Waterproof - Natalie L
Alex Barnes entered Blair's office in Hargrove Hall and raised her gun, pointing it toward the man facing her. Her lips curled into a feral smile.
"If it hadn't been for you, I never would have understood what I really am -- I owe you that. You want to know how I really got the Sentinel senses? Solitary confinement in prison. I thought I was going crazy. It wasn't until I met you that I realized what I'd become."
"And look how you used this gift. What a waste." Blair swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to remain cool.
"This is the one thing I really didn't want to do, but I can't leave you alive." Alex stepped closer, cocking her gun. Blair closed his eyes, expecting at any moment to hear the roar of the pistol that would end his life.
The Ford Ranger tore up the road, spinning to a stop outside Rainier University's Hargrove Hall. As Jim and Megan leapt from the truck, Simon pulled up behind them, accompanied by additional police vehicles. They all began running for the steps to the building, but something told Jim to look back.
It didn't take Sentinel vision to see the body face down in the water. "Oh, my God." Jim turned and ran down to the fountain, followed closely by Simon, Megan, Brown and Rafe.
"Call an EMT now!" Simon ordered the uniform who had joined them.
Jim waded into the fountain and grabbed Blair's shoulders. "H, give me a hand." Henri Brown quickly joined Jim in lifting the soggy body onto the lawn. Jim began shaking Blair's shoulders, giving his cheek a slap to bring him around. "Sandburg! Sandburg! Come on," he muttered forcefully, "come on." When he got no response, he looked up. "Let's get an ambulance here!" he shouted.
"I don't hear a heartbeat, do you?" Simon said, leaning over the still, supine body of the police observer. "Do you hear a heartbeat? Jim? Jim!"
"No, nothing," Jim replied, stunned to near helplessness.
Simon began tugging at Blair's clothing, loosening the jacket and shirt around his throat. "Come on. Get his airway open!" Simon started the chest compressions while Jim began the mouth-to-mouth breathing.
"Come on, Chief," Jim pleaded as Simon pumped the unresponsive chest. "Breathe, damn it!"
As they continued the CPR, the ambulance finally arrived. Paramedics unloaded their equipment and rushed over to Blair, pushing Jim and Simon aside.
"Give us room, guys," the first EMT said to the onlooking crowd. The two paramedics bent over the body, assessing vital signs.
"This can't be happening. This can't be happening," Jim chanted. "Come on, Sandburg. Come on... come on --"
"Oh, Sandy..." Megan sighed, tears welling in her eyes as she watched the paramedics back away and begin to collect their equipment.
"I'm sorry," said the first EMT, "but there's nothing more we can do here. We'll transport the body to the Coroner's office and arrangements can be made from there."
"No! This isn't over!" Jim knelt next to the pale body of his friend. "Come on, Sandburg! Come on!"
"Jim..." Simon tried to pull Jim away, but the detective angrily shrugged off his superior. "He's gone. Let the paramedics do their job."
"No! No! He's alive!" Jim insisted, leaning over Blair once more.
"Let it go, Jim," Simon said gently.
"Don't you go!" Jim growled at his partner, grabbing two fistfuls of Blair's jacket.
"He's gone! Let him go," Simon insisted.
As Jim stared into the face of his closest friend, a blue jungle vision of a wolf superimposed itself over Blair's features. Somewhere, as though from another room, Jim could hear Simon insisting that Blair was gone; dead. But as he watched, he could see the wolf emerging, dripping and sodden, from a large body of water.
Incacha appeared and spoke to Jim. "Use the power of your animal spirit."
Jim cupped Blair's face with his hands and saw the wolf begin to run toward him, toward the jaguar that emerged from Jim. In the dimness of the blue jungle, the two animals raced toward each other, leapt into the air, and merged in a brilliant flash of light. Jim was thrown out of the vision and landed abruptly on his backside. He watched in amazement as Blair convulsed and began coughing up water.
The paramedics rushed back over, shouldering their way through to their patient. "We'll take it from here, detectives. Thanks."
Jim stood up on shaky legs as the paramedics loaded Blair, very much alive, onto a stretcher and into the back of the ambulance. He went to stand between Simon and Brown, draping an arm over each of their shoulders. "See? It's gonna be all right!" he said, beaming a smile at the two men.
Jim stood in the doorway of Blair's hospital room, watching a pretty, blonde nurse as she adjusted one of her patient's IV lines. The nurse turned to leave, smiling at Jim as he walked in to stand at Blair's bedside.
"You know, Chief, if you want to meet nurses, there are easier ways."
"That's great, man, that's great. Now you tell me," Blair quipped.
"How are you doing?" Jim's eyes took in the oxygen, IVs, heart monitor and other paraphernalia surrounding Blair.
"I'm good," Blair replied softly. "You know, though, it was odd."
"What was odd?"
"I had this strange vision. I was a wolf. I'd just climbed out of a lake or something. I was dripping wet, cold, and miserable. A black jaguar came out of the jungle toward me and we began to run at each other. We jumped, and as we met, there was this blinding flash of light."
"I saw the same thing," Jim said, astonishment softening his voice.
"You had the same vision?" Blair's eyes were wide with wonder.
"Yeah. It was Incacha who guided me how to bring you back."
Blair laughed and the sound rang like music in Jim's ears. "I can't believe this. Einstein said the greatest experiences we can have are the ones with the mysterious. We are definitely there, my brother. Come on in, man. The water's nice." He wriggled his fingers at Jim in an invitation to join him.
Jim's grin was a bit forced as he replied, "Chief, I don't think I'm ready, yet, to make that trip with you." He pulled up a chair beside the bed and loosely gripped the hand that had so recently beckoned to him. "Tell me this... How come you're alive? Vision or no vision, you were dead. I shouldn't have been able to bring you back. You had no heartbeat, you weren't breathing."
It was Blair's turn to look away. "I-I... I'm not ready to try and explain it to you yet," he said softly. "You wouldn't believe me anyway."
"Why not?" Jim replied with equal softness, realizing that he was treading on unstable ground. "You believed in me when I told you my cock-and-bull story."
"I'm just not..." Blair let his eyes close in a slow blink as he shook his head. "I can't right now."
"But you'll tell me?" Jim insisted. "Eventually?"
"When the time is right, yeah," Blair agreed.
Jim fidgeted in Simon's office as the Captain looked through the file Jim had brought him.
"Carl Hettinger?" Simon looked up at Jim, his eyes requesting an explanation.
"I saw him... in a vision with Alex Barnes. I had an artist rendering done and ran it through the fed's database. It spit out Hettinger's name."
Simon referred to the file again. "Hettinger has been involved in international weapons trafficking. He's known to have contact with South American drug lords -- Carlos Arguillo and Joaquin Cesaro." He looked up at Jim once more. "You saw this man with Alex Barnes?"
"In her apartment, yeah," Jim said, nodding.
"Why didn't you mention this before?"
Jim allowed a small shrug to slip past his defenses. "My senses are picking up things that I don't fully understand at this point, but Sandburg is alive because I trusted a vision," he explained. "I'm asking you to trust me now.
"Simon, this guy is known to have traveled to Sierra Verde twice in the last three months. Arguillo operates out of the same region. I think that's where we're going to find Alex and the nerve toxin."
"You got all this from a vision?" Simon deadpanned, not wanting to be drawn into the mystical side of Jim's senses, but finding himself inextricably mired in it anyway.
"Yeah," Jim confirmed. "I got a clear mental image of her talking to Carl... and then I saw a beach."
"A beach in Sierra Verde?"
"I know it's going to sound odd, what I'm going to tell you," Jim began, taking a deep breath, "but Alex and I are both Sentinels. I know. I know..." he said, raising his hands in surrender. "I know it sounds 'out there', but we're connected somehow."
"Yeah, okay. Okay." Simon paused to gather his thoughts. "Right."
Jim glanced down at the file of Alex Barnes, which he still held. His vision blurred and he saw himself as a black jaguar and Alex as a spotted one morphing into human shape, coming together and kissing. He shook the mental image away, disgusted that he could even imagine kissing the woman who had very nearly killed his best friend. With renewed determination to catch the woman behind Blair's murder, he looked up at Simon. "We need to go to Sierra Verde. That's where we'll find her."
Sierra Verde -- the green mountains. The place was certainly lush... and hot. Simon and Jim made their way to the police station.
"Excuse me, senor?" Simon said to the man behind the desk.
"You must be the policemen from America. I am Police Chief Ortega," Ortega introduced himself. "Please, sit down."
Simon sat, while Jim remained standing. "I'm Captain Simon Banks and this is Lieutenant Detective James Ellison."
"Jim," Jim said curtly.
"So, what may I do for the United States of America?" Ortega asked.
"We're looking for two suspects wanted in a series of robberies. We believe they might be here in Sierra Verde." Simon handed Ortega two file folders.
"Her, I have not seen," said Ortega, tossing Alex's folder on the desk. He glanced at the other folder in his hand. "However, I can tell you where to find him. Please, follow me."
Ortega led Simon and Jim next door to the morgue and pulled out a slab with a sheet-covered body. He pulled the sheet away from the face of the dead man. "Senors, is this not the man you were looking for?"
"How did he die?" Simon asked.
"Broke his neck in a fall down the stairs at his hotel," Ortega replied. "We'll schedule an autopsy, of course, but at this time our examiner believes it was an accident."
Jim pursed his lips, unbelieving. "Any witnesses?"
"No, none. He was registered alone in the hotel," said Ortega.
"Captain, could you give us a few minutes alone?" Simon requested. "We'd like to examine the body for ourselves."
"Of course, senors." Ortega nodded politely and walked out of the morgue leaving Simon and Jim alone with Carl Hettinger.
"Alex had something to do with this," Jim said when the local police captain had gone. "There's a trace of lipstick on him." Jim touched the pale red impression on Hettinger's lips and flashed on Carl and Alex kissing. "It's hers." He touched Hettinger's neck with sensitive fingertips. "There's an impression on the neck muscles from tissue damage." Another vision flashed showing him Alex breaking Carl's neck. "First she kissed him, then she snapped his neck."
"Look Jim, I believe in your abilities more than anyone, but we could use some regulation evidence," Simon said, a note of pleading in his voice. "All right, let's run this down." Simon thought through what Jim had told him and began to put the pieces together. "Alex comes down here to sell the nerve gas. Hettinger is her contact. But once he sets up the deal, she doesn't need him anymore and gives him the big kiss good-bye."
"Sounds about right," Jim agreed.
"If that's the case, she's already done the deal," Simon pointed out. "She could be anywhere now."
"She's still here in Sierra Verde," Jim said with confidence. "I can feel her. We've still got time. Come on."
Sunrise. The first blush of dawn kissed the sky with pink and gold. Jim could see Alex Barnes standing at the opposite end of the pristine Sierra Verde beach. Inexplicably, he was drawn to her. Running; running toward one another. Meeting. Kissing. Falling to their knees in the sand; joined as only two Sentinels could be joined.
Blair appeared from behind a grassy dune, watching. "Jim," he called, "what's going on?"
Both Jim and Alex turned their heads to look at him.
"We see together," Alex said cryptically. "We're being drawn to it." As though to stop any interference, she grabbed Jim's gun from his holster and pointed it at Blair.
"NO!" Jim slapped her hand back down, looking at Alex in horror. He shook his head, the spell Alex had had over him was broken. He grabbed her wrists, twisting her arms behind her back and securing them with his handcuffs. Simon soon appeared from over the dune as well, accompanied by Megan Connor and Senor Ortega of the local police department.
"Take her," Jim said roughly, handing Alex over to Ortega. "I'm sure she has some interesting information for us, including the whereabouts of the missing nerve toxin."
"You coming, Jim?" Simon asked as the group turned to go.
Jim glanced between Blair and the others, then gave his head a curt shake. "No... I think I need a little time to digest what just happened. I'll be back in an hour or two," he promised.
After Simon, Megan, and Ortega had left with Alex, Blair approached Jim and sat in the sand beside his friend.
"What was going on, Jim?"
Jim shook his head. "Damned if I know. I couldn't stop myself from being attracted to her.... Not until I saw you on the beach. Not until Alex threatened you."
Blair became very animated. "This could be the link we're looking for. Out on the beach, you and Alex recreated something you've already shared in a vision."
"If that's the case, how far does it go?" Jim wondered.
"I don't know," Blair said, raising his hands to his side in an exaggerated shrug. "I mean, you dreamt of a jungle temple. Alex mentioned having similar dreams. There's a legend about a 'Temple of Light' where Sentinels go to receive spiritual guidance. There's also a grotto with magical waters in it where those who bathe in it would transform and they'd be allowed to see the Eye of God. Maybe... Maybe we should take some time and check it out? Go see if we could find this temple?" Blair looked to Jim with the curious eagerness of a serious student of anthropology.
Jim shook his head. "Nah. I don't think so; not this time, Chief. I've been through enough. You've been through enough." He stared out at the waves, hypnotically crashing against the white sand. "You promised to tell me how you survived the fountain," he said softly.
Blair's eyes followed Jim's, watching the surf break across the beach. "I survived," he said with equal softness, "because the water is my true home. It's where I was raised; where I spent my first developing years." He turned his head to see Jim's reaction. His friend's eyes met his with a questioning glance. "I told you it wasn't going to be easy to believe," Blair reminded him.
Silence passed between the two men as Blair marshaled his thoughts. "I can only tell you what I remember, which isn't much, and what Naomi told me after she adopted me."
"Naomi's not your biological mother?" Jim asked, surprise coloring his voice.
Blair shook his head. "No, she's not. I never knew my biological mother. The first mother I can remember was --" A strange combination of clicks and whistles emanated from Blair's throat. "I'm sorry," he apologized, "the name has no English translation. I was... I was raised by --" he hesitated, "dolphins."
"Dolphins." Jim struggled to keep the disbelief from his voice. Blair had warned him that the truth would be hard to swallow -- he just hadn't realized how hard. "You were raised by dolphins?" Blair nodded. "What was it like?"
Shifting uncomfortably in the sand, Blair looked into the skeptical face of his friend, willing Jim to believe the story he had to tell. "I can't remember back to when I first fell into the sea. All I can remember from that time is a blue world surrounded by a loving family: my pod of dolphins. My 'mother' saw me as an awkward child, and a bit slow. I couldn't swim as well as the other calves and even at my best could only learn limited vocabulary. Since I couldn't hear nor make sounds in the ultrasonic range, my communication was limited. I had to stay near my mother, since it was she who found fish for me to eat and kept me safe from the sharks and other roving predators.
"She kept me near the surface, since I needed to breathe more often than the others in the pod, but I eventually managed to expand my lung capacity so that I could stay beneath the water for several minutes at a time. I also learned to regulate my metabolism, to slow it down, so that I wouldn't be as affected by the cold of the water. That's how I survived the fountain. I slowed my metabolism so that I wouldn't have to breathe for a long while, and then I waited.
"I guess I waited too long, or went too deep," Blair said with a sigh, "because although I wasn't dead, I needed you to pull me back. If you hadn't found our animal spirits, I might still be in that near-comatose state. Did I thank you for that?" he asked after a short pause.
"Yeah, I think you did," said Jim. "I'm just glad that it worked; that I got you back."
"You and me, both," Blair agreed. "Anyway, one night a big storm blew up. I was coming up for air so often that I got separated from my pod. I panicked and began swimming as hard and fast as I could, but I tired quickly and the ocean currents soon took over, washing me up on a beach. I think I must have hit my head against a rock outcrop, because I remember a sharp pain in my temple and then nothing... until Naomi came along."
"I can imagine that there must be quite a story there," Jim prompted.
Blair nodded again. "Naomi and her family were visiting the Bahamas on vacation. She wanted some time away from her parents and so went for a walk on the beach at dawn. She hoped to find seashells littering the sand after the previous night's storm. Instead, she found a naked young boy about five years old. She gathered him in her cloak and carried him back to the bungalow where her family was staying."
"The boy," Jim said, his eyes steady as he stared into Blair's, "was... you."
Blair nodded. "I couldn't speak -- only dolphin language -- and couldn't walk. Naomi wanted to adopt me, to raise me as her own. Her family was skeptical but tolerant of her desires. As their only child, Naomi had long been spoiled by her parents' attention.
"Before I could be adopted, or even taken out of the country, a search for my real parents had to be made. Naomi's father hired a private detective to look into things and later a high-powered lawyer to push the adoption through."
"So what happened? Did the detective find your real parents?"
"He found the best possibility," Blair answered slowly. "Back in August of 1969, a young couple, James and Margaret Fontaine, took their twenty-foot sail boat out off the shores of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with their infant son, James, Jr. Weather reports for the period showed a beautiful, clear day with high visibility. Unfortunately, a storm blew in during the afternoon, capsizing the boat. The boat and the bodies of Margaret and James were found, but there was no sign of the infant."
Blair nodded. "They think so. Further inquiry found the child's birth date to be May 24, 1969 --"
"That's your birthday," Jim pointed out rather unnecessarily.
"Yes, that is the birthday I chose to use," Blair agreed. "The 'Powers That Be' couldn't find any relatives willing to take in the young boy. They'd all written the entire family off as dead. There was no such thing as DNA testing in those days, and the wealthy family wanted nothing to do with a bedraggled boy who could neither speak nor walk. So the door was opened for Naomi to adopt me." He stopped to take a deep breath as he absentmindedly drew random designs in the sand with a finger.
"Naomi's family took me back to the States and proceeded with the adoption. She decided to name me Blair, instead of taking the name of the missing child: James. Funny, isn't it?" Blair grinned up at Jim. "I was once a 'James' too." Jim grunted and nodded, a hint of a smile curling his lips. Blair continued with his story. "Mom hired a physical therapist and a speech therapist to help me to learn to walk and talk. She decided to home school me since I was so far behind in any kind of human socialization. Because she enjoyed a nomadic lifestyle, courtesy of her parents' money, she was able to take my education on the road with her.
"We went abroad, visiting with Tibetan monks, Australian aborigines... all manner of cultures and lifestyles. My lack of socialization didn't stand out as much around these foreign societies and I slowly began to become acclimated to human civilization.
"I was a smart kid and despite my delayed start, managed to graduate with my high school diploma when I was fifteen. At sixteen, Naomi sent me off to college. I was going to major in Marine Biology, but in my sophomore year took an Intro to Anthropology course. While I was in the school's library researching a paper, I found Sir Richard Burton's monograph, _The Sentinels of Paraguay_. I was hooked. I changed my major, got my undergrad degree when I was nineteen, my Master's when I was twenty-one, and started work on my doctorate. Things weren't going so well and my degree was taking longer than I expected. I ended up teaching at Rainier just to help keep myself in the academic world. I was beginning to despair about finding a true Sentinel to study... And then you came along."
"And the rest is history, as they say," Jim concluded. He studied the man sitting next to him, deciding that Blair was indeed even more mysterious than Jim had ever conceived.
Blair stood up and began to remove his shirt.
"What are you doing?" Jim asked, alarmed to see his best friend stripping off his slacks and underwear to stand naked on the beach.
"I want to prove it to you," Blair said simply, stepping into the surf.
"You don't have to prove anything to me!" Jim's voice was almost a shout as he watched the pale backside of the younger man disappear beneath the azure blue water. "I believe you!"
"I'll swim parallel to the shore," Blair shouted back. "Use your Sentinel vision to track me." With that, he dove gracefully into the water, swimming out to where the water turned a deeper shade of turquoise.
Jim watched with amazement as a sleek form undulated through the clear water. Blair's arms were against his sides, his legs together, as he hurtled through the sea. A dark head of hair, followed by an ivory body broke the surface in a graceful twisting leap, turning Blair one hundred and eighty degrees to swim back to where he started. Minutes after he had begun, Blair walked up out of the surf, pushing his wet hair off his forehead and wringing the excess water from the drenched curls.
"Could you see?" he asked, picking up his shirt and using it as a towel.
"Oh yes." Jim nodded, trying hard to look away from the sleek, naked body and train his eyes on Blair's sparkling blue ones. "That was amazing. Why didn't you tell me about this before?"
Blair shrugged. "It never came up."
"It could have come up," Jim insisted. "There were many times it could have come up."
"I didn't want..." Blair sighed and turned his back on Jim as he pulled on his slacks. "I didn't want to sound like a... a freak."
Jim stood and approached Blair, resting his hands carefully on the stooped shoulders. "I wouldn't have thought you were a freak," he said softly. "You certainly never saw me as a freak."
"Of course not!" Blair turned to look at Jim, astonishment covering his face. "Because you're not a freak! You're awesome! Look what you can do with those senses of yours, man! What I wouldn't give to have a gift like that!"
"You do," Jim pointed out. "It's just that your gift is different." He waited a moment, letting the concept sink in. "You know, he continued, "we're going to have to tell Simon about this."
"Simon? Why?" The near panic was beginning to resurface on Blair's face.
Jim smiled and shook his head. "He knows about me, about my skills," he pointed out. "It's only fair that he knows about yours as well."
"But my 'skills', as you call them, have no bearing on your job as a detective or mine as your observer. There's no point in stretching Simon's credulity any further. He has a hard enough time with your senses and the spirit plane."
"He's far more flexible in his thinking than you give him credit for." Jim began to lead the way back to the town. "You'll see."
_A week later, back in Cascade:_
"What did you want to see me about, Jim?" Simon asked as he handed a cup of Hawaiian Kona Blend coffee to his lead detective.
Jim took a sip of the rich brew while he marshaled his thoughts. "It's about Blair..."
"Is everything all right?" Simon often didn't admit it, but he liked Jim's unofficial partner. "He didn't have a relapse, did he? I thought that signing himself out of the hospital AMA right after the drowning incident wasn't such a good idea. And then traipsing off to Sierra Verde..."
"He's fine, Captain," Jim hastened to assure his superior. "He just... has something he wants to show you."
"Show me?" Simon set down his coffee mug, looking puzzled.
"Yeah. Down at the Sports Training Facility." Jim set down his coffee as well and motioned Simon toward the office door. "It's something that really requires a demonstration before the explanation."
They arrived at the training facility ten minutes later, Jim leading the way to the regulation Olympic swimming pool. As they entered the pool area, Simon spotted Blair standing at the deep end, wearing a white terrycloth robe.
"What gives, Sandburg?" Simon walked up to Blair, followed closely by Jim.
"Oh, hi, Simon. Jim." Blair grinned but there was a shyness in the smile that the captain couldn't recall ever having seen before. "Thanks for coming, Simon."
"Thanks for what, exactly? What did you two drag me down here to see?"
"For this," Blair said, letting the robe slip off his shoulders and pool at his feet.
"Sandburg!" Simon gasped as he glimpsed Blair's nakedness before the younger man dove into the water and began to swim. "Good God, Jim! What the hell is going on?"
Jim shrugged, the shock value gone for him since the demonstration on the Sierra Verde beach. "He prefers to swim in the nude," he explained. "Just watch."
Simon watched the pale form of Blair's body streak through the water, undulating in a swim form more reminiscent of sea mammals than humans. Blair reached the far end of the pool, did a kick-turn underwater, and continued back toward them. The captain expected Blair to surface, but instead, another underwater kick-turn and he headed back down the length of the pool.
"He's got to come up for air soon," Simon said, watching with awe as another kick-turn sent Blair rocketing down the length of the pool again. "He's been down for," he glanced at his watch, "five minutes already."
"That's nothing," Jim replied, grinning. "He told me that he's stayed under for as long as twenty minutes."
"No." Simon said, shaking his head. "That's impossible. No one can hold their breath that long, especially not when they're exerting like that." He nodded his head toward the racing swimmer. "And where did he learn to swim anyway? That's no regulation stroke."
"I'd rather you hear it from Blair," Jim said, stooping to pick up the robe as Blair approached their end of the pool again. He waved his hand to signal Blair, and the young man surfaced, hauling himself up out of the water. Jim quickly wrapped him in the robe and the three men walked over to a bench to sit.
Blair was wringing the water from his hair, his face bright with his recent exertion, but his breathing normal, not labored.
"What the hell was that?" Simon asked indicating the pool.
"My explanation as to why I survived the drowning at Rainier," Blair said simply, looking to Jim for support.
"I asked him," Jim explained, "while we were in Sierra Verde. I was concerned about him, too. He'd been dead, and yet I brought him back."
"You said Incacha guided you," Simon said slowly, trying to integrate what he'd been told with what he was hearing now.
"He did," Jim explained, "but it wasn't the whole truth. I didn't know the whole truth until a week ago."
"And?" Simon prompted.
"I wasn't really dead," Blair explained. "I'd lowered my metabolism to simulate death to convince Alex to leave me alone and to be able to hold my breath long enough to make sure she was gone. But I went too deep. If Jim hadn't been able to pull me back using our animal spirits, I'd still be in the hospital in a comatose state."
Simon looked between Blair and Jim, silently begging for more of an explanation.
"I didn't want to burden you with this," Blair said softly. "Jim thought you ought to know."
"Know what? You haven't told me anything yet." Simon scowled. "How the hell can you lower your metabolism like that? Or hold your breath so long? Or where did you learn to swim, for that matter?"
"Sir, do you remember how skeptical you were when Blair first told you about my senses?" Jim asked.
Simon nodded. "I thought he was out of his mind... and you, too!"
"Well, this is similar," Jim continued. "Blair didn't want to tell you because he didn't want you to have to wrap your mind around even more strange stories from us, but I convinced him that you'd understand; that you needed to know."
"So, out with it, one of you!" Simon bellowed.
"Blair was raised from infancy by dolphins," Jim told his captain. "Until he was five, when Naomi found him stranded on a beach in the Bahamas."
"It's true," Blair chimed in. "But it's a rather long story..." He proceeded to tell the tale that he'd related to Jim eight days ago, finishing with, "I never told anyone because I didn't want to be seen as a freak."
"The same reason that I kept my senses to myself until they overwhelmed me," Jim added. "I know it's a lot to digest on such short notice --"
"You think?" Simon replied with a note of sarcasm.
"But I convinced Blair that you were open-minded, that you'd understand."
"So what does this mean, exactly? And why did I need to know?"
"Blair has a special ability too," Jim explained. "We haven't figured out how yet, but it might come in handy in the future, just like my senses have. We didn't want something to happen and then have to explain to you after the fact. We figured that it would be better to let you know up front."
"You realize how hard this is to believe?" Simon asked. "First I have to wrap my mind around hyper senses, then you throw in blue jungles, spirit planes and spirit guides... now this."
"I know it's difficult," Blair agreed, "but there's some documentation that you could look up through the Internet. It doesn't prove my story conclusively, since there's no way to document that I actually am James Fontaine, Jr., but all the authorities have agreed that it's the likeliest explanation. How I survived for five years from infancy... Well, no one really believes that except me and Naomi."
"And me," Jim added.
Simon sighed. "So let's just agree that I believe it too. I can't dispute the demonstration, regardless of the reason for your abilities," he said to Blair. "But we'll keep it under wraps, like Jim's senses -- just the three of us."
"Just the three of us," Jim and Blair agreed.
_One month later -- Cascade Docks:_
"So how is Tomlin getting the drugs into the U.S.?" Blair asked as Jim pulled the truck to a stop alongside a warehouse on Dock 51.
Jim set the emergency brake and cracked the driver's side window so that he could better hear what was going on outside. "He smuggles them in bags of coffee beans," Jim replied. "He runs a legit import business, specializing in Colombian coffee. The drugs are a lucrative side business for him."
"And he's expecting a shipment today?"
"Tomorrow night," Jim corrected, stretching out his senses to see and hear what he could on the busy dock.
Both men sat a little straighter as a blue Ford Taurus drove up to the warehouse, stopping just short of the dock's edge. A tall, thin man approached the car, leaning down and resting his folded arms on the open driver's side window to speak with the occupant of the vehicle. Jim leaned forward, extending his hearing.
"Is that him?" Blair asked.
Jim shushed him with a wave of his hand. A few moments later, he turned to Blair. "It's Tomlin all right, but the driver of the car is his wife. Nothing to do with the shipment. They were having an argument about him missing his son's school play... What the hell?"
A white, paneled van came barreling past the parked Ford Ranger, headed for the end of the dock. As Jim and Blair watched with mounting horror, the van plowed into the rear bumper of the Taurus, sending the vehicle into a nosedive off the pier. A gunman appeared from the back of the van, taking a shot at Tomlin before the vehicle began to back out of the dock area almost as quickly as it had driven in.
"Call for backup!" Jim shouted as he released the brake and put the truck in gear.
"No! Wait! There was a woman in that car! And I think I saw a kid in the back seat," Blair cried out. "We have to help them!" He yanked open the passenger door and nearly fell out of the truck in his hurry to get to the end of the dock.
Jim grabbed his handheld radio, calling for backup, a dive team, and an ambulance as he followed Blair on foot to the site of the accident.
Blair was stripping his outer clothing, down to his briefs as Jim arrived. "What do you think you're doing?" Jim asked, grasping Blair's bare shoulder in a tight grip.
"I'm going to help!"
"There's a dive team on the way."
"By the time they get here, those people will be dead! A kid will be dead, Jim!" Blair twisted out of Jim's grip and with a graceful dive, disappeared beneath the surface of the cold, blue water.
Not far from the docks, on a quiet side street, sat a van with "Channel 3 News: Where to Go When You Want to Know" blazoned across the side. Inside, Bella Curtis turned to her cameraman. "Slow news day." She fiddled with the controls of the police scanner mounted to the dash.
"Maybe we should go cover the Home and Garden Show like we were assigned to do," the cameraman/driver replied.
"Give it another half hour, Kevin," Bella said. "If nothing shows up, we'll go cover the show."
On cue, the radio crackled to life. "Unit 23, proceed to Dock 51; car in the harbor, two passengers. Dive team and ambulance on the way." "Roger, Dispatch. Unit 23 proceeding as directed. Over."
"That's no more than three blocks from here!" Bella exclaimed. "What are you waiting for?"
The water was murky thirty feet down, but Blair could make out the Taurus, nose down in the sediment on the floor of the bay. Somehow, Mrs. Tomlin had managed to get her window closed before too much water could get inside, and there was an air pocket for her and her son to breathe. Unfortunately, to get them out, Blair would have to open one of the doors and release the precious gas into the water. Mrs. Tomlin was pinned behind the steering wheel, unable to do more than gesture to her rescuer to save her little boy. Her seatbelt was jammed and there was little hope for herself but her son stood a chance, if only Blair could get to him in time.
The pressure difference between the inside of the car and the outside made opening the doors extremely difficult. Blair planted his feet and pulled with all his might, bubbles of air escaping his clenched lips as his muscles strained. Finally, the door gave way. Water rushed into the vehicle, quickly filling the space once occupied by the air pocket. Working quickly, Blair unfastened the harness holding the boy into his car seat. Wrapping the child in his arms, Blair covered the boy's nose and mouth with his mouth and exhaled life-giving air into the boy's lungs before kicking his feet to begin the ascent to the surface.
The dock had suddenly become crowded with police and rescue teams. Jim struggled to sort everyone out and get them up to speed. "My partner dove in to rescue the occupants of the vehicle," he was explaining to the dive captain, as the man pulled his neoprene hood into place and adjusted his goggles.
"How long has he been down?"
"Ten, fifteen minutes," Jim estimated.
"Just what we need," Captain Yeager snorted. Turning to the rest of the dive team, he sneered, "Looks like we have three to rescue."
"Blair can take care of himself!" Jim protested.
"That water's not much over fifty degrees!" Yeager said. "If he's been down as long as you say he has, without equipment, he's just another body to recover."
Jim started to jump the abusive dive captain, but Simon Banks held him back. "Let them do their job, Jim," he said quietly, privately believing what Yeager had said.
"He's not dead!" Jim said, turning to his captain. "You saw what Blair can do! He's all right. He'll be up soon."
"Yeager and his crew will see they all get back up," Simon said quietly, trying to calm his agitated detective.
"Captain! Look!" One of the uniformed officers shouted over the melee, pointing at the end of the dock.
Sodden and shivering, his long curls hanging like a dripping mop around his face, Blair lifted a small body onto the wooden planks and pulled himself up out of the water and onto the dock. Immediately, they were surrounded by paramedics, wrapping them in blankets, taking their temperature and blood pressure.
The young boy needed CPR and warming, but his young body refused to give up and he was breathing shallowly as he was loaded into the first ambulance and rushed away, sirens blaring.
Blair sat on the rear bumper of the second bus, fidgeting as the paramedics took his vitals. Jim approached, looking worried.
"I couldn't save her," Blair muttered. "I couldn't save her."
"You saved the boy," Jim said softly, gripping a blanket-covered shoulder and squeezing gently.
Before he could say more, a woman with a microphone shoved her way forward. "Bella Curtis, Channel 3 News. What can you tell us of the rescue, Mr...?"
"Sandburg, Blair Sandburg."
"You're a hero, Mr. Sandburg," Bella exclaimed.
"Hardly." Blair looked at her with disgust. "I couldn't save the mother. She was trapped behind the steering wheel..."
"But you rescued the boy," Bella interrupted. "That makes you a hero in my book." When Blair refused to say more, she turned to Jim. "And you are...?"
"Your worst nightmare," Jim muttered under his breath before speaking up. "Detective James Ellison, Cascade PD. This is my partner, and right now he needs some time to recover." He took the reporter by her elbow and began to drag her away from the ambulance.
"Can you tell us what happened here today, Detective Ellison?" Bella continued, unperturbed by the move.
"A van rear-ended a Ford Taurus, sending the car into the bay," Jim said curtly. "My partner and I happened to be nearby when the accident occurred. Blair is a strong swimmer, and so he attempted the rescue. If he hadn't been here, that child would most likely have died along with his mother."
Bella looked back over her shoulder at Blair, still sitting and shivering on the tailgate of the ambulance. She signaled her cameraman to shoot footage of the rescuer while she continued to interview Jim. "There was another body on the dock. Can you tell us about that?"
"That's part of an ongoing investigation. I'm not free to comment at this time." Jim turned away from the reporter to return to Blair's side.
"I heard rumor that Mr. Sandburg was underwater for fifteen minutes," Bella said, coming back over to where Blair sat. "That's a pretty amazing feat. Can you explain how it is that you can hold your breath for that long, while affecting a rescue at the same time?"
"Can't you just leave me alone?" Blair snapped. "I don't want to talk about it right now."
"But the people want to know," Bella insisted. "You're a hero."
"I'm no hero!"
"All right, that's enough!" Jim forcibly shoved the reporter away. "He's not ready to talk at this time. Go find someone else to interview."
"I will get my story, Detective," Bella said, moving off to interview Yeager and Captain Banks.
Blair hopped down from the tailgate of the bus and pulled the blanket tightly around him. "Will you please just take me home?"
"Let the paramedics finish checking you out," Jim pleaded, trying to stop Blair from walking to the truck.
"I'm fine." Blair ducked out of Jim's way and proceeded toward the truck, climbing into the passenger seat and watching as Jim hesitated a moment before following.
"His vitals are good," the paramedic assured Jim. "He should go to the hospital, but as long as you follow up, he can go home now. Just watch for signs of shock or post traumatic stress."
"Will do, thanks." Jim nodded and gave the paramedic a quick salute.
Blair dropped his backpack under the coat hooks by the door and strode off toward the bathroom without a backward glance. As the door to the bathroom closed and the sound of the shower started, Jim headed to the kitchen to fill the teapot with water and put it on the stove to heat. His mind swirled with the day's events, not the least of which was watching his partner demonstrate extraordinary abilities that Jim had never suspected before Blair's recent revelation. His heart still pounded when he recalled the interminable wait for Blair to resurface. Memories of the fountain at Rainier were still fresh and, despite his new knowledge of Blair's background, Jim couldn't shake the terror of losing the one person who meant more to him than anyone else in the world.
The tea kettle's whistle blew, and Jim poured the hot water into two mugs containing herbal tea bags -- one chamomile, for Blair, and one peppermint for himself. Normally, Blair was more of a coffee drinker, but Jim felt that ragged nerves and exhausted muscles deserved something a bit more calming.
Right on cue, Blair appeared standing in the bathroom doorway, steam billowing out around him. With hair still damp from the shower and wrapped in Jim's oversized gray robe, he made his way over to the kitchen island.
"Feel better?" Jim asked, removing the tea bags from the mugs and handing one to Blair.
Wrapping his hands around the warm ceramic, Blair attempted an encouraging smile. "I've been better."
Jim slipped an arm around Blair's waist and steered him over to the couch in the living area of the loft's great room. They settled down together, with Jim's arm wrapped protectively around Blair's shoulders. With a sigh, Blair let his head fall against Jim's chest. "It was horrible," he said softly.
Jim gently removed the mug of tea from Blair's grip, setting both on the coffee table. He lifted a hand, running his fingers through the damp strands of Blair's hair. "Tell me about it."
"I wanted to be able to save them both, but I couldn't," Blair began, his body trembling with the memory. "Their faces. They were both so scared." Jim nodded, making approving noises, but let Blair continue uninterrupted. "The mother was shouting at me to save the boy. I knew... I knew that if I could only save one, it would have to be the child. But I tried... I tried to find a way to save them both. The woman was trapped. The... the steering wheel had her pinned. The air pocket they were both using to breathe was so small..." Blair shuddered again, reliving the nightmare. He felt Jim's arms tighten around him, giving him strength. "I finally pulled the rear door open. I was able to free the boy, but the mother... Oh God, those eyes! She reminded me of Susan Frasier -- remember the victim we found in the Lash case?"
"Mm-hmm," Jim agreed, remembering vividly how overcome Blair had been at the sight of his first murder victim.
"I can't get her face out of my head. And the press... they want to label me a hero. I let her die, Jim!" Blair tilted his head up to look into Jim's eyes and found sympathy and acceptance.
"You did what you could," Jim comforted. "No one man could have done more."
"Maybe if I'd waited for the dive team they both could have been saved."
"If you'd waited, they'd both be dead." Jim was adamant in his statement. "The dive team arrived too late, as you knew they would. Those people didn't have the luxury of waiting. They were drowning by inches and the fact that you were there is the only reason that either of them survived. You did the right thing."
"Then why does it feel like I didn't?"
"Because you care too much," Jim said softly. "Come on, I think you need to go to bed." He stood and pulled Blair to his feet, guiding his partner up the stairs. He gently pulled the robe from Blair's shoulders and tucked his naked lover under the down comforter. "Get some rest."
"Stay with me?" Blair's blue eyes glittered with need, so Jim stripped and crawled in beside him, gathering Blair into the protective circle of his arms.
"Now sleep. Things will look better tomorrow."
Jim cruised the street in front of the Cascade Police Station the next morning, looking for an on-the-street parking spot, but all were taken by media vans and the press. Hordes of people swarmed the lobby of the PD, cameras and microphones at the ready. He finally found a spot, two blocks down. As he and Blair approached the building on foot, they were encapsulated by a throng of reporters, all intent on getting more on yesterday's big news story.
"Mr. Sandburg! How does it feel to be labeled Cascade's newest hero?" "Mr. Sandburg! Blair!" "The media are calling you 'Aquaman', Cascade's superhero. What do you have to say about that?"
The questions continued in a monotonous drone as Jim barged his way through the crowd with Blair tucked close to his side. "No comment!" he shouted to the reporters. "No comment!"
They finally made their way through the mob to the relative safety and quiet of the elevator.
"Aquaman?" Blair said, shaking his head in disbelief. "What do they think I am? Some sort of comic book hero? This is getting out of hand."
"This is what it means to get noticed, Chief," Jim reminded him. "It will all die down... eventually."
"Oh yeah? And how long is that going to take? There are already hints on the news and in the papers that I have some sort of special 'powers'. The press is like a dog with a meaty bone; they're not going to let this go. I need to get out of here. Go some place where nobody knows anything about me."
"I can't get away right now," Jim said, as they made their way into the Major Crime bullpen. "I'd like to take you away from this mess, but..."
The door to Simon's office opened and the Captain's head appeared. "Jim! Blair!" He jerked his head in the direction of his desk and the two men answered the unspoken summons.
"The press have been camped out in our lobby all night waiting for you two to arrive," Simon said without preamble.
"Waiting for me to arrive, you mean," Blair said. "Jim is off their radar, except as he interacts with me. I need to get out of here, away from Cascade for a while."
"That might be a little premature," Simon replied, seating himself at his desk. "Coffee?"
"No thanks. I'm amped up enough as it is," Blair said, turning down the offer.
Jim shook his head. "Thanks, but no, Simon. Blair's right. The press has got wind of something out of the ordinary about Blair, and they're not going to drop the subject until they have their answers."
"As long as I'm around, Jim's abilities are in jeopardy too," Blair reminded the Captain. "Any close scrutiny of me will reflect on him as well."
"You might be right," Simon agreed. "So, what do you propose we do about it?"
"Get the heck out of Dodge?" Jim suggested. "Blair wants to leave town, but I have the Tomlin case to wrap up."
"I'll turn the case over to Rafe and Brown," Simon decided. "With the death of Daniel Tomlin, the 'business' is in chaos. It shouldn't be too hard to wrap it up. The kid needs to get out of town, and you need to get out with him. So go. Go on!" He made shooing gestures with his hands. "Just kindly keep in touch, would you?"
Jim nodded. "Thanks, Simon. We owe you one."
"At least," Simon muttered under his breath as his best detective made his way out of Simon's office with his longhaired partner in tow. "Take care of him, Jim," he added softly.
"So where do you want to go?" Jim asked when they arrived home, having managed to dodge the reporters and sneak back to the truck.
"Home. Back to where I grew up," Blair said. "The Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of the Bahamas."
"The Bahamas? Sounds like a nice place to vacation," Jim said with a smile. "Beautiful beaches, peaceful, relaxing. Yeah, just what we both need."
"I'm not going for the vacation, Jim. I'm going to try and find my pod. I need to get away, get back to my roots. I have some thinking to do about where I want my life to go and what the future holds. I need to swim with the dolphins." Blair turned serious blue eyes on his Sentinel, willing Jim to understand.
"Just for a few days," Blair hastened to say. "I just need some time to think."
"But you're coming back? I mean, we still have this Sentinel thing to deal with, right?"
Blair walked over and placed a reassuring hand on Jim's shoulder. "I'm not planning on abandoning you, Jim. Not now, not ever. But I really need to rethink my options, and for that, I need some time alone."
"I'd like to travel with you to the Bahamas, at least," Jim said. "I could use the vacation."
Blair smiled and nodded. "I was hoping you'd come that far. There's some great fishing, snorkeling, even reef diving there. You'll have a great time!"
The nine-hour flight from Cascade to Fort Lauderdale included a two-hour layover in Detroit. By the time Jim and Blair arrived at their destination, both were ready to find their motel, clean up, and get some dinner.
"I did some research before we left," Blair was saying over his meal of steak and baked potato. "Bimini Island Air Charter flies out of Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas daily. They even fly to the island of Mayaguana."
"Mayaguana?" Jim looked up from his dinner, putting down his fork and knife. "Where's that?"
"It's the easternmost island in the Bahamas," Blair explained. "It's also near the southern end of the chain. It's where Naomi and her family stayed when she found me twenty-three years ago. It's the least developed of the islands; more remote, isolated, the perfect place for me to swim off unnoticed. There was a small town -- Pirate's Well, I think she said. We'd fly into Abraham's Bay on the south coast -- that's where the airport is -- and drive up to Pirate's Well in the north."
"And you think you'll be able to find the same pod of dolphins that raised you if you swim off the beach at Pirate's Well?"
"It's my best chance. If I can't find my family, I'm sure I can find a pod willing to accept me for two or three days. Dolphins are incredibly social."
"And I'm supposed to...?"
"Fish, relax, sightsee. There are several nature preserves on the island with lots of exotic birds. You could exercise your senses while I'm gone. You hardly need me for control anymore. I just hang around in case you accidentally zone-out."
"And what if I accidentally zone-out while bird watching? What then? You'll be out at sea, who-knows-where..."
"Relax, Jim!" Blair reached out to squeeze Jim's shoulder. "It's not going to happen. I'll only be gone three days. You could catch up on your tan, if nothing else!"
"I suppose." Jim turned his attention back to his meal, feeling a slight sense of uneasiness in the pit of his stomach.
The pilot of their charter flight had recommended the Baycanner, a tidy little motel in the town of Pirate's Well. They had barely unpacked their things when Blair donned a pair of swim trunks and grabbed a towel from the bathroom.
"Coming where?" Jim asked. "We just got here. How about checking out the town, scoping out the good places to eat..."
"I'll leave that to you, Jim. I need to get away. Now." Blair's eyes sparkled with his unspoken apology, which Jim acknowledged with a nod of his head.
"I'll come with you."
The two headed out to find a deserted stretch of beach, which, on the island of Mayaguana, wasn't hard.
Blair handed his towel to Jim and began to pull off his swim trunks.
"Whoa, wait a minute, Chief! What do you think you're doing?"
"In three days, at dawn, come back to this beach, and bring my trunks." Blair grinned as he handed the swimsuit to Jim. "It's more comfortable spending extended time in the ocean if I'm not encumbered... you know?"
Jim nodded. "I hope you find what you're looking for out there, and I don't just mean your family pod of dolphins."
"I know, Jim," Blair said, nodding. "Thanks. I mean it. You've been great about this. I hope you enjoy your vacation while I'm gone."
"I'll do my best." Jim had to drag his eyes away from the pale, lithe form of his naked partner, to stare out at the deep ocean. "I think I see dolphins swimming out there."
"Take care of yourself, Jim." Blair turned his back and walked down to the water, wading out until he was about waist deep; then diving under the waves, he disappeared from sight.
Jim stayed to watch, until it was clear that Blair was gone. Reluctantly, he turned his back on the water and returned to the town.
The clear, cold water of the Atlantic surrounded him, cocooned him from the world, and Blair felt a freedom like he hadn't known for his entire adult life. He sent out a call -- a high-pitched whistle, in the language he'd first learned in his youth. Soon, he was surrounded by sleek, gray mammals; a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins. The creatures surrounded him to either side, above and below, welcoming him into their midst.
Exhilarated, Blair left his worries behind, forgetting the feelings of inadequacy for not being able to rescue both the child and the mother. He sang out his emotions and received support in return. Unconditional acceptance. Unconditional love.
Time was forgotten as he seamlessly became one with the pod; home at last.
Three days later, in the dark of the predawn hour, Jim made his way down to the beach where he and Blair had parted company. He felt agitated, anxious. He had missed Blair more than he had expected, and he wanted his partner back. Something nagged at the back of his mind, however; making him doubt.
The sun peeked over the horizon, rising out of the black of the ocean, tinting the water with red and gold.
Jim scanned the horizon, looking for any sign of the dolphin pod he'd seen just days before. Nothing broke the surface of the water. He extended his sight, searching for a glint of pale skin. But nothing ruffled the surface except a gentle morning breeze.
Sitting in the sand, Jim waited. Eventually, his stomach protested, and he realized that it was past noon. Reluctantly, he rose and walked back into town to get some lunch. Maybe Blair was just late. He'd go back to the beach this afternoon to wait. But the sun set on Mayaguana, and still Blair had not returned.
A week passed. Every morning, Jim went down to the beach where he'd last seen Blair, took out his surfboard, and went out to just beyond where the gentle waves broke. He paddled parallel to the shore, looking for any sign of a dolphin pod with one extra member. But every morning, the aquamarine ocean was marred only by gentle swells from the soft sub-tropical breeze.
Jim's agitation grew to full-blown panic in the following days. What if something had happened to Blair? He was out, God only knew where, in the vast Atlantic Ocean, alone. Finally, feeling the need to do more, he rented a fishing boat on the tenth day and began his own search of the area off the east coast of the island. Using his Sentinel vision and hearing, he reached out, scanning the choppy water for any sign of his missing partner.
The hours crawled by. The sky darkened, and a sound off his starboard bow brought Jim out of his zone. Shaking his head, he looked around and wondered. How was he going to be able to do this alone? And yet, how could he convince the Coast Guard, or anyone else, that a man was out there, naked, swimming with a pod of dolphins, and possibly in need of assistance? No one would believe him.
The knot in the pit of his stomach grew.
Blair arched out of the water with the rest of the pod. Leaping for the shear joy of it. Laughter rang out over the water. His heart was free. He no longer ached for what he couldn't have helped. Free to think things through, he remembered the crowds of reporters and realized -- an epiphany -- that this is what it would be like for Jim, if Blair's dissertation were ever to become public. Because there was no way, Blair had to admit, that he could mask Jim's identity without invalidating the data he had gathered. Swimming with the dolphins, he had realized that he couldn't allow that to happen. Couldn't allow Jim, the most private man he knew, to be exposed in such a way. His life's work must be sacrificed to save the man he loved.
And somehow, it didn't matter. It didn't hurt. The thought was liberating. He would gladly give up his doctorate to stand beside the man who had become more dear to him than life.
The dolphins wove around him, skimming above and below, supporting him, accepting him, validating him.
It was time to go back. To go to his true home. To be with Jim.
At two weeks, Jim decided he must make an attempt to call in the Coast Guard. He claimed Blair had fallen overboard on a fishing trip that morning and disappeared. He was wearing a life vest and was an excellent swimmer, Jim had said, but all the same, had vanished without a trace.
Despite his fear of the open ocean and its deep, endless water, Jim insisted on coming along on the search sweeps, using his pull as a retired Army Ranger, Special Forces, to convince the Coast Guard captain of his competency to help. Two ships and a helicopter combed the Atlantic off the coast of Mayaguana for five days, before the Guard declared that Blair was most likely dead and called off the search.
In his heart, Jim couldn't believe that. Wouldn't believe that. And so, on the morning of the nineteenth day after Blair's departure, he headed down to the beach at dawn, carrying Blair's swim trunks and a towel.
This morning felt different. Jim couldn't identify the emotion that stirred within him, until, just as the sun was beginning to show above the swell of the waves, a pale form stood up in waist-deep water and began to walk toward the white sand. Then he knew what it was. Hope. Hope that had never died, never wavered, even in his darkest moments. He stood, transfixed, as Blair approached like a Greek God rising from the sea.
"Damn, it's cold!" Blair reached for the towel and began to dry off, before taking his trunks and stepping into them. "How about taking me to breakfast? All I've had lately is Atlantic sashimi!"
"Where the hell have you been?" The question burst from Jim before he could soften its blow.
Blair looked over at him quizzically. "What do you mean? You know where I've been: swimming with my pod of dolphins."
"You've been gone for damn near three weeks!" Jim fumed. "You had me scared shitless! I had the Coast Guard out looking for you! You said you'd be back in three days!"
"Three weeks?" Blair looked confused. "I-I... It could have been four days, maybe five..."
"It's been nineteen fucking days!" Jim shouted, not even noticing the puzzled expression on Blair's face.
Blair hung his head. "God, I'm sorry, Jim. It's almost impossible not to lose track of time out there. I didn't realize..."
"I thought you were dead! I've been out here every morning looking for your fucking body!" The six-foot-two ex-Army Ranger's eyes brimmed with unshed tears.
"I'm sorry, Jim," Blair said softly. "I never meant to worry you. You have to understand that. Please."
Jim marshaled his emotions, his Army training coming into play as he put on a stoic face before turning to look at Blair. "I know. I understand that, up here," he said, tapping his skull. "But you have to understand, I thought I'd lost you... forever."
"No way, man. It would take more than a pod of dolphins to keep me from coming back to you. Now, how about that breakfast?"
After eating, they returned to the Baycanner to pack their suitcases and prepare for the return trip to Cascade. Blair was folding shirts as he sat on the bed.
"You know, Jim, I've been thinking..."
Jim laughed. He'd been doing that a lot since the initial shock of Blair's return had worn off. "Oh yeah. That's dangerous," he quipped.
"Give me a break, Jim. Hear me out."
"Okay, I'm listening."
"Those reporters in the PD lobby... they weren't going to go away, were they? Not until they got my story."
"Probably right. Those people are like hounds; they won't let go of a juicy bone until all the meat is gone." Jim smiled at Blair, remembering the younger man's frustration with the press.
"If my thesis was published, the same thing would happen to you, wouldn't it?"
"Remember when I snuck a peek at your thesis last Christmas?" Jim asked.
"Oh God... I didn't think I'd hear the end of it," Blair complained.
"Well, that's what I meant. You hadn't changed my name like you promised..."
"That was just a draft, Jim. You weren't even supposed to see it yet," Blair said, trying once again to defend himself.
"It would have been a media circus. If the press ever finds out about my Sentinel abilities, I'd have to leave Cascade," Jim explained. "Every criminal would know my strengths... and my weaknesses. They'd figure out how to exploit my senses. It would be dangerous -- even deadly."
"I realize that now," Blair said. "And I came to realize while I was with the dolphins, that there isn't any way for me to make your participation anonymous and still keep the integrity of my data. So... I'm shredding all printed copies and deleting my files when we get home."
"What?" The single word came out as a clipped exclamation. "That's... how many years of your life?"
"About four, now," Blair admitted.
"It's your future, your degree!"
"Yeah, I know. But none of that is worth ruining your life and career, Jim. I can always start over; write that thesis on the 'Thin Blue Line: A Study of Closed Societies as Pertains to Local Law Enforcement'." Blair shrugged. "It's no big deal. Or, I could see about making the consulting job official. Or go to the Academy and become your real, official partner. There are a lot of options. The only thing that's not an option is losing you."
"I don't know what to say, Chief," Jim said. "No one has ever considered my feelings in quite that way before. It's a huge sacrifice..."
"No sacrifice," Blair corrected, "not where you're concerned. I'm not that same self-centered prick you first met way back when.... Some things are more important than fame or money." He smiled up at Jim, a glint of mischief in his eyes. "It's about friendship."
"Friendship my ass!" Jim exclaimed, approaching the bed with a predatory leer.
Blair stopped packing his suitcase to look up at Jim in mock alarm. "No, Jim, you wouldn't..."
"Oh, wouldn't I?" Jim swept the open suitcase onto the floor and pounced on his partner like a jaguar on the hunt. He barely managed to avoid ripping off Blair's shirt in his haste to taste bare flesh. He looked up from ravishing a dusty-pink nipple to gasp, "You left me ... alone ... for three weeks ... worrying ... afraid you weren't coming back. You don't get off that easily!" He tugged Blair's cargo shorts down past his hips, exposing a hard column of flesh. "Have you any conception of how much agony you put me through?"
"Sorry..." Blair managed, before Jim's mouth engulfed his cock, eliciting a moan of ecstasy from the younger man. "Oh, God, Jim, I'm sorry," he gasped, quivering as his balls tightened and he fought off his imminent release. "So sorry..." His final words were choked off by the tsunami of his orgasm.
Jim swallowed the ejaculate in hungry gulps and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He looked down on his lover, now limp and pale against the blue sheets of the bed. "You were saying?"
"I never meant to be gone so long, Jim. You have to believe me! I never meant to worry you. I love you, man! You had to know I was coming back!" Blair pleaded with his entire body, offering it all by way of apology.
"You're so beautiful." Jim's voice had softened. He remembered the sleek form of his lover as Blair streaked through the water off the beach of Sierra Verde. This exquisite creature was his and his alone. The emotions that realization brought were almost overwhelming. With infinite care, he finished undressing Blair, then stripped off his own clothing to spoon behind his mate, willing to forgive and forget so long as they were never separated again.
"Love you," Blair murmured, as strong arms engulfed him and he felt himself filled with the heat of Jim's cock.
"Love you more," Jim whispered, his face buried in a flurry of sea-scented curls.
They rocked together in perfect unison, until climax claimed Jim and both men drifted into blissful repose.
Their arrival back in Cascade was uneventful. The intervening weeks had seen the fervor of the press die down, and the story about the young boy's rescue under mysterious circumstances forgotten. True to his word, Blair destroyed his thesis paper and approached his advisor at Rainier to offer an alternative topic.
"I don't know if they're going to go for it," Blair admitted. "After all the time I put in on the Sentinel paper, I think their patience is wearing thin."
"I'll put in a good word for you, if you want," Jim said. "I can tell them that you've already done extensive research on the Cascade PD and our 'closed society'. You could have a new paper done within a year."
"Yeah, but I'm not convinced that's what I want anymore." Blair drew his hair back into a ponytail. "What would you say if I cut my hair and joined the Police Academy? Would you put in a good word for me there?"
"Police Academy?" Jim was dumbstruck. "Cut your hair?" He shook his head, a smile curving his lips. "Uh-uh, no way, Sandburg. You are not cutting your hair!"
Cue Sentinel Theme
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Acknowledgements: A major thank you to "Great City" and Mary for the beta. You gals are the best! A special thanks to Kaelana for the beautiful end pic for this story.
Author's Notes: Many thanks to Gail Morgan Hickman, the author of the _Sentinel Too_ scripts, whose dialog I have freely used (without permission) throughout the opening pages of this story and to Becky's transcripts, without which the story would have been much harder to write.