The Sentinel's Guide to Flexibility - Akablonded
"Ellison! In my office. Now!"
"This report ..."
"From the police department psychologist ..."
"You know, that's a really annoying habit of turning everything I say into a question."
Simon Banks, Captain of Cascade's Major Crime division, elected to ignore what surely couldn't have been subtle sarcasm from his best detective. Jim Ellison was a great many things. Subtle wasn't one of them. He turned back to the matter at hand.
"I'm reading it. And I'm not liking it."
Ellison sat stoically, mutely, inscrutably.
"Don't give me that damned Kung-fu look, Jim. Dr. Tracy -"
"Is a shrink with way too much time on her hands."
"Incidentally, she doesn't like being called a shrink."
"Well, I don't like to be called a lot of things, like, 'an individual whose ability to balance job-related stress on a day-to-day basis is beginning to become more difficult, and, consequently, is revealing itself in more frequent, inappropriate emotional displays.'"
Simon Banks wondered if the tall man sitting across from him was a mind-reader, since the detective clearly couldn't read the 8 pt. report type from where he was sitting.
"Irregardless. You're going to have to make an effort."
"Should I go out and hug a tree?"
"This is not funny. If Dr. Tracy doesn't see some improvement -"
"Captain, you can't be serious ..."
"- it's going to go into a formal report on your fitness as a member of Major Crime. You do not want that, believe me. You'll be riding a desk until you - and it - retire. I kid you not."
"Captain ... Simon ..."
"You have three choices. Go to weekly group meetings for stress management ..."
"Jesus Christ, Simon, all I did was yell a little ..."
"At the Commissioner's aide -- the mayor's brother-law. And you certainly know how to pick your battlegrounds -- a dinner for the mayor, no less. If it had just stopped there, we wouldn't be having this conversation, now would we? But no. You had to go that extra step. Do the words, 'bad move' mean anything to you?"
Ellison wanted to respond with, "And do the words 'goofy bastard' mean anything to you?" but wisely resisted adding fuel to the fire. Instead, in a tired, resigned voice, he asked, "So, what are the other two options?"
"Work in the Cascade PD outreach program."
"Isn't that the grade school thing?" Swell. Six-year-olds with sticky fingers and little high-pitched, squeaky voices yammering at him. He'd be bleeding from the ears in about 20 minutes.
Not in this lifetime, Ellison grimaced. "And what's behind Door Number 3?"
"The little guy from Star Wars?"
"Don't be funny. Yoga. Not 'Yoda.'"
"As in 'sit on the floor, stretch, and chant?' Sure, Simon. Put my name high on that list."
"Your choice. Either that, or start gearing up for the Tiny Tot Patrol."
"God, life just gets better and better. Alright, you win. You all win. Put me down for damned yoga. That should make Dr. Tracy ecstatic. Then, we can conveniently forget about it - and all get back to business as usual."
"Not so fast, my friend. The yoga class is going to be given here twice a week for the next six weeks. In all likelihood, the good doctor will be monitoring the first few classes. So, just resign yourself to having a front row seat. Correction. 'Mat.'" Banks laughed at his own joke in his unique style. Jim had always hated that 'hey-hey-hey" laugh his superior used in situations like this. Today was no exception.
"You can't be serious, Simon."
"Ellison, does this look like my version of a 'smiley face'? The discussion is over. At 5:00 PM tomorrow, I want to see your butt in Gym B for Yoga 101. Wear exercise clothes. And get rid of that attitude, mister. Report to the instructor. Bill, Bob ...what the hell's his name?" Banks looked down at the folder. "Blair ... Blair Sandburg."
WEEK ONE, TUESDAY
Tuesday, 4:50 PM, saw seven police officers - three uniforms, three gold-shield detectives, and one undercover officer from vice - milling around outside the Metro building's second-floor gymnasium, usually reserved for judo, aikido, and other martial arts classes. All wore regulation PD sweats and varying degrees of pissed-off looks.
"Jesus, isn't this a pile of crap?" Joe Grabowski grumbled to no one in particular. His qualifying sin had been the bullying of a perpetrator a tad too enthusiastically. When faced with the three choices, the somewhat hefty detective had also opted for six weeks of bending to and fro like some demented willow, rather than facing unimagined terrors at the insistent little hands of first-graders. Ellison recognized Pat Bascilio, the vice cop on sight, knew Ted Warren and Zack Dunlap, both from burglary. He'd worked with the two uniformed officers, Tim Broderick and Jenny Lombardi, who had since been assigned to the Canine division. Ellison tried to imagine what the hell she could possibly have done to get relegated to 'cop detention'? Before he could ask, the taller of the two burglary detectives began ragging on the petite blonde officer, looking unquestionably fetching in exercise paraphernalia.
"Hey, Lombardi! Where's the dog? Why isn't your partner's bony ass up here with the rest of us?"
"Because, Dunlap, Arnie knows how to keep his nose clean. Besides which, he's smarter than all of us combined."
"Yeah, well, those God-damned German shepherds are whiz kids, all right."
"Or maybe just whizzers." Grabowski laughed himself red in the face over his own joke.
"Grabowski, you're pathetic, you know that?" Jenny Lombardi retorted, shaking her head. She wandered over to where Jim stood. "Hey, Jim, how you doing?"
"Pretty good, Jen. Aside from the obvious. So, how'd you get roped into this?"
She lowered her voice, explaining almost apologetically, "You heard that Arnie nearly got wasted last month?" Ellison nodded. Lombardi's four-footed partner had been shot in the shoulder protecting Jenny from a perpetrator high on PCP. The drugged-out armed robber had somehow doubled-back around the officer and would have taken serious pleasure in making her two kids orphans had it not been for the heroic actions of the big dog. Officers Lombardi and Arnie - named after the Golfer, not the Terminator - had subsequently received commendations for their bravery.
"I got shook up, you know? I mean, some of these guys around here don't think of dogs as real partners. But they are. And losing Arnie or what might have happened to me ... well, I couldn't work through it. I just made the mistake of telling our friendly, neighbor shrink about my feelings. You know what I mean? That's why I'm here. How about you? Who'd you tick off?"
"Nobody. Everybody." Both were true.
Over the past four months, the strangest things had begun happening to the Major Crime detective. A stakeout in a forested area outside Cascade for the mad bomber dubbed the Switchman, caused all five senses to go haywire. The isolation had fomented a weird array of aberrations -- lights too bright, sounds too loud, smells that made his stomach turn, tastes that made him gag, and touch that made even the most common fabric rub his skin raw. It was just like five years ago, when the ex-Army Ranger endured 18 months of isolation in the jungles of Peru as the sole survivor of his lost unit. Except, now, without the help of the natives, and most particularly, Incacha, the Chopec shaman, all of Ellison's five senses conspired to torture him.
Sometimes, it happened one by one; other times, all together. To escape the torment of those episodes, Jim would retreat into a spiraling world of gray nothingness, blessed oblivion. At first a rarity, it was an occurrence that was becoming more and more frequent. Soon, somebody in the PD would begin to notice something, and Ellison might be put out to pasture because of it - or six feet under, if the something happened while he was on duty and the results were deadly.
What actually had brought Jim Ellison here to Lotusland in Cascade, however, was a skirmish with Dave Aldrich, Aide to Police Commissioner Yeager. It started with an unfortunate remark "normal" ears would never have heard, and escalated quickly. Having drawn bodyguard duty for the mayor, a reluctant Ellison was making himself unobtrusive when he'd heard the s.o.b Aldrich whisper a tactless remark. Above the general din of typical political functions, the tuxedoed-detective zeroed in on Aldrich's slur immediately, and took exception to the sniping at Metro Division in general, and Simon Banks in particular. Ellison might have let it pass, but for the scurrilous racial epithet thrown in for good measure. Over hors d'oeuvres, the two men exchanged heated words while Detectives Brian Ryf and Henry Brown looked on.
When circumstances brought a drunk -- and driving -- Dave Aldrich into Jim Ellison's neighborhood, the detective took great pride - and an indecent amount of pleasure -- in arresting, booking, and throwing the inebriated civil servant into the foulest-smelling holding cell he could find for an overnight stay.
"And the rest, as they say, is history." Jim finished relating his tale of woe with a lopsided grin. "So, I wonder if this Sandburg character is here."
Jim and Jen looked through the window in the padded gym door and caught sight of a smallish male figure, casually sitting on the floor near the mirrored front wall. He appeared to be barefooted, well-muscled, and sporting the attire of the day -- a comfortable-looking tee shirt and sweatpants. Long, curly brunette hair hung loosely around the young man's neck and shoulders, and prismed the light from one recessed, overhead fixture. Soft, soothing music from a hidden cassette player wafted toward them.
Then, the two police officers got their first look at the face of the yoga instructor, and both quietly gasped. Neither would have been loud enough to be heard by the other, except in Ellison's case, his hearing was as good as his eyesight, which, in turn, was as good as all of his other senses. By anybody's criteria, Blair Sandburg was handsome. Some might have used the phrase "pretty as a woman," but one look at an amply-stubbled jaw line confirmed that substantial quantities of testosterone flowed through the quiet young man's body.
Sandburg was indeed beautiful, in an exotic, hard-to-categorize way, at least to Jim's way of thinking. He immediately regretted the thought, and shook himself away from everything it implied. It would only cause the sort of trouble Ellison had tried to put behind him after his time in vice. Yes sir, trouble - and this kid could be trouble with a capital "T" -- was one thing the detective didn't need right now.
Suddenly, blue eyes opened and peered through dark lashes, settling squarely on Ellison. Jim felt burnt, as though he'd looked into the sun without protection, and strangely vulnerable. It was unfamiliar, scary, yet intriguing.
Jerking his head back, Ellison was saved from explaining the odd look on his face to Jenny Lombardi by a pleasant baritone voice calling the class to order. "Come on in, folks, and let's get started." As they trickled in, the calm-looking young man stood up, hands pressed in a prayer position against his sternum, and greeted the group trudging through the doors with "Namaste,* friends. My name is Blair Sandburg. And I'm going to be your yoga instructor for the next six weeks." He smiled good-naturedly at the seven resistant souls in front of him. "I can see by your faces, you're thrilled." Silence. "OK, well, the art and discipline we know as yoga has been practiced for literally thousands of years. Very simply, it's a system of physical, mental and spiritual training. This class will be based on Hatha yoga - one of several traditional schools. It's the type of yoga taught in most occidental classes."
"That's what this class is - an occident." Grabowski stage-whispered to Bascilio standing next to him.
"Ah, that's what I like to hear. People with a sense of humor. Anyway, this is a form of exercise that virtually anyone can do. I've had children as young as five old and seniors into there '80s take my courses. Never lost a student yet. Anyway, there won't be any chanting." The almost-perceptible sigh of relief was short-lived. "For now." Fourteen eyes stared at him, with not a smile in sight.
"Man, this is a tough room. Anyway, ladies -- lady -- and gentlemen, I only have one or two things to say before we begin. First of all, I know that some of you - make that probably all of you - don't want to be here. But give it a chance. You may actually end up liking yoga. At the very least, you'll learn something about an ancient discipline. You may also learn something about yourself during our time together." The hard-edged looks thrown his way did not deter Blair Sandburg from continuing his introductory speech.
"OK, so much for the philosophy portion of the program. Let's get to the nitty-gritty of it. Yoga is a lot of things. One thing it isn't is a competition. I repeat, 'yoga isn't a competition.' Please try to keep that in mind. Don't worry if you can't stretch as far as, or be able to accomplish the asanas - postures -- as easily as the person next to you. I promise, it will all come in time. All right. Everybody down on the mat, please. Tonight, we're going to start with some basic positions. As I observe your overall flexibility, I'll be able to adjust just how quickly we progress over the next few weeks. I may even encourage some of you to try the more difficult or alternate versions of certain postures. Now let's start off with a basic asana - it's called The Tailor. Fold your right leg at the knee and nestle it under the left one like this. It's really quite comfortable, once you get the hang of it. You should be able to sit this way for hours at a time." He looked at the doubtful glances. "Honest. I wouldn't obfuscate." More blank looks assaulted him. "Lie. I wouldn't lie to you. At least this early in the relationship. Just a another little joke, folks. If you're interested, an alternate to this is the Half or Full Lotus." He clarified, "You know, the 'pretzel' that most people think of when you mention yoga. Like this." Sandburg quickly maneuvered his muscular legs, weaving them over and under one another, ending with his right foot resting easily on the left knee, and the left foot on his right knee. It seemed a perfectly natural way for the flexible instructor to sit - and utterly impossible to Jim Ellison and the others.
"That's gotta hurt like hell." Grabowski muttered.
"We only have an hour, people. Please sit. Now."
With a grumbling undertone, all seven threw themselves to the floor.
"Everybody OK? Good. We're going to start by doing some breathing exercises. Close your eyes if it feels more relaxing. Lift your right hand. Bend your three middle fingers down. Extend your little finger. Close off your right nostril with your thumb. Now breathe in slowly, steadily through the left nostril for a count of four." Sandburg heard the usual assortment of freight-train breathing techniques used by yoga virgins. "Close off both nostrils for two counts. That's it. Now expel the air in your lungs, slowly, steadily through your right nostril for a count of four. Good. Good. Now let's try it again."
For the next five minutes, the instructor eased his pupils through the rudiments of proper breathing techniques, then segued them into rolling their heads from right to left to loosen tight neck and shoulder muscles. "Inhale to a count of four, the way we just practiced. Then, start moving your head forward, exhaling to a count of four. Slowly, people, slowly! This isn't a race. Now, try to touch your breastbone with your chin. OK, inhale, then roll your head toward your right shoulder, back, around, and towards your left shoulder. Exhale as you move from one side of your body to the other. It's as though your head and neck have ball bearing in them. You're probably hearing lots of 'clicking' sounds. All normal. Good. Very good. Now, stretch your legs out in front of you, and lift your arms over your head as you inhale. On the exhale, slowly lower your arms - keep the elbows straight, but not locked in place -- and try to touch your toes. Flat backs, people, flat backs as you do this. Remember to 'breathe' into the stretch. When you've reached as far as you can, calm yourself, and try to move forward just a little more. Good. Good. "
Sandburg watched each of his new pupils with varying degrees of interest. He kept coming back to the tall officer at the periphery of the room. He'd heard someone address the tall man as 'Jim.' Scanning the attendee roster in his mind, by the process of elimination, Blair identified him as Ellison, James J., a detective in the Major Crimes unit. Sandburg considered that the short-cropped hair fitted the chiseled face. Through the tee shirt, Blair could see musculature that was an unarguable tribute both to good genetics and countless hours of exercise. The big man's bearing gave Blair the impression of someone in the military. But then, in the few minutes since the class had begun, Blair Sandburg was impressed by just about everything, where Jim Ellison was concerned. He liked beautiful people. Beautiful women - and beautiful men. Considering what Sandburg did for a living, it was pretty shallow.
The one thing Blair had learned in his relatively short, but active life: it didn't necessarily follow that beauty on the outside reflected beauty on the inside. So, in the end, Sandburg always seemed to wind up getting hurt. It was a cycle he'd been trying to break for quite a while. The whole situation with Mark Lambert was a point in fact. Blair let his own mind wander through the days and nights of their affair. The archeologist had 'detached with love' (as Naomi, Sandburg's flower-child mother used to say) more than two years ago. Even though Blair's matching degree in anthropology might have dovetailed somehow into Mark's so that the two could see the world together, the older scientist apparently felt no compunction or need to explore the possibility. So, with a minimum of fanfare and notice, Lambert had traipsed off to see what was around the next corner and over the next mountain. Now and then, there were collect phone calls, one-page letters and hastily-scribbled postcards -- little lifelines that kept hope afloat.
Then, even those ceased to come.
So Blair found himself adrift. Teaching helped with the feelings of futility. And yoga was his salvation. Again. His body relished the comfort of habit. At the same time, his student's mind found excitement in investigating new subjects and new ideas. Like the intriguing work by Sir Richard Burton, the 19th century Victorian explores, about a cultural phenomenon: sentinels. Sentinels were individuals blessed - or cursed, depending on how you looked at the gift - with a genetic advantage to help protect the "tribe," no matter how large or small the tribe actually was.
Yet, even now, in the middle of teaching and taking classes. Blair Sandburg felt impotent, that anything and everything he did was inferior. Mark Lambert had that effect on him. Mark had called earlier in the day, announced he was going to be in Cascade the following week and wanted to drop by "for old times' sake At any given moment, Blair Sandburg had felt: elated, dejected, exuberant, depressed, excited, uncomfortable, but most of all rattled. Definitely rattled. Like the first moment you realized you were really in love as a teenager. And wondered if it were one-sided.
If Blair Sandburg were being honest in his heart of hearts -- where the dashing Dr. Lambert was concerned, it felt just the same way.
Meanwhile, the yoga teacher looked outwardly calm and seemingly oblivious to some harsh words being said at him and about him. One or two were innocuous, if stupid. The others were derogatory or just plain mean.
Ellison heard each and every wisecrack being made under the class's collective breath, and, for some reason, was becoming increasingly edgy and angry at what amounted to the PD version of schoolyard bullying.
"What the hell are we doing here?"
"Jesus, what a friggin' waste of time."
"Little faggot. Somebody should stick a ..." The last comment made Jim snap his head around and look at Ted Warren, who was startled to feel the weight of Ellison's punishing, pale blue eyes. Wisely, the uniform shut his mouth. The ugly words had carried a definite homophobic feel to them. One that Jim Ellison could pick up a mile away, and in a dozen different languages. He'd had enough practice in his Army days to know what was what. And who was who.
"Well, ladies - lady - and gentlemen, our first class is almost over. Let's get to the 'fun' portion of tonight's entertainment. We're going to relax into The Corpse position, that is, lying on the floor, eyes closed, hands by your side, inhaling through your nose, exhaling through your mouth. Everybody comfy? OK, now let any tension you may be carrying just drift away. So, close your eyes, and listen to my voice. Think of a special place, where you can enjoy being who you are. Don't worry about being a police officer, or husband or wife, or father or mother, or son or daughter, or any of the hundred of roles we all fill. For the time you're here -" he paused quietly, encouragingly," you can exist in the 'now' - no past to regret, no future to obsess over. You're in the moment of this time and place." As if by magic, four faces took on a smiling, contented look. Grabowski's and Warren's wore cloaked distain.
Ellison looked the most altered, almost serene with the hard edges and lines around his startling eyes and firm mouth all but disappeared. It happened that way in yoga, sometimes. A person understood and connected on a subconscious level to the universe -- and the teacher who helped bring the two together. In many respects, it was like love.
As Blair watched the breathing of each of the class members even out, he continued to move them through guided imagery, he couldn't help be drawn back time and again to the magnificent body near the wall. What would it be like, Sandburg wondered, to be lying next to that prone figure, in a setting that didn't involve a municipal building, surveillance cameras or six other people watching? The teacher in Blair mentally took himself to task. Back to business. You have five weeks left to get these hard-nosed people - and your raging hormones -- under control.
Unfortunately, as he tracked Jim Ellison's magnificent chest rising and falling with the cadence of his voice, Blair Sandburg had a hopelessly, sinking feeling that the former would be infinitely easier to do than the latter.
Jim Ellison hung back until the others filtered out the gym, to a man (and woman), bitching and moaning about the aches and pains and muscles they hadn't used in years. Skin shining with perspiration, muscles pumped with the workout, he casually approached Blair Sandburg, as the smaller man mopped his graceful neck and upper chest with a PD towel.
"So, what did you think, Detective ... Ellison, right?"
"It was ... uh ... interesting. Thanks for the workout."
"Oh, no problem, man. You're in terrific shape, by the way."
"I guess you noticed I'm not too flexible."
"Don't worry. It'll come in time. Like I said, just try not to think of yoga as a competition sport."
"That's a tough one. We're a pretty competitive bunch."
"Mostly what I noticed is that nobody really wanted to take the course."
"You have to cut us some slack."
"Oh. And why should I?"
"Well, for one thing, because we were 'ordered' to be here."
"No, you weren't. As I understood it, you all had other options. Maybe they should have taken them.. I'm not deaf, you know. It's pretty evident that you don't think much of me."
"Hold on there, chief. We're not interchangeable parts. I liked the class."
"Well, thanks. All the same, I can't be responsible if your fellow classmates are ass-- ... uh, sorry."
"We're not all assholes."
"It doesn't matter, Detective. Good, bad, or indifferent, we're in it together for the next six weeks."
"It's Jim." The big man extended his right hand, which the shorter man shook firmly, as he looked the tall, handsome police officer square in the face. Surprised at the strength of the grasp, Ellison was even more taken back at the energy that seemed to flow from the yoga instructor. They stood connected for a moment, then Blair released his hand, bent down, and picked up his duffle bag, along with a Jags jacket.
"You a Jags fan?" Even Ellison knew how lame that sounded, but he couldn't seem to help himself. "
"Since forever." Glancing at the clock on the back wall, Blair threw on the jacket, then quickly zipped it closed.
"Wasn't the game last night - "
"Don't even go there! What the hell were they thinking. I mean ... oh, damn, I'd love to finish this conversation, but, if I don't step on it, I'm going to be late for my class."
"Class? You're teaching another class tonight?"
"No. I take classes at Rainier College."
"Oh, yeah? In what?"
"In the Anthropology doctoral program. Jeez, you can certainly tell you're a detective."
"Sorry, Sandburg, I didn't mean to hold you up."
"Don't be sorry. It's kind of ... it makes me feel at least I have one friend in the PD. So ..."
" ...So ... I guess I'll see you next time."
"Thursday at 5."
"Thursday at 5."
With that, Blair Sandburg walked out of the room, leaving Jim Ellison standing, vaguely disconcerted, in his wake.
WEEK ONE, THURSDAY
The stroke of five saw Jim Ellison staking out the same position he'd occupied in Tuesday's class. From the back of the room, he nodded toward the young instructor, who was clearly delighted to see his prize pupil primed and ready for a good workout.
For his part, with eyes half-closed, Ellison instinctively breathed in and was rewarded with the intoxicating scent of Blair Sandburg that at once calmed and aroused him. He would have reveled in the sensation more, but the other class members began to straggle in and move to the same positions they'd claimed during the first class. Just like everybody else, Blair smiled indulgently. In virtually every class he ever instructed, once members found 'their' spot (next to a window, by the door for a fast getaway, or up close to be able to see Blair demonstrate the positions) they stick to it throughout the entire course. The lay of the land in Cop Yoga, as Blair was beginning to think of this gig, consisted of the sole female officer in front, at his immediate right. Next to her, Tim Broderick. To his left, Grabowski and Warren.
Behind them, Bascilio and Dunlap. Finally, Jim Ellison stood alone, near the door at the back, rather like an avenging angel Blair thought fancifully. No, he reconsidered, more like a protector, a watchman for this little tribe. The thought niggled something in the young man's mind that he'd read years ago, in an arcane anthropological volume ...
The tyrannical clock on the wall brought Blair Sandburg's focus back to the here and now, as he began class one, week two.
"Hello, people. I hope everybody's ready to work tonight, because I'm feeling great. What say we start off with the Salutation to the Sun?" The groans confirmed that Sandburg was doing his job - nobody who'd ever done the ambitious combination of positions wrong had ever made sounds like that. He began counting off the movements, in a crisp, enthusiastic cadence. "The Salutation to the Sun should be done every morning, four times facing east." The seven police officers blinked at the little factoid. "Hey, people, I don't make the rules." Blair shrugged his shoulders, and lifted his hands in a mini-mart "I only work here, I don't know why we don't have Cap'n Crunch" pose. Jenny Lombardi laughed at the self-deprecating gesture the yoga instructor was making. She liked him. She like the look of the self-assured young man, the sound of him, and the way he tried so hard to breech the chasm with their police world of black and white - hard people, hard crimes, hard choices. She relished Blair Sandburg's genuine enthusiasm for life, the way he was 'centered' - to borrow the yoga teacher's word -- enough to let the crudeness and the plain shittiness of the Grabowskis and Warrens of the world roll off him. Jen also admired that he was good at what he did - and was a natural in sizing up and handling people. If he ever wants to give up his day job, this guy could be a terrific police observer.
Lombardi noticed one other thing. She noticed Cop of the Year Jim Ellison noticing yoga instructor Blair Sandburg, and vice versa. Jen had always thought that Jim Ellison may or may not have explored other avenues in his life. Most of the men here didn't see what she did. They assumed that since the now-divorced Ellison had been married, he was on their team. But the look of appreciation, admiration -- and downright hunger -- she caught when the Major Crimes detective followed the instructor around the small gym with those lethal blue eyes of his meant that Jim Ellison might be traded real soon.
Jenny Lombardi knew how tough it was for a cop to find love, and hang onto it. She wished Jim Ellison the best of luck. Although luck wouldn't enter into it. If there was one thing she could bet the Lombardi homestead on, it was that there was enough chemistry between the two to start a small nuclear reaction.
As the class progressed, Blair walked around, talking the officers through the class, helping them attain the positions, with varying degrees of success. Like most members of paramilitary and military groups, they took the instructions and verbal corrections without any discernible comment. The line in the sand seemed to be drawn, however, at any actual physical contact. When Blair placed his hand on the back of Zack Warren, the young officer visibly startled, and moved away from the unwanted touch. Blair chose to honored the very apparent discomfort of the uniform, and talked Warren through the correct positioning of his arms for The Bow. As Jim performed the same asana, laying on his stomach, stretching his arms backward, attempting to grab his ankles and roll back and forth, he heard Warren's churlish tone in the "Take your hands off me." Ellison was just about to swing his eyes up to see what was happening, when he heard a mild, non-threatening, "Sorry, Officer," followed immediately by the feel of two warm hands, helpfully pulling on his own biceps. The same soft, persuasive voice instructed, "No, detective, keep your arms straight, let your legs do the work, and roll on your pelvis. Gently. Gently. That's it. Very good."
Where their skin touched, Blair suddenly pulled his hand back, as if burnt by the contact. Jim experienced something not unlike a bolt of electricity coursing through him.
This is going to be a long, LONG six weeks, they both thought, simultaneously.
WEEK 3, TUESDAY
"Hey, Jim, man, are you taking vitamins or something?" Jim swung his eyes up to glance at Henry Brown, the young black detective, whose desk butted up to Ellison's, perched on the edge of the desk.
"Why's that, H.?"
"Because you're looking good, man. And if it was something you were popping, I'd ask for the name."
"Brown, don't you have something more constructive to do?" Jim snorted, trying to deflect the other man's keen - and accurate - observation.
"Yes, Detective, or did they suddenly declare Tuesdays a holiday, and not inform me?" Simon Banks' voice boomed across the bullpen, effectively ceasing all extraneous chatter. "Ladies and gentleman, might I suggest we all get back to work unless you'd like to explore other forms of employment in any time soon." As he walked back to his office, the Captain took a close, hard look at Ellison and remarked, "He's right. If I didn't know better, I'd swear you just came back from vacation." As the door swung closed, Jim heard the other metaphorical shoe drop. "Either that, or you're in love."
WEEK 4, TUESDAY
Jim Ellison found himself arriving for class earlier so that he could warm up, and run through some of the positions. The Cobra was a pain in the ass; The Fish, a pain in the neck. Literally. But the detective had practiced diligently over the weekend - hell, he'd been practicing since the very first class. Why? Not that Jim would admit it to anybody, but he wanted to be the best in the class. For ...Blair. Jesus Christ, Ellison. A little long in the tooth to want to be Teacher's Pet.
"Wow, Jimmy, I'm really impressed." Burglary detective Karen Yarrow asked as she witnessed his perfectly executed shoulder stand, a roll back to the floor, before Ellison took a relaxing breath and folded his legs into The Lotus position.
"Karen ... I didn't see you standing there.
For some reason, Ellison needed to be on his feet, and got up quickly.
"So, you're taking yoga."
"Yeah, "Jim answered, mopping his brow off with a PD-issue towel. "I was ordered to," the tall detective muttered, by way of an explanation. "Uh, so, how are you?"
"Well, I'm OK. Could be better. If a certain someone would ask me over to cook dinner for him again."
The tall red-head hinted overtly, as she watched Jim get to his feet. Self-consciously, Jim began making chit-chat, which he really detested.
For a moment, they stared at one another awkwardly.
"Sorry, Karen, I've been meaning to call you, but I've been swamped. We've been swamped at Major Crimes."
"The Bellers case, right?"
"Yeah. It's been a 24-carat bitch. What is it with the Feds and paperwork? But then, anything involving them -"
"-ain't good. Don't I know it!"
After a few moments, even the inanity of the small talk sputtered to a halt.
"I guess you've been spending all your spare time practicing." Before Ellison could sputter an edgy reply to the barbed comment, Karen went in for the kill. "Looks like you're shooting for teacher's pet, Jimmy."
Shit. She saw right through him. This was probably why Jim Ellison had called it quits with Karen Yarrow, long red hair, and legs up to there, notwithstanding. She was highly-perceptive, probably a lot smarter than him, with mean streak a mile wide. And she enjoyed using it. Of course, the fact that sex with her had been a certifiable disaster might have also made Jim gun-shy. The last time the two slept together, Ellison had narrowly missed graying out with the lusty younger woman. Jim had avoided having to explain looking epileptic or, worse, unconscious by leaping out of bed, and hastily retrieving his scattered clothing. Tossing a half-assed excuse about some unforgotten emergency over his retreating shoulder, Jim Ellison ended up just looking lame. Something, no doubt, that Karen had shared with any and every Tom, Dick, and Harriet who'd listen. After that fiasco, Jim Ellison made the tactical decision to begin dating outside the police department environment, which was to say, he'd stopped dating altogether.
"So, what brings you down here, Karen? Slumming?"
"Actually, I came over to see what the class was like - thought maybe I'd pick it up the next go around. So, do you like it? I mean, if it weren't for the fact that you were forced to be here."
"It's not all that terrific." Jim wondered if the lie leaving his lips sounded as false to the woman standing next to him as it did in his own ears. It didn't matter. Ellison needed to discourage her from hanging around and meeting Blair Sandburg.
"I heard from Jenny Lombardi that the instructor was, well, worth a 'look see.'"
"He's pretty good, if you like the type."
"Oh, I heard that he was just pretty." At the stroke of five, the topic of conversation walked into the middle of the tableau.
"Sorry, I'm late, people. Hiya, Jim!"
"Hi, Bl--, uh, Sandburg."
"How's it going, man?" Blair Sandburg's cornflower blue eyes and animated face swung away from Ellison and over to Karen. "Hey there. I'm Blair Sandburg. And you are ...?" Stepping into her space, the yoga instructor extended his right hand, which Karen Yarrow wasted no time in grasping. She took exactly five seconds to size up Blair Sandburg, and 10 to decide she wanted 'in.' From the scent of arousal Yarrow was casting - a phenomenon Jim had recently begun picking up on his sensory 'radar' -- it was obvious to Ellison that she liked what she saw.
"I'm Karen Yarrow. Nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you."
"Don't believe everything you hear." Nearly a head taller than Sandburg, Yarrow, nonetheless, adopted a coquettish, flirty attitude, which succeeded in infuriating Jim Ellison in its sheer blatancy. More than that. Jim Ellison was ... jealous?
Jealous. Jim "The Loner" Ellison was struck with the raging green-eyed-monster variety, as Karen insinuated herself between the two men. Unaccountably, Jim fought the uncontrollable urge to pull her away from his instructor, and encourage her out the door, as the other class members were drifting in.
"Jim and I are ... old friends. Right, Jimmy?"
Blair wisely chose not to go there, where his Jim (his Jim?) and the daunting redhead were concerned.
"Well, I guess it's time we got started." Catching the look on Jim Ellison's face, Blair cut the conversation short. "So, Karen, would you like to take the class tonight?" Was Ellison imagining that Blair watched him from the corner of his eye? Gauging his reaction? Or perhaps just glancing at the clock behind him?
"No, no. But maybe if the course is offered again, I'll give you a whirl."
"As Bill Clinton would say, 'we live in Hope.'"
"We sure can. Bye, Blair. Bye, Jimmy." Giving the detective a decidedly platonic kiss on his angular cheek, she left, taking appreciative looks from the male members of the class with her.
The bulk of the Thursday night class was taken up learning The Crow, The Peacock (a position which looked as though it defied gravity), and The Tree -- a standing-on-one-foot, hands-over-the-head balancing act. Bascilio and Brockerick tried to outshine Jim Ellison, and failed miserably, crashing into one another when their 'trees' were felled. Watching the goings-on, Blair considered putting in for hazardous duty pay, since he found himself knee-deep in Cascade's version of the Keystone Cops.
The sniping at Blair Sandburg had all but ceased by the middle of the course. His surprising strength, quiet competence, and unflagging enthusiasm for his subject won over each of the Hatha Squad, as they'd been dubbed.
As with every class, this one drew to a close with relaxation and meditation. And, although wild horses couldn't drag the admission out of most of them, all seven knew the last five minutes of the class were worth the price of admission.
"Good job tonight."
"Lou, you're looking better every week."
"See you next week."
"Hey, Pat, excellent work."
"So, Sandburg ..."
"Sorry, uh, Blair ... I finished the book you gave me."
"Interesting stuff, huh?"
"Yeah. And I thought maybe you ... that is, we might grab a cup of coffee afterwards and talk about it."
"No. Just ... but, hey, listen, I'm sorry. I forgot you have that class." The bald-faced lie hung on Ellison's lips. Not only did he remember the anthropology class the young man took, but any and all Sandburgian minutiae that Jim had managed to pick up during the previous conversations they'd shared.
"The class was cancelled for this week. So, grade-a caffeine sounds great. We are talking outside of the PD, right? 'Cause, I have to tell you, man, the stuff that passes for coffee around here is deadly."
"It's not that bad."
"It should be registered as a lethal weapon."
Jim grinned broadly. "There's a decent place right around the corner."
"Lead the way, Detective."
A few minutes later, student and teacher sat across from one another, making small talk, over Kenyan Roast.
"You're in great shape, Detective."
"Jim. My name's Jim."
"Yes. I know. Anyway, 'Jim,' you really take care of yourself."
"Old habits die hard. I mean, being a soldier."
"Well, I didn't think you meant being a Bruce Willis film junkie."
Caught off guard, Ellison almost spewed out an entire mouthful of coffee, then hastily glanced around to make sure nobody noticed how sophomoric - and nervous - the last move had made him look. A bored waitress came over, mopped up the table, then moved back to her previous station near the register.
"You know, Sandburg, you're kind of a smartass."
"You've got java on your face." Blair non-sequitured. As Sandburg was about to hand Jim a few un-absorbent napkins, he instead dabbed them at the drops from the strong chin while continuing the non-stop conversation. "And yeah, I've been told that."
"I'd never have pegged you for a ..."
"... New age, neo-hippie, sprout-sucking punk? I think that's what Grabowski once called me. Well, he's-"
"No. He's still an asshole."
"Yeah, we established that in week one."
Blair chuckled as he blew softly, insistently across the oversized coffee cup. "But the guy's probably a lot closer to the truth than not." Jim watched, fascinated, as the first shimmering ripple intersected with the second foamy one, then the third, then ....
"Detective! Detective Ellison! Jim! What's wrong, man?"
Jim Ellison snapped back to the present, as he felt his face being slapped rhythmically by an obviously upset Sandburg.
"You don't have to yell. I can hear you, chief. Please sit down. I'm OK."
"Jesus Christ, what happened? You sure you're alright?"
"Well, except for the eardrum you're perforating, yeah. Sit down, Sandburg. You're drawing a crowd."
Since they were the only two in the coffee shop at the moment, and even Rita, the waitress, was out catching a smoke, Blair continued to stand, soothingly rubbing Jim between his shoulder blades.
"You're sure you're alright."
"Yeah, I'm fine."
Worried blue eyes, the size of saucers, continued to observe him.
"Honest, chief. I wouldn't lie to you. Please. Have a seat." Sandburg released the lungful of air he was holding in, using the cleansing yoga breathing he'd been preaching about for the last month.
"Can I ask you a couple of questions?"
"You're going to have to bear with me on this one."
"OK. It's your dime. So talk."
"I've noticed that you sometimes get ... I guess the word is 'lost'." When Ellison remained silent, the anthropologist in Blair took over as he continued. "You know what I'm talking about ... you get kind of disoriented - in lights and sounds and smells that don't bother the rest of us. Am I right?"
"Keep talking ..."
"So, what about the others?"
"What 'others'? You're losing me here, chief."
"Your sense of touch and smell."
"I'm right, aren't I? Earlier today, when Officer Yarrow was ..."
"Getting in your face?"
"Actually, Jim, I think she was getting in my 'space.' And you smelled it, didn't you?"
"And if I did, what does it mean?"
"It means, detective, that I have a lot of reading and research to do before I see you next Tuesday."
WEEK 5, TUESDAY
Cascade Hospital's ER Dr. Se Jin Mei put the butterfly bandage on Jim Ellison's right temple, where a bullet had grazed him earlier in the afternoon. As Jim slowly put on the set of scrubs to replace the shirt and chinos that had been splattered with blood, the impossibly-young-looking trauma physician reeled off Standard Cautionary Spiel 101: " Well, Detective, I don't have to tell you how very lucky you were. A quarter inch one way or the other, and you'd be on an operating table - or worse. I see by your records that you're somewhat of a fixture around here, so the drill should be familiar. Keep the wound clean and dry. I don't foresee any problems, but if you notice any redness, swelling, discharge, or start running a fever, please get back here immediately. If not, have the Police Department doctor check it in a day or two. I'm going to write you a prescription for both antibiotics and analgesics, should you experience any pain."
"Thanks. I appreciate your help."
"No trouble, Detective Ellison. I hope not to see you any time soon."
"I 'hear' that, Doc."
As Doctor Mei exited Treatment Room 4, he was suddenly confronted by an excited Blair Sandburg, demanding, "Is Detective Ellison in there?" Before the physician could ask who he was and why he was looking for the officer in question, Jim called out into the hallway.
"Come in, chief." Ellison heard a staccato heart beat in the yoga instructor so fast he'd largely thought it impossible. Rapid breathing, respiration, sweat on the skin -- all signs of agitation which Jim could clearly identify -- seemed to reverse themselves as Blair got a good look at the bandaged detective and realized, with a deep, satisfied sigh, that he really was alright.
"Jesus. Give a guy a heart attack, why don't you? Man, when Captain Banks came in, told me ... uh ... 'us' ... that you'd been shot, I came over here as fast as I could."
Even with the mother of all headaches, Ellison looked at the wall clock across the room which read 5:35, did the math and figured there was no way Sandburg could be here at Cascade General at this hour, unless he'd canceled the yoga class.
"Yes, Jim. I cancelled out. It's not like I was the only one worried. The others - "
"Are cops, Teach. They'd know I was OK. If I hadn't been, Simon wouldn't have been shouting my whereabouts from the rooftops."
"Yeah, well ..." Blair blushed, making his skin glow like a sunset on an exotic island. To avoid Jim's scrutiny, Sandburg bobbed his head down to study the buttons on his blue flannel shirt. The tousled shock of hair had made good its escape from whatever tie Blair had used, and moved as though it had a life - and mind - of its own toward the big man sitting on the examination table.
"So, since I'm here, do you need a ride home?"
"Listen, don't worry, I can - "
"What? It's only a 10-minute drive to your place. Or do honestly relish waiting for a cab to come get you? Well?"
"Wait a minute. How do you know it's a 10-minute drive to my place?"
"Isn't Prospect Avenue ..."
"How do you know I live on Prospect?"
"Didn't you mention ..."
"Christ, I asked, OK?"
"Jesus, what is this? Twenty questions? Do you want a ride or not?"
"So, unless you have somebody in the wings who will play Florence Nightingale ..."
"I'll come with you, Sandburg ..."
" ... accept the damned offer, alright? Gracious would be good. But in a pinch, I'll take civil. And a 'thank you' would be nice." Suddenly, Blair stopped, replaying the last few lines of dialogue between them. "Oh, OK. Well, I'll get your things here. Did the doctor prescribe any meds?"
"Don't move. I'll go get them. And I'll find a nurse and a wheelchair to get us out of here." With that, the young man swung purposefully out the door, leaving Jim Ellison to ponder the oddly comforting notion that they were in need of help.
Having been summarily settled onto his living room sofa, Jim Ellison had his shoes removed, an afghan thrown over his lap, medication, water, and a hot cup of decaffeinated tea set conveniently on the coffee table. He also found himself with a feisty terrier of a nursemaid who turned on the detective's answering machine and took his cell phone away.
"But I should ..."
"You need to rest. Don't worry about anything. I called Captain Banks while you were in the bathroom and told him you're home and that you're not alone. I'm with you."
Jim snorted. "And what did he say to that?"
Blair suddenly smiled. "That he'll stop by after his shift to check up on you. He also thought it was great - that I'd be a good 'calming' influence."
Taking a sip of whatever-the-hell concoction Blair had brewed, for reasons he couldn't quite fathom, Jim Ellison felt contented.
Happy was just too far a reach.
"Hey, Jim, how're you doing?" Blair Sandburg sat down on the edge of the sofa, checking to make sure the emergency-room bandage was still in place.
"Can I get you anything?"
"Don't think so."
"Then, mind if I talk to you for a minute? It's important."
Sandburg's train of thought was temporarily derailed when Ellison placed his hand on Blair's solid thigh. It took several seconds for the younger man to get himself under control -- and his suddenly alert cock to behave - before he could continue the conversation.
"Chief? You in there?"
"Uh, sorry, man. I was ... anyway, over the past four days, I've done a lot of reading."
"Yeah? About what?"
"Well, first off, about your time spent in Peru."
"How did you know about that?"
"I remember when you first got back to Cascade. It was in all the papers. That whole 'Beyond the Call' thing knocked me out. And I can imagine how hard it was for you. Then you kind of fell off the face of the earth." Real sympathy was evident on Blair's face.
"Yeah, well, that's ancient history. So, what else did you read about, Darwin?"
"Sir Richard Burton."
"No, the 19th century Victorian explorer, the one and only expert on sentinels."
"Sentinels. Jesus, Jim, this is so damned exciting!"
"Slow down, chief. I don't know what you're talking about. And would you bring the volume down a notch? My head is starting to throb a little."
"Can you give me the condensed version, please?"
"In 25 words or less? You just may be the living embodiment of a Burton had discovered." At Ellison's questioning look, Sandburg continued. "Sentinels, man. People born with a genetic advantage. And special abilities. Like you."
"What do you mean?"
"The 'heightened senses' thing, Jim. In primitive cultures, people with them weren't considered ..."
"Freaks?" Ellison countered quietly.
"There's nothing 'freakish about it. Just the opposite. In primitive cultures, they were - are -- considered special members of the tribe. Under the eye of the shaman, a sentinel would develop his - or her -- hyperactive senses for the common good of the village and its inhabitants. They used their skills to track animals, changes in the weather, enemy action, anything to protect and serve."
"Sort of like a scout?"
"No, 'watchman' would be a better translation."
"What's this got to do with me, chief?" Ellison's vivid blue eyes were beginning to droop from the combination of drugs and exhaustion.
"I've been reviewing documented cases of persons with one or two hyperactive senses, but no one with all five senses - "
"I could be the real thing," Jim said softly.
"Yeah, man, you could." Blair agreed as he fluffed the pillows behind Ellison. "And if you are, you need someone who understands your condition. Every sentinel had someone to watch his back and take care of him."
"You mean like a partner?"
"More than that, I think, but Burton's a little vague on details. Cut it out, Jim."
"Cut what out, Sandburg?"
"Looking at me like that."
"How'm I looking at you, Blairrrr...?" Ellison's voice slurred slightly, as he slowly dropped off to sleep.
"Like a 6'1," 200 lb. kid outside a candy shop. And I'm a damned Gummy Blair." Sandburg looked down affectionately -- and longingly -- at the resting figure. Blair bent down and brushed his lips tenderly against the snoring giant's forehead. "Bang! Holy Grail time..."
WEEK 6, THURSDAY
"Well, people, this is our last session together. See, I told you, I haven't lost a student yet." A smattering of laughter reached Blair Sandburg's ears. "Congratulations. You stuck it out - and I'm proud of all of you. I hope that this class has been a learning experience for you, 'cause it's sure been one for me. Please think about continuing to practice yoga. And if any of you are interested, I'm going to be giving this class again starting next month. You're all welcomed to come back and show the 'rookies' how it's done. So, thanks for coming, and be safe. Namaste."
After the formal salutation of peace, pro forma goodbyes and "Later, manís were exchanged. There was also a surprising interchange with former class-bad-boy, Lou Grabowski. Blair had never been quite sure what had turned the relationship around - whether it was the magic of yoga, or a word of warning placed in the stocky detective's ear by someone else. A taller, more muscular someone who took the role of protector very seriously.
"Hey, Sandburg ..."
"I wanted to say ..."
" ... uh ..."
"You're welcome, Lou. Take care of yourself."
Grateful for not having to actually say the dreaded "thank you" words, a relieved Grabowski headed out find a beer with his name on it.
Jenny Lombardi came up and gave Sandburg a quick hug. Throwing a "See you Monday night, Blair" over her shoulder, she headed on out to have dinner with Billy, Bree and Arnie. It was Wonderburgers all around for the kids and her canine partner. Hand on the door, Jen stopped and turned toward Ellison, flashing him a big smile. "Have a good one, Jim. If you're over in my neck of the woods, stop by and say hello." With that Jen departed, leaving the teacher and his prize pupil alone in the big room.
"First of all, thanks for taking care of me last week."
"Have you thought any more about the talk we had at your place?"
"You mean the Burton thing? I want to get rid of them."
"Why would you want to give up something so special?"
"Because I have no control over them."
"I can help you with control, if you let me."
"And what if you can't? What happens to me then?"
"But I can. I know I can."
"You seeing Lombardi?"
"What? Where the hell did that come from?"
"Look, it's none of my business. I just heard 'Monday night' and ..."
"Heard? As in eavesdropping? From 30 feet away? Since you're interested, Jen's going to take another yoga class with me, starting next week."
"Why did you want to know if we were seeing each other?"
"There had to be a reason for you, Jim Ellison, to ask me, Blair Sandburg, if he's dating somebody. Sorry, if I misunderstood." Blair Sandburg stood, wearing a smile that could melt a polar icecap -- and the heart of a hopelessly smitten Major Crime detective. A tongue-tied Jim Ellison could only nod. He'd suddenly realized that someone else - Jenny Lombardi - had seen the truth even before Ellison himself had acknowledged it: Jim Ellison fucking loved Blair Sandburg. It had snuck up on him like the best perpetrator he'd ever come up against.
Needing to change the subject - and get back control of the conversation -- Jim countered, "And, another thing, coming from you, 'trust me' just may be the two scariest words in the English language. So ..."
"So, you want to, maybe, have dinner?" Jim blurted out, impulsively.
"Like a graduation party? Yeah, OK. I could eat."
"So can I. I think they need to use the room for Aikido. Let's finish the conversation downstairs in the parking lot."
A few minutes - and a thousand conflicting feelings - later, Jim Ellison stood by the dusty, rust-mottled car. Blair Sandburg was right about one thing: it was on its last legs.
"You want to meet me at the restaurant?"
"Oh, you mean, this like a 'real' dinner?"
"Well, yeah, it's not going to involve talking into a clown's head. I, uh, found a place you might like -- sort of New Age. Somebody recommended it." Jim offered by way of explanation. "My treat." He added hastily.
The younger man looked at him intently. The only word Blair could thing of was 'touched' that this tall, hulking, gorgeous carnivore had gone out of his way to do something special. There was another word.
"It's called Sultana's."
"You're kidding, right? That's like ... well, expensive."
"I said it's on me, Sandburg."
"But, Jim ..."
"Don't you ... I mean, if you have other plans ..."
"No! It's just that ..."
"Great. Then I'll meet you there at 8. OK?"
"OK? Then we can talk more about ... you know, the other thing."
"The Sent - uh, OK."
The satisfied smile that Jim Ellison flashed at the young man found its way down into what writer Nathaniel Hawthorne once called "the empty chamber waiting for a guest." Blair Sandburg had the sneaking suspicion that just the right guest had just taken up residence in his heart, even as the same detective took garage-level elevator no. 3 back to Major Crime.
A calm, casual air masked the nervousness Jim Ellison felt. Looking as though it had been tailored on Saville Row, his suit fit like $1,000,000 after taxes. Since Ellison wasn't all that familiar with some of the dishes offered on the menu, the big detective had arrived a half-hour early to scope out the place. Just like any other military operation he'd ever participated in, it was important for ex-Army Covert Ops Captain James Ellison to get the lay of the land, and learn as much about it as possible, in order to insure success of the mission. He spoke softly to the owner of the restaurant and the waiters, with assuredness and determination. By 7:45, everything was in place. Jim Ellison was ready.
At 7:59 PM, Blair Sandburg walked through the front door, sporting black dress slacks and a midnight blue shirt that made Ellison think a 19th century lord of the manor had materialized here in an upscale section of Cascade. For Blair's part, as soon as he caught sight of Jim standing by a candle-lit table in a discreet corner of the beautifully-understated room, he knew that no one had ever looked at him that way before. Oh, people had wanted him, and lusted after him, and longed for him. But nobody had ever loved him. Fuck. The books were right. Love did show.
"Hi." As Jim slipped the chair under his dinner companion, he inhaled the air next to Sandburg and was treated to a heady concoction of aloe, cinnamon, honeysuckle -- and want. Ellison's appetite was whetted. Whetted, hell. It was kicked into an overdrive that could take him into the stratosphere. But the feeling deep in the pit of Jim's stomach wasn't for food. Ellison reveled in the unsurpassed satisfaction of being a meat-eater, with the man across from him the last porterhouse steak in the free world.
"Uh ... have trouble finding the place?" As soon as the absurd words spilled over his lips, Jim Ellison winced. Jesus. Try to sound even stupider, why don't you? He hastily tried to amend the profoundly idiotic catch phrase. "I mean ... uh ... do you like to eat like this all the time?"
"Well, yeah, being a vegetarian, it does kind of narrow the choices down a little. You know, the whole 'nothing with a face' thing ..."
They both laughed - the young man pleasantly, the older, somewhat self-consciously.
The silence that passed between them was something Jim Ellison had never experienced. It felt warm and comfortable, as though it were a continuation of the conversation. What the hell was it with this kid? Maybe he wasn't so much a guru as a wizard, a sorcerer who was weaving a spell around the detective. And Jim was bewitched.
"What bunch of crap!" Ellison scoffed at the thought, then realized he'd said it aloud. "Hell! I didn't mean ..."
"No problem. I just don't think that one's on the menu." Blair joked good-naturedly, as he slowly sipped his water.
"I'm just a little ... so, what do you recommend?"
"You mean besides the shrubbery, Det -"
"Jim. It's Jim."
"I'm sorry, Jim, but it's just so damned easy to press your buttons."
"You enjoy doing that, don't you? Weird, considering you're supposed to calm me down."
"My 'class' was supposed to do that. Me ..." Sandburg staked Ellison with a smoldering look that could fry tofu on a cold day in Hell, as well as the man of steel sitting across from him, " ... I think I'd like to try a different approach to get you relaxed."
Before Jim was able to come up with a viable answer to the outrageous - and intriguing - comment, Blair turned his attention to the matter at hand. "Let's order, 'Joe Friday.' You may need your strength later on."
"Does that -- "Jim Ellison gestured with fork in hand to someplace outside the confines of the cozy restaurant, " - teaching I mean -- pay you anything?"
"Very little, actually."
"So, how do you swing it? Are you independently wealthy?" The detective joked.
Blair looked at him surprised. "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am."
"You're joking. Really?"
"Well, yes. But it only happened recently."
"What, did you win the lottery? Or did you just arm-wrestle Alex Trebek for it?"
"Actually, I was almost 25 when I found out that I was rich. As in honest-to-God, blue-chip, capital-gains, solid muni-portfolio, caviar-for-breakfast, bathe-in-Perrier rich."
"It was way bizarre. My mom, Naomi, and I were sharing a glass of saltilassi at a vegan cafe in New Mexico, when she decided to drop the bomb on me. I found out that I was the heir to a respectable fortune."
"You had no clue before that?"
"No. She and I never had much money, but we traveled like nobody's business. Neither of mom or I seemed to miss it. I never thought of myself as 'poor,' but I guess we were."
"Why didn't your mother use any of the money while you were growing up?"
"She and her parents were on the 'outs.' I guess Naomi didn't want her only son to be corrupted by all that filthy lucre. So, she'd conveniently neglected to mention that Grand pop Marvin and Bubby** Adele had made serious dinero in polyester, of all things. Apparently, if they'd had their way, my middle name might have been 'Monsanto.'"
"Instead of 'Jacob.'"
"How'd you know that?"
"Oh, I have my sources."
"Yeah, I bet. Yours is 'Joseph', right?"
"How'd you know that?"
"I have my sources. Or would you prefer to believe I channeled the information? After all, we yoga people are all new-age, neo-hippies, right?"
"You know what scares me, chief ..."
"What scares Jim Ellison?" Sandburg moved a step closer.
"... that I think I'd believe pretty much anything coming out of your mouth ..."
"Yeah. For some weird, ungodly reason, I trust you."
"More than anyone else I've ever known."
"Jeez, you really know how to seduce a guy."
"You know ... seduce. Me. You. Bumping up against one another." Blair's smile faded as he studied the startled, candlelit face across from him.
"Oh, God, man. I'm sorry! I didn't ... I mean ... I thought ..."
"Well, you thought ... you thought ..."
Silence. Then, finally, Jim said the words. "No. Right. You thought right."
The dinner was more than just dinner. It was a hands-down, unqualified, one-for-the-books success. It was the kind of dining experience people hope for when they're wooing one another: service just efficient enough, food just good enough, chat just deep enough, proximity just close enough, and understanding just mutual enough to all spell success. But success at what? And at what price?
Philosophical questions aside, with the check paid, and goodnights said to the courteous - and openly admiring - staff, Jim and Blair stepped out into the crisp night air.
"For asking me -"
"For joining me -"
Both stopped speaking, then, nervously waited for the other shoe to drop.
"Come to my warehouse, Jim?"
"Your warehouse? You own a warehouse - or live in one?"
"You'll see. Wow. Is this your Ford?"
"Yeah. It's a '69. That was a great year for me."
"That's the year I was born." Blair saved Ellison the embarrassment of trying to think of a witty comeback, as he opened the door, and climbed onto the passenger-side seat. As Jim got in on the other side, buckled up, and started the engine, Sandburg launched into a convoluted set of directions to his home. "Take Monroe cross-town to Althorpe. Once we hit 8th Avenue, we'll make a left, then another on Cosgrave, followed by a third onto Runnymede. My place is at the end of the street."
"Runny - you mean that broken-down road near the waterfront? You're not serious! Jesus Christ, Sandburg, could you have picked a more dangerous place in Cascade?"
"But it's near the water."
"'Near'? One good shake, and it's 'in' the water."
"God, Ellison, when was the last time there was an earthquake hereabouts? Are you always so, so ... - "
"I was going to say ... 'cautious'."
"No you weren't."
"You're right. Actually, I was going to say 'anal.'" Blair smiled softly, as moonlight kissed his face. "But to tell the truth, I'd like to reserve that word for later." Enigmatically, he climbed out of Jim's truck, leaving the off-balance detective moving quickly to follow his host.
A few minutes later, as they walked through the sliding elevator doors, Blair greeted him, more or less formally. "Welcome to Casa Sandburg. Ten thousand square feet of what I like to call 'home sweet home. So, what do you think?'"
"Well, it's ..."
"OK, chief. Let's go with that."
"I see that wide, open spaces don't impress you."
"The Grand Canyon impresses me."
"Yeah. But the Grand Canyon doesn't cost $850 a month to rent."
"Great, huh? Jim?"
"Please tell me that you are renting, and that you didn't actually buy this building."
"Because if you did, you need to have your head examined. I can hook you with Dr. Tracy, the PD shrink."
"I don't think Phyllis much likes being called a 'shrink.'"
"You know her? Hell, Sandburg, is there anybody or anything you don't know?"
"One or two things." Blair said, almost wistfully, as Jim walked over to admire the view of Cascade Harbor from Sandburg's oversized window. "Nice view, isn't it?"
"Yeah," the tall man admitted, "but it doesn't make up for living in a place that looks like Berlin after the war."
"Your problem, Detective Ellison, is that you only see emptiness." The younger man stood near Jim's elbow, so close, it seemed, that they were occupying the same space.
Ellison turned slightly, and searched Blair's upturned face, as if he could find the answer to all of his questions there. "Well, then, what should I see?"
"The damned possibilities, Jim. That's what I've been trying to teach all of you emotionally-stunted sons-of-bitches at the PD!" Angry for a brief moment, Blair Sandburg -- once dubbed Mr. "Can't We All Get Along?" by a bunch of high-school thugs who roughed him up on a more-or-less consistent basis -- quieted as he looked back at the tall man who loomed over him -- the special man Blair knew, as surely as The Embryo followed The Bow, he loved.
"Without seeing possibilities, Jim, you're missing life." Blair moved slowly away from Ellison. "I'm going to change into something a little more comfortable. Jesus, I sound like a bad romance novel. I'll be back in a minute. In the meantime, take a look around, particularly at the things on the wall."
Jim followed the suggestion and walked over to the far wall, where there hung a modest-sized grouping of artistically lit paintings, hand-woven rugs, and multi-ethnic masks. He also found, of all things, a crewel sampler with a bit of homespun wisdom on it:
Soul is our appetite, driving us to eat from the banquet of life. People filled with the hunger of soul take food from every dish before them, whether it be sweet or bitter. Handbook for the Soul
"So, what's the verdict, Jim?" Blair asked, standing a heartbeat away.
"That maybe I need to know more."
"That, too." With those words spoken, Ellison picked the smaller man up, and molded him to his strong, needy body. Sandburg's flexible limbs wrapped around Jim like the promise of love to come. Slowly Ellison turned the two of them in a counterclockwise circle, as they melted into a stunning kiss. Blair's lips were so full, so sweet, so tempting, that Ellison began to lose himself in the experience. Only the Sandburg's enthusiastic response - hands stroking, tongue probing, hair flying around the bigger man - kept Jim in the present.
"Blair ... chief ... I swear to God ... I've never felt ... ! want you ... want you now ...." Ellison confessed between gasps of passion as they tumbled onto the futon in the center of the enormous room.
"Wait, Jim. No. I said 'NO!'" The authority in Sandburg's voice stopped the nearly out-of-control detective dead in his tracks. "It shouldn't be like this! There's no rush. We have time. All the time in the world."
But they didn't. The moment of hesitation made the enormous fear lying just below Jim Ellison's tightly controlled surface erupt.
"I ... can't do this - I can't take this trip with you."
"What are you talking about ... what do you mean, Jim?"
"It's too much. The 'sentinel' thing ... you and mean ... what I feel for you ... I ...I'm sorry." Pushing Blair aside more roughly than he meant to, Jim Ellison backed away from the dazed-looking young man splayed across the rumpled bed. As if the Devil himself were in hot pursuit, Ellison escaped through the front door, out into the coward's blanket of night. Staggering down the deserted street, the detective cursed himself for being just that -- a coward. Someone who couldn't cut the mustard, someone too afraid to accept who he was. And whom he wanted. Could it be that longhaired, yoga instructor/perpetual student back there at the warehouse? The one who just did a handstand on his heart? And who might conceivably be able to help Jim get his five heightened "sentinel" senses under control?
Ah, shit. Jim Ellison knew the damned answer before it left his lips.
As he headed back to the rundown warehouse, Jim Ellison wondered if the non-drinking Blair Sandburg kept any liquor around for emergencies. Ellison hoped whatever it was went well with crow.
He was going to have to eat a big serving of it before the night was over.
A bewildered Blair Sandburg sat on the floor, surrounded by blazing candles, trying to stay calm and centered. After what had happened - or, more accurately what hadn't happened -- he was failing miserably. What went wrong? One minute, Jim Ellison lay against him, and around him, and almost in him, as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Happiness and joy seemed to be locked in Sandburg's arms. The next, they were achingly empty - and so was Blair. Again. The brass ring had slipped through his fingers, and he had no idea why.
But that wasn't really true. Sandburg knew. It was his fault. Like always. He'd pushed too hard, wanted too much, needed it too soon. If only ... a hesitant knock brought Blair out of the reverie, onto his bare feet and running toward the front door.
Standing there was Cop of the Year Jim Ellison, jacket slung over his shoulder, tie loosened around his elegant neck, and the look of hope - and contrition - on his flushed face. "Chief ..." he began, " ... we need to talk. Can I come back in?"
"Did you forget something?" Wetness hanging on Blair's thick eyelashes threatened to spill down the pale cheeks.
"Yeah. This." Ellison Jim dropped his coat onto a small table near the door, and swept the shorter man up into his arms possessively. By way of an apology, he began kissing the smaller man with all the fervor he deserved. Milking Blair's ripe mouth until the lips took on a cherry-red glow, Jim finally released his willing captive and let Sandburg sink back onto his feet on the chilly floor. Still crushing Blair to his chest, the detective whispered, "I'm sorry ... you were right. I was wrong ..."
Sandburg mumbled into the solid mass, "It's ... it's OK ..."
"I made a mistake ..."
"A huge one ... " a megawatt smile fought its way to Blair's relieved face.
"I'm sorry that I acted like a ...a ..."
The shorter man pulled back, and peered up at the handsome face above his, and helpfully offered to finish the detective's thought. "A dick?"
"OK. A dick. Chief ..."
"Yes, Detective Dick?"
"Let me try to explain ..."
"Whatever, man ..."
"You have to understand ..."
"But I do, Dick, uh, Jim ..."
"Seriously? Pretty much. Yeah. Just like what Burton wrote. Fear-based reactions. They're part and parcel of being a sentinel."
"So, that's what happened?"
"And the rest ..."
"Well, it's that whole 'being a dick' thing."
"So, you think I'm a dick, huh?"
"A pretty big one, yeah. And you know, Jim, it's a lot like being paranoid. If you have to ask ..."
"Yeah. Yeah, big guy. We're OK."
"Maybe we can get back to trying a little of that private instruction you talked about?"
"Are you sure? Really sure?"
"Sure? No. Yes. Maybe. Hell, work with me here, Sandburg. You're going to be the brains of this team. But, it's what I want, what I need. You're what I want, what I need. God, it's like my body's on fire, and I could do with ... " Jim eyed the lithe body hungrily, " ... a little more exercise."
"Well, then -" Blair ran his confident hands over Ellison's cock which was threatening to break free and reek havoc on Runnymede Street, "-- let's get started. "
"How, chief?" Jim whispered.
"Yoga," Blair whispered back.
"Again with the fucking yoga."
"Tantric yoga? The yoga of attaining the divine through sex?" Blair teased mercilessly. "Sorry, that's for advanced students, Jim. Maybe later. You and I still need to concentrate on increasing your flexibility. You're like so rigid. And we're going try some special positions. Understood?"
At the thought of it, an excited Ellison began inhaling and exhaling like a freight train. "Flexibility. Positions. OK."
"Breathing, Jim. Breathing. Use the technique we learned." Obeying immediately, Ellison began to breathe deeply, calming his body, if not his emotions.
"Good. Good. It's a wise student who follows his true teacher."
"What are you, a fortune cookie?"
"No, sentinel. I'm your guide."
Body on fire, mind reeling at the implication, Jim whispered, "You're going to be my guide?"
"If you want me to be. Do you?"
"You know I do, Blair."
"Say it. I have to hear it."
"Chief ... I want you to be my guide. And I want to be your sentinel." He added almost perfunctorily.
"Deal." As they sealed the covenant with another kiss, Blair basked in the joy of the moment, knowing that this honorable, good man would fill the empty chamber in his heart forever. "Now, stand still. First of all, you'll do a lot better if you take this off." Blair ran his finger down the front of Jim's white dress shirt, then began to unbutton it, slowly, and with great deliberation. As it hung open, Blair lightly flicked his agile tongue over the taller man's right nipple, and ran it over the highly defined abs, until he reached Ellison's surprisingly small waist. Sandburg grabbed the edges of the tailored Van Heusen, then pulled them slowly up and over the muscular shoulders and arms. Ellison stood dead still as the young man deftly removed the garment. And when Blair planted a solitary kiss over Jim's heart, Ellison's eyes glowed like ball lightning at the intimacy of the gesture.
"Jesus Christ, Sandburg ..." Jim moaned with the pleasure of the moment.
"I have a set of sweats you can wear. Over there." Blair nodded toward a small rattan chair near the TV.
"Get real. They are like so long. No, they're ... they belonged to ... a friend." As the last word left his lips, Sandburg saw Ellison's face morph from excited soon-to-be-lover to an uncertain stranger. "Jim. You OK? Talk to me, man."
"Sure, I'm OK, chief. Why wouldn't I be?" Even as he responded, Jim extended his senses outward toward the sweats to sniff, doglike, and try to match the scent of the interloper, whomever he - or she -- might be. Finding nothing but a clean garment, Ellison dove deeper into the fibers as Blair continued speaking.
"Oh, I don't know. It just seems like the temperature in the room dropped about 20 degrees. Was it what I said? Jim? Jim? Don't you dare zone out on me here. Answer me, damn it!"
"Stop yelling, Sandburg. I hear you."
"Listen, because I'm only going to say this once. They don't matter. He doesn't matter anymore. Only you matter. Only we matter. Understand?"
"Yeah. Uh ...I ... I just ...do I need them?"
At the unexpected question, Blair's heart raced dizzily, happily, his breath quickened, and his obvious arousal kicked into overdrive.
"No. No, you don't."
"And maybe you don't need these." Jim's fingertips ran along the waistband of Blair's soft, cotton yoga pants, then slid over the edge and touched the warm, glowing skin under it. Sandburg almost yelped at the sensation, as he looked into that classic, patrician face and blue eyes ablaze with a look of longing he'd only imagined in half-forgotten dreams. "What do you think, teach?"
"I think, detective," Sandburg said slowly, as he began to undo the drawstring of his pants, "you may be right." Ellison couldn't resist touching the ripe-for-loving young man standing so tantalizingly close.
Feline-like, he began to lick Blair, from the highly-defined collarbone, over the dusky-rose nipples and ribs resting under his golden skin, and stopped at the waistband. Ellison resisted running his nose back and forth over it to revel in the strong, male scent. Instead, Jim looped his thumbs under it, and was about to slide the garment down, when Blair's hands stopped the process.
"Not yet. I want you to listen to me. Listen. To. Me."
Jim obeyed. He could do nothing else at the sound of the voice, a voice that, Ellison was certain, would guide him the rest of his life.
"You're going to come, and sit on my mat with me. You're going to be very still."
"Well, I can 'come' and 'sit'."
"Good. Now you can finish what you started." The student followed his master's order and finished removing the pants, revealing Blair's soft cotton boxers. "Down here. Facing east." With both instructions followed, Blair maneuvered the sitting Ellison's long legs out in front of him to form a "v." He slowly walked around back of Jim's squared shoulders to make sure his spine and hips were aligned properly.
"What are you going to do, Sandburg?"
"Well, we are going to try a special, 'advanced' position."
"Have you tried it with anyone before?"
"No." Blair stopped for a moment. "No one before you. No one after you," then added in a low, sensuous voice, "but only if you still want." With that simple question, Sandburg placed the heel of his right hand on Ellison's arm, and began to stroke and massage it.
"Wild gurus couldn't drag me outta here, Chief." By way of an added acknowledgement, Jim reached back, pulled Blair's hand impulsively to his lips, licked it first, then kissed it tenderly. Like the "om" sound the detective had learned in class, the circle of energy created between the two lovers somehow bonded them at their core. They were no longer solitary creatures alone and adrift. They were a combined force - a force to be reckoned with.
The absurd amount of happiness Sandburg felt made him plant a kiss on top of Ellison's close-cropped hair. Then, with the elegance of a body totally in control, Blair sat himself on the floor, in front of, but facing away from his pupil. As seamlessly, and as gracefully, as anything Jim Ellison had ever seen, Sandburg executed The Plow, lifting his legs over his head, rolling backward. With superior abdominal muscles being called into play, Sandburg flipped over effortlessly, and ended up sitting a hair's breadth away from Jim's rock-solid chest. As he settled between the amazed detective's legs, and leaned back, Blair chuckled. "Liked that, did you? Then you're going to love my doing a shoulder stand, totally nude, and having you thrust your..." Sandburg's monolog was interrupted by the battering ram of Jim Ellison's cock trying to drill a hole in his backbone. Blair could feel the wetness of the leaking organ up and down his spine. "No, on second thought, big guy, maybe we're better not go there right now. So, I guess you could tell some of the other class members yoga can be pretty damned athletic, huh?"
Sweat, musk, and arousal swirled cocoon-like around them, as Jim growled into the left ear and sucked the lobe into his mouth. "No one else, chief. Ever again. No one sees you in this position. Only me. Got it?"
"I hear that. But, you know, Jim," Blair purred, obviously pleased with how Life with a capital "L" seemed to be heading, "one of the implied tenets of the yoga philosophy is that we share good things with others, and not be possessive of anything -" The often-spoken aphorism was interrupted as Jim turned the smaller man's face toward him and covered the full, inviting lips with his own, transforming the color to that of summer-picked strawberries. Ellison grew still, as he lost himself in the sensations of touch and feel and taste. Sensing the imperceptible shift, Blair instinctively pulled away, and realized what had just happened. To bring Jim back, the scientist in Sandburg applied an immediate tactile stimulus to his subject - he ran the tip of his tongue first over Jim's bottom lip, then the top. The movement brought the detective's focus back to revel in the sights, sounds, and tastes of his lover.
And Jim had been right. If happiness made Blair Jacob Sandburg radiant, deeper feelings made him incandescent.
"What is, chief?"
"What I feel for you."
"And you know you've fallen in love with a non-vegetarian, ex-Army hard-ass cop and sentinel to his Cascade tribe because...?"
" ...aw, hell, Jim. You know the answer to that. I'm extremely flexible."
Looking at the man who he was going to wake up with tomorrow, and every tomorrow after that, Jim Ellison quipped, "Here's hoping, Sandburg. Here's hoping."
Acknowledgements: To the usual suspects: to Lisa and her valiant techno-geek hubby (and I mean that in the best, possible sense), to Patt, Amy and the other motley artists who worked their hoofies to the quick so that this e-zine would come to life, and to all the madcap zany people who make the Sentinel fandom a wonderful place to be. Finally, to Teddy Bear, the spawn of hell, and BooBoo Bear, his big, old donkey-girl sister, who kept watch over Jim, Blair and yours truly as we toiled in the wee hours of the morning to get this story done.