New Arrivals
Author-Dasha
Titles

Imperfections V: Passing Through the Underworld
Part One
by Dasha

Summary: AU. Crossover. Blair tries to straighten out Jim's love life, a nasty murder case gets complicated by the out-of-town experts sent in to 'help,' and nobody is quite as reasonable as they'd like to be. Violence warning.

First thing's first: Kitty and Martha betaed, and be glad they did. You do *not* want to have to read the versions they read. Gad, but it was chaos this time! So they get credit for any and all coherence and clarity (as well as things being spelled consistently the same way). Thank you, ladies.

Second: as you can see, I've done it again. I'm not even going to try to apologize anymore. If I was really sorry, I'd find a way to stop, but the AU crossovers just keep coming.

Third: just to be clear, nobody's Immortal. Whenever the Immortals go out to play, everybody joins in on their terms, in their universe, playing their game. Not this time. This time, they got adapted.

Fourth: Some of you who are really good with continuity and casting and so on are going to see an opportunity for symmetry and elegance that I danced around but didn't take. You don't have to write and ask why, I'll just come out and admit it: I didn't have the heart. Yes, I'm a wimp.

Fifth: Warnings for violence. I went for the baddest bad guys I could think of--and they turned out to be *really* nasty.

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.

After about the middle of a semester, the sentinel gym at Rainier was booked most of the time with either psych and anthro graduate students doing projects or with little groups of sentinel kids from the nearby schools. It became simplest, after a while, to bring Jim in early in the morning a couple of times a week and get their practice in before work in the morning. Blair hated getting up that early, but Jim was still working on balance and kinesics and ear-hand coordination.

Things were coming along very nicely. Better than nicely, really, when you thought about it. That morning, Jim was zipping through sentinel eye charts--all the way down to the next to last line, and he was doing it not only with clear, crisp black letters, but with ones that were pale pink and yellow too. At least under controlled conditions, Jim's vision was every bit as good as it was before the golden exposure. Profoundly relieved, deeply grateful, Blair smiled to himself as Jim read off line after line.

"Aren't we done with this yet?" Jim interrupted himself halfway through line 17, which had pale orange dot-matrix letters.

"Yes, we're done--" Even before Blair finished, Jim was heading towards Blair's backpack to rummage for water and a snack. "Next time we can start to work on skill."

"What do you mean 'skill,' Chief? I've been able to recognize letters and numbers since kindergarten."

"Well, yeah. But now you'll learn to do it while they're moving."

Jim started to laugh, and then scowled. "You're not kidding, are you?"

"No, why? It's fun. You'll like this." Blair gathered up his backpack and notebook. "Listen, since we have to walk past the building anyway, can we stop to check my mail at the department?"

On the second floor landing, Jim paused, looking dubiously at the old, wooden door. "What's on this floor?"

"Um, a few classrooms. Some faculty offices. The new copier room for Anthropology. Why?"

Jim didn't answer. He pushed open the door and slowly walked out into the corridor. He was on high alert, moving carefully, pausing now and then to listen or sniff.

"Jim? What's wrong?"

"Whose offices?" he whispered.

"Some overflow from anthropology. The whole Russian department--I think that's three people. Jim?"

Jim paused outside a door that was, as far as Blair could tell, no different than any of the other doors. On autopilot, he pulled on a vinyl glove from his pocket and tried the knob. It was locked. Jim knelt, examined the lock, then took out his gun and fired twice at an angle into the lock.

The noise echoed in the silent hallway, and even knowing it was coming, Blair jumped. Jim didn't. Gunfire was one of the few sounds Jim could always seem to compensate for automatically. He opened the door.

Blair's first thought was, 'oh, that's what he's been smelling.' It smelled like meat. Not too strong or too old and somehow not quite right. Then he saw the blood.

Brown and everywhere, but... blood. It had to be.

Numbly, he reached for Jim's arm and tried to make sense of what they were seeing. Everywhere he looked, there was blood. Not in sheets, but in tiny drops. In spatters, like that art made by apes. Up and down the bookshelves. All over the walls. Sprinkling the windows in dark spots backlit by glorious sunlight. The floor, where the drops blended into the faded, maroon area rug. The desk--

And then he saw--finally saw, although he must have looked over and past it more than once--the body.

"Sandburg, do you recognize her?" Then, more softly, "Blair?"

Yes, Blair knew her. He had taken Intro to Physical Anthropology and Archaeology from her as an undergrad. At Blair's first department picnic, she had been his partner in the egg toss. She had been making jokes about that being the first year she could remember holding the 'picnic' outside, because usually it rained and they wound up on somebody's couch watching movies.

"Blair?"

He opened his mouth, but her name wouldn't come. Blair closed his eyes, trying to picture her face, her eyes... her dark, curly hair without the mats of blood. He couldn't find the image, but the name came back. "Dr. Watson. Uh, Emily Watson. She taught historic archaeology. She's been here for years--"

Jim nudged him back from the door. "Call it in."

Blair called dispatch and then Simon, and then sat on the other side of the hall with his back to the wall. From this angle he couldn't see the body. Dimly, he was aware that he should be *beside* his sentinel. Jim, however, seemed quite comfortable.

"Chief, you got a bag?"

Blair dug a handful of evidence bags out of his backpack and came to the door long enough to hold one open for Jim. Jim dropped a wide sliver of porcelain into it. "Keep this one, it's got prints. Not that that may matter. There must have been dozens of students trooping through here, and it didn't get cleaned a whole lot."

Two uniforms arrived first and cordoned off the hall. Then Serena from forensics and the coroner and Simon. Adrian and Sharona showed up, and Blair spared a thought to feel ashamed, until Sharona peeked inside the door and then joined him at the opposite wall.

It seemed to go on for hours. Students and faculty hovered at the police tape on both ends of the hall. University security showed up: more bodies in blue uniforms. Then Rainier administration began to arrive, adding a shrill note to the melody of horror and surprise.

When they left, finally, Jim drove them to an IHOP, not the station. Blair wasn't in a frame of mind to question it; if Jim was hungry, then they would eat. Even after half a year, Blair couldn't take Jim's eating for granted.

At the table, though, Jim did not look at his menu. He ordered coffee, and as soon as the waitress was gone, reached across and squeezed Blair's arm. "There's no reason to be ashamed if you're feeling a little queasy, all right? Shock is your body's way of protecting itself."

"Shock?"

"That was a pretty bad one, Chief. I know that. And crime scenes aren't usually... a surprise."

"No, I'm ok, Jim. Really."

"How well did you know her?"

"Not... not really well. I haven't even spoken to her since.... fall sometime. Before I met you." He closed his eyes. "Jim, sometimes you read.... I mean, every once in a while a graduate student flips and... there was this guy in California who took out his whole committee--"

"Yeah? Wait, are you asking if a *student* could have done this?" Jim looked away. "No. Just no."

Blair took a deep breath, nodded.

The waitress brought the coffee. Jim ordered them both toast. "No arguments. You need to eat something."

When they finished breakfast, they called in for Dr. Watson's home address and went to check out her house.

"It's been searched," Jim said.

"How can you tell?" It was a little disorderly, but not what Blair had come to think of as 'tossed.'

"Smell," Jim said absently. "The dust has been disturbed. Things have been handled. I smell latex."

"Gloves," Blair said. "So no prints, then."

Jim shrugged. "Doubt it. We'll send forensics anyway." He looked around sadly. "Careful, whoever they were. Not professionals, exactly. Not the usual kind. But careful."

They went back to Rainier. Most of the Anthro professors who had classes that day had canceled them, but most also seemed to have stuck around. None of them had anything useful to say. It was weird, watching Jim question people Blair had known for years. It was weirder having faculty members who had *graded* him treat him like a cop. When he realized that Jim had faded back to lean against the door while Blair carefully questioned his department chair, it felt downright surreal. Of course, the whole day felt surreal.

"Nobody's been able to tell us much about her social life," Blair prompted gently.

"There wasn't much to tell. I don't think she's dated since her divorce three years ago. No family in town." Hal thought a moment. "She volunteered at the animal shelter. The no-kill shelter on the east end. Her work here, a summer dig up the coast, and her work for the state. That was it."

Blair nodded. "Oh, yeah. Public archaeology."

"What's that?" Jim asked.

"When a developer is starting a big project he has to publish an environmental and cultural impact statement," Hal said. "Things would get ugly if we cut a road through an old unmarked cemetery or a valuable archaeological site."

"Sounds like there's plenty of room there for bad feelings," Jim said.

Hal laughed once, bitterly. "Oh, yes. There has been some ugliness in the past. But, detective, it usually shows up as a lawsuit. Or attempted bribery. Something like this....." Hal shook his head.

"We'll need her files from the sites she was looking at just the same," Blair said.

They packed it in around three. Jim had a meeting with an arson investigator at three-thirty to talk about a case they were wrapping up. Technically, they both had a meeting with her, but Debra Reeves never really seemed to notice when Blair was in the room. She wasn't rude about it. She wasn't unkind. But it was Jim she had initially pegged as unwanted competition and it was Jim she continued to watch with respect once he had proved he wasn't some kind of idiot.

Well, he was *some* kind of idiot, because he didn't seem to notice that Reeve's regard held more than just professional respect. Jim spent the hour-long meeting being competent and courteous. Blair spent most of the meeting lamenting the waste.

In the elevator, afterward, he gave in to temptation and tried to prod Jim a little. "You know, she's really nice. You should ask her out."

"Who?"

"Debra!"

Jim looked at him in surprise. "Why?"

The question was unexpected, but Blair rallied valiantly. "Because she's hot. Because she likes you. Because she's nice. Because--"

"Very funny. Can we get back to work?"

The doors opened and Jim sailed past without a backward look. He seemed almost annoyed.

"Jim, I'm serious here. She was making eyes at you the whole time. How can you ignore that?"

"Don't be an idiot. Her father just died--"

"So, maybe she's just looking for a little distraction. It doesn't have to be anything serious. A little fun, a little roll in the hay--"

Although Blair wasn't speaking loudly, Jim spun around and hissed, "Will you be quiet!"

It was a reaction out of proportion to the discussion, and Blair wasn't sure if he should be annoyed or worried. "What? Just what is the problem? Don't tell me you don't like her--"

Jim flinched away and spun on his heel headed toward Major Crime. Blair scampered after him. As he caught up, he whispered, "Jim, if it's the senses you're worried about, I have some pamphlets--"

Jim turned mid-stride, caught Blair by the arm, and firmly steered him into the break room. "Look, you want to tell me what to eat? Fine. You want to tell me how to sleep, what to clean my house with, how to breathe? Fine. Great. I'm happy about that, really. I appreciate it. But there are *limits*, Sandburg."

Blair wondered what the hell Jim was talking about. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Some things are personal!"

"Jim," Blair said gently, "I buy your toothpaste. That's pretty personal."

"I am only going to tell you this once. Stay out of my love life." In a show of that amazing physical strength that Blair normally so seldom saw, Jim slid his partner aside and stormed back out, headed for the bullpen.

They did paperwork for two hours in icy, awkward silence before heading home for leftovers and television. Before dinner, Blair tried to apologize. Jim cut him off. "Look, Chief. I know you mean well. But leave it alone, ok?"

"Sure. Fine. No problem."

The next day started early and went at a dead run. Besides interviewing other volunteers who worked with Emily Watson at the animal shelter, they took a look at a crime scene for Homicide and went over a body for Dan Wolf, the coroner.

At one-thirty, when they got back to the station, the files from Emily Watson's current projects were waiting on Jim's desk. He scanned them briefly and handed them to Blair. "How about I go get us some lunch, Chief, and you start on these. They barely seem to be in English."

Blair sighed. There were some eight inches of files on paper and a short stack of floppy discs. But Jim had a point; he didn't know enough about archaeology to recognize something important. Blair, frankly, barely knew enough. "Ok. Make it a chicken Caesar salad from 'Barney's' and you're on."

Jim was only gone a minute or so when Rhonda appeared carrying another file. "The prints came back on the Watson case. You weren't here, so I went ahead and ran the name." Blair sat up. "Really? We've got a name? Thanks, Rhonda!"

When Jim got back half an hour later, Blair had made it through most of the file. "His name is Evan Kaspari. He likes to kill people for fun." In the back of his mind, Blair had been expecting some average guy--no doubt a 'quiet' neighbor--who had just snapped. Or something. He had expected, he supposed, that when they found whoever did *that* to Emily Watson, that it would be mystifying, that the whole thing was unpredictable. That they would find criminals (and the word hardly seemed adequate) actually *equal* to this crime.... No. He hadn't expected it. "He's wanted in six countries for rape, murder, kidnapping."

"Wow," Jim said, looking pleased rather than horrified. He set the bag of lunch aside, forgotten, and reached for the file.

"Wait, it gets worse. He has *friends*." Blair reached over and tugged a grainy fax of a picture out of the sheaf of papers. "Silas Etz, and here, this is Melvin Koren. He appears to be the head of their little outfit. Mainly, he's an extortionist, but he also has a soft spot for stealing antiquities and torturing people for fun."

"Why haven't I heard of him?"

"No one's ever caught him. Also, he picks fairly small targets; governments and international conglomerates won't 'deal' with terrorists, so he goes after small towns and medium sized companies. People who scare easily or care about their neighbors on a personal level, or who can't afford the bad press of a huge disaster. Usually he kills a few people or damages some property to prove he can, and then his demands get met. An oil company in the Ukraine. An entire small town in southern France. He started his career in Australia, where he killed eight people blowing up a bridge during a payroll heist. He's gotten more creative since. A fertilizer plant in India wouldn't meet his demands. A week later it was demolished in an explosion. Thirty people died. There wasn't conclusive evidence linking him to the explosion and it's officially listed as an 'industrial accident.' Last fall it was Edinburgh, where he held up the city for a million dollars for *not* disrupting their arts festival. He proved his threat by setting off a small bomb in a theater a week before the festival was to start. The bomb didn't kill anyone, but an elderly man was trampled in the crush toward the door."

By this point even Jim was impressed.

"While he was in town, he robbed a local archaeological site?well, the lab doing their analysis. There was gold, maybe 300 grams, I don't know what that is in ounces. He kidnapped a police scientist and kept him for almost two weeks. *Didn't* kill him, although apparently it was a near thing. After that, he and Etz were spotted in an airport in Madrid in December, and Interpol swarmed the city with investigators, but apparently they didn't even get close. They are wanted for kidnapping, assault and attempted murder in Spain, now, though."

Jim spent several minutes looking over the file himself, then set it aside and got up to pace. "So if Koren is in town, he may already have contacted someone with his demands."

"Yeah. Maybe." Blair frowned. "Unless he's here for antiquities. I mean, Watson was an archaeologist."

"Right. We should be looking into museums, traveling exhibitions, dig sites..."

Blair thought. "Well, maybe not dig sites. You don't find a lot of precious metals in the Northwest. And art made out of wood doesn't last forever in this climate."

"There's some valuable stuff here, though, right, Chief?"

"Well, but compared to Koren's usual payoff... he'd have to carry out masks and carvings by the truckload. I can't see this guy going after local stuff."

"Right, museums." He picked up the file. "Come on. Let's go talk to Simon."

Simon grasped the situation almost immediately. After a very short discussion, he was on the phone warning superiors and reorganizing his department. Blair and Jim, rescuing their abandoned lunches on the way out, took the photos of Koren and the others back to the university and then the animal shelter.

No one had seen any of the men pictured.

At five-thirty they gave up; everyone they might talk to had gone home for the night. Back at the PD, more complete files had arrived from Interpol, Australia, and the Greater Mumbai Police Force.

"Where did you say that last one was?" Jim asked.

"India. Ooo. Hey, and it's even in English. Oh, but this one's not. I think it might be Romanian."

Jim started on the new files and Blair looked through the stacks of information and notes they'd gotten from Emily Watson's office. Henry Brown was also staying late, looking for local sources of valuable antiquities. Around seven, they ordered a couple of pizzas.

Blair nearly lost his appetite when he saw what Jim had been looking at. The stack from Interpol included pictures of Koren's victims. The bodies from India were in rows, laid out in front of their factory. They were covered in sheets, but Blair could easily imagine the innocent people who had died. The police scientist from Edinburgh had lived; there were before and after pictures of him. In one, he was an earnest, dark-haired young man smiling shyly for the camera. In the others--evidence pictures of the kind Blair had seen many times before--he was so badly bruised and swollen that he was almost unrecognizable as the same person. Blair put down his pizza and flipped the page. Australia: four dead security guards (smiling, in their uniforms) and a family who had been caught in the explosion that dumped the armored car into the river. And one more--a police inspector Koren had killed with a machete, apparently for the hell of it.

Jim reached past him and closed the file, pushing it away. "Enough, Chief. Let's call it a night."

Blair opened his mouth to protest, but gave up, unsure what he was going to argue about.

It was drizzling as they drove home. Jim took it slow, and Blair thought he might be having a hard time focusing on traffic and lights and falling water at the same time, but maybe he was just thinking, because halfway home he said, "Blair, if you're having a hard time dealing with this...."

"Why would *I* have a hard time dealing with this? *I* didn't kill those people. *I* didn't torture Emily Watson or the police scientist in Scotland or--" Blair paused. "I'm one of the guys who's going to get these maniacs. I don't have anything to *deal* with, ok?"

"Ok, that's a good start. But you've got to learn to separate yourself."

"Oh, yeah. Right. Just check my humanity at the door?" Surely that was the last thing Jim needed from his guide.

"Whatever it takes to stay present. What happens when we actually meet these guys? You can't afford to be so angry or so horrified that you can't *think*. If your emotions are in the way, you're useless, potentially dangerous."

Blair sighed. "Yeah, yeah. If I'm going to hang with cops, I have to learn to think like a cop." They had had this part of the talk before.

Jim sighed. "Sandburg, you talk to me about 'sustainable.' As upset as you are, that's not sustainable. Get me?"

"Yeah. I get you." Blair tried a smile. "I liked our relationship better when I was the reasonable one."

"I like a change now and then. Livens thing up."

At home, there was chicken and squash and bok choi in the fridge. Blair was tired enough that taking the food out and cutting it up felt like a ten-mile hike uphill, but he was finally getting Jim to move a little bit away from junk food, and he wasn't going to waste a night on greasy take-out. One meal in seven (and that included breakfast) was either Wonderburger or pizza, but fortunately Jim had paid enough attention to body-building over the years to realize that, yes, a person needed protein and vitamins and minerals and fiber.

It was pretty clear about five minutes after putting the plates on the table that this wasn't going to be one of the good nights. Jim was picking at his food and chewing with a determination that made it pretty clear he was forcing himself.

"Your senses ok?" Blair asked.

Jim smiled thinly. "Yeah, I'm good."

"But you're not hungry."

"No, I am. I should eat. Lunch was a long time ago." Jim's appetite wasn't always regular. Jack Kelso was of the opinion that the parts of Jim's body and brain that dealt with hunger and eating were still a little confused by the long struggle they'd had under Brackett, and that, like everything else, it only needed time.

"You don't have to eat," Blair said gently.

Jim glared at his plate and complained, "You'll fuss." Blair blinked at that. "Oh. Yeah. I guess I will." He smiled gently. "I'll tell you what: your weight's good, your blood work's good. How 'bout we take the night off. Blow off the meal. Or eat cookies. Whatever. You can afford to just forget it for once."

Jim eyed him narrowly, trying to puzzle out Blair's motives. "What's up?"

"Nothing. Really."

"This is the tone of voice you used to get when I couldn't eat anything." He was still suspicious.

"Well--eating is stressing you out. And you're under a lot of pressure. I'm not sure forcing this meal is worth it. That's all."

"I'll handle it better with some food on board."

"That's true."

"So, I'll eat."

"Ok. But tonight I won't nag."

Jim set to eating. He managed half the plate before sighing and pushing the remains away. Blair pretended not to notice. He asked Jim innocuous questions about trying to coordinate information from international law enforcement sources. The answers were actually interesting.

It wasn't even nine o'clock when they finished. Blair was tired enough to go to bed right then, but he was wired from the case. Instead he brought out his laptop and started on his monthly report to Jack while Jim watched a western with the sound turned down. He was pretty sure that Jack wasn't going to get over the whole Golden thing anytime soon. He was also still pretty sure that Jack's position was based more on his baggage about his own sentinel Marcia than about an objective analysis of Jim's specific situation. Jack was committed to the value that you did not ignore a sentinel's problems and you did not force a sick or compromised sentinel to work. Blair agreed--had at the time and still did now--and the idea of Jim working a case effectively *blind* had had him a little nauseous for five days. Even being drugged out of his skull and mostly unconscious hadn't quite erased that particular terror.

But working had been Jim's choice. Dangerous or not, it had to *be* Jim's choice. Every time Blair had opened his mouth to ground his partner he'd thought of Brackett bullying and controlling and tyrannizing Jim. But there Jim was, arguing calmly, saying that they would blow the case if they switched contacts now, explaining that it was personally important to him, pointing out that any number of sentinels operated very well blind and (apparently he had gotten this from his doctor, who was eager to be reassuring) *naming names*. Jim, focused, calm, and organized (even though he had to be completely terrified) was showing them how much of his own strength and certainty he had gotten back in just a few months. No matter how worried he was, Blair could not bring himself to say, "It doesn't matter that you're probably right and *can* do this. It doesn't matter that you need to do this. You don't control your life, and I say no." He just couldn't do it.

Jack was still mad.

Blair supposed he was lucky not to have been suspended (or worse) by his advisor. The fact that Jack hadn't withdrawn Blair's credentials had nothing to do with consideration for *him*. Blair was still a working guide only because Jim's unique situation made it highly inadvisable to disrupt his circumstances, even if those circumstances included a guide with appallingly poor judgment. As Jack had put it, "considering his history, it's a damn miracle he's been able to achieve rapport with *any* guide. But the inescapable truth is, since he met you this is the first night he's spent in a hospital. Removing you would be traumatic. Doing without a guide for however long it took him to accept a replacement would be hazardous if not fatal."

Jack was polite these days, but he watched Blair very carefully. He called Jim twice a week to make sure he was all right. Blair didn't dare argue. He turned his reports in on time. He showed up for meetings. He didn't complain.

***

The next morning while Blair was in the shower, the phone rang. He heard it dimly over the fall of the water, and put down the soap. This early in the morning, it had to be work. Half-washed, he gave up and rinsed, hopping out of the bathroom still dripping and trying to dry his feet on the soft, blue towel.

"We've got a lead on Koren, Chief, let's go," Jim said. He was already throwing his shoes on. Blair dove for his bedroom and dressed. His shirt still stuck damply to his shoulders when they arrived at the scene.

It was another murder. This one looked like a mugging. There was very little blood, just a small knife-wound in the chest. The victim was a man, average height, average build--at least from what Blair could tell from the figure still lying on the ground. He was slightly damp from the dewfall. Blair had to remind himself that the victim couldn't possibly be cold.

"What have you got?" Jim asked, leaning toward the body but careful not to touch any evidence.

"We got a call around 1:32 this morning," said a tired-looking man in a mussed suit. "Mugging. One of the neighbors saw part of it. So we came out--the coroner was tied up at a jackknifed semi on the Rolligh Bridge and we only had two uniforms--so, anyway, we didn't get the neighbor's statement until about an hour ago. Turns out she's elderly, gets up a lot at night. She got a look at the killer."

Jim looked around. "How? At one-thirty in the morning? There aren't any streetlights."

"It gets better." The detective yawned and pointed at an upper window of a building fifty yards down the block. "Turns out she's a sentinel. Retired doctor. She looked out the window because she smelled the *blood*." He shook his head. "She saw a man going over a body, searching it. A mugging. And his wallet's gone, so it all fits, right? Except the description she gave of the suspect matches the guy Major Crimes is so hot after."

Jim spoke with barely restrained excitement, "Which one?"

"Koren. Long, vertical scar crossing the right eye, right?"

Jim smiled. "Good work." He leaned over the victim. "Do we know who this was?"

"Nope. No ID. The forensics people have already been over the body."

Jim searched the body too, but found nothing that might be useful. They spent almost an hour going over the narrow, quiet street, but Jim didn't come up with anything there, either.

By the time they gave up and returned to the station, Henry had a list of museum exhibits, private collections, and antiquities dealers who were possible targets for Koren's gang, and Simon wanted to see them in his office.

"Hear you boys have another lead," Simon said. He looked encouraged.

Jim snorted. "Yeah. As soon as we find out who he was and why he was killed."

"Yeah, ok." Simon sighed. "I won't be giving the brass the good news yet. So, anyway, your pal Koren is a popular guy. Australia and the UK are both sending people over to join the party." He held out a couple of faxes to Jim, who just glared at them sullenly.

Blair took the papers.

"We don't need the help," Jim said. "The case is moving along fine."

"Jim," Simon said, with the patient tones of a reasonable man who spent much of his time smoothing the feathers of ruffled birds both above and below him on the pecking order, "Maybe we do. No, hear me out. This gang has been playing with police forces across the world for six years. I haven't even sat down and counted the total number of people who have died--"

"Yeah, and weren't these the people he was running circles around when he did it? Their help I don't need."

Blair ignored the argument. It wasn't a sentinel territorial thing, it was a cop thing. Nobody ever wanted to give up control of 'their' investigation, or even, usually, share it. He had seen this discussion enough times to know how it would end for almost everyone in Major Crimes. In Jim's case, Simon would eventually have his way, but not until Jim had groused enough to be able to say 'I told you so' when whatever outside authority he had to talk to, work with, or take orders from irritated him.

"They know Koren, Jim. And experience might just have *taught* them something."

The pages contained the pictures and credentials of the arriving investigators. Sometime last year, Major Crimes had been infiltrated by the very serial killer they had been tracking; they'd been scrupulous about getting proper IDs and backgrounds on visiting investigators since. The information wasn't very detailed, but it was enough to make sure everybody was just who they said they were.

The Australian was a real cutie. An unprofessional opinion, but true. If the grainy, small, black and white picture at the top of her credentials page was anything close to accurate, she was drop dead gorgeous.

The other two were from the Lothian and Borders Police, which was--Blair scanned the page--in Scotland. That would be from the mess in Edinburgh last fall.

"Look, the bottom line is, you can't afford to pass up any edge or *any* help. Here's their itinerary. They've worked together before. Both parties are coming in on the same connecting flight through Dallas, so you can pick them all up at the same time."

"They're sending a sentinel?" Blair blurted in surprise.

Jim snatched the papers away and read them himself. "You don't put two sentinels on one case. Come on, Simon, this is a waste."

Simon shrugged. "I could reassign you."

Blair gently took the pages back. "Don't worry about it, Jim. Your problem is solved. Mostly. You can't put a sentinel on a plane for twenty hours, drop him in a foreign country, and expect him to be able to work. Whoever this MacLeod is, he's going to spend the first three days completely useless, and possibly immobile."

"He's got a partner--" Jim wasn't finished protesting.

"Yeah. A guide. Who will be tied down with his sentinel. The Australian is the only one who we'll really have to deal with. I dunno, Jim. It might be useful to have someone who knows these guys."

Jim sighed and ground his teeth, a sign that he was willing to be coaxed into being reasonable. Then he looked at the itinerary again. "Who's this third person coming from Edinburgh?"

"What?" Simon took the papers back and glared at them. "Well, I don't know. But whoever this 'Tessa Noel' is, she's not getting near this case until we have her credentials on file."

Jim's smile was brittle. "Glad to hear it."

Simon handed the itinerary back. "You're meeting their plane at five-thirty. Don't do anything I'll have to apologize for later, hmmm?"

"Have a little faith," Blair said. He actually did mean it to be reassuring, but Simon seemed to think he was kidding.

***

"Hey, Sandburg? You wanna go pick us up some lunch?"

Blair looked at him suspiciously. "It's a little early."

"Well, we missed breakfast."

"And while I'm out, you'll be....?"

"Here. Not doing anything dangerous," he said casually. "I thought I'd go down and talk to Dan about this morning's victim."

"You sure you want to do that alone?"

"Hey, I'm not the one who pukes at crime scenes." He tried to make a joke of it, and apparently Sandburg took it that way, because he answered, "That is so low, man. I do not resemble that remark. Anyway, the five car pile-up doesn't count as a crime scene."

"Ahem. The Reeves' van?"

Sandburg sobered. "I can do this."

Jim lowered his voice. "It's not like you got any training for this. And it's been a rough week. Besides, I'm hungry." That last, Blair would never argue with. He didn't this time, either. While his guide went to collect lunch, Jim went down to the morgue.

There was no ID on the body yet, and Dan hadn't had time to do anything more than check it in. Together they examined it carefully, and Jim watched as Dan took samples. Blair kept saying that if Jim would let himself zone on routine tasks where noticing and compiling details was key--crime scenes and evidence analysis, like this--he would get more information faster and he'd be better at intuiting what was important. But Jim didn't really *want* to be that absorbed in a task like this.

He removed the victim's clothing from its bag, turned the pieces in gloved hands. Smelled them. "Curry," he said. "I think." He hadn't had Indian food since coming on line.

"That's a start," Dan said, not looking up from the sample bag he was marking.

Jim walked around the table. "He's fairly clean. His aftershave's not particularly cheap. He ate Indian food." But they didn't know who he was or why Koren had killed him. "What did you have? Or what did you know?" Despite the reputation of sentinel interrogation skills, you couldn't get the dead to tell you what they knew.

A message from Debra Reeves was waiting on his voice mail when Jim got back to his desk. She wanted to know if he was willing to try surfing again. Maybe this Saturday? A hasty check told him that Sandburg wasn't in the building yet. He called her back and explained that they were in the middle of a murder investigation that could very quickly complicate into something else, so he couldn't be sure of having Saturday off, or any free time at all in the immediate future. Maybe some other time, though....

He was carefully polite about it. It just wasn't worth the trouble being honest. He might have to work with her again some day, and asking her what the hell kind of idiot she was anyway would probably make things awkward later.

The up-side was that Sandburg never had to know about it. In his less charitable moments, Jim was convinced that Sandburg, for all his years of training and mountains of sentinel trivia at his fingertips, didn't really have a *clue* what it was like living with these senses. Walking crime-labs had no business going out on a date.

In more generous moments--and this was one of them--he told himself that Blair was just pushing him to have as normal a life as possible. He did it all the time. Maybe, for Sandburg, even going through the motions of dating was necessary to being well-adjusted and socially connected. Maybe he was right, and eventually it *would* seem perfectly natural to really look at women, to go out, to eventually....

But not now. Now, all he could imagine was a hundred opportunities for embarrassment, discomfort, and conflict.

Jim was just sitting down to go through the file they'd been accumulating on Dr. Watson when Blair brought back a sack of sandwiches. Things quickly coalesced into an impromptu meeting and lunch. They sat around the sixth floor conference room with Brown, Rafe, Simon, Carolyn, and two uniforms assigned to perform support, Theo Lane and Gwen Lopez.

"We have to assume that Watson wasn't a random victim," Jim said. "These people are indescriminate about who dies, but they usually have a specific adjenda."

"Yeah, but what?" Simon asked "You said things were quiet at the department. She hadn't mentioned anything unusual to anyone, she wasn't working with any museums...."

"She was doing work on three public archaeology projects," Sandburg said. "One was an extension off State Highway Five. She was about to sign off on that, nothing there. Another was a tourist development near Winslow. That had barely started. The last one was an expansion of the Cantor Office Park, and it looked like there might be something there, but by all accounts Cantor was on board with the whole research thing. Emily was going to run a small dig over the summer. Cantor wasn't going to break ground for the construction on that phase of the project until next spring."

Simon sighed. "Could she have owned something they wanted? Koren and his crowd like antiquities. She was an archeologist."

"If she did, nobody in the department knew about it. Her kind of work--it was old pennies, broken pots, bits of half-rotted wood, and rusty metal. Nothing more than two or three hundred years old."

"Maybe there's a connection between her and the second victim," Carolyn said thoughtfully.

The meeting lasted for three hours. When it was over they didn't have any better guesses than when they'd gone in. Jim started going over the more detailed reports of Koren's methods, trying to imagine what sorts of warning signs they might be able to look out for. Sandburg and Brown sat down with Brown's list of local archaeology exhibits and the list of Koren's previous heists hoping to find something that matched the pattern. Lopez and Lane were sent to show pictures of the second victim around campus and Watson's neighborhood. Jim had a sinking feeling none of it would be good enough.

It was almost a relief when Blair tapped his shoulder at four and said it was time to leave for the airport. Actually arriving at the airport changed Jim's mind about that.

The landing planes had the most astonishing vibration. It wasn't even a *sound*. It vibrated through his bones, making his legs, his skull, his jaw throb with something that wasn't pain but made him want to... something. He didn't know. Something.

Walking through the concrete parking structure he could feel the building vibrate too. Not loud, but deep. The air bounced with reflections every time a plane touched down.

"Jim? Is this the first time in an airport since....?"

"Yes. Thanks for asking."

"Look, it's just information. You'll get used to it. It will turn into background."

Jim muttered something profane and unkind.

Sandburg patted his shoulder. "That's the spirit."

Jim waited by the wall while Sandburg cheerfully picked up the rental cars their guests had reserved. He reminded himself that the throbbing hum that poured up through the soles of his feet every eight minutes did *not* mean the building was coming down.

He paid attention to his breathing. Slow, deep breaths, even though the air was vibrating too.

"You're doing great," Blair said as they cleared security and headed toward the gate to wait.

Jim gave him the finger. "What gets me here, Chief, is that there are sentinels who work airport security."

"Yeah, well. A few can't adapt, but most get used to it in a few hours. Hey, why don't you pay attention to the sounds--see if you can guess what kind of plane is coming in.... Right. Or not."

Flight 2146 from Dallas was late. Jim picked up a newspaper someone had left and tried to forget the air traffic coming and going around them. Sandburg dug out the briefs Simon had given them on their guests and flipped through them distractedly.

Planes landed and took off. The feel of them became less surprising, but Jim couldn't imagine trying to work here. As he got used to the aircraft, he felt the pressure of dozens of voices, the smells of machinery, the tap of heels, the hiss in the PA every time a flight was announced.

"How's it coming with the museum lists?" Jim asked.

Blair rolled his eyes. "The big deal in town at the moment is a NASA exhibit Rainier is hosting. No antiquities, nothing particularly valuable--and nothing small and portable. Next week, the Norman Gallery is opening a Maxfield Parrish exhibit."

"Not Koren's style."

"Nope. The Maritime Museum has about two million in gold coins, but it's not all stored in the same place for easy, one-stop thieving. Henry is now looking at stuff in Seattle and Olympia."

Jim started to answer. Another plane landed, passing through Jim's bones in a long, slow shudder.

"Damn," Sandburg muttered.

"What?"

"Well, I was curious, you know? I've never met a European guide before. But it turns out he's American."

"Bummer," Jim answered patiently. Sandburg's unending enthusiasm for things sentinel was irritating, but he knew it worked to his own benefit, so it would be tacky to complain.

Sandburg snorted. "Worse than 'bummer.' He was trained as a guide as a United States Marine."

"So where does that rank on the scale of horrifying? Worse than the Coast Guard?"

"Much, but not as bad as the CIA."

"Great."

When the plane was finally announced, Jim was almost eager to collect their foreign 'help' so they could leave at last. The people they were looking for didn't appear in the debarking crowd. Jim looked again at the grainy, slightly squashed faxed images. There was no way they'd missed them. Nobody had even come close.

The waiting area had completely emptied before Jim heard someone else in the gate. A man was singing. It was very quiet, but the sound cut through the high buzz that chorused through the terminal.

"Maybe they missed their flight," Blair said.

Jim shook his head. He could not make out words and the voice sounded slightly hoarse, but there was a steadiness to it that made everything else recede.

A woman finally cleared the door. Her red hair was travel-wilted and she had on a brown coat trimmed with pink fake fur. She was moving slowly, towing a suitcase behind her and two large bags balanced over her shoulder. Her eyes settled on them, then she glanced back. Behind her were two men, clinging together with an open unsteadiness and need that screamed 'sentinel and guide' to Jim's now-practiced eye. Then, behind them, another woman, blond, also buried under luggage.

The red-haired woman picked up the pace and homed in on Jim and Blair. Behind her the other three stumbled to the nearest row of chairs and sat down shakily.

"Inspector Megan Conner, New South Wales Police Services. Which one of you is detective Ellison?"

Jim didn't answer. The rest of the party was much more interesting. He could smell pain, now, and the reek of exhausted misery he'd first encountered when he'd been thrown in with the other captive sentinels in December.

"Um, him," Sandburg fumbled. "I'm Blair Sandburg, his guide."

"Guide? We weren't informed we'd be working with a sentinel."

"No problem, though, right?" Blair said brightly. "The more the merrier. Hey, we picked up your rentals. Do you need to pick up anything from baggage, or can we just lead the caravan to your hotel?"

The sentinel was tall and broad, with short dark hair. His guide--older but only slightly smaller, leaned over and whispered, "What say, Mac? Want to throw up and get it over with?"

The sentinel lifted his head and regarded Jim with an even gaze. "No," he said firmly. "You ready to face the locals?" He stood up and reached to steady his guide with one hand.

Jim swallowed hard and wished he hadn't. Despite the fact that he was pale (even slightly green), this foreigner was competition the way other sentinels he'd met somehow hadn't been.

The three of them were almost on him before Jim realized the guide was limping badly. There was a faint, inorganic sound to his movement. Oh, crap. Another military-trained, disabled guide. God knew what kind of crazy bullshit might randomly pop up at any moment. Jim had taken half a step back to put Sandburg between himself and the strange guide when the man stuck out his hand and smiled tiredly. "Joe Dawson. This is Duncan MacLeod. We're sorry to keep you waiting." It was a passable imitation of rationality, possibly even the real thing, but Jim hesitated a moment more before taking the offered hand.

"Jim Ellison. Welcome to Cascade."

"I see you've met Megan; she's been working this case for several years now. We've worked with her before. This lovely woman behind me is Tessa, Mac's wife."

***

"--I mean, I thought the *Canadian* had a deal, and he was only traveling with two scruffy-looking cops and a wolf. MacLeod travels with two beautiful women! That's it. Jim, man, we have got to get you an entourage."

"Thanks, anyway," Jim said sourly. "I thought you said they wouldn't be good for anything for several days. You said, and I quote, 'You can't put a sentinel on a plane for twenty hours, drop him in a foreign country, and expect him to be able to work.' Well, guess what!"

Blair glanced in the side mirror and checked the two cars following them. Mrs. MacLeod was driving the car rented to the UK contingent and was taking everyone's luggage to the hotel to get them settled in. The other sentinel and his guide were in Megan Connor's car on the way to look at crime scenes.

"So we got lucky," Blair said uncertainly.

"Lucky. The last thing this case needs is another sentinel mucking around. What are the chances they're even half-way sane?"

Blair winced. "Better than average. Before this goes any further, I should point out they aren't all that far back. He can probably hear you."

Jim was silent for a moment. "No. MacLeod's on the phone, telling someone not to worry."

"That's gotta be *some* roaming charge," Blair said. "And don't do that while you're driving."

"I do this all the time. You didn't complain when I was tracking Francisco by music."

"Tracking the location of something is one thing. Focusing on a conversation going on *behind* you is a good way to zone in traffic."

"Traffic, traffic, traffic." Jim had lightened up enough to tease him. "You're such a nag. Anyway, you're always saying I should zone more, indulge my focus--"

Blair punched him gently on the shoulder. Then he made a big show of giving in. "Fine. Whatever. You've just had this monster truck for a couple of months. You probably aren't that attached to it anyway."

"An Expedition is *not* a monster truck."

They stopped briefly at the hotel, a slightly upscale downtown Holiday Inn that catered to business travelers. Jim's SUV and the Chrysler sedan Inspector Connor was driving idled in the passenger drop-off loop in front of the hotel while Mrs. MacLeod turned her car over to the parking attendant and loaded the bags onto a cart. Her husband got out to hover behind her. Jim watched them, clearly listening in. Blair hoped the other sentinel wouldn't notice.

Blair slipped out and trotted back to Connor's car. The passenger-side window was down before he reached it. "Hey," he said, going for friendly and enthusiastic, "I know you're in a hurry to see the crime scenes, but do we need to grab a bite to eat first? I know about those long flights." He shook his head in mock horror.

Megan Connor, who was every bit as pretty as the fax had hinted, shook her head. "I ate on the plane," she said, again tempting him with that amazing accent. "What about you guys, Joe? I know neither of you ate."

The older man sighed. "No. Mac won't be ready for food for at least another hour. Thanks, but we might as well go straight to work."

By this time MacLeod was finished saying good-bye to his wife. He gave Blair an impatient look as he brushed past him and got into the back seat of Connor's car. Up close, he was even bigger than Blair had thought. Wow. He barely remembered to give the others a friendly wave before hurrying back Jim.

The first stop was Rainier. The crime-scene tape was still up around Dr. Watson's office. It also hadn't been cleaned up at all. Not that Blair had a clue how you'd get drops of dried blood off the spines of hardcover books.

For half an hour, MacLeod stood in the center of the room, his head bowed and his eyes half closed. His guide waited silently and nearly motionless right behind him. Inspector Connor, after a quick look at the crime scene, joined Jim and Blair in the hall and began asking detailed questions about the victim. She was quick, logical, and utterly focused. Actually, she reminded Blair a lot of Jim, and he began to shift her from the category 'fun to drool over in spare moments' to 'maybe I can get Jim to connect with this one.'

Not during the case, probably. When she finished with her questions about Dr. Watson, she fell on the list of potential targets which Blair pulled from his backpack like she was a starving dog on a steak.

Blair, free himself for a moment, turned to Jim, who was watching the other visitors through the open door. "Ok, I get it," Jim muttered. "I've been doing this for barely a year. Fine. I might miss something. But Adrian was here, and he sure as hell didn't. So what does *he* think he's going to find?"

Blair held in his sigh. Jim would not understand his lack of sympathy. The cop territoriality was bad enough--with competition for credit going on at the same time as competition for control of evidence and access to witnesses--but the whole sentinel baggage on top of that was just too much. Sentinels hardly ever worked together; they were rare and expensive enough that normally no one could *afford* to deploy more than one on a case. Even Jim and Adrian, working on the same force, rarely crossed paths for more than an occasional, brief consultation. They weren't used to cooperating in their specialty and--on the rare occasions it happened--invariably hated the idea of someone second-guessing them.

Blair lightly laid a hand on Jim's forearm. "If he's doing pattern recognition, he needs to get a picture he can compare to other crime scenes later."

"Pattern recognition?" Jim asked. This was not like the pattern recognition exercises they'd been doing in the gym.

"The kind Adrian does when he's pacing. It takes as long as it takes."

Jim glared sullenly. Blair did sigh, then. "Jim, all that matters is that we solve the case."

"Right," Jim hissed. "We don't need *them* to do that!"

"You want to waste a few days fighting this? You want to stand around and argue? You *want* to be stubborn and pissed? Fine. Great."

Jim ground his teeth. Blair patted the rigid arm beneath his hand. "Breathe," he murmured.

Jim folded his arms and went to stand down the hall, staring at the fire alarm on the wall. Inside the office, MacLeod was turning in slow circles, studying the floor. This could go on for a while. It occurred to Blair that he never had gotten his department mail. There was surely time. He could run upstairs.

He didn't. He couldn't afford to get flaky and careless. Not on the job. A single moment's inattention was all it took.

A month ago he and Jim had been undercover at a race track, trying to pass themselves as representatives of some big drug cartel. Jim, it turned out, was pretty good at it. Yet another skill, on top of the dozens Blair had already known about. But as they were leaving, Jim had been exposed to the sample. He had collapsed just as they reached the parking lot, falling to his knees in the rain, pawing at his face and repeating that he couldn't see.

Somehow, Blair had gotten him up and headed toward the truck. Fortunately, Jim hadn't seemed to understand the danger he'd been in. He'd huddled against Blair's side, muttering about losing the sample, worrying over the case, mourning the girl who had died. The drug didn't seem to worry him at all. Blair had been alarmed enough for both of them. From what he'd heard, golden made you stupid and euphoric and showed you pretty pictures. It wasn't supposed to be a depressive. Maybe the stories Blair had heard were wrong, but the other possibility was that Jim was having a non-typical reaction. Add that to the fact that the tiny exposure he'd had should not be having this much effect (which meant uptake distortion, at the very least), and things did not look good at all.

He'd had wipes in his backpack. When he got Jim into the truck, he cleaned him up as much as he could. Too little, too late. Jim was silent. Sad maybe, or afraid, Blair couldn't tell. He twined both hands around Blair's arm. To all of Blair's questions, he only shook his head.

The 'good' sentinel hospital was on the other side of town. There were hospitals closer, but Blair weighed those twenty extra minutes against the possibility that some quack who'd never treated a sentinel before would inject something poisonous into Jim. Scary. The twenty minutes won, though. Sentinels could go south *so* fast. Blair didn't even have any idea what golden *was*, never mind what it did to sentinels. Jim was silent and clingy and apparently blind. He allowed himself to be led into the emergency room, but panicked and pressed himself to Blair when the nurse reached to help lead him. Blair was frantic, babbling, repeating over and over, 'sentinel' and 'cop.' Hospital personnel were good to cops. It seemed to be enough. Although there were people waiting, they were taken into the examination area at once.

From there it went downhill. The intern who appeared had clearly never worked on a sentinel before. The PA assisting him *had*, and she stepped forward competently enough--but Jim refused to let the woman touch him. He was blind, but strong; she could not get close. The intern suggested restraints.

Blair panicked, just a little, at that, which frightened Jim enough that he began to hyperventilate.

"Jim, no. No. It's all right. It's just a hospital. They won't hurt you--" a ridiculous thing to say. Jim had had some of his worst times in hospitals-- "Hush, it's all right. I have you." Blair was dimly aware of the PA keeping the other hospital staff back. "Jim, pay attention. This is important." Jim shuddered and grew quiet. "These people will help you, but you have to stay still. I'll be right here. We've talked about this. You told me you could do this. I know you can do this."

Jim jumped at every touch, but allowed the physician's assistant to take his blood pressure and look into his eyes. Blair explained what had happened as coherently as he could and gave someone Simon's cell number. Jim, his eyes closed, leaned toward Blair's voice. Blair kept talking even when there wasn't anything to say.

The doctor grilled him about Jim's history and particular vulnerabilities. The PA produced a huge syringe full of saline. Blair talked Jim into leaning back and held him down while she washed his eyes again and again.

'Held him down,' except as tightly as Blair was holding his hands, Jim was holding back. 'Held him down,' except the weight of Blair's upper arm spread awkwardly over Jim's belly was only a reminder. If Jim had fought, Blair would never have been able to hold him.

When it was over, Jim curled into a ball, shivering. Blair asked for a blanket and tucked it in tight around him. He had planned, when he thought about first time he would take Jim to the emergency room, to be calm, to take charge of the situation. He had counted on Jim being afraid and sick and spiking. He had never imagined that Jim would be completely out of his head on some designer drug. He hadn't imagined feeling so terrified and desperate himself. He felt terribly alone.

A nurse came in and took some blood. Jim quaked, but didn't fight.

Simon arrived. He looked at Jim and sighed. "What happened? How bad is it?"

"They gave him a sample. The bag leaked." Blair swallowed. "I didn't realize--and then it was too late."

Simon sighed again. "It could be worse," was all he said.

"Simon?" Jim whispered.

"Yeah? How you doing, Jim?"

"Don't call Lee." Then, "Please, Simon. I don't need him."

Simon glanced at Blair in alarm. "How out of it is he?"

"I have no idea," Blair said, rubbing Jim's shoulders through the blanket. "Lee's not here, Jim. He's not coming."

"Don't let him."

"He's locked up, Jim. No bail. We're safe."

Jim nodded. "I can't see. Something's wrong, Blair."

"I know. We're working on that. Try to relax."

Jack Kelso had arrived not long after. Simon had called him. Jack coaxed Jim down into a chair where he could reach him and examined Jim himself. The doctor and two nurses watched interestedly as he ran his fingers over Jim's flushed skin, checking lymph glands and joints for tenderness and swelling. "Can you tell me if this hurts? Would you squeeze my hand? Harder.... Tell me what you can hear right now."

Jim responded calmly to Jack's questions, although the answers didn't always logically match what he'd been asked.

The doctor suggested starting an IV, for fluids at least, even if Jim didn't need any chemical intervention. Jack was adamantly against it. "He's not dehydrated. If he's not improved enough to drink something in a few hours, then yes. But not now." With his hands, Jack guided Jim back to the bed, and Blair helped him sit. "You want to fix him. You can't. All you can do right now is watch. That's frustrating, I know." Jack was managing to say this without sounding angry or patronizing, "but there's nothing you can do unless he goes into shock or loses consciousness or starts to have an allergic reaction. He's stable now, and since anything we might do might make things worse, it's best to just watch him and wait."

The doctor was not happy. Blair was silently offering prayers of gratitude.

For the next two hours, Jim slipped in and out of sleep. When he was awake, he was anxious. Mainly he was anxious that Lee not find him, but once he asked for someone named Incacha, and once he persistently demanded to know where Simon's son Daryl was. Once he complained that all the animals were gone.

It was a long night. By two he seemed alert and coherent, but miserable. He slept for a while and woke up wanting to leave. He was fine, he said. He just couldn't see. But if they weren't going to do anything about that at the hospital, then he would rather go home.

Blair, though encouraged by the coherence, wasn't stupid. He gave Jim a cup of water, wrapped him in the blanket, and told him to lie back down. "So far we're good, Jim. We're not going to push our luck. Anyway, your blood pressure is still pretty high, and the drug isn't out of your body yet."

The emergency room wasn't quiet, but Jim managed to sleep again. A little. As long as he had one hand on Blair. The PA obligingly turned the lights down and peeked on them every twenty minutes or so.

Around seven-thirty that morning an ophthalmologist came in. The little lights he shone in Jim's eyes gave him a terrible headache, but the news was good. Structurally, Jim's eyes seemed fine. He was seeing light and shapes, even if he couldn't make sense of them. Probably, there wasn't any permanent damage, although whether the golden had somehow distorted the transmissions through the optic nerve or was disrupting the way the brain processed the input was unknown.

Jim was silent throughout the exam. "So this is temporary?" Blair asked, when it was clear that Jim wasn't going to.

"I think that's most likely."

"Um, how long...?"

"I don't know. There is no information on how long this drug takes to clear the system. In addition, with sentinels it is difficult to predict responses. I understand that the amount in his blood is so small now that it isn't detectable chemically."

Blair nodded.

"Also, it's possible that the massive visual overload... You understand, I'm not an expert in sentinel vision. He may need considerable visual re-training." The look he gave Blair spoke volumes; he did not know how much trouble Jim was in and his guide needed to prepare for the worst. "We'd know more after performing a brain-scan--"

"No," Jim said, speaking for the first time. "This isn't something you can fix with surgery and you can't give me drugs, so there isn't any point."

The doctor winced. "I can refer you to a neuro-optometrist."

"No," Jim said, in the same flat voice he'd used before.

"Thank you, that would be helpful," Blair said at the same time.

Jim was cooperative until the doctor was gone. He listened carefully to the instructions, and even asked a few questions. When they were alone again, though, he said, "You're not admitting me." His voice was firm, but he hunched his shoulders slightly. Afraid.

Blair sighed. "No. I'm not. We're going home."

They hadn't stayed home. Jim got a couple hours' sleep, but that afternoon he had Blair help him shower and then went in to give Simon his report.

He wouldn't give up the case.

Jack accused Blair of being cavalier about Jim's safety. In reality, he was practically obsessed with it. Over the next five days, he followed Jim everywhere, including to the bathroom. He dragged an oversize beanbag up to the loft and slept beside Jim's bed. The number of times Jim was out of his sight could be counted on one hand with fingers left over. On Saturday Blair left Jim with Sharona while he went shopping. Twice he left Jim alone with Simon in his office.

Ironically, it was Blair who had gotten into trouble while they were separated, and despite that, even now, weeks later, there were moments when it was still hard to leave Jim alone. Jim was fine. Jim had *been* fine, even when he'd been blind. The last thing Blair wanted to was disrupt Jim's confidence and independence by overprotecting him.

But it was still hard. Jim didn't have a lifetime of experience watching out for the dangers that were particular to sentinels. It took less than a minute for disaster to hit. *Seconds*. At the station, Blair could force himself to leave Jim alone. Sometimes. And at home, of course. But when they were out working....

No. Really, it was a bad idea. Jim shouldn't be left alone when they were out on a case. Blair's mail, and pretty much anything else that might come up, could just wait. Blair leaned against the wall and waited, the picture of patience, while Jim paced and grumbled and Connor asked questions about university security.

After the office they went to the alley. The alley search was much briefer--the general chaos of outdoors and wind had scattered any traces a sentinel might be able to use. Connor read the witnesses account out loud twice while MacLeod paced to the sidewalk and back. It was already getting dark; she was squinting to read. When she closed the folder, MacLeod turned to his guide and said, "I'm sorry."

"We're just starting. This time, we get them." He took a deep breath. "Let's get some dinner. Where's the best place for Indian food?"

Blair frowned. "Indian food?" Not his first suggestion to take a pair of sentinels for dinner.

Connor and Dawson looked at each other. "Koren likes Indian food," Connor said, smiling tightly. "We'll be living on it for the next few days. Just in case."

Ok. Fine. Indian food.

There was no question of where to go, although Blair hadn't been since before he met Jim: Misal Bistro, downtown. It was by far the best. Blair reviewed the menu in his head as they went in. Chicken tikka wasn't too hot. Jim could manage that. Plain rice. Or plain naan. No problem. The tentative plan collapsed when MacLeod ordered lamb curry. Medium. Blair's mouth dropped open in surprise and Jim promptly ordered nawabi murgh, the house specialty. It was fairly hot. Resisting the urge to drag his sentinel outside and beat some sense into him, Blair ordered a bland rice dish and a sweet lasshi. Maybe he could slip some to his partner later.

"Are we done with the sentinel pissing contest so we can talk about the case?" Connor asked as the waiter left. "Or would the two of you just like to wrestle it out?" Dawson laughed outright. Jim and MacLeod looked in opposite directions, apparently the only non-threatening gestures they could think of at the moment.

Blair cleared his throat. "Ms. Connor, you've been working this case the longest. I'd really like your opinion. Just how crazy *is* Koren, really? How do we predict what he'll do?"

She smiled, almost seeming to notice Blair for the first time. "Megan, please. We're in for a hard ride, all right? What makes you think he's crazy?"

"Well--I saw Dr. Watson's office."

She was shaking her head. "Koren is completely sane. Kaspari has more than a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock, but he won't indulge that unless Koren finds it expedient." Her eyes narrowed. "Melvin Koren is amazingly greedy and creative and he doesn't--*really doesn't*--give a damn about who suffers. But he's not insane. Everything he does, everyone he hurts, is to a purpose. What he wants, he takes, and if getting it is complicated or time consuming or if people get hurt, that doesn't matter. He's got no boundaries, no compassion, no weaknesses."

"You're wrong," Dawson said quietly. "He's a sociopath. He's a megalomaniac. And he's got one weakness, boredom. He'll take risks for that. Get all... whimsical."

Megan shook her head. "No, Joe. I have read the report. I have talked to your man. He was simply wrong. Koren was only interested in distracting you."

"Well, he hasn't done a very good job of *that* now has he?"

"Guys!" Blair said quickly. Reluctant silence engulfed the table.

After a few moments, Megan said softly, "You're American, so you're armed. That's good."

"Well--he is," Blair said, nodding at Jim.

MacLeod sighed. "He goes after people who get close to him. Do you have family? Because if he can't get to you he might settle for someone else."

"My mom's in California," Blair whispered.

"What about you?" Jim asked tightly. "You brought your wife into this?"

"She won't leave the hotel. The rest of my family have made themselves... unavailable."

The chill in the air wasn't so much hostility as horror. Blair swallowed. Whatever might have followed was interrupted by the arrival of dinner. As they ate, Megan began to question Blair about the possible antiquities targets again. "The Maritime Museum really is the most tempting," was her verdict. "I'd like to look at their security."

The rest of the meal was polite and police-like. It was late enough by the time it ended that even their guests were willing to pack it in for the night. Jim stood in the restaurant's parking lot, watching until the car disappeared into traffic, and then said, "Call the night desk. Tell whoever's on I want a full background on the Noel woman by tomorrow."

"What, his wife?" Blair was appalled, but he was digging out his phone nevertheless.

Jim dug out his keys and headed for the Expedition. "Oh, right," he drawled. "His *wife*. It's not even convincing. Come on, Chief. Let's go home."

***

Continued in part two...