New Arrivals
Author-Dasha
Titles

Imperfections IV: Necessary Parts
Part One
by Dasha

Summary: AU. Blair starts work 'for real,' Naomi visits, and Jim faces some horrifying truths. It should all be a piece of cake. Rated PG-13.

Notes: Yes, it's still and AU. And a crossover (athough I don't think anybody actually crosses over in this one). For this installment, there's even more talking and people being reasonable. I can barely stand to look myself in the mirror. Many thanks to Martha, who put up with all kinds of surprising digressions while this was ongoing. She had a five month cliffhanger, and she never griped once! And when it was all over, she betaed in good spirits.

Disclaimer: Jim, Blair, Simon, and The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, UPN, and Paramount and no copyright infringement is intended. So: not Mine. Not even rented, really. Just sort of borrowed. I'll give them back when I'm done.

"Some days, Sandburg, I really hate you. I just wanted you to know that." Jim said, sullenly peeking out from under the blindfold. He was standing on a low balance beam in the sentinel lab at Rainier. Blair had to look up at him even more than usual. The glower from height, he decided, was especially effective.

Fortunately, Blair wasn't easily impressed. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Gripe, gripe, gripe. I'm so mean. Just put the blindfold on and get on with it."

Scowling, Jim pulled the flap down and froze, his movements abruptly becoming very slow. His left hand slid out from his body, seeking a balance point, and he barely breathed.

"Take your time," Blair murmured. "Move when you're ready. Everything's good."

Jim's left foot slid forward about half an inch. "What about 'puke when I'm ready?'" And there was a harsh edge to Jim's griping that hadn't been there a moment before.

"Dizzy?"

"That would be 'yes,' Chief."

"Ok, stop. Take it off."

Jim froze. "What."

"Stop. Take the blindfold off. We'll try something else."

Jim only lifted the corner of the cloth. "Why?" he asked suspiciously, pinning Blair with part of one eye.

Blair sighed. "Because you're motion sick."

"Look. Chief. You don't seem to get the whole 'coach' shtick. I'm supposed to gripe, you're supposed to badger me into continuing. No pain, no gain. I thought you understood that."

"Right. And when you slip in your vomit and break your arm, we'll have made lots of progress. We're moving too fast. Come here." He held out his hand and Jim stepped down onto the practice mat, his bare feet steady now that he could see. When he stepped onto the regular floor, Blair stopped him and adjusted his posture--or seemed to. Jim's posture was fine, it was his orientation Blair was working on. He took his time, giving Jim a chance to locate himself in the world again while he pretended to position his shoulders.

"Let's try the blindfold again. This time, we'll start on the floor, and you can use me to orient on." Jim pulled the blindfold down and stood quietly. Blair waited a moment and asked, "You good?" Jim nodded and then swayed. Blair laid a single finger on his partner's shoulder. "Stay calm. Pay attention to me. Closing your eyes when you're sitting down is not like wearing a blindfold while standing up. With sight completely out of the way, you're paying attention to information from your other senses--and I bet that's a lot of information. The volume on hearing is probably all over the place, but what's really causing problems is your inner ear and your kinesic sense of your body."

"Every time I move my head here it's like being in a tilt-a-whirl."

"Right. But as you get used to the sensations, they won't be so jarring and you'll be able to make sense of them. Jim, what you're feeling now is why sentinel aerialists get the big bucks at the Circque de Solei. It can be very useful."

"Just for argument's sake, when? So I have perfect balance for a firing squad, big whoop."

"Well, like now," Blair said, taking a step back.

"Jeez! Don't move while you're talking."

"Why?"

"It's like watching a train go by. You know, that moment when you don't know if it's you or the train moving any more? Hold still."

"Uh, uh. Orienting on me is too easy. Start listening to other sounds in the room. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. When you are sure you know where you are and that the floor is not moving, I want you to try to walk forward."

"So basically, this...ability is useful if your partner takes you to a silly gym and asks you to do pointless things?"

"Say you're chasing a rogue aerialist across a scaffolding in the dark?"

"Sentinel aerialist?"

"Or one with night vision goggles." Blair tried to ignore the absurd depths Jim had just led him to. "Or what if you get light blinded during a fight and have to close your eyes? I don't know. Something. Come on, Jim. Five year old kids do this."

Jim took a step forward and swayed slightly. When Blair reached for him, though, Jim waved him off and took another step. "Sandburg, I'm going to stand still. I want you to walk in a circle around me, ok?"

Grinning, Blair made a clockwise circle around Jim. Despite the rocky start, he was adapting fairly quickly. If Jim were in serious distress, he wouldn't be griping so much. "Jim, what does the ambient sound of the room tell you about the size and shape of the space you're in? How much echo do you hear?" This time when Blair took a step to the side while talking, Jim didn't complain. "If you don't have enough sound to work with, clap your hands."

Jim played with ambient sound and his inner ear for a while. Blair stood by and tried not to interfere too much. Jim had good instincts and his confidence had improved dramatically in the four months since Blair had started working with him. Sometimes he just needed room to experiment and practice.

"Hey, Chief. It's twenty-five to one. We better get a move on." Jim took off the blindfold.

"What, you're developing perfect time sense now?" Blair asked, impressed despite himself.

Jim laughed. "No. The professor in the class upstairs just announced that they have five minutes left for questions." He went to Blair's backpack and dropped the blindfold in. "Come, let's get a move on. We don't want to be late for your first day."

"No," Blair said, sweating slightly. The little laminated card that identified him as an Licensed Guide (probationary) had arrived with Thursday's mail, and though he'd brought it down to Vera in personnel first thing Friday morning, he and Jim had spent Friday doing what they'd been doing for the last couple of months--back-up forensics, low risk interviews, and paperwork. Today was the first time they'd been assigned to a case like a regular detective team. They were now officially detailed to a small taskforce that was working on a string of carjackings. They would spend the afternoon and evening shadowing a Ferrari, hoping someone would try to steal it.

Blair felt woefully unprepared. He didn't even have the basic training forensic guides usually got, let alone whatever it took to work with a detective. All he had was ten hours of firearms training (because even though he wasn't carrying a gun, there were too many in Jim's world not to have the basics) and a copy of the Criminal Code. It wasn't too unusual to be so clueless--a guide's job was the sentinel, not the sentinel's job after all. But god, people *shot at* Jim. And probably worse than that....

They stopped by Wonderburger and picked up lunch on the way to the station, eating the sandwiches during the meeting. Besides the driver of the bait car, there would be a second chase car and a black and white trailing a short distance behind. There were, besides Jim and Captain Banks, five cops in the room. None of them gave Blair a second look. It was kind of a relief; the detectives in major crime had been slow to warm up to Blair. The only guide most of them had ever worked with to any great extent had been a real piece of work, enough to give all guides a bad name....bad enough that most of those really tough guys had probably gone home every night thanking god that they hadn't been born sentinels. But over the past month Blair had made a point of chatting up Jim's coworkers. He'd even managed to get Brown and Rafe to join them for lunch a couple of times and he'd gotten Simon Banks over for dinner. It's true, nobody was greeting him like an old buddy, but at least the suspicious glances had nearly stoopped.

"So this is it?" Blair asked after they'd been driving in circles for an hour, keeping the Ferrari barely in sight.

"Yep. This is it."

"Ok," Blair grinned, glancing sideways at Jim. "I can do this. Like a car chase, but slower."

"Very funny. You're a card, Sandburg."

Blair smiled slightly. Jim looked good. He would be listening to the Ferrari as well as negotiating traffic, watching out for possible predators, and talking to Blair and even all of that together wasn't making him edgy. Blair felt slightly vindicated. He had known in his heart that Jim could handle his senses, that he was *not* fragile or 'touchy.' He'd been sure. "Oh, hey, have we heard anything about the Anderson case?"

"Yeah. Becker's trying to cut a deal."

"No. You're kidding." A couple of weeks before Blair had gone to a tiny tourist town called Rossburg with Jim and Simon so that Jim could testify at some kind of hearing. The preceding summer an old friend of Simon's had been killed at a class reunion he had (with tragic irony that made Blair wince) not gone to. He'd talked Jim into going back with him for the funeral to have a 'look around,' nothing official, naturally. They'd left Jim's guide (who had claimed haring off to nowhere wasn't in his job description) and, perhaps not coincidentally, gotten some excellent detective work done. A couple of days was apparently enough time to dig out a boatload of evidence implicating some hotshot local business man and the sheriff not only in Peggy Anderson's murder, but a cover-up of major environmental violations and fraud.

Jim shrugged. "Don't worry about it. It won't happen. The evidence is solid. This will go to trial and they will get a conviction."

"Will you have to testify at the trial?"

"Maybe. It won't be for a while though." Blair sighed inwardly. They'd spent three days in Rossburg and Jim hadn't gotten more than two or three hours sleep during the whole trip. Jim hadn't been able to give Blair a good reason--or at least not a consistent one. The bed smells funny. The birds are too loud. There are mice in the walls. Blair's suspicion was that it was Simon, wakeful and depressed in the connecting room, that was keeping Jim awake, but he was reluctant to bring it up with Jim. In the end, after a dozen failed techniques, Blair had given up trying to 'solve' the problem and just decided to stay awake in solidarity.

"Uh uh," Jim had said. "No, Chief, one of us needs to be alert tomorrow. Come on."

"No, I'm fine. Really. All nighters are a way of life for grad students."

"You're exhausted. I could put you to sleep in three minutes."

Halfway into a denial, Blair had frozen. Jim knew a slew of ways to put someone to sleep; Blair had taught them to him. But which ones he would pick and how good he'd be at it, that was another question. Curious about the answer, Blair had taken him up on the challenge.

"Lie down and close your eyes."

"Original."

"No talking." He covered Blair with the blanket. "Take a deep breath. Let go of your tension." Jim laid the base of his thumb against Blair's forehead. The steady weight of it was relaxing, and while Blair was busy cataloging his partner's technique, he fell asleep. So the trip had been informative, in its way, but Blair didn't look forward to having to go back for the trial. Next time, at least, he would make sure that Simon's room wasn't even on the same floor.

"So when does your mom come in?"

Blair blinked back to the present. "Friday. I told you. You know, Jim, there's still time to make reservations for her at--"

"Sandburg, she's your mother. You can't--"

"Jim, you're just not listening."

"What? You think I won't like her?"

"No, she's great. That's not the point. The point is--"

"Hold that thought, Chief. I think we got a bite."

Blair's blood ran cold. "What? Where?"

"See that silver convertible? Just made the turn after our guy. That's three now." Jim took the corner behind them. The convertible was still behind the Ferrari.

"There we go," Jim murmured.

"Where?"

"There. Silver BMW."

Blair strained to see, but suddenly things were moving very quickly. The radio squawked. "I think we caught ourselves a fish. Looks like she's trying to push me into the north end of Bradford alley."

Jim picked up the mike. "Ellison here. I'll head 'em off from the other side."

"Why don't we go in after them?" Blair asked. He wasn't sure how complicated Jim's driving could get while he was simultaneously trying to track and predict two other cars.

"Until they actually take the car, all we can charge them with is attempted robbery which they'd plea bargain down to nothing. They drive the car away, then we can nail them on grand theft auto."

Lovely. Wonderful. It couldn't be simple. Jim hung a hard right and tore up a side street. Blair couldn't see either the bait or the fish, now. It was amazing, he thought, how just when you got used to waiting things started Happening.

"Damn," Jim said. "They've already pulled him over. Our guy is trying to stall." He picked up the radio again, giving instructions to the black and white that had been shadowing from a distance. Even before he finished, Jim cursed again. "They've made him." He switched channels. "This is Ellison. I've got a carjacking in progress. Bradford alley. Requesting backup."

They turned again, skirting a construction site. Blair held on to the dashboard, feeling a small, bright sunspot of adrenalin. The carjackers were about to get away. The police driver was in danger. Everything was so close--

Jim slammed another turn and jerked to a stop, nose to nose with a semi parked in the alley in front of them. There was no room to go around. "Damnit!" Jim snapped.

"What? Did they get away?" Blair couldn't see anything.

"Not completely," Jim said, bolting from the truck.

At the same time the driver's side door of the semi opened and a lean man darted for the narrow passage between Jim's truck and the alley wall. Jim leaped like a cat snatching a bird out of flight and the two went down in a tangle of limbs. Astonished, Blair scrambled out of the truck and hurried on unsteady legs to Jim's side. If he had been thinking that Jim might have been hurt or that Blair might be useful in *any* way, however, he was mistaken. Jim was coolly cuffing his captive while reciting his Miranda.

"My arm. I'm gonna sue."

Jim hauled the wiry man to his feet. "Right. And you'll just tell the judge you were out for a Sunday drive. Let's go."

There were sirens then, finally, and more police. Jim shoved his prisoner on one of the uniforms and called for someone to take the truck to impound. The bait driver--Ed? Ted? Blair wasn't sure of his name, came up to apologize, but Jim brushed him off and stormed back to the truck, seemingly pissed.

When Blair got in on his side a couple of seconds later, though, Jim was hunched over holding his arm and cursing softly.

"How badly are you hurt?" Blair asked softly.

"How the hell should I know? It feels like I've ripped my arm out at the shoulder, but it's probably nothing!"

"Jim, can you--"

"No, I can do this," Jim growled, and Blair shut up. After a moment of furious silence, though, Jim ground his teeth and said, "Fine. You do it. Just make it stop."

"No," Blair said. "You were right. You can do this."

"I can't--"

"You can. Everything's on high right now. Don't start by turning down the pain. Start with your vision. You know what normal focus looks like. Take your time. Move everything to a lower state of awareness. Relax." Blair closed his mouth and sat very quietly. At this point he could almost do it *for* Jim, and seeing his partner in pain filled him with a raging urgency. But pushing Jim's 'buttons' and changing his perceptions wouldn't be doing him any favors. The control needed to be Jim's, especially with small day-to-day emergencies. And the skills sure as hell had to be Jim's too, for those times when Blair might not be there.

After two or three horribly long minutes, Jim nodded and stretched. "Ok," he said. Blair slid closer on the seat and pushed Jim's shirt out of the way. "What?" Jim said.

"Let me see it. You might be hurt."

"*Now* you want to look?"

"Yeah. You might be overcompensating." Blair slid his hands over Jim's slightly damp skin, starting at the base of the neck. He probed the shoulder junction and then down Jim's arm until his hands got stuck by Jim's sweater. "No heat. No swelling. I think you're ok."

"I already figured that out." Jim shook his head. "Let's go. I want to find out what kind of fish we brought up." The driver wasn't talking, but his prints identified him as Tony DeLuca, some kind of multiple offender. Jim thought he could use that to salvage something from the failed operation. While he was discussing it with Simon, Blair's mother called. From where Blair was sitting, Jim looked almost comical--almost splitting himself in half, trying to carry on his conversation with Simon while also trying to eavesdrop on Blair's conversation at the same time. As soon as they were out of Simon's office, he pounced. "Well?"

"What, you couldn't hear?" Jim gave him a dirty look, and Blair thought briefly about teasing him with a long lecture about respecting guide privacy. "She's coming early."

"Early? How early?"

"Tomorrow. Before noon."

"You're kidding. I haven't cleaned. Blair! Why?"

"Well, she was managing this coffee house in LA--"

"What? Coffee house?" Jim was gaping at him in horrified bewilderment. Blair wasn't sure if he was reacting to the chaos of Blair's life or just the chaos of Blair's story telling.

"You know, the kind where they serve really extravagant deserts and give poetry readings. Kind of retro, but not really. You know? Anyway, she was taking a vacation--she usually does in January--stop here for a long weekend, then go on to this retreat thing, but it burned down?"

"The retreat?"

"No, the coffee house. Well, not all the way down. But the place next door, apparently there was a problem with the wiring, and so now there's lots of smoke and water damage to the coffee house and they're shut down for a while, so she figured why wait?"

"Why wait? I haven't cleaned yet. And it's not like I'm going to have time tonight—Damn. Tonight."

"Jim, it'll be fine. She won't care." There was no use, obviously, in pointing out that the loft was spotless, but Blair tried anyway. "Anyway, it's already clean enough."

"She's your mother! God, I thought when I got divorced, at least I wouldn't have to deal with in-laws any more!" Jim collected a hand full of files from his desk and hurried out the door. Blair wasn't sure if it was a symbolic flight or if he just needed the feeling of movement.

"She's not like that. Really. Don't worry. She's very open, totally new age. One of the original hippies. She even used to date Timothy Leary. Well, not date ... actually more like live with. In fact, I always thought he might have been..."

"Your father?" A flicker of surprise and embarrassment teetered around Jim's eyes--as though he wasn't quite sure if Blair's parentage was a matter for sympathy or shame-- but then he seemed to soften slightly. "Well, knowing you, that doesn't surprise me, Chief."

Blair grinned at him, "Well, there were a lot of candidates." It was after seven, and their prisoner was still at the county emergency room getting his arm set. Jim sighed. "All right. Fine. We'll talk to him in the morning. I can't interview him on whatever shot of pain meds they gave him anyway."

Blair sighed. "Thank you."

"No, no. We have to do this, I know that." Jim tried for a confident smile as he took his jacket off the hook and put it on. "How late are we, anyway?"

"Only about ten minutes. I called to say we'd be late. Fortunately, It's Jack. He gets it."

"Marcia going to be there?"

Blair winced, "Yes." Jim had met Jack's sentinel three weeks before after Blair had taken the guide exam. Although the formal documentation took a while to process, the computer had given him his score immediately, so Blair's advisor had known there was something to celebrate right away, and, although he'd been Blair's advisor for less than a semester, he'd done the thing advisors traditionally did when a student passed the NGAE and taken him to dinner. Jim had come too, of course, and so had Marcia. The two sentinels had taken an instant dislike to each other.

To his credit, Jim just nodded agreeably. Blair frowned, but waited until they were in the truck before he said, "Um. I should probably tell you. Ah. Don't touch Jack while Marcia's around."

Jim looked at him in confusion. "Why would I touch Jack?"

"I'm not saying you would. Just...be careful not to. Don't shake hands."

"Okay," Jim said slowly. "You going to explain this, Chief?"

"It's a--"

"Do not say this is a sentinel thing."

"No, it's an ex-spy thing. Actually, it's also a military thing, but you didn't spend a lot of time with sentinels in the army."

"No, and from what you've said, I didn't miss much."

"Nothing useful, anyway." Blair sighed. Observing sentinels and guides working in defense would have taught Jim a lot of bad habits. All of those relationships were dysfunctional, if only because of the organizational structure that discouraged acknowledging weakness, couldn't successfully incorporate making an allowance for emotional attachments, and kept pairs together for an average of two years (rather than the ten to twelve years of the American civilian average or the thirty or more years in most non-industrial societies.) Guides in the military or federal law enforcement tended to be insensitive and "objective." After a few years of rotating guides who didn't address minor (sometimes major) problems and didn't provide emotional security, the sentinels often got tense and even generally hostile. "It's a protocol thing. I've been meaning to mention it." Or dreading to mention it. "For feds, sentinels don't mess with other sentinel's guides."

"You're fucking kidding me."

"Um, no. It's considered very impolite. Sometimes an act of aggression."

"To shake hands. And Jack is putting up with this shit? Marcia hasn't even been in espionage for...years, anyway."

"I'm not saying she'd tear your head off. It's not like that. But. She's having a hard time right now. And besides...she thinks of Jack as vulnerable."

"Vulnerable? Are we still talking about Jack Kelso?"

"You have to understand. When they were working together he wasn't disabled. He's—"

"The man carries concealed *all the time*. He put me in a head lock. This is ludicrous—" He stopped, shooting Blair a stern look. "Don't you start."

"No, I'm not starting. I'm completely over it."

"Right."

Well, Blair was mostly over it. He supposed that as long as Jim was ok with the headlock incident, there was no point in Blair holding a grudge, especially since Jack was the best ally they had. But.

It had happened just a few days after the national guide exam. Classes had just started again and Jack—-despite teaching two classes, organizing a panel on guide attachment for the triple A next November, and trying to settle Marcia in Cascade—-had made time for Blair to bring Jim in to the sentinel gym in the Morton Bio Building behind Hargrove. Jim and Jack had immediately gotten into a complicated discussion about kinesics-—body awareness—-and balance. Then, Jack had said, "Give me your hand." He took the hand in an odd grip, and Jim started to flinch, then froze and gaped. "Interesting, isn't it? As idiosyncratic as sentinel perceptions and reactions tend to be, ninety-five percent do not react to this pressure point."

"But...it's worked before."

"When you weren't on line. It's all very puzzling. We have very little idea how it works. However." He changed his grip slightly and Jim dropped to his knees with a soft whimper. In a flash, Jack had him in a head lock. "There are some pressure points now which were not a problem before. You're going to have to learn how to block-—"

"What the hell do you think you're doing," Blair roared. "Get your hands off him." He had closed on them, fully intending to haul his advisor off his sentinel, but suddenly Jim was free and intercepting him. Blair tried to step past, to push himself between Jim and Jack, but Jim was suddenly as strong as steel and as immovable as granite, and Blair was trapped in his arms. Even held still, he was too furious to think of anything but Jack's betrayal. He stood on tiptoe to lean over Jim's shoulder. "How could you do that! Damn you—"

"Blair, it's all right."

Blair twisted and pulled, trying to get away, but too afraid of hurting Jim to push very hard.

"Chief, I'm fine. It's ok."

And Jack, neither surprised nor contrite: "Blair, he has to learn these things if he is going to defend himself. In his line of work, he can't afford not to learn this."

"You're a guide. You-—he can't—-" Jack knew almost as much about Jim's history as Blair did. He had to know that the idea of Jim being attacked by a guide was intolerable. God! For weeks Jim had flinched away from Blair. Months. They were just starting to make real progress. Jim was just *starting* to reach for Blair for physical comfort, just starting to ask for help as his first response to a problem. They were just getting somewhere-—Blair groaned, too angry to speak.

"I'm ok. Blair. You're not listening. It's ok." Jim's grip tightened even further, and Jim shifted slightly to the left, blocking Blair's view of Jack. "It's ok." And then, gently, "It's all right, Blair. Easy."

Blair shuddered and closed his eyes. Jim was much stronger, and there was no chance of Blair getting away. No chance, really, of moving at all. "Are you ok?" he whispered.

"I'm ok. Blair, I've done this hundreds of times before. Jack's just teaching me. I'm ok."

"We can--we can walk out of here," Blair whispered, despite the fact that that they probably couldn't. No, definitely couldn't. There was no one else who could teach Jim this, he could see that. Slowly, he pulled away, looking past Jim's arm at Jack. Jack, who, he was sure, hadn't learned these things purely as a matter of defense against them. Blair closed his eyes. "I'll just. I'll go stand over there. Just, um. Just."

"I'll take it slow. Ok?"

He hadn't talked to Jack for a week after that, and tonight was the first time they were getting together socially since. Blair was trying not to be angry. It was not as though he had been deceived; Jack had never made a secret of what he used to do for a living. And besides, it was not as though he'd been *wrong*. Jim did need to learn about the physical attacks a sentinel was particularly vulnerable too. And probably, for Jim, the exercise had not even come as a surprise. But. The idea that Jim had been attacked by a guide, a friend, with Blair right there watching made him heartsick. "I'm over it. And I know this business with Marcia is dysfunctional and—"

"Stupid."

"Ok, yes, stupid. But don't shake hands."

***

Marcia Patterson was tall and rather thin, with long, straight, brown hair. She opened the door only after a noticeable wait following their knock--an ambiguous but unsubtle snub from a sentinel--and her smile didn't reach her eyes. "It's nice to see you again. I was wondering when you'd get here."

Blair had called, of course, to give Jack warning that they'd be late, but Marcia clearly wasn't pleased that they'd inconvenienced him all the same. Then Jim handed her the box of candy he was carrying, and her eyes flashed with open dislike. When Blair had asked Jack what to bring, he had specified the brand and type of chocolates his sentinel preferred (but which she would not permit him to keep on hand because while Marcia could use the extra calories, Jack was dieting and she refused to tempt him).

Dinner was ready, of course, but since it was stew it hadn't been hurt by the wait.

"So how are things at the department?" Blair asked as they sat down, hoping to forestall any conversation between Jim and Marcia.

Jack passed him the rolls before answering. "Dramatic. You remember the new graduate secretary you said would be a problem?"

"Yeah. Rachael right?" The last graduate secretary had moved at the end of October because her husband was transferred to Florida. "I haven't seen much of her though. I don't come by the department as often as I used to."

"Apparently, yesterday, one of the first year TA's came in to complain about her copying account-—there was obviously something wrong. The bill said she'd made several thousand copies over the break and she'd been home in Minneapolis. But Rachael stormed into Hal Buckner's office while he was having a meeting with the undergraduate dean of Arts and Sciences and began screaming that all of the graduate students were lying, cheating punks who were out to get her and she was quitting."

"Oh, god. You're kidding."

"Is my imagination this good? Before it was over two of the graduate students and the undergraduate secretary were crying."

"So, is she gone?"

"What? Oh, no. Two weeks notice, you know. Even for psychopaths, apparently. Nobody is happy about it." He shrugged. "I should have been paying more attention. It's coming out that a number of the students have had minor problems with her, but she got the paperwork done on time, so..."

"And I thought cops got all the weird ones," Jim muttered.

Jack entertained them for a while with teaching stories. Every year the intro anthro classes spent two days talking about sentinels, Rainier's sentinel program being central to the department's identity. On one of those days Jack and Michael (one of a very short list of sentinels on the faculty) guest lectured, giving short presentations and answering questions. "It's the questions that kill me," Jack said. "We can't laugh at them, but when the ask things like, 'how do you become a sentinel?' and 'how do they turn the senses off when they're off duty?' you have to wonder if they notice anything that goes on in the world at all."

Blair laughed. "Well, what did you expect? That they'd read the assignment or something?"

"Every year they ask, 'can sentinels get married?'"

"How do you answer it?" Marcia spoke for the first time since sitting down.

"Twenty percent of sentinels get married."

She laughed, "You're kidding." And then, "Divorce?"

"Fifty percent, like everyone else."

She blinked. "Shit. Who is stupid enough to marry us? Certainly not other sentinels!" She glanced at Jim. "Most of us are...completely incompatible."

"I can't exactly picture it myself," Jim said reluctantly. He seemed irked by the idea of agreeing with Marcia.

Marcia nodded. "Of course, there aren't that many sentinels...and only twenty percent of that. There might be that many idiots in the world. What would it take to commit to someone grumpy, fragile and probably very short-lived?"

Blair gasped silently, but Jack just laughed. "Guides."

For the first time, Marcia softened slightly. "Nah. That's just madness."

Jack laughed. "Well, keep that quiet. I'm masquerading as a respectable scientist these days."

Blair and Jack talked research till the end of the meal, then Marcia volunteered to do the dishes and Jack led Jim and Blair into the living room. Jack was all business, now. He barely waited for Blair to sit down before saying, "Your reports are coming in late, Blair. Do we need to change the due dates?"

"He doesn't have a lot of time," Jim said tightly.

"I understand that. And I'm not disciplining him. But I need documentation that shows he's responsible."

"He's responsible--!" Jim started to rise, was frozen by Jack's 'oh, really?' look. "It isn't his fault. My schedule--"

"I'm sorry, Jack. I know you're out on a limb for us," Blair said softly. "I put today's report in you box this morning."

"Things will get a little easier now that you have the exam behind you, but you're still on a kind of probation for a year."

"We know," Jim muttered, and Blair put a hand on his shoulder.

"All right," Jack sighed. "How are the body awareness exercises going?"

They talked for an hour about Jim's progress and Blair's technique. Jack's living room made an informal setting, but his questions were probing and careful all the same. The meeting might have gone on even longer if Marcia hadn't appeared with herbal tea and cookies.

First thing the next morning they interviewed the suspect Jim had apprehended. He was sullen and scared and--Blair thought--deeply hopeless. He hadn't really thought about criminals being depressed before. DeLuca talked about his boss, their methods, other jobs they'd done. Jim paced the small interrogation room, icy and unreadable except when he was intensely intimidating.

And then, suddenly, the slow, sad interrogation seemed to be over and Jim was headed out the door and back to Simon's office. Blair followed along wondering if this was going to be his life for the next god-knew-how-many years and if he would ever know what the heck was going on.

"DeLuca just dropped a dime on Bill Petrie as head of that car theft ring." Jim said to Simon with out even pausing to say hello or acknowledge the pot of coffee he held out hospitably.

"The Bill Petrie? That mob guy that was accused of engineering all those race track robberies a couple years ago."

Clearly this was important, because almost before Blair knew it, they were spinning some kind of complex plan to pull in not only the local gang but also the mastermind. Or rather Jim was spinning and Simon was shaking his head in disbelief. "DeLuca tells Francine that he got away from us and he can't drive because of his arm. He introduces me to her as his cousin."

"Oh, yeah, right. I can see the family resemblance there.

"Okay. A buddy from prison. Whatever. The idea is for me to go inside and smoke out Petrie. This time we're gonna be able to nail him."

"Jim, I can't send a sentinel out under cover."

"Why not? It isn't against policy."

"Yeah, but...the policy assumes that the sentinels will be in forensics, or maybe the bomb unit. I mean--Sandburg?" He looked at Blair imploringly.

"Well, I--"

"Simon, am I on active duty or not? My understanding was I was cleared to do my job. Sandburg? Is there some reason why I can't do my job?"

"Well, I--"

"Are you sure you can drive one of those big rigs?"

"I drove a rig a little bit after high school. It's like riding a bicycle. I mean, once you learn, you never forget."

Simon looked pointedly at Blair. He seemed torn between hopeful and horrified. Blair wanted to jump up and shout, 'hell no, you are not sending my sentinel undercover.' But Jim was looking at him, too, and the pressure of that gaze was irresistible. "No," he murmured. "There shouldn't be any problem."

In a whirlwind the decision was already made and Jim was talking to Deluca again, laying out the plan, giving him no choice because, hay, ADA Sanchez was right up the hall waiting to throw the book at him. Then Jim turned Deluca over to Brown and took off for the police impound, Blair trailing worriedly behind.

***

For over an hour, Jim practiced with the captured semi in the parking lot behind the police impound. Every few moments, Blair opened his mouth to mouth to make a suggestion, but Jim shot him down every time with an impatient scowl. So, Blair sat on his hands and ground his teeth and let Jim struggle with it himself as the geers ground and the breaks squealed and every movement felt like riding a mechanical bull.

It was fairly clear, watching, what was wrong. Jim over-interpreted every sound and movement, and then when things went wrong, he over compensated. Also, at a guess, the big-ass truck was overwhelming as hell. Jim was trying to pay attention to subtle signals from noises and vibrations that were fairly blasting him out of the seat.

Well. He would have to be careful what he let slip after this. The fact that Simon would *have* to find someone else to send under cover was an incredible relief, but Jim wouldn't thank him for thinking that way. It would be best to say as little as possible....

Across the lot, the impound supervisor waved and laughed, saying something Blair couldn't hear. Jim cursed and ground the truck to a stop.

Blair sighed and made a tentative move to be helpful. "How long did it take you to learn to drive again last spring?"

Jim shrugged and looked away. Blair's eyes widened as he realized what that silence meant. "Jim, you lied?"

"No, I didn't lie." But Jim still wouldn't look at him. "I...I had a friend of mine who had a rig. He used to let tool around with it a bit, but..."

"But what?"

"Well, it didn't have a trailer attached to it. This is..."

Blair laughed, knowing he shouldn't. "Different," he said.

"Yeah."

"Yeah." Blair found himself smiling. Was this optimism born of ignorance, or just a very strong ego? Although, maybe it wasn't misplaced; Jim hadn't been doing too badly, considering. He took another look at the gear shift and checked the break. "All right, pop the clutch." Jim blinked at him. "Just do it. See that right there? That's the splitter. It gets you into the next gear level."

"Oh, yeah?" Jim asked, still not moving.

"Yeah."

"How do you know so much about this?"

"I spent a summer driving across country in my uncle's rig. I did half the driving. Want me to take you through the basics again?" Even as he said the words, his heart protested. If Jim couldn't drive the truck, Jim couldn't go under cover. Altogether, that wouldn't be a bad thing.

Jim gave him a sour look. "No, I don't want you to run me through the basics again." He sagged slightly. "I figured maybe I could tune into it with my hearing. You know, kind of like tune into the gears a little bit and listen to the mesh."

Blair sighed, not even knowing where to begin. Before he figured it out, Naomi called to say she'd arrived. Jim panicked, and suddenly it was Blair trying to do justice to two conversations at once. Naomi was suggesting moving the furniture while beside him Jim was freaking out over--well, he wasn't sure what Jim's problem was. There wasn't time to sort it all out anyway; the impound guy was gesturing impatiently, wanting his truck back and in less then an hour they had a meeting with the (slightly shrunken) carjacking taskforce.

Sadly, Jim's driving didn't improve in the fifteen additional minutes they had to devote to practice. The meeting ran long--the remaining members of the team had been doing research on Petrie--a real winner, apparently, although nothing serious had ever been pinned on him. Then there was another long talk with DeLuca, and afterwards Jim begged just one more hour of practice on the truck. Even with Blair's coaching, the semi might as well have been a rock, for all the success Jim had with things like brakes, steering, or the gear shift.

It was late afternoon before the made it home. Blair felt vaguely guilty--although even if he could have scheduled the time that day, Naomi hadn't given him enough warning.

The loft, when they entered, was warm and redolent of sage and familiar cooking. And then Jim sneezed, hard, and Blair remembered--how did he ever forget in between--that Naomi was never, *never* what anyone expected. He was going to have to explain--

"What *is* that?"

And so Blair explained. It was so disorienting, trying to remember what was normal, trying to be cool about everything (because he was always cool about everything), trying not to freak even though Jim was looking at him in almost fearful bewilderment.

The explanation only increased the bewilderment. "'Bad vibes,'" Jim repeated. Blair had not thought this out; he had not warned Naomi, he had not warned Jim. Why *would* he? Both of them were obvious and transparent and *normal* to him.

"Yeah, the bad vibes." He cringed inwardly. "I forgot to tell her....we need to have a talk."

And then Naomi was there, teasing and gentle and joyous. She was the same as always, and part of Blair relaxed with the comfort of it even as some other part of him resurrected the anxiety that had been haunting him for days. Naomi was optimistic and informal and so very, very vivid. Her cheerful invasion would be a lot for Jim to swallow, especially here in his home....where she had already been moving the furniture around. And ooo, hey, Jim was already looking a little freaked.

Crap. Crap.

Jim sneezed again. Blair felt like the world was imploding. "Mom, the sage is too much. It's a sentinel thing."

"Oh, that's awful." She looked at Jim sympathetically, but then spoiled the effect by proving that her sympathy was for something completely incomprehensible. "How do you stay clean?"

Jim seemed caught between confused and slightly affronted. Personal questions. In the first four minutes. Oh, god. His answer was short, but marginally polite. "I shower."

When Jim's beeper went off, it was almost a relief. Blair wanted--badly--to sit down and talk very carefully to both of them. Clearly, a great deal about the situation needed to be fixed. As urgent as that talk was, though, the time out was a welcome reprieve. He could re-group. Rethink, even. Everything would be all right.

"Mom--I'm sorry. We've got to go."

"Oh, cop stuff?"

"Yeah," Blair said, going over to retrieve his jacket. He wanted to get out the door before he had to explain anything about where they were going.

"You know, it's so ironic. I've spent so much time demonstrating against the tyranny of the pigs and now... oh, I'm sorry. No offense intended."

"I hear that," Jim said, looking a little stunned. "Let's go. Come on."

"I'll get my coat."

"Ma, you can't come."

"Why not?"

Blair smiled gently. "You don't work for the police department. They're a little picky about that."

"Oh, well, then we won't tell them. Blair, I haven't seen you in six months."

"Yeah, I know, but Mom..."

"Is there something dangerous about this?"

"No, no, it's just routine."

"Well, then why can't I come?" She looked at him with hopeful innocence. And why not? Policy for policy's sake was just tyranny after all. "Jim?"

"Naomi, I'm sorry. Not this time."

"Look, Mom, we'll be back soon, I promise. And we'll get together, we'll talk, I promise."

In the hallway, Jim managed a teasing smile. "You know, Blair, Naomi's a very attractive woman. I never would have guessed she's so...young."

Blair wasn't sure whether to laugh or shudder. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. That's my mom! Take a cold shower, man."

Jim sighed. "You know, I might as well have left you there. I can take you to the meeting place, but not much after that."

"No," Blair said. He swallowed hard. "I'll stay as close as I can."

"Chief, I--"

"It's your job. I get that. It's ok."

***

He wasn't prepared for the woman who got into the truck and pointed a gun at him. All things considered, it was a hell of a thing not to be prepared for. Blair kept his mouth shut and obeyed, keeping himself from freaking out by clinging to the fact that they weren't dead yet, and, since Jim was still in the game, they might get to stay that way.

Not dead.

After all, this was Jim's job, and he was very, very good at his job. Jim, in the cab of the semi in Blair's rear view mirror, might be driving badly, but he sure as hell wasn't panicking.

Millennia later, when he finally did see Jim again, Blair was dimly surprised to realize that he wasn't hysterical. Jim looked calm and a little irritated, but Blair himself wasn't weeping with terror. Shock, he decided. He was in shock and Jim was just crazy, because surely no sane person would be standing here looking calm and slightly irritated while the madwoman with the icy eyes and the gun snarled, " I thought you said this bozo could drive."

"He's kind of rusty, that's all." Deluca said, and Blair shuddered inwardly. The man was totally unconvincing. Anyone could see through him--

"Actually," Jim said, and *god* he was transparently floundering, too. They were as good as dead, all three of them-- "if you'd given me a chance, instead of pulling this stunt, I would have told you here's your guy, not me." Jim seized Blair's shoulder and thrust him forward.

Blair was beyond surprise, but not beyond horror. This delaying tactic couldn't buy them very much time. When the hell had *that* become the best Jim could come up with? Although perhaps that was unfair. It was just supposed to be a meeting, a chance to look Jim over before hiring him. Nothing was supposed to happen today, certainly nothing involving Blair.

"So what do we need you for?" The gun waving woman's accomplice asked. As far as Blair could tell, it uncovered a huge hole in Jim's slim tissue of lies.

Jim was back on his game though. He glowered a little, unafraid and faintly hostile. "We're a team. Either you buy both of us or nothing."

Impossibly, the gangsters seemed to buy this. Blair's panic, which had started to give way in the face of Jim's certainty, began to rally. The issue was not so much getting out of the warehouse alive, but having to convince people he was some kind of criminal. "You'll have to split your end," the blond said.

"Forget about it. Equal shares or we don't do it," A tiny surge of triumph leaped in Blair. They could get out of this *alive*. Later--later, later--they could figure out how to get the car thieves some other way.

"Done," the woman said. "You'll start tomorrow."

***

Incomprehensibly, Jim actually seemed to think that Blair was going undercover with him. Hell, that Blair was able to go under cover with him. "What was with the attitude back there, Chief? You almost got us talked out of the case."

Blair's protests that that had been the idea only earned him an uncomprehending stare.

"Jim, I can't go under cover."

"Why not?"

"I'm not a cop. I don't have the training."

Jim frowned for a moment. "Yeah," he conceded. "There'll be some things we'll have to work around."

Bewildered, Blair let the conversation slide until they were back at he station. While he was still trying to get his head around the idea of under cover--let alone articulate the specifics of why it was a bad idea--an unexpected ally appeared in the form of Simon Banks.

"Look, there is no way I can sign off on this. I mean, what if something goes wrong? Blair doing this kind of undercover...He's listed as support staff. The department could be in all kinds of hot water."

Jim didn't see this as an impediment any more than Blair's complete ignorance and lack of experience. "He'll sign a waiver, sir."

"This is a horrible idea. I'm not ready. I'll get us both killed."

"What are you talking about? You think on your feet, you lie beautifully, and you notice details. You make half the cops I've worked with look like dog catchers."

"I'm gonna be alone in a ten-ton truck with some psycho named Gary with a loaded gun!"

"I'll be with you the whole time backing you up. Now I need you on this one. You back out now and the whole thing is over. That's it; it's done. They'll figure out something's going on; they're going to close down shop. This may be our only chance to get Petrie."

Simon looked at Blair and sighed and Blair had the horrible feeling that he was going to lose. "Aw, hell, Jim's right. Look, we didn't expect it to go down this way, but that's exactly the situation. It's still your choice though."

"Good," Blair said. "I choose to live."

"Ok. Someone else might have something to say about that though," Simon said.

"Huh?"

"Your mom is in my office and I think she may be about to kill you."

"My mom--"

"Apparently she followed you. To the meet. That's why I'm here so late. She called in demanding to talk to me to report your kidnapping."

"Oh, crap."

The scene in Simon's office was about as horrible as Blair might have imagined, if it was the sort of thing he'd given any thought to, made worse by the fact that Simon had tried to explain—-not, Blair conceded that he'd probably had a lot of choice. Naomi's response was predictable. "You are a guide, Blair, not some kind of storm trooper. I mean, clearly there's a lot more going on here than simply looking after a sentinel. I mean, the next thing I know you're going to be parading around here in a blue uniform and jack boots."

He would have liked to have had this conversation away from Jim and Simon. He would have *liked* to have skipped this conversation all together. Now that it had started, though, he had to set his boundaries or they would be going on around this for the next four or five years. "Well, you know what, Mom? If I do, that's my choice."

"Make another choice! Blair this is dangerous. That woman had a gun--"

"Mrs. Sandburg--" Simon said a little desperately.

"Ms," Naomi snapped.

"Ms. It's true, Blair hasn't been here very long, but he is a very competent professional. Your son has helped us solve some very difficult cases and I consider him part of the team."

"They need me on this case." "Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry, but you're not cut out for this kind of work."

"Mom--" Blair said. But he could not go on. It was appalling to be pushed around by his mother in front of Jim and Jim's boss. The idea of telling her she had no right to any involvement in his life was unthinkable, though. Even assuming it would work. This was *Naomi* who had not spoken to (and been disinherited by) her parents for eight years because while there were lots of things a nice girl from Long Island could get away with in 1969, having a baby out of wedlock and not giving it away wasn't one of them. Who had worked a crappy job as a fry cook for two years during the eighties because there weren't any other jobs and Blair needed to eat. Who had always listened when he needed to talk and never lied to him about anything, and if mysteriously she was suddenly turning into some psycho Stepford-mom...well, he still couldn't tell her to go to hell.

All of that didn't leave him a whole lot to say.

"Well," Simon said, "That's not entirely true. I've gotten to know Blair over the past couple of months and though we don't always see eye to see, his enthusiasm is kind of, uh, refreshing. And I trust him. If he decides to finish this case I'll back him up 100 percent."

Blair tried not to gape at Simon. Mostly, he'd thought Simon hadn't noticed him...except maybe to be relieved that he wasn't Brackett.

"Blair?"

"I'm going to do my job, Naomi."

There was a long brittle silence, and then she said, "I hear that."

"Do you?"

Naomi nodded, glanced once more at Simon, collected her purse and went to the door.

For a moment Blair just stood there. The silence sort of rang in his ears and he felt a bit distanced. Somewhere, he knew that he'd just agreed to go under cover in a car theft ring in order to make a point to his mother--not the most mature thing to do....

On the other hand, sooner or later Jim would have talked him into it anyway. Blair looked up at Simon. "Uh. Thanks, man."

Simon shrugged.

In the elevator, Jim passed Blair a sad, sympathetic look and nodded for Blair to get out with his mom at the floor for the municipal parking lot. Blair shot him a sad, apologetic look back and followed Naomi to her car. Neither of them spoke until they were moving, when Naomi asked quietly, "What, exactly, is a major crime?"

Blair did not want to answer that. Which, really, was too bad, because not answering it would only make things worse. "In Cascade...unusual murder cases. Some kidnappings. Hate crimes. Um, carjacking rings." He swallowed. "Look, mom. I know when you see cops all you think of is riot gear and keeping files on protest groups and the FBI infiltrating peace organizations in the sixties...but there's more to it than that."

"And the 'more to it' is very dangerous."

"What happened tonight--that's not usual--"

"What *is* usual?"

"We, um, we go to crime scenes. Afterward, you know. Like forensics."

"Forensics?"

"Like--police scientists. Fingerprints and stray hairs and carpet fibers. Sentinels are very good at finding evidence other people miss. They can give preliminary guess about what a sample might be...sometimes they can find information that can't be observed or cataloged any other way. And sometimes sentinels conduct...interviews."

"Interrogations." Naomi gave the word Blair had tried to skip over.

"Mom, we're not talking about rubber hoses here! And the people who come to the attention of Major Crimes--they're not conscientious objectors who won't pay the military proportion of their taxes! We're talking about people who might be murders or rapists or--or kidnappers and we have to know if they are telling the truth."

Naomi was silent. Blair looked out the window.

"Sweetie, I just don't understand. With your background, I always assumed you'd wind up working for some environmental auditor firm or the EPA."

"Yeah, I kind of expected something like that, too."

"I mean, you never wanted to be a cop. A fireman, for a while, but...Oh Blair, did you?" She sounded slightly horrified, probably as much because she hated to think she could miss something so important as because the job itself freaked her out.

"No," Blair said firmly. "I never thought about it."

"Well, then why? There are so many other things you could do."

"Mom, it's not just governments and corporations and classes of people who hurt other people. Sometimes individuals are dangerous, too." Blair thought, vividly, of Lee Brackett and sagged inside. Brackett was as much a product of the system that had trained and deployed him as of his own personal cruelty. Chasing down the criminal individuals would not clean the system of the dysfunctions that made people like that in the first place. His mother was right, to fight the evils of the world where they lived. He knew that. And yet--and yet-- "There is *nothing* like that feeling you get when you have helped stop someone from really hurting someone else. It's a wonderful thing, and it's a good thing to be part of--" Blair stopped, remembering that moment when he'd watched Jim sign Brackett's letter of dismissal. That had been the first time, really. The most important time. The actual cases they had worked on since had been a kind of shadow of that crucial success. "Helping people. It's...it's Jim's job. And it's good work. Important work."

"What about your work?" Naomi asked.

"My work is to keep my partners healthy and effective. And I'm...good at that, actually. I like working with someone and really getting to know them and helping them solve their problems. I like that."

"So this is what you want?"

"Yes," yes, oh god, yes. "This is what I want."

"I hear you baby."

They got to the loft only moments after Jim. Starving, Blair emptied out half the fridge and made them all sandwiches. Blair had the tongue, but Jim ham and cheese and Naomi hummus and sprouts. They all ate with a concentration that gave them a way to avoid talking to each other. There had been enough of that for a while.

They put Naomi in Blair's room and made up the couch for Blair. Blair was exhausted but completely wired. The undercover assignment was a small knot of fear in his stomach. The fight with his mother was a wad of horror in his heart. He had never won a fight with her, except when she relented. He had appeared to have settled this one--at least she seemed resigned--but Naomi didn't let things go lightly.

No one, as far as Blair knew, had ever won a fight with his mother.

He wasn't a little boy any more. He was twenty-five years old and gainfully employed. All right, he was living in his sentinel's spare room...but he wasn't a child.

And--hell--that wouldn't make any difference.

He hadn't wanted to think about it, what his working with the police would mean to his mother. Being part of the establishment. Sacrificing his freedom and creativity to the establishment. She had to see this as Blair wasting his talents.

His first protest against the 'Tyranny of the Pigs', at least as far as he could remember, had been about 1978 in some dirty little town in New Jersey. They'd been protesting the shooting of a fifteen year old prostitute by a group of policemen. Naomi had stood on the hood of a small green Ford and talked for a long time about what the American people ought to be able to expect from their law enforcement, and the unpunished, unexplained, and unapologized murder of a child wasn't it.

The news was always full of stories like that. Always. For years, Blair had read the news and winced at the horrors that never stopped happening, no matter how many protests Naomi went to, no matter how many petitions she organized. Even later, when he was a graduate student and didn't have time to get so involved, he'd always remembered.

He hadn't wanted to think about what Naomi would say once she realized that he had thrown in his lot with the people who used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up peaceful demonstrations. It hardly even seemed applicable, once he'd gotten a look at Jim's job. Jim wasn't any of the things Naomi was afraid of. Blair had been to murder scenes. He'd heard Jim testify in court. He'd sat at lunch with Rafe and Brown and Taggart while they talked about an attempt a group of white supremacists made last spring to take over police headquarters and force the state to turn over two of their imprisoned members.

He was never going to get to sleep this way. Blair sighed silently and opened his eyes.

Jim was awake. Blair stared at the loft above him. He didn't see any movement, but he was sure all the same. Damn. Jim might be up there listening to Blair fret. Well, he could take care of that. Blair took a couple of deep breaths and concentrated on relaxing. Everything would sort it self out. Naomi would relent--Jim wasn't a monster, she would see that. And as for the danger--it might upset her, but his mother didn't believe in letting fear stop you from doing what was right or following your heart's desire. It would work out.

Everything would be fine....

Jim was still awake.

Slowly, Blair slid out from under the blanket and tiptoed toward the stairs. He listened for the sound of snores to prove him wrong or for Jim's soft request to be left alone.

Silence.

Jim was in the center of the bed, curled tightly into a ball, rigid and unmoving. Blair sat carefully on the side of the bed and said softly, "Hey."

Jim opened his eyes.

"Spiking?" The first, most obvious question.

Jim shook his head.

"Sick?"

"No." There was no chance of Jim just asking for help. Every time Blair thought things were getting better, they wound up playing this game again. Damn Brackett, Blair thought. The curse was so much a habit it was almost perfunctory. Damn Jim's father too; even the public schools gave sentinel children enough training that they were comfortable with talking about their senses, knew how to articulate their problems, and *expected*, when things were bad, to go and talk to their parents or their teachers or their guide.

Blair sighed and laid a hand on Jim's head. It was hard to go gently here. He wanted to demand to know what was wrong. He wanted to fix it. Now. He didn't have the patience for being a guide, not really.

"It's stupid," Jim whispered. "I know it's....I mean, she's your mother."

Oh. "You're having trouble having a stranger in your territory." Blair sighed again. He'd been worried about this, but every time he'd suggested putting Naomi in a hotel Jim had protested that you couldn't treat family that way, and that he could handle it. But Jim was barely in control of his senses and wasn't very comfortable in his environment yet. "I can't do anything about it until tomorrow." God. What was he going to say to her? She wouldn't understand that this had nothing to do with their disagreement.

Jim squirmed in the darkness and exhaled sharply. "It doesn't make any sense. I know who she is, but--I keep hearing someone in that room and all I can think is that it's not you."

Oh. God. Blair closed his eyes briefly. "Jim. She's not me. But she's not *him* either."

Jim turned over, fetching up facing away from Blair and out of reach. Blair took a couple of deep breaths. "Jim--"

"Don't suggest therapy again," Jim said, still facing the wall.

Oh. "Ok. Right. Um, why?"

"They'll just expect me to talk about it and then tell me that it's not my fault."

"Jim? Do you think it's your fault?"

"No! Of course not. He...."

Blair eased a little closer. "It's not your fault." He swallowed hard. "What he did had nothing to do with you. It was just him. Not everybody he worked with even survived."

"So, I'm lucky," Jim whispered bitterly.

"No. Maybe yes.... You were lucky to be so strong." He turned onto his knees and crawled closer so that he could lay a light hand on Jim's bare shoulder. "You weren't so isolated that nobody noticed what was going on or gave a damn.... You stopped him. You put him away, Jim. No bail. He's going away, and he won't hurt anyone else."

"Almost a shame. If he had a chance he might come after me again and then I could shoot him."

Blair's blood ran cold. "You're angry."

"You have no idea, Chief."

What could Blair say? That Jim should just get over it? That it was wrong to let yourself get eaten up by hate? That time would make it better? That Blair understood? He didn't, even though.... "I'm angry too," he whispered.

"It's been four months." Jim shifted and pulled his arms closer in. "I'm so tired of this...."

Lightly and slowly, Blair began to pet Jim's exposed shoulder. He moved patiently and rhythmically, the kind of move he'd use to put a housecat to sleep. "That's not so much time, Jim. I know you want to put all that behind you.... but you've been working on your senses and just. It takes time."

"I want my life back."

Blair bit his lip. "You mean from before you had the senses."

"Never mind. That's stupid. I know I can't--"

"No. We don't know how to turn them off. On purpose, anyway. I...I'm sorry." He choked on the lie. The only thing he wasn't sorry about was the senses. Jim was a sentinel; that was part of who Jim was. Blair didn't want him to be someone else.

Not that Blair's opinion mattered much. It was still taking almost all of Jim's energy and strength to cope with the senses, let alone with the senses on top of his history. Who was Blair to tell him he was *wrong* to feel overwhelmed and scared and exhausted. It was Jim who couldn't sleep because the tiny sounds of a middle-aged, female pacifist sleeping in the bedroom below had him on the edge of a panic attack. Really, in the face of that, what right did Blair have to tell him what to do or ask more of him then he'd already given?

Jim was completely still under Blair's hand, and it wasn't a good kind of still. He had told Jim once that sentinels and guides both needed the information touch provided. In Jim he felt fury and helplessness. "Please," he whispered. "Please, Jim, just give me a little more time. I know...it feels like it's been forever."

Jim turned then and pressed his forehead into Blair's knees. Blair wrapped his arms as far as he could around Jim's large shoulders and held him tightly. He slowed his own breathing and eased his left leg so it wouldn't cramp if this turned out to be a long wait. Amazing, really, how easy it suddenly was to be patient.

"Don't give up." It was so soft that Blair wasn't sure he'd really heard it until Jim added, "Please."

"No. Of course not. It's been so fast, and you're doing so well."

"You always say that." Jim's voice as a little stronger.

"It's true. Ask Jack how hard we thought it would be to settle you. Ask him how far ahead you are in the gym. If you don't believe me....He studies sentinels. He's talked to hundreds of them. Jim--I hadn't been with you for three weeks when we walked into a crime scene where three people had been killed and you--you *worked*. There was so much blood on the walls *I* wanted to be sick. I mean, if I had had any idea, I wouldn't have let you near it. And you just worked."

"You're kidding."

Blair swallowed, shying from the memory. That had been a hell of a morning. And it had led directly to his first car chase that afternoon. "Jim. It was that bad."

"Oh." He uncoiled slightly, and Blair loosened his grip. "You could have said."

"At the time, I was too nauseous to talk."

Jim chuckled softly. "Don't worry. You get used to it. Just remember, if you need to puke, don't contaminate evidence."

Blair laughed outright. "Thank you for that useful and practical advice. Jim. What do you need from me? How can we make this better?"

Jim turned his head away. For a moment, Blair was afraid that he wouldn't answer, but then he said, "Just...don't give up, Chief."

"Never even considered it."

It was a while before Jim fell asleep. Blair sat beside him until he did, hoping to give him something near to focus on so he wouldn't pay attention to the bedroom below.

***

Continued in Part Two...