Summary: Button, button, who's got the button? ~eg~ Okay, for real. Um, it's poker night at the loft but the final game of the evening turns out to have much higher stakes than anyone imagined. Rated PG-13 for bad words and tense situations.
Spoilers: Post-TSbyBS, "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" spoiler for The Waiting Room.
Disclaimers: Standard they-aren't-mine-they-just-come-out-to-play-now-and-then disclaimers apply. No money, first born sons, maps to buried treasure, black painted falcons or other assorted and valuable items have changed hands. Anything not already belonging to someone else is mine, all mine!
Beta readers: Much gratitude and large helpings of virtual chocolate and gourmet coffee to peregin anna for her nagging for more and the butt-kicking that kept me from drop-kicking the story out the window to begin with, and to Hephaistos for, among other things, reminding me that Wuss!Blair is *not* canon (which led indirectly to Ballistic!Blair in part...well, never mind. <g>) Anyway, thank you, ladies, for your faithful service and assistance in filling in plot holes and picking grammar nits--and the occaisional "EWwwww! I *like* it!" Special thanks to TAE for her patience with pesky questions--and for trapping that final little plot bunny about poker cards and casinos for me.
(The surname Nkemontoh is pronounced "Kih-mone-toh" (All the o's are long vowel sounds.))
The lavender sky outside the loft was ebbing softly into indigo as Blair snagged a few M&M's from the serving bowl and tossed them into his mouth. Critically, he studied the placement of the other snacks on the bar, seeking the best spot for the candy--at least, the spot where Blair could be guaranteed to be the one eating most, if not all, the M&M's.
The sunset fading across the Sound marked the end to a day as close to perfect as Blair could remember. He'd slept in, and then when he finally did drag out of bed, the only thing on his 'to do' list involved lying around in the sun-touched loft with the latest issues of National Geographic and Smithsonian. He hadn't had this much spare time since he was...well, not for a long time. This afternoon had marked his first official appearance with Major Crimes intramural football squad, the highlight of their game being Blair snagging Jim's "Hail, Mary" pass and scoring the winning touchdown against the squad from Vice. In celebration of their triumph, Jim had paid for Blair to stuff himself at Chang's Mongolian Grill, and now he could look forward to an evening of poker with the guys from Major Crimes. What more could a guy ask for?
Well, maybe a little more hair, but hey, at least his own short locks were growing out. In the months since he'd graduated from the Academy, his hair had already grown out almost to his jawline.
Tucking a few stray stands behind one ear, Blair found himself grinning at the thought of fleecing his fellow detectives yet again--talk about your easy marks! Still grinning, he finally found the proper place for the candy bowl, and slid it carefully across the kitchen island--to a point directly behind the two large bags of tortilla chips. With a sideways glance to be sure Jim was still busy at the other end of the kitchen, he shifted the two cans of Reddi Cheese out of the way and pulled the corn chips over beside the other chips. Still chewing contentedly, he surveyed his camouflage work briefly. Then, swallowing his purloined candy, he swiped one hand across his Hawaiian print shirt, and picked up the thread of conversation he had abandoned when the candy captured his attention.
"Look, Jim, I'm telling you, all the guy needs is someone to believe in him. Someone who sees the potential, the man he *could* be, not--"
"The hard-ass criminal wannabe he really is," Jim finished the sentence for his roommate, stepping up beside him and setting the salsa out; one large bowl of medium salsa, and a smaller open jar of mild. Impeccably casual in khakis and a close-fitting, dark blue t-shirt, Jim shot a stern glance at Blair before moving the corn chips aside so the bowl of candy was plainly visible. Blair smiled innocently, then waited until Jim's back was turned before shifting the candy again, this time concealing it amongst the bags of already popped microwaved popcorn sitting on the other end of the island next to the range.
"Jim, man, come on! I can't believe you're that cynical." Satisfied for the moment with his new camouflage job, Blair strode over to the dining table. He infinitesimally straightened a couple of chairs, then checked to be sure the boxes of poker chips were all in place before turning back toward his roommate. "Look, Derek just needs a chance. His folks have been AWOL since he was two years old; the guy was raised by a grandma who couldn't deal with a high-maintenance child, so she let him run wild. There've been *no* positive male role models in his life at all. The cards were stacked against him, and I'm just trying to even the odds out a bit here. You understand that, man, it's what the Mentors Program was all about! Shoot, you're one of the ones who really championed it when they first started bringing it online!"
Blair returned to the kitchen, where his roommate was kneeling on the floor by the fridge, stocking the shelves with beer and pop from the opened cartons at his feet. The Sentinel was carefully shifting the bottles and cans he'd placed in the refrigerator earlier to the fore, then stashing the newer, warmer, drinks behind them. The dishwasher was just about done cycling through the hot wash Jim had insisted on to sanitize Blair's tupperware, pulled from the refrigerator and cleaned out earlier in the day to make room for more drinks. Blair snatched a couple more M&M's, and quickly chewed and swallowed. "Look, you know it's had *great* success in Texas keeping at risk kids from joining gangs and--"
"I know the statistics, Chief. You're preaching to the choir now." Jim broke down the cardboard case he'd just emptied of Coca Cola and laid it neatly on the floor behind him. Then he pulled a carton of Full Sail Ale over and broke it open carefully along the perforated end.
"So what is it then?" Blair leaned back against the kitchen island, instinctively checking to see that no burners were on before settling his hands out on either side of the range top. "Ever since Derek was assigned as my Mentoree, you've been down in the mouth about the whole thing. Why can't you believe that I can make a difference in this kid's life, man?"
"It's not you, Chief, it's not you at all." Jim's voice was muffled by the refrigerator for a moment as he dug inside, bottles clanking as he moved them forward. "I *know* you could make a difference in just about anybody's life. What I object to is that the Mentor's program was not meant to be part of the plea bargaining process. It was never intended to be used to reduce *deserved* sentences for juvenile offenders, just to help the ones who were sitting on the fence make better choices."
"Derek is hardly a hardened offender, Jim. He's only got one charge against him--"
"Only one that the DA could make stick," Jim interrupted, from the depths of the refrigerator again. Blair ignored him, repeating himself for emphasis.
"Only *one* charge against him and that's from a year ago. None of the others were proven and he had alibis for most of them anyway. He's pulled his grades up, made most of his AA meetings, kept his school attendance up, met all the terms of his parole--"
"Parole that never should have been given to him, given that he slammed a tire iron down on that other boy's head with deadly force." Jim surfaced from the depths of the refrigerator, and looked pointedly at Blair, before repeating, "Deadly force, Chief. You know the Nkemontoh kid didn't come out of his coma for three weeks." "Jim, it was just one of those teenage macho shoving matches that got out of control; you know how high the emotions can get at a high school game--"
"Chief, how many high school shoving matches end with a kid in a coma?" Blue eyes met blue, and Blair, silent for once, gave ground first. Jim didn't say anything for a moment, then returned to his resettlement efforts in the fridge. "A six foot plus 16-year-old against a skinny 15-year-old? Galen Nkemontoh was no threat to him; there was no need for Derek to reach for a weapon of any kind, let alone one that nearly killed the other person."
Blair didn't say anything to that either, and Jim's face peered around the door after a long moment, their gazes meeting again. This time Jim looked away, down at the two bottles of Ale he still held.
"Look, Blair, I appreciate what you're trying to do, and I think you're a great mentor. You're willing to believe the best about people more often than not, and most of the time you're right. This time, though, with Derek, it's just...I don't know, call it cop instinct or Sentinel instinct even, I *don't* think Derek wants to be a 'good boy.' Sometimes you just can't change the tiger's stripes."
"The leopard's spots, Jim."
"Hunh?" Jim stashed the last of the Full Sail Ale and pushed the carton aside. He reached for the one remaining case of beer, Black Butte Porter, just as a knock sounded at the door.
"The Leopard's spots, the actual saying is 'A leopard can't change its spots'."
Jim shrugged, and Blair, more than willing to abandon the fruitless discussion for the umpteenth time in the last three months, hustled over to open the door.
"Rafe, man, what a cute little piggy bank! Hey, is that Babe?"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jim blew his nose wearily, and after dabbing gently at the edges of each nostril added the used tissue to the growing pile on the coffee table. Resisting the urge to gag on the odor of cigars as Simon appeared in front of him, he looked up and met his Captain's concerned gaze.
"You gonna be all right, Jim?"
He had to concentrate to hear Simon over the pounding of his own heart, but Jim nodded anyway. Trying unsuccessfully to ignore the tingling in his hands, he yanked another tissue out of the box. Damn these allergies, these senses. Sometimes they were more trouble than it was worth, and tonight was definitely one of those times. Only 10 o'clock and poker night was already over and done with. Of course, he hadn't missed the relief that had flashed across both Brown's and Rafe's faces when Blair had declared the evening at an end, over the rising cacophony of Jim's sneezing. Thanks to Blair's poker skills neither man had left with even half of the stake they'd come with. Except for Simon, goodbyes had been quick, and the other members of Major Crimes were already gone.
Whatever answer Jim would have made Simon was lost in another sneeze. The belt of Simon's trenchcoat flapped as his hands came to rest on his hips, and Simon shook his head as he stared down at the Sentinel.
"I'll take that as a 'yes', and in that case I leave you in *Detective* Sandburg's capable hands."
Jim nodded, fought another sneeze unsuccessfully, and hoped the sneezing kept his Guide and roommate from noticing the way his hands were shaking every time he used a tissue. Blair appeared at Simon's side, a set of keys clinking as he held them up for inspection.
"Looks like Rafe lost more than his shirt tonight. Hope he left a window open, 'cause I can guarantee Megan's not gonna want to make two trips across town in one night."
"Ah-choo!" His 'n' his matching frowns stared down at Jim, but he shook his head and waved them both off.
"I'b bine. G'won, ged hobe."
Simon and Blair traded "Yeah, right" looks before Simon turned toward the door, Blair following in his wake. Jim fought the urge to stick his finger down his throat and see if he could scratch his eustachian tubes.
"You know, Sandburg," Simon said absentmindedly, stopping by the door, patting his chest in an automatic search for a cigar before shooting a guilty look at Jim's watering eyes and dropping his hand instead to point at the shorter man, "if it was Jim who cleaned me out, I could at least blame it on those senses of his. But when it's you cleaning me out..." he paused, shaking his head ruefully.
Blair grinned as he reached for the door knob, Rafe's keys clinking in his other hand. Jim winced as the clinking reverbererated in his ears, and focused instead on the sound of Blair's voice.
"Well, you know, Incacha did pass the way of the Shaman on to me, Simon." At his boss's confused frown, Blair grinned and waggled his eyebrows and the fingers of his free hand at the man. "You know, shamans, second sight, spirit visions..." He opened the door for Simon, who was glaring disgustedly at him now. Jim chuckled, then sneezed again.
"ONE detective with paranormal senses is all I want, Sandburg, I do NOT want two. Have I made myself *perfectly* clear, DETECTIVE Sandburg?" Widening his eyes until the whites showed starkly around the dark brown pupils, Simon glowered down from his 6'4" height at the smaller man.
Blair's grin grew even bigger as he stood up straight and clicked his heels together, the hand that had held the doorknob snapping up to his forehead in what Jim had to admit was a passable imitation of a military salute. Gee, Blair's Academy training stuck in one area, at least.
"Sir, yes, SIR!" Blair snapped, staring straight ahead, and both men saw the smile Simon fought off. Jim couldn't identify the emotion that skittered briefly in his roommate's eyes before Blair's straight face threatened to crack into an answering grin. Simon shook his finger under Blair's nose.
"Good, and don't you forget it, either!" he growled. "Goodnight, *Detective* Sandburg, Jim." Simon headed out the door, sketching a half salute on his way.
Blair waited until Simon disappeared into the elevator before relaxing his stance and closing the loft door with a sigh and a chuckle. He jerked one thumb over his shoulder in the direction Simon had taken.
"You know, I think he likes saying that. *Detective* Sandburg!" With a wide grin, Blair did a passable imitation of Simon's growl, and Jim smiled in return. Then Rafe's keys clanked against his in the basket before Blair breezed back over to the card table, and Jim spent the next several seconds fighting the shudders that accompanied the sound, before the battle ended in another sneeze.
Once the shivers had subsided, he dabbed at his nose with yet another tissue and tried to figure out just what had triggered tonight's attack. Maybe Simon's new cigars had been the catalyst, but he wasn't sure. Between Megan and Rafe it could have been battling hair goo, or the new cologne Henri's wife had given him, or the ink on the damn cards for all he knew. Shaking his head, Jim flexed his fingers and willed the tingling sensation away before he pushed up from the couch and gathered his pile of tissues. Blair was eyeing him covertly as he finished stacking his winnings and started collecting poker chips into neat piles. Jim sighed, bit back another sneeze, and shook his head at Sandburg.
"I said I was fibe, and I'b be fibe." The sneeze that followed that reassurance was the loudest one yet, and Blair rolled his eyes. Jim sighed, and stopped by the table on the way to the kitchen garbage, his hands full of used tissue. "Look, I'b sorry I ruined the eben--"
"You didn't ruin anything, Jim, I'd already cleaned all those guys out anyway. They didn't have anything left to lose, man!" Blair stopped what he was doing and stared straight at Jim. "And neither did you. Man, what was with you tonight? Twenty-five bucks on a pair of queens?" Staring at Jim in disbelief, Blair shook his head.
"Teborary i'sabity, Chief . Sobetibes it just feels right." At least the pounding beat of his own heart was lessening, no longer overriding all the other sounds in the loft. Belatedly he remembered to concentrate on what Blair was saying.
"...feels right? Jim, since when has a pair of ladies felt so right that you'd stake $25 and a week's worth of dishes on it?" Blair's eyebrows were practically to his hairline, and Jim looked away, stared down instead at the soiled tissue in his hands. The only response he could offer was to shake his head in resignation. He had *no* idea what had gotten into him at all, only that he had damn well been convinced that he was gonna take the pot on that hand, and a few others he'd subsequently lost. The thought that he was so broke Sandburg might wind up spending his winnings on groceries for the next week or so was small consolation. The tingling in Jim's fingers seemed to get worse as he stared at his hands, and he tried--and failed--again to find the dial that would turn this particular sensation down. He jumped as Blair touched his elbow, and looked over to meet his friend's intense scrutiny.
"Jim, are you sure you don't know what set this off?" Jim shook his head again, and Blair sighed, returning to his piles of chips. "Well, whatever it is, we are gonna find out, man. You haven't been this bad for--"
"Si'ce Daobi's last bisit." Jim shrugged to hide the shudders that shook him up and down his spine with each click and clatter of the chips Blair was stacking, and headed into the kitchen. Making an effort to speak clearly, he continued, "I had eberyt'ing dialed down to dormal for the party, and I don--" The fetid smell that wafted out of the garbage can as he opened the cabinet caught him by surprise, and he gagged. Used tissues scattered over the kitchen floor as he ran, barely making it in time for the contents of his stomach to land in the toilet and not all over the bathroom. Several long minutes later, Jim looked up to find Blair standing in the bathroom door, a worried frown on his face.
"I'b all right, the smell was--would you bind carrying out that garbage todight? Leave the rest of it, we can clean it ub in the morning, but that sbell--"
"Sure. I'll do it right now. Then I want you to lie down and we're gonna get those dials down, okay?" Blair was gone before Jim had time to nod.
He did have time to brush his teeth and wash his face off while Blair took care of the garbage. Wiping his face with a towel, he stared grimly at the red-nosed apparition in the mirror.
"You had just better get things ubber codtrol and keeb them there!" he threatened himself, and then winced as he heard the street level door squeak with Blair's return. Dropping the towel neatly over the rack, he headed out into the main room. Scooting Blair's winnings over, Jim started gathering the cards. Suddenly his hands weren't just tingling, they were burning, and the glare of the lights in the loft blinded him as he jerked away from the table. Closing his eyes, a cacophony of cars and doors opening and closing and voices and the electronic squeal of a computer mating with a modem assaulted him, and then the smells...Jim doubled over, grabbing at his stomach as bile rose again in his mouth at the smell of rancid hamburger in the dumpster, three floors down and someone had tossed a dirty diaper in there too, and the manager of Collette's had a new Subaru that leaked more oil everyday...
Bracing himself against a chair, he wretched helplessly onto the floor by the table. The odor of his own bile mingled with the myriad other odors and then the noises and then there was just too much data to catalog, far more input than the Sentinel could ever hope to process and it wouldn't stop, wouldn't slow down--
Staggering to his feet, Jim reeled across the room, burning hands going first to his ears and then his eyes and then it was his clothing, the soft cotton of his shirt now transformed into thousands of sharp ends and bits of dust, poking him, shredding his skin raw. He had the offending garment half ripped off when a flaming brand fastened around his upper arm and someone screamed his name. Jim barely recognized the hoarse cry that followed as his own, but he yanked his arm away from the burning pain. Staggering away from the heat, the pounding and thumping that came with the scream, he stumbled into something unyielding, then fell, hard, onto the floor. Curling into a ball, Jim gave up fighting and, clenching fists and teeth, simply tried to ride out the sensations assaulting from every direction, every pore, every nerve ending.
Another noise came now over the others, a sound as of running water, babbling, refreshing, but in the maelstrom of his sensory overload Jim couldn't focus on it long enough to find any control, no chance to fight his way free of the assault he was under. The sound continued, though, running on and over his tormented nerves in a gently soothing stream, but then it moved away and he strove to follow it, to attach himself to it, but it was fading with each rasping breath he drew into his lungs. Jim whimpered then, and almost screamed at the booming sound of his weakness, and then he was drowning in his own raucous heartbeat, in the rushing flood of blood through his veins, the dust motes on the floor and in the air digging into his skin and the stench of cat urine in the alley...
After an eternity in hell, there was a blessed surcease of noise, and as his overloaded mind slowly worked on processing that thought, focused inch by slow inch on that refuge, something cool and soft and smooth floated down over him. The burning brand returned, with a mate this time, touching him, pushing him, pulling at the remains of his shirt, but always the heat was followed with the refreshing smoothness. He let himself be maneuvered so that the cool feel of...silk--that was it, silk--enveloped his torso, protecting him from the assault of dust on the floor. Biting his lip to keep from crying out and breaking the soft silence that cocooned his ears now, Jim let himself be sat up and gently pushed back against something.
The relief from at least two sources of sensory input was enough to grant him a modicum of control, and he risked opening his eyes just a bit. The loft was dark, but in the faint light that seeped into the room from the street he could clearly see Blair bending over him, his tropical shirt glowing in the dimness. But more clear to his enhanced vision than the colors of Blair's shirt dancing and rippling in an orgy of reflected light was his roommate's concern.
"Jim?" Blair breathed, and the smell of organic potato chips and stale beer on his breath was overwhelming. Jim jerked his face away, gagging audibly and fighting the urge to vomit as Blair cursed and disappeared. He was gone long enough for Jim to realize he was wrapped in one of his silk sheets, leaning against the yellow chair in the living room. One of his white noise generators hissed contentedly on the floor next to him. Jim closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the chair, swallowing against the nausea and willing his racing heart to slow as he fought for control of his own senses. Then Blair was back, and this time he wouldn't look Jim in the face, wouldn't talk directly at him, no matter that the smell wafting from his roommate's mouth was now "Tom's All Natural Mint Toothpaste--Made in Maine!"
"Can you find the dials, Jim?" Blair whispered urgently. Jim's eyes closed as he concentrated. It took a minute, but yeah, he had them--barely. He nodded once, shortly, before meeting Blair's gaze. His Guide frowned, then took a deep breath, careful this time to breath it out his nose and not his mouth. "Okay, I'm guessing everything's out of whack here, so we're just gonna start one by one, and get them all down okay? Have you got enough control to try that?"
Closing his eyes against the stabbing headlights in the alley below, swallowing against the nausea, Jim nodded again, once. He didn't know how long it took, but eventually, with Blair's patient coaching, he got all the dials back down--willing everything away but the sound of his Guide's voice and the pounding of his own heart, dialing everything down--way down, with the babbling stream of Sandburg's voice to guide him.
At last, their eyes met in the darkness, and the weariness in his friend's face was obvious to the Sentinel even without the advantage of his hyper eyesight. It was a weariness he shared, and he didn't argue with Blair's next suggestion.
"Jim, I want you to just keep it all dialed down, okay? Keep it all down to one or whatever tonight. Tomorrow, tomorrow man, we are gonna do some serious digging to figure this out." Without hesitating, Jim nodded, and Blair continued. "Okay, let's get you upstairs, all right?"
The Sentinel hated to admit it, but he needed the support the younger man offered him as he struggled to his feet, one hand still clutching the dark blue silk swathed around him. Blair hovered as Jim found his feet and his balance.
"I'm not an invalid, Sandburg," he growled as he stood up fairly straight, and was rewarded with a flashing grin from his roommate.
"Well, you know for someone of your advanced age it's easy to strain things, so I'm just kinda like being careful here."
Jim didn't have the energy left to banter with his roommate, so he settled for glaring at him.
"Payback's a bitch, Sandburg."
Blair laughed and reached for the white noise generator. A loud knock on the door interrupted that motion.
"Whoa, I guess Rafe talked Megan into driving back across town tonight after all. Damn. Are you gonna be all right for a minute? I'll get rid of them as fast as I can, man."
Biting back another retort, Jim nodded and tried to stand up straighter, pulling the sheet off his shoulders and attempting to fold it up a bit as Blair headed for the door, snagging Rafe's keys from the basket as he passed by. With one last glance at Jim, Blair swung the door open.
"Took you long enough, Ra--"
Though tall, dark-haired and good looking enough to leave passing females in a swoon, the young man who shoved his way past Blair into the loft was not Major Crimes' refugee from the pages of GQ. Neither could his three companions be mistaken for the other detectives in the elite group. Slouching through the door behind Derek, dog chains clanking from their pockets and plaid boxers showing around the waist bands of their baggy jeans, were two more teen-age boys and a slip of a girl.
Well, okay, a slut of a girl and two more teenage buffoons, Jim thought, as he took a couple of steps forward, immediately cataloging and dismissing the heavily made up and perfumed girl, her flower tattooed belly button proudly displayed beneath a tight white midriff top with the requisite black bra showing beneath it. He dismissed the skinny blonde boy in the oversized Jags t-shirt along with her. It was hard to take someone seriously who had a ring in his nose and a diamond in his tongue. The third boy, tall, with dark hair, hooded eyes and a deep tan, was definitely more of a threat. Larger than Jim or even Simon, he had the musculature of someone who spent *lots* of time on the weight sets. No body piercing here; the physical temple meant too much to him for that.
But, of them all, Derek was the one who caught and held Jim's attention, standing in the loft between the living area and the kitchen, surveying the room with a predatory gleam in his eye. Jim's hands began to tingle again.
"Hey, Derek, what gives, man?" Blair broke the silence. He shot a confused look at Jim before continuing. "It's, uh...It's kinda late for a visit, man, and I hate to break it to you but the party's over. Come and gone, man." Arms akimbo, Blair grinned and Jim dropped the silk sheet behind him, not really caring if it landed on the chair or the floor. His heart was pounding again, and dammit, he *knew* Derek was up to no good. He tried dialing up his hearing, but was immediately overwhelmed by the sound of six hearts pounding in close proximity. Smell was no good either; whatever cheap perfume the girl had doused herself in was permeating the entire loft. He shook his head, and pinched the bridge of his nose briefly. Damn, and his gun was upstairs, underneath the pillow on his bed. Oh well, this punk and his buddies should be easy enough to take out.
Leaving the loft door open, Blair stayed right behind Derek as he crossed over to the dining room table, ignoring Jim completely.
"You had a party and you didn't invite me, Detective Sandburg? I'm hurt." Derek flicked a finger, knocking over a pile of chips, and then rifled through Sandburg's winnings. "But that's okay, 'cause we brought our own party."
The cloying chemicals in the girl's perfume were only increasing the feeling that someone had reached under Jim's skin, grabbed all his nerve endings and was twisting them mercilessly. Closing his eyes for a moment he concentrated on pushing the feeling away. But his eyes shot open at Blair's objection, only to see Derek complete a sweep of his arm that scattered most of the poker chips and cards and Blair's winnings over the loft floor. As Blair reached for his arm, Derek grabbed him by the shirt, and with his other hand pulled a large pistol from the cargo pocket of his baggy jeans. Everyone in the room froze as the gun, lengthened by the attached silencer, made contact with the end of Blair's nose as he was jerked up towards the boy. After that first shocked second Jim made it two steps closer to his roommate, only to stop cold as Derek pulled back the hammer.
"He's dead if you take another step, Macho Man." Derek never even looked at Jim, smiling calmly down at Blair.
Blair lifted his hands slowly, and Jm heard his throat working, could see the smaller man trying not to look cross-eyed at the pistol pressing against his nose. Jim glared at Derek, but there wasn't much he could do, not with having to keep fighting the nausea that threatened him with every perfume-laden breath. If he could get his heart to stop pounding, that would help too, but between the fear for his roommate's safety and whatever it was that had triggered his sensory overload in the first place, that didn't seem likely. Blair broke the tense silence. "Hey, Derek, man, you know, this thing's kinda cold. What say you put the gun down and we'll all discuss this like adults?" He leaned back, away from the gun, but Derek followed his motion, keeping the gun against Blair's nose. Jim's fingers twitched and he clenched them into fists as he cursed whatever it was that had set his senses off tonight, that had him off his game when his Guide and partner needed him. He must have moved slightly, because Derek turned his smile towards Jim, dark brown eyes glinting at him from the boy's face, but the humor in those eyes was shadowed by something darker, much more malevolent in intent.
"Sean, you guys see what you can find. There oughta be something here that's worth a little money. I'll just visit with the detectives while you look around." Derek's smile was all gloating, malicious teeth as he nodded his head toward the rest of the room.
Jim flinched at the racket the other boys made as they proceeded to gleefully trash the apartment, but he kept his concentration on Derek and his partner. Books and artifacts flew off shelves, the table and chairs were overturned as the boys moved through the loft. Their racket was accompanied by the girl's slightly hysterical giggling as she knelt on the floor, grabbing at the scattered money and stuffing it into her pockets. She stood and stuffed a few bills into Derek's pocket before following the blonde boy upstairs, and Derek smiled again, directly at Blair, shifting the pistol just a bit so that the circular opening now rested against Blair's cheek, just underneath his left eye.
Watching him, Jim started when he realized the low growling noise he heard was coming from his own throat, at least until he sneezed again.
"Gesundheit, Detective," Derek said and Jim glared at him, mentally calculating the moves to take him out without injuring Blair. There was a delighted shout from upstairs, and Sean with the diamond in his tongue hung over the rail, dangling Jim's handcuffs in the air.
"REAL ones, man, heavy duty police issue!"
"Cool. Bring them here." Derek still didn't move, didn't let the gun slack from its contact with Blair's face, but his gaze flicked over toward Jim. "Moe, come out here and put them on Detective Macho Man over there." Jim tensed, but Derek was pushing the gun into Blair's cheek again. "Just try it, Detective, and your partner here has mush for brains."
The big wrestler came out of Blair's room and, meeting Sean and the girl at the bottom of the stairs, traded the laptop for the cuffs. Smiling as he snapped them open, he walked around the couch and loveseat over behind Jim, followed by the other two. Jim wasn't sure what was worse, the idea of them getting the cuffs on him, or being that close to the source of the raunchy perfume. He sneezed, and before he could say or do anything, Moe was behind him, reaching for his hand, and then Blair was talking again.
"Hey, Derek, look, what's the poin--"
Derek's hand moved, and the blow knocked Blair back, but not quite down. Bracing himself against the overturned table, he lifted a hand to his face, to the bloody gash in his forehead. Derek's eyes gleamed, and for a second he stared at the gun he still held in Blair's face. Blood, Blair's blood, dripped slowly from the pistol butt. Jim lay flat out on the floor, where Moe had simply countered his lunge toward Derek with the inertia of his own weight. There wasn't anything to say, but Jim knew how to look at these punks, knew how to throw the fear of Ellison into them with just his eyes, swearing heavy retribution at them with silent, glacial intensity.
Too bad Derek didn't seem to care.
"Do it again, Macho Man, and he's dead."
Moe kept Jim pinned with his full weight while the blonde boy, Sean, set the laptop down long enough to pull Jim's hands behind his back and cuff them tightly. That done, he stood and reclaimed the laptop before he nodded at Moe and Derek, but Moe didn't move. Ignoring the grating of dust against his bare torso, the burning of the metal ringing his wrists, Jim laid on the floor while Derek captured Blair's attention again, reaching out and grabbing another handful of his shirt before pressing the gun up under Blair's jaw. Blair's eyes widened, but he glared up at Derek.
"The point, Sandburg, is that there's a lot more fun to be had. You think we came here just to rough up your pretty face and your pretty house? Oh, no, *Detective*, there's much more to the evening's plans. You're coming with us, and we're gonna make history tonight. You know what they're gonna say about us after tonight, man? They're gonna say--"
No. Oh, God, no. From Alex Barnes to Zellar, the bad guys had gotten Blair one too many times, and there was no way this punk and his pathetic groupies were gonna walk out of here with Sandburg while Jim was still alive. No way in hell.
"Why didn't Derek take the real pig when he had the chance?" Jim's interruption fell into a stunned silence, and Derek turned slowly from where he still menaced Sandburg to stare at him. Jim smiled with all the warmth of January's snow pack on Mt. Rainier as Derek shoved Blair down onto the floor, then stalked over to the Sentinel. Jim continued to taunt the young man as Moe pulled him to his feet. "They'll wonder where his juevos went, messing with a punk rookie when he could have had the big pig himself. Maybe Derek's got no juevos, if he couldn't take on a veteran cop--"
Derek's blow stopped Jim's commentary, but Jim simply smiled. The slippery velvet trickle of blood down his cheek matched his Guide's. Blair was climbing to his feet by the table, and his eyes were huge, but Jim ignored them, ignored the warning he could see his friend telegraphing. Whatever he had to do, these guys were *not* taking Blair with them.
"What's the matter, Derek? Afraid of me? Rather take on a punk rookie than a real, live cop?"
Frowning, Blair took a step forward, one bloody hand out, reaching for Derek.
"Look, Derek, man, this isn't you, you don't have to--"
"Oh, it's me, all right, Detective." Derek's eyes were locked with Jim's, and Jim kept the challenge there in the forefront of his gaze as he stared back at the boy. Bloodlust, that's what he'd smelled on Derek all this time, and he let his sense of smell expand, banishing the raunchy perfume forever in favor of the adrenaline, the expectation, the pumped up smell pouring off the boy in front of him.
Derek's gaze grew wary for a moment as he considered Jim, and the Sentinel allowed his smile to grow, mercilessly mocking the boy, egging him on. His gaze never wavered, everyone, his partner, the teenager holding his arms, the one behind him and the decorative wench, all ignored in favor of Derek.
"Look, guys, this alpha male stuff is, like, so *un*necessary! Let's just tone it down and back it off a few notches, all right?" His voice hard, Blair stepped up beside Derek, and put one hand out, but he wasn't trying to placate anybody. "Everybody needs to just chill out a bit here." Blair tried again to catch Jim's eye, but Jim ignored him. It had gone too far for that, much too far, and right now as far as the Sentinel was concerned all that mattered was getting the threat out of here and leaving his Guide safely behind.
Blair rolled his eyes at Jim, then turned and waved towards Sean and the girl. "Look, you missed the cell phone in the pocket of my jacket. Take it, take the laptop, the cd's, whatever. We've got no objections. Just take it all and we'll call it even, okay?"
No one said anything for a moment, and then a jaguar's scream cut through the heavy silence in the loft, and Jim blinked. Blair started as if he heard it too, and for a brief instant Sentinel and Guide's gazes locked.
And with that brief distraction, neither cop was prepared for Derek's next move. In one smooth motion, Derek shifted his weapon, turning as he did so that the gun he now held by the barrel swung up and caught Blair on the side of his head, hard, just above his ear. Blair dropped like a rock into a puddle of limbs and color and short curls on the floor. Jim's own cry of rage was drowned in the roar of blood rushing in his ears, and he lunged toward Derek again. But with his hands cuffed behind him there was nothing he could do as Moe rode him down to the floor one more time and Jim lay beneath him, helpless, while Derek stood over Blair's limp form, laughing.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Continued in Part Two...