New Arrivals
Author-Dasha
Titles

Imperfections VI: What Comes Around
Part One
by Dasha

Summary: AU. Crossover. Something unexpected comes up.

Notes: I should say something clever at this point. Or at least apologize. I can't think of anything though. Except 'thank you.' To everybody. (But especially Martha)

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.

Jim lay awake in peaceful dimness. The thick walls couldn't keep out the voices of the pre-dawn birds or the soft rustle of monks waking and dressing. He turned over restlessly. Quiet. It was so damned quiet.

For the first two and a half days, he had liked that quiet. It had been relaxing. No sirens. No neighbors fighting. No kids with colic. No crunch of fender benders six blocks down. It had been a blissful relief, at first. Sandburg had been right. Quiet and safe was just what Jim had needed.

But by last night the quiet had started to get to him. It was boring and worrisome at the same time. So much quiet was hardly natural. And what kind of world would *really* be so peaceful? No, the danger must still be out there lurking. Just out of earshot. Like it had been when Jim's ears were normal....

It was a ridiculous anxiety. Baseless. This was a monastery, for heaven's sake. There were twenty-three brothers and nine guests--and most of the monks and all of the guests were sentinels or guides. There was nothing to be on watch for here.

There had been a murder here last spring. Three, actually.

Unable to stand it any longer, Jim got up. Silently, so that he wouldn't disturb Blair, sound asleep in the second bed. The unnerving silence wasn't bothering him, after all.

Quietly, he slipped into the hallway. It was unlit, but he could see well enough. The people in the rooms on this hall were guests, not monks, and they were still sleeping. He could hear the monks outside, though, going about their morning chores. The monastery made its living from cheese and honey. Exquisite, expensive stuff, just what you'd expect with sentinels providing quality control.

For almost seven hundred years, everyone had thought that St. Sebastian of Shrewsbury had been a patron saint of the insane. The tiny hospices erected in his name and according to his Rule were known to work miracles with a tiny portion of the poor, demented souls who sought it out. Or maybe it was just a random sprinkling of miracles. Or maybe it was all imagined. The Church had accepted the order with very little comment and no attention until about a hundred years ago, when one of the monks read Burton's work on sentinels. It changed everything.

St. Sebastian was the patron of *guides* now. The long, low buildings weren't called 'hospices' any more. They were a 'refuge.' There were two in the United States and one in Canada. They trained the guides who worked in Catholic private schools. Those sentinels who became monks--and a quiet life spent searching for meaning was apparently a more popular choice than Jim ever would have guessed--served in one of them. St. Sebastian's was the largest. The monk-guides did research, conducted workshops for sentinels, guides, and curious lay people, and provided a retreat for sentinels looking for a safe, quiet place. And they supported three African missions from the profits of their honey and cheese business.

Outside, the sun was up, but a glittering, white mist had settled over the valley. Sunglasses took care of the glare, but the haze was thick enough that he couldn't see the Women's house across the cow pasture. He could hear it, though. A woman--very young, he thought--was crying and another was speaking very reasonably. It was probably nothing too dangerous....

A male order, the Sebastianites couldn't ignore that women were sentinels, too. And more than half of all guides were women. A pair of Franciscan nuns watched over the women's house and its guests.

Jim could make out the conversation now. The young woman--her accent was difficult to follow--was apparently Buddhist. She was overwhelmed and confused and a little afraid. The nun's patience and reasonableness seemed to be making things worse, though Jim couldn't guess why.

There was a footstep behind him. Jim glanced back and down, saw a hem of brown robe. One of the monks. There was no point in speaking to him. Sebastianites kept silence from five to seven every morning. He lifted a hand in greeting and tried to see the house through the mist.

"Sleep deprivation," said a voice beside him.

Jim's head snapped up and around, then at his watch. Had he been listening that long? Had he zoned? But it was only six-twelve. He gaped.

The monk was an older man, with grey hair and a slight stoop to his shoulders. "Oh," he said softly. "It's not a devotional practice. The silence is because our guests are sentinels, and they are sleeping." He nodded across the field. "Sleep is necessary. Sister Maria should give up trying to be kind and just fix the child some catnip tea. Or a tumbler full of wine." He frowned. "Do Hindus drink?"

"I don't know." He thought Blair would. "Why does her guide let this go on?" The question was involuntary, and nearly complete before Jim realized that he knew better. Some guides wouldn't give a damn. Some guides could *cause* this much panic and hysteria. Amazing! That he could forget that, even for a minute, was a revelation.

"She may not have one yet. I don't know. I don't get reports on our guests any more."

Surprised, Jim gave the monk a good look. Face and name came together. This man didn't take meals with the others. He didn't work with the other, or stop to chat with guests. He had been pointed out to Jim from a distance, by a young novice speaking in a horrified whisper. Brother Jeremy. Until a year a go, he'd been the abbot of St. Sebastian's. His guide had been a renowned expert on sentinel mood disorders. He'd written a dozen articles and lectured every couple years at Rainier and the University of Washington. He'd also been a protected federal witness, hiding from the mob. The murders last spring had been an attempt to get at him. In a monastery full of sentinels, the killer hadn't gotten away, but by the time he'd been identified, it was too late.

Belatedly--but acutely--uncomfortable, Jim looked away. Losing his guide to violence had nearly destroyed Adrian. Jim could almost imagine....

He did not want to. He would not think how close it had just come to losing Blair.

"Her mother, I think," the monk said, and Jim shifted his attention back to the women's house. There was a third voice now, speaking in an accent that nearly obliterated all sense of the content. "And the drama is over."

The prediction came true almost at once. The crying stopped. The volume dropped to something Jim could ignore. He turned away.

To be polite, he said, "It's very nice here." It was lame, but the best he could do.

The old monk glanced at him once in casual acuity and said, "Not what you expected."

Jim winced. "Well...I didn't know what to expect." The hedging wasn't fooling anyone. Jim hated talking to other sentinels. Or at least he hated trying to get polite lies past them. "Well, truthfully, I thought it would be a nightmare, with lots of praying and singing and eating bread and water. But I was a late bloomer. I'm generally very ignorant." He had discovered that being a late bloomer excused a lot.

Brother Jeremy nodded gravely. "Have you made use of any of the workshops?"

"No, I--" Blair had handed him the schedule, but said nothing either for or against any of the activities. Jim, who had been afraid of being pushed into gung-ho participation, had ignored t he schedule in order to find out if Sandburg really would leave him alone. "I'm trying to take things slowly." A lame and pointless thing to say, and the pale, flat eyes looking back at him knew it.

"Ah," Brother Jeremy said. He understood, but wasn't engaged enough to care very much, so Jim didn't get the rebuke he probably deserved. It was a bit disorienting, being let off. A couple of his teachers in school had been monks. They hadn't tolerated laziness.

Blair, come to think of it, wasn't usually very sympathetic to laziness either. Normally, unless the caseload was truly brutal, they were at the sentinel gym at Rainier two or three times a week doing exercises. Since they'd arrived, though, Sandburg had not suggested Jim do anything. Perhaps because he was spending all the time he could quizzing monks on what they'd observed of sentinels in groups.

Thinking about it, Jim glanced sideways at Brother Jeremy and asked, "You get more sentinels here in one time than most places ever see. Do you...I mean, have you noticed anything special about the way sentinels act in groups?"

For a moment there was a flash of curiosity. "An interesting question. I think....You don't see sentinels interacting in groups larger than two, usually. No matter how many there are on hand."

"Oh."

"And often when they do....so often, we are all in such different places--metaphorically speaking--that the communications are usually not very significant."

Not very significant. "Oh," Jim said. "That's not...my experience."

For the first time, the pale eyes fastened on Jim's and held his gaze. "How so?"

"Look, I don't--" *I don't know how to be a sentinel. I don't know what it means. I don't have a fucking clue who I am any more.* But he couldn't say any of that. He couldn't even say it out loud to Blair, and he was pretty sure Blair already understood. "Do you ever see animals?" He hadn't meant to say *that* but the question was out while he was tangled in everything else he shouldn't say.

"No," Brother Jeremy said, and Jim felt himself begin to color with embarrassment. While he was looking for a way to pass the question off as idle curiosity, though, Jeremy was still talking. "I see saints." A tiny smile. "Hardly a surprise, given my background."

"You see...saints," Jim repeated, feeling slightly surreal.

"My own patron saint. And Saint Mark."

His mouth dry, Jim asked, "How often?"

"A couple of times a month. Recently....more frequently."

More frequently. Since his guide died. Jim closed his eyes.

"Either answer is upsetting," Brother Jeremy said gently. "Either seeing these things is a sign of mental instability--and after all, it's generally known that grief has made me somewhat detached from the world--or the visitations are real, and what does that say about the state of our souls?"

"They're real," Jim said. "It's not just my subconscious. Or intuition. Or stress."

"Your guide doesn't believe you?" A guess, kindly delivered.

"Oh, no. Blair believes. He's a complete flake that way."

"You wish he didn't believe you?"

"I wish it wouldn't happen."

"Ah. I can't help you with that. Reality is difficult enough, without denying parts of it." With a kind, almost-smile the old monk turned away and made for the back garden.

Jim could hear Sandburg waking up. About three hundred feet away and inside a building and Jim could hear it. He sighed. That wasn't normal.

Blair was muttering to himself. "He's fine. Leave him alone." And then, "Nothing bad is going to happen to him here. He's fine."

It was just guide-fussing, Jim told himself. Blair wasn't actually worried. He was just trying to control the urge to check. Blair knew that the babysitting other sentinels considered normal, Jim found constraining and invasive. Adrian almost never left his townhouse alone. Jack and Marsha were apart while he worked at the university, but they talked on the phone four or five times during the day. Sentinels hardly seemed to have--what was the word? Boundaries where guides were concerned. Jim--

Even before the horrors of his first guide, Jim couldn't imagine just handing his autonomy and privacy over to someone else. No, never. But he'd been so exhausted and sick by the time he'd met Blair. He'd been desperate. He'd wanted to be able to work and....He'd just wanted to be free a little from the terror. He would have done anything, but as it had turned out, Blair had been kind. It hadn't been hard.

And--Jim could admit that Sandburg knew a lot of things he didn't. He could do what he was told, when he needed to. Having a shadow looking over his shoulder was hard, though. And Sandburg knew it.

Jim went back to their cell in the guest wing. He met Blair coming back from the bathroom down the hall. He smelled of soap and toothpaste and, seeing Jim, a little of relief. "Morning."

"Hey, Jim. How's the weather?"

"Warm," Jim said absently. "No rain today." He caught the tail end of Blair's smirk and made a face. "You're using me for weather reports now?"

"Well, no. I mean, I really need to test you out some more. See if you're any good at it. Not everybody can."

Laughing, Jim caught Blair from behind and pulled him into a head lock. "You little shit!"

"Oh, good, Jim. Curse in the monastery. You only offended the monks who can hear you--oh, wait. Half a dozen of them are sentinels--" He broke off as Jim tossed him onto the bed.

"Just you be nice to me, Chief. Or I'll lull you into a false sense of security and then lie."

Sputtering, Blair protested, "That's not very nice!"

"Nice? That's the best you can do? I'm not nice. I'm a cop. A real hard ass. I'm not nice."

"Well, obviously not, if you'd send your poor guide out into the snow in a tee shirt or something." He brightened. "Of course, to make it convincing, you'd have to be in the tee shirt, too."

Jim flipped him off and dug out his shaving kit. "And don't tell me the monks saw that. It's not x-ray vision."

"You were up pretty early, Jim. Are you having any trouble sleeping? Is it too loud here?"

"Too *loud*? You have to be kidding!"

"Because I've got a white noise generators."

"They aren't allowed," Jim said, surprised.

"Not big room ones. But ear plugs." He produced a small box from his suit case.

"No, it's not the noise. I--" Jim scowled. "I had a nightmare."

"Oh?"

Jim set down the shaving kit and sat down, remembering. "Lee--" he took a deep breath and made himself say it calmly. "Was teaching me pattern breathing." An image flashed through him, as much memory as dream: Jim, face down on the floor with one arm twisted up behind him and Lee Brackett's knee pressing between Jim's shoulder blades.

"Does this happen a lot?"

"No."

"Jim...it's going to happen sometimes. You've been getting past it, what--what Brackett did, but it's going to take time--"

"I've been checking my messages. On my phone. In the office up front."

"Okay?" Blair said carefully.

"Simon called. Lee has a preliminary hearing next week. The DA is going to need some more statements when we get back."

"Damn."

Jim tried to smile. "Sentinel monks, Chief."

"You're going to be fine. We--we knew there would be a trial. We're going to put him away. Jim, there's no way--he can't hurt you now."

"I know. It's going to be fine. I know." Jim managed a thin smile, finally. "I testify against assholes all the time. This isn't any different."

Blair sat down beside him. "It is different. But you can do this. And it's going to be *good*, putting this monster away. It's going to be good, Jim."

"I know. I know." Jim rubbed his sweaty hands along his jeans and took a deep breath. "Let's get a move on. We'll miss breakfast."

"Jim--"

"I'm ok." He retrieved the kit and retreated to the bathroom.

It was a lovely day, warm and mild, just as Jim had predicted. He spent the morning sitting on the hill overlooking the bee hive, watching the birds flitting through the trees on the far side of the meadow.

He could see them as closely as if they were sitting in his lap. They were little grey birds. Small. Nothing special. But they were interesting. Every twitch of muscle, every flick of a feather was clear and sharp, beautifully perfect. Jim would have sworn they had facial expressions. He watched them look for food and build nests and warn one another off. He could almost understand, watching the little things hop along the ground, why Blair and Jack some times called the heightened senses 'gifts.'

Almost.

Blair was doing a work shift, helping pack jars of honey into boxes for the monastery's mail order customers. As always, he was talking about sentinels. Here, at least, it seemed to be a subject that never got old. Even when Blair couldn't get anybody to agree with him, the monks were happy enough to talk.

"I'm just saying that we're not just guides. We're trained as anthropologists. There's no reason why we can't study sentinel society just as we'd study any other."

"Sentinels don't have a society. Sentinels belong with guides, not other sentinels. We're their society. What could they have to offer each other?"

"I don't know. Someone they have something in common with, maybe? Other people who have gone through the same experiences?"

"I'm not saying it doesn't make sense. On the surface, at least. But the fact is they don't congregate. Where is your sentinel right now? If we were allowed to bet, I'd give you three to one odds that he's not found a pack of other sentinels to set up a glee club or play bridge with. Even here, sentinels aren't social creatures. Not with each other."

After lunch, Jim took his guide for a walk past the pasture that was used as a driving range. There was a small creek, which would serve as some natural sound masking. "Maybe it's me," Jim said.

"Maybe it's you what?"

"Maybe other sentinels--aren't interested in each other. Maybe it's just me. I never learned to be a sentinel. And you can teach me to use the senses, but you can't teach me--you can't teach me to be a sentinel. But most of the others don't have that problem. Maybe...it is a non-issue."

"Okay, that's true. I'm pushing, I know that. I've been pushing you to get involved, to get closer to people. With everybody, though, not just sentinels. And, yeah, you don't show *more* interest in sentinels than you do in anyone else. But you don't show any less. And Jim? Were you listening to all of that? 'What could sentinels offer each other?' Jeeze. That's just guide arrogance. There's something there, I know it. And even if I'm wrong, I won't learn anything by assuming nothing is going on."

"You would have been good in research."

"Yeah, well. I'm just as glad it's just a hobby. Thank you."

"Um. Yeah. Speaking of thanks." Jim took a deep breath. "I'm really grateful. I wanted you to know. I appreciate what you've done for me."

"Jim. Everything I did, you had a right to. It was my job."

Jim picked up a rock and tossed it into the shallow stream. "You've been a good friend," he said.

"Okay. I'll accept that," Blair said.

Jim thought of Brother Jeremy. The assassin had cut the phone lines. Brother Marcus had bled to death in his sentinel's arms because there had been no way to call for an ambulance. The truly frightening part, though, was that monks weren't usually in the line of fire. Blair could expect danger as long as he was working with the police. "So, thank you," he said.

Blair looked away for a moment. "Ok," he said. "Ok, my turn. Right? I know I freak and I worry and I don't give you any space--"

"Blair don't--"

"Listen to this. I know it might not always seem like I think so--but you are doing so well. I am *so* proud of you--no, wait. Not proud of you. I can't take credit for that. Proud to be with you. You have been so strong and so brave. You've come so far, so fast, and you've made it *easy*, Jim--"

"Easy. Right. Tell me another one."

"Jim. For a lot of people...it would have been too late." Sandburg's eyes made it clear what he meant, although he would never say 'dying' out loud. "You turned around so fast. You're working. You're learning. You travel. You're healthy. You sleep." He glanced away suddenly. "I can't imagine how you'd do with a guide who had a little experience and maybe some patience."

"I don't want anybody else!"

"I don't want to be anywhere else, Jim."

Jim nodded, relieved that he'd managed to get through that, happy it was over. "I've been thinking of trying one of the workshops."

"Really? Which one?"

"Remedial imagery meditation."

"Cool."

They stayed at the monastery two more days. Jim tried two of the workshops. Both of them were dismal failures. Well, the first one didnt do anything for him and the second one probably counted as a failure. It was a relaxation class. It had worked up to a point; Jim had relaxed so well he fell asleep--but then he'd dreamed of Brackett. He'd come awake with a yell and a wave of terror-stench that had thoroughly scared the other two sentinels in the class with him.

When they finally went home, Jim thought it was about time.

***

Blair was learning that there was an art to watching sentinels. You had to watch without too much expectation. You had to let go, both of what you wanted to see and what you were afraid to see. You couldn't be so desperate for things to be fine that you ignored the shifts in line and posture that said your partner was tired or spiking. And it didn't do any good to just assume that there was always something wrong. Fussing when things were fine just made Jim annoyed--or worse, afraid.

Walking behind Jim as they carried their bags to the SUV, Blair tried to put aside his projections and just pay attention to the moment. Jim was moving easily enough. He didnt seem distracted. He wasnt happy, really, but he was calm.

Jim tossed Blair his cell as they drove out the front gate. "Check the messages, Chief?"

There was just one. "Simon wants to know if we're coming in tomorrow. He's got a weird one."

"Are we?"

"What, going in?"

"Yeah, am I cleared for duty?"

Blair turned the phone over in his hands. "Are you?" he asked. "I mean, if you need more time, I'll tell Simon not yet."

"That's not an answer."

"Jim, I think you're bored and we've hit the point of diminishing returns. But if you think you need more time out of all that pressure, I'm not going to argue."

"Hey, I didn't want time off to begin with." He braked at the intersection with the main road before continuing. "When the weather is warmer, I want to go down the coast, maybe do some surfing."

Blair could see how that would be attractive, especially now. He'd never surfed himself, but he could imagine that it didn't leave a lot of room in your head for thinking. Pure sensory experience, strong and physical, your mind only on your body. Exhilarating. Intoxicating. Probably great for stress relief.

Possibly pure suicide, if you got overwhelmed by the sensory input. A mistake out in the water-- "Are you good at it?"

"Yeah, Chief. I'm good at it."

The trip back to Cascade took three hours. It was early afternoon when they finally parked and unloaded the car. Blair, distracted by a loose strap on his bag didn't notice anything was wrong until Jim caught his arm and pulled him back. "What?"

Jim pointed to the door of 307. It was ajar. Shit.

Jim was listening. After a few moments he said, "Nobody home," and flung the door the rest of the way open.

Peering over Jim's shoulder, Blair gasped. "It's been trashed!"

"Nope. It's been tossed. Call it in, Chief, and then give me a hand scoping it out."

Jim wandered from room to room with his eyes nearly shut, smelling and tasting the air. Blair stayed behind him, careful not to touch anything, trying not to think about the fact that his *home* was a crime scene.

Jim cursed. Softly, steadily he snarled to himself at the edge of Blair's hearing. "Hey," Blair said. "Easy."

"Nothing. God damn it. I'd know them, if I smelled them again, but there's nothing to trace them with. No expensive cologne. No imported cigarettes."

"How many were there?" Blair asked.

"Two. One of them wore leather. They had guns."

"You're doing great--"

"God damn it, they were here!"

"How long ago, man?"

"Today. This morning. Six, seven hours ago, I don't know."

The place was a mess. There wasn't a lot of breakage, although one of the lamps had been knocked over. Personal papers had been dug through and tossed on the floor. Even the drawer in the kitchen that held the take out menus had been dumped. But nothing valuable was missing. They didn't have much a thief would want, but Blair's laptop was still in its case beside his bed and the silver teapot Jim had inherited from his grandmother was still on its shelf.

Before they could get any further, Simon and the evidence team arrived. "Oh, come on," Jim groused. "Not the fingerprint kit. They wore gloves. You won't find anything with that."

Serena sighed sympathetically. "You know its policy, Jim."

"It gets everywhere. I'll never get it cleaned up."

Gently, Blair took him out into the hall.

"Jim," Simon said, "don't take this the wrong way. But you're supposed to be on the other side of the investigation. Putting you down as a B&E victim is going to play games with my records."

Serena poked her head out the door. "Detective? Did you take the tape out of your answering machine?"

Of course not. Neither of them had. But that little clue, whatever it might be worth, was all either Jim or the forensic team could find in almost two hours.

After they left, Jim and Blair spent the evening cleaning up. It was nine-thirty before Jim was satisfied that the loft was clean enough to live in. By then it was too late to cook even if they hadn't needed to go shopping. Blair ordered in pizza and sent Jim to shower.

Jim seemed ok. Annoyed and puzzled, but not overwrought. Still, none of Blair's text books had covered the stress symptoms a sentinel might exhibit *after having his house broken into and violated*. Geeze, it didn't even sound like a problem you got in the real world.

He picked up the phone and called Jack Kelso. "You are not going to believe this," he said without preamble.

"Welcome back, Blair. Have a nice retreat?"

"Yeah. Lovely. While we were gone we had a home invasion." He explained as quickly as he could.

"I wouldn't worry," Jack said. "This isn't shocking or unusual to Jim. Well, a little, because it's him. But this isn't personal. It's professional. A case, and Jim is going to handle it like a case."

"Right. Yeah."

"I assume he's cleaned, reestablished possession of his home?"

"Yeah. Oh, yeah. He wanted to send me out to buy bleach."

"And you won that argument? So don't worry. This is his job, and he knows how to handle it."

"Right. Thanks," Blair said, trying to sound convinced.

"Look, I'll call tomorrow, all right? Check on things."

"Thanks, Jack. I appreciate this."

The pizza arrived as Jim came out of the shower. Even after all the excitement (and even with the loft smelling like vinegar and hydrogen peroxide) Jim's appetite was fine. Blair felt much better after watching his partner polish off half a pizza.

The next morning, Simon headed them off at the elevator and sent them back down to the pass-through to the morgue to take a look at the body that was stymieing Major Crimes so thoroughly.

"It turned up in the trunk of an abandoned car down by the beach yesterday morning. No ID and signs of torture. We don't have a single lead and the press is going to get wind of this any minute now."

Dan Wolf was more specific. Blair wished he hadn't been. "It's fresh--I'd say less than 8 hours old when it was found. The torture looks professional to me, but it's not my specialty. I've sent pictures out for consultation."

"What about prints?" Jim asked as they followed Dan into the lab. "How soon do we expect an ID?"

"No prints. The hands were removed post-mortem." He shook his head. "This is a nasty one, Jim."

Blair took a deep breath and locked his jaw, trying not to imagine someone being tortured and then mutilated. Damn. Every time he started to think he was ok with the whole 'forensic evidence thing' there was a new surprise. Jeeze.

Pulling on his gloves, Jim gave Blair a knowing look and motioned him back. Jim was already narrowing in, thinking in details, letting go of the horrifying big picture so that he could do his job. Blair turned toward the corner. When the metal table slid out, he jumped slightly. He tried not to listen as Dan unwrapped the body.

Blair took a deep breath and tried to think casual thoughts. The deep breath was a mistake, though. The morgue had a subtle stink that didn't take Blair's mind off what was going on behind him.

And then Jim made a noise, a quiet hiss that seemed to catch in his throat and end abruptly. Blair spun around and caught Jim from behind, trying to pull him back.

Jim didn't move.

Alarmed, Blair tried to shove himself between Jim and the body. "Get back. Come on, Jim." Jim was solid. He wouldn't move. Blair glanced back at the body behind him. He couldn't *see* anything that would hurt Jim, but then he wouldn't. He looked up at Jim's face. It revealed nothing. "Damn it--"

"I know him."

Blair stopped trying to shove him back. He tried to readjust his thinking. Not a chemical exposure.

"I--I know him."

"You're kidding," Dan said. "*You* can identify the body?"

"It's Holland. Sam Holland. We...I knew him in the army." Jim gently detached himself from Blair and stepped back.

There was a long silence.

Stupidly, uselessly, Blair asked, "Are you okay?"

Jim blinked. "Sure. Fine." He adjusted his gloves and stepped up again. He began his examination the same as Blair had seen him do half a dozen times. "They were improvising," Jim said, his hands hovering over a set of uneven round marks along the left arm. "This was made by a car's cigarette lighter....Here and here, they just hit him...I'm not seeing any needle marks."

"No," Dan agreed, "I didn't either."

"They were in a hurry. All of this was done not long before they killed him. Two hours at the outside."

The phone rang. Dan turned away to get it. Jim walked slowly around the body, lifting the souls of the bare feet and peering closely. Blair made himself look at the face. Average build. Pleasant face. Pale hair. What would he have looked like living?

"Well, that's it," Dan said, coming back. "That was Captain Banks on the phone. The feds have jumped our jurisdiction. Somebody's on the way to claim the body right now."

"What? No! they can't!" But Jim knew very well that the feds *could*. Hurrying now, he turned back to the body of his former comrade. "No. Not yet." But his focus was gone. In less than five minutes he heard the agents in the outer office, and he had not managed one new coherent observation in that time. His jaw set, Jim stormed out, chucking the gloves in the direction of the garbage as he passed.

They went to Simon, of course, who listened interestedly to Jim's report but couldn't help them.

"I can file a protest, but you know it won't go anywhere. Look, Jim, I'm sorry about this. Really. Our hands are tied."

"Damn it, Simon--"

"I don't like it either. But the federal government says it's classified, and that's it. Besides, you have your own problems. Remember?"

Blair hadn't said anything, not down in the morgue and not in Simon's office. He followed Jim to his desk, sat down across from him and waited.

"I don't like this," Jim said. "Something is going down, and it's nasty."

"Jim, I know you have to be upset--"

"This isn't about me being upset. Okay? I don't need you to be my guide right now, I need you to think like a cop and stay focused on the case."

"We don't have a case," Blair said gently. Jim's glare stopped him from continuing that line of thought.

"I haven't talked to him in six or seven years. Last I heard he was working out in Florida somewhere."

"So he was out of the army? Working for the private sector?"

"Maybe." Jim woke up his computer. "Not that anything'll turn up. If whatever is going on is classified, I won't be able to run much of a background check."

Blair's phone rang. "Sandburg," he said, his mind still mostly on Jim.

"It's Jack. I'm just calling to see how Jim is doing."

"Doing?" Blair repeated, not knowing what to say.

"Yeah. How's he dealing with yesterday's break-in."

Oh. Right. "Actually, something came up here, and he's pretty much forgotten about it." Blair chewed his lower lip, caught for a moment between thinking like a cop and thinking like a guide. "An old army buddy of his got killed early yesterday morning. It was nasty. I mean a really nasty murder. And now the feds are all over it. The whole thing's classified. And I think Jim thinks whatever it is isn't over yet."

"What a shame," Jack said. After a moment, he added, "What was his name?"

"Sam Holland."

Jack, I know you still have contacts and I know you still hear things--But Blair hesitated a long moment before saying it. This was not the business Jack was in, and it was a hell of a big favor. "Jack, I know--"

"Blair, I'm late for a faculty meeting. I'll call you back in a couple of hours."

"Right. Sure."

Jim spent almost an hour chasing for some kind of lead on the Holland case. No one would talk to him. No information was available. Eventually, he gave up and began to go through his files, calling contacts who might have tried to get in touch with him while he was gone. It didn't help that he didn't have a clue who would have information so important somebody would break in for it.

"It was Holland who called you," Blair said softly. "Wasn't it?"

"Probably, yeah. But it might have been somebody else." He went back to dialing.

Blair's cell rang. "Blair, it's Jack. We need to talk. I just got some really interesting information."

Blair closed his eyes briefly. Of course Jack was coming through for them. He always did. Blair was going to be in debt to this man for the rest of his life. "Great. What is it?"

"Not over the phone, all right? I have an appointment at the student union in a couple minutes. Why don't we meet out front afterwards? Say, half an hour?"

Jim only nodded absently when Blair said he had to meet with his advisor. He did give a promise not to go running off without back-up, and to call if he needed a guide. It helped that Blair wouldn't be gone long. It helped more that he was borrowing Jim's SUV. He wouldn't be going out without back-up if he had no wheels.

Blair was early. He'd been pacing up and down the sidewalk for five minutes when Jack finally came out of the Student Union. He collected Blair with a nod and said (without the usual preface of questions about Jim's health and mental state) "How much do you know about Sam Holland?"

Blair fell into step beside the chair. "He was in Jim's unit in Peru. For a while, anyway. He's out of the army now. Jim thinks he was working in Florida somewhere."

Jack scowled. Apparently, Blair's ignorance didnt please him. "Graf Technologies. It's a CIA front."

"So he was still in covert ops. Damn. This is bad, isn't it?"

"Worse then you think. Graf Technologies is run by Colonel Norman Oliver -- longtime company guy. I remember meeting him once in about fifteen years ago. He was a sniper, the best I ever saw. He could shoot a man out of a tree at twelve hundred yards."

It was weird--nearly surreal--hearing Jack talking like this. It wasn't a secret, what he'd done before going into research, and Blair had seen flashes of this side of him before. It didn't match the man Blair knew. It didn't sit well with the dozens of hours he'd spent in Jack's classes, taking notes on lectures about stress management techniques or the importance of communication.

"But that is not why we are having this conversation. Oliver was the CIA contact who provided Ellison and his team with their intelligence for the mission."

Blair blinked. "Which landed them right in the middle of the insurgents where they got shot down."

"After Jim got rescued eighteen months later, he put the blame on Oliver for the screw-up. As you can imagine, this wasn't good for Oliver's career."

"Oh, God."

"And wherever Oliver is right now, he's not in his office in Florida."

"You don't know what he's doing--?"

"Nobody I've talked to has a clue. And maybe he's just...out in the field doing is job. After all, one of his guys just turned up tortured and mutilated with no clues." Jack shrugged. "There's some stuff on my computer I think you should see."

They were turning the corner, just coming within sight of the Anthropology building, when everything went to hell. There was a noise, a popping sound that echoed flatly off the brick buildings of the quad. Blair knew the sound, but it was a something he heard with *Jim*, not something from Rainier, not from here.

But even while his brain was tangled in the wrongness of it, Blair's body was diving forward, shoving Jack ahead of him, trying to make it to the cover of the cement planters behind the bio building. It was only a few steps. They took forever, and the sounds of the shots kept coming.

The wheelchair jumped and then unbalanced. Blair, snarled in one of the wheels, tripped. He didn't fight the fall; down was good. The pain in his wrists and palms as he slammed into the sidewalk was a welcome relief. He was down, at least, and in the lee of the concrete planters. Safe.

The sound of shooting stopped.

For a moment there was silence. Then there was yelling. Panicked students, between classes. Blair began to shake, a little. How had this happened here? "Jack? Jack you ok?"

There was no answer.

"Jack?" Fumbling, Blair reached for him, turned him gently. Blood. There was blood. Blair screamed for help, lost for a moment in his own panic. Jack--

It lasted only a moment. This was one of the people, after all, who had taught him to cope with emergencies. The copious supply of tissues he carried in his backpack made a pad he could hold in one hand and press in place over the wound. The wound in Jack's neck, damn it, oh God, that had to be bad. Entry wound and exit wound, but close together, at least. He could cover them both with one hand. He would just have to try to stop the bleeding and hope the blood flow to the brain wasn't completely fucked.

"Jack?" But maybe unconscious was better. This would have to hurt. And god, there was nothing Jack needed to be awake for right now.

With his free hand, Blair searched his teacher's still form for other injuries. His questing hand encountered no more blood, didn't feel anything suspicious or alarming. A slightly hysterical part of his brain jeered, 'well, it wasn't Colonel Oliver who fired on us.' There was no way a competent sniper could have managed to hit a target just once out of that many shots.

University security arrived then. They came at a dead run, yelling for people to clear the area. Blair hollered again for help, and then--he should have thought of this two or three minutes ago, what was wrong with him? fished his cell out of his backpack left-handed and speed dialed Jim.

"Ellison."

Blair opened his mouth to answer, did not know what to say.

"Sandburg? What's wrong?"

"Jack. Jack's been shot."

"What?" The response was more angry than confused, and it seemed to drag Blair's frantic thoughts back into focus.

"Jim, Jack's been shot. We're at the quad. The police are on the way, but I need you here."

"On my way."

***

Continued in part two...