Detective Jim Ellison stretched, tilting his head from side to side, extending first his cramped neck muscles, then rotating his shoulders, trying to ease some of the stiffness. He had been sitting on a motel room bed, staring out the window for several hours without a break, and his body needed one. Back, neck, buttocks, every muscle in his body was crying for a change of position. Not to mention his bladder.
Keeping his hearing focused on the parking lot, Ellison slowly stood and stretched a bit more, mindful of his partner's quick glance in his direction.
"Everything okay, Jim?"
"It will be in a minute," Ellison said, gesturing to the bathroom.
"Want me to watch outside for a while?" Blair Sandburg asked, already making a motion to get up from where he sat cross-legged on the other of the room's two double beds, a laptop computer resting on his knees.
"No, it's okay, chief. Keep on with what you're doing. I'm listening," he said with a smile, tapping his ear.
Sandburg nodded, his focus already back on whatever was occupying him on the screen. He'd been at it since they got there at six o'clock, almost six hours straight of alternately typing and reading from one of the three tomes he'd brought along with him on the surveillance assignment. He had only stopped to help Jim make his rounds once an hour, and then he'd been right back into it, using that boundless energy, driving himself with his usual focused determination.
Boundless energy? Ellison ran his hands under the bathroom tap, splitting his focus for a moment to allow the warmth of the water to soak up through his entire body. No, he knew Sandburg would crash soon enough. The kid had a limit to how far he could push himself, even if the anthropologist thought he could squeeze just 'another few minutes' into his waking schedule. More than once, Jim had come into the loft to find his friend fast asleep at the kitchen table, the screen-saver graphic on the computer idly spinning unnoticed.
Jim had suggested Blair lie down for a bit when they arrived at the motel to take over from the previous two cops, but Sandburg had given him a cocky smile and said, "No thanks, man. I grew out of afternoon naps many years ago. Didn't even like them then. Ask Naomi. I'm fine, man. We'll be home just after midnight--earlier if this guy you're after shows up."
There wasn't much the detective could say about that. He could have pointed out that Blair hadn't slept at all the previous night, after spending it reading and writing comments on his students' preliminary mid-term paper outlines for one of the classes he was teaching. He could have pointed out that Blair's day had disappeared in meetings first at the university, and then at the police station. He could have pointed out that the 'couple of hours of shut-eye' Blair had told Ellison he was going to take before the surveillance had became lost in the shuffle of his layered life.
Actually, Blair seemed fine, so Jim had said none of the above.
Ellison smiled quietly to himself, drying his hands on a rough, over-bleached towel he had pulled from the bundled stack over the toilet. Kids. There was a time that I could go all night without sleeping, without it affecting me, but those days are long gone. Sandburg had a habit of burning both ends of the candle, but eventually even the kid's almost boundless energy would fizzle out. Well, it was almost midnight now. In another half hour their replacements would be arriving and they could go home and he'd steer his partner straight to bed. He'd heard Blair trying rather unsuccessfully not to yawn over the last half hour and it was all he could do to not echo the yawn. It had been a long day for him as well.
Still no sound from the parking lot, except the annoying buzz of the motel's neon sign which he had to remember to sift out each time he shifted his attention away from the area. No new cars had driven into the lot. No pedestrians had walked in. The motel was just off the I-5 and the steady stream of cars passing by on the interstate freeway seemed to defy the notion that it was the middle of the night.
The man they were after, LeRoy Campbell, was said to have rented one of these rooms, but the manager had only provided the information that most of the registered guests were single, male businessmen. All but one were Caucasian, and the manager couldn't say if any of the men had answered to Campbell's description. All the rooms had been rented for the night, but over a third of them were presently unoccupied.
Campbell was a wanted fugitive, on the run from the authorities in Chicago for embezzling and extortion. He was not known to be armed or dangerous, just a public nuisance who was going to be caught one of these days. He was a one-man act, no known accomplices or contacts. He had escaped the Illinois police with a suitcase full of money and a briefcase full of stolen credit cards. It was one of those cards which had brought them to the City's Edge Motel. Only the owner wasn't sure which room had been paid for with the card. He only marked 'paid' on the slip, not how it was paid.
It would have made much more sense for them to just go room by room and check out the individual occupants, but the FBI was in on the case, since it crossed state lines, and the orders had come through for them to just watch the building until the FBI came the next morning.
Ellison left the bathroom, surprised to see Sandburg talking on the cellphone. With his hearing focused on the parking lot, he wasn't aware of the sounds going on around him. He switched his hearing back to their room.
"No problem, Simon," Sandburg was saying. "Yes, I'll tell him-- Oh, he just came out of the bathroom. D'you want to talk to him?. . . Okay . . . Sure." Blair shrugged and switched off the call. "Simon called to say that Joe and Brownie are following up on a lead on where this Campbell guy you're after is camped out. Something about another credit card being used at the other side of town. If it doesn't pan, they'll come straight here. Meanwhile, Simon says we've got at least another couple of hours to put in."
"There wasn't any one else he could call?" It was a stupid question and he waved off Blair's half-hearted shrug as he walked through the narrow space between the bed and the window to take up his post again. They were already working short-handed on this case--it was why Simon had allowed Blair to accompany him on the surveillance in the first place.
"It's quarter to twelve, chief; I'm going to do another round."
"Are you sure that's a good idea, Jim? You're getting tired and you might zone."
"That's why you're here, remember?"
Sandburg smiled, rolling his eyes, and saved his work on the computer. He left the bed he was sitting on and crawled across the other bed to sit just behind Jim, his hand resting lightly on the taller man's left shoulder. "Okay, go for it."
The first time he had done this, at 6:45 that night, Blair had stationed himself at his side, one hand on Jim's shoulder as he talked him through the steps. Their room was on the top corner of the L that made up the motel building. Thirty-two suites, all facing the parking lot, sixteen on the ground level, sixteen on the second floor. The office was at the other end of the L, with the manager's suite above it. "Now think about where you're heading, Jim. Look at the window of #101. Now follow your sight and listen."
He had done exactly what Blair had said, once more surprising himself when it worked. He could hear the baby fussing as the young couple within made out on the bed.
"He's not there."
"Okay, next room. #102. Focus on the window. Now follow your sight and listen."
It worked a second time, but this time there was only the news on the television and a businessman saying goodnight to his kids over the telephone.
"He's not there."
"Okay, next room. #103 . . . "
And so it had gone, room by room they had worked through the entire eight rooms running east to west on the one wing of the L, then started on the second storey, #201-208. He did those without Blair's verbal help, but the hand on his shoulder never wavered as he let his hearing rest quickly on each room.
The wing they were staying on had proved more difficult, but they had solved the problem by Jim looking at the reflection of the north to south rooms in the windows along the first wing. It was trickier but he still managed to do it, with Blair's verbal clues. He'd never quite figured out how exactly Sandburg came up with this stuff, but he'd decided early on not to question it too much because he really didn't want to find out that the kid was making it up as he went.
Each hour after that, he had made the rounds, only requiring Sandburg's help for the north/south rooms. On his last round, an hour before, he had almost been able to manage it on his own. Sandburg's quiet support was still there, the hand on his shoulder, the vibration of the voice in his ear, and it grounded him against zoning as he piggybacked his hearing on his sight.
Now, as midnight approached, he finished the first row, #101-108, skipping over the rooms he'd already ruled out, and adding room #108 to the list. The man within had just placed a long-distance call to his office in Sydney, Australia.
Jim turned to pass that information on to his partner, only to see that Blair had fallen asleep. His head rested against Jim's upper arm, but his hand still kept its firm pressure on the police detective's shoulder. Ellison turned back to view the second storey, pausing at room 205. In several rooms, he had encountered the same problem. The television had been on quietly ever since they arrived, and he'd heard no phone calls, overheard no voices in conversation. He listened intently, but the room was quiet now, the single occupant to the room seemed to be asleep, his breathing and heart rate even and at rest. An identical situation was in room 208; the television was on to a late night talk show, but the occupant also appeared to be asleep.
Ellison pulled his attention back to his own room, conscious of the heavier weight of his partner slumped against him. He shifted over to his right, letting Blair's head slide down until it rested on his left thigh, then covered his partner's left hand with his own. Yes, the kid was out for the count. Jim sat that way for a few minutes, tuning himself to the young man's breathing, the slight pressure of the head on his lap, the minute weight of the over-long curls, the hand beneath his, their fingers intertwined. If he could ground himself with his tactile senses focused on Blair, he might be able to do the rest of the round without waking him.
He looked outside the window from where he sat, his knees brushing the wall. It had rained earlier, but now the wind was blowing the clouds away. The parking lot sat silent and still. No one had been in or out in the last hour. It was quiet but for the humming of the neon 'No Vacancy' sign.
Ellison stared at the reflection of the north/south wing in the bottom motel room windows, wondering if he should chance checking out their wing without Blair's verbal assistance. Would his tactile sense alone be enough? In the past, the hand on the shoulder had always been accompanied by Blair's voice. Or was it the vibration of Blair's voice he had been aware of? He thought about it for a minute and then shrugged it off. One of these days he'd mention it to Sandburg and they'd probably end up doing some ridiculous tests to figure it out. Again, where the kid came up with these things, he really didn't want to know. As long as they kept on working.
He glanced down at his partner, sprawled across the bed, his stockinged feet on the pillows, his head on Jim's lap. Blair's left hand twitched now and again, the fingers moving, as though he were still typing his endless documents on the computer.
Jim moved his right hand to rest on Blair's bare forehead, and the twitching stopped. He could feel the young man switching into a deep mode of sleep. Curls brushed across Jim's fingers as Ellison let the multitude of sensations weave through him and anchor him to this room, this presence with him. He bent over slightly, letting his sight take in his partner in sleep, mouth slightly open, dark stubble on his chin, dark eyelashes against the pale skin, the multiple layers of off-beat clothing that Blair wore on damp days like this one; tonight it was a multi-colored vest--the one Blair had worn the first day they met--over a black, woven, short-sleeved shirt over a red, long-sleeved t-shirt. Threadbare jeans with a hole in one knee. One sock grey, the other white.
A squirrel ran across the parking lot, on a late night excursion. Jim lifted his head and watched it ruffle over the pavement, its feathered tail bobbing behind it. He focused on the sound of air rushing through the individual hairs as the squirrel skittered up a tree and into the branches. He took a deep breath and let it out, his sight returning to the main floor motel suites. He could easily see the rooms now. Just let go of your hearing and follow your sight. How often had he heard Blair say that to him tonight? Let your hearing hear where you are. Why did that make sense to him when Blair said it but it made no sense now? Let your hearing hear where you are? Did that even make sense to Blair? How much of this all was research the kid had dug up, how much was he making up as he went, and how much was something deeper--some instinctual behavior of a Guide with a Sentinel?
There were times when Blair would look at him, obviously as stumped as Jim was at some new problem with his senses, then the anthropologist would close his eyes, as he did tonight, and say something that sounded absolutely ridiculous if analyzed, but it would work. Jim, just let go of your hearing and follow your sight. Okay? Now listen to where you are. Let your hearing hear where you are.
Ellison looked down at his partner, his eyes once again following the familiar features, not seeing the outward clothes and appearance this time, but surveying his spirit, his essence. The magnitude of trust and acceptance his Guide had in him. The complete dedication Sandburg showed for his perceived role, his place alongside the Sentinel. His utter confidence in his Blessed Protector. His ability to get under the skin of one soul-dead cop who had lost the capacity to give a damn about anything, and allow him to live again.
That was his Guide. His companion. A mixture of colors and textures, with a pulsing aliveness that never stopped even when he was at rest. Jim drew the slumbering body closer, letting the heartbeat echo with his own. Blair was tucked beneath his left arm, their fingers still intertwined. I wish I knew how to be this Sentinel you talk about, this Blessed Protector. You've taken care of me so well--how do I begin to take care of you? What is it you want from me?
Shaking his head slightly against the wealth of images, Ellison sighed again, then took another deep breath and stopped to analyze what his sense of smell was feeding him. Even the scent had become as familiar as the rest of Blair. The slight tang of shampoo and conditioner, deodorant and soap. The musty smell of his university office, the herbal tea he had been drinking all evening. And the smell that was just Blair alone, one Jim was sure he could recognize in a crowd, beneath all the other masking odors. Block them out, Jim. Sift through the different scents until you get to what you're looking for.
Well, why not? Ellison thought suddenly, his thoughts back to the job at hand. Instead of touch and hearing to anchor him, why not touch and smell?
Jim leaned down again, his nose just grazing the edge of one curl, and he let the papaya scent of Blair's conditioner fill his nostrils. Yes, he could remember that. He looked up, across the parking lot to the reflection in the windows. He'd try one window and see if he could do it. If he zoned . . . well, the worse that could happen would be that Campbell could get away from them. It wasn't a life and death situation.
Neither was it an assignment that he could experiment during. He had been assigned to do surveillance on the motel, not to test out some new theories. That was Sandburg's field.
Ellison spent another half hour concentrating on his senses of touch and smell, while he watched the parking lot. No movement outside. All he could hear was that damned sign humming, the cars passing on the I-5 in the distance, the odd dog barking. He tried to find the squirrel, but it was long since gone.
Ellison's eyes kept returning to the motel rooms reflected in the windows of the other wing. He could feel his confidence building, his belief that he could do this. The chance of anything going wrong or the assignment being compromised was minimal. I'm going to do it. Jim felt his arms goose-bump. Nervous, are we, Ellison? he asked himself. He brushed aside the arguments and went for it. He wanted to know if he could do this.
Reflection of room #109. Green door. He zeroed in on it, then opened his hearing. Let your hearing hear where you are. Television on. Same talk show as the other room. The occupant was laughing at something the comedian was saying. Still awake. No other voices.
Jim tried to focus on the occupant, to get some sense of the man, but the television's constant sounds were distracting. It was difficult not to latch onto the comedian's voice, to hear what the room's occupant was laughing about. He concentrated on the man's heartbeat, hoping he would speak, or say something. Something. The heartbeat. Thumping in the man's chest. Thump. Thump. Thump . . . Thump . . . Thump . . . Thump . . .
A faint smell of papaya caught his nostrils, combined with a scent he knew. Blair.
Ellison blinked, his head jerking with the rebound back to his room. Blair stirred, but Jim's hand on his forehead steadied him and the Guide didn't wake up. Ellison glanced at the clock. Almost one in the morning. He had zoned, but only for a few minutes at most. It had worked, but he felt no desire to test his theory again. He had zoned, regardless.
No, he'd spend the rest of the shift staring out the window, doing what the department paid him to do as a detective, not what his Sentinel abilities offered. He glanced down at Blair, then looked around him at the bed. He'd just wake Sandburg up and resettle him on the bed properly. The kid might as well sleep until their replacements arrived. No point in leaving him where he was; Blair would be more comfortable resting properly on the bed.
Yeah. His right hand stroked the curls, shaking his head at this life that had become as entangled in his own as his fingers through the curls. As their interlocked left hands. When had this happened, this inter-dependance on one another? Why the reluctance to break this spell that had woven around him, around them?
In the end, he left Blair where he was, and sat peacefully in the darkness of the motel room, staring out the window at a row of cars that hadn't moved all night.
At two-thirty, the cellphone rang and he reached for it, flipping it open and on. "Ellison," he said quietly, feeling Sandburg waken at his voice.
"Jim, it's Simon. We got Campbell. You're free to go."
"Thanks. Log me out."
"Will do. Go home and get some sleep."
Blair's eyes fluttered open, looking up at him blearily, then trying to focus on where he was.
"Go back to sleep, chief. Everything's under control here," Jim said softly, his right hand closing the phone, laying it aside, and then returning to Blair's forehead.
Blair nodded, his eyes already closed, and settled back against Jim, comfortable with where he was, his fingers tightening briefly, then relaxing as he slid back to sleep.
The instinctual behavior of a Guide with his Sentinel, Jim thought. 'I'm safe. I can rest.'
Ellison held him close again, then smiled and shifted their positions on the bed, leaning back against the headboard, drawing the smaller man with him. Blair opened his eyes just long enough to see that everything was okay, then his body once again slid effortlessly back into contented sleep, still nestled beneath Jim's left arm.
Jim couldn't explain why he didn't leave, why he didn't take the opportunity to go back to the loft. He just didn't want to. He wanted to stay where he was, to be part of the moment. To soak up the memories and the feelings. To let himself go for once, to forget about Jim Ellison the police detective . . . and be lost in the instinctual behavior of a Sentinel with his Guide.
The Sentinel sat silently through the night, ever vigilant, sleep far beyond his reach, his senses heightened, his eyes watching the outside world, his ears alert to each new sound, each rustle of the wind through the leaves, his nose breathing in the scent of life beside him, and his soul anchored by the curled body in his arms.
This is who I am.
As the hours passed, the Sentinel watched the moon slowly crest the top of the evergreen trees and sink out of sight, distant, yet close; the wind gently tossing the long branches; the squirrel, in its nest in the tree, chittering as it settled for the night; the stars brilliant against the velvet night sky; the echo of a familiar heartbeat.
And this is where you want to be. With me.
His Guide stirred, and the Sentinel calmed him with a slight touch of his hand. Not yet. Go back to sleep. It's not yet morning.
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