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THANKS TO MY BETA: Annie.
MANY THANKS TO PATT FOR THE PLOT BUNNY AND SUPPORT.
SUMMARY: AU version of "The Debt." When Detective Jim Ellison has his license suspended due to his mysterious fugue states, he has to rely on a young grad student who moonlights as a cab driver.
"Simon, you have got to be joking!" Detective Jim Ellison pounded the desk in front of him in frustration.
"I don't joke, Detective, you should know that by now." Captain Simon Banks glared at the angry man in front of him and held out his hand. "And that's Captain to you. Now give it up." He held himself erect, his stance unwavering.
With a muttered oath, Jim Ellison dug into his pocket and extracted his wallet. Pulling his driver's license from within, he tossed it onto the desk, and turned away, stalking to the door.
He turned back at the command in the captain's voice and waited for him to speak. Simon waved him toward a chair.
"Sit down for a minute and let's talk about this."
Ellison hesitated a moment, then rolling his eyes, obeyed though his posture remained stiff and irate. Removing his gold-rimmed glasses, Simon studied the detective for a moment, then lowered himself into the chair opposite.
"This is just a precautionary measure," he began. He held up a hand in a silencing gesture when Ellison opened his mouth to speak. "Hear me out. You transferred into Major Crime from Vice three months ago because you said you needed a change of scene, and believe me, I'm damn glad you did. You've had an arrest rate second to none in this department, and your abilities as a cop are not in doubt. But you've smashed two cars in as many months and had a couple of near misses to boot. Your partner, Taggart, is almost white-haired from the strain."
He leaned forward and rested his forearms on the table, giving Ellison a sincere look. "Besides that, I like to think we've become friends, and I don't want to lose the best detective I have or my friend in some car accident that could have been avoided, or risk you killing someone else." He fingered the license on the table but didn't pick it up. "The Chief is asking for explanations, and I'm at a loss what to tell him. Unless you get this sorted out, you're going to find yourself taken off active duty, and my ass is on the line too." He sat back then and waited for the detective's reply. It wasn't long in coming.
"The second accident wasn't my fault," Jim said mulishly. "We were running lights and siren, and that idiot still tried to get past, and sideswiped us."
"According to Joel, you didn't even know he was there. He said it was like you were so focused on the chase, you had no perception of anything else around you."
"I'll admit I get focused," Jim admitted. "But that's a good thing. That's why my arrest rate is so good."
"Not when you're putting lives at risk, including your own," Simon shot back. "You've been short-tempered with everyone lately, including your own partner, and God knows Joel Taggart is one of the most easy-going souls I know. He certainly doesn't deserve you bawling him out over every perceived slight. You still getting headaches?"
Jim shrugged, but didn't reply. The telltale straying of his fingers to his temple gave Simon his answer.
"You still having those weird turns?"
"Turns?" Jim asked, looking wary.
"Taggart says a couple of times on stakeout on the Switchman case, you sort of faded out on him. He says he's seen it before. His cousin has a kid with some kind of epilepsy who does it."
"I don't have epilepsy," Jim stated firmly. He sighed. "All right, I admit my senses have been a little out of whack lately," Jim conceded. "Sometimes noises get to me, the lights seem too bright. I'm just a little burned out."
"See a doctor," Simon suggested. "If you don't get it figured out soon, Jim "
"So I get to ride a desk?" Jim interrupted.
"I'm going to let you stay on active duty for now," Simon allowed. "Taggart will drive when you're on duty."
Jim nodded and stood. "Fair enough." He paused and looked down at his driver's license. "What about off-duty?" he asked though his expression showed he already knew the answer to that.
"Get a ride with someone else or catch a cab. Get this thing sorted out, and you'll get your license back."
"Great," Jim growled. He gave the captain a steely glare. "You want my gun and badge too?"
"Sarcasm doesn't become you, Ellison. Go home and cool off. I'll see you in the morning."
Jim took a deep breath and blew it out slowly before nodding. "Any chance of a ride home?"
Simon looked apologetic. "I'm an hour late now picking up Daryl. Joan's gonna chew me out for this. Second time this month I've been late. Maybe one of the other guys "
Jim waved it away and turned to leave. "It's fine. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah. Jim?" Again, he waited until the detective turned around. "I really am sorry."
"Don't be," Jim said, sounding genuinely apologetic. "You did the right thing."
Jim gazed forlornly around the deserted bullpen. It appeared that those detectives still on duty had beaten a hasty retreat after hearing Jim's tirade in Simon's office. Grumbling under his breath, Jim pulled out the number for the nearest cab company and placed his call, adding as an afterthought that the driver pick him up from the café a few blocks away. No need for the entire PD to know Jim Ellison had been grounded. He'd be locker room gossip fodder for months.
It was his own fault, he knew. Studying his blurred reflection in the metal control panel of the elevator, he had to admit he looked lousy. Dark circles under his eyes stood out in sharp relief to the pallor of his face. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a decent nights sleep. The noises from the street below his loft apartment kept him awake for most of the night. Even earplugs hadn't helped. He should have gone looking for help before now, but he'd been truly afraid that he was heading for a nervous breakdown.
After surviving a chopper crash in Peru, the sole survivor of his entire team, then living for eighteen months with a local Peruvian tribe, he knew there was a chance of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affecting him. He'd been debriefed on his return, saw the army shrink for the required counseling, and then had put the entire miserable experience out of his head. He should have known working the high stress job he did, that it was bound to bite him in the ass. He'd thought the change of assignment from Vice to Major Crime would do the trick. If anything, the problem had become worse, since he'd spent almost a week on a one-man stakeout trying to catch a serial bomber. Jim had been shocked to discover the bomber was the daughter of one his team who had been killed in Peru. He'd caught her after several days of cat and mouse, but the resulting exhaustion and guilt he still felt over the loss of his men seemed to exacerbate his symptoms.
Time to get a handle on it, Jim decided as he stepped out of the elevator and quickly made his way through the light rain to the café up the street. The pattering raindrops on the café's awning were soothingly hypnotic. Jim yawned and shifted his feet as he gazed into the gathering darkness for a sign of the cab. The steady drumming on the awning above drew him in, overwhelming everything else
"Hey, man? You all right?"
The faint words were accompanied by a forceful shaking of his arm and Jim gasped, staggering as he came back to consciousness with a start. He blinked a couple of times, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs.
A young man stood in front of him, a frown creasing his forehead. He was short, not more than five foot nine, with long, curly dark hair. Deep blue eyes studied Jim worriedly from behind wire-rimmed glasses.
Jim cleared his throat. "What?"
"I said are you all right? You were really zoned out, man."
"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm waiting for a cab."
The young man smiled brightly. "That's me. Sandburg's express, deluxe taxi service." He waved an arm in a grand gesture toward the nondescript yellow cab that stood at the curb, its engine still running.
"Great, thanks." Jim climbed into the back seat and gave his address to the driver. He winced at the deafening sound of drums coming from the car's speakers. "Do you mind turning down the jungle music, Chief? My hearing's a little sensitive and it's been a hell of a day."
Sparkling blue eyes looked at him with interest in the rear vision mirror for a moment, before Sandburg obligingly leaned forward and turned off the music. "I know where you're coming from, man," the driver said as he eased the car back onto the road. "I've had the day from hell myself, and you won't believe the idiots on the road tonight. You suppose the rain brings them out?"
"Hmm, what?" Jim leaned his head back and listened with half an ear to the young man's chatter.
"The rain," Sandburg repeated. "Do you think it brings out " He paused for a moment, then continued. "Never mind. You look beat, man. Why don't you catch some shut-eye and I'll wake you up when we're there."
Jim had already taken the young man's advice and was snoring softly.
A sharp, stinging slap to Jim's face brought him violently back to awareness, and he stiffened, one flailing fist lashing out to impact solidly against his assailant. Jim heard a muffled "oof" of exhaled air and reared up in his seat, both hands raised in an unconscious gesture of self-defense and stared.
His cab driver sat on the pavement, water from the puddle he'd landed in already soaking the seat of his pants. His eyes were clenched shut and he cupped a hand over a reddening cheek.
"Shit!" Jim climbed out of the car and knelt at the young man's side. "Sorry, Chief. You startled me." Gently he reached for Sandburg's hand and pulled it away from his face. He winced in sympathy at the darkening discoloration already present. "Oh, yeah, you're gonna have a heck of a bruise."
Sandburg stared at him balefully for a moment, then wiped at his mouth with his free hand. He stared at the smear of blood on his fingers and frowned. "I bit my tonn'," he lisped awkwardly. "Geez, man, I thou' you were zonethed again. I was jus' trying to sthnap you out of it."
"What's this zoning shit?" Jim asked in exasperation. "I was sleeping. Slapping an ex-ranger is not a good way to wake him up."
Blair sighed. "I didn't know you were an ex-ranger, and I called you, shook your shoulder but you wouldn't wake up."
"Don't worry about that now," Jim replied. He stood and held out a hand to the other man. "You feel okay to stand up?"
The cab driver pointedly ignored Jim's offer of assistance, getting to his feet and patting at his jeans with obvious distaste. "Yuck," he said feelingly.
"My apartment's just upstairs," Jim offered. "I could see if I have some dry sweats you can borrow."
Blair shook his head. "It's fine. I was going home after your fare anyway."
Jim nodded and headed toward the apartment building, turning back to say, "I'm really sorry, Chief. You need any medical assistance, let me know. I'll pay the cost."
"It's just a bruise, man." Blair waved the offer aside. "Hey, you gonna need a ride to pick up your car tomorrow?"
"Pick up my car?"
"I figure it's in the shop. You smash it up in a car chase or something?"
"Something like that." Jim couldn't resist a wry smile. "I'm not sure yet. I might catch a ride with my partner. If I need a cab, I'll call the company "
"Ask for Blair." At Jim's puzzled frown, the young man patted his chest. "That's me. You can make up for punching me by giving me a fare."
This time Jim's grin widened. "You got it, Chief." He gestured toward Blair's face. "Put some ice on that when you get home."
Blair nodded and waved back, blue eyes sparkling as he smiled. "You got it. Later, man."
Blair burrowed beneath his thin blankets and tried to find elusive warmth. The 850 feet of warehouse space he rented had seemed a Godsend when he'd been nearly destitute, but that had been at the height of summer. With winter fast approaching, the vast space was uncomfortably chilly, and even with his part-time job as a taxi driver, he couldn't afford to keep the place heated.
He rolled to his back and stared up at the ceiling, his thoughts going back once more to his last fare the previous night. Detective Jim Ellison. Blair had felt an instant attraction to the man the moment he'd found him zoned out under the café awning. What wasn't there to be attracted to, after all? Jim Ellison was tall, strikingly handsome with spectacular icy blue eyes and the physique of a god. It appeared, unfortunately, that he had the personality to match those glacier blue eyes, Blair thought glumly. The detective had barely spoken to him on the drive to his apartment, and had then socked him in the face when Blair had woken him up. Blair consoled himself with the thought that Ellison had seemed genuinely contrite.
And what was it with the curious fugue states that Ellison seemed to suffer? A flash of memory from his research teased at his mind, and Blair climbed out of his bed set up on the floor and padded into his living area, wrapping his arms tightly around his chest in an attempt to ward off the chill. Larry, the Barbary ape Blair had loaned from the Animal Laboratory for a research topic chittered quietly to himself in his cage set on top of the coffee table, and in the darkened recesses of the warehouse a rat trap snapped loudly. Blair grimaced, then flicked on the light, and leaned down to warm his hands in front of the one small space heater he owned, set up near Larry's cage.
Scrabbling through the papers on the coffee table, he found what he was searching for, and settled onto his dilapidated old sofa to read, absently feeding Larry a handful of mixed dried fruit as he did so. It wasn't as though he would be getting back to sleep in the icebox he called home. May as well do a little more work on his dissertation and then see if he could pick up a few fares before going to the university for classes.
Blair Sandburg was an Anthropology grad student at Rainier University. His dissertation subject was Sentinels, also known as Tribal Guardians; ancient warriors who possessed heightened senses - and no longer thought to exist. Blair had found a hundred or more cases of people who had one or two heightened senses, but still hoped that somewhere out there was his Holy Grail - a true Sentinel. It was a romantic notion, and Blair knew he was the laughing stock of many of his fellow students and his professors, but he clung tenaciously to his belief and steadfastly refused suggestions and outright requests that he abandon the subject and find something worthwhile to study.
His thoughts wandered back to Detective Ellison. If the detective possessed enhanced hearing instead of the mere sensitivity he claimed, perhaps Blair could ask him a few questions, see if the gift helped the cop in his work. A policeman with one heightened sense wasn't the answer to his prayers, but it would be at least more fodder for his research, another miniscule step in the right direction.
As dawn showed through the grimy warehouse windows, Blair turned off his laptop, and packed his notebooks into his backpack. He grabbed a wrinkled apple from the refrigerator and turned on the television, tuning it to a noisy black and white Western. Larry squawked mournfully at him as he reached the front door, and Blair turned back to the little ape, scratching the coarse hair on Larry's head, before ensuring there was plenty of food and water for the animal. "You think I want to go out?" Blair gave Larry a commiserating smile. "Gotta pay the bills somehow. I'll be home in time for lunch. I'll bring us some popcorn for the late night movie."
It was raining again, the drops icy against Blair's face as he hurried to his car. Stopping by the Cab Company, he picked up his taxi, and impulsively, steered it in the direction of Prospect Street.
Blair waited a half-hour before deciding time was running out. He'd just started the cab; about to pull out into the street, feeling somewhat disappointed when he caught sight of Ellison striding out the front entrance of the apartment building. Quickly, Blair parked the cab and climbed out, blinking the rain from his eyes. "Good morning," he called out, rather surprised to see an answering smile grace the detective's face.
"I thought I'd missed you," Jim said as he hurried toward Blair.
Blair's eyes widened. "How did you know I was here?"
Jim hesitated a moment before climbing into the front passenger seat, waiting until Blair was settled behind the wheel before replying. "I was drinking my coffee on the balcony and spotted your cab."
Sandburg's eyebrows raised a notch as he stared through the windshield at the driving rain. "You were drinking coffee in the rain?"
Jim shrugged. "The balcony's protected. You want to get a move on, Chief?"
Blair nodded, restarted the car and headed down the road. They had just turned the first corner when he slowed and slapped at his forehead. "Shit!"
Jim glanced quickly at him. "What's wrong?"
"My lecture notes," Blair moaned. "I left them at home, and I won't have time to back track to pick them up after I drop you off." He gave the detective a hopeful look. "I don't suppose "
Jim gave a put upon sigh, then nodded. "Okay, but make it fast. Luckily, I only have paperwork to catch up this morning."
"It's on the way," Blair assured him. "I'll only be a few minutes." That settled he gave Jim a sparkling smile and turned left.
Jim tried to keep his gaze out the front windshield of the cab, but it insistently kept returning to the man seated beside him. Since his divorce a year before, the detective had kept his private life to himself. Not even his ex-wife knew of his bisexuality. It had not been the reason they'd separated, that had more to do with Jim's failure to be intimate with Carolyn as time wore on, and the problems with his senses seemed to spiral out of control. Carolyn's perfumes aggravated his sinuses, her voice seemed to grate in his ears like fingernails on a blackboard, and sometimes, even her most sensual touch in bed caused his skin to crawl. As disappointed as he had been at failing to make his marriage work, Jim had also felt an overwhelming sense of relief when she'd finally packed and left.
Jim had always been a gregarious man, fond of spending time with his friends and work-mates with a beer or a game of poker or basketball. Over time, as his senses seemed to become more and more out of control, he had by necessity, in fear of his very sanity, slowly begun to pull away and erect a shield around himself. His colleagues, at first perturbed by Jim's uncharacteristic behavior had tried to coax him back within their circle, but had long since given up, allowing him to remain aloof and alone. His sex life since Carolyn had been almost nonexistent, save for a couple of one night stands, that had only served to prove to Jim that he was no longer capable of a deep relationship with anyone.
He cast another sideways glance at the driver, who seemed unaware of his scrutiny. Sandburg, Jim remembered, Blair Sandburg. He'd found himself surprised by his unconscious action of climbing into the front seat. Jim didn't feel as though he needed to shy away from this man. Sandburg exuded a calm, something that seemed to dull the sharp edges of Jim's senses, keeping them on an even keel. He was attractive too. Luminous blue eyes, a pert nose and full lips framed by a halo of dark brown hair that glinted with auburn tints in the light. He smelled good, this close: a faint odor of musk mingled with an earthy herbal scent that had Jim's mouth watering and his cock hardening.
Sandburg cast him a sideways glance that locked with Jim's own and the detective felt his cheeks heat with embarrassment. He caught the quick smile on Blair's face before he too, turned his attention back to the road.
"So," Blair said. "Is it just your hearing?"
Confused by the strange question, Jim stared at him. "What?"
Blair shrugged. "You said you have sensitive hearing. Is it only your hearing, or do you have problems with your other senses?" He looked over at Jim again, one hand waving wildly in the air. "Problems with your sight, smell, taste... touch?"
"Lights get a little too bright for me sometimes," Jim admitted. "And I can't eat spicy food any more."
A wide grin creased Sandburg's face, and Jim felt an acute sense of anger that the man would find the problems that had plagued him for years a joke.
"What the fuck's so funny?" he growled.
Blair instantly schooled his features to seriousness and turned a genuinely apologetic look Jim's way. "Not funny, man, relief. I'm a grad student in Anthropology at Rainier University, and my dissertation subject is people with enhanced senses. Well, actually, it's little more involved than that, I've found people with one or two enhanced senses, but not with all five. That's what I'm really looking for." He grinned again. "My Holy Grail, you might say."
Jim straightened in his seat and mulled over Blair's words.
"So you're an expert on this kind of stuff?" he asked slowly, hope blossoming.
Blair shook his head, his curls flying. "Not hardly, man, but over the past several years of studying Burton's writings, and talking to people like coffee tasters, perfume sniffers... I like to think I'm pretty much the only expert around."
"Burton?" Jim raised an eyebrow.
"Sir Richard Burton not *that* one. This guy was an explorer, and he wrote about warriors in the jungles who had a genetic advantage of heightened senses. By utilizing their senses, they could patrol the tribe's borders, watch for early signs of game movement, protect the tribe by sensing the enemy."
"A little like the recon units in 'Nam," Jim said thoughtfully.
"Exactly!" Blair looked thrilled.
"If you're an expert, you'd know how I can switch them off then."
Blair stared at him, then checking his rear vision mirror, pulled into the curb. He turned to look at Jim. "I don't think it works like that," he began softly, reaching out to cover Jim's hand with his own, when the detective opened his mouth to protest. "I think I've learned enough to maybe help you control them, maybe even stop the zone-outs "
Jim rolled his eyes. "Again with the zone-outs."
"It's what happens when you focus too much on one sense," Blair explained. "You zone-out."
"It's not epilepsy?" Jim asked.
"No, no way!" Blair paused. "At least I don't think so," he continued, "though there are some similarities with Jacksonian seizures, and hypersensitivity in autistic children is well-documented "
Jim shook Blair's hand a little, hoping to get the man back on track, trying not to lose himself in the feel of Blair's hand around his, the feel of strong muscle and bone, of callused fingertips, and soft palms. He shivered, then ruthlessly dragged himself back to the present. Blair was staring at him, a wide-eyed look of disbelief on his face.
"Shit! We're talking all five sense here, aren't we?"
An odor seeped into Jim's nostrils and he froze, tilting his head a little, his eyes squinting to see through the rain that still drizzled sullenly outside. Reaching out, he grasped Blair's arm, squeezing it tightly, the solid feel of muscles beneath his hand preventing him from fading away with his sight and smell. "Fire!" he said curtly. He pointed at the windshield. "Straight ahead. Put your foot down," he ordered.
Sandburg complied with admirable alacrity, asking no questions. He slammed on the brakes as they came level with an old warehouse, flames already shooting through the roof on one side of the building.
"Oh God," Blair whispered. Hurriedly he unsnapped his seatbelt and was reaching for the door handle when Jim stopped him.
The detective pointed at the radio. "Call it in. Ask for police, and ambulances as well, just in case."
Jim ignored the protest. He was already out of the car and running full speed for the blazing building.
Jim headed for the far side of the warehouse where the flames seemed fiercest. Turning the corner, he could see two bodies sprawled just inside the open door. Jim crouched beside them, one hand reaching to check for pulses, his eyes taking in the ghastly bullet wounds that had ripped open each man's chest, telling him both were already dead, and not from the explosion.
A sharp chemical tang mixed with the smoke and embers made his eyes water and Jim gagged. The overpowering stench of some kind of drug was obvious to the experienced detective. His senses ranged out of their own volition, but Jim could hear no heartbeats over the roar of the flames. His ears picked up the sound of sirens in the distance then he recoiled from a shouting voice that seemed to come from right beside him.
Turning, Jim could see no one. Coughing now as the acrid fumes assailed his throat and lungs, Jim staggered back toward Sandburg's cab.
The car was empty, the radio handset lay abandoned on the driver's seat, but there was no sign of the driver. Jim heard coughing and faint mumbling coming from the near side of the warehouse. He spun around to see Sandburg staggering out of a second entrance, his arms cradling a small bundle.
Jim ran toward the young man, shouting a warning for him to run, his sensitive ears picking up the ominous rumbling of another imminent explosion.
Sandburg looked up toward him, stumbling as his feet tripped over some unseen obstacle, then the world exploded in a fiery display of reds and orange, heat and sound. Jim felt something impact his chest, sending him to the ground. Rolling to his side, he cupped his hands over his ears, trying to stifle the deafening noises that reverberated inside his skull. His lungs refused to take in air and he felt darkness crowding out the brilliant colors, sending him creeping toward oblivion. Something was shaking him, but Jim could not unclench his eyelids to see. Blinding white light shot sharp, agonizing pain through his head with the movement, his entire body trembling with the tension of attempting to remain curled and protected from the sensory onslaught.
A voice, gravel-rough and breathless, finally insinuated itself into his shell-shocked brain and Jim reached out mentally for the lifeline it seemed to be, allowing it to soothe the sharpness of pain and pull him back.
Cautiously he opened his eyes and blinked a few times to bring the blurry sight of Blair into focus. Sandburg was covered in streaks of soot, a cut over one eye trickled blood down his face, and in his arms, a small bundle of fur shifted, a not quite human hand reaching up to clutch at Blair's jacket.
Blair smiled. "Thank God. You all right, Jim?" His voice was scratchy and Jim detected a slight wheeze behind the words.
"Fine, just a little shook up," he replied, accepting Sandburg's one-handed offer of help to sit up. He reeled a little as dizziness assailed him and took a couple of deep breaths to replenish his oxygen-starved lungs. He gestured toward the animal in Blair's arms. "Who's this?"
"This is Larry."
The little ape stared back at Jim curiously, then snuffled into Blair's jacket and closed his eyes. Blair stared at Jim for a long moment, before speaking again. "You had a sensory spike, didn't you?"
Jim's eyes widened at the unexpected words, but he shook his head. "Just a bit of concussion from the explosion." He pushed himself to his feet and motioned for the paramedics as the area suddenly came alive with police and ambulance personnel. "Get yourself checked out, Chief, then on the way downtown, you and I are going to have a little talk about the stupidity of civilians running into burning buildings."
"Larry's my responsibility," Blair interrupted but the forcefulness of his words was ambushed by a coughing fit. He did not fight the oxygen mask that was placed over his face, allowing the paramedic to seat him on the back of the ambulance. His next words were muffled through the mask, but clear to sentinel hearing. "This is was my home."
Jim made his way back inside the ruins of the warehouse once he'd made sure the paramedics were checking out Blair. He stared around the soot and watered covered area, wondering why someone like Sandburg would choose to live here. Though the grad student was obviously having to work hard for cash, given his moonlighting as a cabbie, there had to be other places, small apartments that would suit his needs better. Still, he thought, as he crossed over to join Simon Banks and two other detectives, he didn't know the kid at all. Could be any of a number of reasons. He had to admit that the thought that Sandburg could be tied up with the drug lab had crossed his mind, but he had just as quickly rejected it. He prided himself on his cop's instincts and Sandburg just didn't seem like a drug dealer.
"Simon, Forensics come up with anything yet?" he asked the captain.
"They're still looking," Simon replied. He indicated the men beside him. "This is Detectives Williams and Gaines from Narcotics."
Jim nodded at Williams, and grimaced at the heavy odor from the man's cigarette. "I thought you gave up the cigarettes."
Williams shrugged and dropped the butt to the ground, crushing it under his foot. "Yeah, well, they didn't give up on me." He slapped the fourth man on the shoulder. "This is Earl Gaines. Transferred from the gang division to Narcotics last month."
Jim recognized the ex-footballer then. "I've seen you play a few times," he said admiringly as he shook Gaines' hand. "You had one hell of a throw."
Gaines regarded him somberly. "Until my knee gave out."
There was an awkward silence until Jim spoke again. "This was obviously a drug lab."
Gaines nodded. "The Black Knights. I recognized the bodies out front," he said in explanation. "I thought they'd closed down."
"Yeah, well, looks like they started up again," Jim replied.
"We had a pact," Gaines said. "No more labs, and the real problem is this was on the Titans turf."
"You think they were trying to incite a gang war?" Banks asked.
"Someone was. We went to the table with them," Gaines went on. "Toine gave me his word."
"Toine?" Jim asked.
"Antoine Hollins, the former leader of the Knights. We've known each other since we were in diapers. He wouldn't go back on his word."
"Well, this was no accident," Jim said when Gaines turned away.
"What makes you say that?" Williams asked. "Lab explosions aren't uncommon."
"The two bodies out front with bullet wounds in their chests," Jim said. "And I can smell the accelerant that was used."
Williams' eyes narrowed. "I can't smell anything through the smoke."
Jim shrugged. "Good nose, I guess."
Williams glared at Jim for a long moment. "All right. What about the kid outside? Someone said he lived here. He see anything, anyone?"
Jim shook his head. "His name is Blair Sandburg and he's a grad student over at Rainer, moonlights as a cabbie. He said he thought the other part of the warehouse was deserted."
"And you believe him?" Williams' tone said he didn't.
"The walls between the two halves of the building are reinforced, and he's not here a lot. Yes, I believe him," Jim replied icily.
"Know him well, do you?" Williams shot back.
Jim chose to ignore the question. "I'm going to go see what Forensics has turned up," he said to Simon, then looked back at Williams. "And I'll take a statement from Sandburg once the paramedics have finished with him."
Williams frowned but said nothing. He lit up another cigarette and walked away.
Blair trembled with cold, clutching his sodden jacket more closely about him, a grimace of pain crossing his wan features as the paramedic fussed over him, bandaging the cut on his head and wrapping a light gauze bandage around the blistered burns on his hand. He tried to fight off the fatigue that dragged at him, needing to get his foggy thoughts in some kind of order. The world around him seemed surreal and blurred; voices muted, the presence of others fading into the background.
Larry had been taken from him by a round-faced kindly looking detective Jim had called H. He had assured Blair that Larry would be checked out by a vet. Fumbling in his pocket, Blair found the scrap of paper with the number of the Animal Research Facility and urged H to phone them to pick up the little ape.
Now, Blair needed to get himself sorted. His home was gone, as were most of his belongings, as meager as they were. Most of his textbooks, and his precious laptop and dissertation notes were either in his backpack or at the university and he sighed with relief at that thought. What to do now. He rubbed fretfully at the headache budding behind his eyes. His mother was out of town, and he had no money left for a motel room, having just paid his monthly rent on the warehouse. He had friends who would take him in for a short time, but his fuzzy brain would not bring forth the numbers he needed to call. Slumping back against the closed door of the ambulance, Blair decided to go to his office at the university. At least there was a cot there he could sleep on if worst came to worst.
He looked around the devastated area for a sign of Jim Ellison. The detective had disappeared inside the wrecked warehouse after issuing a terse order for Blair to stay where he was and not move. He still had not returned. Blair thought back to Jim's actions when the explosion had sent Blair careening into the other man. He had read about sensory spikes, but had never seen one before. Two senses enhanced, Blair thought, perhaps more. Despite his fatigue and shock, Blair felt a shiver of excitement pass through him. He staggered to his feet, waving off the paramedic's admonishment. He needed to get his current predicament sorted out, and then he had to have a long talk with Jim Ellison.
Blair looked up into the stern gaze of a dark-skinned man dressed in a business suit, a cigarette clasped in the fingers of his right hand.
"I'm Detective Williams, Narcotics," the man said. "I'd like you to accompany me downtown and answer a few questions."
"I'm here with Jim Detective Ellison," Blair told him. "He told me to wait here."
"He's still inside, processing the scene," Williams said as he gestured Blair toward a sedan on the street. "I'll leave a message letting him know where you are."
Blair took another quick glance at the smoldering remains of the warehouse, then nodded and allowed Williams to lead him to the car.
"You seem a little nervous, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair gathered his drifting thoughts and looked over at the detective, who stood leaning against the far wall, puffing on a cigarette. "What?" He shook his head. "Just thinking. You look familiar to me."
Williams frowned and stepped closer. "Hang around police stations a lot, do you?"
"No." Blair rubbed at his eyes, trying to dislodge the small specks of soot that were irritating him. "I'm a cabbie, part-time. Maybe I've picked you up sometime."
"Doubtful," Williams replied. "Unlike Detective Ellison, I haven't had my license suspended."
Blair's watering eyes widened at that. "Really? So, that's what happened."
"You didn't hear it from me," Williams added. He walked up to the table, ground out his cigarette and immediately pulled another from the pack, and lit it up, studying Blair intensely as he did so. "Now, let's get this conversation back on track."
"This is no conversation," Blair muttered indignantly. "It's an interrogation. Why don't you go find the guys who did this?"
"I will be, once you tell me what you know."
Blair sagged in his chair and wearily laid his head on his folded arms. "I can't tell you anything, man," he said, wincing as the continued use of his voice further abused his inflamed throat. "I rented the warehouse. It was just a place to sleep, a roof over my head."
Detective Williams leaned in closely, the heavily fragranced smoke from his cigarette puffing into Blair's face as he spoke, causing the grad student to rear back, coughing harshly, and clutching at his sore ribs. They'd been at this for hours now, and every bruised part of Blair's body was beginning to report in.
"And you had no idea there was a drug lab right next door?" Sarcasm dripped from the detective's words.
"I don't know what to tell you, Detective," Blair ground out, exasperation warring with exhaustion; his head beginning to pound unmercifully. "No, I do know what to tell you. I didn't know there was a drug lab next door. I'm a student. Do I look like a drug dealer?"
Williams grinned ferally at him. "I don't know, Mr. Sandburg. What does a drug dealer look like?"
Blair pounded his fists on the table and surged to his feet. "All right, that's it! I'm leaving. You have no reason to hold me here. If you want to ask any more questions, you can ask my lawyer."
"And who would that be?"
Blair stopped at the door. "I'll find one," he said. He stumbled back as the door to the interrogation room flew open. Ellison stood in the doorway, a furious expression on his face.
"What the hell's going on here, Williams?" he yelled.
"I'm questioning a suspect, Ellison," Williams drawled, crushing his cigarette butt in the ashtray. "You have a problem with that?"
Jim stepped up to Blair's side. "As a matter of fact, I do. This man was injured in the blast and the medics hadn't finished checking him." Jim's features softened as he looked down at Blair. "You feeling okay, Chief?"
Blair nodded, then wished he hadn't as his head threatened to drop off his shoulders. The room wavered in and out and cold sweat broke out on his face. He had the awful feeling he was going to throw up. "I'm fine. I have to " He looked desperately at Jim, one hand motioning toward his mouth. "I'm gonna "
Jim seemed to understand immediately. With a curt nod, he took Blair's arm and shepherded him out of the room and into the men's room across the corridor. Blair dropped to his knees inside the first stall and gave vent to his nausea. Eyes tearing from the pain in his throat, he slumped back on his heels when he was done, sighing as a cool, wet cloth was wiped gently over his brow.
"You okay here for a minute, Chief?"
Blair nodded mutely. He felt a gentle pat to his head and then Jim was gone. He shifted until he was seated and bent his knees, then rested his aching head upon them. What the fuck was he going to do now? At least if he got arrested, he'd have somewhere to sleep. He resisted the faintly hysterical sob that bubbled from his throat and dropped his head back down. He was so screwed.
Jim returned to the interrogation room. Simon Banks and Earl Gaines had joined Williams, and all three turned to look at him when he stormed back into the room.
"What the hell was that all about, Williams?" Jim asked, striding up to the group.
"Just interviewing a suspect, like I said," Williams replied.
"He's no suspect," Jim shot back. "He was with me when the explosion occurred, and there's no way he's involved in any of this."
"I'm afraid I have to agree with Ellison on this," Gaines put in. "This is definitely gang-related. Sandburg's no gang member."
"He could be a front man. He lives next door to the lab, keeps a look-out," Williams responded mulishly, but Gaines was already shaking his head.
"I doubt it. These gangs are black. No way they're gonna have a guy like that involved."
Williams seemed to sag a little, but nodded. "All right, but I'm going to be keeping an eye on him. If there's a chance he's involved, he could run. He's got nowhere to live now, and no family in town, so he could go anywhere. I'm going to run a check on him too."
"Leave that to me," Jim said, surprising himself a little with the comment. "The kid's homeless and injured. He'll be staying with me for the time being."
Williams' eyebrows raised, and a faint expression of disgust passed over his face. "I didn't know the kid was a friend of yours, Ellison."
"He's not," Jim said. "Just a scared kid with nowhere to go." He spun on his heel and strode to the door. "If you need to talk to him again, let me know." With that, he pulled open the door and left the room.
He stopped when Simon came hurrying out after him. "What the hell was that about? You gonna take in some kid you don't even know?"
Jim shrugged. "Why not. He's got to sleep somewhere. He's just lost pretty much everything he owns."
"He must have family " Simon said.
"I don't know, sir. I'll check." Jim realized he was hoping like hell Blair didn't. He grasped Simon's arm and pulled him over to the side of the corridor. "He knows about me, Simon. My senses, I mean. Says he studied this kind of thing, and he thinks he can help me."
Simon didn't look convinced. "I still think Williams is right about this, as much as I can't stand the guy. How could someone live next door to a drug lab and not know?"
Jim shrugged. "It was pretty well concealed, and Sandburg isn't home that often. He's at Rainier during the day and driving cabs most of the night. Frankly, sir, I don't know how he does it. He must operate on about two hours sleep a night." He cocked his head slightly, experimentally and carefully extending his hearing into the bathroom next to them. "And right now, I think it's all caught up with him. Look, if he is involved, what better way to keep an eye on him, if he's staying with me?"
Simon still didn't look happy. "Just make sure you nail everything down, and frisk the kid before he leaves."
"I'd like to go over the warehouse again once everybody's gone. See what I can pick up," Jim added, pushing open the men's room door.
"Go for it," Simon replied. "Keep me posted."
"Yes, sir." Jim waited until Simon disappeared around the corner before making his way back into the men's room. Slow, even breathing, punctuated by a soft sniffle and a ragged cough met his ears, and he realized he'd automatically turned up his hearing.
He stopped at the first stall and carefully pushed the door open partway. Blair sat on the floor, his back against the wall and his knees drawn up to his chest. He looked as though he was deeply asleep, though a small shiver racked his body now and then, and his breathing sounded congested.
Jim squatted down beside the young man and gently shook a shoulder. The response was immediate. Sandburg startled; his head shooting up and his eyes snapping open. There was a sharp thump as his head hit the wall behind him.
"Easy, Chief. It's just me." Jim slid a hand behind Blair's head and gently massaged the young man's skull. "You ready to go."
Blair's eyes still didn't seem to be focusing properly and Jim wondered if he should stop by the ER and get him checked out.
Jim smiled and stood, then reached out a hand to pull Blair to his feet. "Jim will do." He placed a hand in the small of Blair's back and steered him out of the stall, standing nearby while Blair splashed water over his face and washed his hands. Blair turned to him and smiled, looking a little more alert.
"Thanks for everything, Detective Jim."
"No problem. You got somewhere to stay? I can get a uniform to drive you."
"It's no big deal," Blair replied, walking to the door. "I'm sure I can find something."
"I have a spare room," Jim said. "You're welcome to use it for a few days until you find something else."
"No, I couldn't accept that. You don't even know me, and I couldn't repay you any time soon."
"We could work something out once you're back on your feet." Jim couldn't understand why he was insisting, only that it wasn't because of Williams' suspicions.
Blair hesitated, then nodded. "To be honest, Detective Jim, my brain is so muddled right now, I can't think of anywhere to go. A bed for tonight would be great. Thanks."
Jim smiled. "Let's go. I'll get my partner to drive us. I guess you've figured by now I'm not driving."
Blair seemed to lean into Jim's support. "Well, if you'll let me help you, we might be able to remedy that pretty soon. Once you understand what's triggering the zone-outs, they should be easy to control."
"And what are you going to get out of it?" Jim asked as they stopped in front of the elevator. "Besides a room for a few days."
"The opportunity to study you, I hope," Blair replied. He held up a hand at the frown on Jim's face. "Maybe study isn't the right word. I'd like to ride with you for a while. That way, I can observe how you use your senses in the field, and coach you at the same time on how to utilize them for your own benefit, how to avoid zone-outs and sensory spikes." He grinned and Jim thought again how attractive he was. "You could be a walking crime lab, man, with a little help from me."
"I'll think about it," Jim conceded, "but the official word will have to come from my captain. Wait here, I'll go find Joel."
Blair was drifting in a cozy cocoon. Blissful warmth surrounded him and a gentle rocking motion lulled him toward sleep.
"Chief? Wake up. We're here."
The vaguely familiar voice came from somewhere above him, but Blair opted to ignore it, choosing instead to snuffle into the pillow beneath his head and return to his slumber. His pillow rumbled and he cracked open one eye, angling his head upward to see Jim Ellison's face directly above him. Which meant Blair opened his other eye now and studied the cloth beneath his cheek Tee shirt, covering a broad, muscled chest. He sat up abruptly and clutched his head as it protested the sudden movement. A deep chuckle came from the front seat and Blair looked over into a pair of chocolate brown eyes that were crinkled in amusement. He gave the man a shy smile back. "Sorry," he croaked. "Must've drifted off."
"No problem, Chief," Jim replied, shifting out from under him and pushing open the car door, letting an icy gust of wind blast over them. "You went right out." He looked down at his shirt. "Just hope you don't drool in your sleep."
Blair felt his cheeks heat with embarrassment, and the comment caused the man in the front seat to guffaw loudly. Joel Taggart. Blair remembered vaguely being introduced to Jim's partner when he'd given them a ride to Jim's apartment. He rubbed at his forehead. He couldn't recall going to sleep; only a faint thrill when Jim had opted to sit beside him instead of in the front seat. "Sorry," he said around a yawn. "If I did, I'll buy you a new tee shirt."
Jim waved the apology away. "Let's get out of this rain, huh?" He pulled Blair from the car and turned him toward the apartment building. "Thanks, Joel. I'll see you in the morning."
"You gonna need a ride to work, man?" Joel asked.
"Probably. I'll call you before I leave."
"Okay. It was nice meeting you, Blair."
Blair turned and faced the kindly detective. "You, too. Sorry I wasn't up to much conversation."
Joel smiled, his teeth gleaming in the darkness of the car. "Another time, huh?"
Blair nodded, then followed Jim into the apartment building and into the elevator. They got out on the third floor and made their way halfway along the corridor to Jim's front door. Jim unlocked the door and ushered Blair inside. Throwing his keys into a small basket by the door, he pulled off his jacket and reached for Blair's. "Let me take your coat, Chief."
Blair obliged him by slipping out of his wet flannel overshirt then took a couple of steps into the living room, looking around in curiosity. The apartment was large and sparsely decorated. Wood floors gleamed dully and two large couches took up the center space of the room. The kitchen was filled with shiny utensils hanging from hooks overhead. So the man liked to cook, Blair thought. A large pair of glass doors led out to a balcony that looked out over the bay. Blair felt his excitement increase despite his weariness. Perfect, imagine what a sentinel could see in that view. On the far side of the living room, a narrow staircase led upward to a mezzanine floor. Blair could just see the edge of a bed through the railing. Made sense, he thought to himself, someone with heightened senses would want to sleep as far away from any of the distractions of creaking floors and running refrigerators, the neighbors coming and going in the corridor outside A touch on his shoulder made him jump.
"Looked like you were zoning, Sandburg," Jim said with a smile.
"Sorry, it's the anthropologist in me," Blair answered. He watched Jim walk into the kitchen and open the refrigerator door. "I was just thinking that everything about this place, how it's decorated and designed makes perfect sense for someone with heightened senses."
Jim stared at him. "It does?" He shrugged. "It wasn't done consciously. I just liked the place as soon as I walked in."
Blair nodded enthusiastically. "That's why it makes sense. Your sub-conscious choosing somewhere that you can both exercise your abilities when you choose," he waved toward the balcony, "or turn them down when you have to." He pointed up to the bedroom, then took a step toward the kitchen and leaned his elbows on the counter. "And the thing is, I think there's a way to teach you how to control your senses at will."
"Sounds great, Chief," Jim said, sounding bored. "You want some food? I could whip up a stir fry while you take a shower."
"You don't sound very excited about learning to control your senses," Blair said.
Jim shrugged and bent to pull vegetables from the crisper. "Like I told you, they're a nuisance. I'd rather turn them off."
"They're a gift," Blair replied firmly. "If you know how to use them."
Jim placed carrots and onions on the counter and smiled. "You're pretty fired up about this stuff, aren't you?"
"It's my life's work," Blair said. "I've been studying Burton's work since I was fourteen. I knew even then what I was going to do with my life."
"No time for girlfriends, Chief or boyfriends?"
Blair caught the hint. "I've had a couple of relationships," he replied casually. "Nothing serious. What about you. You said you'd been married."
"It didn't work out. I've been too busy lately to see anyone, of either sex."
"So, you're bi?"
"You worried I'm going to jump your bones, Chief?" Jim held up a hand as Blair opened his mouth to protest. "Sorry. That was uncalled for. I'm tired. Now, you want to eat?"
Blair shook his head. "It's fine. If you'll show me where the bedding is, I'll crash on the couch and get out of your hair first thing in the morning." His stomach chose that moment to growl, exposing his obfuscation.
Jim grinned. "Towels are in the cupboard by the bathroom, and there's a spare bed already made up in the room under the stairs. You shower, I'll cook."
"Okay. Thanks." Blair crossed to the closet and rummaged through until he found a couple of towels. He paused with his hand on the bathroom door handle and looked back at Jim. "What I said, about you being bi? I wasn't trying to pry into your private life. It's just since I met you I'm an anthropologist, trained to observe everything around me. I thought I got a hint that maybe you were attracted to me."
Jim stopped chopping and looked at him. "Would that bother you?"
Blair smiled. "No, not at all."
Jim returned his smile. He had a nice smile, Blair decided. "Go, get cleaned up. I'm starving here," Jim said gruffly.
Blair sketched a rakish salute and walked into the bathroom, feeling happier than he had all day.
A delicious aroma greeted him when he stepped out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around him. The smell of chicken and vegetables and sauces drifted from the kitchen but Jim was nowhere in sight. Shrugging, Blair walked into the small spare bedroom and stripped off his towel. He had no other clothes, so he was going to have to dress in the ones he'd been wearing. He wrinkled his nose as he held his tee shirt up and sniffed it. Nothing for it. It would have to do.
"I borrowed some clothes " Jim's voice came from the doorway and Blair dropped the shirt in surprise.
"You have got to stop doing that, man. You scared me half to death." He faltered, watching Jim's gaze rake over him; the lingering look suffusing Blair's skin with a rosy blush and causing his cock to stir with interest. He reached for his towel and wrapped it about his waist.
Jim seemed to shake himself and held out a bundle of clothing. "Sorry. I borrowed some clothes from my neighbor. She has a son about your size."
"Thanks." Blair took the offering and then, deliberately stripped off the towel.
Jim took a final look, then turned away. "Hurry up and get dressed. Dinner's getting cold."
"Be right out," Blair said, not able to disguise the smile in his voice.
They'd eaten, then Jim had showered while Blair prowled the living room, curious to learn more about his generous host. The CD rack next to the state of the art sound system held an eclectic range from jazz to rock. Blair ran his hands over the paperback novels on the bookshelf - John Le Carre, James Patterson, Tom Clancy; pretty much what he expected for a cop. His hands stopped on a book at the end of the row, and he pulled it out and studied the cover. Jack Kerouac, now that he hadn't expected.
"Find anything you like?" Jim asked from behind him.
Blair turned and mimicked Jim's earlier study of his own body, dragging his gaze over the broad, smooth chest and flat stomach. A towel hid Jim's lower body but Blair could see evidence of an erection tenting the material. He licked at his suddenly dry lips. "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did." He crossed the room quickly before his bravado could desert him and stood in front of Jim.
He didn't have to wait long. Jim bent his head and pressed his lips against Blair's in a sweet, almost chaste kiss; just the tip of his tongue snaking out to push into Blair's eager mouth. Jim pulled back and stared at him, his eyes a smoky blue. It was all too brief, but Blair 's heart was pounding in his chest, his cock achingly hard.
"Good night, Blair," Jim whispered. "I'll try not to wake you when I leave." He turned and headed for the stairs.
Jim smiled at Blair. "I want you, Chief, but you need to know you're doing that because you want me, not because you think you owe me."
"I do want you." Blair took a step forward.
"Good," Jim replied. "Get some sleep, huh? You've got to be exhausted."
Blair watched him climb the stairs and turn off the bedroom light. Wrapping his arms about his body, suddenly totally unsure of everything, Blair entered the spare bedroom and got ready for bed.
He'd thought he wouldn't be able to sleep, but his exhaustion pulled him into oblivion quickly. What he wasn't prepared for were the nightmares. He shot up in the bed, a scream lodged in his throat, his heart racing and his breath coming in panicked gasps that threatened to choke him. Grasping the sheets in a white-fisted grip, he looked around the unfamiliar room, and felt himself calm as he remembered where he was. He couldn't remember what he'd dreamed, could only recall the feeling of terror that had gripped him, and the fleeting glimpse of a familiar but threatening face.
"Fuck," he swore softly. Picking up his tee shirt off the floor, Blair wiped the cold sweat from his body and lay down again, staring up at the darkened ceiling. He still felt tired, but no longer sleepy, and he certainly didn't want to take the chance of slipping back into his bad dream. Climbing out of bed, he dressed quickly and crept out of the room, then walked out onto the balcony and lost himself in the beauty of dawn creeping over the horizon.
Jim saw him there when he came downstairs the following morning. He stood for a moment and watched him silently, taking pleasure in viewing the handsome young man unnoticed. A lump formed in his throat when he saw a solitary tear snake down Blair's cheek and drip off his chin. Turning away, Jim made his way into the kitchen and put water onto boil. Once the coffee was ready, he poured two cups and took them out to the balcony. "Here you go, Chief. You look like you could use this."
Blair wiped at his face with the heel of his hand then managed a wan smile as he took the proferred drink. "Thanks." His voice still sounded croaky and his pallor hadn't improved from the night before. The two men stood in companionable silence for a few minutes, taking in the view over the bay.
"I'm going to go scramble some eggs and get ready to leave," Jim said finally. "I want to go back to the warehouse and take another look around."
"I'll go with you," Blair offered immediately. "I've got to see what I can salvage out of my part of the building. Detective Williams didn't give me a chance to take anything with me except my backpack. Maybe I could help you out too. If you use your senses to try to pick up any clues, I can make sure you don't go into a zone-out." He looked hopefully at Jim.
"Be my back-up, you mean?"
Blair smiled. "Yeah, sorta."
"Okay." Jim nodded slowly. "But you do everything I tell you, Chief. I don't want to have to explain your fingerprints on any of the evidence."
"You believe me, don't you," Blair asked, "that I had nothing to do with that drug lab or the explosion?"
"I believe you," Jim assured him. "You don't need Williams on your back again, that's all."
Blair reached up and grasped Jim's hand as he walked back to the balcony doors. "Would you Do you think we could try that thing from last night again." He swallowed convulsively, and waved his hands in the air, looking embarrassed. "I've got to admit I'm still trying to come to grips with all of this. I still don't know what I've lost, where I'm going to live, my grants won't cover " Anything else he'd been about to say was swallowed by Jim's mouth on his. Blair leaned into the kiss and Jim felt his lips open, and his tongue pushing inside. Jim shifted his hands, wrapping his arms around Blair's broad back, dragging him closer. Blair began a slow, firm stroke against his thigh, and he pushed his knee forward, allowing Blair to slide his cock sensuously along Jim's hip. Jim felt his own erection harden, and he groaned into Blair's mouth, hearing an answering rumble from Blair.
Blair's movements were sinuous and deliciously erotic. Jim carded his fingers through the young man's luxuriant curls, then stroked down over his broad back, finally cupping Blair's tight ass and pulling him even closer. He felt Blair's arms wrap around his neck to stroke the short hairs at his nape. Just as things got really interesting and Jim decided there was no going back, Blair pulled away.
He took two steps back, panting a little, the tip of his tongue poking out to lick at his slightly swollen lips. "Man," he said a little breathlessly. "That was way intense."
"So, why did we stop?" Jim asked nonplussed.
"I just think we should take it a little slower, that's all," Blair answered. He reached out and cupped Jim's cheek, stroking gently over the detective's morning bristles. "I like you, Jim. I mean, really like you. I just think we should both be sure that's what we want. You said that yourself last night, and you were right. We've known each other two days and already, I want to climb into bed with you, but if we want this relationship to succeed, we just need to go slowly."
Jim looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, then nodded. "You're a pretty smart guy, Darwin."
Blair rolled his eyes. "What is it with you and nicknames, man?"
"Well, you seem to change personalities so quickly, I feel like I need about a dozen different names for you."
"Okay, then, *big guy *." Blair smirked and looked down deliberately at Jim's boxer covered erection and unselfconsciously rubbed his own. "As a thank you for everything you've done, why don't I cook breakfast, while you take a shower?"
"Sounds like a fair exchange," Jim agreed.
Joel had picked them up from the apartment after breakfast. Blair made a face as he looked down at the black tracksuit pants and sweater Jim had borrowed from his generous neighbor. Sweats were so not his style. With any luck, he'd be able to salvage at least some of his clothing from the warehouse. He had no money to spare. Failing all else, he'd have to spend the afternoon shopping at the local Goodwill store.
He couldn't keep the smile from his face, despite his dire circumstances as he climbed into the back seat of Joel's car and watched Jim seat himself in the front seat. He knew he was falling in love with the handsome detective, and he hoped that this morning's make-out session on the balcony meant his feelings were reciprocated.
Joel pulled up at the curb and the three men made their way under the yellow police tape and into the warehouse ruins. Following Jim, Blair balled his hands into fists and made a determined effort to keep them at his sides. Jim stopped suddenly and hunched down, then picked up something from the ground. Blair crouched beside him, one hand reaching out to rest on Jim's back.
"You got something?" he asked.
Jim didn't answer immediately. He held up a cigarette butt, sniffed it carefully and sneezed several times.
"We're going to have to teach you how to dial down your sense of smell, man," Blair said with a grin.
"It's one of those Egyptian cigarettes," Jim said, wiping at his eyes. "Strong stuff."
"Detective Williams smokes those. He was blowing the smoke in my face yesterday," Blair said.
Standing again, Jim sighed. "Then it's no help to us at all. Williams was here on the scene yesterday." He frowned and looked around. "There's got to be something here."
Blair stood then and placed his hand on Jim's back once more. "Use your sight, man. Range it out slowly. Try to see past the obvious stuff, but stay aware of my hand on your back. Can you feel it?"
"Yeah." Jim's eyes were already a little unfocused and Blair held his breath. Here was the first test of whether he really knew what he was talking about. Jim was silent for a long moment, his gaze roaming over the warehouse floor. "Here," he said. He walked several feet away and hunkered down again. Tugging something from beneath a fallen piece of timber, he brought it up to his face and examined it closely. "Business card of some kind, but it's pretty charred."
"It looks embossed," Blair said, taking a closer look. "Use your touch, see if you can feel the lettering."
Nodding, Jim ran his fingertips over the blackened card, and concentrated on feeling the etching on the card. "Write this down," he told Blair, who quickly pulled a pen and notepad from his backpack. "There's some numbers here. Sounds like a cell phone number. 0401 there's a couple missing, then 980." He pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and dropped the card inside. Reaching up, he rubbed his forehead.
"Headache?" Blair asked, unconsciously stroking Jim's back.
"It'll ease," Blair said. "You've just overdone it. But that was pretty good for a first time."
Jim accepted the praise with a smile and tousled Blair's hair. "Thanks, Chief. Okay, let's go over to your side of the warehouse and see what's left of your things."
There wasn't much left. Blair gazed in dismay at the pathetic pile of boxes left stacked up against the fence. He tried to stifle a disappointed sigh as he opened the flaps on the topmost box and rummaged through the meager contents. Pulling out a favorite flannel shirt that felt damp and reeked of smoke, he held it up and grimaced. "At least I've got some clothes to wear once they're washed."
Jim gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze and was about to say something when his cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and took a few steps away before answering.
Blair went back to searching through the boxes while he waited. At least, his research notes were safe in his office, he thought. He shuddered at the thought of having to start over. The second box held a few items he'd collected on his travels to digs in South America and Mexico, some looked charred, but he'd have to examine everything more carefully when he got it all back to Jim's place to see if there was any real damage. Then, he had to find somewhere to live. As much as he thought he and Jim had a chance at a relationship, and regardless of where they were heading, Blair was certain Jim wouldn't want him moving in and setting up house just yet. He was still surprised by the depth of his feelings for Jim, he'd never fallen in love so quickly before. As a matter of fact, he couldn't recall ever having feelings like this for anyone else.
He picked up a box and steadied it in his arms as Jim approached. "Sorry, Chief. Duty calls. I've got to head into the station for a while."
"Something about the case?" Blair asked.
"Yeah. Look, are you going to be okay getting this stuff back to the apartment?" He fished in his pocket and pulled out his keys. "Here's the front door key, there's a washing machine and dryer in the basement you can use."
Blair nodded. "I'll be fine. Thanks. What about you? How are you going to get to the station? I could drop you off after I pick up my car from the Cab Company."
"It's fine. I'll get a ride with one of the uniforms. I'll see you later today."
"You going to ask your captain about me?" Blair asked hopefully.
Jim seemed preoccupied. "Yeah, maybe. I'll see what I can do," he said finally. He turned to go and Blair snaked out one hand, feeling the box wobble precariously as he did so.
"You all right?" Blair asked. "I can go to the university, if you'd prefer. I have to call in there anyway, organize someone to take my classes for a couple of days until I find a place and get settled."
Jim frowned. "You don't want to stay with me?"
"Well, yeah, I do, but I'm sure you don't want me in your face for too long."
Jim leaned in closer, a predatory smile on his face. "I'd love to have you in my face, Chief," he said in a low, sultry whisper.
Blair cleared his throat and adjusted his stance as he felt his groin tighten at the suggestive remark. He grinned and waggled his eyebrows. "I'll see what I can do to help you out tonight."
"Detective Ellison?" A uniformed officer made his way toward them. "I'm heading back to the PD now, if you'd like a ride."
"Thanks. I'll see you tonight, Sandburg."
"I'll cook dinner," Blair offered.
"The cupboards are pretty bare, Chief. Why don't I just pick up some take-out?"
"I'm a struggling grad student, Jim," Blair reminded him. "You'd be amazed what I can scrounge from bare cupboards."
"I don't want to know," Jim quipped dryly.
Feeling a little more light-hearted, Blair carried the first box to his taxi and loaded it in the trunk. In a matter of minutes, he was steering the car out onto the road.
Simon was talking with Earl Gaines in his office when Jim arrived. Standing, the captain ushered Jim in. "Take a seat, Jim. Earl's got some interesting information he'd like to share with us." The glare on Simon's face indicated he wasn't happy with the younger detective.
Gaines raised his hands in a defensive gesture as Jim slid into the seat beside him. "I'm sorry, Captain, but I couldn't risk blowing my cover."
"Your cover?" Jim sat forward and speared the man with an icy look. "You've certainly got my attention, Gaines."
Earl rolled his eyes. "I thought I might. IA sent me into Narcotics, because of my knowledge and experience with street gangs. After I quit football, I lost my way for a while, started drinking, doing some heavy drugs, and joined the Black Knights. I was Antoine Hollins right hand man."
"But you got out," Jim said.
Gaines shrugged. "It wasn't my scene. My mother died, and my grandmother had no one to look after her. She's blind, lives in a run-down tenement building here in Cascade. I wanted to get her out of there, and I wanted to make a difference, show kids there was something outside of gangs and crime. I joined the police force, and headed the first street gang unit here in Cascade. Grandma's still living in the same building. She refused to leave, it's pretty much the only home she's ever known, but I've been able to make sure she and the other tenants are safe, and comfortable."
Jim nodded. "Go on."
"Toine and I stayed friends after I joined the force. He stepped down from running the Knights but couldn't seem to make the final break. He knew I was trying to help our kids, and we were able to get several of the gangs to the negotiating table and convince them to stay off each others' turf." He smiled. "He was always careful not to give me too much information, but as a quid pro quo, it was working. IA got word that there was a drug lab being set up somewhere in Cascade and some of the profit was being piped to a cop in Narcotics in return for turning a blind eye, and providing sales contacts."
"What?" Jim and Simon spoke in unison.
"Toine didn't know who it was, but he'd been doing some digging. He called me this morning, asked me to meet him at the park where I work out with some of the local school kids. He said he had some information about this cop."
Earl sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"Antoine Hollins was shot this morning, Jim," Simon put in when Gaines seemed unable to continue. "A drive-by shooting. He died instantly."
"I'm sorry," Jim said sincerely.
Hollins nodded. "He had been about to tell me who it was. He died before he could get the name out. It was so sudden, the car was gone before I could get a good look at it. Dark sedan, a Chevy."
"Why would a gang start up a drug lab on another gang's turf?" Jim asked.
Gaines shrugged. "Maybe just to muddy the waters. If we're caught up dealing with a turf war, it takes the heat off the cop."
"Why didn't Antoine Hollins come to you with this information before now?"
Gaines shot Jim an angry glare at the question. "If you're saying that Toine was in on this, you're wrong."
"You also said the Black Knights weren't manufacturing any more," Jim reminded him.
"Like I said, Detective, Toine and me were tight, but he was still a man of the streets. He was too deeply immersed in the gang lifestyle to get out. He told me he didn't know until recently that some of the profits were being streamed to this cop in exchange for him turning a blind eye to their activities, and I believed him."
Jim nodded and sat back. "Fair enough. You got any idea who this cop might be?"
"None," Earl answered. "I've only been in the unit for a week. I wanted to make sure I was trusted before I started digging too deep. So far, I haven't found anything."
"Do you think this is a group effort?" Simon asked. "More than one cop?"
"I'm pretty sure it's only one. More than that, and I think we would have been onto them before now."
"Okay, where do we go from here?" Simon said. "You get anything from the warehouse, Jim?"
"Not much." Jim pulled the plastic bag from his pocket. "A business card. It's pretty charred but I was able to decipher some numbers on it. Sounds like it might be a cell phone number."
Gaines squinted at the blackened card. "How could you get anything from that, man? It's burned to a crisp."
Jim shrugged and placed the bag on the desk. "Good eyesight." He stood. "If that's all, Simon, I'd like to get the card down to Forensics, see if they can enhance the numbers at all."
Simon nodded. "Good, Jim. I'd like you and Gaines to work together on this." He held up a hand at Jim's expected protest. "You need a driver anyway."
"I want to keep all of this from everyone in Narcotics for now," Gaines added. "Even John Williams."
"You think he could be the one?" Jim asked.
"Like I said, Detective, it could be anyone. I'm not going to take the chance of anyone being tipped off before we have the evidence."
"Fair enough," Jim agreed. "Let's go."
Four hours later, Jim and Earl were no closer to tracking down Antoine Hollins' killer, and Forensics had not been able to further enhance the numbers or name on the business card Jim had found in the warehouse. Weary, and with his stomach reminding him it hadn't been fed for some time, Jim decided to call it a night and get a fresh start in the morning. He turned to Gaines who was seated at Joel's desk absorbed in something on the computer screen. "I'm going to go home, have something to eat and catch a couple of hours sleep. Maybe we'll get a break in the morning."
Gaines nodded, then sat back in his chair and stretched. "Yeah, I'm down with that. I think I'll go talk to a few of the brothers tomorrow. They're going to be out for blood and I'd like to try to head off a war before it starts."
"You up for a meal at my place?" Jim asked. "We could run through a few more ideas."
Gaines studied him for a moment, then nodded. "Why not? Two heads are better than one."
"Fine. Give me a minute to talk to Simon and we'll head out." Jim stood and crossed the office to knock on Simon's door. He entered at the invitation from within and closed the door behind him.
Simon looked up from the thick folder of reports on his desk. "You got something?"
"No, we're gonna go home, start again in the morning. I need to talk to you about Sandburg."
Simon looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded. "The cabbie. What about him?"
"Like I told you, Simon, he's studying people like me, people with heightened senses and he thinks he can help me to avoid these zone-outs, and use my senses to my advantage on the job. To do that, he needs to ride along with me for a while, give me some hands-on coaching."
"You want an observer's pass for him? Maximum time for one is ninety days. He going to be able teach you everything by then?"
"I'm hoping it'll be a lot less," Jim replied. "But yeah, ninety days will do it."
Simon looked thoughtful. "All right. What about Taggert?"
"I'd rather keep this between you, me and Sandburg for now, sir. I mean, it's not something I want everyone to know. I'm still trying to get comfortable with the idea myself. I feel like a damn comic book avenger." He closed his eyes briefly and shook his head to get the image out of his thoughts. "This could be an ace up our sleeves if the perps don't know I have an advantage."
"All right. Bring him down tomorrow to fill out the necessary paperwork and I'll sign off on it."
"Thank you, sir."
Blair hummed in accompaniment to the soft tones of the jazz CD he'd found in Jim's collection as he put the finishing touches to the beef casserole. Jim had been right when he'd said the cupboards were bare but Blair had managed to find enough ingredients for a simple but filling meal. He'd used the last of his emergency cash to buy a loaf of fresh bread and a bottle of cheap but passable wine. He smiled a little, trying to convince himself that he was simply doing this in gratitude for Ellison's generosity in taking him in, but he wasn't averse to a little seduction, and from Jim's sexy comment earlier that day, it appeared Jim wasn't either. A knock at the door interrupted his erotic reverie and he turned down the stove before hurrying over to open the door.
"Detective Williams." Blair was surprised to see the Narcotics detective. "Jim's not home right now."
"Good." Williams stepped inside before Blair had a chance to react and it was then that Blair saw the gun clutched in his right hand.
Taking a step back, Blair put up his hands. "What's going on?" He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, his chest tightening in fear.
"Time to tie up a few loose ends," Williams said, advancing on the grad student. He motioned to a dining chair. "Sit."
Blair did as he was told. There was no way he was arguing with a gun. "I told you I had nothing to do with the drug lab, man."
"I know." Williams pulled a length of cord from his pocket and then grabbed Blair's right arm, forcibly pulling it backward when Blair struggled to escape his grasp. Blair gasped in pain then slumped forward and allowed the detective to tether his arm to the back of the chair. Williams walked around to face Blair and shoved something into his face. "I managed to shut Antoine Hollins up, hopefully before he spilled his guts to Gaines about my little operation. You sealed your own fate when you told me I looked familiar."
Blair's eyes widened when he saw the loaded syringe in Williams' hand. "I told you I couldn't remember where I'd seen you. I still don't." He was lying, the memory had come back to him in a rush when he'd seen Williams standing at the apartment door. He'd seen Williams at the warehouse the morning of the warehouse explosion. In his rush to leave, he'd noted him only with passing curiosity and then the traumatic events of the day had pushed it completely from his thoughts.
"I can't take that chance," Williams replied. "I thought this a fitting way to take you out. Stupid hippie couldn't resist sampling some of the merchandise and OD'ed."
Blair began to struggle against the restraint in earnest now. "They won't believe that, man." He tried another desperate tack when Williams grabbed his left arm and tied a tourniquet around it, then expertly slid the needle into a vein. "Jim'll be here any minute."
"By the time he does, I'll be long gone and so will you."
Blair fought to get out of the vice-like grip Williams had on his arm, panic lending him strength he didn't know he had. He began yelling at the top of his lungs, as he felt cold liquid snake along his vein. Perhaps at least a neighbor would hear his struggles. His thoughts were growing foggy, his body a leaden weight.
There was sudden commotion at the door and then Williams' grip was gone. Blair felt himself falling, taking the chair with him. He lay on the floor, gasping like a grounded fish, feeling the drug pulling him inexorably toward oblivion. He heard Jim's voice close to his ear, exhorting him to hold on, while hands fumbled to release him from his bonds. He flinched as gunshots exploded in the room, the sound startling and deafening. His eyesight was gone, gray fading to blackness. He felt himself pulled gently up to rest against a firm but soft support, the heartbeat behind him matching the rapid drumming of his own. Shakily, he lifted a hand and grasped hold of the arm that wrapped around his chest, feeling his strength leaching away. "Jim?" His voice was barely there, merely a whispered breath. "I'm losing it. Don't let me die."
"You're not going to die, Chief," Jim replied, his voice sounded strained and hoarse. "You hang on, you hear? I've got you."
A rushing sound filled his ears, obliterating the welcome anchor of Jim's voice and he slipped away, knowing he could no longer fight it.
"Blair?" Jim looked down in shock as Sandburg's body went limp against him. Shifting out from under him, Jim laid the unconscious man on the floor and felt for a pulse. He was relieved to feel it still there, though it was rapid and thready. Blair's breathing was slowing though, as the drug took hold. There was a touch on his shoulder and he looked up into Gaines' worried face. "Williams is dead. Ambulance is on the way. How's he doing?"
Jim shook his head. "Not good but he's alive."
Earl held out a syringe. "Looks like he didn't get the full dose. That might be in his favor."
"Yeah." Jim slumped onto his butt and reached for Blair's lax hand, enclosing the cold flesh within his own. He could hear wailing sirens in the distance and prayed the ambulance would arrive on time. "Hang in there, Chief," he whispered. "Keep fighting."
Blair knew he was being watched. He could feel Jim's blue eyes on him even though he sat on the sofa with his back to the detective, who pottered around in the kitchen warming soup. The thought both bothered and delighted him.
Blair had spent a week in the hospital; two days on life support before waking terrified with a tube down his throat and assorted other medical paraphernalia sprouting from his body. Jim had been seated at his bedside for most of that time, one hand resting lightly on his own, soothing him through the bizarre and frightening hallucinations that were an aftereffect of the drug Williams had injected into him. A few cc's more and he wouldn't have woken at all. Blair shivered and pulled the afghan more closely around his shoulders.
"Are you still cold?" Jim's hand stroked across the top of Blair's head. "I could put the fire on."
Blair shook his head. "I'm fine."
"Hmm." Jim rounded the back of the sofa and came to sit beside him. Blair scrunched his legs up to make room, then tucked his feet back under Jim's thighs. Jim reached up and stroked a hand gently down Blair's bristled cheek. "You look fine." He leaned in for a quick kiss. "Taste fine too," he added with a smile. Leaning forward, he took full advantage of Blair's upturned face and kissed him again, pressing his tongue against Blair's lips seeking permission to enter. Blair opened his mouth and let their tongues duel for a moment of mutual discovery, his erection hardening when Jim's hand reached down to stroke firmly over his denim-covered groin. "Feel fine too," Jim said, pulling back to allow them both to catch their breath. "How about an entrée before dinner?" he asked, his hand continuing its maddening, erotic stroke.
Blair laid back on the couch but placed his own hand over Jim's, stilling his movement. "We need to talk first."
"Talking's very over-rated," Jim countered, peppering tiny butterfly kisses over Blair's face.
"I want to thank you for being there for me, in the hospital, for coming home when you did. If you hadn't "
Jim pressed a finger to Blair's trembling lips. "We're not going there," he whispered, his own voice rough with emotion. "I did find you in time, that's all that matters."
Blair nodded, his voice deserting him for a moment. "My friend, Dave says he can get me an apartment in the same building as his. It's a little more expensive than the warehouse but I can manage it."
"You can stay here."
"I can't ask you to do that," Blair protested. "We've only known each other for two or three weeks, and with your heightened sense, you need your space."
"I thought you were going to help me with my senses," Jim said. "Simon approved your ride-along."
"I will," Blair promised. "I just don't feel right taking advantage of your generosity for too long."
"I want you to stay," Jim replied, his hand resuming its stroke over Blair's cock, making it difficult for Blair to think. "If I asked you to stay here with me, would you consider it?"
Blair stared at Jim for a long time.
"Blair?" Jim whispered into his ear, his warm breath sending a tingle of desire along Blair's spine. "Stay?"