New Arrivals
Author-Dasha
Titles

Imperfections I
Part One
by Dasha

Summary: AU. If Blair's washing out of the guide program, who's taking care of Jim? Crossover with Monk.

Disclaimer: The sentinel and his world belong to big corporate entities and not to me.

Author's notes: A small AU just for fun--definitely my fun and possibly your fun too, but if not, that's ok. I, myself, am deeply prejudiced against AUs... Kitty and Martha betaed; they keep me from being an illiterate clod, but don't blame them for anything else! They aren't that fond of AUs either.

Jim sat down at his desk intending to work. It didn't take long to become much less ambitious. If he sat very still, the world didn't tilt unrealistically. The headache--there was nothing he could do about that, but if he concentrated on breathing very slowly, he *could* keep breathing.

The volume was up on his ears again. He could hear Vera down the hall griping at some patrolman who'd filled out his change of insurance form incorrectly. Across the room Brown's computer was screaming that beep it made when he got frustrated and pushed all the keys at once. In the break room the captain was saying, "Four bombs in three hours, Joel. That some kind of record?"

"For me, anyway. Not counting training."

"Nice work."

"Listen. Simon. The last thing I want to do is tell you how to run your department, but... how long are you going to let this go on?"

"Let what go on?"

Jim tried to pull his attention back to his immediate surrounds, to exert some kind of control, but Taggart's next words went through him like a knife. "I'm talking about Brackett--"

"That. Believe me, Joel, I--"

"Why the hell haven't you fired him?"

"It's not that simple. OSHA rules are very specific. You can't fire a guide if the sentinel working with him doesn't sign off on it."

Everybody knew. Everybody. They were talking about it in the break room now. It was gossip: Ellison couldn't cut it. He was so far gone even his guide wasn't trying any more. Jim stood up to flee. The movement set off a familiar nausea, making his destination the men's room. The lights in the hall had gone an odd, uncomfortable color, and Jim dropped his eyes to the floor. He found his way by memory and the smell of disinfectant.

***

As always, Angela looked sleek and alert and younger than forty-five. This time she looked nervous too, and Blair wondered at it. "Have a seat," she said. "Max is very pleased with your performance in History of Theory."

"It's more interesting than I thought it would be. Who knew I'd actually like the anthropology side of things?"

"Blair, the graduate committee meets next week."

"Yeah." It was an annual meeting. Blair had a letter from them for each of the four years he'd been in the program. He always took the maximum number of allowed courses, his grades were always B+ or better, the student evals for his TA classes always came back "better than average" or "fantastic." The meeting--and the signed "Acceptable Progress" form that arrived a few weeks later--was just a formality. "I'm not worried." Angela's face froze. "Wait--*should* I be worried?"

"Blair. I'm sorry. But I can't recommend you for the Guide Accreditation cohort next term."

She's kidding, he thought. I'm dreaming. "But--why?"

"Blair. You're intelligent. You're a very good student and I think your heart's in the right place, but your temperament just isn't... you aren't cut out to be a guide."

Blair stared, unable to speak. Temperament? All he'd ever wanted was to be a guide. Ever.

"Blair, if you start research in January instead of the Accreditation series, you could graduate in two or three years with your concentration in ethnography. You're an excellent student. If you don't contest the committee's recommendation, there will be no record that it wasn't your idea. You could still work with sentinels. Research--"

"I can contest the committee?"

Angela sighed and brushed her sleek brown hair behind her ear. "Yes. You can file a protest with the Graduate School and you might win, with your grades. But I hope you don't, Blair. Becoming a guide... it's not where you belong."

"I don't want to go into research. I'm only in anthropology because that's where the guide programs are!"

"I want you to look at something." She removed a stack of books that were blocking a TV at the end of her work table and queued up a video. Blair recognized the picture that came up--it was one of his labs. After the first two years, graduate students with a sentinel studies concentration moved from regular TAs to teaching relaxation and concentration labs for Abnormal Psych classes. It was considered essential in both programs; psychology majors got personal attention when learning the body disciplines, potential guides got to practice with live students.

On the screen Blair sat on an exercise mat beside a round-faced, innocent blond. She was laughing, trying to reach full lotus, yelping in pain. Grinning, the Blair of about three weeks ago held her foot still while she bent herself into a half-lotus. He demonstrated the hand positions, described proper breathing, explained what they were going to do. He had thought it was an excellent lab--the girl's name was Heather. They'd established rapport right away. She'd taken to it very well. They'd had a good time with it....

They started breathing, Blair whispering the instructions. Then, grinning, Blair tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Boo!" in a normal tone of voice. Heather jumped and flopped over laughing.

Angela stopped the tape. "I'm sorry, Blair."

"She did fine. *We* did fine."

"You're too rough, Blair. Too fast. Too frivolous. You know the techniques backwards and forwards, you're patient, you explain things very well. You've got the knowledge. But your temperament is all wrong."

"No. I. How." Completely inarticulate, Blair closed his mouth.

"Blair, the average lifespan for American sentinels is fifty-four years. That does not include the ones that die in the line of duty. From the moment they get up until they go to sleep--assuming they can sleep--the world is a dangerous, painful, frightening place. The kinds of work sentinels do are very difficult and demanding. The only real support they have comes from the guide. You do not have the right temperament to be responsible for a vulnerable person."

He didn't argue any more. There wasn't any point; she'd made up her mind. He could fight--but Blair wasn't even sure that was the right thing to do. Maybe Angela was right.

She's jealous, he thought. It's not me, it's her. Her sentinel died before they even started working. Everybody knew that. Angela's younger sister had been a sentinel. They were going to go into fish and wildlife, they'd had it all planned. Then, when Angela was still an undergraduate and Wendy was still in high school, Wendy had walked into traffic. It was rare, but it happened sometimes. Maybe Angela just couldn't stand to see anybody get what she'd missed out on.

But no. Angela had four advisees further along in the program than Blair. All of them had gone forward with no problem.

Maybe it's a test, he thought. They're testing my resolve. But no, that didn't sound right.

God. What if he couldn't be trusted with vulnerable people?

Blair didn't remember getting his bag from the office he shared with two other graduate students. He didn't remember going home to the dorm room he'd been living in since his warehouse burned down. He just kept asking himself, should he fight it? He had a week to decide. Should he fight it?

By the next morning, he had himself mostly together. Enough to function, probably. Sentinel medicine was at 8:30, and if he showed up in the same clothes as he'd worn the day before, at least he'd gotten a couple hours of sleep. After class he had two labs. Psychology kids getting their mental discipline credits in. He could have taught meditation in his sleep.

When he got back to his office, there was a large man wearing a suit waiting inside. Blair muttered "Excuse me," planning to rush in and out, but the man held out his hand. "Blair Sandburg, I'm sorry to bother you. The girl who was here a few minutes ago said you'd be in. I hope you don't mind."

"Oh. Mind? Oh, hey, you're that bomb guy. From the warehouse. Has there been some kind of news about the case?"

"Ah. No. No. That's been handed to the gang unit. They haven't made much progress, I'm afraid. I'd like to talk to you about something else. Um, do you mind?" He gestured at the door, and when Blair nodded, closed it. "I need an expert in sentinels. Someone not with the force. You were the only one I knew."

"God, you must be hard up."

"Excuse me?"

"Never mind. I don't know how much help I'll be, but sure, go ahead." This was all too weird. Blair motioned him to sit. "Captain... Taggart?"

"Call me Joel."

"Ok. Sure. Joel. What is it you wanted to know?"

But now that he was sitting down and faced with his 'expert' Joel seemed uncertain where to start. "How would someone know if... if a guide were negligent? Or... abusive?"

Well, was the sentinel dead? Blair thought sourly, trying to work out what was going on that Joel would think a guide could be mishandling a sentinel on purpose. Because if it *were* happening, the sentinel would be dead. Surely. "It's... it's almost always a professional relationship. If the sentinel is dissatisfied, the standard procedure is to file a complaint with their boss. Although, sentinels are in demand. They can quit and go anywhere. If they hint they want a new guide, they usually get one. Unless, I dunno, you've got some kind of unaccredited lay guide or something. But you don't see that much any more."

"So you're saying that it's impossible. At least if the guide's accredited."

"No. I mean, you do get some weird co-dependent relationships, sometimes. But we--guides get trained to watch out for that." Joel seemed to deflate a little. Blair wasn't saying anything he could use. "Is this related to a case?"

"No. One of my colleagues. A detective in another department."

"What makes you think something's wrong?"

He frowned for a moment. "I... I don't work with them often... yesterday morning there was a bomb threat at Welty Middle school. We have a sentinel in forensics, but he was already out, so Ellison and his partner swept the building, and we went along behind and disarmed the bombs. They found four. The last one was in the biology lab. There'd been a spill in there, it stank. I don't know how a sentinel stood it, let alone found the explosive." Joel shook his head. "They went over the place one more time and came out a few minutes after I did. Ellison told his guide he was in trouble, and the guide said, 'That's what happens when you don't listen to me. It serves you right. Maybe next time, you'll do what you're told.'"

"You're kidding."

"Three hours later I found Ellison on the floor in the bathroom at the station. He was having such a hard time breathing he was blue. There were weeping welts on his hands and arms. While we were waiting for help he started seizing. His guide wasn't in the building."

"No..." That couldn't be true. A guide wouldn't... not knowingly. No.

"Besides the physical reactions, the hospital said he was dehydrated and anemic from dietary deficiencies. This can't be normal. I mean, I've worked with the team from forensics. Monk doesn't look cross-eyed at something that his guide isn't right there."

Blair felt disoriented and not quite believing. It couldn't be happening, not like that. "No, that's not normal. Why would a sentinel put up with that? How long has it been going on?"

Joel shook his head. "This time last year, Ellison was a normal guy, not... you know. And then all of a sudden--poof."

"Late bloomer," Blair whispered. "How old?"

"I don't know. Thirty? Thirty-two?"

Old. Really old, for this. Sentinels who came on line after they were already adults almost never got proper training. Often, they didn't adapt well. They fought the senses. They had a hard time building a healthy relationship with a guide. Apparently this cop had been able to stay in the same job, which often eased the transition but even with optimal circumstances and a wonderful guide, statistically the chances weren't good.

But. That didn't answer the question of what kind of guide would go off and leave his sentinel alone in the middle of a serious reaction. Blair had an idea. "You guys actually did hire a real guide, right? You didn't just send his partner to a class or something?"

"That would be an OSHA violation. His boss hired a very good guide. Former government guy. Apparently he looked great on paper."

"The first guide he's had? Ever?" Joel nodded. "So he doesn't know it gets better than that."

"No. I guess not," Joel said.

"If things are as bad as you think, there's a lot you can do. Once your friend knows his rights, replacing a guide isn't hard. And then there's the Accreditation Board; you've got witnesses, right? You could get this guy censored for incompetence. Maybe even cruelty. That's harder to prove, but it would mean he could never work as a guide again, instead of only being suspended for five years."

"Listen, can you talk to him? Ellison?"

"I don't know if I should get involved. I'm not accredited. I'm just...."

"Just an impartial friend of mine who knows something about this sort of thing."

"Ok. Sure." Talking couldn't hurt. If this guide was making things worse rather than better, Blair didn't know what he could do, but surely he had to have more of a clue than these cops.

Joel drove them to St. Mary's Hospital. It was a huge complex in three buildings. That Joel went so confidently to exactly where he wanted to go told Blair more than he wanted to know about life in law enforcement. The floor the elevator deposited them on was fairly busy with people--patients, nurses, and visitors going their various speeds. From further down the hall, someone was yelling. It was an unsettling place. Blair didn't spend a lot of time in hospitals; the last time was his senior internship in a sentinel psych ward years ago.

Joel's head snapped up. "That's Jim!" He started to run, and Blair hurried after him. When he caught up, Joel was standing in the doorway of a private room. Inside, three male orderlies were holding down a much larger man while a nurse wrestled with his arm. The man was shouting at them to stop, to get away from him. Although clearly very strong, he didn't have either the leverage or the coherence to do anything more than thrash wildly at the hands pinning him.

Automatically, Blair looked around for the guide, but there was no one in the room not in a hospital uniform. "What the hell do you people think you're doing--stop that right now and step away!" Surprise stopped the nurse, and when she stilled, Joel's friend stopped struggling. Into the silence, Blair said, "Since *when* do you treat a sentinel without his partner present? Get out of here right now, or I'll have this man arrest you all for assault." He pointed at Joel, belatedly wondering if people from the bomb squad arrested people. Joel obligingly showed his badge. He suddenly looked very large and unhappy.

"We need to change this IV," the nurse said.

"If he is not bleeding to death, you do not need to touch him without his consent. Get out."

They left, but the room wasn't any more cheerful without them. Blair took a deep breath, wondering what to say. The pale man on the bed was looking in his direction, but not *at* Blair or at anything at all. Joel stepped hesitantly forward. "Jim... Jim, this is a friend of mine. He's in the anthropology program at Rainier."

"Guide...." He didn't sound impressed.

"Not exactly," Blair murmured. Not now, and not ever. If this was what happened when the wrong kind of person got hold of a sentinel, he wouldn't risk doing this to someone. Never. Angela had been so right to stop him before things could go too far. "Jim, where is your guide?"

A tiny movement, more a slump than a shrug.

"Ok. Can you tell me how you feel?"

"No...." Blair could barely hear the soft answer, and the sob that seemed to accompany it must have been a figment of his imagination.

"So, I'll just put that down as 'indescribably awful,' then?" The quiet joke was out of his mouth before Blair realized it. He was every bit as rough and insensitive as Angela had said. He had no business looking after vulnerable people.

Before he could stammer out an apology, though, the faded blue eyes fastened on Blair's face. "Good one."

The response was encouraging, and Blair tried again: "Are you spiking or sick or both?"

Jim's eyes narrowed, thinking. "Sick, mostly. But there's like... this feeling. Like I'm claustrophobic all of a sudden."

Blair nodded sympathetically. "Yeah. That happens sometimes."

"Mm?" Jim made a soft, inquiring noise, not quite making it to curious. It hardened something in Blair. A guide should have explained this, provided ways to cope. It wasn't right.

"Your senses are a little off. What you see of the room doesn't match the ambient echoes you hear. Maybe some depth perception problems. The room seems the wrong size, so you want to be out of it."

"Oh...." He considered that, rousing a little more.

Blair watched him, a little surprised at how quickly Jim was settling down. He'd expected a sentinel so distraught would be intractable for hours. Maybe he could move a little faster. "Jim, I'd like to talk to you about requesting another guide."

"Won't make any difference,"

"I know it feels like that. But a competent guide can do a lot to improve things."

No answer.

"Jim, how long since--ah--"

"Lee," Joel said softly.

"Right. How long has Lee been gone?"

A shrug. "This morning, maybe."

"You're not supposed to be left alone like this. He's supposed to be here for support. He's supposed to mediate things with the hospital staff."

Anger flared faintly. "I know."

He knew. Apparently he knew the rules weren't being followed and that he'd been thrown to the wolves. Blair felt fury welling up from his very toes, and he clamped his teeth shut over it. Dear lord, dear lord, this wasn't right. He hadn't wanted to believe it could happen, but whatever was going on, there was no excuse that would justify *this*. "Joel. Go to your personnel office and get whatever they have for a Change of Guide form. If you can't get one, have their supervisor put something in writing and bring it here for Jim to sign."

"Blair, we don't have another one lined up. He won't have any at all--"

"Joel, right now the bastard who left him here alone for hours has the authority to make medical decisions for him."

"Right. I'm going."

Left alone with Jim, Blair took a step back and settled into one of the cup-shaped plastic chairs. He tried to smile encouragingly. Jim looked out dully, mired in his own exhaustion and misery. "It gets better. I promise. A competent guide will change everything."

"You offerin'?"

"I'm a student. I'll probably go into research."

"Doesn't matter...."

He'd said that before. Blair frowned. "Why? Why doesn't it matter?"

"Won't be much longer."

"What won't?" No answer. Blair pressed very softly, "Are the senses going to go away?" If he answered 'yes,' it implied serious adjustment problems which wouldn't be solved just by getting a new guide. If he said 'no,' well, things were immeasurably worse. Either way, Blair was in way over his head.

Jim glanced at him and gave a single, hoarse laugh. "No."

"No," Blair repeated. "Because you won't last much longer..."

The nod was almost invisible.

Feeling ill, Blair stood up again and crept toward the bed. "Why do you think so?"

That earned Blair a pale approximation of a disgusted look.

"You think this is all there is, but you're wrong. You can't sleep or eat. Everything hurts or itches. Your sinuses swell, your throat swells, you can't concentrate--"

"I can't stop concentrating."

"All of that can be managed. *All* of that." Blair took a deep breath. "Will you let me call the nurse and let her fix that IV?"

"Ok."

As Blair was putting down the phone, he heard a footstep behind him and turned. There was a man in the doorway. He was about Jim's age, with wavy brown hair and an open, attractive face. Anxiously, he glanced at the bed; Jim had gone pale. Oh, damn. Not now! This had to be the guy who was screwing him up so badly. Damn. Joel wasn't back with that paperwork; he hadn't even had time to get out of the parking lot. They were screwed.

Lee's eyes roved over Blair, taking in his rumpled layers. "Hospital staff?"

His heart sinking, Blair said, "No."

"The detective isn't accepting visitors. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave." Polite. Calm. Charming. Eyes completely devoid of sympathy or interest. He didn't care. Blair couldn't leave a vulnerable person with this man. Not even for a few hours.

"Get out, Lee," Jim said. Blair turned in shock. Jim's legs were already over the side of the bed and his hands had coiled into fists. "Just get out."

Lee looked amused. "Testy, Jim. Having another rough day?"

"Just go away."

"Because you're going to do so much better without me." Contempt. Open dislike. This man would not have been patient with a late bloomer who was having a hard time learning to breathe properly. He would have mocked. He would have punished. Blair wanted to be sick.

Jim surprised him again. "I could hardly do worse."

"Brackett. I believe you've been invited to leave." Joel was standing calmly in the doorway.

The guide shrugged and left, shooting one more amused look at Jim.

Blair waited several seconds to let Lee clear the area, and said, "Thanks, Joel."

"No problem. I called Captain Banks from the lobby. He's on the way over with the paperwork."

"Brilliant," Blair said. But Jim, still sitting up, was shaking. Blair motioned him back under the covers. "Hey, man. You ok?"

"No. Any other stupid questions, Chief?"

"Uh, no. That was about my limit."

"Glad to--Oh, god!" The shaking suddenly got worse. "He's getting security. He's going to get you thrown out--"

"He can't. You're in charge. Jim--" But Jim was spiking, both hands over his ears, eyes shut tight. "Aw, no."

By the door, Joel was staring at them in horror. Useless. Of course. Macho and self-contained, that was the cop goal, right? Nothing messy and emotional. And when did they see sentinels? They were buried in forensics departments or got borrowed from consulting firms for the occasional manhunt. Joel couldn't have a clue. So Blair ignored him. "Hey. It's ok."

Jim's eyes opened, and Blair had a glimpse of hopeless terror. "He's the guide."

"And what? He can do anything to you he wants? No. Just no. You have rights."

"Excuse me, gentlemen." A burly man in a blue uniform stood in the doorway. Jim choked and let go of his ears to reach out and grab Blair with both hands. The desperate grip was painful, but Blair didn't fight as Jim crushed him to his chest. Clearly, nobody was going to remove Blair without a fight.

"It's all right," Joel said loudly, "My badge supercedes his. Let's talk about this in the hall, shall we."

Blair and Jim were alone again. Jim didn't move. Blair, bent awkwardly and off balance, wondered what he was supposed to do next. Jim was shivering, clearly just inches away from totally freaking out. Ok. "You know, this is really good," Blair said softly. "Asserting yourself." No answer. "What does Lee do when you defy him?"

"Nothing." For a moment, Blair didn't get it. Nothing? The cold-eyed controlling man Blair had seen had struck him as the sort to punish. "Nothing. Right. He doesn't help you."

A bitter laugh. "Lately, it isn't 'help' when he does do something."

Well, yeah, not having trust will do that. Blair was losing the feeling in his lower arms and his back ached from the impossible bend. "Keep talking, Jim. Tell me where you got your training." So I can go shoot them all.

"Wasn't time."

"What, nothing?"

"Got a lecture from the doctor. Read a book."

Right. Well. That would explain why he'd accept a reality that fell so far short of the ideal. Confused and exhausted, he'd believe it if his guide told him that guides never cared or that Jim's problems were his own fault.

The door opened again and both of them jumped. It was just the nurse, a different one this time. She was very young, probably too low on the totem pole to object being fed to the lion in room 1612. "Jim. The nurse is here. You're going to have to let her work on your IV."

Jim let go, nodding once. Blair straightened and smiled at the kid a year or two younger than he was. "This is going to be fine. We can do this."

"Yeah." Jim didn't sound convinced.

The left arm was torn in two places from the last round of 'care,' so the nurse went to Jim's right arm. Blair sat on the other side of the bed and took Jim's chin in his hand. "Pay attention," and Jim responded in the statistically male way; he looked into Blair's eyes. Perfect. "This is not going to be a problem. It's just a little IV. It will help. A lot." Eyes are easy to zone on--tiny, complex light reflections that change. Blair just needed to capture Jim's attention for a minute or so.... "Doing fine."

"This would work better if you weren't so scared," Jim muttered.

Busted. "I'm highly strung."

Jim flinched as the needle pierced the skin, and then, at last, the nurse was wrapping the apparatus in gauze and stretchy stuff. It was over.

The nurse, beaming, collected her supplies and withdrew. Jim turned his head to the side and fell asleep.

Blair was crushed. He'd had no idea, none. He'd been prepared for that feeling of satisfaction in the moment it was apparent that he was helping. He'd been prepared for the surge of success when the spike backed off. He'd known it would be good, that he would like this work.

He hadn't expected that he'd like Jim this much. None of the textbooks, none of the lectures had prepared him for this kind of strength. Here was a man who had had his entire life turned upside down, gotten no training to speak of about the changes, and then lived for almost a year with appalling mental and physical abuse, and he was still fighting. How did a human being get to be that brave? How did anybody survive that and stay sane?

What kind of weird, obsessive stubbornness would put up with that kind of crap for so long? But that wasn't fair. Jim had never had an opportunity to learn what his options were. His coworkers had probably been well meaning, but they had no experience with sentinels. And, of course, the main person who was supposed to be his advocate was the guide.

The door opened. Joel was back, this time with an even larger--wow, by the way--man. Glancing at the bed, they started to back out, but Joel pointed at a folded bundle of papers in the second man's hand and grinned, and Blair immediately nudged Jim. "Hey. They're here. Come on, Jim."

"No," the second man protested, "Don't wake him up--"

"Blair?"

"Uh, Simon, this is Blair Sandburg, from Rainier. Blair, this is Captain Banks."

"You didn't have to wake him up."

"He can sleep later," Blair said. "Right now, he needs to sign those papers."

"It's OK, Simon. Let's do this," Jim said.

The letter Jim's boss handed over was four pages long. "Your typing speed must be amazing," Blair muttered. An inappropriate joke, he realized: most of those four pages were times and dates of Lee Brackett's derelictions of duty. Every one of those items represented Jim suffering needlessly.

Banks shrugged, pulling an unlit cigar from his pocket and twirling it happily between his hands. "I've had that ready for nearly three months now. The smarmy creep's been messing up the morale in my whole department."

"I'm sorry, Simon," Jim muttered. His hand hovered over the page as he glanced nervously at Blair.

"I promise you," Blair whispered, "If it's the last thing I ever do, I'll see that man's accreditation revoked."

Jim took a deep breath and wrote his name on the line.

"Yeah, well. I picked him out," Banks said cheerfully. "Good-bye and good riddance." He retrieved the bundle of papers. "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I'm going to update the hospital staff--I assume you'd prefer Lee not visit?" Grinning smugly, Captain Banks left. Joel only paused to ask if either Jim or Blair needed anything, and then he followed.

"So that's it...." Jim whispered.

"Does he live at your house?"

"Sleeps over sometimes."

"Change your locks."

Jim's tiny smile seemed eerily out of place. "What?" Blair asked.

"Changing the locks won't help a whole hell of a lot. Former espionage guide."

"Whoa. You're kidding."

Jim shook his head. "Apparently government sentinels are more durable than I am."

"Did Lee tell you that?"

Jim shrugged.

"I met a government sentinel once. She was visiting. Her former guide is our department's graduate director. Jim, they give those government people really *weird* training. It messes them up. Jack says it's... it's really bad. And--they don't let these numbers out, but he estimates that most of the military and CIA sentinels don't live much past forty."

"Simon thought...." Jim sighed. "It's hard to find a guide who's trained for police work. Field work, I mean." He looked away. "I have to ask... It's ok to say no, but. Ah. Are you already... somebody's?"

"Somebody's what? Oh. Jim, no. I'm not a guide."

Jim glanced at Blair nervously. "They say... arrangements are made all the time before accreditation. I mean... would you consider...?"

"Aw. Jim. I--" He couldn't form the refusal, but Jim saw it anyway. For a moment Jim's eyes shown with hurt and fear, but then all emotion seemed to drain away into a feeble blankness. "Jim, I *can't*! I'm getting thrown out of the program next week! I didn't make the cut. They're--they're dumping me into research."

There was no answer.

"Jim, listen. You got a... a monumentally crappy guide! Next to that, ok, I look really, really great. That asshole can make a failing guide student look like God's gift to sentinels. But--Jim. I'm just the first even marginally competent support you've come across. There is so much better than me out there."

"I really appreciate what you've done for me here, Chief," Jim said woodenly. "I had no idea... things didn't... have to be that way. You shouldn't worry; I'll investigate my options more carefully in the future. I can't thank you enough."

"Jim--"

"Listen, I'm kind of tired. You wouldn't mind leaving me alone."

"No. I mean, sure. You should probably get some rest." Stunned, Blair gathered his jacket and backpack and stumbled into the hall. He made it to the base of the stairs before he began to cry.

***

He titled the packet "How to file charges of guide malpractice," and took it upstairs to the department lounge so he could Xerox copies for Joel and Captain Banks. It had taken him till Friday to get it put together. The first eight pages were the bare bones of the process and what they could expect. The extra fifteen pages were odd, extraneous bits they might or might not need, depending on how helpful the people at the state Accreditation Bureau were (or weren't). Blair had already sent in a written complaint. It wasn't anonymous, like reporting child abuse, but that shouldn't be a problem. Blair manifestly was a 'disinterested party.'

While he was stuffing the three copies into their envelopes, the graduate secretary stuck her head out of her office and said, "Hey, Blair. Jack was looking for you. He wants to see you in his office."

"When?"

"Now."

"Oh. Ok." The graduate director, Jack Kelso, wasn't on the list of people Blair didn't want to see. All of the faculty surely knew Blair was changing concentrations, even though the graduate committee meeting didn't start until Tuesday, but Jack was a believer in research. He wouldn't see this as a demotion.

The lounge was a long L-shaped room off of which the offices of the senior anthro faculty opened. Jack's office was around the corner of the L. Blair gathered his envelopes and backpack and went to see what was up.

Jack wasn't alone. A second man in an ill-fitting sweater sat in one of the visitor's chairs. He didn't move when Blair knocked on the doorframe and poked his head in, but Jack looked up and motioned him in. "Blair, I believe you've met Detective Ellison."

The strength of the relief Blair felt surprised him. He'd been trying not to think about it since there was nothing he could do, but he'd been worried that Jim wouldn't really believe that information and a competent guide could make a difference in his life. But if he'd come to the department, then he was hopeful and attempting to exert some control. Blair had to swallow hard before answering, "Yeah. We met on Tuesday." Moving slowly, Blair took the second guest chair and dumped his backpack and manila envelopes in a heap at his feet.

Jim was staring hard at Jack, not speaking. Jack was looking at Blair, though. He folded his hands on the desk and said, very carefully, "Detective Ellison is here to find out who he has to bribe and how much to get you into this spring's exam cohort."

Blair froze, noticing distantly that even his skin seemed odd and cold. "Oh, no. Damn it, Jim, you don't want me!"

Anger flashed in Jim's eyes, quickly suppressed. "Dr. Kelso, you should know that Blair was unaware of this request. He is not responsible."

"You're kidding--you didn't really.... Oh. You can't do this," Blair hissed. "It's not legal!"

"No," Jim said levelly. "It's against university policy but it's not illegal."

"It's immoral."

"I don't see how. I'm not hurting anyone. You *want* to be a guide. I want to work with you. It can't possibly make a difference to the university or to anyone else."

"Jim," without meaning to, Blair took Jim's nearest hand between his own, "there's a reason why I'm washing out of the program."

He felt Jim begin to back down. The interest faded from the sad blue eyes and the hand Blair was holding began to sweat. But despite the slight slump to his shoulders, Jim's voice was steady when he said, "I've been doing some reading. We have a guide downstairs in forensics, AG(N)." Accredited Guide (Nurse) was a slightly more intimidating credential then AG(A), Accredited Guide (Anthropologist), but AG(N)s were rare and highly specialized. The sentinel in forensics must practically be a basket case to rate one. "We had a long talk. Sharona said it isn't about state criteria or an imaginary list of necessary personal attributes. She said it's about rapport and trust and support. She said all that matters is that I get the support I... need, that I have a *right* to that, and that nobody--nobody--is in a position to evaluate the situation but me."

"Detective, I need to speak to Blair for a few minutes. Would you wait outside?" Jim nodded mechanically, let go of Blair's hand, and left without a word. As he shut the door, Blair reached for the white noise generator sitting on Jack's desk, but Jack shook his head. "What I am about to tell you is not a secret, but I need you to pay attention to me, not to him."

"Jack, I didn't--"

"After the abrupt end to my career in the field, I spent two years working in assignments for the company. Lee Brackett was one of the guides reporting to our department... people like him are the reason I got out. Two sentinels died in his care in five years. They weren't combat deaths, Blair."

"Fuck."

"He's right about rapport. What the hell did you do?"

"I told him life didn't have to be hell. I was doing a favor for some guy I hardly knew. Aw, god, Jack, his eyes.... He was so hopeless."

"Blair, if I could arrange for you to sit that exam tomorrow, I would."

"You can take the exam any time. We usually do it in the spring, after the accreditation class, but these days you can do it at the computer in any Forrest Learning Center," Blair said timidly.

"If you have the course credits, you can take it whenever you like. And you might have the credits. But if you fail, you have to wait a year to try again."

"I could be ready in a few weeks."

"Blair, there are more problems than that. He's a police officer. You don't have the skills to work with him."

"One thing at a time, Jack. I have the skills to guide." But he couldn't really be considering this. He was talking about taking another person's life in his hands.

The door opened slowly. "I'll wait," Jim breathed, creeping in. "I'll teach you what you need to know. I'll protect you." He stopped and stood rigidly, jaw tightly clinched and eyes on the floor. "You want to be a guide. Maybe this isn't the best situation, but--"

Without meaning to be, Blair was suddenly on his feet. Jim was begging. That was wrong. Jim should not have to beg for help--

Blair tripped over his backpack and tumbled forward. Jim's hands flashed out and caught him and Blair's headlong dive abruptly ended. For a long moment, they were very still, Jim holding most of Blair's weight, neither of them moving. Slowly, Blair got his feet under him and carefully stood up. "We'll work it out. Everything will be fine."

"Blair, I'll call you," Jack said.

"Yeah. Thanks." It was hard to tear his eyes away from Jim even long enough to pick up his backpack and envelopes. Jim kept a hand on his shoulder all the way down the back steps and out the building. As they walked outside, Jim pulled back and muttered, "Sorry."

"Why?"

He shrugged and glanced at Blair's shoulder. Ah. Right. That bastard wouldn't have let Jim touch him. Before he could figure out how to handle it, though, Jim had changed the subject. "One of those has my name on it."

"Oh, ah, yeah. How to begin proceedings against Brackett."

"Oh. Thanks."

Blair passed over the envelope.

"I'll read it later."

"Yeah. Hey, you hungry?"

Jim shrugged.

"What's your favorite food?"

"Cream of wheat."

"No, before."

"Pizza, sushi," he shrugged, "vindaloo."

Well *that* wasn't happening for a while. "What else do you miss?"

Jim sighed. "Wonderburger."

"Ok. Maybe. Let's give it a try."

Jim glanced at him doubtfully, but didn't argue when Blair led him to his car and drove them to the nearest drive-through. They ate on campus, at a picnic table in Alumni Park. "Ok," Blair said as they sat down. "The trick here is not to give the food our full attention, right? We're just eating. No big deal. There's going to be other chances." It was hard to sound casual about it--from the look of Jim's clothing, he'd lost some weight. "Can you tell me what those people over there are saying?"

Jim answered absently, unwrapping his hamburger and staring at it nervously. "It's a messy break-up."

"Jim? Deep breath, ok? If it doesn't work, we won't force it."

"Ok. Yeah."

Jim ate half the hamburger and a third of the French fries before frowning and pushing them away. Blair didn't comment, just gathered up the paper and carried it to the trash so Jim wouldn't be overwhelmed by the smell. "We need to talk about how we're going to work this," he said as he sat down.

"Simon won't let me on the street without a guide."

"Good!"

"He can't hire you if you're not accredited!"

"I know. I know. So you either take a long leave of absence or you get a temp--"

"No!"

"I'll be right here. Temp or not, I'll see you every day. Jim, I can give you all the advice you want, as long as you're off duty. I just--I'm sorry, ok? I don't know what else to do! Can you wait? Can you work with someone else? It won't be like *him* I promise." Blair closed his eyes. "I'd take the test Monday, but Jim, if I fail--"

"Yeah. I know, Chief." He started to reach for Blair again, resolutely put the hand down.

"Jim," Blair said carefully, "sentinels get an awful lot of tactile information. Some of it needs to be... safe. That's why you keep feeling the impulse to touch me. It's normal. It's totally ok."

Jim snorted bitterly. "And you're going to put up with that."

"If I couldn't handle it, I'd be in another job."

Jim glanced at him, and then quickly away. Blair took Jim's hand gently. Jim closed his eyes.

"This is about communication, too. We both need the information we get this way." He slid a finger around and touched Jim's pulse. Fast, almost panicked-fast. "You've seen other sentinels work, haven't you? Touch is common."

Jim pulled his hand back. "What do we do next?"

"I'd like to see your home, get a feel for how you do things. We need to talk about any problems you might be having, decide what the priorities are, that sort of thing."

Blair was feeling slightly overwhelmed and itching to get started, but Jim was clearly exhausted. They talked for another hour, and then Blair took Jim back to his car, agreeing to come over to Jim's place first thing in the morning.

There was a message from Jack waiting on Blair's phone when he turned it back on. He was two credits short. He couldn't sit the exam until the current semester ended in December. Today was October fourth.

The next morning, Blair stopped at a 24-hour drug store and a bakery for children's vitamins and a six-dollar loaf of fresh bread. Jim opened the door to his apartment while Blair was still lifting his hand to knock. "Hi!" Jim said, beaming.

"What the hell are you doing?" Blair exploded. Jim was slightly damp, wearing rubber gloves, and reeking of bleach and disinfectant. Blair hauled Jim into the hall and stripped off the gloves, which he pitched away. The hands underneath were dry. Blair drew Jim away from the door, in the opposite direction from the gloves. "Are you ok? God, look at your eyes. Can you see ok?"

Jim didn't answer, just stared at him, confused and a little frightened.

Blair pushed him against the wall, pinning the larger man with one arm (the hand was contaminated from touching the wet gloves) and using the other to move Jim's clothing aside to look for skin irritation. Some redness, but no swelling. "Jim--"

The sentinel flinched. Too loud, Blair realized. Too loud and too harsh. Jim was more afraid of him than of the poisons he'd been bathing in. He had to get a grip, calm down. "Headache?"

"I'm fine," Jim whispered desperately.

"Where is your headache?"

"Behind my eyes."

"Dizzy?"

"No."

"Trouble breathing?"

"It's not bad."

"It's not *bad*?" Jim flinched again, and Blair shut his eyes, cursing his temper. Eventually Jim would be able to handle his guide yelling at him, but they weren't there yet.

"I'm sorry," Jim said frantically, like someone who had no idea what he was apologizing for.

"It's ok. Jim? It's ok. I'm not mad at you. I'm just a little scared. Ok?"

"Ok."

"What were you cleaning--bathroom or kitchen?"

"Neither. The spare room...." Jim was looking at him in anxious puzzlement.

"Ok. Have you used this stuff in the bathroom? Today?"

"No."

"Ok. Ok." Blair took Jim back into the apartment. The smell was almost overwhelming even to him, but he quickly found the bathroom and dragged Jim inside. "Please, take your clothes off." He was proud of being able to form a low-key request. Turing on the water, he motioned Jim to get into the tub and told him to wash and then stay in the bathroom until Blair called him.

The apartment was very large and open. It took only a moment to locate the spare (and only) room. It was almost completely empty except for a bucket of sudsy water and a disassembled bed in the corner. The walls and floor were damp. Jim had been sterilizing the room....

Jim had said that Brackett 'slept over sometimes.' He would have been sleeping in here. Oh, god, god, he was sterilizing. Oh, Jim.

Blair opened all the windows in the apartment, poured out the bucket of disinfectant, and, rounding up all the paper towels in the house, tried to absorb as much of the remaining dampness as he could. He found a fan, and opened the little room's external door to begin clearing out the fumes. He rinsed carefully in the kitchen sink, then rinsed the sink. Only then did he call into the bathroom, asking Jim where to get him a change of clothes.

When he returned, he made a point of knocking softly on the door and entering quietly. Jim was sitting hunched on the toilet, wrapped in a towel. He offered Jim the bundle of clothing and crouched before him. "Can I see?" There were red weals on Jim's knees, and a few places on his chest that might be from splashes. His eyes were still red. What he liked least of all was how meekly Jim obeyed when Blair told him to get dressed and come sit outside on the narrow balcony.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have freaked out."

"That's ok. Blair. I'll do better."

"I'm not giving up. I'm not even thinking about giving up."

Jim nodded woodenly.

"Let's just do something simple. Will you do a body check for me?"

"Sure. How?"

For a moment, Blair's horror almost got away from him again, regardless of all the vows he'd just made to himself to stay calm. But this shouldn't be a surprise. Jim had admitted to having no training. "You, um, you close your eyes and relax and then you tell me how you feel."

"I feel fine."

"Humor me." Jim closed his eyes. "Slow your breathing. Nice and easy. Can you feel the seat under you?" Blair waited for the nod. "The air around us?"

"Yeah...."

"Now turn your attention to, ah, you. Just notice your body. Ok? How's your headache?"

"No worse than usual?" Jim said uncertainly.

"You usually have a headache?"

"Yeah. Not always."

"What else?"

"Nothing else hurts. Stomach's a little upset. The air feels... funny. Heavy. Thick."

"Yeah," Blair said softly. He could hear Jim wheezing a little.

"I'm tired." After a while, he added, "That's it."

"That was good. You picked that up really fast." Blair tried to smile encouragingly.

Jim winced slightly. "But I can't cut it. I'm not strong enough."

"He told you that. Lee."

Jim looked away, not answering.

"Jim, you heard what Jack said yesterday about what the feds do to sentinels. They teach them to ignore their bodies' warnings. They tell them they're weak when they notice pain. They use them until they use them up, and then they die. People like Brackett just stand by and let it happen. Or help." But he wasn't reaching Jim, Blair could tell. "Usually their immune systems just fall apart, but sometimes it's bleeding ulcers or escalating allergic reactions. A few of them, their heart rhythms get progressively more irregular. Nobody knows why. And some of them kill themselves. Do you understand, Jim? The guides either buy into the macho bullshit or they don't *care* that their partners are dying right and left. *That* is what Brackett is."

Jim shook his head slowly. Clearly, Blair wasn't making a dent in Jim's perceptions. "Sandburg... thanks. You're being very kind. And everything. But I can't even clean my house."

"Well, not with that crap! There are guidelines. It was Lee's job to make sure you understood--"

"They were in the book. I understood them. But they're just ideals, aren't they? I mean nobody actually follows that list--You're kidding! You couldn't get anything clean. No bleach, no ammonia, no phosphorous, no alcohol, no--"

"There's plenty of stuff you can clean with that sentinels can tolerate: vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, most biodegradable detergent, boiling water, baking soda, salt if you wear gloves--"

"You won't get things clean with that!"

Blair had a frightful thought. "Jim, can you see microbes?"

"No! Well, not unless the colonies are really big. I can smell them, though."

Blair buried his face in his hands. "Right. We'll get back to hygiene later."

Jim swallowed hard. He looked almost confused and hurt, but Blair wasn't sure. It could just be hopelessness. He was trying to stifle the feelings, whatever they were. Blair moved to kneel beside Jim's chair and laid a careful hand on his arm. "Jim, there's nothing wrong with you. Your problems are very normal, predictable sentinel problems. What he told you was wrong."

"What if you can't help me?"

"Then we will find someone who can. I promise you. But Jim, you don't need a lot of help. You've been coping really well for months--with no training and fighting somebody sabotaging you."

Jim's hand snaked around Blair's wrist. A moment later Jim realized what he'd done and looked down. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah. Hey. You need to learn what input from me feels like. If you--"

"Why?"

"Why learn me? So you can always find me in the dark. So you know where I am in a crowded room. So you don't have to wonder what my state of mind is. Here." He took Jim's free hand and pressed it against his neck. Jim shuddered slightly. "Yeah. People are pretty intense. You'll get used to it."

Jim pulled Blair closer and sniffed him delicately.

Blair let Jim zone on him for about half an hour before gently disengaging and going to get the supplies he'd forgotten in the hallway. There was good bottled water in the fridge, and they ate outside. Jim put away a fist-sized chunk of the bread. Then Blair passed him one of the vitamins. "These are not nutritionally complete, but you can probably tolerate one of these a day, and they're *something*. If it gives you problems, let me know, and we'll try something else."

"Ok."

"You'll be able to eat normal food again."

Jim didn't answer that, probably not wanting to lie to Blair's face about believing him.

Briskly, Blair stood up. "Let's go shopping. Cleaning supplies. Fruit. Maybe some good beer...."

The trip to the store seemed to restore some of Jim's equilibrium. He talked freely about his preferences, asked questions about different products. He was never more than ten feet from Blair, though. It was like he was attached by some sort of leash. That was ok. He couldn't rely on Jim to ask for help unless he was so scared or things were so bad he couldn't take it any more. He would have to watch Jim to see how he was doing. Which was ok. Blair was perfectly happy to keep Jim in his sight.

Blair was having definite feelings of "mine" with regard to Jim. Abstractly, this was a good thing. A certain amount of affection, protectiveness, even possessiveness from a guide was reassuring. In the old model, guides were encouraged to keep their relationship professional and a little distant--guides that were too involved might get emotionally needy or controlling. Things could get co-dependent. The research Jack was working on, though, suggested something else entirely: measurable indicators like sentinel health, job performance, mental acuity, and emotional stability were most closely correlated with a sentinel's perception of how much his guide liked him. It was more important than how much the sentinel liked the guide, how compatible their personalities were, or what score the guide got on his exams. Which kind of made sense; who would Blair trust if he were in that position--a competent professional doing a job or someone who cared? Attachment on the part of the guide couldn't be faked. A sentinel would know by smell if nothing else. It had to be personal, not professional: respect, affection, love maybe.

But Blair wasn't really Jim's guide. He might feel the 'mine,' but he couldn't back it up. He couldn't work with Jim on the job. He couldn't refuse assignments he felt were too dangerous or taxing. If Jim got sick, Blair would not be allowed to interfere in his care. As things were, he could give advice--but Jack was going to ask Jim to sign some forms on Monday to establish that Jim knew Blair was unaccredited, that he understood any advice should be moderated with Jim's own research and common sense, and that under no circumstances would Jim hold the university accountable for Blair's mistakes.

Jim needed a real guide. He needed someone in a position to protect him. But that thought was frightening too. If someone else had the legal authority, Blair might be squeezed out of the loop entirely, and he hated the idea of trusting someone else. Anyone else. It was lose-lose all around.

"I can't take the test before the end of December," Blair said once they were back in Jim's truck.

Jim nodded stiffly.

"It could be worse. Most of the folk who came in with me won't have the credits to take the exam until spring, but I took some extra electives."

"That's just three months."

"Yeah. And in the meantime, I'll be available. Jim, I'm sorry."

"No, that's fine. I'll see if I can pull desk duty. It's fine."

"Ok."

"What happens after you pass?"

"For a year, I'm officially a student. My advisor will supervise me in the field. I may be changing advisors. Anyway. I'll make monthly reports. Whoever it is will observe me at work. You'll be asked some about my performance. If everything is satisfactory, I'm fully accredited twelve months later."

"So we're going to be watched."

"No, I'm going to be watched. To make sure I don't hurt you."

Back at Jim's place, Blair fished something disgusting out of the garbage and then showed Jim what hydrogen peroxide did to it. Blair couldn't see the germs--he couldn't even smell them. But afterward Jim seemed satisfied, and Blair went through the place tossing out every cleaning product he found except for the laundry soap which was hypoallergenic.

Before Blair had finished, Jim was asleep on the couch. At first this was a bit alarming, there was no way a sentinel should be able to sleep with someone moving around in his space like that. But Jim was tired--probably chronically sleep deprived--and just recently out of the hospital.

Dinner was boiled chicken and organic fruit. Jim put away twice as much food as Blair had expected, although he made a point of not paying attention to what Jim was eating. "Tell me about your job. Just what is it you do?"

"Well. You know. Police stuff."

"Yes. Thank you. So, you mean it's all shootouts, all day, nine to five?"

Jim laughed. "Not quite. Ok, you know about the bomb threat on Monday?"

Blair nodded.

"That was just about all I got done all day. Hmmm. Last week was stakeouts, mostly. Tuesday and Wednesday we sat in a car down the street from the apartment of some mobster's girlfriend. Thursday, I sat in a diner across from an electronics store that was selling illegal weapons on the side. Friday, talking to witnesses and looking at crime scenes--the forensics guy was sick."

This didn't sound too bad. "Arrest anybody?"

"I don't do that much any more." Jim sighed. "I spend a lot of time helping out on other people's cases. You know. Funny thing is, I see a lot more of my coworkers than I did before--this--but I, well, we have a lot less to say to each other now."

"Do you think that's because they don't know how to think about a sentinel? Maybe they think you've changed or something?" Blair managed to sound almost casual, although inwardly he found himself wanting to beat up people he'd never met.

"No, I think it was because of me."

"How so?"

"I... I'm not exactly a lot of fun to be around. Kind of short tempered. Not real interested in talking. I guess."

"That will get better." When he wasn't expending all the strength he had to stay alive and do his job. But Jim didn't answer, just looked away. "What? Jim?"

"Things usually just get worse," he muttered.

True, no doubt. Blair didn't know what to say to that. He cleared the table.

They retired to the couch to watch television. Jim kept the volume almost too low to hear, but Blair didn't really care. He was too busy thinking anyway. God, there was so much to do. On top of everything else, he was going to have to start studying for the exam. He had to pass the first time.

Also--it was a bit puzzling. He expected Jim to invite him to sleep on the couch. Or else suggest he go home. One or the other. Something. But midnight came and went and Jim stayed on the couch, within touching distance of Blair, but not touching him, not talking, not anything, except sometimes asking what Blair wanted to watch.

Around two, Jim fell asleep and Blair decided that expecting Jim to be in charge of the situation was a mistake. Jim was still too uncertain to ask Blair to stay and too anxious to risk Blair leaving. Right. Ok.

To keep things as simple and low key as possible, he got Jim to lie down on the couch and found a blanket to cover him. There was no possibility of leaving while Jim was asleep. No way. You can't count on a guide who sneaks off when you're not looking. The only bed, though, was Jim's. The mattresses from the spare room must have been thrown out as 'contaminated.' Sleeping in Jim's bed was out of the question--the smell would linger for days even if he did change the sheets and anyway to do that without permission would be a violation. Jim had to control his space if he was going to feel safe. There was a comfortable chair. Blair settled for that, bringing over a kitchen chair to rest his feet on and getting another blanket.

Tomorrow, he would have to do something else. Something more comfortable for both of them.

Despite having gone to sleep later, he woke before Jim. He sat still as long as he could stand it, before rising and going into the bathroom. When he came out, Jim was sitting up and watching him silently. Blair smiled, and Jim glanced away. Blair wondered what was going on in his head, but demanding to know probably wouldn't help things. "Coffee?" he suggested.

After coffee and toast they went to the beach. A day off. They didn't have time--Jim should be working on his complaint against Brackett, Blair had reading he hadn't done for class. Screw it.

The beach had been Jim's idea, and Blair went along without a second thought until they were bundled in jackets, sitting on the sand watching the waves come in and Blair realized that Jim wasn't talking. Or moving.

Brilliant, Blair thought. Take an inexperienced sentinel with no training and no balance and take him to the Pacific fucking Ocean. Not the least bit overwhelming. Nope. Nothing to scare him there. Gently, Blair took Jim's wrist and checked the pulse. It was slow, actually. Jim's arm was more relaxed than Blair had ever felt it. Maybe this was just a light zone. Maybe Jim wasn't lost in an avalanche of information. Maybe he was ok. "Jim? You with me, buddy?"

Jim nodded.

"You ok?"

"Sure. Want to go surfing, actually."

"Not just yet, ok?"

"Ok."

They were alone on the beach, even though it was Sunday. It was cold and overcast. They stayed till lunch time, and then Blair took his partner to Wonderburger. Everything was basically all right.

That night Blair took charge. "You need to learn how to sleep," he said.

"*Learn* how to sleep," Jim said doubtfully.

"Yeah. Learn. You had to learn how to drive again, didn't you? You had to learn how to do other things."

"Ok. Sleep lessons...."

"Well, you have to shower first. Smells you pick up during the day, your own dirt can keep you awake. Get that out of the way first thing." Blair was making it up as he went along. Sentinels who weren't suffering from stress disorders normally didn't have much more trouble sleeping than anyone else. They'd been doing it as a sentinel since late childhood. The kinks were normally worked out as they went along, no big deal. They found what was comfortable and coped. Hmmm. "White noise generator or ear plugs?"

"Huh?"

"Which do you prefer?"

"Don't like either. Makes me feel like I'm... claustrophobic. Trapped underground." Jim met his eyes resolutely, as though he were steeling himself for some negative response.

Blair fiddled with Jim's white noise generator until it just took the edge off the louder noise, but still let him hear cars passing in the street or Blair walking around in the kitchen. "Can you live with this?"

"Yeah, maybe."

So Jim showered and turned the box on and climbed into bed. "Ok?" he said, looking at Blair. He was tense around the eyes, clearly needing more.

"Do a body check for me? Tell me how you're feeling."

Jim closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths, and then Blair asked him to consider his body one part at a time. Slowly. Starting from the feet. "This time I'll lead you through it," he said.

By the time they got to Jim's stomach, he was asleep. Blair went downstairs and slept on the couch.

Jim didn't have work the next day. Captain Banks had put him on medical leave for another week. Blair was beginning to grow fond of that man. He took Jim in to Rainier with him. He had two classes that morning--the first was sentinel law (530), and he took Jim with him. The second was history of anthro theory, not something a guest would like. "Jack has office hours. I'll take you back to the department. You can fill out some paperwork and then read for a while in the library." Jim didn't argue. Blair dropped him off and went to theory.

When he got back, Jim wasn't in the library. Nor in the men's room. He found him still in Jack's office, the two of them talking about all-terrain tracking techniques. Crap. Blair hadn't taken the course Rainier offered in that--it was only scheduled every two years, and the last time it had conflicted with sensory biology.

Jack smiled as Blair came in. "Jim, can I speak to your partner alone for a few minutes?" Jim passed Blair a brief smile and shut the door behind him.

"Everything ok?" Blair asked.

"Everything is in order." He turned on the white noise generator. "I talked to Angela this morning. She's not convinced it's a good idea, but she's changing her recommendation to the committee."

"Thanks. Ah, Jim sign the papers?"

"No problems. I've given him the name of a very good sentinel doctor. Anything you suggest that he isn't completely comfortable with will be run by him."

"That's... a good idea, actually."

"Thank you. I have been at this for a while." He produced a file from the bottom of a pile on his desk. "You need to look at this."

"What is it?"

"Jim's record. It's not complete--Brackett wasn't meticulous about filing."

"How did you get this?"

"The department messengered it over. They're very anxious to keep him. His success rate is amazing."

Blair flipped through the pages. It was huge. But then, the files employers kept on sentinels were very detailed. They were also absolutely private. "But how did you *get* this?"

"Jim agreed to request a copy on Friday. You can't function if you don't have access to his history." He leaned across the desk to point. "This is what you want to look at first. His medical records. It's not pleasant reading."

It was worse than Blair had expected. "Jack, there's eight emergency room visits in the last six months!" One of them was for a knife wound--which was startling and weird--but the other seven were for things Blair had read about in his textbook for sentinel medicine. That was even worse. The most recent hospitalization--just a week ago--wasn't listed.

"On four of those visits he was evaluated as 'intractable' and his guide gave permission for sedation. He's not going to *want* to go see that specialist."

"We don't have a choice!" Blair squeaked. "He's--god, Jack. They've had to intubate him twice. They've had to *chemically* bring him out of a zone twice. I swear, Jack, I'm going to track down that bastard and kill him."

"Blair," Jack said, his soft voice suddenly uncompromising and without sympathy. "You do not have the luxury of anger and you cannot afford to panic. Jim needs your attention *on him*, nowhere else. He needs to see a doctor, and he needs to do it feeling safe. You spend your energy figuring out how to do that."

Blair closed the file, hiding that horrible catalog of Jim's suffering. "Ok."

"I've got a class. You go on. Get Jim some lunch."

Blair took them to the mini food court in the student union. "Can you handle the smell in here?"

Jim nodded, giving Blair a curious look. "Is it usual? To ask about that so much? What I can handle?"

"At first, yeah. Until I know what your limits are." Until I'm confident you'll tell me, he thought. "Smell anything here you want to eat?"

There was a sandwich place. Jim got roast beef on white; Blair got avocado and sprouts on whole wheat. Jim managed three bites before he frowned and pushed the paper plate away. Blair immediately put his own lunch down and captured Jim's hand. "It's ok. It's just food. You don't have to eat it. You can have something else if you want."

"I can get it down. Give me a minute."

"If you're going to force something down, how 'bout a chocolate banana protein smoothie?"

"I, uh, notice ice cream over there."

"Now that's an idea." Blair fished a five out of his pocket. "Bring me one, too." Anything. Just so long as he ate. Once he learned to handle tastes that were strong and varied they could work on nutritional content. Of course, Jim's notions of 'yummy' were miles different from Blair's, but he could work with that. It wasn't like Jim couldn't use the calories in the ice cream.

Concluded in Part Two...