Confused at First Sight by alyjude

Confused at First Sight - alyjude

I'm really into the natural stuff, you know? Have a real thing about it. My cleaning products, personal hygiene, food, you name it. Now don't get me wrong, I can pig out on pizza and beer with the best of them, but given my druthers, I'll take algae shakes for breakfast and a good tofu casserole for dinner any day of the week. Now this "thing" of mine leads me all over Cascade, the city I've called home for the last ten years, trying to find the right - the best - products. I don't want crap that's been tested on animals and I don't want the rainforest destroyed so I can have a sweet smelling shampoo that will drive the ladies - and, okay, the guys - mad with desire. And I certainly don't want to destroy the environment every time I spritz on a leave-on conditioner or roll on a deodorant, you know? Which is why I'm standing in front of "Scents & Cents-ability" right now.

My current underarm armor turned out to be not so pure, which is not to say that it didn't work because it did. It also left me scratching like an ape. Yep, allergic. What can I say? I bought it on the word of a lovely lady named Sam who gave me untold pleasure in bed - and out - when she wasn't playing "catch me before I catch you" games. She swore by this botanical place in the mall, and when your then-girlfriend recommends something, if you want to continue the mattress games, you'd better buy. The mall should have been my first clue that the product would be less than advertised though. Oh well, live and learn. And scratch.

I peer into the dark store in front of me, suck in a deep breath, and walk in. The door chimes melodiously and the store smells - nice. Way cool. Always a good sign.

"May I help you?"

Oh, baby, yeah. She's right up my alley. Tall, cool, legs up to my armpits. I look up and give her my most engaging smile. "Yes, thank you. I'm looking for an all natural, non-animal tested deodorant. My last one was ... can we say scratch the itch?"

She smiles brilliantly at me and leads me over to the counter. Stepping behind it, she says, "Everything we sell here is natural, safe to the environment and I can guarantee you that no animals were harmed in the making of our products. However, we do things a bit differently here at Scents, so would you mind filling out this short questionnaire? We design our products for each individual and no two are exactly alike."

Okay, she's got me hooked. Not only is she gorgeous, but I like the idea of products designed for me and no one else. As I accept the clipboard and pen, she adds, "This is how we ensure that our customers suffer no allergic reactions and that they're one hundred percent satisfied."

I nod happily and begin filling it out. While I answer strange questions about my favorite colors, scents, flowers, animals and known allergies, we talk fetishes - as in Zuni carvings the size of your pinky - and I overwhelm her with my charm. I may be short, but when I turn it on, they fall. Okay, I'm exaggerating but if you can't stretch the truth in your own mind, then where can you?

Five minutes later, I'm still filling out the "short" questionnaire, now confiding skin type, hair type, do I have all my teeth (Huh?) and hair (yes, thank you very much). I finally finish the inquisition and hand it back to the woman I plan to date on Friday and perhaps make the mother of my children.

"Very good," she says. "Now, is there something of yourself that you can leave me? A handkerchief - unused - perhaps? Or a glove? We'll return it, but again, it will help us provide the precise product for your needs."

This is new.

I'd have been suspicious if she'd said she needed my pin number, you know? But an item of ... clothing? Well, this is the Pacific Northwest, and it had rained earlier and I do have my knit cap... which I pull out and hand over as if it were my most prized possession.

Smiling, she says prettily, "We'll return it when you pick up your product."

This is new.

My, this store is chalk full of new things.

"I don't take my deodorant home ... like... now?" I ask as I wiggle my head with each word.

"No, we need to mix it per... let's just leave it at that."

Okay, this is new. And getting old. She almost let something slip. What, was I in some kind of magic store?

I put on my best and most authoritative frown, the one I use when one of my students asks, "Can I have two more weeks to finish the paper, Mr. Sandburg?" and said paper is already two weeks late and this is the student's first day in my classroom and he's the star quarterback on the Rainier football team. It's really a good frown.

"Maybe you'd better explain," I say as I rise slightly on my toes to give me more height. You need height with an authoritative frown - trust me.

She has the grace to look sheepish as she answers, "Our chemist uses all the information you provide with the questionnaire and the personal item to create the perfect, one-of-a-kind product. He's really remarkable and never fails. You won't be unhappy - and you'll be able to pick up the deodorant tomorrow." She gives me what I figure is her best come hither smile and adds, "Trust me," she glances down at my paperwork, "Mr. Sandburg. You won't be disappointed. I would never steer you wrong."

A sucker for a gorgeous smile, I believe her. Besides, my curiosity is piqued and she is going to be the mother of my children, after all. "All right, I'll give this a try. If I'm happy, I may switch over all my products."

No harm in dangling a little extra business, right? Right.

I learn that my deodorant will be ready by nine, which is when the store opens. Since it's on my way to the university and my first class isn't until ten, I'm happy. I figure this will also have the added benefit of allowing her to dream about me all night so that when I casually suggest we get together for coffee on Friday, she'll be putty in my hands.

Did I mention I have an exaggerated sense of my power over women? No? Good.

No sense in revealing too much - too soon.

***

Free at last. My day is done, students dealt with, my own studies finished. I'm ready to bust out of this joint and meet an old friend. I pack up, stuffing everything into my backpack and, after slinging it over my back, head out. Exiting Hargrove Hall involves saying good-bye to almost everyone I pass, pausing numerous times to discuss this professor or that student or last week's game between the Rainier Regents and the Bulls. I finally make it to my trusty Corvair, toss my backpack across the front seat and jump in.

First stop: Gilley's Bar and Grill on Fifth.

It's only a fifteen minute drive and I enjoy the fact that the weather has gone all spring-like. I have the top down and I'm soaking up the sun like a just-opened kitchen sponge. All too soon, though, and I'm turning into the parking lot and sliding in next to a silver monstrosity that I recognize as Simon's. Grinning, I hop out and jog inside.

Gilley's is a take-off on the famous bar in Texas named for the owner, Mickey Gilley, who has a piece of our Gilley's. We even have the bucking bronco ride. I still don't get Simon's enchantment with the place, but he loves it, especially on Thursdays when they have the line dancing classes.

Now, you've got to understand Simon to know why this is so ... outlandish. He's a six foot five (in his stocking feet), cigar-chomping, gourmet coffee-drinking, pineapple Danish-eating, angel-collecting captain of Major Crime. He's never ridden a horse in his life, flew over Texas once and hates westerns. He calls me "Sandburg", thinks I'm a hippy, secretly covets my mother, is old enough to be my father, is divorced and has a son named Daryl. He's my best friend, which is another story altogether.

Bottom line: He saved my life and I saved his, and no, I'm not going into it now. Some other time... maybe. When I'm real drunk.

Inside, I give my eyes a few minutes to adjust to the absence of sunlight, and spot Simon almost immediately. He's cornered a booth close to the dance floor (I might have known) and has already started on his beers for the evening. It must have been a bad day.

As I slide in next to him, he raises a hand to get the waitress's attention, and asks, "Good day?"

I look at the beer in front of him and the two empty mugs and say, "Better than yours, I bet."

His eyes glitter behind his glasses as he nods. "No doubt."

"Care to spill your guts or do you need a couple more beers?"

He takes a sip, puts the glass down, and says, "I need more. Much more."

Huh-oh.

***

The headache's back. I push myself from the work table and reach for the bottle of Tylenol. Shaking out three, I swallow them dry. Hell, they're capsules and I'm an ex-Army Ranger and all-around tough guy.

I still have work to do, another customer's order to fill, but I'm getting those little wavy lines that speak of future migraines. Maybe I can hold out long enough to do this one last job: a deodorant. I pick up the questionnaire and the first thing I notice is the handwriting. It's quite a scrawl. Short and loopy and, for some reason known only to my psyche, I immediately envision a small, impatient - but smart -- terrier puppy. I have to smile at that as I finish reading.

Mmm, interesting. I pick up the baggie Connie included with the form and take out the blue knit cap. The material is remarkably soft and, as it touches my fingers, I close my eyes and smile again.

Nice. Very nice.

I bring it up to my nose and take a gentle sniff - and am transported. Suddenly my home sweet home of an in-house work lab is fading, touch dwindles to the feel of the merest whisper of something and the colored lights behind my closed eyes merge together in the most beautifully muted watercolor painting I've ever seen. I can hear my heart beating, but it's not alone. There's another throbbing and it seems to be centered in the fingers of my right hand - the hand holding the cap.

I know the hat belongs to a man. I can smell the strong, earthy musk-tone that can only be a man. But the scent that clings to the hat is so layered that I think I could spend the rest of my life discovering each one.

My headache is gone.

I slowly open my eyes. And sigh with relief. No jagged lights, no pain, only complete lucidity. I watch the small spider on the other side of the room make its way down the thin translucent web. I can see the fine layer of dust on the chest by the door and the dime peeking out from under the cushion on the sofa.

What should be overwhelming - isn't. My vision seems as natural to me at this moment - as breathing. The odors that surround me seem distinct and, yet, not unpleasant and easily controlled. I have this odd thought that the hat I'm holding is magic and immediately laugh at such a flight of fancy.

I sniff again and, below the earthy musk, I inhale a hint of almond layered with a bit of ... rosemary. His essence.

I check his order again and confirm that it's a deodorant order - and I know exactly what to do, how to blend it.

I know what I am, but for the first time in two years, I don't feel like the freak my father tried so hard to protect when I was growing up. The freak I am today. My senses weren't normal as a child but they never bothered me. I seemed to be able to deal with the fact that if I were two miles from my home, I could hear my little brother Stevie telling dad he'd go get me. It didn't worry me that I could tell what my friends' mothers were cooking even though we were in the park and their homes were miles away. Then I hit high school and they faded to what I'd have to assume were normal parameters. I no longer heard conversations I couldn't possibly be hearing, or could smell dead rats in walls across the city. I breathed freely and set about the task of creating a life. I went into the military, served my country and ended up stranded in Peru for eighteen months when my chopper went down during a mission. I lost my entire team and, while I don't remember much of that time, I know that with the help of the Chopec, I did my job.

After I was finally rescued, I mustered myself out of the Army and joined the Cascade Police Department. Unfortunately, not long after being assigned to Vice, my senses decided to spike again. I'd been on a case, deep undercover, and nearly went crazy when I started hearing things again. My clothing attacked my skin, my eyes couldn't bear the light, and nothing I ate tasted even remotely good. I somehow managed to finish the job - get the bad guys - but was then forced to take a leave of absence. The leave turned into leaving the force altogether when I found myself unable to control what was happening to me. I wasn't even able to go out on disability since the doctors found nothing wrong with me other than in my head.

"Stress, Detective Ellison. Stress."

Right.

Once I left the force, I stayed in my apartment and found myself unable to even set foot outside. I had everything delivered and threw back aspirin like they were gum drops. I existed on oatmeal and plain vanilla ice cream, the only foods that rested easily on my tongue. I also spent a good deal of time wearing nothing but my boxers - a silk pair that had been a gift from a friend. The same friend who eventually saved my sanity and preserved my ability to survive.

Carolyn Plummer had her own business in the Eddington area of Cascade, an area peppered with small quaint shops that catered to the wealthier of the city dwellers. She'd visited me often in the beginning, trying her best to help, but never truly understanding. During one memorable visit, I'd been soothed by the scent (which turned out to be from a hand lotion) that surrounded her and had asked about it, identifying the different fragrances so completely that she'd been shocked. When I told her that the lavender under-note was the perfect compliment for her, she was so pleased she turned the fragrances in the cream into her signature scent.

From such a humble beginning, my new career was launched.

Evidently my wacky senses were good for something, as it seems I can actually identify each individual's natural scent, and thus come up with the fragrances that would complement it. This meant that Carolyn could market her products in a whole new way, and Jim Ellison, ex-detective, ex-Army Ranger, and a really macho guy, became - and I still have difficulty saying it - an aroma therapist.

Who'd a thunk it?

But hey, I make a living and, right now, holding this hat, I'm damn glad. I haven't known this kind of peace for far too long.

Energized, I set about the task of filling the order. Maybe... just maybe... I'll deliver it to the shop myself tomorrow.

***

Simon is looking around the place but not really seeing anything. He's had enough beer now that I think it's safe to ask what's going on.

"So, what's going on, Simon?"

Am I original or what?

Bloodshot eyes turn to me and, for the first time, I realize that whatever it is, Simon's been drinking in order to get up the nerve to tell me. A coldness grips me and I sit back, wary now.

"Parole boards suck, Sandburg."

Parole board.

Parole board.

Rick Dillon.

I must have mouthed his name because Simon nods. "Yep, Dillon."

I motion the waitress over and scramble my brain trying to figure out what to order that will do the job of pickling me. I could go the college route and order tequila shooters, but I'm thinking ... macho and neat.

"Scotch on the rocks - I don't care what kind," I finally say. Oh, yeah, grown-up too.

"It won't help," Simon mutters.

"I beg to differ," I say. "When does he get out?"

"Monday."

"Fuck."

Simon knows a moment of lucidity as he grips my arm. "You know my people won't let him near you, right?"

"What, a safe house for the rest of my life?" I make quote marks in the air, "'You're gonna die, Sandburg, and in the worst way possible', were, I believe, his exact words when he melodramatically swore vengeance on me after his conviction. And could you explain how there could be a parole hearing and I'm not informed? Shouldn't I have been allowed to be there?"

"Something went wrong. I've already had this conversation with the DA, for all the good it did."

"Something went wrong? That's it? Just... something went wrong?"

"That's it, Sandburg. I expect you at my place on Sunday night - bring your famous lasagna. You're staying with me for a while."

The waitress shows up with my drink and, after she sets it in front of me, I down it almost in one.

Wow.

Smooth - hot - burns.

Feels damn good.

With the amber courage coursing through my veins, I say, "No. I'd like to see the dick try to get to me at my place."

"A five year old could get in there, Sandburg."

"Not true," I insist. "The landlord made some improvements. I have a buzzer now and it's the only way anyone can get inside the building. So there," I add petulantly.

Simon just shakes his head. "Buster, you either move in with me or I'll haul your ass down to the station and stick you in a holding cell. You got that?"

The scotch is working nicely so I hold up a hand and say, "No one scares me out of my home."

"You want to explain that to me? What exactly does 'No one scares me out of my home' mean?"

I bite my lower lip, shrug, and say, "Damned if I know, but it sounded damn macho and very dramatic."

"You need another drink. Good thing I told Taggart to meet us here - he can drive us home."

"School tomorrow," I mumble.

"Yeah, so? You're three blocks from here, Sandburg."

I wave the waitress over while at the same time mumbling, "Smartass."

"I heard that."

He was supposed to. So there.

***

I'm feeling no pain when Joel drops me at my humble, eight-hundred-dollar-a-month warehouse loft apartment. Made it sound cool, didn't I? Cool is an understatement. It's downright frigid. Huge, cavernous, cold, and with rats the size of Doberman Pinchers. Yep, home-sweet-home.

Joel - or Captain Joel Taggart of the bomb squad -- is no fool and he comes up with me, which is good, because a drunken man in what passes for a elevator in my building is not a pretty sight. I'm damn sure the world is coming to an end as the freight elevator makes its jerky and loud way up to the only inhabitable floor. I can almost imagine the rats now, sending out the call that the human is on his way and they'd all better skedaddle. I can also hear the leader rat laughing his tail off.

"Come on, Blair, let's get you to bed," Joel says softly while guiding me inside. He's been here before, he knows what to expect so he leads me easily around the corner, past the area I laughingly call a kitchen to the space that holds my bed. He sits me down and starts to remove my clothing. I must think it's pretty funny because I start to laugh. All right, all right - giggle. I admit it. I started to giggle, but cut me some slack, I'm drunk.

The only thing that redeems this moment is the knowledge that downstairs, in the back of Joel's car, Simon is snoring loud enough to wake the dead, and Joel will be repeating this process on him.

I'm pushed gently back now that I'm in nothing but my undershirt and boxers as Joel pulls the covers up and lays them gently over me. I can feel his hand on my forehead as he whispers, "Sleep well and don't worry - we'll take care of you."

They're nice words and he means them, but when someone wants to kill you there's damn little that can be done. I know that and so does Joel. Simon needed to get drunk tonight because he knows it too.

If Dillon still wants me dead - there is no one in the world who can really stop him.

***

I don't feel the least bit ridiculous sleeping with a blue knit cap in my hand. The sheets I pull over myself feel the way they should: soft and comfortable. I don't think I'll be scratching tonight. The noises of my home don't bother me and I find myself grateful for the oils of our skin - oils that can linger for days on the clothing we wear.

I gaze up through my skylight, enjoying the sight of the night sky and every single star twinkling down on me. I'll sleep tonight - a deep, healthy, uninterrupted sleep.

***

Okay, today is a first. I'm going to the university hung over. My algae shake helped, as did the handful of aspirin I tossed back. I think I can face a theater of Anthro 101 students. But first, pick up my car and then stop and pick up my deodorant - which I badly need. Now if I can just keep my head on....

***

"Mr. Ellison," Connie exclaims as I walk into the store. "I didn't know ... I mean... how are you feeling?"

"I'm fine, Connie. Just fine. Decided to deliver this order myself, that's all." I hold out the package and as Connie takes it, I ask, uncharacteristically, "Need any help today?"

She's so shocked, she drops the sack. Thank God for plastic. As we both go down to pick it up, the door behind me chimes open and I know instantly. I'm almost afraid to turn around, to see the man that belongs to the blue cap.

But turn around I do.

***

I'm feeling more human as I walk inside the store but I don't get very far inside. My eyes are still adjusting when a dark figure looms up in front of me and I almost step back.

"Mr. Sandburg, you're early. Fortunately, the wonderful creator of the majority of our specialty products is here. He just delivered your merchandise."

I blink a couple of times as I realize that along with the tall, dark stranger, the soon-to-be mother of my children and my Friday night date is talking to me. I admit that when she mentioned the chemist yesterday, I probably envisioned some old geezer with glasses, hunched shoulders and cracker crumbs on his shirt.

My "old geezer" turns around.

And confuses the hell out of me.

He is so far removed from anything I'd imagined and most definitely not a chemist that I'm pretty certain my jaw unhinged and my mouth dropped open.

Did I mention that I like men? I'm sure I did. I do. A lot.

Confusion at first sight is rapidly changing.

In this split second of staring at up at him, I decide that having children the normal way is highly overrated and if we (that would be him and me) really want them - we can always adopt.

Friday night is now open and my sales clerk is on her own.

***

He's nothing - and everything - that I'd imagined. He's shorter, but his eyes are the almost unreal blue I'd envisioned. His hair is longer and curlier, but dark - as I'd known it would be. But his smile - God, his smile. I could never have done that justice.

"Mr. Sandburg, this is Jim Ellison."

I tear my eyes from his face and take in the rest of him.

Whoa.

The guy's a cross between hippyville and grungetown.

He's also the sexiest thing to cross my path in fifteen years.

I put out my hand; he takes it, his own eyes glued to my mouth. There's heat and want and need and lust and if Connie isn't feeling any of it - she must be dead. I have to assume the shop is giving off all the ambiance of a porn theater.

It's time to say something and I don't mean, "Care to come up to my place for a long and leisurely fuck?" although....

"Mr. Sandburg. Perhaps you'd like to come into the back and I can show you-"

"Your etchings?" he says with a cheeky grin.

Oh, he's quick. And his voice, okay, that's not anything like I imagined. See, I figured it would be normal. Just a voice. I was so wrong. It's a sexy being all by itself.

"How 'bout I save my etchings for ... Friday night?" I say cleverly. And you need to know - I've never sounded this clever before in my life. Suave is suddenly my middle name.

"That could be arranged."

"All right then, in the meantime, care to join me in the back and I'll show you how this works?"

He nods and I step next to him, placing my hand on the small of his back. I'm a little puzzled by the killer looks Connie is sending my way, but what the hell. I'm alive and feeling everything -- and everything feels incredibly good.

***

"So you're not a chemist then?"

I shake my head. "Nope. I just have a knack for scents and people." I don't think now is the time for the truth, but the amazing thing is - I know that later - I will tell him. But not now, not when so much is at stake. Like getting in at least one fucking date.

He looks around and says, "But this isn't where you do your work, is it?"

"I work at home, mostly. I have a small room under the stairs and it serves me well as a lab of sorts."

"I see." He turns back toward me and smiles.

Good God, that smile could knock me off my feet - if I weren't sitting down. I swallow and take my courage in my hands and say, "How 'bout we meet up for dinner tomorrow night? I can do more research on you and come up with an entire line."

The smile broadens. "You do that for all your customers? Meet them for dinner?"

I grin. "Nope. Not even once. So what do you say?" I hold my breath.

"Italian?"

I let out the breath and say, "Italian it is. Dominic's on Lombard?"

"I know it. Out of my price range, I'm afraid. I'm a struggling grad student. Bert's Deep Dish Pizzeria is more my speed."

I cock my head. "So if we call it a date, and you're the askee, would your masculinity be threatened if, as the asker, I were to pay? Dominic's got the greatest pumpkin risotto around."

"Please, I have long hair and wear jewelry. My masculinity is quite comfortable, thank you very much. Feel free to pay."

My grin is so big, my face hurts. We set everything up and I realize that I'm actually going out on a date. Me. A date.

But I'm not giving the cap back. I'll explain it later, but for now, maybe he won't notice that while he has his new deodorant, he doesn't have his cap.

***

I can't believe this. I have a date with a god. I used to drool over guys like him, when I still believed they'd give me a tumble. When I was seventeen. And eighteen. And... okay, last year - when I was twenty-five.

Not that I can't get a cute guy - hell, I'm a cute guy, so of course I can get a cute guy. Just not a god. You know the type. They were star quarterbacks, BMOC, student body presidents, the works. Later they were the sharp-as-tacks lawyers, brain surgeons and multi-million dollar real estate agents with fast, low-to-the-ground cars that cost more than I'll make in my entire life. Yeah, those guys.

Those guys used to pat me on the top of my head and pay me fifty bucks to write their papers before waltzing off with the prom queen. Okay, okay, yes I took the fifty bucks. What, you think I'm stupid or something? Get real.

But man, this guy... this guy is all the best of "those guys" wrapped up in one the finest packages I've ever seen and he doesn't want me to write his papers. This is so cool.

Yes, I can hear you now. But you're wrong. I'm cute, I'm smart, but I'm also different. And no matter what you think, the average gods don't usually go for different. They go for their own kind. It's life. Get used to it. I did.

But he likes different. He likes short. I could win with this guy.

How many hours 'til Friday?

Too many.

***

It's damn amazing what a prospective hot date with a god can do for your day. I don't think I stopped grinning all day. Not even when I found out the scores for my Anthro 101 class had disappeared when the computer burped. I didn't even stop smiling when my department head gave the very important - and career making - Mayan show to Derek instead of me. It should have been mine. I'm the one who talked Doctor Pierre Jardin into loaning us the exhibit. But did I blow a gasket? Nope. I just thought of Jim Ellison: God supreme. And dinner tomorrow night. And if I'm lucky - I'm gonna get real lucky.

So my day is over, Derek just left my office following an unrewarding fishing expedition (he has no clue how to set the exhibit up - the ass. And I can be very petty when the need arises), and I'm ready to head home.

Did I mention that my deodorant is terrific? It is.

And until now, I didn't think about Rick Dillon once. Until now.

But hey, I'll worry about him Sunday night.

Yeah, Sunday night. Unless I'm otherwise occupied. Heh.

Shit. Fuck. Simon.

Okay, I can handle this. I'm meeting Jim at the restaurant so no problemo there. And if things progress as I pray they will, we'll just go to his place. Yeah, his place.

I've got a plan. It's good to have a plan.

***

I've never worked so hard, and so happily, as I have today. Nothing seems to bother me, my senses are incredible and I've knocked out twice my usual orders for a day. Caro will be pleased. And me? I just keep thinking about tomorrow night. About ... Blair Sandburg.

And where the hell did that name come from anyway? Blair?

I can't wait to whisper it into his hair.

***

"Did you think I'd forget, Sandburg?"

I step away from my door and groan. "Come on, Simon, we both know you weren't serious."

He pushes his way inside, which entails shouldering me aside, and strides into the middle of the huge room. "Sandburg, I was dead serious. Pack up whatever you need. Now."

"Simon, I'm not budging."

Simon evidently decides not to hear me because he moves quickly into what I laughingly call my bedroom and starts pulling open drawers. He tosses boxers and socks onto the bed and I'm so stunned, I can't move, can't stop him. He takes a step to my pitiful excuse for a closet, namely a large, aged and falling apart armoire, and takes down several shirts and my one claim to fame: a black leather jacket. That gets me going.

"Hey, put that back. I never, like, actually wear it, you know?" At Simon's look, I say, "I'm... you know... saving it. For the right time and place." And I'm thinking that's tonight, by the way. But Simon doesn't need to know that, right? Right.

"Sandburg, finish packing or I will."

Simon, meet an immovable object. I sigh dramatically, put my hands on my hips, and enunciating clearly, say, "NO."

Suddenly Simon smiles. It's his "I've got you now" smile and I'm instantly worried.

"Okay, okay, Sandburg. You don't want to leave, you don't have to leave. I understand. Perfectly."

While my chin hits the hard floor, Simon looks at his watch and says, "Meeting, thirty minutes, Commissioner Willis. I'm outta here, Sandburg. And did I tell you that poker night has been cancelled? Brian's wife went into labor."

Forgetting that a moment before he was getting ready to force me from my home and into his, I say, "No kidding? What hospital?"

"If she were having the baby in the hospital, we could still have the poker game, but she's not, she's having it in the living room of their home, which we all agreed really put a damper on poker."

I know I'm blinking rapidly but can't seem to stop. "Marion is actually having the baby at home?"

"In a big plastic pool. Her sister says it's what natural child birth is all about. I think it's unsanitary."

How did my day go so surreal so early?

"So, you up for dinner at Luigi's?" he asks as we walk to my door.

Still shocked that Brian and Marion are doing anything so out there just because of Marion's sister, I can only shake my head.

"What, you have plans?" Simon says, faux shock in his voice.

"Go away, Simon. Go away now, Simon," I manage to say.

He pats me on the head and walks out - whistling.

Oh, man, he so has a plan.

Am I worried? Nope. I plan to have a plan of my own, namely getting Jim Ellison into bed, namely his bed, and staying there - with him - all weekend.

Simon should know better than to get in my way when I have a plan.

***

I remember my first date. I was fifteen and content to pull on a white tee-shirt and clean jeans. Sally, our housekeeper, insisted on a pull-over, a dark blue sweater. I felt silly, but did it for her. Turned out to be a good move - I ended my days of being a virgin that night because Wendy Blackwell loved my blue sweater.

Tonight is not my first date, but it might as well be. I'm standing in front of my closet and I don't have a clue what to wear. A suit would be too much, and if I've read my date right - he doesn't own one. Well, maybe one in the back of his closet that he uses for very special occasions, but that's it. And it's probably full of mothballs. Okay, so a sweater. No blue ones, but I do have a nice cream colored Hugo Boss, and with black slacks... this could do the trick.

So, sweater and slacks on bed, shoes at the foot of the bed, with socks. Clean boxers in hand. Shower time.

I have now experienced more healthy hours than I can remember since my senses came back online. I'm going to use my own products in the shower, I'm going to wear clothes and go to a restaurant. And if God is good....

Don't get ahead of yourself, Jimbo. Didn't we learn not to count chickens, eggs or chicks? Yes we did. Our whole life.

What's with ... we?

***

Damn, I don't have anything decent to wear. I mean, look at all this. Flannel, flannel, more flannel. Bowling shirt... and another retro-bowling shirt. We're not talking date material here. I dig in deep and come up with my one and only suit and, after one whiff of really bad moth balls - I push it back into the corner. Ugh.

My gaze lights on my blue vest. Okay, this could work -- with my white peasant shirt? The blue really brings out my eyes and with my hair down - okay, we're talking major Earthboy, but hey, who am I fooling? It's who I am.

And I think he likes who I am.

As I dress, I find myself saying his name over and over again. Jim Ellison. I like it. It's a strong name, noble. And I start laughing. Because I'm so gone.

***

Well, I'll be damned. My hands are shaking. My fucking hands are fucking shaking. What's with that? I'm parked in front of the restaurant; I can see the interior, the people, the wait staff. I can hear them laughing, talking arguing and eating. I somehow know that if I don't rein this in - my date is off. I reach into the pocket of my coat, and the moment my fingers touch the cap, sight and sound dim to almost normal. I breathe a sigh of relief and get out of the truck.

Okay, suck it in, Ellison.

I can do that. Of course, I'd feel a hell of a lot more comfortable if I didn't have to depend on a blue knit cap to get me through this. Where's the euphoria of earlier?

Crash and burn time, buddy. Or flights of heaven.

I pat the pocket that holds the cap - and walk inside.

***

Fuck, my hands are shaking. Where's Mr. Confident? Mr. "I Can Handle Anything" Sandburg?

Okay, suck it in, Sandburg. Get this show on the road. The reward at end of track is so worth it. I get out of the car, grab my black jacket, and head inside. I sure as hell hope he's already here because I can't handle the wait. I'd have to down a few and that's no way to kick off a first date.

Inside, I have to peer around the crowd gathered in front of the maitre de's podium in order to see if Jim is here. A hand on my shoulder and I'm turning around, and looking up, and it's Jim.

I don't want to get ... weird here, but as I meet his gaze, there's nothing else. Nothing. We're talking... intense. I see his lips move and realize that he's speaking to me so I lean forward.

"... about fifteen minutes before our table is ready. How 'bout a drink?"

I nod and we start moving toward the bar and I realize that just like at the shop, he has his hand at the small of my back.

Someone tell me why that makes me feel so good?

***

It's that awkward time of any first date. The moment when you both sit down and you're alone and actually have to talk, to make conversation. To sell yourself while appearing to be listening to your date sell her - or him - self. I was still nervous - and trust me, Blair Sandburg, nervous on a date? No way. This is not me. But somehow I know that my future rests with this evening. That this - if I don't blow it - represents the beginning of the life I've been heading toward for twenty-six years.

I smile my best smile and decide to dazzle him with my verbage.

"So."

See? I'm dazzling him.

"So," he says with a grin, "tell me what you do, Chief."

I can feel my eyebrow crawling up into my hairline at the use of the word "Chief". I find it oddly - terrific. I like it. Probably in reference to my hair, but damn, I like it and it sure as hell beats "Shorty".

"You won't laugh?"

His eyes get all serious as he says, voice low, sexy and real, "I would never laugh at you, Chief."

Yes he will. I'm a laughable kind of guy, but at the moment, I take his words to heart. I believe him because even when he does laugh at me, and trust me, he will, it will only serve to warm my heart.

"Okay, I'm an anthropologist: a grad student at Rainier working toward my doctorate."

He sits back in his chair and it's obvious that he's completely floored. He gives me a little shake of his head and says, "I admit to being surprised. I had you pegged as an artist. An out-there, over the top, abstract artist. I envisioned this huge studio full of paint splotches, easels and brushes, with drop cloths all over the floor. Canvases against the walls, splashes of color all over the place...."

He stops, clearly embarrassed. "But of course, I realize now that I was simply describing you, not your career," he finally adds.

Now I'm the shocked one. I think I've just been complimented within an inch of my life, but I'm still just enough of a nerd to wonder.

"That was a compliment, Chief."

"I was hoping it was," I mumble. I reach for my wine glass at the same time he reaches for his and our knuckles brush. We both pause, smile, and continue our motion. After I swallow, I say, "But the only thing my place is full of are rats the size of Texas. Oh, and dirty clothes."

He laughs outright at that, and I have to tell you - Jim Ellison has the finest laugh I've ever heard. I hope I can make him laugh often - and given my history - I will.

***

Our desserts are gone and there's very little left of our after-dinner coffee. We've talked ourselves hoarse, discovered how much -- and little -- we have in common, and I think he's the most interesting person on this planet. An hour into our first date and it hit me that the man opposite is probably one of the smartest men I've ever known. Possibly a genius in certain arenas. He's also a talker, and throughout the evening I'd catch myself torn between watching his lips or his hands. He paints the world with words and hand motions and I'm falling in love.

Blair's eyes are glittering in the candlelight and, if I can trust my senses, and I think I can, he's headed in the same direction. Which is astounding, unreal and unbelievable.

"It's been a great evening," he says suddenly.

"Yeah, it has," I agree. I fiddle with my coffee cup, swallow the sudden lump in my throat and suggest, "My place isn't far from here. I have a great brandy-"

"Let's go," he says, even as he's standing up.

He's so eager, his eyes so bright that I come close to missing his racing heart. The nervous racing of his heart. I almost laugh until I realize that my own heart is doing NASCAR laps too. I'm glad the bill has been taken care of when I stand up and grab my coat. Together, we head out.

On the sidewalk, I give him quick directions even though he's going to follow me. Better safe than sorry. I get into my truck, back up and head for the driveway - slowly. When his Corvair pulls in behind me, I wave. He waves back and, of course, I can see his huge grin. Smiling, I pull out onto the street and head north toward Prospect.

***

Damn, I forgot all about parking on Prospect. I wait by the entrance as Blair circles again, looking for a spot. He disappears around the corner and I heartily wish I could concentrate and kind of tunnel my hearing so that I can focus in on him, but I can't. But a minute later it doesn't matter because he's turning the corner and walking toward me, a huge grin on his face.

"Lucked out," he says as he comes abreast. "A party girl was just leaving."

I arch an eyebrow and he says, "You know, Friday night? Parties, bar hopping? Good time girls?"

"Ah," I say. "And you knew this about her... how?"

He rolls his eyes at me and I laugh as he says, "Pul-eeze. I'm a man of the world, you think I don't know a party girl when I see her?"

No way am I going to comment on his "man of the world" remark. He's what, twenty-two, twenty-three? On the other hand, he's going for his doctorate. He's got to be at least twenty-five. And those expeditions he talked about - like the one to Irian Jaya and the Kombai Tree people. I can still see Blair's expression as he described their houses that were, "...hundreds of feet up in the sky at the top of these jungle trees so they can see the mountains and the birds and keep the sorcerers away. It was living in the sky."

Transcendent.

Inside are a set of stairs and I throw an apologetic look at him. "Third floor," I say.

"Of course you are," he says with a distinct twinkle in his eye. "And no elevator?"

"Any day now," I quip. "But until then, we hike it."

"Race you?"

I don't know what makes me say it, but the devil must be sitting on my shoulder because I say, my voice a bit more husky than intended, "I'd rather save my energy for ... other things, Chief."

I'm amazed at what I witness next. I can see his pupils enlarging, almost totally eclipsing the blue. My God, I can see this sign of arousal, actually see it. I can feel the heat from his body as it ratchets up a notch and see his nostrils flaring in anticipation of what my words signify. I catalogue all of this in an instant as he says, "So we take it ... real slow. One step at a time?"

We're standing so close that I can hear his body, the music it's playing as it gears up for sex. I smile dreamily and say, "The stairs - just the stairs we take slow."

"Of course," he agrees as we both start up. We walk up at a leisurely pace in spite of the excitement bouncing between us. We know what's going to happen tonight.

***

"Wow," I say as I pivot, taking in Jim's home. "It's very...."

I struggle for the word and Jim says, "Sterile?"

"No, no, I'd go for ... minimal. Yeah, minimal. I like it." I look up and say, "Bedroom?"

"Yes. It's one of the reasons I bought this place when I got out of the Army."

I nod, somehow understanding. "Your ... lab?"

"Here." He walks over and opens a set of French doors and then steps aside, allowing me to enter first.

"Okay, this is ... small," I finally say.

"It was a storage closet, what can I say?"

"Well, it's darn cozy now," I joke. I walk over to a metal shelf against the wall which is full of bottles, all neatly labeled.

"Essential oils," Jim says from directly behind me.

As in... directly ... behind me. He's so close, his breath ruffles through my hair.

"Essential oils," I find myself repeating.

"Yes."

"Essential oils," I say again, for no discernable reason.

Jim puts his hands on my arms as he repeats, "Yes."

I'm thinking it's time to leave the essential oils behind and seek out essential protein-like fluids. I turn and notice - happily - that Jim's hands remain on my arms. Looking up into Jim's incredible eyes, I wait. I lean forward, lift my chin ... and wait.

It only takes a moment.

And then Jim's lips are on mine.

And mine are on his.

And they're parting. His. Mine.

Ohwow.

***

Too much... too much, too ... but wonderful....

***

We made it to the couch and it's long and deep and comfortable, which is very good because I ended up on the bottom. Each of us managed to get the other one just enough undressed to reach the areas each of us needed to reach. Jim's slacks are unzipped, my vest is gone, shirt rucked up under my armpits. My hands are under Jim's sweater but I want the damn thing off. I want the acres of skin and Jim's beautiful pecs. I get my wish when I moan into his mouth, "Off... sweater, help me...."

Lips still fastened, the two of us get Jim's sweater up, part long enough to pull it over his head, and as he tosses it over the back of the couch, our lips make like suction cups again.

I can feel Jim's hand moving over my chest, through my chest hair. Yeah, I have chest hair. A nice mat as an old girlfriend once said. Jim's chest is smooth and flawless and for the first time in my life, I wish I didn't have all the hair. It's probably driving him crazy.

A moment later, his hands are on either side of my head, fingers buried in my hair as his kiss takes on a different feel. It's almost... desperate. I feel the urgency of it down to my toes and since my jeans are as open as Jim's slacks, I swing a leg up and drop it across Jim's lower back. It's just enough to bring our erections together.

Bam.

My orgasm came out through the top of my head. And elsewhere.

***

I'm not precisely certain how I got up to my bedroom, let alone in the position I'm in now, namely flat on my back with a short guy spread out over me. His curling chest hair is tickling my nipples, which are sore as hell and loving the additional attention. My legs are rubber, my head, lighter than air. I feel great - dead - but great.

I just wish I knew how we got up here.

I also can't believe how incredible it is to have all this hair to play with. And that the hair is on a guy. And I don't just mean his hair - hair. I mean all of it. The soft, light hair on his arms, the thicker, curlier hair on his head and the wiry hair on his chest. Right now, my fingers are in their element, combing through the curly mass on the head currently resting on my shoulder. Blair is asleep and, while I would hesitate to say snoring, snoring. Softly. I rather like the sound.

I still wish I knew how we got up here, though, but I have a feeling sex with Blair will often result in such lapses. This is a good thing - I think.

***

Morning dawns Blair.

That's all I feel, see and smell. I lift my head from the pillow just enough to kiss his slack lips and now I can taste him too. His eyes open, he blinks, smiles, and says, "Morning."

"Morning," I say, my voice rough.

"Helluva night."

"Oh, yeah."

Blair rolls off of me and I'm bereft. He sits up, plumps up the pillows and leans back. "So, what's for breakfast?"

Something inside me, something dark and curled up in a corner, unwinds. Something I didn't even know was there -- fear.

I smile at him and say, "You?"

He grins back. "That's good for you, but I want pancakes, sausage, eggs, the works. But I'm willing to wait until you're satisfied."

"You are one generous man, Chief."

Blair launches himself at me and as we go down, he says, "Give you the shirt off my back, man."

***

The diner is quiet, almost empty. We had such an aggressive morning that it was after twelve by the time we made it outside. Hence we missed the breakfast crowd. I have a plate of pancakes in front of me and I'm currently pouring the syrup on like there's no tomorrow. Why is it that pancakes absorb it all and French toast doesn't? One of the great mysteries of life. Jim is having an omelet and we're sharing my sausage. And my orange juice.

One would think we were a couple.

Heh.

Jim and Blair.

I like it.

I stuff a forkful into my mouth and chew dreamily. I am a man who has been satisfied in so many ways.

"So what do you want to do the rest of the day, Chief?"

I put my fork down, pluck the last sausage off Jim's plate (he'd just stolen it from me) and, as I wave it around, say, "More of the same, Jim. More of the same."

He grabs the waving sausage, pops it into his mouth and, after chewing and swallowing, says, "Sounds good to me." He grins a shit-eating grin that nearly blows my head off.

"Damn, you're handsome, man."

"And you're beautiful, Chief," he says softly.

I try hard not to snort but fail miserably. "You need glasses, but that's okay, I'd just as soon you didn't get them. Live with the dream, man. Live with the dream."

Something dark creeps into his eyes as he asks, "You're not, are you? A dream, I mean?"

"Damn, I hope not, Jim," I say, suddenly serious myself. "Because that would mean you were - I think. And I don't want this to be anything but real."

The crease in his forehead fades away. "Ditto, Chief. Ditto."

We finish our respective breakfasts and never stop smiling.

***

The walk back to his place is easy and companionable as we talk about sports, the Jags winning season, and the future of Orvelle Wallace. I have to walk faster than even I'm used to in order to keep up with his long strides and I figure I must look pretty funny, but I don't give a damn. I'm happy. Suddenly Jim puts out a hand and stops me. He cocks his head and, after several seconds, pulls me back behind him as he steps into the doorway of the shop we're just passing. We stand like that - silent and still - for a couple of minutes and just when I'm about to ask what's up, a man rounds the corner at top speed. He's got a woman's black purse in his hand and he's running like the devil's behind him.

Just as he reaches the doorway, Jim steps out and shoulders the guy hard. The man tumbles into the street and falls to the ground. At the same time, two cops round the corner and Jim quickly steps back, hands in the air.

"He's all yours, guys."

I know my mouth is open so I snap it shut. Jim turns around, grabs my arm, and before you can say, "You have the right to remain silent," we're moving fast - away from the scene.

By the time we reach the front door of his building, I'm huffing and puffing and my mind is moving like quicksilver, putting the clues together.

Jim's ahead of me, almost racing up the stairs. I follow, a bit slower, trying to catch my breath. By the time he has the door open, my lungs are recovering and my brain is working on all cylinders. I walk in and, this time, my eyes see his home very differently.

I walk over to the kitchen and open the fridge. I'm not surprised by what I see. I check the cupboards - and as I suspected - no spices, nothing hot, nothing that would aggravate a high sense of taste. And of course, I'd already noticed that he uses his own gentle products in the bathroom.

He's standing by his windows looking out over the bay but he knows exactly what I'm doing - just not why. I wonder how long before he'll ask.

"Chief, what the hell are you doing?'

There's no anger in his voice, just idle curiosity.

"Is it all five, Jim?"

He turns slowly, that cute little crease back on his forehead. "What?"

I rest against the center island of his kitchen and repeat, "Is it all five? Sight, taste, hearing, smell and touch. All five."

He exhales. His eyes widen. Slowly he walks toward me.

"I never told you what my dissertation was about, did I, Jim? It's about people with heightened senses, but specifically it explores the concept that there could be someone among us who has all five heightened senses. There's even a name for that person. Sentinel."

I wait.

Jim stops moving. "Sentinel?"

"Yep," I say. "Sentinel. As in guard, watchman. I have an old monograph called The Sentinels of Paraguay. It was written by Sir Richard Burton. He was kind of obsessed with them, with the legends surrounding them. But he never found one. Never."

I walk toward him. "Have I found one, Jim? Are you a sentinel?"

"What... what would it mean if I were?"

I can hold back my grin. "What would it mean? Only a fucking miracle, that's all. It would also mean I'd have to change my dissertation, damn it." My smile doesn't fade, not even at that daunting prospect.

He's frowning again. "Why?"

"Hello? I'm not exactly an impartial observer at this point, am I? And I have no intention of going backwards and giving you up just so I can get a few letters behind my name."

I would swear that a beam of light - straight from heaven - shone down on Jim's face at that moment. He looks so beautiful as his face smoothes out and a shy grin takes over.

"You serious, Chief?"

"Deadly serious, Jim. And I'm about to risk everything because ... this is it, man. This is it. Not even twenty-four hours and I know. Hell, I knew back at the shop on Wednesday. I knew."

He moves even closer - and closer still. His eyes are so damn blue, so bright, I have to take an extra breath to live.

"I knew it too. But I knew it before I met you, Chief." He digs into his pocket and pulls out... a blue cap.

My blue cap.

"I've had this, holding on to it, even slept with it. I can't explain it, Chief. But the moment I touched it, I touched you. And my senses just kind of ... they kind of went into alignment."

I know I'm staring at my cap but damn it, I can't even begin to think of anything to say.

"Do you know how long it's been since I could go outside, Chief? You've seen my kitchen, the kind of foods I've been living off of. And yet, since yesterday, I've had Italian food, a Southwestern omelet this morning, and orange juice. Orange juice used to kill me - the acid I think."

I was ready to absorb the fact that the man I was in love with ... was a sentinel. Hell, I'd already accepted it - embraced it, even. But now ... now he was saying something else. Something so outlandish... no, no, no.

I started to shake my head. "No, Jim. No. This isn't how it works."

One eyebrow rises as his lips quirk up into a wry grin. "Oh, really? Well, guess what, Darwin. This is how it worked. The oils of your skin and the scent left behind grounded my senses so that I could experience two normal days. This is how it works."

I need to think this one out. Really. Think. Think. Think. Finally I look up and smile. "Okay. Okay. Whatever. We've got time, don't we? Lots of time. Experiments, tests, teaching you how to get control-"

"I have control now, Chief."

"Oh, yeah? So we take my fancy oils away and then what?"

"You going someplace?" he asks as he pulls me into his chest. "I don't think so, Chief."

"Still, you are a sentinel and you can't depend on a blue cap all of your life. We need to work on this, okay?"

He's nibbling my ear but I punch him in the arm and say, "Okay?"

"Sure," he says as he works himself around to my lips. "Whatever you say, Chief. I'm putty in your hands."

We still don't know jack shit about each other, but we know all we need to - for now.

We go back to bed.

***

Sex with Sandburg.

I'm going to age fast, I can tell you that right now.

Saturday went far too quickly and by the time Sunday rolled around, Blair and I knew each other's bodies better than we knew our histories. I discovered that Blair enjoyed being the bottom - and even more - the top. Luckily - I felt the same. We traded off throughout the weekend, but dominance was never the issue - only pleasure.

He cooked early Sunday evening, after a run to the market, which was, by the way, a whole new experience. You have not been shopping until you go with him. He zips around tossing stuff into the cart and all I could to do was try to keep up. His choice of aisles seems to have no rhyme or reason and I'm amazed by what ended up in the cart. I finally just grabbed the end of his vest and hung on. I probably looked ridiculous, but let's face it, it had been so long since I'd actually been in a supermarket, and with Sandburg, we're talking one hell of a ride.

When he finished, he pushed the cart toward a cashier, did a little jig when he found that stand too full, and did a nice end run around a mother with at least two hundred dollars worth of stuff in her cart. He zipped into another stall and, with a triumphant grin, started unloading.

Yeah, shopping with the guy is a real treat.

Now dinner is over and we're sitting together - as in together - on the couch. The television is on but I'm not really watching it. Outside, darkness is just a hint on the horizon and my city looks beautiful in the sunset. I can see the bay clearly and the few boats still on it, all making their way home. I'm at complete peace.

"Tell me more about that book, Chief," I finally say, breaking the companionable silence.

"Book?" he says, eyes still glued to the set.

I give him a little nudge and say, "Sentinels of Paraguay?"

He looks at me then, quizzically, as if trying to figure something out. Finally he says, "Wanna take a ride?"

"Huh?"

"My place. The monograph, my papers, yadda-yadda?"

I tilt my head. "Your place?" Ummm, the one place we haven't made love yet. His place.

One track mind, that's me.

"Sure," I say. "Let's go."

***

I look up at his "home" and cringe. "This is where you live? Actually ... live?"

"Hey, for eight hundred a month, it's a steal, man. Come on, you'll see."

And see I do. I see the rat trails, the rat droppings, the rat gnawings, the roach trails and I feel the cold. And what the hell is that smell?

"Chief, you're overpaying by about seven hundred and fifty dollars," I say as I look around me.

Blair is going through a stack of books in a makeshift shelf and, at my words, waves a hand airily while saying, "This place is huge, Jim."

"Yep, that it is, but then rats and roaches need a lot of room, don't they?"

He straightens, something in his hand. "Okay, so the rats are a bit of a problem - okay, okay, a big problem. I mean, yeah, they're huge too, but do you know what small, one- room apartments go for in this town? We're talking fifteen-hundred a month, you know? For what? For nothing, that's what."

"Oh, yeah? Try rat-free, roach-free, heat, clean, security... do I have to go on?"

He walks over to me and hands me the book. "Here, The Sentinels of Paraguay. Take a load off and read. I've got some beer and I'll make up some popcorn, okay?"

He looks so damn eager that I can't say no even though I want dearly to suggest we take this back to my place. My oh-so-clean-and-bug-free place. But damn, that grin and those eyes... I sit down. Gingerly.

While he putters around in what passes for a kitchen - a box-sized refrigerator, a toaster, a microwave, a small round red table (flea market, no doubt) and an industrial sink - I open The Sentinels of Paraguay and start reading.

The smell of popcorn a few minutes later can't diminish my avid interest in the book. Reading about guardian natives is bringing back memories of my time with the Chopec and I realize, while sitting in a warehouse infested with rats and smelling of popcorn and Blair, that I am, indeed, a sentinel. That I was, in fact, the Chopec sentinel.

***

I put the book down on my lap and rest my head against the soft cushion. I've got to hand it to Sandburg - his apartment might suck big time, but this couch is really quite comfortable. Old, overstuffed, made in the days when craftsmanship counted. He probably got it for a few bucks at the same flea market as the kitchen table. Eyes closed, I listen to the man to whom I've given my heart and soul as he pours the popcorn into a large bowl. He's humming something - can't quite make it out - and from the odors wafting their way toward me, I'd say he's not only added the butter, but cheddar cheese flavoring too. And a smidgen of garlic. Okay, I like this guy's taste in popcorn. The clinking I'm hearing must be the beer and suddenly popcorn and a cold beer sound like nirvana - especially as shared with Blair.

When he comes in, arms loaded down, I start to get up but he immediately says, "No, stay put. I'm cool. Old hand at this."

Somehow he manages to get the bowl down and hand off my beer and nothing spills. He's amazing, but then, after witnessing his abilities in bed, I shouldn't be surprised.

He plops down next to me, smiles, holds up his bottle and waits. I clink mine against it and say, "Cheers."

"Try the popcorn, my own recipe."

"I know. Cheddar cheese and garlic - just a touch," I say smugly.

He grins. "It's going to be difficult putting anything over on you, isn't it? Hell, I won't even be able to lie."

Trying to look shocked, I say, "You planning on lying to me?"

"You never know. You might put on some god-awful shirt and stand in front of me looking all proud and peacockish and I won't have the heart to tell you look like a dweeb - not that you could ever look like a dweeb, but you know what I mean. So yeah, to save your feelings when you buy that god-awful shirt - I'll lie. Like a rug."

"Peacockish?"

"You know, the fluffed up feathers of macho manhood when he thinks he's the cat's meow?"

"Ah. Peacockish."

"Exactly."

"So... from now on, I only shop with you. Then there's no chance of me buying that god-awful shirt, right?"

"Hey, I like the sound of that." He holds up his beer again and once more, we clink. "To us," he says.

"To us," I say right back at him.

***

"So you remember now? Just reading this book helped?"

"Yeah. I ... I was their sentinel. They had a shaman, Incacha, and he taught me, watched my back-"

"Oh, hey, yeah. Burton talks about a partner who follows the sentinel. Man, this is so cool." He gets all thoughtful looking as he adds, "Of course, in the wild and wooly world of ... aromatherapy ... a partner isn't really needed...."

"Are you making fun of my chosen profession?" I ask with a grin.

Eyes gone serious, Blair says, "It's not your chosen profession, Jim. From what you said, you had no choice and it was sheer luck that the job with Scents came about." He cocks his head at me and asks, "Is it something you want to continue... now that maybe you can get your senses under control? Are you ... you know... happy?"

Good question. Very good question. And the answer is that I'm not. There's a burning hunger inside to return to police work - a hope that had been buried deep once I'd actually left the Cascade Police Department.

"No... I'm not ... happy. I make do, I was grateful for the opportunity to make a living, grateful to be good for something, but no, I'm not happy. Wait, let me correct that. These last couple of days have left me deliriously happy, but we both know that's not what you're asking about. I want my life back and I want back in with the PD. I'd just applied for a promotion to another department when all hell broke loose and ... well, that's what I want."

"Okay, so we work on your senses and you go back. You can do this, Jim." He tapped the book still on my lap. "I've studied a lot of people with one or two heightened senses and I've learned a helluva lot, okay? I can help you, Jim. I swear it."

Looking into those eyes of his, I believe him. One hundred percent. I find myself nodding. "Okay, Chief, you're on."

He holds out his hand and I take it. We shake, but I don't let go. He's it, my lifeline. I snag some popcorn with my left hand. He grins and settles back.

***

Buzzing. Annoying buzzing. I crack open one eye only to find myself staring at a cockroach.

"GAAAAAAAH!"

I jump up, which in turn completely dislodges a sleeping Blair, who is thrown to the left. He rolls until he rolls right off the bed. I hear the thump and the subsequent curse and then Blair is standing next to the bed and rubbing his ass. It's Monday morning and we never did make it back to my place. Now I'm wishing we had. Have I mentioned how much I hate cockroaches?

"Jim?"

"Cockroach. Decided we should be a threesome. I disagreed."

He grins and crawls back onto the bed and up to me. "Poor widdle Jimmy afraid of the big bad cockroach? Want me to kwill the big bad bug, huh, Jimmy?"

I bop him on the forehead. "You dick."

He kisses me and the buzzing returns, only this time - it doesn't go away. I disengage, very reluctantly, and say, "What the hell is that?"

"Damn, it's my door buzzer. Someone's downstairs. Hang on." He scrambles off the bed, grabs his robe and heads for the living room. I listen to his feet on the hardwood floor, then his voice. I'm puzzled until I remember the box by the couch.

"Hel-lo?"

Sandburg, it's me.

"Simon!?"

That would be me, yes. Let me up.

I hear a muttered, "Damn," and another buzzing sound, which I assume is the door downstairs being unlocked electrically. Blair's footsteps herald his return. He stops as he rounds the corner and I turn to look at him. I don't like what I see. He's a bit pale and not at all happy. So who the hell is this "Simon" anyway?

"Uhm... that's... that was a friend. He.. .uhm ... is on his way up. I need to get dressed, but you can stay here... if you want. I'll just get rid of him and then... yeah, I'll just get-"

"Ex-lover?" I ask, my voice surprisingly calm considering I'm ready to murder this "Simon".

"What?"

"Ex-lover?"

Suddenly he's laughing. Hard.

"Oh, man," he manages to say as he holds his stomach, "that is so funny. Simon and me? You just don't know."

Feeling rightfully foolish, I start to say something but he's moving, shucking the robe, pulling on jeans and a shirt, talking fast and making no sense. The last thing he says that I understand is, "Stay here, I'll get rid of him. Don't worry."

Then he's gone. I can hear him as he hurries to the big sliding door. I hear the latch fall and then it's sliding open. Now I concentrate and can hear the footfalls - large footfalls - and I can smell the trace of a cigar... some kind of coffee ... and ... pineapple Danish. Then a voice, strong, deep and clear.

"Sandburg, good morning."

"Ah... Simon? What's that?"

"This? This is called l-u-g-g-a-g-e, Sandburg. I have clothing inside, and socks and boxers and suits and cigars."

"Uhm... why? You going someplace?"

"Yep. Here. Mohammed won't come to the mountain, so guess what, the mountain comes to Mohammed. I'm staying here until he's caught trying something, as we both know he'll do. When I'm at work, one of the others will be here or at Rainier with you. You go nowhere without us."

I think it's about time I find out what the hell is going on. I get out of bed even as I hear Blair sputtering and stuttering. I quickly dress, scrub a hand over my face and head toward the living room.

I walk in to find a man who appears to be about twice Sandburg's size looking down at him with a smug expression. Blair is waving his hands and his mouth is moving, but nothing is coming out. I do the old "clear the throat" thing so they'll know I'm here and the big man turns to face me and I recognize him.

"Captain Banks?" I say, clearly shocked.

He frowns at me and I can see he's trying to place me. He finally snaps his fingers and says, "Ellison. Jim Ellison, isn't it?"

When I nod, he adds, "I almost didn't recognize you without the," he touches his chin, "you know. And the," this time he touches his ear," you know."

Blair is doing a great imitation of a carp so I take pity on him. "Goatee and earring, Chief. I'd applied for Major Crime right before the... uhm... you know."

His eyes widen with comprehension as he looks between Captain Banks and myself. "So," he finally says, "you two know each other."

"I wouldn't say that, Sandburg," Simon says. "But I interviewed him, knew his record, and wanted him on my team. But something happened," he looks back at me, "you got sick or something, right?"

"Or something," I say. "Now maybe someone would like to tell me about this guy who needs to be caught because you both know he'll try something?"

***

Huh-oh. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. This is not going to be easy. Eyes still closed, I say, "What time is it, Simon?"

"It's ten, why?"

"I just wanted to know if it's too early for a drink, that's all."

Two hands land on my shoulders and I lean into them, knowing they're Jim's. I hear a low whistle and open my eyes to see Simon's considering gaze.

"So... how did you two meet?" he asks.

Before I can answer, Jim says, "I created a special blend deodorant for him."

I can hear the humor in his voice and I wait. Simon huffs, puffs... and starts laughing. Jim joins in and I feel like an idiot. It's times like these when I hate being the short guy. And the young guy.

They're both jerks.

But I don't leave Jim's arms. Not that they're actually around me ... or anything.

***

Gosh, aren't we cozy. Just me, Jim, and Simon. There's coffee, pastry (thanks to Simon) and small talk. But I know it's coming. The explanation. Not looking forward to it.

Jim sits back and regards Simon, who's just sitting there, complacent, happy, and full.

"So, don't you think it's time to tell me why the captain of Major Crime feels the need to move in with an anthropologist? Not to mention keeping him company at the university?"

Simon looks over at me and says, "Not my story to tell - exactly."

Jim looks expectantly at me. Of course. I guess it's time. Except... I can't. Can't retell it. Won't. I get up. "I need air." I start to move away but Simon reaches out and grabs my arm.

"Sandburg, he was released three hours ago. You're not going out by yourself."

Damn.

I sink back into my seat. I can't do this and Simon, sensing the truth, says, "Look, I'll give him the short version and, later, when you can, you fill in the gaps, okay?"

I nod gratefully and bury myself in my cup of coffee.

"Okay, this happened before you entered the force, if I remember your file correctly. The year was nineteen eighty-nine-"

"I was in ... Peru," Jim says quietly.

"I remember something about that - you were MIA for eighteen months, right?"

"Right."

"Right. Okay, so in eighty-nine, a serial killer surfaced. He targeted young college women, all English majors. He raped them, tortured them, and finally stabbed them to death. The papers called him the ABC killer. He struck first in Everett, then Spokane, Seattle, and finally... Cascade. He left no clues behind, no fingerprints, no semen, nothing. Except a note to the police of the city he was in. A note taunting them to catch him."

Simon paused and I'm tempted to look up, but the memories are making like a movie in my mind and talking is beyond my capability. Judging by the long pause, Simon is reliving his own memories. Finally he starts up again but I know the story all too well.

"It turned out that our killer was a fairly well-known university lecturer by the name of Rick Dillon, but it took a nineteen-year old kid at Rainier to figure it out."

I can feel Jim's eyes on me but there's no way I can look up. No way.

"I assume we're talking about... Blair?"

"We are. I was a detective assigned to the case and Sandburg had seen me on television. He came to me with his suspicions. I won't go into the hows - I'll let him tell you that - but suffice it to say that once I delved into Dillon's travels and matched them to each murder, he went to the head of the class."

I couldn't help it - I snorted.

"Okay, bad pun, Sandburg."

"No kidding," I finally say.

Jim gives me a little nudge, with his shoulder, not his elbow, and I'm finally drawn to look at him. His eyes are dark and full of emotion, most of which is ... love. And encouragement. If I didn't already love him, I would now. I think I can take over the story from here - maybe.

"Simon got the necessary warrants to bring Dillon in, but his lawyer got him out when the DA refused to bring any charge. He said Simon didn't have enough evidence and that the suspicions of one," I make quote marks in the air, "'kid' wasn't going to cut it. Especially since Dillon had such a great reputation."

Jim is frowning and Simon jumps in.

"That particular DA ... isn't anymore."

"Good," Jim says. "Go on, what finally happened?"

"After we had to release him, he went noble. Said he understood, that he wasn't going to press charges or sue, or anything. We were just doing our jobs," Simon said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "He supposedly left Cascade and returned to his hometown in Bremerton."

"But?"

Simon's expression changed, darkened. "The Bremerton police watched him, thanks to my having a few friends up there, but he was the model citizen. There were no more killings; he went back to traveling, lecturing and -- eventually - we let our guard down."

I took over then. "He came after me," I say softly, "months later." I shift uncomfortably and Jim moves just enough closer to let me know I have his support. I smile at him. I can do this.

"I was sharing an apartment with three others. It was Spring break and they were off for warmer climes but I had two papers due so I stayed behind. I was also ... okay, a lot younger and, well, anyway. He broke in. I was up, burning the midnight oil and heard something that caused the hair on the back of my neck to rise. I got up, grabbed my baseball bat and debated hiding under the bed or doing a little search. I didn't get the chance to choose. He burst in, tackled me and things got a bit nasty for a bit."

This time it was Simon who snorted. And took over for me, thank God.

"Sandburg and I kind of ... kept in touch ... and I'd made it a habit to maybe... drift by his place on my way home. It was on the way. That night I got off late, drove by, slowed down. Everything was quiet. I looked up at what I knew was his window, could see a faint glow-"

"My computer," I clarified.

"His computer. And then - boom. The light brightens, flashes, then darkness. It was enough. I pulled over, called it in as a breaking and entering, because I knew, you see? I just... knew. I rushed up to his floor, cursing the lack of elevator all the way and praying I'd be in time."

"Simon gave a whole new meaning to the phrase 'nick of time'," I add as I smile at Simon.

"I'll say," he agrees. "I threw caution to the wind and literally busted his door down. It was dark but I could hear them-"

"It happened so damn fast. One minute the guy was all over me, he had a knife, we were struggling, I was kind of scrawny back then-"

"As compared to now, Chief?"

"Oh, man, who knew you were such a card, Jim. Who knew?"

He's smiling at me, a smile that sets my insides on fire because it's just so... so... loving and there's heat there, the kind that fuels anger, and he's feeling that anger because of what Simon and I are relating and it's weird, but nice. It's one thing to have Simon go all protective - he's like a father figure to me, you know? But Jim? But there it is, in his eyes. And then he takes my hand. In front of Simon. He squeezes and says, "Go on."

Easier said than done, but go on I do.

"He had me up against the wall - he was well over six feet - and I had my fingers wrapped around his wrist - holding it back - and the knife - and I was staring up at it and was pretty damn certain it was going to start moving again - the knife I mean, and it did and then Simon was there and he was yelling and the lights came on and I blinked and Dillon hit me, with his elbow, I think, and I was seeing stars and-"

"And then he had Sandburg in a neck lock with the knife pressed against his throat and he was telling me how he was going to walk out of there and how I'd let him because otherwise I'd have to stand there and watch him slit Sandburg's throat and that he'd do it slowly so I'd have to watch him bleed out and-"

"He decided to give Simon a demo and he ran the knife-"

"Just here," Jim says as he runs his finger along a thin white scar that only he could possibly see, because believe me, it's not all that visible, you know?

I capture his hand, stop him, and say, "Yeah."

Frowning, Simon says, "At that point, Sandburg decided he'd rather not be Dillon's next canvas so he brought his left elbow down and into Dillon's groin. It was enough. Sandburg was able to spin away and give me a clear shot. Unfortunately-"

"I had a marble collection and when Dillon and I struggled initially, the marbles kind of ended up on the floor - kind of."

Simon shoots a humorous glance at me as he says, "And of course, I step on one and go down."

"One, Simon? One?"

"Okay, Sandburg, okay. Several. I stepped on several."

"He windmilled all over my room and Dillon flew at him, knife raised, and-"

"Sandburg hit him with his baseball bat."

"Yeah. My baseball bat."

"You took him out with ... a bat?"

I nod. Grin. "Baseball bat. Whack."

"Dillon was arrested, charged, but only with attempted murder on Sandburg. His lawyer argued that Dillon had finally flipped after the embarrassment of being arrested as a serial killer and focused on Sandburg. It was enough. He got fifteen years with the usual time off for good behavior. Sentence cut in half - better than in half - and he walked today. Later, after his sentencing, he swore that he'd be back and Sandburg would pay. He made it sound like it was part of his ... mental health problem ... but under it all, we knew that he couldn't afford to have Sandburg walking around... not the man who'd figured it out."

"So you really think he'll come after him again?"

"Oh, yeah, Jim," I say. "He'll come back. You see, he wants to murder again. Those months he had to hold it in? They must have nearly killed him. For many serial killers, it's a compulsion they can't ignore. With him, it was also a mind game. A way to prove his intelligence. His superiority. He needs it."

Jim is looking at me as if seeing me for the first time. I shrug and add, "Minor in psychology, okay?"

"Right, of course. Silly me," he says with a grin.

I give a slight shake of my head before going on. "Anyway, he needs to kill, to get back to it as soon as possible, but if he starts again-"

"You'll still be around to figure him out no matter where he goes," Jim finishes.

It's not what I was going to say, but Simon is nodding so I shut up.

"And that's why you're here, Captain Banks," Jim states.

"Yep. Sandburg refused to stay at my place."

"But here you don't need to be," Jim says in a perfect imitation of Yoda. His smile is smug when he adds, "He's staying at my place. He'll be safe there. With me."

And that's when I get my brainstorm. Or maybe ... brain fart would be a better term? Oh, yeah.

"I say ... I stay here. And you leave, Simon."

They're both looking at me like I've either lost my brain or grown another head.

"Come on, guys, think about it," I say as I waggle my head at them. "Hello? Setup?"

The light dawns.

"Ooooh," Simon says cleverly.

"Ahhhhh," Jim says with equal cleverness.

I just roll my eyes and snort.

***

So it's arranged. Once I dropped the clue bus on them, they caught on real fast. We're going to set Dillon up. Big time.

Simon seems to have every faith in Jim's ability to protect and serve even though he's spent the last few years as an aroma therapist - and yes, Simon left laughing. But he ordered a new aftershave.

Of course, it helped Simon's faith when we provided him with an impromptu demonstration of Jim's unique abilities. I was kind of surprised that Jim would be willing to divulge his senses to Simon, but it didn't take a grad student with a minor in psychology to see that there was a trust between the two men. Maybe it's because they're so much alike. Simon may not be a sentinel, but he has the same need to protect and I think he instantly recognized that need in Jim.

But back to the setup. Jim will be my bodyguard, silent and out of sight. I'll go about my business and he'll use his senses to keep tabs on me. Today, I'll go to Rainier - leaving before Jim. Jim will follow. He'll meet me in my storage closet of an office where I hope I'll have a chance to help him with his senses. I have tons of ideas. Gee, there's a surprise. Not.

Of course, Simon isn't going to leave it all up to Jim: his faith doesn't extend quite that far. He'll have his people in on this too, all very covert, naturally. His only worry is that he believes Dillon will play it cool and that as time goes by and nothing happens, he'll be forced to pull his people. That worries him.

Personally, I don't think Dillon will wait long at all. The need is growing inside of him and once he tastes freedom again - that need to kill will urge him forward quickly. No, I don't think we'll have to wait long at all.

***

It's three o'clock and my day is winding down. Last class taught and last student advised. My door is now closed. Jim is sitting on a chair and he looks stunned. I think it's my office. I like to think of it as eclectic - he's probably thinking it was struck by a tornado. But hey, I know exactly where everything is. Exactly. Just don't... ask.

"Okay, go over those dial things again, Chief."

At least now I know he was listening.

"Jim, you control your senses, they do not control you. The best way to make that happen is to picture each sense with its own dial, like... turning the radio volume up or down, okay? For instance, your hearing. Close your eyes and picture a radio dial with numbers going from one to ten. Got it?"

He does as I ask and a moment later, he's nodding.

"Okay, I want the dial on five, meaning normal hearing."

After another moment, he kind of smiles and nods.

Feeling almost giddy, I say, "All right, now picture a dial for each of your other senses and get them to five."

I don't have to wait long before the smile kind of widens and this time he raises a hand to indicate all is well. Okay, now for the real test. I know that Professor Cummings is giving his lecture on the sexual practices of a South American tribe that prefers same sex couplings. It's his favorite lecture simply because he loves seeing the reactions of his students. I'm going to see if I can check out Jim's reaction.

"All right, I want you to turn each dial - except your hearing - down to two. Once that's done, I want you to filter out all the sounds you hear, discard anything that isn't a deep voice with a pronounced southern accent."

His eyes shoot open and I hold up my hand. "Come on, Jim. Trust me here, okay?"

Looking highly skeptical, he slowly nods and closes his eyes again.

"Okay, dials down... that's it... now start filtering out all the normal sounds... footsteps, laughter, male voices, female voices, any voice that isn't that deep, southern drawl...."

I'm watching him carefully, watching each expression as it flits across his handsome face... and there it is. Success. The smile is sublime, his eyes crinkling up as he zooms in on Professor Cummings. Suddenly his eyes pop open, shock registering clearly.

"Holy shit," he says before he bursts out laughing.

Grinning like a fool, I say, "You like his lecture?"

"Chief, you are the devil. You knew exactly what I'd hear."

Rolling back on my heels, I say happily, "Yep. And please note that you automatically readjusted all your dials. On your own. Subconsciously."

The smile fades to be replaced by an expression of wonder. "Well, I'll be damned," he whispers.

Double checking that my door is locked, I then launch myself at my miracle man... where we promptly share spit and rub stubble-covered cheeks. And other parts of our bodies.

***

We're pulling up next to my building and I can see Jim concentrating per my instructions. "Well?" I say.

"They're here. I can hear their equipment. They're in the building across from yours, third floor. Two of them." He closes his eyes and after a moment, says, "Brown and... Wills?"

"Man, you are SO cool. Henri Brown and Bob Wills. Two of Simon's guys. They must be the second shift. What about at Rainier?"

Looking suddenly sheepish, Jim says, "I forgot to ... you know. I was too busy concentrating on you."

Jim puts his Expedition into park and nods at my building. "You'd better get inside, let me go do my thing."

I nod, but I'm reluctant to leave him. It's only been three and a half days, but it feels like years and I don't want us to be apart. Oh, I know it's just that early relationship rush, but still. I lift my backpack, open the door, and climb out.

"Your place is completely empty, if you don't count the rodents and bugs," he says with a grin. I'll be back in a few, okay? You're safe."

"I know, Jim. I know. I'll always be safe with you - and - you'll always be safe with me."

We stare at each other and I can tell he's unsure, not of his words, but of mine. I don't know everything in his past - hell, I hardly know anything - but at this moment, it's obvious he's been hurt and betrayed and let down. Over and over again. And now he's deciding whether to trust again. I can see it in his eyes.

And I see the wall go up. He's willing to love me, to give me his love, but trusting that he's safe with me? That his heart is safe? No, he's not there yet.

I step back, shut the door and paste on a fake smile as he pulls off.

I have time. I will change his mind. Show him the truth of my promise, the strength.

He's so worth it.

***

Three days have passed and there's been no sign of Dillon. But we're all officially worried because once he left the prison, he basically disappeared. Off the face of the Earth. And Simon would know.

Every morning, I get up and shower (with Jim), I eat breakfast (with Jim) and I head to school (without Jim, but he's close behind). Once at Rainier, I do my thing. Jim sneaks in, sits in my office and does his. Namely using his senses to keep tabs on me. And don't think we're being foolish. We're not. We both know that controlling his senses is too new, so I have a couple of Jimrules I have to obey: Don't be alone anywhere, anytime. Travel only from class to office, period. And always with others. And I do. Every day for the last three.

Did I mention the rampant sex? I didn't? Shame on me. Three days of it. Makes the rest of this bearable, I can tell you that much.

So today is Thursday and we're starting the whole process over again. But at least we're starting the day with rampant sex. Thank you God.

***

He's in the shower and I'm making breakfast. It's only seven-thirty and I'm already exhausted - but in a very good way. What I want to know is how Blair goes from sound asleep to the Energizer Sex Bunny in two seconds flat? I'm also trying to remember the last time I was grinning like a fool while scrambling eggs.

Never?

Never.

"Hey, smells good. What do you do to them?"

Arms are wrapping around my middle and my foolish grin just gets more ... foolish.

"Sandburg, I sure hope that's you," I say cleverly.

"Oh, no. Since when did you decide to adopt Simon's penchant for using only my last name?"

The arms disappear so I turn around to see Blair staring up at me. He doesn't look mad - just puzzled. I need to think fast, trouble is, my fast-thinking days are over. I wiggle my nose and say, "Did I use your last name?"

I really hope I'm looking innocent enough.

"Nice try, Jim."

Guess not.

"You ... would you believe that you look like a Sandburg?"

"I should look like a Sandburg because, funnily enough, I am a Sandburg. But I also look like a Blair because - now hold onto your hat - I am a Blair. Go figure."

"I'm in trouble, aren't I?"

Suddenly he grins, a huge shit-eating grin. "Gotcha."

I just happen to have a wooden spoon in my hand. It's covered with egg. I bop him on the head with it. There is now egg in his hair. He's still grinning as he reaches around me, scoops a handful of egg out of the fast-cooling pan and stuffs it down my shirt. Then he pats it -- hard.

I'm looking very thoughtful as I pick up a piece of toast that I'd just plated and hold it over his head. I crumble it. Into a million small pieces.

Damn, I forgot the butter dish sitting next to the toast. Sandburg - er - Blair, hasn't. He's got a palm full of the stuff right now. So help me, if he goes for my zipper....

He's going for my zipper.

Aw, God, that's cold.

"Sand-Blair, that's really hitting below the belt."

"You're not wearing a belt," he says cheekily.

"I'm wearing jeans."

"That's why you're not wearing a belt and therefore slathering your nether regions with butter can't be considered hitting below the belt. See?"

I lean down and almost press my nose to his as I say, "Shower, Blair?"

He kisses my nose and says, "Race ya!"

Our food fight ends in a steamy shower where we get a lot more than just clean.

***

Is it Friday yet? Damn, I can't wait to get out of here today. Normally I love my work days, but this one, in spite of starting out so well, went downhill fast. I had to cover two additional classes, suffer through a meeting with my dissertation advisor where upon I informed him that I needed to change said dissertation. I won't say he blew a gasket, after all, he's never been thrilled about my subject matter. But he did decide to put me through hell before finally giving me a new deadline by which I need to have a new subject. AND an introductory chapter.

And I don't have a clue what to try now as a subject.

But I'll come up with something. I always do.

***

Home sweet home. I pull the Corvair into my slot and shut down the engine. I'm bone tired but just the idea that once I'm inside, I'll soon be joined by Jim, seems to help revitalize me enough to get out of the car. I know Jim is probably already in the alley behind the warehouse, and I know that at least two of Simon's men are watching me from the window across the street.

So why don't I feel all that safe right now?

Why do I feel that I'm being watching by other than the good guys?

I decided to try a little experiment.

"Jim, I have a feeling I'm being watched and I don't mean by you or any other good guy. Just thought I should mention that."

***

Jim, I have a feeling I'm being watched and I don't mean by you or any other good guy. Just thought I should mention that.

Okay, that isn't what I want to hear. I'm standing between Blair's warehouse and the next, and I can see him easily even though I'm on the far side of his building. I scan the surrounding area with my hearing - and pick up a heartbeat that shouldn't be here. Damn, what was that whole piggyback thing Sandburg was trying to teach me yesterday?

Focus on what I'm hearing and let my vision - piggyback onto it - follow it....

A figure in the shadows... a flash of something ....

I zero on it....

And I'm running.

Because it's a gun.

***

Damn, my keys. I bend down and at the same time, I hear a strange popping sound. Something slams into the wall above my head and at the same time, a body slams into me.

We go down, Jim's body on top of mine. I feel his hand on the back of my head, cushioning it from the fall and we hit the concrete. And just as fast, he's turning and saying, "Stay down, hang on...."

Like I can do anything else?

***

We're down and I immediately twist around even as I cushion Blair from the fall. I can see the man and he's turning away...

"Stay down, hang on...."

I hear something from my left and turn my head. Two men, both waving badges in the air, exit the building across the street and I realize they're Captain Banks' men. They're going after the guy, but I can hear him, can follow him. I need to be in on this; I can stop it now.

"Sandburg, get inside, lock the doors. I'm going after him."

I'm up, take a moment to make sure Blair is all right, and satisfied, I wait for a nod, and when I get it, I'm off.

This guy is going down.

***

Jim's weight is gone. I hear words but they aren't penetrating. I manage to get up in time to see Jim running up the street and just a few feet behind two other men. I look for my keys - the keys that just a few moments ago - saved my life. There they are. I scoop them up and decide that the words Jim hissed into my ear were something about going inside and locking the doors.

I like that plan.

I head up.

In the freight elevator, I realize that I'm shaking. How ridiculous. And damn, I forgot to check for mail. I'm also not going back down. The elevator stops and I pull open the door and step out. I unlock my door and, just as I close it behind me, a voice says, "Hello, Blair."

It's not a voice I really wanted to hear. I think we've been had.

I turn slowly around only to come face to face with Rick Dillon.

Gosh, and I thought this day couldn't get any worse. Boy, was I wrong.

"Surprised to see me, Blair?"

Well, duh.

***

Surprised to see me, Blair?

GOD DAMN IT!

We've been had. I skid to a stop and yell out to the other two that Dillon is at Blair's place. I don't know if they believe me or not, but I'm already running back toward his warehouse.

I can hear sirens off in the distance and I pray they're for us. My heart is in my throat as I listen to what's happening in Blair's apartment and I kick it up for all I'm worth.

***

"Okay, obviously you couldn't have taken that potshot at me and make it up here before me, so I'm guessing that was a setup." Man, I'm just so clever.

"You guessed right, Blair. His name is Benny Sharp and I made his acquaintance in jail. He got out a couple of days before me. But before he did, I made a little deal with him. I wasn't sure how I'd use him, only that I would."

"So what now?"

"Now... I'm going to use you to regain the flavor of my game. It's no longer enough to just kill you. No, now I need to have some fun. And I like your hair, by the way. The long look is good on you."

Gee, I just feel all warm and tingly inside.

Dillon raises his right arm and now I see the gun. And it's pointed right at me.

"Now, Blair, I want you on your knees, right now, please."

"And if I say no?"

"Everything I'm planning will still happen, but it will happen to you without a kneecap. Your choice, Blair."

Okay, I'm thinking on my knees is workable. But only because I'm really hoping that while Jim was chasing the other guy, he was listening to me. For me. To me. Whatever.

I go down on my knees.

"Very good. Now hands on top of your head."

Right. Of course. Silly me.

"Good boy, Blair. Now I'm going to walk behind you. Don't do anything foolish because if you do, I will make this so much more difficult than it needs to be."

I watch as he does exactly as he said and when he moves behind me, I realize I'm holding my breath. He grabs my wrists and the next thing I know, I'm handcuffed.

"I love your new place and I'd really like to do you here, but I don't think Benny will be able to keep your friends busy for long and I want to take my time with you. So, up you go and out we go."

He pulls me up and the gun is jammed into my side even as he's pushing me toward the door. He doesn't have to worry about people seeing us - I'm the only occupant of this particular warehouse. He hustles me over to the elevator and before I can say, "Help, anyone?" we're in it and on our way down. The gun is really beginning to bug me, not to mention it's digging into my flesh. Problem is, if I stumble, or he does, the damn thing is likely to go off. We make it down to the first floor and he quickly lifts up the door and we're moving toward the exit.

He's got me tucked into his side, pressed hard against him and my hands and arms are already going numb. There is absolutely no wiggle room, no chance to escape. He's in total control. It's altogether possible that I've never felt so helpless in my entire life.

"It's not far now, Blair. My car is just over there. I'm afraid you won't be too comfortable seeing as how I'm going to have to put you in the trunk, but hey, it's cozy, snug and warm." He chuckles and I wince.

There's suddenly a god-awful sound and a moment later, we're hit by a freight train.

One minute I'm being pushed along by Dillon and the next - WHOOSH - we're going down. I feel it all the way to my molars. I hear the gun go off, feel the heat of it, and then I'm rolling away and apparently free of Dillon.

***

I can hear Dillon threaten Blair and I realize they're on their way down. This is going to be rough. Dillon has nothing to lose and no matter what we try - he'll do his best to kill Blair. A Mexican standoff will end with Blair's death - this I know in my guts.

I slow down as I approach the entrance to Blair's building and make my decision. One lightning-fast strike. It's the only way. I move to the alley again and duck out of sight. I can hear Captain Banks' two men - they've caught the red herring and the one called Wills is remaining with him while the one called Brown is on his way back here. Dillon and Blair are on the ground floor now and approaching the door - so this is going to go down before Brown gets here. Good. It would be difficult to surprise Dillon if I had to yell out to Brown.

They're out. And walking away from me. Someone is on my - and Blair's - side today.

It's not far now, Blair. My car is just over there. I'm afraid you won't be too comfortable seeing as how I'm going to have to put you in the trunk, but hey, it's cozy, snug and warm.

Time to make my move. As I take off and pick up speed, my eyes take in everything. I see the cuffs, the gun wedged hard against Blair, up and under his shirt. I can see how close Dillon is holding Blair and I can see the sweat on Blair's upper lip. I'm already planning my hit, planning it low followed by a jerk upward on his arm to make sure that should the gun go off, the bullet won't hit Blair. It's amazing how much I can see and hear as my legs propel me forward. All my senses are focused on the two men - on my plan. I'm driven by them and, at this moment, trust them above all else.

Just as I'm about to slam into Dillon, I give out with a blood curdling Chopec yell. Then I'm one with Dillon.

***

I roll over and to my knees even as I'm shaking my head, trying to clear my vision. My hair is in my face but I can see Dillon and... Jim, rolling on the ground away from me.

Jim.

Of course. He was the freight train.

Then I see that Dillon still has his gun. His fingers are wrapped tightly around it and he's trying to bring it bear on Jim. I can't let that happen. I struggle to my feet while at the same time, Dillon manages to push Jim away just enough to bring his gun hand up and take aim. That's all I need.

Head low, I tackle him.

My head hits him in the lower back and he goes down. That's all Jim needs. I hear yelling but I could be wrong. Hitting a body with your head is not conducive to trusting what you're hearing. In fact, my head hurts so bad that I can feel myself dropping to the ground. My ass hits the concrete and I decide to stay right where I am.

***

Oh, shit, I can't get the gun... and it's turning toward me ... and I feel a hit to my solar plexus and it's enough so that Dillon can move away.

This is it. I failed Blair. My only consolation is the fact that Brown is only about ten yards away and hopefully he'll get Dillon before the man can turn the gun on Blair.

But the gun doesn't go off because my partner - my stupid, unbelievably clever -- partner - is tackling the man.

It ends pretty quickly after that. I keep him down, Brown runs up, cuffs out, and a moment later Dillon is restrained and Brown is reading his rights.

I rush over to Blair, squat down in front of him, brush the hair out of his eyes, and ask, "You okay?"

He smiles at me and nods. Just... nods. He's still cuffed, his eyes are glazed, and he nods.

This guy is ... my guy.

***

Everyone is talking at once and I'm just sitting here, calm as you please, my hands (no longer numb) wrapped around a steaming hot mug of Cascade Police Department coffee. It's damn good. My headache is gone, thanks to three Advil. Jim is telling his story, I've already told mine. Brown and Wills finished their statements and they're now on Simon's desk. They're sitting at the conference table having also finished with Dillon, who is resting nicely in a cell downstairs. His lawyer is with him. I tune in on Jim and realize he's finishing up. Simon sits back in his chair and says to the woman who'd been recording our statements, "How soon?"

"Give me an hour, Captain."

"You got it. Thanks, Evie."

She leaves with her equipment and closes the door after her. Brown immediately says, "It's attempted murder again, Captain."

His tone is not encouraging and I realize why. My word against his. God knows what he'll come up with this time. But hey, he's behind bars now and that's all that matters. That and the fact that Jim and I are alive and well.

Just then someone knocks on the door and Simon says, "Enter." It opens and someone I don't know peeks in and says, "Captain Banks, you might want to see this. They just sent it up from Evidence."

"Well, bring it in, Rodriguez. Bring it in."

The police officer walks in and over to Simon's desk. He sets the box down and says, "It was found in Dillon's car, Sir. In the trunk. And yes, we have the keys to the car as taken directly from Dillon, and the registration is his. It's already been dusted for prints as has everything inside."

Simon, who'd gone to his feet, was now staring into the metal box. His face went grey, which brought Jim to his feet, and Brown and Wills to theirs. I stayed where I was - for once, my curiosity was nowhere to be seen.

I watch Jim, whose body has gone ramrod stiff. I'm guessing what's inside is not a good thing. Duh. And damn it, that old devil nature of mine, that thing that kills cats, is rearing its ugly head. I put the coffee down and stand. It's only a few steps from the chair to Jim and I take them. I sure can't see over him, but I can peek between him and Brown.

I think I might be sick.

Inside, to put it in simple terms, are all the - what - tools? Implements? Whatever. They're all the things Dillon was evidently planning on using - on me - before killing me.

Me and future victims.

I am going to be sick. But not here, not in front of these guys. I turn and move quietly out the door. I hurry through the bull pen and out into the hall. The men's room is to my right and I burst in and over to the nearest empty stall.

Once there - nothing happens.

My stomach is still doing flip-flops, but I'm holding it in. I take several deep breaths and try to center myself. Meditation and I are great friends, thanks to my mother, Naomi. She taught me well - she being one of the original flower children. I finally lean against the side stall wall and close my eyes.

Close - so very close.

And yet - I had Jim, which meant that close was as close as Dillon would or could ever get. I know this, feel it deep inside of me.

Jim is my guardian and the city's. But I'd done my part too. I was Jim's guardian.

Feeling infinitely better, I leave the stall and head back.

***

I think I'm going to be sick. I stare down into the box, see the instruments that would have led to Blair's death - his horrific death - and my stomach starts to churn. I can feel the anger in the other men, all of whom know Blair - care about Blair. But in spite of my feelings, in spite of the red haze of hate for Dillon, I see what the others do not. The box.

The box is deep, but the knives, scalpels, and other items are at the top. Almost unconsciously, I reach in and ... lift out the top. I can hear Simon's gasp as I set what turns out to be a shelf, down on his desk. We all look at what's left.

Photos.

And trophies. That's my word, but it doesn't take a genius to tell that the other items represent Dillon's previous victims. I'm pretty damn sure that every item will be linked to one of the dead college women. Dillon is toast.

"This is it, man," Brown suddenly says. "This nails Dillon's coffin. There's nothing he can say, nothing he can do. And procedure was followed every step of the way."

"I'll feel better about that coffin when the prints come back as Dillon's. If they're not here, not on this or any of these items, we've got nothing," Simon says.

He's right. But I have a feeling that Dillon's prints are all over this box and everything in it.

Blair.

Just like that - I realize Blair is not in the room. I whip around and there's his chair - empty.

Shit. Okay, focus.

Relief floods through me as I find him. He's already on his way back and I'm guessing from the bathroom. I go to the door and open it, needing to see his face. I watch as he enters - as he sees me. Our eyes meet and so much is said that I nearly fall back from the power of it. And then he's in front of me, those magical blue eyes staring up into mine and he smiles the most gentle smile I've ever seen. We don't touch, we don't need to. The touch is in our looks to each other. And oddly enough I can't tear my eyes from his. There seems to be so much more swimming in that earnest gaze. I feel like I need a translator - only then - my heart seems to swell and the swelling seems to get my brain in gear - and suddenly I can read every word that he's not saying.

I'm safe.

How ridiculous. He's the one the crazed killer was after and yet, he's telling me that I'm safe.

I'm safe in his care. And I always will be.

As he will be safe in mine.

***

It's over. Really and truly over. Dillon is a done deal. The prints found on the box and all the items in it - were his. Once he was confronted with that little piece of news, he took great pride in describing - in great detail - each murder that he'd committed. He'd been proud and not even pointing out his failure at killing Blair had taken him down.

But he'll never breathe free air again - and he just might become the next man to be executed.

I don't feel bad about that but Blair does. Why am I not surprised that he's against the death penalty?

And why does that please me?

We're at his place - but only long enough for him to pack a few things. I've wanted to officially ask him to move in with me, but so far I've failed to get the words out, something always holding me back. Now I'm about to sit down when something... something hits me. A sound that shouldn't be there.

A sound that my history in the Army and Covert Ops left me more than familiar with, thank you very much.

God damn it. No wonder Dillon was so damn smug. He had a back-up plan. I run around the corner, through the kitchen and there's Blair, slinging some flannel shirts into a duffle bag. I grab him and start dragging him out. We make it to the elevator where I push him inside. The ticking has sped up and I know - I know - it's going to go off. I press him into the far corner and cover him with my body and he seems to have figured it out because he whispers, "Dial down your hearing, man. Now."

I do.

And the world ends.

***

Weight, heavy, can't breathe. I push up and hear a grunt. "Jim?" I manage to croak out. All I get for my questions is another grunt. I try to remember what happened - and I do - sort of. I remember Jim showing up next to me while I was packing a few things, and I remember him grabbing me and hauling ass out of the apartment. I remember thinking something was wrong.

And then the world ended.

Ah, yes. Explosion of sound. Explosion. And I have a sentinel lying on top of me. God, his senses; his hearing.

I somehow wiggle my right arm out from under Jim and rest my hand on the back of his neck. I'm flying blind here but I'm pretty sure he needs some kind of immediate connection to hone in on. I find his hand, bring it over and shove it between us so it's resting on my heart. I wait a heartbeat or two and finally say, "Dial down your hearing, Jim, and focus on feeling my hand on your neck and your hand over my heart." I wait a bit more and, when I feel his soft sigh of relief against my hair, add, "Now picture another dial for the pain, Jim. You know what to do...."

I don't have to wait long.

"Blair?"

"None other. Unless you think some other stud is lying under you right now."

"Better not be," he mumbles into my hair.

"You good to move now or are you hurt?"

"You?"

"Don't know, but I'll be out of air soon if you don't move, buddy."

He grunts again and slowly - and carefully - rolls over. He blinks a few times and I'm guessing he's giving his vision a chance to return to normal. Finally he says, "Elevator in one piece. This is a very good thing."

I sit up as carefully as he'd rolled over and say, "Dusty, some debris, but yes, overall, it - and we - are in one piece. So did you hear the bomb or smell it, or what?"

He's still flat on his back as he answers, "Heard."

"Man, you are so awesome. You saved my life twice today. That's got to be some kind of record."

He finally sits up and we're shoulder to shoulder as he says, "Why do I think that record will oft be broken where you're concerned?"

"Was that a slam against my... against my...."

"Your ability to attract whackos and weirdos?"

"Yeah, that."

Jim gets to his feet and holds a hand out to me. I take it and as he hauls me up, says, "It was."

I've already forgotten what the hell we're talking about and find myself saying, "It was what?"

Suddenly Jim is running his hands all over me and I'm blinking stupidly. "Uhm, Jim?"

"Injuries," he says shortly.

I bat his hands away and say, "I'm fine, thanks to six feet of you."

He smiles at that and brushes hair out of my eyes. "We'd better get out of here. I smell smoke - lots of it."

He gets the door up and we hurry out and are finally, wonderfully, outside. I look behind me and gasp in shock. My warehouse is on fire. The entire third floor - my floor - is ablaze. As that fact registers, I realize that we're surrounded by the sound of sirens. Even as that thought makes itself known, swirling red and white lights cast their spell over the street and the fire department arrives, en masse.

Jim pulls me further away from the building and I'm helpless as I watch my home burn.

***

The acrid smell of smoke, the rivulets of oil-slick water on the street, the dripping building in front of me, all combine to remind me that I'm homeless. Alive - but homeless. I'm standing alone on the sidewalk across from my building as Jim and Simon talk several feet away. My mood isn't all bad - quite a bit of my clothing is already at Jim's, as are all my work papers, important books - and Burton's monograph. But there are so many things up in that huge drafty place that was my home. Photos, the guitar Jimi Hendrix gave to my mother, various items from my many expeditions, many of which can never be replaced - basically my life history. And my good suit, damn it.

But I'm alive. And if not for meeting Jim - I wouldn't be. I know that with every fiber of my being. Simon would have done his best to keep Dillon from succeeding, but the awful truth of it is -- he would have failed.

I can see that Jim and Simon are done and Jim is walking back to me. Simon waves and moves off in the other direction.

"We can go in now, Chief. See if there's anything to salvage. You up for that? Simon is going to gather a couple of people to help."

Am I up for it? Hell, why not. In my mind, everything is gone anyway, so if I find even one item - I'll be ahead of the game.

"Sure," I say. "Let's go."

***

I'm stunned by what wasn't destroyed. My silly fifties diner-type kitchen table, found a year ago at a flea market, is wet, dirty, but standing otherwise unharmed. My toaster is ... toast, my other appliances just as dead. My bedroom was the least hit and I'm able to salvage several items of clothing. Oh, sure, they'll need to be cleaned, but they're in one piece. My alarm clock - a take on Tweety Bird - is nothing but a blackened, melted object - barely recognizable.

Apparently fire, like tornadoes and earthquakes, strikes at random.

My Peruvian bedspread, handmade by a woman of the Shipibo tribe, is damp, smoky, but all there. I finger it lovingly even as I lift it and drop it carefully into the plastic bag we've set aside for just such items. Overall, I have three boxes full of my life, including one slightly damp photo album (the other three were destroyed or so wet as to be destroyed), my CD player, and my Canon camera.

My Jimi Hendrix guitar is no longer and that hurts beyond belief. It was a testament to my mother's life and my heritage, in an odd way. I know mom won't care - it was just a "thing" to her, but to me - it meant a great deal.

Jim and I start to carry everything down to my car, Henri Brown and Simon helping. The firemen are still here, still cleaning up and taking care of any hotspots. In addition, Joel is here in his capacity as head of the Cascade bomb squad. His men have isolated the spot where the bomb had been hidden by Dillon and are, even now, retrieving what they can of the device.

Downstairs, we load the stuff into my car - I'm too worried about Jim's senses to allow anything in his - and with a final look at what was my home, another thank you to Simon and Henri - Jim and I, with Jim in the lead, head to 852 Prospect.

***

We've showered - together - and are now sitting on my couch. Pizza is on its way and we're enjoying a beer together before the kid arrives. I look down at Blair, who is sitting close, his sweat pant-clad legs crossed under him Indian style. He looks okay, but I'm worried. When we were in the shower, I was amazed to find a burn wound on his right side. He'd never even felt it - but then he'd not had much time to, either. The moment I spotted it, I realized that it was a result of Dillon's gun going off when I bulldozed him. I felt like shit, a feeling Blair quickly attempted to reverse by kissing me. It worked pretty well, but once out of the shower, and while bandaging the slight wound, my guilt returned.

"Jim, stop it," Blair suddenly says.

"Stop what?"

"The guilt trip. You saved my life today - not once - but twice. Twice," he re-emphasizes.

"How did you know what I was thinking?" I can't help but ask.

"Oh, puleeze. You're are so transparent, man."

I find myself grinning at his tone - a tone that seemed to say that he knew me the way a man would know another man only after years together. Which was how our relationship felt already. Comfortable. Right. Real.

Forever.

"So what now, Chief?" I ask, my own tone deceptively light.

He shrugs almost helplessly and says, "I don't know."

Suddenly I feel like I'm on the edge of a cliff and I'm being tested. I can stay where I am, stay safe, or I can have faith in my future and jump. I look at Blair again, at the dejected body language, at his hands, fingers gripping his beer bottle like a lifeline, at his bowed head, curly hair obscuring his features, and I know which way to go. The words finally come.

"Blair - stay here with me. Move in with me?"

He looks up in surprise - real surprise - his eyes wide. "Are you serious, Jim? I mean, come on, we're talking a week, man. Just one week. That's hardly enough time to decide that we should-"

"Come on, Chief. We've had this conversation. We both knew it last Friday."

He smiles at me - that mega-watt smile - and says, "You have a good point. This hasn't exactly been a mystery, has it?"

I shake my head. "Not exactly. We were a done deal from the get-go. So will you?"

He licks his lower lip and I'm sorely tempted to kiss said lip, but I wait.

"I... what about your career? What-"

"You know when I was talking to Simon at your building?" At his nod, I go on. "That's what we were discussing. He thinks he can get me set again. With him, with Major Crime."

His mouth makes a small 'o' and I can't help the grin. "So whatcha think?" I ask.

"I... and ... your senses... and your backup? Partner? Not without me, Jim," he finally rallies to say.

I rub my chin thoughtfully - as if I'm thinking of a solution - a solution Simon and I have already come up with, by the way - and say, "Uhm, that could be a problem, Chief. I see what you mean. I do need a backup, someone who knows what I'm going through, can be there, can teach me...."

"And I've totally forgotten to tell you about the zone-out factor, man. This can not happen without me. It just can't."

Forgetting the solution for a moment, I ask with a squeaky voice, "Zone-out factor??"

He has the grace to look slightly ashamed. "Oh, uhm, yeah. See, it's where you could concentrate too much on one sense? And you kind of focus on it and you kind of... you know... go away. Zone-out, not unlike what happened in the elevator."

"Oh, swell, Sandburg. Nice of you to finally tell me."

"Ah, I get it now. I'm going to be 'Sandburg' when you're upset with me, right? Kind of like the way I was 'Blair Jacob Sandburg' when mom was angry."

"Wait. 'Jacob'? That's a normal name. Why not Jacob Blair?"

"Don't ask me, ask my mom. And Jacob was a concession to ... who knows. Anyway, I much prefer 'Chief', if you know what I mean?"

He winks at me and I have the urge to toss him over my shoulder and head upstairs. I think it's time to get back to the matter at hand.

"So do you want to know what Simon and I came up with or not?" I ask teasingly.

"Oh, man, yeah. What?"

"Ever hear of the thin blue line?"

"Sure. Although it really has two distinctly different meanings. See, some believe it's that thin line keeping a cop on the good side, that he or she could so easily slip and become the very thing they strive to protect us from. Still others refer to it as the cops themselves being the only thing between us and total chaos."

I should have known I'd get a mini-lecture. My little professor. Scratch that. My macho professor.

"Yeah, that about sums it up." I cock my head and ask, "How do you see it?"

"Simple, man. It's both. For some cops, men like you and Simon and Joel - you are the only things standing between the public and the criminal element. But you know as well as I do that there are those officers who trip on that line and fall onto the other side. So yeah, it's both."

Suddenly his expression changes as truth dawns. "Oh, man, that's absolutely brilliant, Jim. My new dissertation! The Thin Blue Line - both versions. And I could ride with you, study the Cascade PD." He's up immediately and pacing as the idea takes charge.

"This is so great, man! Utterly perfect. And I can be with you, ride with you, observe, help, be your backup - be your - partner."

Laughing, I hold up a hand and say, "Whoa, buddy. Slow it down. Simon has to get permission, get an observer's pass issued, and you'll have to sign a bunch of papers, take a drug test, the works. But he thinks it'll fly. For ninety days, anyway. Then, after that, we'll see where we are, okay?"

He stops, grins foolishly, and plops back down next to me. "Right, of course. So when do we start? Tomorrow? I can get Pete to cover my classes-"

"Take a breath, Chief. This is going to take time. You don't just walk in and suddenly you're a detective with Major Crime." Seeing his crestfallen expression, I quickly add, "But it will happen, okay?"

"Sure, sure, Jim. Of course. Oh, man, this is going to be so cool. You and me, protecting the city-"

"Me protecting your ass from every serial killer in the state-"

"Simon in on it, me fitting into your Dirty Harry world-"

"... and terrorist and ... 'DIRTY HARRY WORLD'?"

"... but I'd better hold off on telling mom, she'll never understand me living with a cop, let alone working with one. Hell, she still calls you guys the 'pigs', you know? But-"

"PIGS?"

"You know, Jim, I think this is the beginning of-"

"If you say it's the beginning of a great friendship - I may have to kill you. And 'Dirty Harry World'?"

"I was going to say, the beginning of a great romance, but hey, whatever," he says cheekily.

Now that I know he's not in his early twenties, but rather in his mid-to-late twenties, I have no compunction whatsoever to throwing him over my shoulder and carrying him upstairs to our bed. None. Zip. I stand up and look down at him.

There must be something in my expression because his eyes go wary as he says, "Jim? Jim?"

I grab his hand, haul him up, and then I've got him in a fireman's carry and I'm heading for the stairs.

"Jim, this is so... unc-cool. Really. Well, unless you... ha-ave das-tardly plans for ...my -body, of course, Then ... it's ki-ind of c-cool. In... a way."

He's stuttering - sort of - thanks to his body kind of flapping. He sounds cute. And he's still talking.

"Bu-t-t... I should-d tell you... I'm feel-ing really short-t here. And-d light...weight...."

I slap him on the ass and say, "Trust me, Sandburg, you are no lightweight. Short, yes, but light of weight? No."

"That-t makes... me feel a bit-t more ...manly... I ...guess," he says

***

So here I am, in our bed, and I'm wide awake. Jim is dead to the world, his head using my chest as his personal pillow. Hard to believe that the need for natural products led me to this moment in time - to this incredible man.

It's really ironic. Me and my desire for natural products ending up with a guy who needs all natural products.

I sure hope Carolyn understands. Of course - we have another problem now - where the hell do we get our said natural products from now on? I really don't see Jim as a tough, macho Major Crime cop while at the same time doing his aromatherapy thing.

Although... talk about your blackmail material. Heh.

Jim Ellison - Super Sentinel Major Crime Detective and part-time aroma therapist.

God, I love it.

But mostly - I love him. All the way.

The End

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Acknowledgments: Thanks to Delilah for the great beta and thanks to the wonderful folks at My Mongoose for inviting me to offer up a story. I hope it doesn't crash and burn. :) Thanks to Nicci and Patt for the lovely artwork.