BACK WHERE I BELONG

by Annie

EMAIL: Annie

Blair Sandburg took a deep breath that was almost a gasp as he consciously tried to calm his racing heartbeat. Get a grip, Sandburg! You've walked into this place a hundred, no, a thousand times before. So just do it. Still mentally chanting this mantra, he reached out to the doors in front of him, opened them and stepped into the controlled mayhem of the Cascade PD Major Crimes Unit.

He stood just inside, glancing around, looking for one particular face, straining to hear that one voice above the cacophony. Not finding either, he settled for just finding a familiar face. Suddenly, he jumped as a hand clamped down on his shoulder and a deep voice spoke into his right ear.

"Can I help you, sir?"

Blair turned clumsily under the hand pinning him. "I'm Dr. Blair Sandburg and I'm here to see the captain...." He gaped as he finished the turn, then a huge grin lit his face. "Henri!"

"Hairboy! You are a sight for sore eyes, man. Come here!" The big detective pulled Blair into a hug, then held him away and looked him over critically. "You look good, Blair." He tousled Blair's short curls. "Guess we can't call you Hairboy anymore. Hey, does Jim know you're here?"

The grin left Blair's face and he dropped his eyes. "No, I haven't seen him. Look, if you do, don't tell him I'm here, all right?"

"Sure, whatever you say," Brown agreed. "You wanna surprise him, right?"

Blair nodded jerkily, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed nervously. "Yeah, something like that. Um, is Simon in?"

Henri looked surprised. "No, he's not here, Blair. " He turned his head and waved as someone across the room called his name, then turned back to Blair. "You want me to grab you a drink or something?"

"Nah, I can get it," Blair replied. "Looks like you're pretty busy right now. Guess Cascade still attracts all the psychos, huh?"

Brown quirked a quick grin. "You got that right, and last night was a full moon, so... Listen, you leave town again without coming to say goodbye to me, I'm gonna chase you down and beat your ass. You got that?"

Blair blinked away the dampness in his eyes. "Yeah, I got it, Henri. Sorry, man."

Henri nodded. "I'll see you before you leave, okay?" he said. "Unless you're staying...?" he added, a note of hope in his voice.

Blair shook his head. "I don't think so, man, but I'll let you know before I go anywhere, okay?"

Brown nodded, his dark eyes full of sympathy. "Yeah, yeah, hang onto your hat, bro. I'm coming," he yelled over his shoulder as someone across the room clamored for his attention again. "Blair, man, don't make me have to come looking for you."

Blair nodded quickly. "I won't, H. You better get back to work before the whole place goes to hell in a handbasket without you."

Brown shot a last searching look at Sandburg, then went back to work as Blair wandered out of the bullpen and down the hallway.

 

* * *

 

The door to the break room was ajar so Blair shoved it all the way open and stepped inside, coming to a sudden halt as he recognized the tall figure leaning up against the sink, facing the door. "Jim," he whispered, his lungs feeling suddenly devoid of enough air to speak out loud.

"Hello, Sandburg." Jim's voice was cold, like his eyes. "You should have called ahead. I would have organized someone to pick you up from the airport."

"Um, I drove here," Blair said, finally finding his voice.

Jim simply nodded.

"So...um...how have you been, Jim?" Blair asked hesitantly, wanting nothing more than to pull the man into an embrace, but knowing it wouldn't be welcomed-not after what Blair had done, not after the pain he'd caused.

"Okay," Jim replied flatly. Suddenly, his face paled, his brow creasing as he clenched his eyes shut. He clapped his hands to his ears and collapsed to his knees. "God! What the hell...?"

Within seconds, Ellison was doubled over on the floor and Blair cast aside his own feelings of uncertainty and moved forward quickly, kneeling at the detective's side. He reached out and placed his hand gently on Jim's shoulder, unconsciously stroking and massaging soothingly with his fingertips.

"Dial it back, Jim," Blair instructed, his voice seeming to fall instinctively back into the Guide cadences he hadn't used in four years. "Find the dials and turn them all down. You can do it."

Jim shook his head vehemently and grabbed for Blair's free hand, squeezing painfully. "Can't," he groaned. "Can't remember how...."

"What? Okay, Jim, we'll just start over. Take a deep, slow breath, then let it out slowly. That's it, buddy. Now, picture a dial in your head. Got it?" Blair waited as Jim nodded, his hand still clamped on his Guide's. "Okay, now turn the dial down. Right now, it's on ten, but you're gonna slowly turn it down to nine...eight...seven...now six...." Blair watched Jim's face intently, feeling the tight muscles under his hand relaxing. "That's good, man. You're at five... now four...three.... All right? Better?"

Jim looked over at him, his face still pallid and sweaty, but Blair could see the spike was over. He nodded. "Thanks. I'm sorry. Helluva greeting," he panted out.

"It's fine, Jim," Blair said as he helped the detective up and onto a chair. He walked across and closed the door, hoping nobody had actually witnessed what had just happened. No one had come in, so he figured they were safe. He pulled a bottle of water from the fridge and handed it to Jim, then took a seat across from him. "What happened? What did you mean when you said you couldn't remember how to dial it down? Have your senses been so well-controlled you haven't had any spikes at all in the past four years?"

"My senses have been gone for the last four years, Blair." Jim smiled at the look of stunned surprise on Blair's face. He reached across and placed a finger under his Guide's chin, snapping it up gently, closing Blair's mouth. "They vanished the day you left. I got up in the morning, you were gone, so were my senses." He shrugged casually.

"I'm sure you could have found me, Jim. I mean, you're a detective, after all. You didn't think I'd want to know about something like this?" Blair asked, amazed at Jim's nonchalance.

Jim's eyes turned icy again. "Look, with you gone, I didn't have my Guide anymore. I figured it was probably a good thing I didn't have my senses, either. And let's face it, you didn't call me, either. When you took off that day, I told Simon and Conner that you obviously wanted to be left alone. So that's what we did. I didn't see much point in you knowing about it."

"But...."

"Just leave it, Sandburg, okay?" Jim stood. "I've got to get to work. You coming?"

Blair stood and snagged Jim's arm, halting him. "Jim, wait a minute. Are your senses back online?"

Jim clenched his jaw, then huffed out a sigh and nodded. "Yeah, they spiked back in just as you walked in the door." He shook off Blair's hand impatiently. "Come on."

They headed back into the bullpen and across to the captain's office. Jim pushed open the door without knocking and entered, sitting down behind the large desk and motioning Blair to take a seat.

"You didn't know?" he asked, smiling at Blair's surprised expression.

Blair shook his head. "Where's Simon?" he asked, confused.

"Simon's now a special assistant to the commissioner. He got shot again in the field about three years ago. It wasn't life threatening, but he decided not to tempt fate. Besides, after Daryl got married, Simon wanted to make sure he was alive for any grandkids he might have."

"Wow, Daryl's married? I can understand Simon's decision, though. I mean the poor guy got shot, what, three times, just in the four years I was here. And you guys used to say I was a trouble magnet." Blair wondered if he looked as shell-shocked as he felt. He sank down in the plush chair and looked at his ex-partner. "So, you're..."

"Captain of Major Crime," Jim replied easily. "Seemed the sensible thing to do. My senses were gone, along with my Guide," he shot Blair a cold mirthless grin, " so I figured this was the best option for me. I didn't much want to go back to working the street on my own. Guess I'd gotten used to having a partner."

There was the grin again and Blair shivered a little at the frigidity of it. Jim had changed in four years, he realized, not necessarily for the better, and there was no one else to blame except Blair.

"Anyway, this way there wasn't going to be so much fuss made over my senses because as an administrator, I was less likely to be called to give evidence in court. Once the fuss over your press conference died down, which it did-just like I tried to tell you it would, when bigger news came along-I got promoted and took over Simon's job." Jim stared across the desk at Blair, waiting for his response.

"Jim, I didn't leave because of the press conference or because of becoming a cop." Dammit, his eyes were tearing up again and he swiped angrily at them, keeping them fixed on the tabletop. He jumped in surprise as Jim reached across and touched his hand gently, tracing over the marks left when he'd gripped Blair's hand earlier.

Blair looked up, the tears threatening to fall in earnest as he saw the warmth that had replaced the ice in Jim's eyes.

"I know, Chief. Doesn't mean I liked it or understood it, though." Jim cleared his throat, then changed gears again, reverting to professional mode. "You ready to get to work?" he asked, reaching into a drawer and pulling out a file.

"I'm going to be working with you? I thought this was Homicide's case?" Blair asked, his heart clenching at the familiar nickname.

"It was," Jim replied easily. "They kicked it over to us, on the commissioner's orders, a few days ago, which I think had more to do with Simon's influence than he's letting on. Simon's been keeping an eye on your blossoming career. And, yep, you'll be working with me-if you don't have any objections, that is?" Jim lifted an interrogatory eyebrow at Blair.

"Of course not," Blair replied, trying to calm his racing heart.

"Good. When the commissioner told Simon he could have the best profiler around, he asked for you." Jim fixed Blair with a small smile, no ice in this one. "Do you want to go over what we've got?"

Blair nodded and firmly pulled himself into his professional persona. He was here to do a job, that was all. He'd agonized long and hard over coming back to Cascade, but finally his heart had overruled his head and he'd decided to do it. He knew he'd always wonder if he hadn't, wonder if the relationship he'd had with Jim was irrevocably lost. Well, looked like he had his answer there. Still, he had no one to blame for that but himself. At least, this way, he'd be able to spend some time with Jim and the others, almost like old times.

"Hey, Chief, you with me?"

Blair jumped, realizing he'd almost drifted off into his memories. "Yeah, sorry, guess I'm a bit tired. It was a long drive."

"You still driving that beat up hunk of junk you call a classic?" Jim asked, his lips quirking up in a smile.

"Hey, that car was a classic, man." Blair grinned back, his anxiety almost melting away in the presence of the familiar banter. "Nah, she's gone to the great junkyard in the sky. I bought an SUV a couple of years ago. It's more comfortable to drive and more reliable for getting to crime scenes."

Jim shook his head. "Still can't quite get my head around you doing that. I remember how you used to almost pass out just walking past the morgue."

"Yeah, well...times change, Jim," Blair replied quietly.

"People, too, I guess," Jim said. He cleared his throat. "Chief, you look exhausted. How about you get some rest and we'll pick this up in the morning? I'd like to have Simon and the lead detectives here, anyway."

"Who's working it?" Blair asked.

"Brown and Rafe. They're the A-team now." Jim shot Blair a quizzical look.

Blair nodded his acknowledgment of one more thing he'd left behind when he'd left Cascade and Jim behind. Their partnership. "Okay. I am sorta beat. I'll go to my hotel and get some dinner and some sleep. I promise to be sharper tomorrow." Blair picked up the file, then stood and turned toward the door.

"Blair? Um, I was just thinking, would you like to stay at the loft? Your room's still set up...."

"I don't think that's a good idea, Jim," Blair replied, knowing instinctively that he couldn't bear to go back to the place that had been his home for four years. A small part of his mind registered the fact that Jim had kept his room set up all the time he'd been gone. That meant something, but he just couldn't get his head around it right now.

Jim nodded. "Fair enough. Well, can I buy you dinner? I could pick you up at your hotel around 7:00 and drop you off after."

Blair paused, considering whether he could do it, be in a situation like that with the man he'd loved for as long as they'd known each other, yet chosen to walk away from. Finally, he made up his mind. "I don't think that's a good idea, either, Jim. But thanks, anyway."

The warmth in Jim's eyes was gone now, the ice was back. "I understand," he said, though Blair was sure he didn't. "Nine tomorrow okay?"

"Fine. I'll see you then, Jim." Blair hurried out the door and headed straight for the men's room.

Bending over the sink, he sluiced cold water over his face, then straightened and stared at his reflection in the mirror. "Oh, shit," he whispered. "What the fuck have I done?"

 

* * *

 

Blair hadn't been lying when he'd said he was tired. Truth be told, he was, in fact, almost obliterated physically and emotionally by the long nights he'd spent awake, agonizing over whether to take this job, and then by the long drive from California to get to Cascade.

He got his room keycard from the hotel desk, then caught the elevator to his fifth floor room, waving off the bellhop who offered to carry his suitcase. Once inside the room, he threw himself down on the bed with a sigh of relief. His stomach rumbled, reminding him he hadn't eaten all day, but he ignored it for now and turned onto his side, the pull of his memories too difficult to ignore, despite his exhaustion. Without even consciously trying, he brought his mind to focus on a night just before he'd left Cascade.

 

"Chief, if you're not happy about accepting Simon's offer, I'm sure we can come up with alternatives." Jim's face was solemn, his voice low as he looked across the dining table at Blair.

"What alternatives, Jim? I'm out of options here, man. I can't believe the PD is willing to offer a job to a fraud. I know damn well nobody else will."

"You're not a fraud, Blair."

Blair looked up at his partner, his eyes sparkling with fire. "Well, nobody but me, you and Simon, and maybe Megan, knows that, do they, Jim?" He regretted the words the minute they left his mouth, but there was no way to take them back. Instead he lowered his head onto his crossed arms resting on the tabletop. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

He felt a warm arm around his shoulders and knew Jim had moved beside him.

"No, Chief, I'm sorry. I wish you'd told me what you were going to do before you'd held that press conference, though. I would have stopped you-"

Blair looked up, straight into his friend's face. "Would you, Jim? I don't think so. I was doing exactly what you wanted me to do, exactly what you thought I should have been able to do with my thesis-protect your identity, your privacy, your..." he swallowed hard, "your life. I was glad to do it, Jim. It's what being your Guide is supposed to be about. Don't you remember, I told you once it was about friendship? It took me a while to get it, but I did. Don't tell me you still haven't got it?"

"I've got it, Chief. I just never really expected anyone to go to those lengths for friendship... for my friendship." Jim's voice was soft and laced with uncertainty.

"Well, then, maybe I was right and you don't know me as well as you thought you did. I mean, this wasn't the first time you've thought I was betraying your trust, Jim. Every time it happened, I kept thinking you'd learn from it, learn that I would never do that. That hurts more than losing my career, man, that you'd keep thinking that about me." Blair dropped his head back to the table again. He sighed as he felt Jim's hand stroking across his neck and down to his shoulders, the warm pressure relaxing his muscles, in spite of his inner turmoil.

"I'm sorry, Blair. Can we get past this?" Jim was whispering the words into Blair's ear and Blair stirred uncomfortably as he felt his body responding to Jim's closeness, his cock hardening, his heart rate increasing.

Blair turned his head and found Jim's mouth a mere breath from his own. Without even thinking about what he was doing, only knowing it was something he'd wanted to do for the longest time, he covered the small distance between them and kissed Jim's mouth. Then he pulled back and looked into Jim's eyes, dreading the disgust he'd find there, stunned to find only passion instead.

Suddenly, Jim's hands were in his hair and Blair found himself pulled forward again, Jim's mouth meeting his in a sensual, breath-stealing kiss.

Blair groaned aloud as Jim's hands left his hair and pulled him up from the chair, their mouths never losing contact. He could feel Jim's tongue demanding entrance to his mouth and he opened his lips, his own tongue darting out to taste Jim's mouth, even as he felt the Sentinel's hands move over his body, mapping it with sensitive fingertips.

"Blair." Jim muttered his name, releasing his Guide's mouth and pushing him away just enough so he could reach between their bodies and rub over the hardness at Blair's groin.

Blair pushed himself forward, burying his face in Jim's neck. "God, Jim, don't stop! Promise me you're not going to stop now."

At the words, Jim kissed him again, bruisingly this time, then grabbed Blair's arm and pulled him up the stairs to the loft bedroom. There, he pushed his Guide down onto the bed, then climbed on himself and straddled Blair's body, his eyes almost black with desire.

"I want you, Blair," Jim growled. He bent his head and began peppering Blair's body with kisses, stripping off his and his Guide's clothing as he went.

Blair responded eagerly, afraid that anything he said now would put an end to what was happening, to what he'd wanted to happen ever since he'd known Jim. Instead, he moved urgently under the demanding hands, giving himself over to the rush of sensual feelings permeating his being.

Jim's hands caressed his skin, finding Blair's nipples and rubbing over them with his fingertips, then bending and taking each one in turn into his mouth, sucking on them and nibbling at them gently with his teeth as Blair arched upward, wanting more of the maddening sensation.

Blair reached out with his own hands, finally able to touch the body above his, feeling Jim stiffen with desire beneath his own caresses. He traced the palms of his hands over the muscles beneath Jim's warm skin, relishing the shudders that shook the Sentinel's body.

Jim moved down, brushing his mouth over Blair's abdomen as he went, stopping between Blair's outspread thighs. He placed gentle kisses on the inside of each of his partner's knees, then grasped Blair's cock at the base with one hand. Bending his head, he suckled softly on the crown then slipped his lips down over the shaft, taking almost all of it into his mouth, at the same time reaching out fumblingly and opening the top dresser drawer, removing a small tube.

Blair moaned, thrusting up into the hot mouth that was bringing him so close to ecstasy. He felt a finger tracing back along his perineum and he lifted his hips, wanting Jim to know how much he wanted this. A moist fingertip rubbed over his anus and Blair groaned aloud, pushing down onto it, then up into the sucking of his cock. He could feel Jim working his finger deeper inside him and then gasped as a second finger was felt, his body reacting automatically, trying to expel the intruders.

Jim released Blair's cock for a moment to whisper soothingly, "Shh, babe, it's okay. It'll be good. Just trust me. Relax, breathe."

Then the mouth was back on his penis again, the action becoming faster, harder, Blair feeling the faint scrape of teeth on his oversensitized organ, even while his body began to react to the feelings in his ass, the sensation of over-full-ness replaced by the urge to take the fingers faster and deeper into himself. He felt Jim push his legs further apart, even as he lifted Blair so that he was half resting on Jim's bent thighs. The firm strokes of the talented mouth on his penis abated only momentarily while Jim positioned him where he could have full access to Blair's ass. Then the oral assault on his cock began again and Blair felt the familiar feeling of orgasm beginning to build in his belly. Suddenly he felt Jim's fingers stroke over something within him and lightning flared through his entire body.

Blair began an urgent seesawing motion of his hips, pushing himself faster and deeper into Jim's mouth, then down onto the fingers carrying him over the edge of orgasm. He froze in place as he fell over the precipice, his seed beginning to pump out of him, down Jim's throat. Several fast thrusts and he was shuddering through his completion, one of Jim's hands gentling him, while the other was wrapped around the Sentinel's own cock, stroking his hardness feverishly.

Blair looked up and nodded at the question in Jim's eyes. "Take me, Jim," he whispered, lifting his legs and placing them over the Sentinel's shoulders.

With an almost feral growl of acknowledgment, Jim positioned himself at Blair's entrance and pushed, sliding in easily, Blair's orgasm having relaxed the guardian muscle, Jim's own pre-come and the lube he'd obviously taken time to smear on his cock smoothing the way.

Blair moaned, as Jim entered him and then pulled back, finally beginning a rhythmic thrusting, the sensual slide inside him making his cock stir yet again, though he didn't become more than half-hard.

Jim's thrusts became faster, losing their rhythm as Jim neared his own orgasm. His cock brushed against Blair's prostate over and over and Blair arched his hips up, then down, fucking Jim's body with his, his hands going down to pull at his penis, though he knew it was too soon for him to climax again. He had to do something to soothe the rampaging sensations burning through him.

Suddenly, Jim stopped moving for a moment and then he was thrusting raggedly again, in and out with short strokes. He groaned and muttered Blair's name as he came, his semen bathing Blair's inner walls hotly and then he slumped forward onto Blair's chest, his cock slipping free of his lover's body, both of them breathing harshly in the aftermath of their lovemaking.

Blair reached up and petted the Sentinel's short hair gently. Then Jim was rolling off him and pushing him over onto his side, spooning up behind him, his arms around Blair's waist.

Neither said anything for long moments, both coming down from the high of their respective climaxes.

Then Jim spoke softly into Blair's ear. "You okay, Chief? I'm sorry."

Blair turned in his arms. "I'm not, Jim. It's okay, really. It's what we both wanted. Um... I mean, I've wanted to tell you-"

" Blair, I hope I didn't hurt you. I don't know what came over me. I mean, you were upset and I wanted to let you know it would be okay... But, when you kissed me... I just... I don't know... I guess it was just a Sentinel thing, right?" Jim said haltingly, his voice more unsure than Blair had ever heard it.

Blair stiffened, then moved to sit up. "Yeah, probably," he said, his own voice shaking. "I'll go have a shower, get cleaned up. You probably want one, too. I'll call you when I'm out." He got up from the bed and moved toward the stairs, stopping as Jim called his name.

"You were going to say something else, Chief," Jim said quietly.

Blair shook his head and started down the stairs. "It wasn't important," he said.

 

Blair rolled onto his back, then onto his other side. He spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, even while his body cried out for rest, unable to resist the pull of the memories keeping him awake. Over and over, he relived that night, wondering if he'd done the right thing in leaving, and if he should have come back.

Finally, giving up on sleep, he got up and read through the case file, making notes and calling up every shred of his training to make a workable profile. He needed to get this one absolutely right. He was unsure of his reason for that. He wanted to catch the killer. That was ingrained in him, part of the training and discipline he'd undergone to become a top-flight profiler. But his heart told him there was an older reason than that. One that had taken flight the day he'd met Jim Ellison and helped him catch a serial bomber, The Switchman.

He still wanted-needed, even-Jim to be proud of him. How much of it was because of his still burgeoning dependence on Jim's opinion of him and how much on his need to prove himself Jim's equal in the law enforcement world, he wasn't sure.

The only thing he was sure of, was that it was of prime importance to him, to what might be left of his relationship with Jim, so he let the feeling take hold, buckled down and did the best damn piece of profiling he'd ever done, if he did say so himself.

Then, exhausted, he fell asleep an hour before his alarm went off, turned it off in his sleep and got to the PD three hours late, looking, even to his own eyes, like something the cat dragged in.

 

* * *

 

"Guess some things don't change, Sandburg," Jim commented sarcastically as Blair entered his office at a dead run.

Blair slammed the file down on the desk, prepared to make a snappy comeback remark, then stopped as he heard a deep voice behind his back.

"Christ, kid, what the hell are they doing to you down in California?"

Blair turned, a delighted smile on his face. "Simon."

The next minute he was pulled forward into a crushing bear hug, which had the effect of temporarily cutting off his breathing and gave him a good excuse for the dampness of his eyes. After a few seconds, he was pushed away and held at arm's length. He looked up into the warm brown eyes of a man he'd come to respect and care for immensely over the years that he'd been Jim's Guide.

"It's great to see you, man," he said feelingly.

"It's great to see you, too, Sandburg. But, I mean it, what the hell have they done to you down there? You look like fifty miles of bad road." Simon's eyes bore into Blair's and the younger man dropped his gaze, wondering if perhaps Simon could read his mind and knew exactly why he looked so lousy.

"Ah, it's nothing, Simon. I'm just a little wiped. Didn't sleep much last night. You know, strange bed and all that..." Blair replied, obfuscating like mad and knowing he hadn't succeeded when Jim spoke up.

"I offered to let you stay at the loft, Chief. Maybe you should've taken me up on it."

Blair turned to face him, a glib response on his tongue, but the words died as he saw the fleeting look of sadness in Jim's eyes. Instead, he just said, "Yeah, probably, Jim. I am sorry about being so late. I did call as soon as I woke up. I thought somebody from the PD would have called when I wasn't here by ten."

"We did, Blair," Simon replied easily. "You didn't answer the phone so we got the manager to go in and he said you were dead to the world. Jim said you were pretty worn out, so we decided to let you get some sleep. If you hadn't called when you did, I think Jim would've gone over there and busted down the door to make sure you were okay. Four years away from you and he still thinks something's happened to you if you're late for a meeting. I'm thinking of sending him to Blessed Protectors Anonymous." Simon's words were light, but his gaze was probing as he looked at Blair.

Blair grinned nervously, then jumped as someone tapped him on the shoulder. Turning, he found Rafe standing behind him.

"It's so damn good to see you, Dr. Sandburg," Rafe said with a huge grin. "We've missed you, man."

Blair shook the detective's hand and was pulled in for another bone-crushing embrace. He felt a twinge of guilt at having left without a goodbye all those years ago, and an enormous sense of gratitude for the fact they'd held no grudges, that these people, his friends, had liked him enough to miss him.

Jim cleared his throat as Henri Brown entered the office and threw Blair a high-five and a smile. "If you're all finished male bonding, maybe we can get some work done. I understand Dr. Sandburg is greatly in demand and we probably shouldn't take up too much of his time. I'm sure he's anxious to get back to sunny California as soon as possible."

Blair felt as if the icy shell that had surrounded his heart at Jim's casual words of dismissal, had risen up in his throat and taken up permanent residence there. But he simply moved over, took his seat and opened up the file.

"So, Brown, you want to recap this for us?" Jim asked.

Henri nodded. "Okay, the victims were a white male, aged 25, and a female, also Caucasian, aged 35. Their names were David Bridger and Amy Collins. Both died from sharp-force trauma outside the woman's home. The victims were not related and not, as far as we've been able to find out, in a relationship. David Bridger was single and Amy Collins had been divorced for about 3 years. The ex-husband appears to have an alibi, but we need to check it out more thoroughly to see if it holds up. The murdered man was returning the woman's purse. He worked in a local gym and she'd left it behind that morning. She called and asked the manager if someone could do that and David Bridger volunteered as he was going to be off duty before anyone else."

Blair interjected. "Have there been any similar crimes in the area in recent months?"

Henri shook his head. "No. Not a thing."

"How about burglaries or reports of peeping Toms?" Blair asked.

This time Rafe answered. "No reports of anything like that. This is a pretty upscale neighborhood. Most people there would report something like that if it happened."

Blair felt Henri moving closer and looking over his shoulder at the file.

"Hey, Blair, man, I don't mean to tell you how to do your job, but you don't have the full file there," Henri remarked, patting Blair's shoulder absently.

"I've got everything I needed, H, thanks." Blair indicated the paperwork, riffling through it with his fingers as he categorized everything he'd made notes from the night before. "I've got the report of the first officer at the scene, a map of the area with all the sites significant to the crime marked in red, crime scene and autopsy photos-" Blair broke off as Rafe laughed. "What?" he asked.

"Nothing, Blair. Sorry. Just... you know you weren't exactly into crime scenes and autopsies before, you know?" Rafe replied, sounding as if he was only half-joking.

"Yeah, well, you learn a lot at profiling school, Rafe. Autopsies 101 was my best subject," Blair said with a quick smile. "I've also read the ME's report and I got one of my colleagues back in California to e-mail me a victimology overview last night." He looked up and expanded his explanation at the blank looks on Brown's and Rafe's faces. "Sorry, profiler's jargon. The victimology profile tells us who these people were, what they were like. We extrapolate it from statements from friends, relatives, coworkers, people like that. This case is pretty high profile and a lot of people have gone public with what they knew about the victims so it wasn't that difficult a thing to work up."

"Don't you want a suspect list, Sandburg?" Jim asked. "An idea of who we're looking at for this?"

"Uh-uh, no way, Jim. I don't want to base my hypothesis on any suppositions anyone else may have had about this case." Blair smiled across into Jim's stunned eyes.

It was probably a shock for the Sentinel, seeing his ex-Guide, ex-observer, ex-partner-ex-lover, Blair added morosely and mentally, morph into Dr. Blair Sandburg, Ph.D., criminal forensic anthropologist/profiler before his very eyes. Blair had to admit the change still had a tendency to shock him speechless, too. And he'd had four years to get used to it. He snuck a look across at Simon, who was beaming.

Simon gave him a wink and a quick surreptitious thumbs-up, then said, "Continue, please, Dr. Sandburg."

Blair was so flustered by Simon's use of his formal title that he lost track of what he'd been talking about and took a moment to look over his notes and calm his breathing at the same time. If he didn't know Banks better, he'd almost think his old friend was enjoying this. Then he remembered what Jim had said the day before, about Simon's new job. "They kicked it over to us, on the commissioner's orders, a few days ago, which I think had more to do with Simon's influence than he's letting on," and realized there was no 'almost' about it. Simon was enjoying this, had engineered it, in fact.

Blair took a moment to wonder how Banks would react when he realized Ellison probably wouldn't play ball, and that Blair didn't dare to, before he ruthlessly forced his mind back to the job at hand. He found his thoughts interrupted when Rafe asked him a question and Blair had to ask him to repeat it.

"How do you work out a profile, Blair?" Rafe repeated.

"Um...well, it can be pretty complex or pretty easy, depending on the case, really," Blair replied. "I guess the most important thing to remember is that you need to know the 'why' of a crime before you worry about the 'who'. In other words, in a double homicide like this, or a multiple for that matter, you need to find out if these people were both targeted for the same reason, or if maybe one of them just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Blair glanced up to see Jim staring at him, a look of something indefinable on his face... pride, perhaps. It warmed him to think that he might still hold enough of a place in Jim's life that the Sentinel would be proud of what his former Guide had learned and accomplished.

He gave the Sentinel a shy smile and felt his heart skip a beat when Ellison smiled back -not one of the cold, snide grins he'd given Blair the day before, but a full face Jim Ellison smile of affection that went all the way to his eyes, and straight into Blair's heart. He nodded, satisfied somehow, and continued. "Shall I go on? I have the profile here. I pretty much worked on it most of the night, so...."

"Go ahead, Chief," Jim said softly, and with his pulse throbbing rapidly in his throat, Blair did.

"Okay." Blair took a deep breath and launched into his profile, knowing that he had it bang to rights, yet feeling unaccountably more nervous than he'd ever felt on any case in the past four years.

"The murder was close-range and confrontational. The use of a knife means it is probably a personalized crime. There are both organized and disorganized elements present at the crime scene, though the balance tilts towards organized, meaning that the murderer is likely to be intelligent and able to plan well. That also means the killings showed premeditation, just by dint of the planning aspect. The killer wore a cap and gloves and carried a weapon to the scene. These are all elements of an organized killer." Blair stopped and glanced over at Simon, who was nodding encouragingly. He took a moment to take a relaxation breath and went on.

"The woman was killed methodically with an almost execution-style M.O. There was huge overkill. For example, the woman was almost decapitated, showing much more force than would have been needed to simply disable or kill her. This tells us that this is a crime involving hate and power elements. However, there are some things that show us the crime became disorganized. Things got out of hand, didn't go as planned. There is obvious lack of control in the murder of the male victim-the slash type wounds and the many defensive wounds on the hands of the male victim suggest he was fighting back and the perp almost lost control of the situation. There is evidence of panic, which would suggest this is not an experienced killer. He may have some domestic violence raps or bar brawl arrests, but nothing close to murder. He probably has no criminal record because most D.V. cases and bar fights go unreported or the offenders are just given warnings. Just the fact that he left a cap and glove behind and wore shoes with a distinctive tread tells us he is unsophisticated when it comes to crime, especially crime of this magnitude. We know he cut his hand, possibly while cutting the woman's throat because there's a slice in the glove at the right spot, which possibly means he was interrupted in the act, most likely by the male victim." Blair stopped, looking around the circle of faces, wanting to see if they'd understood what he'd said so far.

What he saw made his breath catch in his throat. Every gaze was riveted on him, as if they were all hanging on his every word. He coughed and took a sip of water from the glass that was sitting on the desk in front of him. "Sorry," he apologized. "I'll try to keep it as concise as I can, but this is a very complicated case."

"It's fine, Blair," Jim said. "You're doing just fine, buddy. Go on."

Once again, Blair felt a sense of warmth envelop him as he looked across and met Jim's approving gaze. He nodded. "Thanks. So where was I? Oh, right..." He looked down at his notes, found his place and continued, all the time aware of Jim's blue eyes fixed unwaveringly on him.

"Right, here it is. The killing took place at the woman's home which means she was probably the primary target. Also the male was only there because he volunteered to drop off the purse, which means that unless he was followed from the gym, he couldn't have been the killer's main focus. I mean, how would the murderer know she was going to leave her purse behind that day and who would return it to her? Additionally, why would the killer choose to take the guy out when he's with a potential eyewitness, if his sole purpose was to kill David Bridger? Bridger had diffuse stab wounds with many defense wounds on his hands. Amy, however, is found in a fetal position, almost decapitated with virtually no defense wounds, which means he had more trouble controlling the guy than the woman, and yet he stabbed her repeatedly even after he knew she had to be dead. Why? Not because he had to but because he wanted to. That tells me that the murderer must have known the woman personally."

"Why?" Jim asked succinctly.

Blair nodded as if he'd known someone would ask the question. "There was no evidence of sexual assault, which means she didn't do something to piss off a rapist. With so many stab wounds directed at the neck, where the voice comes from, and the sheer amount of overkill, this was an attack of rage. He was furious at this woman and he kept on stabbing her long after she was dead. He was punishing her," Blair replied surely. "The male victim, on the other hand," he continued smoothly, "had many defensive wounds and the stab wounds were where they would kill him. There's no overkill with him. The perp was simply neutralizing him. He wasn't punishing him. He just hadn't planned on the guy being there and that messed up his organization."

"Okay, sorry, Blair, just playing devil's advocate here," Brown jumped in, giving Blair an apologetic smile. "Couldn't the hat and glove have been left by a thief?"

"Yeah," Blair agreed, "except nothing was stolen, not even the rings on the woman's hand or the man's wallet. And both killings were done outside."

"But if the guy was surprised by the man being there, maybe that's why he didn't end up robbing the place. Just killed them and got the hell out of Dodge," Rafe commented.

Blair shook his head slowly. "I don't think so, Rafe. Firstly, there were no records of burglaries in the area and burglars don't tend to carry knives to the scene with them. They may take a gun or no weapon at all. A burglar only wants to get in and out without being seen and with, preferably, no confrontation. If he is confronted, he just wants to get out as fast as he can. A gun can help him achieve that; a knife is too personal. He'd have to get too close to the victim to use it. The killer may have meant to commit the crime in the house, but saw the woman and man together and thought they were involved romantically. There were candles lit in the house, in spots where they could be seen through the windows, wine open on the bench, though there was only one glass. The bottle, but not the glass, could be seen through the sliding door to the deck. But if the UNSUB was someone who had been involved in this sort of romantic ritual with the woman before, he may have assumed that David and Amy were involved in a relationship."

Simon, who had been mostly an observer to this point, suddenly spoke up. "Is it possible he was attacking the woman when the man showed up?"

Blair shook his head again. "No, I think he'd been stalking her and saw the two of them together. He confronted them and I think they both knew him or recognized him. I think the man tried to calm him down, putting out his hands, saying, 'Hey, it's okay, man. I just came to return her purse.' Something like that."

Blair felt his face flush as he noticed Jim was watching him intently still. He looked up and met Jim's gaze for a moment, then looked down again as Jim's eyes suddenly dropped down to focus on Blair's mouth. Blair fought back the memories of feeling Jim's lips meeting his that night so long ago and dragged his concentration, kicking and screaming, back to the case at hand.

"This is how I think it went down," Blair said quietly. No matter how many times he'd done this, he'd never gotten used to this part of his job-the calm, reasoned exposition of the crime; the measured, logical words so at odds with the ferocity of the slaying of human beings. He took a sip of water and looked around at the men waiting on his explanation of how two people died so horribly.

Rafe, Brown, Simon and...Jim. God, they were all looking at him with such respect. He felt his heart falter a little at the emotion welling inside him, then he pushed the feelings as far back as he could and got on with his job.

"All right," Blair began, "David Bridger tries to explain why he's there and suddenly the killer lashes out and hits the woman hard on the head and she goes down, probably knocked out. He goes to Bridger, who's cornered in this small area of the yard where there's a big tree growing. He's shocked by what happened to the woman and it takes him a few seconds to react, and when he does, he's trapped here and can't move away much or escape. He puts his fists up-that's evident from the wounds on his knuckles-then he gets stabbed in the upper left leg and abdomen. They struggle and the perp holds the victim by his shirt, twisting it as he's stabbing, which is why the wounds are out of alignment with the holes in the top. The defensive wounds are mostly on the left hand and palm which tells me he possibly reached out as the murderer was stabbing him, with his right hand and pulled off the left glove, the one that was found at the scene. By now the attacker is beyond control. He finally manages to put the man down, and then he goes to the woman, who is still face down, either stunned or unconscious. He lifts her head from behind by her hair and slits her throat, cutting deeply enough to almost decapitate her. Now the UNSUB goes back to the man to make sure he finishes him off."

"How do you know that?" Simon asked.

"Because the woman's blood was found on the bottom of the male victim's shoe," Blair responded. "This also tells us this is not a professional hitman or assassin. He's unsure whether the wounds he's already inflicted are enough to kill the man and he has to go back to confirm it. He sees the male is dying, but not yet dead, and he stabs him over and over again to make sure he's dead. By the way, that's another sign there was only one killer as two perps would have been able to take care of one victim each, especially once the woman was down, and there wouldn't have been as much of a struggle as there was with the man. Two perps would have been able to contain the situation."

There were nods of affirmation at the logic of his statement all around.

"Maybe it was a drug killing," Brown offered.

"Were the victims known as drug users?"

"No," Rafe put in. "They were both fit-looking and there was nothing that showed up in the tox screens."

"Then why would anybody kill them over drugs? They had no record as being pushers?" Blair asked.

Rafe shook his head. "No."

"So how would you classify this murder according to the CCM?" Simon asked.

"What's that?" Rafe interrupted to ask.

"The Criminal Cause Manual. It's similar to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," Blair answered. He looked back down at his notes and went on, "Because of the type and severity of the wounds and because the woman was the primary target, I don't think this was a stranger homicide. There's no symbolism left at the scene like was seen in the Manson murders, so it's not a Group Cause murder. Only one weapon was used, so I think only one person was involved. You wouldn't get two perps sharing the murder weapon, especially as one of the female victim's kitchen knives was right there in view through the sliding door, lying on the counter. Why was that there? I think she was frightened and believed or knew someone was stalking her. She didn't own a gun and though she was expecting the guy from the gym bringing back her purse, she was scared of someone else turning up. So she got the knife out of the block and left it on the counter, where she could get to it, if she was attacked in the house. According to the victimology, there is nothing in the man's background that would cause him to be murdered like this. The woman, on the other hand, had been through a messy divorce and had an on-again, off-again relationship with a controlling type ex-partner."

Jim was flipping through the file in front of him. He held up a hand to ask Blair to wait, then read from the file. "This is from the ex-husband's statement. He told Brown that just a couple of weeks before, he'd gone to the house and found Amy was sick. He'd taken care of her, even bought her a bracelet, but then when she was better, they'd had a fight because he thought they could try getting back together. When he refused to leave the house, she called the cops on him."

"Maybe he felt she was giving him mixed signals. And there were reports that she told friends someone had been stalking her for weeks. David Bridger had made no mention to anyone of being stalked," Blair commented.

"So, you think it's the ex-husband?" Rafe asked. He still looked a little stunned at seeing this new side of Blair.

"Well, to put in it a nutshell, you should be looking for someone who's not a professional killer, acted alone, knew the female victim well and had built up enormous anger towards her," Blair summarized.

"He's the only one I can think of who fits your profile, but he has an alibi," Brown interjected.

"Hey, that's your department, not mine. The guy says he has an alibi, break it down. Make sure that alibi is absolutely airtight." Blair puffed out a long sigh of relief and drank the rest of his water.

He passed the file over to Jim and shook hands with the three other men. He turned and was almost at the door when Jim called him back.

"Yeah?" Blair gave Jim a nervous smile. This was the part where he had to say goodbye again and suddenly he didn't know if he wanted to do that yet.

"Would you excuse us for a few minutes, please?' Jim asked the other three men.

"Sure thing. See you before you leave, all right?" Brown said to Blair as he preceded Simon and Rafe out of the office.

"That was pretty damn impressive, Doctor Sandburg," Jim said, motioning Blair to a seat.

"Thanks," Blair replied quietly.

"So, you really need to head back right away?"

"Well, not really. I thought I might hang around for a few days. You know, catch up with everybody-"

"Great, that's good. Look, I know you said you didn't want to stay at the loft, and that's okay, but it's Simon's birthday in a couple of days and I was going to have him and the guys around for dinner. Simon would really like it if you'd come. What do you say? We don't need to talk about anything you don't want to talk about...."

Jim's voice trailed away and Blair wondered if it really had been pleading he'd heard in the Sentinel's voice or just his own wishful thinking.

"Sure, I'd like that." He made the decision and was surprised to find he felt right about it.

"Good. Seven o'clock Friday, then." Jim nodded, an enigmatic smile gracing his face, then he gathered up the files and began to put them in order.

"Hey, where's Megan, by the way?" Blair asked. "I thought she'd be around somewhere."

"Oh, right, guess you wouldn't know about that, either. She's back in Australia, showing her new baby off to her family." Jim put up his hand when Blair evinced surprise. "Let me finish, Chief. Megan's been married to Rafe for over two years now. They have a son, Blair James." Jim grinned. "BJ for short."

Blair grinned back, then left, shaking his head as he wondered where the time had gone. At least some good things had happened while he'd been away.

 

* * *

 

Blair spent the next two days feeling as if he was waiting. He just wasn't sure for what. He revisited all his old haunts, caught up with a few of the people who hadn't cared that he had been a self-confessed academic fraud.

Henri called on Blair's last day in Cascade to tell him Mark Collins, Amy's ex-husband had confessed to the double murder. He made Blair promise not to leave town until he and Rafe could buy the profiler a drink.

Blair agreed readily, explaining that he'd be in town until after Simon's birthday dinner, anyway.

He hung up the phone and wandered morosely over to the windows, looking out at the Cascade skyline. He had the incongruous sensation that he was in one of those movies where a kid wishes they were older, then wakes up the next day to find that they are. Of course, it's all great for a while, until the kid realizes he's left the best parts of his life behind and, somehow, he has to get it all back.

Blair was too old and too pragmatic to believe in stuff like that. Then again, he'd never really believed he'd actually find a Sentinel, either. He grinned a little at the whimsical turn his thoughts had taken.

A knock at the door interrupted his inner meandering and he rushed to open it. Surely, his cab wasn't due here yet. He hadn't showered or shaved. Great! He was going to be late again! He yanked the door open and a pair of large dark hands reached out and pulled him into a hug.

"Simon! Hi! What are you doing here?"

Simon rumbled that familiar laugh and pushed Blair away. "You're looking better, kid. How're you feeling?"

"Fine, man. Come on in. I didn't think I'd see you 'til tonight...." Blair stopped. "Shit! It's not a surprise party, is it? I can't remember if Jim said-"

"Chill out, Sandburg. I passed the age for surprises about thirty years ago." Simon walked over and sat on the couch. "I just wanted a word with you in private, before tonight."

"Sure, Simon. You want a drink, coffee or anything?" Blair asked, sitting down in the chair across from Banks.

"No, I'm okay. Listen, Blair, I don't make a habit of prying into my friends' personal lives, but, well, after what happened four years ago, I have to know. What's gonna happen with you and Jim?" Simon asked, his voice completely serious now.

"You want to know what my intentions are towards Jim?" Blair's voice rose a tone in incredulity.

Simon grinned. "Yeah, you're right. Sounds weird, huh?" He stood up and began to pace back and forth in front of the couch, his face somber. "When you left, Jim was a mess for a long time. Locked himself in the loft, took about three months' accrued leave, hardly ate unless someone forced him to. He even stopped working out. I suggested we track you down, but he vetoed that so fast I thought he was gonna stroke out. Anyway, that went on for a while, then just as I was about ready to contact you myself, no matter what he said, he suddenly did this big turnaround. He started going to the gym again, started eating right, and came back to work. For a while there, we all thought he must have heard from you and you were coming home."

Home. The word brought a lump to Blair's throat and he had to force his voice past it to speak. "Well, maybe he just got over me leaving, Simon."

Simon shook his head. "That was the worst part, Blair. We thought we were getting the old Jim back, and we were. The only problem was it was the Jim before he met you. The Jim who was an arrogant S.O.B. who didn't give a shit about himself or anybody. So...." Simon stopped pacing and fixed Blair with a solemn look. "Look, Blair, I think I know what happened between you and Jim before you left...."

Blair was shaking his head and Banks grabbed both his shoulders and shook him hard, pulling him to his feet, so they were standing toe to toe.

"You listen to me, Sandburg. No matter what he may have made you think at the time, Jim loves you. It's the reason I pulled strings to get you back here, because I thought you loved him, too. Well?" He dropped his hands and waited.

"I did.... I do, but I don't know if he wants me anymore. He never said he loved me, Simon. He said it was a Sentinel thing...."

"You sure, Sandburg? You sure that's what he really meant? Hell, he had to be as confused by what had happened as you probably were. I mean, think about it-two of the biggest skirtchasers in the department suddenly winding up in bed together." Simon laughed and shook his head. "Look, Blair, just think about what you'll be leaving behind if you take off again. We can use a good profiler here in Cascade. Hell, it's the most dangerous city in America, a good friend told me one time. Just think about it, all right?" Banks glanced at his watch. "Damn! I gotta run. I'll see you tonight, kid."

Blair sat down heavily on the couch and buried his head in hands. He stayed that way for what seemed like hours, turning it all over and over, dissecting what Simon had said. Finally, he made a decision. He showered and shaved, then went into the bedroom of his hotel suite and packed his bags.

 

* * *

 

"Thanks for dinner, Jim, and the gift. Looks like you've got some cleaning up to do. You want me to stay and give you a hand?" Simon asked as he shrugged on the coat Jim held out to him.

"Nah, that's okay, man. I'll do it later. Tomorrow's the start of my vacation. I'm going to have plenty of time to tidy up. And you're welcome, by the way."

Banks nodded, then turned and pulled Jim forward, grasping him around the shoulders and giving him a strong hug. He smiled as Jim's arms wrapped around his waist and hugged him back.

"Thanks for understanding, Simon, and for helping me see things for what they are," Jim murmured.

Patting his friend's back, Simon pulled away. "You going to be okay, Jim?"

"Yeah, I'll be just fine. Finally. I've got a new life now. It's about time I got on with it." Jim smiled back and opened the door, then closed it behind Banks. He looked around at the detritus and clutter left from the birthday dinner, then shrugged and walked out through the open glass doors onto the moonlit balcony.

He simply stood and soaked in the peace and harmony of the clear night. No noises too loud, no scents too strong, the air just right against his skin.

"Hey, big guy, gonna join me out here?"

He turned and smiled in the direction of the voice. The whole time he'd been talking to Simon, his ears had been tuned to the owner of it, letting Blair's steady heartbeat soothe and ground him. He opened up his sight a little, so he could see Blair silhouetted against the wall, his body just visible in the shadows. Walking over, Jim sank down next to him.

"You all right, Chief?"

"Yeah, I am. I'm good, man."

"You know, that night..." Jim began, hoping he wasn't going to wreck this again, but knowing it had to be said, that he and Blair needed to get everything squared away if they were to start over with a clean slate. "That night, I thought I'd scare you off if I told you how I really felt. I figured you'd run for sure if you knew I loved you, so I thought if I said it was a Sentinel thing, then at least you'd stick around. I'd just have to keep my distance a little more, make sure I didn't give myself away."

"Over the next couple of days, you stopped even touching me the way you had before, Jim. That's why I was sure, that, for you, it probably was just a Sentinel thing. I wasn't sure... No, I knew I couldn't be near you and know you weren't ever going to touch me again, even as a friend, so I got as far away from you as I could. For a while, I kept hoping you'd find me.... When you didn't, I thought maybe it was better that way, for both of us. You'd never find out how I felt. Never be embarrassed by me..." Blair whispered.

"I've never been ashamed of you, Chief," Jim said quietly, pulling Blair closer against his side and leaving his arm around Blair's shoulders, relishing the feel of his lover's warm, supple body against his own. He placed a kiss on the top of Blair's head. "That night, the night it happened, you were going to tell me something, and when I asked you what it was, you said it wasn't important. Will you tell me now?"

Blair turned his head and lifted it so he could brush his mouth gently across Jim's. "That I love you. That I think I've always loved you and always will," he said solemnly, the words sounding like a promise of forever.

"I love you, too, Blair, always. There's something you should know about me, before you decide if you really want this to happen, though," Jim said seriously. "I've never been good at letting go, Chief, not of anything that's as important to me as you are. I won't let you go again."

"Then don't, Jim, don't let go of me. I don't want you to." Blair pulled Jim to him and kissed him passionately, exploring his mouth and tracing around his lover's lips with his tongue. Panting with desire, he pulled back. "Let's go upstairs and make love, Jim. It'll be our first time."

Jim brushed away the dampness in his eyes and nodded. "Our first time, Blair. But not our last, not by a long shot."

THE END