? Because wearing it helped you control your senses? Oh, Jim, you don't know what you really did. And if you don't have it, then where is it? Don't tell me you lost it!"

"It was taken from me, Chief. I'm so sorry; I didn't realize that till I was looking for it to give back to you. I made some decisions when you almost died, and giving your choker back to you was one of them."

Blair paled. "Who took it, Jim? Who has it now?"

Tiredly, I said, "Barnes took it off of me when we were on the beach. When we were... uh, you know. Right before you found us. She's got it now."

He whispered to himself, " Oh, no. No, no! Oh, my God. Alex has it. Oh my God!" Then he looked at me, his eyes full of hurt and anger.

"Guess I got a lot of things wrong about sentinels, man. You stole something I valued, Jim. You don't even know what it really means to me. You don't know what you've done, what I have to do now."

He pushed away the bed table with the remnants of his meal and lay back down in the bed, and said, flatly, the life drained out of his voice. "Go away, Jim. Just go away. Alex isn't anywhere nearby, and I don't want you here. Go away, man."

I rose from the chair and went to the door. I said, "Blair, I'm so sorry. I'll get it back from Barnes, okay? I'll get it back for you. I'll make this right. I'm sorry."

And then I granted his wish, and left him alone in his room.

** ** ** ** ** **

The CIA guys Simon, Conner, and I met with were dicks, all six of them, and they didn't hesitate to let us know they considered us to be a bunch of amateurs. Still, we had the location of the buy, and Simon had levered that into an agreement for us to be able to be there and arrest Barnes for her crimes in Cascade. The Mexican government had agreed to allow immediate extradition; they were eager to get their hands on Arguillo, but were willing to wait their turn to take a crack at Barnes.

I'd listened in for as long as I could to Michaels, the guy sent to baby-sit and question Blair, before we left the hospital and drove to the CIA's hangout. He was being rough on my partner, flat out telling him that they knew he and Barnes had taken the nerve gas together, and then killed Hettinger when he got in the way. Blair wasn't caving, though. He stuck to the story he'd told him -- that he'd been kidnapped and coerced at gunpoint, and that Barnes was crazy. He was fervent on that point, and kept bringing up her obsession with the temple. But he didn't tell them it was a place for sentinels to come to, to explore the depths of their senses.

The FBI and the CIA could keep slinging their shit theory around; it wasn't going to stick. There was no tangible proof for any of their accusations. They were just trying to strong-arm the kid into blurting out a confession. But Blair could talk rings around them any day. I had stopped listening when he began to lecture on the probable origin of the temple, that the Olmec people who predated the Mayans had built it. Michaels was going to find himself drowning in a sea of information. I hoped he choked on it.

At the small house the CIA was using as their base, we got the tactics worked out for the takedown late this afternoon. After the mandatory chest beating and posturing had taken place, of course. Sandburg would have been whispering to me about primate studies, if he'd been there, and I'd have had a hard time keeping from laughing at his comparisons. God. If he left me it was going to tear me up. He was wrapped around every bit of my life, and I hadn't realized how damn much until I had pictured his absence from it on the drive over here.

I would have to let those thoughts and fears - yeah, okay, Incacha; I'll be facing my fears soon enough, won't I - alone for now. I needed to get in the right headspace for this mission. Barnes was going down and I was getting back Blair's choker from her. She couldn't have him; she'd hurt him. And I ignored the small voice inside of me that mockingly sang to me, 'And you've never hurt him; have you, Jimmy, my boy?'

** ** ** ** ** **

I had fucked up, Jesus, how I had fucked up. And now I had to try and make it right.

We'd arrived at our position down from the riverbank where Barnes had told Arguillo to meet her, and had hidden ourselves. Hours ago. And I was feeling strange again, the smells and the dampness of the jungle like sandpaper on my senses. The choker would have stabilized me, but I needed to learn to do without it. I couldn't do without my guide, though, and I knew worrying that Blair would call it quits was helping to fuck up my control.

Finally, Arguillo, along with one of his goons, had shown up, riding in on ATVs and making enough racket to drown out the howler monkeys and the noisy calls of the different species of parrots.

I was listening, but not at the level I could when Blair was touching me, or I was wearing his choker. Then I heard in the distance the sound of a helicopter, and I extended my hearing, not just out in the direction of Barnes' sky chariot, but out in all directions. Trouble was, I overextended myself, and between the noise of the copter and identifying the other sounds near the river, I zoned. I could feel myself falling into it, but I was helpless to stop it.

Conner brought me out of it by some God-damned vicious pinches that I was sure had drawn blood. By the time I'd recovered I'd realized two things.

Barnes had landed and was meeting with Arguillo, exchanging a case for a satchel.

And there were men hidden at the river's edge, men who'd probably floated into position after we'd arrived. I could hear their heartbeats. And the sound of guns being readied to be fired. It was a trap.

And I stood up and warned the bitch. Fucking hijacked sentinel instincts.

All hell broke loose then. Arguillo's men moved up from the river, shooting at Barnes. She'd dropped the case that presumably held the nerve gas, and had grabbed the satchel -- retreating towards the helicopter and firing off shots. Arguillo and his bodyguard were shooting at her, too, but she was fast and made it safely back to the helicopter, which took off like a bat out of hell.

The Mexican and CIA operatives with us moved in then, firing shots at the fleeing Arguillo, who had grabbed the case of nerve gas and was using an ATV as a getaway vehicle.

The agents followed Arguillo, some on foot, others running to where the two jeeps that we'd arrived in had been hidden. I could hear them cursing me, Simon's mutters of consternation, and Conner's opinion of my intelligence level. I couldn't believe that I'd blown it like that.

But I just couldn't let her be gunned down. I couldn't.

Miller, the head CIA honcho, yelled at us to stay put and somebody would return to pick us up, as one of the jeeps skidded next to him and the other agents still in our vicinity. They scrambled in while Simon hollered agreement, and then the three of us were alone, sounds of gunfire and vehicles fading in the distance. I turned and looked at Simon, not knowing what I could say or do to make this right. Jesus.

"Jim, just whose side do you want to be on?" Simon wasn't exactly angry with me; I think he had bypassed that emotion into feeling just tired puzzlement. He slumped down onto a log and rubbed his face with his hands.

"It won't happen again, sir." I hoped. But this was the second time I'd fucked up with Alex. I couldn't guarantee there wouldn't be a third time and by the look on Simon's face, he knew that.

"Do you have any idea why you warned her like that?" Conner dropped down next to Simon. She wasn't mad, but I bet she had decided my dick was doing the thinking for me. And that was a wager I wouldn't be able to win against.

"I came out of the zone and realized she was going to be gunned down and I... got protective. God, I hate the sentinel stuff sometimes."

They didn't ride me about it, but I was sure the CIA agents' comments would more than make up for my friends' silence.

I couldn't just join them as they rested, I felt too weird, too restless, so instead I checked out the area. And I found something very interesting. I bent down and swiped my hand on the ground, and after sniffing the liquid I had smeared on my fingers, I wiped my hand clean on a large fern, and called them over.

"Sir. Conner. Look at this -- fuel. The copter was hit; she might have to go down." I started walking, sniffing the air, and found a breadcrumb trail of fuel. That bird was bleeding out pretty heavily, and I was certain Barnes wasn't going to make it out of the jungle before the pilot was forced to land.

I touched more fuel that had landed on a waist high plant, and then had to lean against a tree as a vision overwhelmed me. Barnes and the pilot were arguing and I knew what Alex was thinking and feeling. And, fuck, she hadn't turned over the real nerve gas. She'd handed a dummy case over to Arguillo. She'd planned to push the real nerve gas out of the helicopter as she made her escape -- a little insurance in case the deal went bad. She wanted the pilot to fly deeper into the jungle, but he was trying to head to the coast, yelling at her about the fuel loss. She took the gun and held it to his head and with her other hand pointed in a different direction. He swore at her in Spanish, sweat beading up his forehead, but he turned the copter east.

So very clearly, I could feel her intense desire to find the Temple of the Sentinels. And I had to find her. It was all kind of melding in my head, needing to find her because of the nerve gas, needing to touch her again and lose myself in her body, and needing to rip Blair's sealskin choker away from her.

The vision faded as Conner walked up to me and I held up a hand before she could belt me in the name of bringing me around.

"I've got to follow her. She's still got the gas, and she's going to the temple. I can find her." I started to stride away, but Simon caught up to me and grabbed my arm.

I looked determinedly at him and he rolled his eyes. I could guess what he was thinking -- sentinel crap again -- but he resignedly said, "Conner, go with him." He took something out of his pocket and handed it to her. "GPS locater. I'll bring the hired help with me when they show back up."

I nodded, and Conner darted to where we had hidden our supplies and grabbed two backpacks. She hustled back and thrust one into my arms; I shrugged it on and turned and started at a fast pace to follow the fuel trail. She called goodbye to Simon and fell in behind me.

I could feel the compulsion to be with Alex stealing up on me, like the way the hypothermia I'd fallen victim to in the ocean had robbed me of my ability to think clearly. And Blair wasn't here to rescue me this time. I was drowning with the need to find her, to find the temple. She would be there.

When I saw the black jaguar pacing besides me, I felt myself going even deeper into the obsession. I had a last thought of pity for Conner, hoping she could keep up with me, that I wouldn't lose her in the jungle, and then my only focus remained on Alex.

Beautiful, strong Alex. The panther beside me gave a roar, a loud mating roar, and I followed him, followed the trail of fuel drops that would lead me to my mate. A faraway concern was trying to rise to the surface of my mind - what of your guide, Sentinel? - but it swiftly sank again.

Alex. My mate. The female of my kind.

And I moved through the jungle, intent on finding her.

She would be at the temple.

I would find her.

** ** ** ** ** **

I ignored Conner, for the most part, while we hiked through the jungle, but she kept up with me. The compulsion - and my spirit animal - had disappeared after a couple of hours; I was able to talk to Conner instead of grunt, and when it got dark we made camp. I was relieved that I was able to act like a rational human being again, and I hoped I could maintain control when I saw Alex. Conner assured me that she would shoot me herself if I looked like I wanted to root around with Barnes. We ate, and talked about moving my furniture from my basement back upstairs and how Blair'd probably had the CIA guy who'd interviewed him bleeding from the ears by the time he was done with him, until we both dropped off to sleep beside the small campfire.

And in my dream I saw a welcome sight. Incacha was sitting cross-legged by a large pool in the blue jungle.

I sat down in front of him and bowed my head respectfully. Incacha grasped my shoulder and squeezed it.

"Enqueri, what do you fear?"

"What do you mean?"

He didn't repeat his question or rephrase it; instead, he just stared steadily at me. Incacha would have been a hell of an interrogator if he'd been a cop.

I didn't like thinking about my fears; it was as if thinking about them made them more real, not something I could ignore. But ignoring them apparently hadn't worked all that well. And my fear of not being in control of my senses had been the reason I'd kept Blair's choker. Well, at first it had been. The superstitious delusion I kept holding onto that he was a selkie had played its part, too. He couldn't reject me or leave me if I held power over him by keeping his seal skin.

I cleared my throat and said quietly, "Losing control. Of a lot of things. Relationships, my senses. Of the façade that I'm normal and not a freak. Surfing , even - I don't want to get swept out to sea again. And I don't want to fuck Barnes but it's like I don't even get a say in it. You have to help me, Incacha. I'm being drawn to her and the temple. And I've told Blair the truth about his choker and I'm afraid he's going to leave me now. I can't blame him."

"And when your control is lessened or stolen from you - do you face your fears, Enqueri?"

Well, that was a damn rhetorical question.

Incacha stood and I looked up at him. He laid a hand on my head and gave me a blessing in Quechua. Then he added, "Face your fears, Enqueri. They grow larger if avoided. There are answers waiting for you, if you will look for them."

"Shaman, what can I do about the female sentinel? Do you know about her?"

Incacha took a step back from me. "The spirit world has brought you together, but cannot make you mate if you will resist. She is dark, and her spirit heavy with corruption. You carry a light within you, Enqueri. Use it as a shield."

I started to feel way out of my depth. What the hell was he talking about, a light within me?

"Incacha, what the hell does that mean?"

"You must face your fears. And go alone. A trial of your will, Enqueri."

He pointed past me and I stood up and turned around. Light blazed down and I saw in the distance the Temple of the Sentinels. I'd dreamed of that place, of the statue of the jaguar, of the vines and overgrown vegetation that mostly obscured the ruin. And Alex had used paints and pigments to re-create the structure she'd seen in her mind. Alex Barnes would be there. She needed to be stopped. And I needed to know I could resist losing myself to her.

"I have a light within me, and if I use it, I can control myself?"

"As I have said, Enqueri. The knowledge is there, if you will but see."

Incacha patted me on the shoulder again, then walked away down a jungle path. I sat back down at the beautiful blue-green pool and prepared my body to relax - the way Sandburg had shown me - and thought about what I had admitted. It was true - I did avoid dealing with the things that would strip me of my control of them, if I could.

The senses - I'd repressed them as much as possible, and Lord knows I'd been reluctant to deal with learning about them, and I'd kept Blair's choker as a cheat for control.

Surfing? My board hadn't been wet in the last three years. The ocean ensnaring me wasn't something I had been willing to take a chance on again.

Relationships were tricky. I'd wanted a wife, but when I had one, she didn't fill the need in me like I'd thought she would. I never seemed to be able to let go and really be myself with the women I'd dated and that pretty much soured any blossoming romance fairly quickly. Men - I'd lost interest in cruising after Sandburg came on the scene.

Blair. Telling the truth to him had placed control of our friendship in his hands. And that was frightening. But I couldn't lie to him anymore. I loved him and I'd almost lost him and it was about damn time that I put his needs before mine.

I loved Blair. But I hadn't wanted to be out with him. And why was that? I had to admit that it was because I didn't want other people to see me as different. Having a male lover would prove to the world that I was strange, a freak, not right. But I didn't feel that Blair was a freak, and he'd never hid from me that he was attracted to men. And I didn't feel that way about the gay men I'd met. I'd kind of lumped the sentinel thing in with being bi, or gay, I guess. And I think my father instilled in me the reaction I had to being outed as a sentinel.

Okay, if I came out of my bisexual closet I would get some strange looks, some rude comments, maybe even harassment or abuse. Some of that was a serious concern. Backup from my brothers in blue, for one thing. One advantage about the sentinel senses, though, was that I would be able to tell if there was real harassment in store for me from overhearing other cops conversations... plus their bodies couldn't lie to me about acceptance or hate. I could get around any harassment. Maybe.

Ah, I just didn't know.

And then I was waking up and found the campfire had died down, and Conner was still asleep. She wouldn't understand Incacha's instruction for me to go alone, that this was a trial for me to prove I could face Alex and not succumb to the compulsion to mate with her. I just hoped I could figure out what my secret weapon, the light that was supposed to keep her darkness away from me, was on the hike to the temple.

I got up and stealthily lifted my backpack and quietly moved out of the camp, following the still pungent trail of helicopter fuel. Conner would be okay. She had the GPS locator, and Simon would be coming to get her. She'd have a few words for me when we met up again, I was betting. I'd probably have to make a note of whatever Aussie insult she'd be throwing at me, for looking up later.

I was in control right now. I was going to the temple because I wanted to, not because I was being compelled to meet my mate there.

I crossed my fingers that it would stay that way.

** ** ** ** ** **

Hours later, I came upon the downed helicopter. The pilot was dead, but he hadn't died in the crash. Alex had shot the poor bastard; suicides don't shoot themselves in the back of the head. Jungle insects were already buzzing and crawling around the body, and I backed away from the scene intent on stopping her before she killed anybody else.

I shuddered as I realized how close Blair had probably come to being killed while being held hostage. Alex was out of control and I suspected that finding out she was a sentinel was fueling her feelings of power. She was a sociopath and she was escalating into taking out anyone who was in her way. And the thought of the toxic nerve gas in her unstable hands was frightening.

I had no trouble following her trail, and my own sense of where the temple was located sharpened the closer I came to it. I was on alert, but I couldn't use my senses the way I could if Blair was helping me or if I was wearing the choker. I suspected I must be confused, because as I made my way cautiously past the worn-down jaguar statue and toward the ruined structure that I had dreamed about and had seen in Alex's paintings, I thought I caught Blair's scent. But he was probably in Cascade by now, safely away from Alex.

I edged up to the temple's entrance, gun in my hand in the approved position, and for a split second I was in shock.

And in that moment when my attention had been drawn to the man gagged and tied against the wall opposite the entrance, I felt a prick in my neck, numbness racing through my body, and I dropped my gun. My last sight before I felt myself sliding into unconsciousness was of Blair's terrified eyes staring at me.

** ** ** ** ** **

Cool water surrounding me. The air smelling damp and rich with the scents of old stone, and moss and jungle plants. And Alex.

With difficulty, I opened my eyes. Alex was kneeling beside me. She smiled eerily and slowly circled her finger around my mouth. There was a bitter, herbal taste left on my lips after she had touched me. And I was in some kind of shallow trough; the water I was lying down in was up to my neck. Alex must have lifted me into it. She was strong, a good quality in a mate.

Alex purred, "Welcome to the jungle, lover. Too bad I can't have you just yet. The dart I shot you with will keep you paralyzed for a while. But don't worry; you won't be bored. I have a special drink I've brewed that I'll be... bestowing on you soon; we'll share the visions and multiply the strength of our senses. Till then I thought it would be fun to play a little with your guide. You don't mind me borrowing him back, do you?" She chuckled, amusement on her face. "You don't keep very good control of him, Jim. I caught him trying to sneak up on me, and since the boy just couldn't keep away, I thought I'd find a use for him."

Blair. God, I remembered now seeing Blair for an instant before Alex got me. And we both probably had been shot with a dart. Some of those jungle plants or poisonous amphibians' secretions could drop an elephant in its tracks.

With an effort, I turned my head enough so that I could see my guide. She'd moved him next to me, on a stone slab of a low table. He was still gagged, and his hands were tied together with a makeshift rope made of cloth. The line extended down from his hands to his feet, which were also tied together. He didn't have a shirt on, and his wound was oozing blood through the bandage over it.

Alex climbed on top of him, her weight settling down on his groin. She slid the gag down and untied it, humming a little.

"Jim, you okay?" His voice was choked and raspy sounding.

"He needs water," I said urgently.

"He can have a little of my drink. I wonder what effect it will have on a guide. And what effect seeing me tasting him will have on you, Jim. Will it make you hard?" And from the floor she brought a stone bowl up to her lips and swallowed a mouthful. Then she took Blair's face between her hands and lowered her mouth to his. He kept his lips closed, I guess, because she moved one hand and punched him in the ribs, and deeply kissed him when his mouth opened in shock. He coughed and spluttered and then went limp.

She ran her hands over his chest, playing idly with his nipples. And I could see, wrapped around her wrist, his choker.

"Guide," she crooned to him.

I watched Blair looking at her, and his eyes were dilating. She'd drugged him. And I guessed I was next.

"Tell me, little guide; if I ask, will you lick me till I come?"

Blair's voice was slurred but I heard him answer yes. Oh, Blair. Why are you here? What were you thinking, traveling here alone? Alex was wondering the same thing, apparently.

"Are you bound to me, guide? Have we a bond now?"

"Sort of. Had to find you. Hate you." Blair sounded drunk; the potion Alex had given him was affecting him.

Alex took the gag and used it to blindfold Blair. "You hate me, little guide, and you're going to hate what I do to you. Too bad. I hated what they did to me but did they stop? Did they ever stop? You'll get used to it. I did."

Then she kissed Blair again and bit his lip so hard that bright drops of blood welled up where her teeth had punctured it. He made a pained sound, and I tried to get up and help him. But I couldn't.

"Alex, leave him alone." I thought of hostage negotiations and decided to try and get her to talk to me. "Who hurt you, Alex? Can you tell me about it?"

"Oh, no, Jim. We're not going to play therapist and patient today. Talking in my therapy group in prison was boring. I'd rather do this instead."

And she picked up a sharp-edged rock, some kind of ancient tool, and cut a line down Blair's bare torso from his nipple to his navel. Blood welled up again. It was a shallow cut, but I was afraid she would keep going deeper.

I wanted to distract her; maybe she'd stop hurting him. "Alex. Sentinels are protectors. We protect the tribe. C'mon now, look deep into yourself and you'll know it's true. You don't have to do this to him."

She ignored me and made another cut on his belly. And then another one. I kept pleading with her and she kept ignoring me. Blair made gasping, distressed sounds, and I imagined that blindfolded like that he wouldn't know where she was going to hurt him next. The anticipation had to be as torturous as the cuts themselves were.

Alex started moving against Blair, against his groin, as she made many more long cuts on his torso. Then she dropped the tool and leaned over him, squirming wildly, and kissed him. She moaned into his mouth and I could smell the scent of her orgasm. She slumped forward, dropping her weight on him while her body trembled with aftershocks from coming so hard. Languidly she sat up, her shirt streaked with his blood.

"You're very sweet, little guide. You taste good to me. Except I don't feel a bond to you, so I don't know if I should bother keeping you. But... I would like to see you suck Jim's cock." She turned to me and I couldn't see any sanity in her eyes. "Jim, shall we keep him to play with later?"

"Don't hurt him anymore, Alex. Yeah, keep him so we can play later."

She took off the blindfold - a strip of cloth from Blair's own shirt, I realized - and gagged him again. She climbed off of him and refilled the stone bowl with liquid from a larger bowl. And then she came over to me.

"Alex, c'mon, what is that stuff? It could be dangerous to take."

"I made it, Jim. I read the ancient language on this wall and I knew what it said, and I recognized which plants to use. This place is for sentinels, like you and me, to come and lie in these chambers and take this drink. It will increase our senses. I did it last night, and it was like flying among the stars. I heard you coming long before you could have heard me. Join me, Jim. I need a mate. I want a mate."

I shook my head and tried to roll my shoulders in the water. The effect of the dart was starting to wear off, but not fast enough. If I could just keep stalling her... "Alex, you don't know what this stuff can do to you. It might poison you. I'll help you, okay?"

She stood over me and smiled. "You'll understand soon, Jim. And it will be like we're on the beach again, only this time we won't stop. I want to feel you inside me. Your guide can watch. He loves you; I can smell it on him. I could back in Cascade, only I didn't know back then what I was noticing. I'll let you keep him, until we're tired of him. But first, let's fly to the stars."

She kissed me passionately and I could taste Blair's blood on her lips. Then she held my chin and poured some of the drink in my mouth. I tried to spit it out, but I ingested enough that I stopped struggling against her. She made me swallow the rest and then filled the bowl up and drank it down. She refilled it and carried it with her to the other stone chamber and climbed in. I gazed intently at Blair, trying to make a connection with our eyes, and almost as if the force of my stare was attracting his attention, he turned his head and locked his eyesight with mine.

With great difficulty, I whispered, "I love you," to him, and then the visions began.

** ** ** ** ** **

I saw some of the worst moments of my life. Visions of the people who had rejected me, abandoned me - my mother, Lila, my father and brother, and more heartbreakingly, the people who had left me through death - Bud, Danny, Jack; Ben Sarris and my team dying in agonizing pain from the crash in Peru. My friend from the academy who was shot during a routine traffic stop. Blair on the beach, not breathing. The other times those close to me had suffered -- Blair in Lash's chair, drugged and helpless; Incacha almost dying in my apartment; Daryl being dangled out the window by Kincaid and Simon's agony at seeing his son at the mercy of a racist terrorist. All of them terrible memories I had always tried to wall away. More followed, a lifetime's worth of pain...

And I saw myself gripped by the riptide that had relentlessly pulled me out to sea, saw myself slowly dying from hypothermia as I listlessly swam in aimless directions. Remembered the dream where I'd been swept past bored people in boats, none of them caring anything about me.

My fears flooded through me - fear of being different, not normal; of the condemnation in my father's eyes for showing the world I was a weirdo. Fear of being found out that I enjoyed the touch of men. Fear of people knowing I was a sentinel, and the attention it would draw to me. I didn't want to be the geek in the circus - a freak forced to bite the head off of a live chicken and swallow it while people stared and laughed at me.

It was too much and I cried out for Incacha to help me.

Like an echo from meeting Incacha on the spirit plane during my last blue dream I heard his words again.

"You carry a light within you. Use it as a shield."

My light, what was my light? What made me feel shielded? Who made me feel shielded?

And that was the key. Who made me feel shielded, who protected me?

Images of Blair flooded me. Blair concocting bullshit stories to explain my strange behavior with my senses to others. Blair doing his damndest to come up with ways for me to cope. Talking to me. Hanging out with me. Giving me pleasure. Making me feel comfortable with who I was. Finding me when I was lost in a zone.

Hauling me out of the ocean. Saving my life for the first time. Caring for my needs. Blair loved me. He would never let me drown within his reach, like the people in the boats would have. He loved me!

Blair was the light within me. I focused on him, in my mind, and then I was able to see with my eyes again.

Blair was looking at me, his blue eyes wide and drugged, bloody lines decorating his skin. As I gazed at him, another shape seemed to cover him, bulky and dark, but his eyes stayed the same. I blinked and he was himself again.

And then I didn't exactly hear him speaking to me, but I felt from him emotions of love and concern and terrible anxiety, distress that I was going to lose myself.

I tried saying "Chief" and marveled when I was successful.

I tried the miracle again.

"Chief. Thank you. Thank you so much."

Now puzzlement overlaid the other emotions emanating from him. "I'm sorry for so much, Blair. I know now. I know you're my light. And I'm not going to let her hurt you anymore."

I moved my arms gingerly. Then my legs finally responded to my silent directive to stand up. Awkwardly, I hauled myself out of that strange bathtub. My senses were ten times more powerful than they had ever been when I'd worn Blair's choker or when his touch had grounded me, and it was a heady feeling. Kind of like walking a tightrope. Just don't look down or start to get too involved with one sense, I reminded myself. Surely zoning at this level would be incredibly dangerous.

Staggering, muscles trembling, I went over to Alex. I wanted to free Blair, but I needed to secure her first. She was lying in the shallow trough of water, with a look of ecstasy on her face. I took my handcuffs off of my belt and reached into the water to cuff her hand.

The spotted jaguar leapt out of her, and onto the temple floor, roaring her call to mate. The spirit animal gazed intently at me and then in exactly the same motion I'd witnessed in Blair's office -- she jumped straight through me.

I dropped my handcuffs on the floor. And I felt the lust for this beautiful woman, this female of my kind, returning. Lust and tenderness. She was damaged, yes. She'd been twisted by life, and I saw a young child who'd been hurt and made to suffer. I saw a girl who'd learned to barter her body for protection and to get what she wanted. A woman who'd lost her way a long time ago, but who found joy in painting. I could heal her. I could save her, love this dangerous and damaged woman and teach her the right path to travel as a sentinel. I could redeem her.

I lifted her up into a sitting position in the water and she opened her eyes. They were shining with the wonder of her visions. I kissed her and it felt so good, so intense. I wanted her to leave this watery cocoon and make love with me. She was my mate, and I wanted to touch her skin with eager fingers. I tugged a little on her shoulder but she didn't try to boost herself out of the water.

Instead, she looked all around the temple and said, "I'm home. I can feel the vibrations of the earth itself. I can hear the clouds moving in the sky. I can see the molecules in a drop of water. I want to share this with you."

I was both tempted and alarmed. That was way too deep into the sentinel senses. But it sounded mystical, what she was experiencing, and for a long moment I thought about allowing myself to be seduced into that level of sensation. But just for a moment, then I focused on coaxing her to agree with me. She needed to come down from tripping, and I was eager to help her transform herself into the sentinel she was meant to be. And I was aching to embed myself into her warm body.

Gently, I told her, "Alex, this isn't home. It's time to go now. The right thing to do is to give the nerve gas back. We've got to protect the people. And Blair needs help."

Saying his name brought up his face in my mind, so I looked over at him, and saw he had almost pushed himself off of the low stone table. I started to walk over to him, to my guide and friend, who stunk of fear and blood and was gagged and bound. He was hurt, and I could tend to him before Alex and I made love.

"Jim, you need to see as I see," Alex said in a dreamy voice, like the way she had sounded on the beach when we were touching each other.

I turned around. She was holding one of the nerve gas canisters in her hand.

"Alex, no. Put it down; if you open it we all die." Behind me Blair fell, and I could hear him grunt in pain as he tried to slide along the stone floor.

Towards me.

I kept my eyes on Alex; she was misguided, she needed me -- to help her understand what the right thing to do was, to show her the correct path for a sentinel to travel.

I felt again Blair communicating with me; not exactly in words, but I could understand his message. He was telling me to use the power of my spirit animal, that Alex was dangerous and needed to be stopped, and that if I fucked her I would regret it. I saw an image of us - him and me - on the roof of my apartment building and of how he had coached me to invite the power of my jaguar spirit to fill me, to aid me when I needed to find the lost Chopec warriors. And I had. Because I followed my guide's words of wisdom.

And I flashed again on Incacha's words to me. "The spirit world has brought you together, but cannot make you mate if you resist. Blair was my light, my shield, my guide. And I should listen to my guide.

I asked for help. And I received it. My big black cat materialized and roared a challenge at Alex, and then jumped into me. And my mind cleared of the haze of lust that had fogged it. My senses were up, off the scale of the dials Blair and I had worked out, but joining with my spirit animal allowed me to keep control.

Alex was speaking to me. "Once I've cleansed the world and you've left your flesh behind, maybe then you'll understand what I've seen."

God, Alex was trying to open the canister. I strode quickly over to her and laid my hand over hers. I didn't dare wrestle it away from her, in case it became damaged and opened. She was too high to know what she was doing.

I tried to reach her, to connect with the part of her that at least was interested in self-preservation. Striving for a calm voice, I said, "Alex, look at me. This isn't you. This isn't the real you. That lies deep within you. Listen to that voice deep inside of you and let it guide you. You wanted to unite our vision." I held out my other hand. "Let's do it together. Give me your hand. Come on."

I knelt and kissed her; she was bent, broken, but maybe not damaged beyond repair, and I held out my hand to her like a lighthouse sends out beams of light for lost ships. She released the canister into her lap to take my hand.

And we shared a vision. Her vision. It was terrifying. She would not use her senses to guard the people; no, she would continue to use them to prey on them. And she would continue to act out her revenge on those who had abused her, by abusing others.

With a gasp, I separated from her and sadly picked up the canister while she collapsed, panting, back down in the water.

I took it to the other water-filled chamber and placed it inside; the water would provide an extra protection against accidental discharge. I would have to find the other poisonous container of nerve gas and secure it also. Right after I put Alex in custody.

I walked tiredly back to Alex, bending over to pick up my handcuffs. This farce was over. Whatever motives the spirit world had had to push us together didn't matter anymore. I was back in control of my actions, and as a police officer I was arresting this woman for the many crimes she had committed. I grieved for the hurt child, the lost girl, the damaged woman, but she could have made the choice to change. She didn't want to change.

Alex looked at me, her eyes dazed and still adrift somewhat in the sensations of having her senses so highly elevated. She knew she'd lost me during our shared vision. And I felt confident that no matter if her spirit animal jumped through me fifty times in a row, I wasn't going to be influenced to fuck her again.

Alex groped around next to her chamber and picked up the stone bowl. Before I could snatch it away from her, she'd drunk down the contents.

And started screaming in pain.

She sobbed that her skin was on fire and her eyes were being stabbed. I tried to soothe her, to hush her. I didn't know how to help her.

She arched up in pain, then blessedly, she became still. Rigid, but quiet. Not passed out; her eyes were open, but she was gone. I lifted her out of the water and carried her outside, hoping a change would revive her, give her some relief. It didn't. I made her as comfortable as I could in the shade. But I still handcuffed her to a small tree. Just in case.

Then I went to Blair where he had collapsed on the floor, and kneeling beside him, freed him from the makeshift ropes and took the gag out of his mouth. I pulled him against me and put my arms around him. He hugged me tightly back. Once again he smelled all wrong to me; Alex had marked him with scent and touch. But I could control my reactions now. He was my guide and I wouldn't reject him. He was non-verbal, probably traumatized and now allowing himself to react. And I was still sensing his feelings -- he wanted to wipe out the taste of Alex on his lips and the feel of her hands on his skin.

I kissed him. I ignored the dried blood on his lips and the stink of terror that clung to his skin. I kissed him and I told him I was so sorry, and that he was safe now and he was the best guide in the world.

Blair was lethargic, passive, and when he didn't say anything or kiss me back, I started to really worry about him. Blair Sandburg silenced was never a good thing.

"Chief, let's get you up. There's got to be a spring in here; how about a drink of water and getting those cuts cleaned up." And remove the smell of Alex off of his skin.

He let me help him up onto the stone table where Alex had sexually assaulted him. I located a clean vessel and the spring, and he drank his fill. Poking around, I found his backpack and my own where Alex had tossed them, and got out what clothes I could cobble together from our packs, first aid supplies, his pills from the hospital, and some power bars. I took a good look at his eyes, and the pupils were almost back to normal.

He let me clean him up, and tend his lip and cuts. He ate methodically, dully, like it was his duty, but he still hadn't said one word to me. So I talked to him, explaining about warning Alex about the trap during her meet with Arguillo, the compulsion I'd felt to find her and the temple, tracking the helicopter from the spilled fuel, my dream with Incacha, ditching Conner in the jungle, and how I'd done what he said to do; I'd called my animal spirit to aid me.

He looked a little surprised at that part, but didn't respond. He watched me while I searched for the other canister of nerve gas, then deposited it in the chamber with the first canister, and found my missing gun. I ducked out to re-check Alex, but there was no change in her condition. She was zoned, I thought, and wondered if she would be able to come out of it when the potion wore off. Nothing I did seemed to help her. I went back inside the temple and found Blair staring in the dim light at the wall covered in lines, dots and squiggles. Alex had said she could read these glyphs, but I couldn't make heads or tails out of the script.

He stood up and was a bit wobbly on his feet, so I helped support him as he moved toward the entrance of the temple. We went out together into the sunshine, and then he gently pushed away from me and made his way over to Alex, who hadn't moved so much as a finger from when I'd secured her to the tree.

He stooped down next to her. He unwrapped his choker from around her wrist and then straightened. He turned and shuffled away from her, towards me. It was funny; I thought he'd be happy to finally have his choker back, but he just seemed weary, instead.

"Blair, are you okay? Maybe you should sit down; I'm going to build a fire so Simon can locate us. And buddy, I've got some questions for you, if you feel up to talking. How in the hell did you get here, for one? Are you feeling any more effects from the drink Alex forced into you?"

Blair didn't answer me. But he did ask his own question.

"Where did you wear my choker, Jim? Obviously, I never saw it on you when you'd stolen it from me."

Okay, clearly I had a lot of fence mending to do.

"Uh, mostly on my ankle. I didn't want to explain why a guy like me was wearing something like that."

Blair nodded thoughtfully. "Okay, that's pretty good thinking. I used to wear it around my neck, because I liked how it looked. But not anymore. I don't want anybody to notice it."

And he wrapped it around his ankle and let his pants leg hide it from sight.

He did sit down then, and watched me gather dried wood for a signal fire. He looked terrible. There were dark circles under his eyes and his normally honey colored skin had a pale cast to it. I'd managed a fresh bandage for his shoulder wound and had doctored his numerous slashes on his torso. He was still bare-chested; I hadn't had a clean shirt for him, but I'd washed mine for him to wear when it dried.

I had the fire going, deliberately making it smoke, when he stopped his silence. "I'm staying here. When you leave, will you contact Feliz for me and give him the coordinates of the temple? Tell him to drop everything and come now. Oh, and remind him to bring the supplies he and I have talked about."

Feliz? "Santiago? The archeologist you've been talking to about this joint? Blair, you need to go back to the hospital, get some medical care. We can come back later, after we take Alex back to the states. And I heard your mother was traveling to Cascade to see you."

He shook his head. "I called Naomi from the hospital and told her I wasn't coming back yet. I'm okay, Jim. I'm tougher than I look, you know. And this is my chance to finish the dissertation; Feliz can provide outside verification that the Temple of the Sentinels does exist."

Then he looked at me. Warily. Sadly.

"I'm so sorry, Jim, for being careless. And I can't believe you haven't blown up about my research being out there ready to expose you as a sentinel, because man, you have every right to do so. And you say you're sorry for stealing my choker. I understand all of that. But I need some time; I need to process. You kissed me in there, Jim. What the hell am I supposed to think about that? I told you I'm not going to be your secret lover. Laying kisses on me is dirty pool, man, dirty pool. So you take her back and you make sure she's put somewhere where she can't hurt anybody ever again. And let me hide here for a while, okay, and document this place. Maybe If I'm out of sight the FBI will forget about wanting to talk to me. And I'm probably already fucked about not teaching my classes. I might not even be able to keep my TA status, but another week or so won't matter now. So go on home, Jim."

He sighed. "And stop kissing me, man. Go out and find a girlfriend, one who doesn't want to shoot me."

I walked over to him and dropped down next to him. "Chief, I don't think I want to stop kissing you. So if you really don't want me to do this, tell me no."

His eyes widened, but he didn't tell me to stop, so I hauled him into my lap and kissed him breathless.

And this time he kissed me back.

"I'll give you your time down here, if you really want me to leave you alone, but Chief, I'd be happy to stay with you. And when we're both back in Cascade, I'm going to take you out on a date."

He hid his face in my neck and muttered, "Going to a sporting event is not a date, Jim, unless we act differently than we usually do. Are you saying that you want to come out of your well-locked and guarded closet? Because I don't believe you. And I'm thinking this is going to end up hurting me a whole lot when you change your mind." He pushed himself off of my lap and stood up, not looking at me. But he had some color in face now.

He checked on Alex, made sure she was as comfortable as was possible for somebody in a catatonic state. I was amazed that he could stand to be near her, after what she'd done to him, but Blair is kind. Even to the only person I've ever heard him say that he hated. He started doing all the sorts of things he would do with me to try and bring me out of a zone, and he tried for a long time, but he didn't get any more reaction from her than I had except that he was able to get her to swallow more water.

He came back and sat down by me, a pensive expression on his face. "She really lost her way, didn't she, Jim."

"Yeah, both a long time ago and in drinking all that potion. Are you okay dealing with her? You gave it a good try about waking her up, but I think she's still under the influence of the drugs she took. She took that crap at least three times, maybe more. It made me hallucinate, besides zooming up my senses, which, by the way, are still elevated. Did you take any trips from the dose you got, buddy?"

"No. I just felt really stoned for a while." He stared into the fire, poking at it with a stick. "Fuck. I don't like hating her. Man, I can just about feel the negative energy settling into my soul, you know? I need to work on letting it go, for my own sake." I reached out and gently squeezed the back of his neck, before standing up and throwing some more leafy branches on the fire, sending more thick smoke spiraling up.

"You know, for a moment back there, I was tempted to take my senses to the level she was talking about. But I didn't. And you really helped me get my control back, Chief."

Blair looked puzzled. "You said I told you to use the power of your spirit animal, so that you could resist Alex. But Jim, I never said anything. I was gagged, remember? You must have imagined it."

"Nah, I didn't make it up. You told me; you just thought it towards me, instead of talking."

His eyes got big again. "Jim, you're talking about an ability I don't have. You must have just imagined it was something I told you. You were high on whatever that concoction was; I've never been able to communicate like that."

Sometimes, Blair forgets what being a sentinel means. He has sort of a blind spot, thinking my abilities don't really focus on him. The truth is that I focus them mostly on him.

So, I knew he was lying to me. But I didn't call him on it. Not now. It could keep. He'd had a rotten time, and I wasn't going to push him on this. I decided to throw him a bone.

"Want to hear about the visions I experienced taking that crap? After you explain how the hell you managed to drag yourself out here?"

He looked a little suspicious, I guess because I was offering instead of him having to drag it out of me, but he wasn't going to look this gift horse too closely in the mouth.

"Well, the driver who was supposed to take me to the airport was agreeable to driving as close as he could to where I thought Alex was, out here. And it seemed like the right area for the temple, according to my sources. You said you followed the helicopter's trail of fuel? Man, I think you must have taken the long way around." He stood up and stretched, then poked me in the side. "Now, hold up to your end of the bargain."

I motioned for him to sit down next to me, and I put my arm around him and spilled my guts while I watched the fire, monitored Alex, and listened for our backup to tramp through the rainforest. He blushed when I told him how Incacha had said that the light within me would be my shield against Alex's efforts to seduce me, and that the visions had shown me just who that light, that shield was. In retrospect, it had been kind of a 'duh' moment. How could I have missed seeing what Blair was to me all these years?

He told me then how he felt about what Alex had done to him, and that the fear and anger he'd experienced was now tinged with pity for the woman lying so still. He asked me to try and use my animal guide's power to revive her, and I did try. I let him handle the fire and I went and stood next to Alex and called for help from the spirit world. My animal guide responded, and I felt the power thrumming through me, but when I touched her and called to her, there was no response. I moved her limbs and gave her more water; if Simon didn't find us by tomorrow, I'd have to try and see if she would eat if food was placed in her mouth. I wanted to bring her back to herself so she could pay for her crimes... and because I couldn't just dismiss her plight, not after knowing what had influenced her to be the person that she'd become. Mostly, I thought it a terrible shame that she had evolved into such a dangerous sociopath, and sad that she had rejected the chance to change. I kept her handcuffed, though. I didn't want her to revive and be able to hurt Blair anymore, like in some horror movie's cheesy plot.

I came back to him, picking my now dry shirt off of a bush to hand to him. We sat side by side, my hand firmly holding his, and stared at the fire, each lost in our own thoughts. And as time passed, I finally heard the sounds of our rescue party - Simon, Conner, and it sounded like some of the CIA clowns - heading our way.

Blair wanted some time to process. I'd give him that. And hell, I could use some time to 'process' things, too. I'd learned information about myself in those visions -- and maybe about Blair. I'd seen a strange shape overlying Blair's body while he lay on that stone table. And he had communicated mind to mind with me. Just like that seal did when it rescued me from the ocean.

He had his choker back, but if he was a selkie, then a certain innocence had been lost. He'd been forced to be with two people, two captors, because they had held his choker - his seal skin. He wasn't going to display it openly anymore. Which lent more weight to the theory that it wasn't just a decoration to him. I doubted that he would ever feel as safe about it as he did before I met him in La Push. And his ability to find Alex in the jungle? We were talking about the guy who normally couldn't find the correct exit off of the highway, let alone track somebody through a Mexican rainforest. He'd said in the hospital that he was experiencing a compulsion to find her, like he'd felt to find me after we'd met. But he didn't know back then that I was the owner of his choker; he'd figured it was a sentinel and guide thing. And Alex had said she didn't feel the bond with him although he'd felt something towards her. Another clue to the selkie mystery - if I wanted to speculate about something so... fey.

But... he'd kissed me back when I'd laid that last kiss on him, and there had been nothing compelling him to do so. I pulled him to me and kissed him again, enjoying the feel of his mouth opening for me.

He cocked an eye at me, after I'd taken my time smooching on him.

"What was that for?" But he was relaxed and he smelled good. Hopeful.

"For luck, Blair. It was for luck."

To Be Continued in A Sea-Change, part four

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Acknowledgments: I thank T. Verano for Beta'ing this and give credit to Becky's site for the transcript.  Some dialog is from her site. Finally, thank you to Amy for the gorgeous cover art.