Acknowledgments: Thanks to the TSLurkers for encouraging me to finish this -- without them, I'd still be floundering around page 63. Also, to LRH Balzer for giving me a scene which she described so wonderfully months ago on the SA list.

Author's notes: This has been a long story in coming -- it began as a funny little TS story which popped into my head while watching Jim with his golf clubs in "Vow of Silence". But for me to write a short story is akin to Margaret Mitchell trying to write Gone With the Wind as a one act play. This turned into a massive story which includes humor, angst, h/c, and some smarm mixed into a complicated plot that took on a life of its own. There's also the familiar Jim and Blair banter and friendship, which I love so well. Thanks for your patience and enjoy!


Fidus Amicus

"Ellison! Sandburg! My office!" Captain Simon Banks' voice boomed across the Major Crime's bullpen.

Working side by side at Jim Ellison's desk, Jim and Blair exchanged wary glances.

The long-haired student held up his hands. "Don't look at me. I didn't do anything," he said, then grinned mischievously. "At least nothing that can be proven."

Jim arched a dubious eyebrow and stood. "C'mon, Chief. Let's get this over with."

Blair reluctantly followed his partner, but grabbed his arm before they entered the office. "Is he muttering anything?" he asked in a sentinel-soft voice.

Jim tilted his head slightly and a corner of his lips lifted. "Something about his coffeemaker and how his coffee tastes like sweaty socks."

Blair grimaced. "That is so not good. I have a feeling we're not going to enjoy this."

"Do we ever like getting reamed?" Jim ushered a glaring Blair into the office ahead of him.

"Close the door," Banks ordered.

"Yes, sir," Jim replied, gently shutting the door. He sat in one of the two chairs in front of the captain's desk, and noted that Sandburg retreated to a corner of the conference table behind him. Coward.

Banks lifted his gaze from the paperwork he was reviewing... with a red pen. "I hate this shit."

"Uh, what shit do you hate, sir?" Jim asked. Although Captain Simon Banks was a friend, he knew when to separate work from personal, and this was definitely one of those times.

Simon's dark eyes narrowed behind his gold-rimmed glasses, studied Jim a moment, then he sighed, his broad shoulders slumping. "The usual shit -- politics. I heard from the commissioner this morning. He has a special assignment for the 'police officer of the year.'"

"Damn," Jim said.

"Cool," Blair commented at the same time.

Simon's glower returned -- this time it was aimed at the observer. "Not cool, Sandburg. I have nineteen current unsolved major crimes in the city of Cascade and a dozen detectives to work them. Now I'm supposed to give up my best team for a weekend so they can play golf."

Jim frowned. "Golf, sir?"

If possible, Simon's scowl deepened. "Yeah, you know -- fore, tees, greens, Tiger Woods."

"Greg Norman," Jim interjected.

"Norman? He hasn't even made the cut in half the tournaments he's played in the past few years."

"He's a legend -- the Shark."

"He's a has-been. Woods is the man now."

Jim shook his head impatiently. "Maybe Norman's had a few bad breaks lately, but--"

"Excuuuse me," Blair broke in. "As much as I find this subject fascinating from a purely anthropological view, personally it's boring. Can we get back to the matter at hand?"

Jim squelched a smile at the shock on Simon's face -- it was the first time Blair had reeled the discussion back in line. Usually the student was the one who had to be reined in from one of his protracted discourses.

"Why us?" Jim asked.

"Because the commissioner wants the 'Policeman of the Year' to attend. It's a golf charity for the Children's Hospital being held at the Cascade Country Club. He says it's good PR for the department."

"You said your best team -- does that mean I'm going, too?" Blair asked warily.

"Do you know how to golf?" Simon asked.

Blair shrugged. "I watched a tournament on TV for five minutes before I fell asleep."

Jim groaned and covered his eyes with a hand.

Simon removed his glasses and rubbed his brow. "The commissioner said he wanted you there, too, because of your unique position in the department and the fact that Jim's arrest and conviction record has doubled in the past three years, ever since you two teamed up."

Blair sighed in resignation. "At least it's for a good cause."

"That's where Steven and I learned how to golf," Jim commented absently.

"Do you think your father will be there?" Blair asked.

Jim shook his head. "I think he's out of town this week." He looked at Simon. "When is it?"

"This Saturday. The tournament starts at eight a.m. You and Sandburg will be in the second foursome, along with a Mr. and Mrs. Jason Harmony," Simon said, glancing down at a paper in his hand.

Jim frowned. "Jason Harmony?"

"Do you know him?"

"I knew a Jason Harmony in high school. I kind of doubt it's him, though."

"Why?" Blair asked.

Jim shifted uncomfortably. "He, as my father would say, 'lived on the wrong side of the tracks.'"

"Did you know him very well?"

"We played football and basketball together. Had some good times, you know, the usual jock stuff."

He could feel Blair's curious gaze on him. His past was something he rarely discussed with anybody, even his partner.

Simon passed a brochure and another paper from the stack on his desk to Jim. "The commissioner's office registered you and Sandburg last week."

Jim scanned the brochure, then the confirmation for himself and Blair. "What dinner is this?" he demanded.

Simon leaned back in his chair and a patently innocent smile lit his face. "Oh, didn't I mention the formal dinner tomorrow night at the clubhouse?"

"Gee, you must've forgotten." Jim would rather have root canal done with his sense of touch turned up than dress like a penguin and make small talk at a perfectly boring dinner party.

"You mean we have to wear tuxes?" Blair asked, his expression reflecting Jim's feelings.

Simon nodded a little too enthusiastically. "And you can't wear blue jeans on the course Saturday. The clothing code is strictly enforced."

"I'm afraid to ask," Blair began.

"I think Sandburg and I have to go shopping," Jim said with as much excitement as a person going in for a colonoscopy. "Blair's going to need golf clubs."

Simon stood and opened his door. "Rafe. Get in here!"

Blair glanced at Jim apprehensively.

The young detective came immediately and his puzzled gaze jumped between Simon, Jim and Blair. "Sir?"

"You golf, right?" Simon asked.

Bewildered, Rafe nodded.

"Can Sandburg borrow your clubs?"

Rafe's eyes narrowed and he crossed his arms. "They're titanium, specially made for me."

"Is that a yes, Detective?" Simon asked, the warning note clear in his voice.

Rafe looked like he was going to refuse and Simon crossed his arms, mirroring Rafe's stubborn pose.

Blair jumped up and stood between the two men. "Hey guys, it's okay. I'll just rent a set."

Rafe's gaze softened as he looked at Blair. Jim knew the two younger men, despite their clothing tastes -- GQ and Goodwill -- were friends. They had gone out together on occasion when the 'old men' of Major Crimes weren't quite up to the task.

"What do you need them for?" Rafe asked.

"There's a golf charity at the country club this weekend," Blair replied. "No sweat, Rafe. Like I said, I can rent a set."

"Have you ever played?"

"A few times," Blair replied vaguely.

Jim narrowed his eyes, recognizing a Sandburgian obfuscation. It seemed odd that he wouldn't admit to never having golfed since he made no secret of his dislike for the game.

"All right," Rafe finally conceded. "As long as you bring them back in the same shape as you borrowed them." He aimed a forefinger at Jim and narrowed his gaze. "I'm going to hold you responsible, too."

Blair laughed. "Thanks, man. I promise I'll take good care of them."

"Stop by this evening to pick them up, but I'll need them back by Monday for a seven a.m. tee time," Rafe said.

"You got it," Blair assured.

"We'll be by around eight tonight," Jim called out. "After I take Sandburg clothes shopping."

Rafe shuddered. "Why does the thought of you helping Blair shop for clothes scare me so much?"

"Could be the white socks," Blair said without missing a beat.

Jim tossed a pen at Blair who dodged the flying missile.

"Out of my office. I have work to do," Simon growled.

Laughing, Jim, Blair and Rafe returned to the bullpen and their respective desks.

Blair groaned. "I hate clothes shopping. Can't I just wear my best blue jeans, the ones without holes?"

"Sorry, Junior, but the commissioner will kill us both if you show up looking like one of the Beverly Hillbillies," Jim said, his eyes twinkling. "We'll head over to the mall after work."

"What about you? What are you going to wear?"

"I happen to have appropriate golf wear in my closet."

"Does it still fit?" Blair asked, the epitome of innocence.

"Watch it, Chief, or I'll get Rafe to take you shopping."

Blair sighed. "All right. I'm going to put myself in your hands."

"That's how I feel every day, Chief," Jim said with a genuine smile. "C'mon, let's get these reports done so we can get out of here."

Blair shook his head as he smiled and spoke in a voice only a sentinel could hear. "Sometimes you're such a sap, Ellison."

"Up yours, Sandburg."

Chuckling, Blair opened the next file in the computer and began typing from Jim's scrawled notes.

"Oh, man, you mean I have to get the pants for men with big butts?" Blair complained.

"They're the brand I buy, Sandburg," Jim said irritably. "Roomier in the hip and thigh means--"

"Big butt pants."

Jim took a deep breath to stem his impatience. "More ease of movement, like you're going to need when you golf."

Blair brushed his hair back with an impatient hand. "This sucks."

Jim ignored him and searched for a pair in his guide's waist size and inseam. He pulled out a tan pair and a navy blue pair and thrust them at Blair. "Try these on."

Blair held them like they were a pair of tarantulas but didn't argue. He headed to the nearest fitting room and smiled at the fastidious man standing behind the counter, who was eyeing Blair like he expected him to moon him.

"Hi," he said to the man. "How's it hangin'?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Sandburg. Fitting room. Now."

"Sheesh, he deserved it, Jim," Blair said under his breath.

Jim merely waved him into the room, then turned to the clerk. "I'm going to need a golf shirt for him, too."

"This way, sir."

Jim followed him through the upscale men's department to a circular rack of polo shirts. He immediately spotted a blue one the exact color of Sandburg's eyes and lifted it off the rack. It was a size medium -- perfect. When he returned, Blair was already standing outside the fitting room.

"How'd they fit?" Jim asked.

"They were a little big in the butt," Blair said dryly. "I'll take the tan pair."

Jim handed him the shirt. "This goes with it."

Blair examined the shirt's front left side. "Ooooh look, it even has an alligator on it."

The sarcasm in his partner's voice brought a grin to Jim's lips that he quickly squelched. Someone had to take this seriously.

"That'll be it," Jim said to the clerk. He pulled out his credit card.

"I'll get it," Blair said, passing Jim's credit card back to him.

"The total is seventy one dollars and thirty three cents," the clerk announced.

Blair changed direction and handed the man Jim's card. "If you insist, Jim." He leaned close to his partner. "I'll pay you back in installments."

"Consider it an early birthday present," Jim said.

"My birthday was two months ago."

Jim shrugged. "A late present then."

"Definitely a sap," Blair said with a fond twinkle in his eyes.

Jim signed the credit slip and tucked his card and the receipt in his wallet. Blair grabbed the shopping bag and the two men headed to their next destination.

Twenty-five minutes later Jim stood in the back room of the formal clothing rental shop wearing a light blue shirt, black tux jacket, cummerbund and black boxers.

Wearing a complete tux -- including pants -- Blair caught his sentinel's eyes in the mirror and grinned evilly. "Big butt pants."

"Shut up, Sandburg." Jim glared at him.

"One word: Wonderburgers."

Before Jim could strangle his partner, the man returned bearing a pair of trousers a size larger than the previous. Jim tugged them on, relieved when those fit.

With each of them bearing a plastic bag carrying their respective tuxes, Jim and Blair returned to the truck.

"You want to grab something to eat before we go to Rafe's?" Jim asked.

"Sure. How about that little Italian place around the corner? They make a mean chicken Caesar salad," Blair said.

Jim was about to put in his vote for a burger place when he saw the gleam in Blair's eyes and the meaning of his words sunk in.

Just my luck to get a guide who thinks watching my weight is his job, too.

So the kid had a point. Maybe he could stand to lose a few pounds.

"All right," Jim said, starting up the truck.

Blair's eyebrows shot upward. "What? No arguments?"

Jim shrugged. "Would it help?"

"No, but that's never stopped you before." Blair leaned back and grinned smugly.

Jim merely grunted.

It was almost nine o'clock when Jim and Blair finally arrived home. The tuxes were hung in their rooms and Jim ensured that Blair removed the tags from his new trousers and shirt and placed them on hangers also.

Jim grabbed Rafe's golf bag which Blair had set by the door. "C'mon, Sandburg. Time for some golf lessons."

"No way, Jim. I'm not going to swing a club until I have to," Blair argued.

"You can't just show up on the course Saturday and play golf."

"Why not?"

Jim sighed in exasperation. "Because you'll embarrass yourself."

Blair smiled with tolerant amusement. "I could care less what people say about me. Are you afraid I'll embarrass you?"

"I'm only worried about you, Chief."

This time Blair laughed. "I don't think this tournament requires you to go into blessed protector mode. Don't worry, Jim. Things'll work out. They always do."

Knowing he wouldn't be able to change his partner's mind, Jim snagged two beers from the fridge and joined Blair on the sofa, handing his friend one of the bottles. He tried to hang onto his irritation with his guide, but he was too tired. Besides tomorrow night they'd have to be on their best behavior at the party. He watched the programs sail past as Blair surfed through the channels and wasn't surprised when his roommate settled on the Discovery network.

"Why do you think the commissioner gave us less than two days' warning about this golf charity?" Blair asked, keeping his gaze on the pyramids of Egypt which swept across the screen.

"So we wouldn't have time to buy plane tickets out of the country," Jim deadpanned. He yawned and covered his mouth with his palm.

Blair turned to look at Jim. "I thought you liked golfing."

"I do, but I hate being on display. If I'd have known winning that award meant being paraded in front of the press, I would've quit the force."

"And done what? Enter the world of management and be chained to a desk? You love being a cop."

Jim picked at the beer label, dampened by the condensation on the bottle. "Yeah, I know, but sometimes I wonder what my life would've been like if I had done something else. Who knows, maybe I'd be CEO of my own company."

"And you'd hate it. The need to protect is ingrained in your genes, man. Besides, your animal spirit would be awfully pissed at you."

Jim laughed. "I suppose you're right. I guess I can survive two days of being in the media's eye."

"I don't think you have to worry about that a whole lot, Jim. The cream of the social crop will be at this thing, along with local celebrities. I have a feeling you and I'll get lost in the shuffle."

Jim smiled. "You're right, Sandburg. One cop and his observer partner won't even warrant a candid snapshot." He gave the back of Blair's neck an affectionate squeeze. "Thanks, Chief."

"No problem." Blair turned his attention back to the television.

Jim took another sip of his beer, glanced at his partner and smiled fondly. Five minutes later, the Egyptian pyramids proved more effective than counting sheep for the exhausted sentinel.

"How did I ever let you talk me into going to this thing?" Blair asked, attempting to straighten his bow tie for the ninety-eighth time.

Jim stepped up to his friend, batted his hands away and fixed the tie. "There. Now quit fooling with it or you'll mess it up again."

Blair, his hair pulled back in a tight ponytail and wearing his glasses, looked like the college professor he aspired to be instead of the hyperactive graduate student who was usually at Jim's side.

"It's for a good cause, remember?" Jim reminded.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. It's just that I had to cancel a date with this gorgeous blonde with legs up to here." Blair drew an imaginary line across his neck.

"Wipe the drool from your face, Chief, and let's get out of here."

Blair grinned. "With an IQ of 158."

Jim rolled his eyes as he grabbed his keys from the wicker basket. "How the hell do you find these women, Sandburg?"

"They find me." Blair waggled his eyebrows.

Chuckling in spite of himself, Jim guided his friend out the door. "Maybe you'll get lucky tonight."

Blair snorted. "Two words, Ellison: table leg."

"Those are my two words, Junior."

The two men descended the stairs side by side and walked out to Jim's beloved '69 Ford truck. Blair eyed the old vehicle for a moment then smiled wickedly. "I'm gonna love to see their faces when we drive up to the country club in this."

"I'll have you know this truck--"

"Is a classic," Blair finished in unison with Jim.

Twenty-five minutes later, Jim handed his keys to one of the valets who barely hid his revulsion for the "classic."

"I don't want to see a scratch on her," Jim warned.

As the young valet got into the truck, Jim's sentinel hearing heard him mutter, "How will you be able to tell?"

"I'll be able to tell, kid," Jim called out.

The valet's mouth dropped open and Jim merely turned toward the country club's entrance.

"What was that all about?" Blair asked, hurrying to catch up to Jim.

"Just using my senses like you taught me, Chief."

Blair frowned, but didn't comment. Instead, he tugged at his tie nervously and Jim grabbed his wrist, forcing his hand down.

"You look fine, Chief. Relax."

"Easy for you to say. You grew up in this world."

Jim stopped just outside the door and tugged Blair to the side to let an elegantly dressed couple stroll past them into the building.

"Don't get all weird on me, Sandburg," Jim said. "The only difference between them and you is where they buy their clothes. Just be yourself." He smiled encouragingly. "That's more than good enough for me."

Blair's face reddened. "Thanks. Sorry for freaking like that."

Jim patted his cheek. "That's okay, Chief. I'm used to it." Blair sent his sentinel a feigned scowl and Jim laughed. "Come on, let's get this foolishness over with."

Feeling like Butch and Sundance -- or maybe that was Laurel and Hardy -- the two men entered the glittering lights of the country club. A stringed quartet unobtrusively set in a corner played a classical piece, probably one of Mozart's. For a fleeting moment, Jim felt like he was twelve years old again, seeing the club for the first time through a child's wide-eyed enchantment. Then the feeling was gone and he saw the glamour for what it truly was -- a shallow radiance to hide the emptiness beneath.

"Wow. I feel like Cinderella," Blair murmured.

Jim clenched his jaw to stifle his sudden restlessness. "The truck turns into a pumpkin at midnight."

"Sure, no problem, Jim," Blair said distractedly.

The sentinel followed his guide's gaze to a cluster of young women ranging from their late teens to early twenties. Jim would bet they were the latest crop of debutantes. He leaned close to Blair's ear. "Don't strain something, Chief."

Blair drew his attention back to his friend. "No problem, Jim. I'm sure their weekly allowance is more than I make in a month."

Jim gave his shoulder a squeeze and with unspoken agreement, the two men moved through the crowd toward the buffet table.

"Do you think they have doggie bags?" Blair whispered.

"We can always ask," Jim replied.

Grinning, Blair grabbed a plate and handed it to Jim, then took one for himself. As they picked their way through the exotic food and were trying to figure out what would be safe for Jim's hypersenses, a husky man with dark hair and mustache approached them.

"Jimmy Ellison?" the man said.

Jim straightened warily and studied the speaker a moment, then a wide smile lit his face and he stuck out his hand. "Bill Conley. What're you doing here?"

Conley shook Jim's hand vigorously then tugged Jim into a quick backslapping hug. "I was going to ask you the same thing."

Blair watched, fascinated, as Jim flushed. "PR work for the police department."

"That's right. I've seen your name in the paper a few times. Cop of the Year, too, as I recall," Bill said with a sly grin.

"No big deal."

Blair hid his smile at Jim's modesty. Though Jim more than deserved the award, he always downplayed its significance.

Jim turned to Blair. "Bill, I want you to meet my partner, Blair Sandburg. Blair, Bill Conley. We went to high school together."

Blair offered Conley his hand and after a moment's hesitation, the man gripped it. "Nice to meet you, Bill."

"Same here, Blair."

Though Conley kept darting curious glances between he and Jim, he didn't ask any questions.

"So what've you been up to these last twenty years?" Jim asked.

Bill shrugged. "A little of this, a little of that, and enough of it all to buy a membership here."

Jim whistled low. "Life's been treating you pretty good then."

"I can't complain."

Blair noticed two men and two women headed toward them. They all appeared to be around Jim's age.

"Look what I found," Conley called out.

For the next few minutes chaos reigned. Blair watched Jim's face light up as he slapped backs and shook hands with the new arrivals. Obviously they were more of Jim's former classmates.

Blair merely munched on the buffet food from his plate as he observed the four men revert to their former high school jock personas. It was odd to see Jim so relaxed around them since Blair had assumed the memories of his school days were much like the painful memories of his father. The two women stood off to the side, looking like they were exchanging the latest gossip.

Jim suddenly grabbed his arm and Blair found himself the center of attention. He hoped he didn't have any spinach from the dip caught between his teeth.

"This is my partner Blair Sandburg. Blair, this is Mark and Amanda Joseph, Bill's wife Louise, and Jason Harmony," Jim introduced.

Blair shook hands with each person in turn, noting Mark's blond hair and boyish face, his wife Amanda's red hair and pixie features, Louise's cheery round face, and Jason's movie star good looks.

"You don't look like a cop," Mark said, frowning.

"He's not," Jim replied. "He's a graduate student working on his doctorate."

"On what?"

"My dissertation is on the inner structure of closed societies, more specifically the police," Blair replied smoothly. He noticed the confused expressions Jim's high school buddies exchanged. "You know, the thin blue line."

Jim shot him a glare, reminiscent of the one he'd given him in Simon's office three years ago. Blair merely smiled innocently.

Jason grinned, showing perfect white teeth. "Didn't know you were a babysitter, Jimmy."

Blair opened his mouth to defend himself, but Jim broke in smoothly, "Just like I babysat the three of you in school."

The resulting laughter eased the tension.

Jim laid a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Actually, he's a good detective. I keep trying to talk him into signing up with the department."

Blair's muscles relaxed and his defensiveness slipped away. "Only because he wants a partner he can pawn off his paperwork to."

Jim chuckled, gave his shoulder a quick squeeze and released him. He turned back to his former classmates, grinning. "So what have you guys been up to?"

The men laughed and the reminiscing picked up again. Amanda and Louise drifted away, lost in some conversation which Blair suspected he and Jim were the subject of since they kept glancing at them.

Blair shifted his weight from one foot to the other. As much as he found Jim's past fascinating, he could only take so many jock stories. He looked around and spotted a man standing head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. He smiled. An escape.

"Hey, Jim, I'm going to talk to Orvelle Wallace. I'll catch you later."

Jim glanced at him then at the former professional basketball player they'd met while working on a case. "Okay, Chief. Say hi for me."

"Will do." He backhanded Jim's side lightly and said in a sentinel-soft voice, "Just keep the dials down with all the perfumes and noise."

Jim nodded in acknowledgment and Blair wound his way through the crowd toward one of his long-time heroes.

Blair glanced at the clock on the wall -- eleven thirty-nine. After talking to Orvelle, Blair had wandered around, rubbing elbows with Cascade's upper crust. He had homed in on a pretty brunette who looked familiar. The moment she opened her mouth, Blair remembered her as a student in his Introduction to Anthropology course two years ago. He'd given her a D and it didn't appear her IQ had risen since that time.

He sighed heavily and shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he leaned a shoulder against the wall about thirty feet from Jim and his buddies.

"You look as bored as I feel."

Blair glanced up to see a blond woman standing beside him. Though she was a few years older than him, he admired her slender figure encased in a form-fitting black dress that stopped three inches above her knees. He swallowed and managed a charming smile. "That would be very bored."

She smiled in understanding. "Very, very bored. My name's Cynthia."

He grasped her extended hand. "Blair Sandburg."

She leaned against the wall beside him. "I don't think I've ever seen you at the club before."

"That's because I've never been here before."

She arched a thin eyebrow. "Have you just moved to Cascade?"

Blair grinned. "I've lived here for twelve years. I'm a graduate student at Rainier."

Her gaze slid across Blair's body, making him feel like he'd just been pinned like a butterfly in an entomology collection. "What are you studying?"


"That sounds interesting. So how did you get an invitation to something as mucky-muck as this?"

Blair didn't know whether to be indignant or amused. He chose amusement. "My charming personality."

She threw back her head and laughed, exposing a pale slender throat with a diamond necklace that would've paid for a year of tuition.

I'm definitely out of my league here.

"Cynthia, come on over here," Jason Harmony called out, waving his hand. "I want you to meet an old friend of mine."

"Time to be put on display again," she said in an irritated aside to Blair.

He frowned slightly and followed a few steps behind her as she joined Jim and the small crowd surrounding him.

Jason wrapped a proprietary arm around the blonde. "Jim, this is my wife Cynthia."

Jim smiled and shook her hand.

"And this is his partner Blair Sandburg," Jason introduced.

Blair grinned. "We sort of met already."

"Yes, Blair and I were just discussing how boring these soirees are," Cynthia said with a blase shrug.

Jason's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, but he was smiling, exposing perfect white teeth. "Then I think it's time to go home. We don't want to arrive late for our tee time." He glanced at Jim. "Which I'm looking forward to now that I know you'll be in our foursome."

"Who's the fourth?" Cynthia asked.

"Blair," Jim replied.

The woman's face lit up. "It looks like this won't be as boring as I had originally thought."

Blair's face heated beneath her open perusal.

After a round of good-nights and promises to get together after golf tomorrow, the group broke up until Jim and Blair were the only ones left.

"That was," Blair paused deliberately, "Interesting."

Jim's face was thoughtful. "Yeah, it was." He shook himself and started toward the door. "Let's go home, Chief."

Blair fell in step beside Jim. "So this is how the other half lives."

Jim sighed and asked tolerantly, "What's on your mind, Sandburg?"

His partner knew him too well. "So what was it with Cynthia? You think she and Jason have a Hollywood type marriage? You know, each one doing their own thing but staying together for the deference achieved by social status?"

"You're putting way too much thought into this, Chief. I think Jason and Cynthia just have a little more money than the average married couple. Nothing more, nothing less."

Blair snorted. "First off, they have a lot more money than the average couple, and secondly, Cynthia was coming on to me with all the subtlety of a freight train before Jason called her over."

"It must be your magnetic personality." Jim wrapped an arm around his shoulders as they walked outside into the cool night air. "Don't worry about it. She was probably just bored. Tomorrow we'll be golfing."

Blair glanced at his watch. "Don't you mean today?"

Jim groaned. "Sorry, Sandburg. I had no idea it was so late."

The student shrugged. "No sweat, man. It was good to see you relax."

"It was fun reliving the old days," Jim admitted with a sheepish smile. "When I left Cascade, I kind of forgot about the good times." He sobered. "I guess the bad times overshadowed them back then."

"But there's been enough time in between now to forget the bad and remember the good," Blair concluded softly.

"Yeah, I guess." Jim handed the parking valet his ticket. "I was never very good at this stuff, Chief. You were the one who helped me to let go a lot of the bad shit. Before you, I don't think I could've handled a reunion like that."

Blair blinked, surprised by his partner's heartfelt admission. He patted the big man's arm. "You would've been fine, Jim," he said firmly. "You're always giving yourself less credit than you deserve."

Jim shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. But still, I don't think I've ever thanked you for all your help dealing with my dad and brother."

"You're welcome," Blair said simply, knowing the detective was coming close to embarrassment. "There's the truck."

A parking valet stepped out of the truck and Jim handed the kid a five dollar bill. The valet looked at it, then back at Jim. "Gee, thanks, mister." He didn't bother hiding his sarcasm.

As Jim glared at the kid, Blair covered his grin with his palm. Inside the truck, Blair chanced a look at Jim who caught his gaze.

"What?" Jim demanded. "When I worked here--"

"You were a parking valet here at the country club?"

"My old man wasn't too happy about me working around all his rich buddies, but I refused to quit. He was the one who told me I had to get a job to build character."

"As if your dad knows about character," Blair murmured.

Jim shot his guide a questioning glance and the student belatedly realized Jim's sentinel hearing would've picked up his muttered words.

"You have the most character of anyone I've ever met and your father still considers you a disappointment," Blair explained. "His loss."

A flicker of some indefinable emotion flickered through Jim's eyes. "Thanks, Chief," he said quietly. When he spoke again, the huskiness was gone from his voice. "When I was a parking valet, a five dollar tip would've been damned good."

Blair chuckled. "That was twenty years ago, man. Haven't you heard of inflation?"

"Yeah, it's used to fix a flat tire."

Blair merely shook his head in tolerant amusement. "Neanderthal."

"Neo-hippie punk."

The two men turned to look at each other and burst into laughter.

Amazing for Cascade, Saturday dawned clear and warm -- a perfect day for golfing. Jim tucked his powder blue polo shirt in his waistband, then buttoned and zipped his navy colored pants. It had been a long time since he had golfed and suspected he would be a little rusty. However, he had the advantage of heightened senses and toyed with the idea of using them during the tournament. But wouldn't that be cheating?

Trotting down the stairs, Jim spotted his partner setting bagels and cream cheese on the table. He also noted that Blair wore his tan trousers and dark blue polo shirt, and wasn't certain whether to be relieved or anxious that he had capitulated without more grumbling. "Morning, Chief."

Blair turned and smiled at his friend. "Morning, Jim. Get any sleep last night?"

Jim reached past Blair, snitched half of a cinnamon and raisin bagel, and took a bite out of it before answering. "Yeah, I actually slept pretty good. Clothes look good, Chief."

Blair wrinkled his nose. "I feel like a poster boy for the Rush Limbaugh Adoration Society."

Jim lightly tugged the younger man's ponytail. "Don't worry. No one could ever mistake you for that."

The student drew a hand along his brow and shook it, as if he'd been sweating. "Whew! That's a relief."

Jim moved around Blair to the coffeepot which had just finished brewing and poured them each a cup of coffee as the younger man brought two juice glasses to the table. It was an easy camaraderie that existed between the two men, each familiar with the other's morning habits and routines.

As was their custom, they split the morning paper with Jim taking the front part and Blair the sports section as they ate their breakfast.

"Woohoo! Mariners won their seventh game in a row. Looks like Brown owes me twenty bucks," Blair crowed.

Jim lowered his paper and sent his partner a mock glare. "Are you doing some illegal betting, Sandburg?"

"Who me, Officer?" Blair asked, all wide-eyed innocence.

Jim merely rolled his eyes. "Don't call me when you need bail money, Chief."

Blair chuckled and the two men returned to their respective papers. Fifteen minutes later, with the dishes in the sink and the table cleared, Jim and Blair headed out the door with their golf bags slung over their shoulders. They carefully set the clubs in the back of the truck.

"Do you have any questions, Sandburg?" Jim asked as he drove toward the country club.

"About what?" Blair asked.

"You know, golf rules or how to swing the club or scoring?"

"Thank you very much, but I think I know all there is to know about scoring." Blair's dark blue eyes danced with mischief.

Jim sent him a scowl. "That wasn't what I meant."

"Chill, Jim. I know the basics and I can even keep my own scorecard," Blair assured, then looked out the windshield. "Amazing what five minutes of TV golf can teach someone."

Jim didn't know whether to laugh or growl in frustration. "Listen, Chief, if you need any help, don't be embarrassed to ask. I mean, you know I won't make fun of you."

"I know that, and I promise I'll ask if I have any questions," Blair said as he gave Jim's bicep a light punch.

Again, the parking valet who took the truck didn't look impressed, but at least he didn't make any insulting comments about Sweetheart. As Jim and Blair hoisted the golf bag straps over their shoulders, a golf cart came streaking toward them and pulled to an abrupt stop. A young man probably still in high school, hopped out of the drivers seat. "Here, I'll take those for you."

Blair and Jim exchanged a shrug and handed the pimply-faced kid the two bags. He strapped them onto the back of the cart, talking a mile a minute.

"You two don't look familiar. You play here often?" Before Jim could reply, the boy kept going. "This is my second year caddying here and I think I would've seen you before. I'm on the high school golf team. Took third in state last year. I figure I'll be giving Tiger a run for his money in a few years. What group are you in?"

It took a moment for Jim to realize the kid was actually waiting for an answer. "The second foursome, with the Harmonys."

The boy grinned, revealing a crooked front tooth. "I know them. Caddied for them before. They brought some VIPs from New York or Los Angeles -- or maybe it was Chicago -- to golf here one time." He finished strapping the bags to the cart and came around to stand in front of Jim and Blair. "Good tippers, too." He stood, obviously waiting for the not-so-subtle hint to kick in.

Jim growled and dug into his trouser pocket to hand the boy a ten dollar bill.

"Thanks, mister. Go to the clubhouse and sign in. I'll make sure these are waiting for you at the tee box." The boy tucked his tip in his pocket, jumped back into the cart and, with a spray of gravel from the walkway, sped away.

Grinning, Blair stepped closer to Jim. "Talkative, wasn't he?"

"I hadn't noticed." He looked deliberately at Blair. "I must be used to students running off at the mouth."

Blair barked a short laugh and slapped Jim's back. "C'mon, let's go get teed off."

Jim groaned at his weak pun, but hurried to catch up to his partner who was headed for the imposing glass and brick building. Once inside, they easily spotted the line where the celebrity players were signing in. Jim spotted his old friends and joined them, aware of Blair hanging back slightly.

"We were wondering where you were," Jason said. "We thought we were going to have to put an APB out on you and your partner."

"You've been watching too many cop shows," Jim said with a grin.

The line moved quickly as they talked and soon they were headed outside. Mark, Bill, and their wives were the foursome following the Harmonys, Jim and Blair.

Jim looked around, noting how the grounds had changed little since he had last played here, almost twenty years ago. "Still keeping the fairways in good shape," Jim commented.

"They should be able to with the membership fees," Bill commented wryly as he took a practice swing with his driver.

"What does it cost now a year?" Jim asked curiously.

"Fifty thousand," Mark replied, as he held a club across his shoulders and twisted at the waist to loosen up.

"Wow! If I had that, I'd never have to worry about tuition," Blair said. "So what do you get for your money, besides the honor to play this course?"

Jim heard the hint of sarcasm in Blair's voice but doubted anyone else had. He was too accustomed to his guide's nuances after living together for so long. Besides, he agreed with the anthropologist -- fifty thousand could be used for a whole lot better things than the privilege of belonging to an exclusive country club.

"Social esteem," Jason replied with a smooth smile.

"Of course. Belonging to such an establishment raises your status among your peers as well as those poor slobs who have to work for a living." Blair smiled to take the intended sting from his words.

"Poor slobs like Jimmy here?" Jason asked deliberately without missing a beat.

Jim stiffened, but forced himself to relax. Jason had always been the one to jerk his chain, even when their social standings were reversed in high school. "That's right. I'm just a poor dumb cop who has to work for a living."

Blair sent Jim a startled look and his cheeks flushed slightly. The detective knew Blair was embarrassed -- the student hadn't meant it to become a put down for Jim. He gave Blair a slight smile and wink, hoping he'd realize Jim hadn't taken offense. The gradual easing of Blair's tense muscles told Jim he did.

Jim stepped over to the golf bags and found his, then pulled out his three wood. As he stretched and worked out the kinks in his back and shoulders, he watched as Jason's wife approached Blair. Opening his hearing, he listened in on their quiet conversation.

"Hi Blair. I'm glad you're here," Cynthia said with a blinding white smile.

"I wish I felt the same way," Blair said with a quirky grin.

"Don't you like to golf?"

Blair shrugged. "I'm only doing it because it's for a good cause. Personally, I'd rather be at the library. I have a paper due on Tuesday."

Damn it, Chief, why didn't you say something? Jim thought. The student too often put Jim's job and responsibilities ahead of his own. Blair would probably end up getting only a couple hours of sleep a night to get the paper done on time. Jim would pay him back, maybe take him out to eat after today's tournament, then make all the meals until the paper was done. He would even make some of those macrobiotic dishes Blair was always getting him to try. It was the least he could do.

Cynthia leaned on her five iron and studied Blair thoughtfully. "You're not like everyone else here."

Blair laughed. "What was your first clue?"

"You're not all caught up in making money." Cynthia's expression was far too serious for the light-hearted atmosphere surrounding them.

"My mom taught me that money is on the bottom of the list of important things in life. Personally, I find learning, meeting new people, and making friends is a whole lot more satisfying than watching my bank account grow." He glanced over at Jim and smiled slightly.

Jim glanced away, touched by the fondness in his friend's eyes. Guilt followed quickly. Blair had given up a hell of a lot for him, and he only hoped their friendship helped to make up for that loss.

Cynthia laughed, but it was a bitter sound. "Believe it or not, there was a time when I believed the same thing."

A voice came over the speaker system and Jim cringed. He'd had his hearing turned up too high.

"Easy, Jim. Dial it down." Blair's soothing voice came from close beside him.

He focused on his guide's voice and brought the dial down. He gave Blair a nod of gratitude.

"The first foursome is teeing off," Blair said quietly. "Are you all right?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. The announcer caught me off guard. I'll keep it dialed down the rest of the day."

Blair smiled affectionately. "Or at least until the next time you want to eavesdrop."

Jim's face warmed. "Sorry."

"Hey, it wasn't like I was putting the moves on her and wanted some privacy. C'mon, man." He turned away to watch the players in the first foursome hit down the fairway.

As the first group moved down the hill for their second strokes, Jim, Blair, Jason and Cynthia stepped into the tee box.

"What's par?" Blair asked.

"Four. Three hundred and eighty five yards with a dog leg left," Jim replied, then tilted his head slightly. "That means it curves to the left."

Blair grinned. "Got it." Then he asked in a low voice, "Are you going to use your senses?"

"That'd be cheating."

"Are you going to use your senses?" Blair repeated with a knowing smirk.

Damn, sometimes his friend knew him too well. "I was thinking about it," he admitted. "I haven't played golf since my senses came on-line."

"What the hell? Give it a shot. It's not like this is for money or anything. Besides, it'll give you a new exercise in using your senses."

Jim shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "It doesn't seem right."

"Just for the first hole," Blair encouraged.

Jim sent him a mock glare. "And here I thought you were Mr. Principled."

Blair snorted. "Like hitting a little white ball towards a small hole in the middle of a green circle is a true test of character?"

The detective stiffened perceptibly. "Golfers are expected to maintain integrity at all times. It's an honor issue."

Blair studied him for a moment, his expression thoughtful. "I never thought of it that way. No wonder you like this sport." His voice didn't hold any sarcasm. "Maybe you're right."

Startled, Jim sent Blair a questioning look at his change of mind. But before he could ask, the announcer came over the speakers again and this time Jim heard the words.

"Now in the tee box is Jason Harmony and his beautiful wife Cynthia. And the Cascade Police Department's Policeman of the Year Jim Ellison and his partner Blair Sandburg."

"You the man!" A voice that sounded suspiciously like Brown's rose above the polite applause.

Blair leaned close to Jim. "I've heard that voice before."

Jim turned and spotted two familiar figures among the crowd. "Yep. Looks like Brown and Rafe are here."

Blair searched the throng and saw the two detectives. He waved. "Hey, guys!"

"Don't encourage them," Jim growled.

The younger man chuckled and shook his head at his partner's grumpiness.

"Would you two like to go first?" Jason asked as he joined them.

"Why don't you and Cynthia take first and second, then Blair and I?" Jim suggested.

Jason shrugged. "Sure. Whatever."

Jim and Blair moved over to where Cynthia stood. Jason teed up his ball and took a practice swing with his driver. After making certain the fairway was clear, he took the proper stance and hit the ball with a clean resounding thwack.

Jim easily followed the ball with his sentinel vision and whistled low. "Good one, Jason," he approved. "About 275 yards down the middle of the fairway."

Blair added his congratulations while Cynthia stepped forward to the woman's box. She gracefully bent at the waist and stuck her tee in the ground, then balanced the ball on it. She took her own practice swing then hit. It went less than two hundred yards but it, too, was straight down the fairway.

"Do you want to go next, Chief?" Jim asked.

"Nah. I still have to pick out a club to use," Blair said.

"The driver -- the number one wood. You know, the big round club with the longest shaft," Jim said nervously.

"Uh, right. Thanks," Blair said as he moved toward Rafe's golf bag. He pulled out a club and held it up. "This one?"

Jim scowled and quickly joined him, leaning close. "That's your putter." He tugged out the driver and handed it to his partner. "Are you sure you can do this?"

Blair shrugged and accepted the club from Jim. "Can't be much different than swinging a baseball bat."

Jim's mouth dropped open. "Sandburg--"

"You're up, Jimmy," Jason called out.

With one last look at his guide who was smiling calmly, Jim teed up. As he took a practice swing, he hoped Blair wouldn't be too embarrassed if the kid whiffed the ball. He really wished Blair had swallowed his pride and allowed Jim to give him a few pointers.

Jim stepped up beside his ball and wrapped his hands around the club grips, interlocking his fingers for more control. Planting his feet about eighteen inches apart, he bent his knees slightly and took a moment to open his senses. The head wind was light, barely ruffling the hair on his forearms. He sighted the flag which was partially obscured by trees, but Jim's eyesight allowed him to focus in on it and gauge the distance by a crow's straight flight. He was peripherally aware of Blair watching him intently and suddenly realized the anthropologist would know what he was doing. Abruptly, he turned his sense dials down and drew the club back, twisting at the waist. He swung smoothly, allowing his entire body to fall into the motion and the club head struck the ball with a satisfying chink.

He followed the arced path of the white ball against the blue sky and watched it drop to the fairway about twenty-five yards behind Jason's. Not bad, but not great. At least he hadn't embarrassed himself.

He stepped back and his guide stepped forward. Jim's stomach churned and he tensed as he watched Blair plant the tee in the ground, then try to balance the ball on it. It kept falling off and only by sheer force of will did Jim keep himself from helping his partner. Finally, the ball was settled on the tee and Blair took an awkward practice swing, nearly hitting the tee accidentally. Jim flinched and debated closing his eyes until Blair had driven the ball, but he owed it to the younger man to support him. God knew Blair had been there for him. Of course, a golf swing was a little different than helping with preternatural senses....

Blair settled himself in position and drew the club back... and swung with the practiced ease of a professional. Jim's mouth gaped as he tracked the ball's flight as it arced through the air to land in the fairway some twenty yards in front of Jason's.

Blair picked up his tee nonchalantly and strolled back to his bag.

"How the hell--" Jim began.

"Naomi lived with a golf pro for a little while when I was fourteen," he replied with a shrug. "He taught me, said I had a natural gift, but I couldn't see myself chasing after a little white ball for the rest of my life." Blair smiled. "But, back then, I didn't understand the underlying personal code of conduct which goes along with the sport."

Before Jim could recover from his surprise, Jason joined them. "Didn't think you had it in you, Sandburg. Nice shot."

"Thanks," Blair replied.

Jason and Cynthia climbed into their golf cart and headed out. With Jim in the driver's seat -- some things were a given -- he and Blair followed them.

"I don't know why I worry about you so much, Sandburg," Jim commented with fond exasperation. "You always land on your feet."

Blair laughed. "Hey, the cat's your spirit animal, not mine."

The foursome continued playing the first hole with Jason and Blair getting on the green with their second shots. Jim's fairway stroke put his ball in the bunker and he used his sand wedge to pitch it onto the green, along with some flying sand. Cynthia used her nine iron to put the ball onto the green with her third stroke, then she putted first, being the farthest one from the hole. As she lined up her shot, Jim watched Blair squat down, hold his club up to eye the angle of his ball to the hole. There was a bit of a slope so there would be a slight break.

Cynthia put hers away, taking a bogey -- one over par. Jason was next and he got it to within a foot of the hole. His next putt dropped it in the hole for a par. Blair straightened and Jim watched him set his stance, take a couple practice putting swings. Then he stepped up and Jim held his breath as the ball traveled twelve feet to plunk into the hole.

Jim grinned and high-fived his partner. "Nice birdie, Chief."

Blair's cheeks flushed under his praise. "Thanks."

Jim glanced at Jason and found his old high school chum scowling at Blair's back. Jim's protective instincts rose and he stepped between his guide and Jason. When he realized what he'd done, he smiled wryly to himself. This was only golf, not a criminal confrontation. Obviously, Jason's competitiveness in high school hadn't waned over the past twenty years.

Jim lined up his putt and the ball rimmed the hole. He groaned as he ended up with a bogey. But he could relax knowing that Blair knew how to play golf -- and that he was damned good at it.

As they progressed along the course, Jim found himself beside Jason more often than not and the two men talked about their high school days, recalling teachers and students. It had been a long time since Jim had reminisced about those years without the bitterness associated with his father.

"Remember the time we threw the smoke bombs in the girls locker room?" Jason asked as he waited for Jim to hit his second shot on the eighteenth hole's fairway.

Jim paused, recalling the girls running out in various states of undress and he chuckled at the adolescent memory. "We were damned lucky we didn't get caught."

"We should've, but you warned us about the principal coming." Jason tilted his head slightly. "I never did figure out how you knew."

Jim's palms grew moist as a piece of the sentinel puzzle fell in place. He had obviously had his hypersenses for years and used them without realizing it. How many times had he heard or seen or smelled something and didn't realize nobody else had sensed the same thing?

"Just lucky, I guess," Jim said with a forced smile. He sliced the ball, sending it off into the rough, and grimaced. "Damn."

"Concentration, Jimmy. Concentration. That's what the game is all about." Jason slapped his back. "Seems to me you had the same problem in basketball. We might've won the state championship if you hadn't lost it."

Jim recalled that game and another puzzle piece fell into place. He must have zoned on the court in the final seconds of the second round of the state championship basketball tournament. Of course, he hadn't known it was a zone-out then. At seventeen years old, it was called fucking up.

He climbed into Jason's cart since Blair had taken theirs into the rough on the right side of the fairway to help Cynthia find her ball. His gaze zeroed in on his partner who was smiling easily as he talked with Jason's wife. What would have happened to the cop if he hadn't run into Sandburg three years ago? He would've been messing up a lot, and that was assuming he could handle his senses alone -- a big assumption.

Jason steered the cart toward them to help search for the lost ball. As they approached Blair and Cynthia who stood side by side looking around, Jim opened his senses to see if he could spot the ball in the taller grass. On the edge of his awareness, he heard a familiar click and, without thought, Jim hollered, "Get down!"

Blair instinctively grabbed Cynthia around the waist and pulled her to the ground just as a rifle shot cracked the stillness. Jim heard the slug bury itself in a tree trunk ten yards away, and spared a moment of gratitude and relief it hadn't hit Blair.

Jason reacted immediately as his foot came off the cart's pedal and he ducked down beside Jim.

"Get down," Jim hissed to Jason as the sentinel rolled out of the golf cart onto the grass. His fingers scrabbled at his back for his gun, but he had left it at home, not expecting to need it at something as innocuous as a golf charity. He should've known better.

Jason scrambled out behind him, his shoulder pressed against Jim's as they remained in the relative safety behind the golf cart. As Jim listened intently, he also scanned the area where Blair and Cynthia had been. He spotted them flat on the ground behind a bush, which gave only sparse protection from the sniper. His heart missed a beat as he heard the glide of a bolt action rifle sliding home another round.

"Keep down," he shouted at Sandburg.

Another shot exploded and a split second later a bullet dinged off the golf cart between Jim and Jason, who covered his head with his arms and made himself as small as possible. Jim listened intently, filtering out the extraneous sounds: the rapid heartbeats close to him, the exclamations from the gallery thirty yards away, a car horn from the nearby road, and his own raspy breathing. He stood cautiously, expanding his search to include his sentinel field of vision and was peripherally aware of Blair scrambling up behind him and placing a light hand on his back.

"Anything?" Blair asked with his uncanny knack of knowing when Jim was done scoping an area.

Jim shook his head in disgust. "The sniper's gone." He turned to his partner and noted the grass stains on his knees and the sweat on his forehead. Even though his senses told him Blair wasn't injured, he couldn't help asking, "Are you all right?"

Blair sighed and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine."

With the imperative question answered and his concern for his friend alleviated, Jim gave his attention to the Harmonys. Jason had moved away from the cart and was helping Cynthia to her feet. She was trembling and her husband was trying to calm her. Although both were shaken up, neither appeared to be wounded.

Three of the security personnel the club had hired for the event came running up. "What happened?" the head of the contingent called out as the group approached.

"One shooter. Rifle. From the north," Jim replied.

The rent-a-cop leader looked at Jim. "Who are you?"

Jim dug out his badge. "Detective Ellison, Cascade P.D. Have your people try to keep everyone here until the police can talk to them."

The man looked like he wanted to argue, but then nodded curtly and pulled a cell phone from his jacket pocket. Jim absently listened to him call his people and pass on his orders, though the detective could tell he wasn't happy. This whole fiasco was going to become a political and media circus.

Brown and Rafe came running across the fairway to join them. They flashed their badges at two of the security men, who let them by. Their worried glances flew from Jim to Blair. "You two okay?" Rafe asked.

"Yeah," Blair reassured with a nod.

Their relief was palpable.

"We've got units coming in," H announced. "They'll block the exits to the course."

Jim nodded, but he knew the would-be assassin was long gone. "I doubt they'll find anyone, but we might get lucky."

"Captain Banks is on the way, too," Brown added. He stepped closer. "This is going to be a nightmare with all of Cascade's money and power here, including the mayor," he said in a low voice, echoing Jim's thoughts.

"No kidding." Jim rubbed his brow, feeling a headache settle between his eyes.

More security personnel converged on the eighteenth hole to help control the crowd who gathered to see the excitement.

"I don't think anyone saw anything, but we'd better make sure. Start with the spectators," Jim said.

"Gotcha, " H said, and he and Rafe jogged off.

Jim and Blair joined Jason and Cynthia who appeared to have calmed down.

"Are you two all right?" Jim asked.

Jason nodded. "Thanks to you. How did you know?"

"I caught a flash of light out of the corner of my eye." Jim shrugged. "My old army habits kicked in."

"Thank God they did," Cynthia said, her voice husky.

"Why don't you two go sit in the cart?" Jim suggested.

Their arms around one another, the couple retreated to the cart and were immediately surrounded by officials and security personnel.

"How did you know?" Blair repeated in a low voice, asking for the truth this time.

"I heard the round being chambered," Jim replied.

"What do you think?" Blair asked, his eyes uncharacteristically somber. "Was this a random shooting or was there a specific target?"

"My gut's telling me this wasn't random."

"Which means either one of the Harmonys or one of us was the target."

"I'm afraid so, Chief." Jim took a deep breath and smelled the lingering scents of fear from the Harmonys and Blair. "Have you ticked off any students or professors lately?"

Blair snorted. "Probably, but I doubt any of them would go after me with a rifle."

"The sniper could've been hired."

Blair's eyes widened. "A contract?"

"It's possible. As soon as we can get out of here, I'm going to the station to do some checking," Jim replied. He kept his voice steady, but couldn't hide the anger threading through his words. "And I want you to make a list, too."

Blair opened his mouth to protest, but was stopped by a lift of Jim's hand. "Does Brad Ventriss ring a bell?" the detective asked curtly.

Blair's eyebrows drew downward. "He's in prison."

"He might have contacts on the outside, and with his daddy's money, he could've hired someone."

Reluctant resignation stole across the younger man's face. "All right. You win."

"No, Chief. We lose if we don't find out who the sniper was after," Jim said firmly.

Blair searched his partner's face for a moment, then nodded. "You're right. Next time he may not miss."

"You sure you're okay?"

Blair rolled his eyes in affectionate exasperation. "Other than a few grass stains on my 'big butt' pants, I'm fine."

Jim smiled at the return of his guide's irreverent humor. He knew he was being overprotective, but ever since Alex Barnes had drowned Blair four months ago, Jim couldn't seem to stifle the need to watch over him. Those days before Blair's drowning, the two men's relationship had unraveled until their friendship had been almost irrevocably lost. It wasn't until they'd returned from Peru did they begin building a stronger bridge, one which Jim hoped could span whatever lay ahead of them.

Jim looked across the fairway to see a familiar figure striding toward them. "Simon's here and he doesn't look happy."

"How can you tell? He always looks like that," Blair teased.

"His cigar is lit."

The observer ducked his head and grimaced. "Shit. He isn't happy."

Jim sighed. "C'mon, Chief. Let's give Simon a rundown and give our statements."

Reluctantly, Blair followed his partner into the chaos.

After telling Simon what happened and giving their official statements to a patrol officer, Jim, Blair, Jason and Cynthia Harmony were escorted to the clubhouse under the protection of two security personnel. Jim had drawn Blair aside for a minute, explaining how he wanted to talk to Jason and Cynthia about who might have a grudge against them. The clubhouse seemed a relatively safe place to hold the conversation.

As they came off the eighteenth green, news cameras and reporters greeted them, shouting questions about the shooting. Fortunately, more security arrived like the cavalry and made a barrier so Jim, Blair, and the Harmonys could escape into the clubhouse without anymore interference.

Once inside the cool spacious building, Blair slouched into a sofa and laid his head back. "I'll never say golf is boring again."

Jim remained standing, but closed his eyes and rubbed his brow. "I'd rather have boring."

Blair frowned, recognizing his sentinel's distress. "Headache?"


Both men knew what caused it but with the Harmonys close by, they couldn't very well say anything.

"I could use a drink," Jason said. "Cynthia? Jimmy? Blair?"

"Manhattan," Cynthia replied, sinking onto the couch beside Blair.

"Iced tea," Jim said.

"Same here," Blair called out.

"I'll be back in a minute," Jason said. "I'm going to call the office, too."

Cynthia glanced at him sharply, but lowered her gaze when he turned away.

"Does he call the office a lot?" Blair asked quietly, picking up on her disapproval.

"Only about ten times a day, seven days a week," she replied.

"He sounds like a workaholic."

"Sometimes I think he loves his work more than me."

Blair could clearly hear her bitterness in the same sad story he'd heard more than once from other people. Men and women pursuing the American Dream -- power and money -- to the exclusion of family and loved ones. "He seemed to be pretty worried about you after the shooting."

She turned on the couch to face Blair, drawing up one leg and tucking it beneath her. "I'm sure he loves me. It's just that I get so frustrated. He works such long hours and then when he's home, he spends half his time on the phone." She examined her acrylic nails painted with tasteful mauve polish. "He was so different when we were first married."

Blair smiled. "As much controversy as there is about innate and learned gender behaviors, I've noticed that men do have a natural tendency to want to provide for their mates; the better provider he is, the better husband he is. It probably relates to Darwin's survival of the fittest concept."

"But you're not like that," Cynthia said.

Blair glanced at Jim, who was watching him with a faint trace of a smile on his lips. "I might feel that same intrinsic drive if I was married." He shrugged. "It's hard to say."

Cynthia studied him, then clasped his hand. "You wouldn't," she said without doubt. "You don't care about material things."

Discomfited, Blair discreetly withdrew his hand from hers. "Don't be so certain about that. I'd be lost without my books and computer."

Jim coughed to gain their attention. "Do you know of anyone who might have a grudge against you or Jason?" he asked the woman.

Cynthia shifted to face Jim and crossed her long parlor-tanned legs restlessly. "None against me, but take your pick with Jason. I'm sure he's made enemies with the business."

"Like who?"

"Check the latest acquisitions. You'll probably find at least a half dozen."

"Why would they be mad enough to kill him? It's only business, right?" Blair asked.

"When a person is talking about millions of dollars, it's more than business. It's an obsession," Cynthia replied.

"Is Jason obsessed?" Jim asked.

"Jason lives to make money. I know he never wants to be poor again, but there are worse things than being poor." Her eyes became distant and troubled.

Jim and Blair exchanged glances, wondering if there was more to this than a woman feeling ignored by her husband. Being a workaholic wasn't a federal offense, but Cynthia acted like it was akin to first degree murder.

A commotion at the door caused them to look up. The Josephs and Conleys joined them, with the two women going to stand directly in front of Cynthia.

"Are you all right?" Louise asked her.

Cynthia clasped her hands. "I'm fine, thanks to Jim and Blair."

"Did you see anybody?" Mark asked, as he and Bill stood slightly apart from the group.

"No," Jim replied. "It sounded like a high-powered rifle so I'm sure our sniper was far enough away that nobody saw him."

Jason returned, bearing four drinks. He handed Jim and Blair their iced teas, then gave Cynthia her Manhattan. He moved to stand behind the sofa where his wife sat and rested a hand on her shoulder. "I want the bastard caught," Harmony stated.

"The police are working on it," Jim reassured.

"I want you on it," Jason said flatly. "You and Sandburg. You two are supposed to be the best."

"I'll have to check with my captain, but the case was probably assigned to someone already," Jim said.

"I'll feel better, knowing you're working on finding whoever shot at us," Cynthia said to Blair, latching onto his hand once more.

Blair surreptitiously glanced at Jason, but Harmony didn't seem upset that his wife was clinging to another man. But, then, after what happened, it shouldn't be surprising she was looking for comfort. He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "I'm only an observer, Cynthia, but I'll do what I can."

For a moment, Blair thought she was going to kiss him, but she merely smiled. "Thank you."

Amanda sat down on Cynthia's other side and Louise across from them in a wingback chair. The two women then demanded that Cynthia tell them everything that happened on the course.

Blair eased off the couch, and moved to stand by Jim. The sentinel had finished his tea, but the etched pain lines in his brow and at the edges of his mouth told Blair his headache remained.

"Who might want you killed?" Jim asked Harmony without preamble.

Jason, flanked by Bill and Mark, shook his head. "Nobody. We acquire and sell stock in troubled computer companies."

"What about hostile takeovers? Those companies that didn't like you buying your way into control?"

Jason smiled a smile reminiscent of a barracuda. "You sound like your old man, Jimmy."

Blair felt more than saw Jim tense and rubbed his back lightly. "Easy," he whispered sentinel-soft. The detective's muscles slowly relaxed beneath his guide's grounding touch.

Jason shrugged. "Sure, we've probably made some enemies, but their style is assassination in the board room, not with a rifle." He narrowed his eyes. "What about you, Jimmy? You probably have more enemies than anyone else in this room."

"More than likely," Jim agreed. "That's why Sandburg and I are headed over to the station." He set his empty tea glass on a side table. "C'mon, Chief. Let's go."

"Aren't you staying for the luncheon and awards?" Cynthia asked, emerging from the gossip session.

"Sorry, but I want to get started on this right away," Jim replied.

"But Blair could stay. He did save my life." Cynthia's lower lip turned outward in a pout.

Blair's face warmed with embarrassment. "Actually, it was Jim who saved our lives. And I really have to go, too."

The two men said their good-byes, then Jim guided Blair out of the pretentious clubhouse with a light hand between his shoulderblades. They picked up their golf bags on the rack by the door and slung the straps over their shoulders. All the caddies seemed to have disappeared.

Jim handed a valet his card and waited until the boy had jogged out of earshot. "It looks like you were right about Cynthia. She practically oozed pheromones." The sentinel wrinkled his nose.

"She wasn't very subtle about it either," Blair agreed. "I wonder if Jason turns a blind eye to it or just doesn't care."

Jim shook his head. "He didn't seem upset, but he had to have seen what she was doing. Maybe we should be looking for a spurned lover of hers."

"Maybe." Blair felt sorry for the woman, married to a man who was married to his job. It didn't excuse her infidelity -- if indeed, she had affairs -- but it explained where she was coming from. As much as he hated to admit it, he found himself wanting to help her. To be her friend.

"Don't even think about it, Chief," Jim said with uncanny perceptiveness. "If for no reason other than she's part of an ongoing investigation."

"I don't mess around with married women, man," Blair reassured. "Bad news there."

Jim canted an eyebrow. "Are you speaking from experience, Romeo?"

"I didn't know she was married at the time, all right?" Blair admitted reluctantly.

"Only you, Sandburg."

"Yeah, well, I was only twenty. She was twenty-nine." Blair could see the woman in his mind's eye and he scowled at the image. "She had me eating out of her hand for about three months before her husband caught us. Gods, that was humiliating."

Jim grasped Blair's shoulder and gave it a sympathetic squeeze. "Gotta watch out for those older women, Chief."

Blair snorted. "At least I know Cynthia is married and I won't make the same mistake twice."

The valet brought the truck around, then parked and hopped out. "Nice truck. A real classic," the young man said, running a gentle hand along Sweetheart's hood.

Jim grinned and handed the kid a twenty. "Yeah, that's what I always say, too." He sent his guide a smug look.

Blair choked back his laughter as they set their clubs in the back of the truck and climbed into the cab. He had a feeling the valet knew how to "work" for his tips.

"What do you say we stop at Wonderburger and take lunch to the station?" Jim suggested.

Blair considered vetoing the idea, but his stomach took its cue to growl. "Sure, why not? We were almost shot this morning. What's a little cholesterol compared to that?"

Instead of the expected grin, Jim grimaced and stared out the windshield. "Who would've thought a damned golf charity would be dangerous? I expect bullets when we're working the streets, but not on a high class golf course."

"It wasn't your fault, Jim," Blair said patiently, knowing exactly what his sentinel was thinking. Jim would take the blame for the rain if it caused injury to his guide. "Even if this guy was after you, you didn't hold the rifle. You didn't squeeze the trigger. Some asshole out there did. Not you!"

Jim's jaw muscle worked overtime, flexing and unflexing. "But--"

Blair cut him off. "No buts, Jim. It. Was. Not. Your. Fault. Comprende?"

Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "My head gets it, Chief. But the rest of me--"

Blair rested a hand on Jim's forearm. "I know. Me, too."

Jim flashed him a grateful smile, then concentrated on driving. Blair kept his palm on the detective's arm until they went through Wonderburger's drive thru and Jim truly relaxed for the first time since the shooting.

Twenty minutes later, with the burgers and fries scattered across Jim's desk, the two men went to work. Jim ran a cross-check of felons he'd put behind bars with those released in the past six months. Blair made up his own personal enemy list as he divided his time between that and working on Conner's computer to research the Harmonys. Oblivious to the few detectives working that day, they pored over the information they gleaned. Blair continued to surf the Internet, finding out more about the Harmony's social life and their charitable donations.

"Hey, Jim, did you know your buddys' company donated five hundred thousand dollars to Congressman Haney's re-election?"

Jim joined Blair and leaned over his shoulder to read the short article and study the picture of Jason and Haney shaking hands at an election rally. On either side of the two men were Bill and Mark smiling widely. The detective whistled low. "That's a pretty hefty contribution."

"For a politician who believes in capital punishment and is in the NRA's back pocket," Blair said, not bothering to hide his dislike of the congressman.

"Haney's done some good things for law enforcement," Jim argued. "He's been an opponent of plea bargaining and supporter of stricter terms for felons."

Three years ago, Blair would've argued with Jim, but he'd seen too many criminals literally get away with murder. He could understand Jim's feelings and, surprisingly, he -- the liberal hippie -- agreed with some of Haney's stricter stands. "I suppose, but I still don't like some of his other, more radical, views."

Jim chuckled and cuffed the back of Blair's head lightly. "Radical? Haney?"

Blair laughed, realizing how inappropriate the word was for an ultra-conservative politician.

A harried Simon Banks strode into the office and paused by Jim's desk. He popped a French fry in his mouth, then grimaced. "These are cold."

Jim grinned and wandered back to his desk, followed by Blair. "They've been setting there for over two hours, sir."

"Now he tells me," Simon growled. He gestured toward the papers scattered across Jim's desk. "Find anything?"

Jim leaned back in his chair and stretched. His vertebrae snapped audibly. "Lots, but I'm not sure how much help any of it will be. We've got over twenty-five names of perps I arrested, were convicted and have been released in the past six months. Sandburg's made up a list, too, of possibles who may have a grudge against him."

Blair removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "How'd it go with the press?"

"Do the words 'feeding frenzy' mean anything?" Simon asked in a dry tone. "They're treating this like the crime of the century even though no one was hurt. It even made CNN."

Jim scrubbed his face in his palms. "Shit. Could this get any worse?"

"Never ever ask that question, Ellison."

Blair darted his gaze between a worried Jim and a pissed-off Simon. "Oh-oh. What is it?"

"The mayor told the chief he wants you two to handle it. He wants you to put it ahead of everything else on your desk." Anger vibrated through Simon's resonant timbre.

"Son of a-- We've got a double homicide, five related robberies, a possible arsonist, and four drug-related deaths, and you're telling me this case has precedence?" Jim demanded.

"I'm not telling you this, the goddamned mayor is." Simon's voice boomed across the bullpen, bringing everyone's attention to the three men. The captain glared at them. "Don't you have work to do?"

The other detectives quickly turned their attention back to their computers and files.

"Jeez, Simon, we know it's not you," Blair said quietly, playing the peacemaker, a role the anthropologist often found himself in.

"I suppose the money men are pressuring the mayor," Jim said, his way of apologizing to his friend and boss.

Simon's shoulders slumped, and he seemed to deflate before their eyes. "Jason Harmony was one of the most vocal."

Blair's gaze flew to Jim. "So he really did it."

"Seems that way," Jim said dryly, then said to Simon, "Jason said he wanted the force's 'best team' on it. I told him it was probably assigned already. He didn't like that."

"So he badgered the mayor to get you two on the case," Simon finished. He shook his head. "It shouldn't surprise me. Harmony has always been a staunch supporter of the police department."

"We figured that by his social calendar," Jim said. "Sandburg's been doing a little research on the Internet."

Simon perked up noticeably. "Anything interesting?"

"Nothing that would give us a motive," Blair replied, reading between the lines.

"Well, keep me on top of this. I'm sure the chief will be riding me for results."

"There's one other thing you should know, Captain," Jim said. "Jason Harmony and I went to high school together."

Simon frowned. "That shouldn't be a problem, should it?"

"No, sir, but I thought I should tell you in case someone brings it up."

"Forewarned is forearmed." Simon sighed. "I'm going to work a couple hours then go eat. You two want to join me?"

Jim glanced at Blair. "Chief?"

The younger man smiled, pleased that Jim would ask him before replying. "Sounds good. How about that new Sri Lankan place on Sixth?"

"What the hell. Can't give me any more heartburn than this case," Simon said.

As the captain went to his office, Jim and Blair exchanged grins. Then their attention returned to the problem at hand, and their amusement faded.

Jim rubbed his belly as he entered the loft and headed straight to the fridge to get a bottle of water. He twisted open the top and tipped it up to his lips, drinking half the contents before he lowered it. "My mouth is still burning from that stuff."

"It was pretty hot, wasn't it?" Blair commented cheerfully.

Jim carried his bottle into the living room, sank onto the sofa and tipped his head back. "I had the mild."

Blair frowned, suddenly realizing his friend's discomfort could be sentinel-sense related. "How's your headache?"

"There, but not as bad as it was earlier," Jim replied, then downed the remaining water. He set the bottle on the coffee table and slumped back on the couch.

"You should've said something. If you have a headache, it just follows that you'll have more trouble with your controls."

Blair went into the bathroom and returned a few moments later with a cool damp cloth. He placed it on Jim's forehead, then settled cross-legged on the couch, his knees touching the sentinel.

"Thanks," Jim murmured, keeping his eyes closed as he held the cloth in place.

"I want you to relax now, Jim. You know the drill. Deep breaths, in and out." Blair talked him through the familiar actions as he practiced the meditation routine with his friend. When his and Jim's breathing matched, he said softly, "Your taste is set at a five. Bring it down to a two, Jim." He watched his partner's brow crease slightly, then the easing of the etched lines. "That's right. Feel better now?"

Jim opened his eyes and smiled one of his rare smiles that lit his blue eyes from within. "Yeah, a lot better." He ruffled Blair's curls. "Thanks, Chief."

Blair couldn't help but return the smile, but rolled his eyes heavenward at the same time. "You have to tell me these things, Jim. I can't read your mind, you know. There's no reason for you to hurt if you don't have to."

Jim studied him for a long moment, his eyes warm. He propped his forearm on Blair's knee. "I know. It's just that old habits are hard to break. That and the fact that I'm a little stubborn."

"A little stubborn? So says the man who never gave up on his partner when he was kidnapped by a psycho; suckered in by the girl next door who turned out to be a drug dealer; or when said partner was strung out on Golden." Blair smiled fondly. "And I wouldn't want you any other way."

Jim swallowed hard and Blair saw his emotions in his unusually open face. "Ditto, partner," Jim said, his voice husky. Then the self-conscious detective reached for the remote and turned on the TV.

Blair shifted around, but remained close enough to his friend that Jim could keep using his leg as an armrest. A golf tournament came up on ESPN and Blair groaned. "Anything but golf."

Jim grimaced. "For once, I agree."

He flicked through a few more channels and stopped when Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd popped up on the screen. It was a welcome diversion from the day's stressful events.

Soon after, the loft was filled with the soft snores of Blair and Jim, who still clutched the remote in one hand while his other curled around his guide's knee.

As Jim filled his coffee cup from the first pot of the day, he heard Blair stumble out of his room and into the bathroom. Three minutes later -- give or take a few seconds -- the shower came on. Jim smiled to himself. He knew Sandburg's routine as well as he did his own.

Jim punched the toaster handle down and stirred the scrambled eggs in the frying pan. He pulled the Sports section out of the Sunday paper and stood leaning against a counter as he sipped coffee and read about the Mariners and the opening of the Seahawks summer camp. Another month and pre-season football would return, and three months after that, the Jags would be back. Caroline never understood why he loved fall and winter so much.

Sandburg, dressed in only two layers of shirts in deference to summer, white socks, and a pair of faded blue jeans, wandered in and Jim handed him a cup already filled with coffee. Blair took one swallow and Jim could almost see his brain come on-line.

"Morning, Jim."

The sentinel squelched his chuckle. "Morning. You're up early for a Sunday."

Blair shrugged. "I figure we have to check out those suspects on our lists."

Jim shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "You don't have to go with me, Chief. You've got that paper due on Tuesday."

The smile faded from the anthropologist's face and a stubbornness equal to his sentinel's replaced it. "I'm your partner, Jim. That means I watch your back when you're on the street. I'm also your guide, which means I ensure you don't zone or become overwhelmed by too much stimuli." He paused and spoke in a softer voice. "And most importantly, I'm your friend, which means I care what happens to you out there."

Jim's throat felt tight and he turned away from Blair to turn off the stove and stir the eggs. Although he'd been against having a partner for most of his years at Cascade P.D. because of the trust issue, he couldn't imagine not having Blair by his side. Oh, he still went on routine calls without Blair, but usually Simon or Megan were there to be his substitute guide. However, to be brutally honest with himself, he wanted Blair with him today when he visited the men he'd arrested and put away. However, it didn't seem fair since Blair had so much schoolwork to do. But how did Jim counter his frank and heartfelt reasoning?

He couldn't.

Jim carried the frying pan to the table and divided the eggs between his and Blair's plates. Returning with a plate piled high with toast, Jim sat down across from his roommate. "All right, Chief. We'll try to get back early enough that you have some of the afternoon to work on the paper."

Blair grinned, which lit up his entire face -- a face Jim had come to cherish in the three years they'd been together. "Sounds good. That'll give you some down time, too."

Blair never failed to worry about his sentinel's well-being, yet Jim too often in the past had put his own needs in front of his guide's. The memory of nearly losing Blair in the fountain that early morning ambushed Jim and sent a shaft of pain straight through his chest. He quickly glanced down and concentrated on spreading peanut butter on his toast.

Blair was here. Blair was alive. And Jim was damn well going to keep him that way.

Breakfast was interspersed with snippets of conversation about a news story or a cartoon in the comics section. When Jim read his horoscope aloud, Blair scooted his chair close to him and slipped under his friend's arm. He leaned back against Jim's shoulder and read his own horoscope when Jim was finished. Between both of them, they managed to remember Simon's, Joel's, and Conner's birthdays.

As Blair read Simon's horoscope aloud, the younger man's hair tickled Jim's jaw and chin, and the detective smiled fondly. No other person but Blair had ever been allowed to invade his personal space so thoroughly; with Blair it felt natural, like ancient sentinels and guides who had only one another to rely on when scouting and protecting the tribe.

Trust and companionship -- cornerstones of a sentinel and guide's relationship for ages. Cornerstones Jim and Blair were still forming and strengthening.

Still tucked along Jim's side, Blair pointed to the weather forecast in the paper Jim was holding up. "Gee, rain. Who would've thought?" Blair said with a grin. "When isn't it rain?"

Jim laughed with him, and the two men drank their coffee as they read the last section of the paper together. When their cups were empty, Jim raised his arm so Blair could duck out from under it and the two men rose to clear the table. They placed their dirty dishes in the sink to be washed later -- a major concession on Jim's part, but he wanted to get home early to give Blair time to work on his paper.

The next five hours were spent getting in and out of the truck as they talked with a fraction of the suspects gleaned from the lists Jim and Blair had compiled yesterday: released felons; some of Blair's former students and a professor or two from the U; former employees of Jason's company. When they finally parked in front of 852 Prospect, the two men had nothing to show from their day except glazed eyes and damp clothing from the drizzling rain.

"Whose turn to cook?" Blair asked as they trudged up the stairs since the elevator wasn't working again -- surprise, surprise.

"I cook. You write."

Blair couldn't help but grin. "Me Tarzan. You Jane."

Jim tugged on one of Blair's curls. "Who are you calling Jane?"

"Good point. Me Tarzan. You Cheetah." Then Blair found a spurt of energy to race up the last flight of stairs and unlock the door before Jim could catch him.

Laughing, Jim entered the loft to find Blair's head emerging from the fridge with two beers in his hand. The younger man handed him one and Jim smiled his thanks. A blinking red light on the answering machine caught his eye and he hit the button to replay the messages.

"Hey, Jim, it's Jason. I just wanted to let you know in spite of the excitement, it was great seeing you again. How about lunch tomorrow, my treat, and do some more catching up? Call me at 555-9834."

The machine announced the date and time of the call and clicked to the next one, which was from one of Blair's TA friends asking him about a visiting lecturer. The third message started in.

"Blair, it's Cynthia Harmony. I hope I didn't talk your ear off yesterday. It really was nice having someone actually listen to me." A long pause, then quietly, "It's been a long time. Thanks again."

Blair stared at the now-silent machine. "She sounded sad."

"Chief," Jim warned.

Blair held up his hands, palms out. "I was just commenting, man. For a moment I was afraid she was going to ask me to have lunch with her."

"You wouldn't, right?"

"Jeez, Jim, I already said I'd steer clear of her." Blair stalked into his room.

Nothing like pissing him off, Ellison, Jim thought. Now he'll probably spend the evening in his small bedroom.

But Blair returned carrying his laptop and a pile of books interspersed with papers which had scribbled notes across them. He laid the whole mess on the dining room table. "Is it okay if I work here until supper's ready?"

Relieved that Blair wasn't upset, Jim nodded. "Sure, go ahead, Chief. It'll be at least an hour."

"What're you making?"

"My world-famous lasagna," Jim said with a theatric flourish which was so out-of-character, Blair doubled over in laughter. "Go ahead and laugh, Junior. You won't be when you taste it."

Blair managed to get his amusement under control. "I'll be too busy trying to get my share." He smiled. "Since you're cooking, I'll take clean-up duty."

"No. You're going to do your homework, eat when supper's ready, then return to your work while I clean up."

Blair scrutinized his partner, who had donned his floral apron. "So what did you do?"

Jim pulled tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and hamburger from the refrigerator. "What're you talking about?"

"You're obviously feeling guilty about something or you wouldn't be volunteering for cooking and clean up."

"Maybe I'm just trying to be thoughtful."

Jim expected a smart ass retort, but Blair merely studied him long enough to make Jim uncomfortable. "What? I just thought since it's my fault you didn't get to work on the paper yesterday or most of today, this was the least I could do."

"You're not."

Alarmed, Jim asked, "Not what?"

"Trying to be thoughtful. You are being thoughtful. Thanks, man."

Embarrassed, Jim merely grunted in response and set to work browning the burger and slicing the vegetables. He could almost hear Blair's smile, which brought an answering grin to his own face.

The tapping of the computer keys accompanied Jim's preparation of the lasagna and French bread. Comfortable silence surrounded the two men, both glad they possessed an island of tranquility and sanity within the loft and with each other.

After Jim put the lasagna in the oven, he went up to his bedroom to return Jason's call. He didn't want to disturb Blair, who seemed to be immersed in his project.

The phone rang twice before Jason answered. "Hello."

"Jason, it's Jim. I got your message."

"Hey, Jimmy, I'm glad you called back. You on for lunch tomorrow?"

"Sounds good, but I have to warn you. I can't talk about the shooting since it's part of an ongoing investigation."

"No sweat. I know how the police work."

"Yeah, I guess you do. Blair did a little investigation into your company and social life."

There was a long silence. "You suspect me?"

Jim laughed. "No. He was trying to find out who might have a grudge against you."

"Oh." There was relief and humor in his voice. "So, did he find any good dirt?"

"I told you I can't discuss it."

Jason chuckled. "That's okay. If I really want to know, I'll call the chief."

Jim tensed, not liking someone going over his head. "Ethically, he's not supposed to tell you anything either." The laughter that came over the line grated against Jim.

"Don't be such a Boy Scout, Jimmy. People do favors for their friends all the time."

Jim clamped down on his irritation. He was no virgin when it came to office politics; it's just that he didn't participate in the political orgies. "What time tomorrow and where?"

"How about McKenzie's downtown at one o'clock?"

Jim's mouth watered. McKenzie's had the best steaks in town, but it was also the most expensive.

"My treat," Jason said, as if reading Jim's mind. "I know how much you cop-types get paid, even if they have a rich daddy. See you at one tomorrow."

The line went dead before Jim's renewed irritation could be vented. Jim may have a rich daddy, but he had never asked him for money. And he had no plans to ever do so. He had washed his hands of his father and his business years ago, although a couple baby steps had been taken to reconcile with his old man in the past year. Things would never be comfortable between them, but maybe they could be together for more than ten minutes without starting world war three.

The oven's timer dinged, breaking into Jim's dark thoughts. He trotted down the stairs and checked the lasagna -- it was done. He set it on the cool stovetop and proceeded to clear half of the table to eat. Blair helped, piling books into two neat mountains on either side of the laptop.

"You okay, man?" Blair asked as he laid the silverware next to the plates.

"Uh, yeah, fine. Why?"

"You look like you just bit into a lemon with your taste buds on high."

Jim set the lasagna on a hot pad between the two plates. "I called Jason and told him lunch sounded good."

"And?" Blair asked from his place by the table.

Jim placed two pieces of steaming French bread on each of their plates, then sat down. "He said something. It ticked me off, but he hung up before I could yell at him."

"Ah," Blair said, nodding in understanding. "So the words got stuck inside and you couldn't blow like Volcano Ellison."

Jim stared at his guide a moment, then shook his head as he was smirked. "'Volcano Ellison'?"

"Hey, if the mountain fits..." Blair's eyes twinkled impishly.

Jim lightly whapped the back of his head. "Eat, Sandburg, and spare me any more geological analogies."

"Yeah, I wouldn't want to create a 'rift' between us."

Jim groaned.

"You know how those 'chasms' can pop up between the best of friends," Blair said, feigning innocence.

"If you don't stop with the puns, you're going to see 'earthquake' Ellison in action."

"Ooooh, I'm 'shaking' in my boots."

Jim dropped his fork and covered his face with his hands, hiding his amusement behind them. The last thing Jim wanted to do was encourage him.

Blair's laughter spilled around Jim and a hand landed on his shoulder. "C'mon, Jim. Eat before it gets cold. I promise I'll behave."

The detective removed his hands, not bothering to hide his own amusement. "That'll be the day."

Blair snorted, but let Jim have the last word and the two men put a considerable dent in the lasagna and bread before pushing their plates away. True to his word, Jim shooed Blair back to his computer and set about washing dishes and tidying up the kitchen. Only when the kitchen passed his own "white glove" test did Jim drop tiredly onto the couch to watch some television. A replay of a golf tournament on ESPN2 reminded him of an errand.

"Damn," he muttered as he stood.

"What?" Blair asked, lifting his head.

"I have to take Rafe's clubs back to him," Jim said.

Blair slapped his forehead. "Tee time Monday morning, right?"

"Afraid so." Jim yawned and wished he could just lie down on the sofa and watch something mindless. "You stay here. I'll take care of it."

"But--" Blair began.

Jim held up a hand. "No buts. It'll only take me an hour or so to run them over and get back."

"Thanks," Blair said.

Jim managed a smile as he donned his jacket. "No problem." He picked up his keys and made sure his wallet was in his back pocket. "See ya."


The detective closed the door quietly behind him and jogged down the stairs, anxious to return the clubs and come home to crash.

Blair re-read the last paragraph he had typed and nodded to himself. He was already halfway through the research assignment -- at this rate, he'd easily have it done by Tuesday. Raising his head, he became aware of how dark it had become. He glanced at the clock on the stove and frowned. Jim had been gone over two hours. Rafe's place was only twenty minutes away. Had Jim decided to hang out with the other detective for a little while?

Uneasiness flittered in his gut and refused to be soothed. Blair didn't like that little flutter -- he had learned the hard way not to ignore it.

He picked up the phone and dialed Jim's cell phone. A ring sounded from Jim's bedroom and Blair bounded up to find Jim's cell phone on the nightstand by his bed. The flutter increased to a frenetic flapping. He called Rafe and the young detective answered on the second ring.


"Rafe, Blair. Is Jim still there?"

"No. He left over an hour ago," Rafe replied, worry creeping into his tone.

Blair forced the frantic feeling down. "He probably stopped somewhere."

"I don't think so. When he left, he was pretty wiped. Said he was going home to sack out."

"I'm sure he just got sidetracked." Blair didn't know who he was trying to convince, himself or Rafe.

"I'll drive the route to your place, see if I can spot his truck," Rafe offered.

"No, that's all right. I'm going to give him a little more time." Blair managed to rein in his apprehension. "What's your tee time tomorrow?"

"Seven. Henri, me, and two detectives from Robbery," Rafe replied. "By the way, you did great yesterday. From what I heard, you would've been the winner if you'd been able to play the last hole."

"Thanks. I, uh, played some when I was a kid."

"You're a natural, Blair. You and Jim ever want to golf, let us know."

"We will. See you tomorrow."

"Call me if he doesn't show up," Rafe said.

"You got it. Good night." Blair stared at the phone for a long minute. He wanted to call Simon, then the hospitals, but was he overreacting? Maybe Jim had stopped by the store to pick something up and run into an old friend. Or maybe he'd run into a robbery in progress.

Suddenly the phone rang in his hand and he nearly dropped it in surprise. "Ellison and Sandburg residence."

"Sandburg?" Simon's voice was unmistakable.

"Yeah?" He couldn't have said anything more to save his life.

"You'd better get down to the hospital."

Blair's heartbeat triple-timed. "How bad?"

There was a moment of startled silence at the other end. "All I know is Jim went off the road and rolled the pick-up. An ambulance took him from the scene."

Be calm, Blair. Calm.

Fuck calm! Shit. Shit. Shit.

"I'm on my way." Blair punched off the phone, grabbed his backpack and car keys, and raced out.

Simon Banks sat in a corner chair of the waiting room and watched Blair bounce from one end of the corridor to the other. He was exhausted in moments merely observing him. How the hell did the kid keep up that level of energy?

"Sit down, Sandburg," Simon ordered in a weary voice.

Blair clenched his hands into fists at his sides and looked like he was going to defy the captain, but suddenly the student's shoulders slumped and he dropped into a chair beside his unofficial boss. "He's been in there over an hour. What if they've given him something he's reacting badly to?" He sprang to his feet, but Simon grabbed his wrist and firmly tugged him back down.

"The paramedics said he wasn't hurt too badly. Some facial cuts and bruises, and a possible concussion. His left forearm was cracked, but it wasn't broken," Simon said.

"Who's the doctor?"

Simon shook his head. "I don't know."

Before Simon could react, Blair had bounded off to the nurses' station. He groaned silently and followed.

"Who's examining Jim Ellison?" Blair asked, his usual tact and charm lacking due to his fear.

The nurse glanced down at a sheet on her desk. "Dr. Mooney."

"I don't know him. Is he new?"

The blond RN nodded. "He started a month ago."

Blair spun around, nearly hitting Simon, who stood behind him. "He won't know about Jim."

"It's in his records, Sandburg," Simon said, holding his hands up in a placating manner.

"But what if he didn't look? Or maybe they couldn't find them?"

Simon grabbed Blair's arm to keep him from charging into Jim's examination room. "Excuse me." The captain looked at the nurse's nametag. "Debbie. I'm Captain Simon Banks and Detective Ellison is one of my men. Most of the doctors here are already aware of Detective Ellison's drug sensitivities; is Dr. Mooney?"

Debbie frowned. "I don't know. I suppose I--" She broke off at the sight of a tall, skinny doctor walking toward them. "There's Dr. Mooney. I'll ask him."

Before she could open her mouth, Dr. Mooney fixed his gaze on Simon and Blair. "Are you two here for James Ellison?"

"Yes," Blair replied. "How is he?"

The doctor stuck his hands in his white jacket pockets. "It's hard to say. He's unresponsive and cata--"

Blair jerked out of Simon's grasp and stepped right up to Mooney, their toes touching. If Simon wasn't so upset, he would've found the one foot height difference between the doctor and the anthropologist amusing.

"What did you give him?" Blair demanded.

"Excuse me," Dr. Mooney said haughtily.

"What the hell did you give him?" Blair demanded, his eyes practically smoldering with rage, and Simon was glad he was on the student's side.

"I don't think--"

"Dr. Mooney," Simon broke in before any of the doctor's blood was shed by a pissed-off guide. Jim didn't have anything over Blair in the protective department. "Did you read Detective Ellison's file before you treated him?"

Dr. Mooney stumbled around with a few grunts and monosyllabic words.

"I take it you didn't, because if you had, you would know he has severe drug sensitivities." Simon never raised his voice, but the intensity behind the words paled the doctor's face.

"Uh, well--"

"I want to see him. Now!" Blair headed toward the exam room.

Dr. Mooney opened his mouth, took one look at Simon's thunderous expression, and snapped it shut. He followed Blair, but his swagger had diminished considerably.

Simon contemplated adding his presence, but knew from experience how small the rooms were. Besides, Blair had things under control. Simon allowed a small chuckle of fondness and admiration for the fiery anthropologist, then walked back to the waiting room.

Oh, yeah, Jim was in good hands.

Anger pulsed through Blair with every step closer to his sentinel, but when he saw Jim in a zone-out, all his rage fled, replaced by concern and determination. Jim was sitting on the exam table, his left forearm held in his right hand, and staring straight ahead with the too-familiar blankness of a zone-out. Little cuts and scratches, some with accompanying bruises, colored his pale face with red and pink and black and blue. A nurse stood beside him, obviously wanting to help, but unable to figure out how.

Blair stopped directly in front of Jim. He grasped his right bicep in one hand and used the other to rest against his left cheek. "Okay, Jim, it's time to come back now. I don't know what you zoned on, but you can't stay there. Listen to my voice, feel my touch."

He could feel Dr. Mooney's presence, sense his bewilderment, but it was only a low buzz in the back of his mind. His total concentration was on Jim and bringing him back. Blair continued his litany in a low voice and less than a minute later, Jim blinked, then grimaced and a low groan escaped him.

"Hey, you back with us, buddy?" Blair asked gently.

It took Jim a few moments to focus on his guide. "Sandburg? What're you doing in here?"

"Simon called me. Said you'd had an accident with the truck." Blair straightened and raked a hand through his unruly hair. "Damn it, I should've gone with you. You were too tired to be driving."

"I didn't fall asleep. The brakes gave out," Jim said, the tic in his jaw working overtime.


Dr. Mooney stepped forward and spoke stiffly to Blair. "I don't know what you did, but now you may leave so I can do my job."

Blair remained by Jim's side, his chin lifted in a pugnacious angle and every single muscle shouting defiance. "No way. I'm staying right here."

Jim appeared startled, but wisely kept silent.

Dr. Mooney's nostrils flared, and looking up, Blair could see the hairs in the taller man's nose. He quickly looked away, unable to decide if he should laugh or feel repulsed.

As the doctor gave the nurse her orders to immobilize Jim's forearm in a brace, Blair leaned close to his pallid-complexioned partner. "What brought on the zone?"

Two spots of pink appeared on Jim's cheekbones. "I was listening to your heartbeat."

Not expecting that answer, Blair stared at him in shock, and finally shook his head in fond exasperation. "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."

"Well, don't let it go to your head, Chief," Jim muttered, but his blue eyes were warm and a smile tugged at his lips.

Blair grinned. "Not likely with you here to keep me in line."

Jim snorted. "That'll be the day."

Thirty minutes later, a tired and aching Jim came out of the exam room with Blair close beside him, ready to catch him if he stumbled. Simon met them in the corridor. "How're you doing, Jim?"

"Sore, exhausted, and pissed," Jim replied.

Simon glanced questioningly at Blair. "Jim's brakes gave out," Blair explained. He lowered his voice, "Do you think it's the same person who shot at us yesterday?"

"It would be awfully damn coincidental if it's not." Simon propped his hands on his waist. "It looks like you're the intended victim, Jim."

"Appears so, sir," Jim said curtly.

"I'll have your truck towed over to the police lot and the brake lines checked," Simon assured. He withdrew his cell phone from his jacket pocket. "I'm also going to put someone outside your building."

"You don't have to. I'll be able to hear anybody--" Jim began, but was interrupted by his guide.

"Thanks, Simon, we appreciate it," Blair said firmly.

Jim tried to glare at the student, but the detective only managed to look cross-eyed.

"With those painkillers, you're not going to hear anything," Blair explained. "And if someone's after you, I sure as hell don't want them to take advantage of the situation."

Simon closed his phone after putting in his request for a surveillance team outside of 852 Prospect. "The kid's right, Jim. You're not in any shape to do your sentinel thing."

"Jeez, even my captain's gangin' up on me," Jim said.

Blair, attuned to his sentinel, knew Jim was near the end of his reserves. "Right now, you need to get home and in bed." He looked at Simon. "He's already taken a painkiller, so he'll be crashing soon."

"Bad choice of words, Chief," Jim said with a hint of a smile.

Blair groaned. "Sorry. Come on, let's get you home."

"Do you need some help, Sandburg?" Simon asked.

"I think we'll be all right," Blair replied. "Why don't you head home, too? You look as tired as I feel."

Simon raised his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I think I'll do that. It's been a long weekend. Rafe and Brown should be in an unmarked car outside your building when you get there. If they aren't, call me at home right away."

They walked out of the hospital together and Simon helped lower Jim to the passenger seat of Blair's Volvo. Then the three men bid each other good-night, and Blair drove to the loft. Jim leaned his head back and closed his eyes, the pain he was experiencing evident in his clenched jaw. Blair remained silent, not wanting to bother his partner until they arrived home.

Pulling into a parking space, Blair searched the area and spotted Rafe and Brown in a nondescript sedan. Blair breathed a sigh of relief. He trusted them with his life. But, more importantly, he trusted them with Jim's life. After sending them a discrete wave, he helped Jim out of the Corvair.

It took three times longer than usual to climb the stairs -- the elevator still wasn't fixed -- with Jim leaning heavily on Blair and stopping on each landing to catch his faltering breath. Once in the loft, Blair steered him toward his own room.

"Where're we going?" The drug made Jim slur his words.

"If you think we're going to climb one more set of stairs, you're crazy," Blair said. "You can have my bed tonight."

"Awww, c'mon, Chief, it's too small."

Blair nearly laughed at Jim's adolescent whine -- Jim never whined. At least not with an adolescent twang, he amended silently. "How about the couch?"

"Yeah, better," Jim replied, his eyelids slipping downward.

Blair lowered Jim to the loveseat. "Wait here. I'm going to make up the couch." The anthropologist hustled to the linen closet, grabbed a clean set of sheets and quickly threw together a makeshift bed. He raced upstairs, stole a pillow from Jim's bed and put that on the couch. When he turned to his partner, he smiled gently. Jim was canted to one side, his mouth open and his eyes closed as he snored quietly. Even though he hated to disturb him, Blair knew he'd be stiff and sore tomorrow if he slept in that position all night.

Blair shook Jim's right shoulder. "Hey, Jim, c'mon, wake up. Time to go nighty-night."

Jim scowled, but didn't open his eyes. "Nighty-night, Chief?"

Blair grinned. "Sleepy bye?"

Jim cracked an eye open. "Go 'way."

"No can do. You're going to thank me for this in the morning."

Jim's reply was a weak snort, but he allowed Blair to help him up and cross the four feet to the sofa-turned-bed. Blair removed his shoes and socks, then his shirt and, with a bit of maneuvering, his trousers. He lowered the older man's head and shoulders to the pillow, heedful of his injured arm and bruised body. Then he lifted his legs and feet, grunting as he did so. "Jeez, Ellison, remember what we said about the Wonderburgers."

"Like 'em," Jim muttered as Blair covered him with the other sheet and a blanket.

"Yeah, I know you do, buddy," Blair said softly, but Jim had already passed into slumber.

He stood over the sleeping man, releasing his lingering fear and satisfying his need to ensure his sentinel was safe. It was funny how most people thought Jim did all the protecting -- only Simon realized it was an equal and balanced relationship between sentinel and guide. Most everyone else only saw a short, curly-haired student with the big tough policeman. Blair smiled to himself -- there was a time when he saw the two of them that way, too. Before he got to know the man beneath the sentinel.

Blair touched Jim's head lightly, feeling the short soft hairs against his fingers and grateful for the affirming contact. "Good-night, Jim."

He wandered into the kitchen and put water on for tea. Someone had tried to kill his best friend twice. He'd been too focused on Jim to think about it before, but now the realization brought a cramp to Blair's gut and he nearly doubled over in anguish. Would the third time be the charm? Seeing Jim in the hospital had frightened Blair enough -- what would seeing him in the morgue do?

Destroy me.

Blair began his deep breathing exercises to stave off the rising panic attack. He wasn't going to fall apart, not when Jim needed him. Maybe later, after the bastard was caught, Blair would lock himself in his office at Rainier, far from Jim's sentinel senses, and let the anxiety wash through him.

Yep, a plan. Plans were good. He could work with a plan.

And the present plan was to make some tea. That he could handle.

Tomorrow he would handle the rest.

Jim awakened groggy, his mouth tasting like an army had marched through it, and his eyes refusing to follow his orders to open. He licked his lips, but his tongue was as dry as his lips. He didn't remember going on a drinking binge last night, but he must've, because he had the hangover from hell to prove it.

He shifted and sharp pain skidded up his left arm, forcing a low moan from his parched lips.

"Take it easy, Jim."

Blair. The familiar voice calmed him, eased him, and he was able to dial the pain down a notch or two. He even managed to pry open his eyes and found his guide's anxious face hovering over him.

"Don't move too fast, buddy," Blair cautioned. "You're probably pretty sore."

"Wha' hap'ned?" Jeez, was that him slurring his words like an alley-dwelling wino?

Blair lifted his head and held a cup to his lips. Cool, blessed water flowed into his mouth, across his tongue and down his throat. He swallowed until it was all gone. "More?"

Blair lowered his head and smiled. "Let's wait a few minutes and make sure you're going to keep that down."

Jim glared at him.

Blair chuckled -- actually chuckled -- at Jim's most intimidating glare, the one that could make hardened felons confess and turn against their dear old grandmothers. "Forget it, Ellison. Save it for someone who doesn't know you're a sap."

Jim's scowl faltered. It was obvious he had to find a new way to intimidate his guide -- something like tickling? "So, what happened?" he asked when it was obvious Blair wasn't going to give in.

A frown claimed the younger man's lips. "You don't remember?"

Jim turned his sight inward. He recalled eating lasagna for supper, then having Blair get back to work on his paper while he cleaned up the kitchen. Then he'd sat down to watch some TV... and he'd remembered something. "Rafe's clubs. I took them back."

Blair's smile returned. "That's right. Then what happened?"

Jim tugged at the curtain hiding the memory, and it slid away. "Shit! The brakes. Somebody cut the truck's brakes. I couldn't make that turn on the bottom of the hill on Elm and..."

"Yeah, you rolled," Blair finished somberly.

Jim glanced down at his casted wrist. "Broken?"

"Fractured. Plus you've got cuts and bruises all over your body."

Everything came back to him. "I'm the one he's after."

"Or she." Blair grinned, but it was a weak facsimile of his usual one. "No offense, but your taste in women leaves something to be desired."

Jim felt his face heat with embarrassment. "Yeah, well, at least I don't schedule two dates in one night."

"Hey, that was nearly two years ago. I haven't done it since."

"Not for lack of trying," Jim said, unable to stop teasing his guide even though every cell in his body was hurting.

"How's your stomach feeling? Any nausea?" Blair asked.


Blair twisted open a bottle of water and held it out. Jim accepted it with a nod of gratitude, and drank nearly half of it immediately. Though he would've like to drink it all, he knew it was better to spread it out a bit.

The anthropologist perched on the coffee table and clasped his hands, letting them hang between his knees. "Simon had a team watching the building all night. It was Rafe and Brown."

Jim chuckled, but it was interrupted by a sharp twinge, and he wrapped his right arm around his ribs. "I'll bet they were pissed they had to spend a Sunday night on stakeout."

Blair didn't laugh. "You give them and yourself too little credit. They're your friends." Before Jim could reply to that, Blair stood. "You need some help into the bathroom?"

Suddenly aware of his full bladder, Jim nodded. His muscles protested every motion, but by the time Jim finished in the bathroom, including brushing his teeth and shaving, he was feeling less shaky and his body had loosened up considerably. It seemed he wasn't hurt as badly as he'd first assumed.

He shuffled out of the bathroom and his nose perked up at the smell of coffee, eggs, and bacon. "What's the occasion?" Jim asked as he accepted a steaming cup from Blair.


"Bacon for breakfast? The number one arch enemy of arteries everywhere?"

"Ha ha." Blair turned away to get the plate piled with English muffins. "It's not like we never have bacon."

"Once in a blue moon ring a bell?"

Blair faced him and planted his hands on his hips. "While you're using what's left of that half wit of yours, breakfast is getting cold."

Jim snickered, but knew better than to let out a full belly laugh. His ribs and sternum wouldn't appreciate it. He eased himself into a chair and was grateful it was his left wrist and not his right which was broken.

"I have a class to teach at eleven, then office hours from two to four, but I'll be home right after that," Blair said.

"You aren't coming down to the station?"

Blair's eyes widened. "No, and neither are you."

"C'mon, Chief, I can still make phone calls and do paperwork."

"Simon called this morning--"

"I didn't wake up?"

"No, Jim, you didn't wake up," Blair said patiently. "Simon told me to tell you to stay home today. There'll be a car watching the place all day. He's having the lab guys go over your truck this morning."

"He'll call with the results?"

"Dumb question. Yes, because he knows if he doesn't, you'll be bugging him all day."

"I should go down and take a look at it, Chief. With my senses, I might pick up something the techies missed."


"If I sit here all day, I'm going to go nuts. You don't want to come home and find the place scrubbed to an inch of its life, do you?"

Blair tried to hold his glare, but his lips won the battle and widened into a broad smile. "Only you would use cleaning for blackmail purposes."

Jim knew he was winning. "Whatever works."

"Jeezus, Jim, you were almost killed last night."

The minute trembling beneath his skin gave Blair's agitation away and told Jim he wasn't nearly as composed as he wanted Jim to believe. He set his fork on his plate and rubbed Blair's arm. "Everything's okay. It takes a helluva lot more than a faulty brake to kill me."

"How about a bullet then?" Blair's eyes shimmered with emotion.

For the first time Jim noticed the dark circles as evidence of the younger man's sleepless night. He probably stayed awake to keep an eye on me the entire time. Jim flinched at the knowledge, sorry to be the one who kept Blair awake when the younger man needed his sleep. "I'm sorry, Chief. I don't mean to make light of attempted murder, but now that we know they're after me, we know where to concentrate our investigation."

Blair jumped to his feet and carried his half full plate to the sink. He kept his back turned to Jim as he rinsed the remnants down the disposal. "It also means you're going to be damned careful and let those men out there do their job."

Jim's eyebrows jumped up. "I didn't know you'd be so upset about something like this."

Blair turned around slowly and clutched the edge of the counter behind him. "'Something like this?' Damn it, Jim, someone's out to kill you. How would you feel if our positions were reversed?"

"I'm a cop, Blair, and you're only a--"

Blair slapped the counter and the sharp report resounded in the high-ceilinged room. "Don't you dare say it!" The younger man's voice trembled. "Don't you fucking dare say that I'm only a grad student. A bullet or a cut brake line or a knife or any of a dozen murder weapons don't differentiate -- they kill without regard to what you do or who you are."

Jim stared at his guide, shocked by the vehemence in his tone. He pushed himself up slowly and walked over to Blair's tightly strung body. "I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't mean--"

Blair held out his hands imploringly. "We have been partners for three years now, best friends for at least the last two, if not longer. How can you even think I wouldn't worry or care what happened to you?"

Bewildered, Jim shook his head and wished he could string words together like his partner and make them describe how he felt. "I never thought that you didn't care or didn't worry, Chief. Never. You've proven your friendship and loyalty in more ways and more often than I can count."

"Then be careful, Jim. Let those men out there do their job. If you want to go down to the station, call Simon and have him contact the stakeout team. They can come up and get you and escort you to the station."

Jim ground his teeth, hating that he would be treated like he couldn't take care of himself. Jeezus, he'd been a Ranger and in a lot worse situations. He shifted his gaze to Blair who stared at him with a mixture of defiance and fear -- fear for him. It was then he understood -- he was no longer a Ranger, no longer a lone wolf in the department. No longer solitary. He had a friend and with that came a responsibility to stay alive and safe.

He settled his right hand on Blair's stiff shoulder and squeezed it gently. "All right, Blair. I'll behave myself."

Blair searched his face for signs of duplicity, but there wasn't any to be found. His shoulders slumped and he nodded. "Thank you."

"No, thank you." And Jim smiled fondly. "Now I suggest you go shower and get ready to go. I'll give Simon a call."

"What about your lunch date with Jason?" Blair asked.

Jim had completely forgotten about it. "I'll call and cancel."

"If you're feeling up to it, maybe you should go," Blair said, surprising him. "You can have your 'bodyguards' escort you and stay close. In fact, if it's at one, I could meet you there. That'll give us another pair of eyes to watch for--"

"Whoa, slow down, Chief. I'll be all right with my, as you put it, 'bodyguards'. You don't have to run yourself ragged chasing after me. Why don't you use that time to finish up your paper?"

Jim watched the indecision play across Blair's face, idly wondering how someone with such an expressive face could be such a good poker player.

"Okay. I mean, it makes more sense. I can get the paper done and spend more time with you then," Blair said. He met Jim's eyes, his own filled with concern. "Please be careful and no super-sentinel stunts, okay?"

"I'll behave myself. Now go shower. I'll take care of the kitchen. Even one-handed, I do a better job of cleaning than you."

Blair chuckled. "No argument there, buddy. But be--"

"Careful," the two men finished together.

"Okay, okay, I can take a hint." Blair headed for the bathroom, but stuck his head around the corner and his eyes twinkled with mischief. "How does it feel being the mother hen-ee for a change?"

Before Jim could toss something -- a plate or a wisecrack -- at him, Blair disappeared, his laughter echoing behind him.

Jim leaned against the elevator wall of the downtown building which held McKenzie's Steak House on the top floor. His head ached, as did his arm, but he didn't want to take one of his painkillers, knowing it would knock him out. He had spent the previous hour going over his truck, which the forensics team had confirmed had its brakes cut, but only three quarters of the way through. The rest had come unraveled during the course of Jim's driving. The educated guess was the brakes had been cut anywhere from six to thirty-six hours previous, leaving too much time and too many people to account for, although Simon requested a list of valets who had worked at the Country Club during the charity. He had given it to Megan and Joel to check out. Jim hadn't found anything the techs had missed on his truck, and only succeeded in making his headache worse.

He glanced at the two suited men in the elevator with him -- Dev and Jonesy, both good detectives and both dedicated to guarding him. He was lucky. Even though not everyone in the department liked him -- much of the dislike stemmed from envy -- the brothers in blue took care of their own. If it had been Dev or Jonesy or Rafe or H or one of a hundred other cops who needed around-the-clock protection, Jim would've volunteered extra hours to do his share. That's just the way it was.

The scents of the restaurant hit them as soon as the elevator doors slid open.

"I think I just stepped into heaven," Dev said, closing his eyes to sniff the delicious aromas.

"Damn, you're a lucky SOB, Ellison," Jonesy said. "Who's footing the bill?"

Jim grinned wryly. "An old classmate -- Jason Harmony."

Dev whistled low. "I wish I had an old classmate buddy like that. He's listed as one of the top twenty richest men in Cascade."

"How would you know?" his partner demanded.

"Hey, I read the paper," Dev said with feigned wounded dignity.

"Gee, I thought you just looked at the pictures."

Jim smiled at the partners' antics and wondered if that's how others saw him and Blair. Remembering some of their bullpen conversations, Jim realized they probably were. "I hate to break this up, but I see Jason. Where are you guys going to be?"

"By the bar. We'll have some Coke and split an appetizer," Jonesy replied. "Not everyone has a rich buddy he can fob off his bill to."

Though the two men were ribbing him, Jim's conscience twinged. He'd be enjoying a steak while they could barely afford a couple drinks and an appetizer. He'd make sure they got at least a sandwich each and pay for them himself.

"I'll come over there when I'm done," Jim said and wove his way through the tables to where Jason sat, talking on his cell phone and unaware of Jim's arrival. He wore an obviously expensive dove gray pinstriped suit, probably an Armani, with soft black Italian loafers. He appeared every inch the successful businessman.

Suddenly Jason looked up at him, started to smile, then his lips changed direction and formed a frown. "What happened to you?" he asked, ignoring the person at the other end of the phone.

Jim shrugged. "An accident. I'll tell you about it while we're waiting for our food."

Jason nodded, then blinked and turned his attention to his phone. "That sounds good. Just make sure we're getting what we're paying for. I'll be back in the office after four."

Jim lowered himself to the chair across the table from Jason and deliberately looked at his watch, which he had moved to his right wrist. "A three hour lunch?"

"We'll need at least that much time for you to tell me what happened to you."

Their waiter arrived and the two men ordered drinks, a Coors for Jim since he hadn't taken a pain pill, and a martini with a twist for Jason.

"A martini lunch?" Jim asked, arching an eyebrow.

Jason shrugged. "Goes with the suit and job. Personally, I prefer jeans, an old sweatshirt and what you're drinking."

Jim laughed. "That's the Jason I remember."

Jason chuckled, but brought the conversation back to Jim. "So tell me what the hell happened."

Three hours later, Jim set down his third empty beer bottle. He was comfortably stuffed and felt a faint buzz at the back of his brain. The pain in his wrist and bruised body had faded to almost nothing. Maybe he could convince Blair beer was a better painkiller than the medication the doctor had given him. On second thought, Blair might condemn the painkillers and the alcohol, and insist on trying meditation to control the pain. Jim would keep his mouth shut.

He had told Jason about the murder attempt last night, as well as their conclusion that Jim was the target. After Jason had warned him to be careful, almost as vociferously as Blair had, Jim convinced him they had taken precautions, including the two detectives Jim had pointed out not long into their conversation. After Jim told his tale, the two men had segued into memories from high school, which brought laughter and groans from each of them.

"I'd better get back to the station," Jim said. "There are a couple things I want to do before heading home."

"You shouldn't even be going into work at all," Jason argued.

Jim shrugged. "I'm not very good at doing nothing when somebody's trying to kill me."

"I can understand that. But take it easy, okay?"

"I plan to."

It was after four o'clock when the two men stood and walked toward the bar where Dev and Jonesy were leaning back in their chairs, their appetites satisfied to the point of discomfort. When Jim had said he wanted to buy the two cops something to eat, Jason had insisted on paying for their meals, too, and had ordered them the biggest steaks in the house, along with all the trimmings. The entire bill for the four of them had been five hundred dollars, not counting the tip. Jason had paid it without batting an eye.

Dev and Jonesy stood when the other two men approached them.

"Jeez, thanks Jim, we didn't expect you to pay for our lunch," Dev said.

Jim grinned and pointed at Jason with his good hand. "Thank Jason. He took care of it."

Dev and Jonesy each shook Jason's hand and expressed their gratitude.

"No problem. You just keep this guy safe," Jason said, putting an arm around Jim's shoulders.

Jim rolled his eyes and walked to the elevator. Jason fell into step beside him while Dev and Jonesy took up a position behind and to the side of them. As they traveled downward in the elevator, Jason's phone rang.

"Hello," Jason said.

Jim, his hearing tuned up as he automatically scanned for danger, listened to both ends of the conversation.

"Contact has been made," said the person at the other end -- Jim recognized it as Bill Conley's voice.

Jason's heartbeat increased slightly as he smiled. "Good. The plan is working then. Remember, we don't want to rush this, Bill. Everything needs to be set in place perfectly."

"I know," Bill reassured. "How was lunch with Jimmy?"

"Great. He's standing next to me in the elevator right now."

"Tell him hi for me, would ya?"

"Sure will. I'll be back in the office in about fifteen minutes," Jason said.

"See ya then."

Jason closed his phone. "Bill says hello."

"Maybe the four of us can meet for lunch next time," Jim suggested.

"They would've come today, but we're in the middle of some sensitive negotiations right now and they were needed to field calls and punt actions."

Jim shook his head. "You make your business sound like a game of football."

Jason grinned widely and slapped Jim's back carefully. "It is, Jimmy. You get the same adrenaline rush."

"No, thanks. I'll stick with police work."

"If you ever get tired of it, give us a call. We could use another partner. The Fabulous Four, right?"

"Thanks for the offer, Jason, but if I wanted to work in business, I could've done that in my dad's company. Four walls and paperwork." He shuddered.

Jason studied him. "But you wouldn't have somebody trying to kill you either."

The elevator came to a gentle stop and Jim was relieved it put an end to Jason's recruitment speech. He liked Jason, but they had vastly different lives from what they'd had in high school. Coming from lower income families, Jason, Bill, and Mark had scrambled their way to the top and relished the lifestyle afforded them now. Jim had grown up around money, but had willingly tossed it all aside for dangerous jobs -- first the army, then law enforcement -- with little monetary benefits. But it was the belief that he could make things better and maybe help some people in the bargain which gave him something far more valuable than material goods.

Maybe it wasn't so odd that he and Blair had ended up the best of friends.

"Thanks again for lunch," Jim said to Jason.

"You're welcome. Why don't you golf with us some time at the club? We could use a fourth," Jason said.

"I might just do that." He deliberately looked at his wrist brace. "After this comes off."

After a round of farewells, Jason climbed into his personally chauffeured Lincoln Town Car which was waiting at the curb for him.

"I'll hike the six blocks to get the car while you wait here with Jim," Jonesy volunteered with more than a trace of envy in his voice as he watched Jason's car pull into the downtown traffic.

"Why don't we all walk to the car?" Jim suggested. "After that meal, I could use a little exercise."

"You sure you're up to it?" Dev asked.

"I'm fine. Besides, maybe we can draw out my stalker." And he started walking.

"Banks is gonna kill us," Jim heard Jonesy mutter to his partner.

Dev snorted. "Hell, Sandburg scares me more than Banks."

Jim stifled his amusement at the thought of the 150-pound grad student reaming out the two husky detectives. Two seconds later a frustrated Dev and Jonesy joined him. Fortunately for Dev and Jonesy, but unfortunately for Jim, the sentinel didn't see or hear anything unusual and there was no attempt on his life.

Blair glanced at the clock on his wall: 3:45. Fifteen more minutes and he could head home. He tried to concentrate on his research paper, but he couldn't shake a lingering feeling of dread. It wasn't the frantic feeling he'd had last night while waiting for Jim. But something felt strange -- off-kilter. He lifted his phone receiver to dial Jim's cell phone, but set it back down. Jim had promised to behave and Blair trusted him.

3:47. He saved what he'd written on both his hard drive and a floppy, then shut down his computer.

3:52. A light knock sounded on his partially open door and irritation flared. Why did students always wait until the last minute?

"Come in," he called, working to keep the annoyance out of his voice.

The door swung open and Cynthia Harmony poked her head in. "Hi Blair."

Startled, the grad student stood and came around his desk. "Cynthia. What are you doing here? Are you all right?"

The woman, dressed conservatively in pale green trousers and a matching print blouse, smiled. Classy. That was the only word Blair could use to describe her.

"I'm fine," she replied. "I'm actually here to ask you some questions about the curriculum at Rainier."

"Why?" As soon as the word escaped his mouth, Blair realized how rude he sounded, but Cynthia didn't seem to notice.

"I'm thinking about going back to school and since you seem to know a lot about the college and I know you, I thought I could pick your brain."

Blair relaxed enough to give her a sincere smile. "That all depends on what subject you're interested in. If it's business, I'm afraid I don't have a clue."

"Actually, I was thinking about archeology. I know it's not exactly anthropology, but from what I understand, the two are closely related."

Blair wouldn't have pegged Cynthia, dressed in her expensive designer clothing, to be an "old relic" type person, but then he didn't know her that well either. He removed a pile of books from a chair and motioned to it. "Have a seat and I'll see if I can answer your questions."

Cynthia gracefully sank into the chair and crossed her right leg over her left. She looked around his office and laughed, a light musical sound. "You weren't kidding when you said you wouldn't know what to do without your books."

The anthropologist shrugged. "Ever since I was a kid, if I had any spare money, I spent it on books. I still do." He paused. "So why archeology?"

The woman shrugged and worried her lower lip between even pearly white teeth. "It seems so interesting. I loved the Indiana Jones movies."

Blair caught himself before rolling his eyes. How often had he heard the same words from young idealistic freshmen? He decided to tell her the same thing he told them. "Archeology, overall, is slow, painstaking work and you usually end up living in a tent for weeks and months at a time, often times without the conveniences of things we take for granted: hot water, electricity, microwave popcorn." He smiled to ease his blunt words. "It would also mean you and Jason could be separated for months at a time while you're working at an excavation site."

Cynthia shrugged. "Maybe that's not a bad thing."

Warning bells went off in his head and he held up his hands, palms out. "Look, Cynthia, I'm not a marriage counselor. If you and Jason are having personal problems, you should see a professional. In fact, I could give you the name of one--"

"No, please, I'm sorry, Blair. I didn't mean to embarrass you or make you feel uncomfortable. I really am interested in going back to school. I think it would do me good, and archeology sounds exciting." She tilted her head and her blonde hair fell across her brow, reminding him of Meg Ryan. "Maybe I could sit in on one of your classes, and see what anthropology is like. That is, if you don't mind."

"We're over halfway through a semester so you probably won't get much out of it."

"But I'd get enough to decide if I enjoy the subject."

University policy said a person had to sign up for a class -- for credits or audit -- before they could sit in. But what harm could it do? It would give Cynthia something else to think about besides her workaholic husband. Nobody but Blair would know. Well, and Jim. He couldn't not tell his partner after reassuring him he would stay away from Cynthia Harmony. Jim might not like it, but what could Cynthia do with forty other students in the classroom?

"All right," Blair agreed. "My 101 class meets Tuesday and Thursday evenings from seven to nine."

Cynthia smiled. "That sounds perfect. Jason works until ten almost every night."

"Have you told him you'd like to go back to school?"

"Yes, and he's actually very supportive. I was kind of surprised because he usually likes me to greet him when he comes home." She wrinkled her nose. "A little June Cleaver clone."

Blair laughed. "Nobody could mistake you for the Beav's mom."

"Why thank you, Blair. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were flirting with me." Cynthia's coy expression startled him.

"But you do know better," Blair said quickly. He leaned forward and rested his tightly clasped hands on the desk. "I like you, Cynthia, but you are married. I can be your friend, but that's all."

"I'm sorry," she said, her face flushed. "I didn't mean to come on to you. It's just that I'm so used to--"

"It's all right," Blair assured. "I just wanted to make sure we were both on the same page here."

"We are. I'll behave. I promise."

The anthropologist chuckled. "We're cool. Now, about anthropology..."

An hour and a half later, Cynthia and Blair left together as they made their way to the almost-deserted parking lot.

Talking and laughing, neither one noticed the man with the camera.

The key in the door's lock brought Jim's eyes flashing open as he sat on the couch in the loft. A moment later, Blair entered the dim room and tossed his keys in the basket. Relief filtered through the detective.

"Hey, man, are you all right?" the anthropologist asked, hurrying over to his partner.

Jim gazed at the younger man, relieved to see him but unable to figure out why he had been so anxious for Blair to get home. It was pretty obvious Blair wasn't the target, but it wasn't in Jim's nature not to worry about his guide. "Yeah, I'm fine. I was just getting a little worried. You said you had office hours until four then you'd be home."

"Oh, jeez, I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't even think to call. I meant to leave but somebody stopped by my office right at four." Blair sat down on the couch beside him and scrubbed a hand over his face. "It was Cynthia Harmony."

"What?" Jim would've jumped up to pace, but he was too sore and exhausted. "Are you crazy, Sandburg?"

"Settle down, Jim. I didn't go looking for her. She said she was interested in going back to school and wanted information on Rainier, and since she knew me..."

"And one thing lead to another?" Jim ground out.

"No, absolutely not, Jim. I told her flat out I would be her friend and help her out, but I wouldn't be any more than that."

"So what did she want?"

"She had questions about archeology and anthropology." He grinned sheepishly. "And you know how I get when I start talking."

Jim's disquiet eased and a smile tempted his lips. "No, really?"

Blair slapped Jim's knee companionably. "Careful, man, or I'll entertain you with 'The Global Cultural Similarities of Shamanistic Practices.'"

Jim pretended to think for a minute. "Actually, that sounds kind of interesting."

Blair stared at him, his eyes wide. "Sometimes you surprise me."

"Have to keep you on your toes, Chief. What do you want for dinner?" He began to push himself up.

Blair stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Just stay here, Jim. I'll throw something together."

Sinking back into the couch, Jim studied his partner. "What about your paper?"

"It's done. I just have to do a final read tonight or tomorrow. No biggie."

Jim studied him to determine if he was obfuscating, but there was nothing but sincerity. "Why don't you order Chinese? I'll even spring for it. That way you can work on your final read while we're waiting for the food to be delivered."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure, Chief."

Blair tossed him a grateful smile and picked up the phone.

With Jim's truck in the shop getting its brake line repaired, Blair drove the Volvo to the station the next morning. They made a stop at Rainier on the way so Blair could drop off his paper, and since the anthropologist didn't have a class to teach until that evening he could spend the day with Jim.

On Monday, Simon had given Joel and Megan the list Jim had compiled of people with grudges against him, and they had made a considerable dent in those names. The two detectives had also spoken with the clubhouse valets who'd worked during the golf charity. When Jim and Blair arrived at the bullpen, Simon called them all into his office for an update.

Jim leaned back in his chair carefully, heedful of his still painful ribs. Blair sat on his right with Joel and Megan across from them. Simon had taken the head position of the conference table.

"Did you two come up with any possibles yesterday?" Simon asked Joel and Megan.

"We checked out the valets, but ruled them out. From Jim's list of released felons, we have two names," Conner reported. "A Mark Woodson and an Elijah Donovan."

"Woodson went up for four on a felonious assault and Donovan two for dealing drugs," Jim said, then frowned. "How'd Woodson get out so early? He should have at least another year."

"Model prisoner," Joel replied. "He's got a job as a car mechanic."

"Why do you think he might be a possible?" Blair, who'd been following the conversation like it was a tennis match, asked.

"When we brought up Jim's name, the man went bonkers," Megan replied. "However, after he calmed down, he apologized."

"Did you believe him?"

Megan glanced at Joel, who replied, "Yeah, we did, but since he'd been in for assault and the fact that he works at a garage, we left his name on the list."

"What about an alibi for Saturday?" Jim asked.

"He said he was out biking with a friend," Joel said.

"Have you checked out his story?"

"Not yet. His mate's a trucker. He's out on the road," Megan answered.

Jim rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. "Woodson was convicted of beating up an acquaintance who supposedly borrowed his Harley without permission. He's got a helluva temper, which was why he threatened me, but my gut's saying it's not him."

"What about the other guy?" Blair asked. "Elijah Donovan?"

"Small time dealer. He sold to support his own habit. He didn't strike me as dangerous," Jim said.

"So why him?" Blair asked the two detectives across the table from him.

"No alibi. He says he slept until one on Saturday," Joel replied.

"See if you can get a hold of Woodson's friend. Most truckers have cell phones these days," Simon said. "Do we have anything else on Donovan other than no alibi for Saturday? Does he own a rifle? Would he know how to tamper with a brake line?"

"We'll check into it, sir," Megan said.

"All right," Simon said. "There's only seven names left. Conner, Taggert, I want you two to talk to them."

"I can take a few of the names," Jim said.

Simon shook his head firmly. "No way, Jim. You're deskbound for the rest of the week. And when you leave the building, you'll have two police officers with you."

"I'm not going to sit around while someone's trying to kill me, sir. I need to be out there, looking for the bastard."

"You need to stay here where you'll be safe. I won't have you murdered for no reason other than to appease your pride."

Jim jumped to his feet, inwardly flinching at the pain that arrowed through his injured body. "Damn it, Simon. Let me go with them. I put these people away; I know them. I may be able to see or hear something no one else can." He stared at his boss and friend, willing him to understand what he couldn't say in front of Joel and Megan.

Simon's mouth thinned to a grim line as he stared at Jim, who met his gaze and held it. It wasn't the first time the two stubborn men had locked horns, but usually they didn't have an audience. Finally, the captain relented. "I don't like it, Ellison. If there's someone out there determined to kill you--"

"He's going to get me sooner or later," Jim finished quietly. "At least give me a chance to meet him one-on-one."

Simon nodded slowly. "All right, Jim. You and Sandburg can go with Joel and Megan."

"But Captain, we could cover twice the ground in half the time if we split the names."

Simon aimed his unlit cigar at the sentinel and the appeasement which had been there earlier disappeared. "You will not, I repeat, will not be going anywhere without two other police officers -- in this case, Joel and Megan."

"He's right, Jim," Joel said in his quiet, but firm voice. "Let us help Blair watch your back."

"I appreciate the help, man," Blair said with a smile directed at the soft-spoken man.

"You're supposed to be on my side," Jim growled.

"I am, buddy, that's why I want to stick with Joel and Megan," the observer said in a low voice. "More protection, more chance of staying alive."

Jim grumbled a little more, but capitulated, more so to soothe Blair than his boss. "All right, but it seems like a waste of manpower."

"Keeping you alive is hardly a waste of manpower," Banks said, his voice as dry as sawdust. "Anything else?"

"Where do we go after this, sir?" Megan asked. "The only clue we have is a slug taken from a tree on Saturday. If we come up empty after talking with these last seven men, what then? Wait until they try again?" Her voice was firm, but no one could mistake the worry in her eyes.

Simon dropped his pen onto the open file on his desk and shook his head. "I don't know."

The bleakness in the three words startled Jim. It was obvious everyone was taking the threat to his life personally and, though their friendships warmed him, it also made him uncomfortable. "Look, we all know the budget won't allow around the clock protection on me any longer than a week. If he doesn't try again in that time, I'm going to assume he's given up."

"We don't know that."

"We'll do it on our own time."

"You can't assume anything."

Simon, Joel, and Conner all spoke at the same time. Blair was gazing at him silently, his eyes both fearful and understanding.

Jim held up a hand. "We're spinning our wheels sitting here. Let's get going and catch this son of a bitch so we don't have to have this discussion later."

"Jim's right," Simon said in the thick silence that followed. "Get to work, people."

The scrape of chair legs on the floor heralded the rise of the three detectives and one observer. Out in the bullpen, it was agreed that Jim and Blair in the Volvo would follow Megan and Joel as they worked their way through the list. Joel handed Jim a copy of the remaining suspects' names and addresses.

At the first address, nobody answered their summons. Blair caught Jim's eye and tapped his ear while motioning toward the apartment door. Jim listened, but couldn't hear any signs of occupancy. He shook his head.

The next place yielded the same results, but a neighbor informed them the man was at work. She even told them his employer, Ironside Works, and that he usually got home about six thirty. The third suspect's home was halfway across town. Megan and Joel waited for Blair and Jim to join them, then they approached the small rundown house together.

As they neared it, Jim extended his senses and heard two heartbeats, which were beating faster than normal. The rapid breathing and moans and grunts told Jim all he needed to know. The suspect was in there with a woman. He leaned close to his guide, who had kept an unobtrusive hand on Jim's back. "He's not going to be happy."

Blair frowned his question.

"He has company. Female company," Jim replied.

A grin lifted the corners of Blair's lips, even as pink flooded his cheeks.

Megan pounded on the door and Jim heard the creaking of springs abruptly halt. For a long minute, there was silence. The Aussie knocked harder. "Cascade Police. Open up."

Colorful cursing from the bedroom inside made Jim grimace. Ed Arliss wasn't a happy man. Heavy footsteps preceded the door swinging open to reveal a man with oily hair, stained jeans zipped but not buttoned, and a nearly threadbare shirt with the buttons undone. Arliss eyed the contingent and when he spotted Jim, anger filled his broad face.

"What the hell do you want, Ellison?" Arliss demanded.

Jim forced his muscles to relax, to pretend to be offended. "I'm hurt, Eddie. Here I thought you'd be happy to see an old friend."

"Fuck you, Ellison."

"I see prison didn't clean up your dirty mouth, but then it's hard to remove stains as ground in as yours."

Arliss' cheeks flushed to scarlet and his hands fisted at his sides. Conner and Joel shifted so they were shoulder to shoulder in front of Jim, and the sentinel could feel Blair's fingers gripping the back of his shirt.

"We have some questions we'd like to ask you," Joel said, keeping his voice strictly professional. "Where were you Saturday, approximately 12:10 p.m. -- that's ten minutes after noon."

"I know when that is," Arliss said. "I was with Myrna."

"Who's Myrna?" Conner asked.

"My girlfriend." He smiled, revealing stained and crooked teeth. "You can meet her if you want. She's in bed." The way he said it left no question in anyone's mind as to what they'd interrupted.

"Yes, please," Joel said.

Arliss scowled. "Yes what?"

Joel's broad shoulders moved with a silent sigh. "We'd like to talk with her."

"Myrna! Get your ass out here!" Arliss shouted without warning.

Jim flinched and his temples pounded. His hearing, though not on its highest setting, was above normal. He turned the dial down, not surprised to see Blair studying him with concern. "I'm okay," Jim assured him in a low voice.

"Aren't you the gentleman," Megan commented to Arliss, her sarcasm as sharp as a lion's tooth.

Arliss' face expressed his confusion -- he probably didn't know if he'd been insulted or complimented. Finally, a woman with a ratty bathrobe wrapped around her pale skinny body came out of the hallway. Her face was colorless, except for two red splotches on her cheeks, which could have been a bad make-up job or the result of interrupted activities. The scent of those earlier activities reeking from her made Jim dial down his sense of smell before he became physically ill.

"Yeah?" she asked, her somewhat vacuous gaze roaming across Jim and the others.

"These are cops. They wanna ask you--" Eddie began.

"Where were you Saturday around noon?" Megan interrupted.

"Uh." The single word seemed to take most of her brain cells. The few remaining ones appeared to be working on the question. "Uh, let's see." Her expression lit up like she just realized she had a Bingo. "Me and Eddie were makin' love."

"Are you absolutely certain?" Joel pressed.

She nodded, her eyes wide but not quite as vacant as they'd been earlier. "Yes, officer, I'm certain. We were right here." She giggled. "Well, not right here. We were in the bedroom."

"Thanks for your time," Jim cut in curtly. It was obvious it wasn't Eddie. He turned on his heel and heard Blair follow him, and Joel and Megan thanking Arliss for his time.

"You okay?" Blair asked quietly.

"It wasn't him," Jim said without doubt.

Jim expected his guide to ask him how he could be so certain, but Blair only nodded and the sentinel was pleasantly surprised by his acceptance without an interrogation. Jim folded his body into the Volvo's passenger seat.

"Next place is on Summerset," Joel said, stopping by the car. "Why don't we stop for something to eat before going there?"

Blair glanced at his sullen partner. "You hungry, Jim?"


"Lunch sounds good," Blair said, not acknowledging Jim's surly reply. "There's a great little Mom and Pop place not far from here."

"We'll follow you," Joel said.

After Joel and Megan moved back to their car, Jim said irritably, "I said I wasn't hungry, Sandburg."

"Maybe not, but the rest of us are," Blair replied calmly.

Jim bit his tongue to keep his displeasure silent.

An hour later, they came out of a small hole-in-the-wall fifties type cafe. Jim had eaten a grilled chicken sandwich and a hearty salad -- every bit of each. He must have been hungrier than he thought.

And his guide had known it. That was why he had insisted on eating.

He glanced at Blair and found the anthropologist looking at him. Jim smiled his gratitude.

Blair merely grinned in return and pulled onto the street to follow Joel and Megan's sedan to their next destination.

Sitting in his office waiting to teach his Tuesday evening class, Blair hit speed dial one.

"Ellison," came the familiar bark.

"Hey, Jim, you doing okay?"

There was a huff of air which could've been amusement or exasperation. "Yeah, Mom, I'm doing fine. I even ate all my supper."

"Even the string beans?" Blair teased.

"And the spinach," Jim bantered and the grad student could hear the smile in his voice. "How about you, Chief? See any strangers lurking?"

"None stranger than usual. I should be home around nine thirty or ten. Class goes until nine."

"Call a patrol car before you leave the building."

Blair gripped the phone tighter and kept his voice intentionally light. "The uniforms have better things to do than escort police observers to their cars. I'll be okay, Jim. Nobody's after me."

Thick silence filled the airwaves between them. "All right," Jim finally capitulated. "But if you're going to be later than ten, call me. Got it, Chief?"

"Got it." Blair couldn't stop the warmth from flowing through his words. He'd never had anyone who cared about his whereabouts before and for some reason he couldn't fathom, it felt good. For somebody who'd grown up in a footloose environment, where shackles -- both emotional and physical -- were akin to prison, it was an odd realization.

"I'll see you in a few hours then."

"Did you take a painkiller?"

"No. I'm keeping my dial down a notch."

"All right, but if you have to go down another notch, take the painkiller instead and get some sleep, okay?"

"Okay, Mom. See ya later."

"Bye, Jim."

Smiling, Blair punched the phone off and stared at it a moment before placing it back in its cradle. He looked around his office, remembering the first time Jim had entered it; remembered the cop's anger and defensiveness when Blair had tried to explain what was "wrong" with him. And Blair remembered the moment he felt the premonition of danger and rushing out to see Jim standing in the middle of the street in a zone-out with a garbage truck bearing down on him. The student had never questioned the foreboding, but had accepted it. It wasn't until later, when Jim had been kidnapped by Oliver that Blair had begun examining the premonition he'd once again experienced. And again when Lila had come back into Jim's life. Although Blair hadn't understood that feeling of dread until Lila's past had come to light.

Did he feel that same dark premonition now? He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, finding his center with little difficulty after years of practice. Something dodged around his awareness, but it didn't feel the same. It was ephemeral, dipping and hiding among the myriad of thoughts and emotions. There was some meaning to it, but Blair had no clue what it was. He concentrated on Jim, bringing him to mind, but there was no waves of anxiety, no darkness surrounding him. Jim was safe for now.

So what was the elusive shadow hiding in the fringes?

A knock on his door startled him out of his thoughts and his eyes flashed open, plunging him back to reality. "Come in," he called out.

The door opened and Cynthia Harmony stepped inside. This evening she wore snug jeans, an emerald sweater which hugged her breasts and slim waist, and a new backpack slung over a slender shoulder. She could've passed for a student fifteen years her junior.

Blair stood. "I wasn't sure if you were coming or not."

"I couldn't decide what to wear." She shrugged. "I didn't think my usual wardrobe would fit in."

"When in Rome..." Blair began. "You look great." Embarrassed by his impulsive compliment, he glanced at the clock on the wall. "Time to go." He grabbed his notes and glasses.

Ushering Cynthia out ahead of him, he locked his office door and led her to the anthropology lecture hall.

"Sit wherever you'd like." He smiled at her. "And if you get bored, don't feel bad about slipping out early."

"I'm sure I won't be." She glanced around and her wide eyes reminded Blair of a child's on Christmas morning. "I'm really excited about this."

"It's funny. Most people would look at you and think you have the world at your feet. A handsome husband, a wealthy lifestyle."

Cynthia's expression faded. "I look at you and see someone who's truly happy, and I envy you."

Blair blinked, uncomfortable by her melancholy. He forced a laugh. "Nobody's life is perfect, Cynthia. We make our choices and we have to live with them. If we want to change because of past bad choices, then that's up to the individual. No one else can live your life."

"I know. It's just taking that initial step that's the most difficult."

Blair leaned down and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Remember there's people who'll help you, if you let them."

She laid a hand on his. "Thanks, I'll remember."

Blair drew away. "I'd better start class."

Two hours later, Blair concluded his notes, fielded some questions from a couple giggling coeds, and finally headed toward the exit door. Waiting for him was Cynthia.

"That was great," Cynthia gushed immediately. "Your experiences in Ruwandi were amazing."

"Part of the joys of being an anthropologist," Blair said with an embarrassed wave of his hand. "Did you drive here?"

She nodded. "I parked by your car."

"That was a good idea. We can walk out together. I just need to stop at my office and get my stuff."

Ten minutes later, Blair stood by Cynthia's red Mercedes. He waited until she got in her car before staying good-night and turning to his own.

"I'll see you Thursday evening," Cynthia called out as she drove away.

Blair lifted his hand in farewell. That had gone better than he had anticipated. Although he hadn't told Jim, he had been worried that Cynthia was taking his class simply to get closer to him. But her grasp of the subject matter was amazing and she'd asked him intelligent questions as they'd walked out to the parking lot.

Sighing in relief, Blair slid into his Volvo and headed home.

Part Two