disclaimer--if you recognize it I don't own it.
a/n: Jim and Blair are just abiding friends.... Yeah, uh-huh. That's why they live in Aly's basement.... *g* completed sometime before 1/4/03 originally written for My Mongoose :)
"There's one more left, Blair." Jesse clapped the young man on the shoulder. "Colonel James Ellison, he's an old friend of mine from the service. Be nice to him, and feed him if he's hungry. I haven't seen him in a while, but I can *bet* he needs more than a few home cooked meals."
"The Army doesn't feed him?" Blair grinned impishly.
Jesse shook his head in mock sadness. "The Army doesn't give him a helluva lot of time to eat, son." Jesse tugged on the younger man's collar gently. "Now, he's kinda rough around the edges, but don't let him scare ya none."
"No problem, Uncle Jess." Blair grinned as the retired general moved back towards the counter. "They don't call me Bullets, for nothing."
"Discretion being the better part of valor and all, or when that fails, a little subterfuge? Right, Blair?" Jesse grinned, remembering the time the sneaky little animal rights activist had stolen all the ammunition for his hunting rifle. It was partially the older man's fault, however, because the general just *had* to let little Blair see Bambi. Jesse's grin softened into a smile of fondness at the genius of Blair's pre-emptive strike.
"Hey, I couldn't let you shoot Bambi, man." Blair shrugged. "At least, not until you explained that whole balance of life thing, and even then it wasn't *Bambi* you were after." Blair grinned again. "Besides, you're the one that showed me which ammunition to steal."
"Yeah." The older man's eyes saddened a bit. "It's too bad your mother didn't think it was a lesson you should learn."
"Don't sweat it," Blair urged, "I learned a few other lessons in subterfuge." Blair tapped the counter with his hands. "After the initial shock wore off, Naomi was thrilled we kept in touch."
"Yeah, well, *during* that shock, she peeled off a few layers of my thick hide, but things did work out." The older man finished his totals and began double-checking his deposit bag. "Look, after Ellison gets in, you can close up. I don't expect the Anderson boys. They bought beer earlier, and Jimmy Lee is playing ball in town tonight. The game won't be over until late."
"Gotcha." Blair smiled at the older man as he pushed the door halfway open. "Colonel Ellison, then close the store. No Andersons in sight."
"Oh, and Bullets?" Jesse turned back, looking at Blair seriously.
"There's a loaded Beretta under the counter," Jesse continued at Blair's rapidly shaking head, "Now I know you don't want to use it. It's just in case Jeremy shows up looking for trouble. But with Ellison, I suggest you move slowly and surely. No sudden moves, and *don't* reach for the gun under *any* circumstances. Okay, son?"
'Wow, he's called me son *twice*, he hasn't done that in *ages*,' was Blair's first thought, his second, 'that's an odd thing to say about an old friend.' "Something I should know, Pops?" Blair looked up to the older man, happy for the millionth time that neither of them lost touch after Naomi spirited herself off to her next enlightened suitor.
"Ya know, Blair, if I told you, I'd have to kill you." Jesse deadpanned.
Blair laughed, "You'd have to find the ammo first, old man!"
"Yeah, yeah, *Bullets*" Jesse ruffled Blair's hair affectionately. "I'm going to drop this off," the general held up the money bag, "at the bank and then I'm heading out to Wanda's for a beer. Tell Ellison to come on out if he wants, and call me if you need me."
"You got it. Later, Uncle Jess." Blair tossed at the retreating man.
Blair heard the distant rumble of thunder. It was nearing dusk, which meant the daily summer thunderstorms were coming pretty quickly. He wiped at the tiny window, glancing at the bats in the night sky beyond the iron security bars
as they were revealed through the ever present coating of red dust. Not that Blair believed the store really needed
the extra security, but recently several of the local rowdies came looking for quick beer scores. 'That and passing notes like school kids,' Blair thought crossly.
The third break-in earlier that week prompted the owner, retired Major General Jesse Smith, to make a few phone calls. The general supervised the installation of security bars and heavier bolts on the windows and front and rear doors, while Blair worked the register. Neither man mentioned the coincidence of the break-ins tying in with Blair's arrival. Jesse had to have noticed, but he didn't confront Blair with it, and Blair didn't mention the notes he found under his door. Most of the customers nodded their heads in sympathy at the state of the world today. Blair listened to many a tale of "back when Jesse's Pappy was running things." As much as he knew human nature remained the same no matter what era of history was involved; Blair found the stories fascinating nonetheless.
Jesse Smith owned one of three general stores at the Sally Creek Marina on Lake Austin, while his long-time girlfriend Wanda owned the Sally Creek Motel, boasting a pool hall *and* video rental place. Jesse's place was the busiest overall, however, because he ran the campsite as well. Beer, boat rentals, bait, beer, junk food, tackle, and beer, were his top sellers, Blair smirked, even though he *knew* he was being hard on the locals. When the young man first arrived, he stayed at the campsite, but after a few mishaps, he decided to take Jesse up on the offer of the place out back. It wasn't very big, but it had a full kitchen and bath, as well as room for a bed, table, a few chairs and a sofa. All in all, the place was pretty cozy, but with the way Jeremy Anderson and his friends were visiting, Blair thought he might ask Wanda if she'd mind renting him a place.
The young man watched the bats fly around the light atop the wooden post a couple more times and sighed again. He'd been here with 'Uncle Jess' for two weeks and Naomi had yet to show. She had *promised* him she'd stop by before leaving for her six month long Evolving Woman retreat near the River Shannon. Since the Andersons weren't around, Blair could really only complain about the heat at the moment. At least it was a few degrees cooler than this afternoon and the temperature would cool off even more after the rain. Luckily, the store was still quiet and there was just Colonel Ellison left to check in for the campsite today.
Blair drummed his hands on the counter impatiently, wishing for another hundredth time that the area had more than two clear radio stations. Country and teen pop music didn't do a thing for him musically, however, he was *sure* there was a paper on the musical tastes of a rural population somewhere. It's too bad I had to ditch my CD collection in Cascade, a little Angie Ferris, or that great Peruvian flute CD would be great right now. Blair ran his hand through his hair irritably. He glanced up just in time to see a god of a man in fatigues pull the glass door open. Blair had to visibly snap his jaw shut as the man stalked up to the counter.
The soldier leaned forward on the counter, eyeing the younger man suspiciously. "How did you know my name?"
"Uncle Jess told me you were arriving. Er, rather, he, being Jesse Smith, told me an old Army buddy was going to show up and you're," Blair gestured towards the soldier vaguely, "Army. So I just thought it was you." Blair ran his hand through his hair. "It *is* you, right?"
"Where's the General?"
'Right, not much for small talk,' Blair thought, but said aloud, "He went to Wanda's. He said for you to join him later if you wanted." Blair pulled an old red leather logbook from underneath the counter. "If you'll just sign here?" Blair indicated the next empty line. Blair watched the muscles in the soldier's forearms tense and relax as he signed his name.
"Smith still serving cooked food here?"
"Yeah, I can make you a burger, if ya wanna wait?" Blair turned back towards the grill, making sure it was at the right temperature. "It's pretty greasy, practically a heart attack on a plate." Blair looked back towards the soldier. "Want everything on it?"
"Cheese. No pickles, onions, or mustard."
"Right. One cheeseburger coming up." Blair washed his hands at the sink, opened the refrigerator and pulled out the ground beef. He had yet to convince his 'Uncle' of the benefits of ground turkey, or even ground ostrich. Blair decided to try to get the older man to talk again. "So how do you know Uncle Jess? You out here on leave?"
"I would hardly think *this* would be the spot for a one-person operation, Chief." Ellison shrugged. "I knew the General from years ago, he never mentioned a nephew though, being an only child and all."
"Right, er, um," Blair turned back to form the patty and drop it onto the grill. "He was seeing my mom for a while, and we stayed in touch."
Jim blinked in comprehension. "Ah, the hippie's son, Blair Sandburg, right?"
"Well, she's just a little unconventional," Blair said uncomfortably, pulling the hamburger bun from the plastic bag next to the fridge.
"Didn't mean that in a bad way, Chief." Ellison leaned against the counter. "Just that she's a free spirit and all."
"Yep, that's her." Blair smiled, reaching into the fridge for the rest of the man's burger ingredients. "The lettuce and tomatoes are fresh." Blair turned back to Ellison. "You want mayo?" At the Colonel's nod he pulled out a case knife and spread a thin layer on each side. He closed up the jar and put it back into the fridge. Blair wanted to kick himself, but asked his next question anyway, "French fries'll be a few minutes if you want any?"
"Sure, can't have a burger without fries." The soldier grinned at the man artfully arranging lettuce and tomatoes. "That is, if you can bring yourself to serve me that much grease at once."
"Hey man, its *your* heart." Blair shrugged with a grin, knowing he was going to *bake* the fries. "If you wanna inject your veins with lard, who am I to stop ya?" Blair turned the temperature on the oven up, and checked the hamburger patty. He deftly flipped it over and let it cook while he pulled out the already microwaved potatoes. Blair sliced the two small potatoes into thin wedges and placed them skin side down onto the cookie sheet. "You want the seasoning mix or plain salt?"
"Salt is fine, Chief."
Blair nodded, salted the fries and placed a slice of cheese on the still-cooking patty. The younger man put the cookie sheet in the oven, and then carefully arranged the meat and cheese on the lower half of the bun. He flipped it all together and placed it on a paper plate with a flourish. Blair nodded to his right at the booths next to the counter. "You can eat over there if you want." Blair handed Ellison the plate. "I'll bring you the fries when they're done. You want something to drink?"
"Soda's good." The older man settled into the booth with his dinner. The soldier bit into his burger. "Mmph, this is delicious, Chief," Ellison managed around his cheeseburger.
"Thanks, man." Blair smiled from behind the soda dispenser. "Worked as a short order cook, for most of my sophomore year at Rainier to meet ends." Blair added a lid and a straw to the icy soft drink.
"Rainier University?" The soldier's eyes widened fractionally as he took the drink carefully from the younger man. "In Cascade?" Schooling his features into vague interest, Ellison took a sip.
"Yeah." Blair shrugged, checking his watch to see how many more minutes the fries needed. "You heard of it?"
"Got my bachelor's in Military Science there," Ellison shot off quickly, before taking another bite. The soldier put his burger down, then licked a bit of mayo off his finger. At the younger man's grin, the colonel frowned and grabbed a couple of napkins from the metal dispenser.
"Wow! That is *so* cool! I've been there since I was sixteen." The younger man waved his hands emphatically. "I'm sure I would've noticed you. Man! I must've *just* missed you there." Blair pulled the cookie sheet out of the oven, tossing the fries into a ready paper filled basket. "Wow!"
Blair placed the fries onto the booth's table in front of the soldier, who reached a hand out to stop the younger man from leaving. "This is *really* good, Blair. I hope you'll be cooking a lot while I'm around."
Blair blushed, striving for nonchalance. "No problem, I'm here most days, afternoons to closing, so that Uncle Jess can work on the place and spend time with Wanda." Blair smiled. "You show up and I'll fix," *be*, he thought, shrugging lightly to keep Ellison's hand firmly on his arm, "whatever you want, and if you show up after the store closes, I can fix something beyond what you'd find at a Wonderburger." Blair grinned sheepishly. "Uncle Jess doesn't let me experiment on the customers, since Becky Lou cried to her mama that I'd fed her sticks in her ice cream."
"I'll be here," Jim chuckled, "but what did you feed Becky Lou? She's the tiny blonde with a scar over her right eyebrow right?"
"Wow. Good memory." Blair smiled back. "She got that trying to catch the fawn that had wandered into her yard during hunting season. Some idiot had shot the baby's mama." Blair smiled at the memory of the little girl complaining to her Bwair that the fawn kept jumping over the fence, "little Becky Lou just couldn't understand why the fawn didn't stay still. Anyway, I fed her a homemade frozen ice cream with my special chocolate sauce and had cinnamon sticks in the ice cream for flavor and before I could remove them, Becky snatched the bowl out of my hand and took a bite."
"Oh," Ellison grimaced, "what on earth made her do that?"
"A four year old's sense of patience, I guess," Blair shrugged, "but to be honest, I *did* accidentally get chocolate sauce on the sticks of cinnamon." Blair looked down at the soldier's hand still on his arm, "So, Colonel Ellison, what made you decide to come here on your leave? It's blistering enough to peel paint out here in the summer."
"Jim." The soldier noticed Blair's gaze and dropped his hand. "Call me Jim, I'm not Colonel *anything* out here." The older man stalled for time by focusing on squeezing the ketchup onto the waxy paper in the basket. "I usually make this trip every few years since the general retired. He was good to me when I hit a rough patch with my immediate superior."
"I know the feeling, man." Blair nodded enthusiastically. "Uncle Jess is like that. I'm kinda glad he kept up with the little scrawny geek of Naomi's."
Blair grinned. "The hippie? My mom?"
"Oh, right." Jim dipped a french fry into ketchup. "So why are *you* here, and how long are you staying?"
"Well, my mom was supposed to meet me here for a few days before she went on to her retreat," Blair sighed, "but I'm kinda at loose ends. I've written all I can on my dissertation until I find a real test subject to study. Well," Blair frowned, walking behind the counter, "another test subject. Even though Alex Barnes had heightened senses," Blair trailed off quietly, "I doubt she was really a Sentinel."
Jim jerked at the word 'sentinel' in the same sentence as heightened senses. It reminded Jim of Incacha, the Chopec Shaman he stayed with in Peru, and how the holy man would call him Sentinalme. Jim focused back on what Blair had said before the word 'sentinel' had shocked him. "Wait a minute, Chief. Alicia Bannister was a... what did you call it? Sentinel?"
"How did you know her real name?" Blair, playing idly with the pens next to the register, looked openly curious.
"Uh, she tried to steal nerve gas in Cascade," Jim prevaricated, "I must've read it in the paper."
"Right," Blair looked skeptical, "but she somehow mis-stepped and was caught by an anonymous tip to Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade PD."
Jim smiled evilly, thinking about the six-foot, blue-eyed Black Ops Ranger; she'd misstepped into. At least that explained the instant animosity, bordering on homicidal, which arose between them. Jim vaguely remembered Incacha mentioning something about territoriality in the tribal guardians. "Yeah, I must've been on leave when that happened and caught it in the paper." He repeated calmly. "So what are you going to do about your dissertation?"
Blair fidgeted with a click pen, stopping when he started annoying *himself*. "Well, I'm taking a summer sabbatical to decide if I'm going to continue with the Sentinel project or change my dissertation topic." Blair continued on, not realizing his captive audience was well aware of the topic at hand, "See, sentinels were the guardians of the tribal welfare. They have heightened senses and can track game movements or weather patterns to ensure the prosperity and safety of the tribe. Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor, wrote all about it in his monograph "The Sentinels of Paraguay". Blair looked down at the soldier studiously focusing on his remaining french fries, "Oh, I'm sorry I'm boring you, man. I tend to go on and on when it comes to Sentinels or Burton."
Ellison caught the minute expression of disappointment on the younger man's face, and found himself blurting out, "this Richard Burton guy, the explorer and not the guy who married Elizabeth Taylor, right?"
"Yeah, that's him, he wrote Arabian Nights, too!" Bouncing excitedly, Blair's smile returned, "he lived a fascinating life, but his wife destroyed most of his writings in a prudish, moralistic Victorian fit."
Ellison didn't fail to notice how the younger man's heart rate stumbled when he touched Blair's arm, so he decided to push the issue just a tiny bit to see if this trip might be more interesting than helping an old friend out. With knowing smirk, he said, "Didn't he also write the Kama Sutra?" His grin became wider as he catalogued the leap in Blair's vitals.
"Um, yeah, he did." Blair couldn't conceal his blush, "That's mainly what caused his wife's fit." Blair jumped when he saw headlights flash across the inside of the store from a car in the parking lot.
Before Ellison could press his luck any further a couple of teenage girls came in giggling and chattering. They were obviously taken with the young man, but he seemed oddly oblivious to their flirtation as he rang up their purchases. Ellison finished the rest of his meal, and with a "See ya later, Chief," the soldier went over to Wanda's in search of the general.
Ellison opened the glass door and sauntered through. Scanning the room quickly for his quarry, Jim smiled when Smith waved him over.
The general spoke when Ellison came within normal earshot, "Thanks for coming out here, Jim."
"No problem, Sir." Jim took a seat on the barstool next to the older man, "I'm just glad I could get the leave approved so quickly." Jim raised an eyebrow in his former superior's direction, "So what's the going on?"
"I can still pull a few strings when I want," Jesse waved Wanda over from behind the bar. "I take it you met Sandburg?"
"Yeah, he cooks a mean burger." Jim smiled at Wanda as she came over with a beer for him.
"Here ya go, hon."
"Thanks, beautiful." Jim dazzled the petite woman with an Ellison special.
She smirked at his overly *obvious* grin, tossed her graying ebony hair over her shoulder and gave the younger man a quick peck on the cheek, "You just wait 'til I get rid of the old man." She smiled at Jesse, "Then what'll ya do, Jimmy?"
"Take lots of vitamins!" Jim shot back to Smith's amusement. Wanda chuckled and sauntered back to the bar. Jim continued their unfinished conversation. "He's kind of intense, though. Talking with him is like running weaponless through a fire fight."
"Yeah, well, he's not like that with everyone." Jesse grimaced, "One of the local boys, Jeremy Anderson's taken an unhealthy interest in him."
"Unhealthy?" Ellison raised an eyebrow.
"Now you know I'm not like that, Jimmy, but he turned the jerk down flat." The general slapped his hand on the table, startling the other patrons, "I just don't think it'll stop there."
"So brief me already, old man." Ellison took a sip of his beer.
"Well, since Blair's been here, the store's been broken into 3 times." Smith looked intently at his beer, "I *know* it's Jeremy though. Blair doesn't know it, but I found one of Jeremy's baseball caps outside the door to the rooms in the back where Blair's staying."
"The local authorities?"
"Naw, son, the law's not much help. Not that the sheriff's completely crooked or any such." The general took a sip of his beer. "Bill's just biased because Jeremy's his boy. I'd need more than a baseball cap to get Bill to do more than nod his head at me and tell me how the boy hasn't been the same since his mama died."
"Ah," Jim nodded.
"You remember Leroy Wilkinson and Petey Jones?" At the colonel's affirmative, he continued, "Well, they seem to be Jeremy's enforcers, and the last girl the spoiled brat took an interest in left town before he could hurt her more than he already had. She and her parents didn't think Bill would act when Jeremy started hassling her." Smith pushed his beer cap around the table, "To be honest, I don't think Bill would've done anything then, unless Jeremy had forced himself on her, or visibly marked her in some way." The general sighed, "I just don't want anything to happen to Blair," Smith took another sip of his beer, "the stuff in the store can be replaced."
"How do you want this played?" Ellison wiped a little of the condensation off his rapidly deteriorating beer label.
"I'd rather you were casual, maybe an old friend from the service to help me re-do the roof or the docks, or maybe just on leave, I'd rather not let everyone know exactly *what* you do for our government and the boys in black."
Jim smirked, "hiding in plain sight? I can do that. I'll leave the uniform packed then."
Jesse made a point of looking at Jim's attire, "think it's a little too late for that Ellison."
"Hey," Jim smirked, "you're the one that wanted me out here within 48 hours. Can I help it if I was on the other side of the world, and I *still* had to meet my objective before I could fly into Houston? Never mind the two and a half hour drive here, because *you* thought a chopper would attract too much attention. Cut me some slack, old man."
"Now Ellison, when have you *ever* known me to give slack." Jesse took a sip of his beer, "Not even the raw recruits got that, never mind the several hundred places you could've stopped to change outta that uniform on the way. Besides, if I'd have choppered you in, there's no *way* I could justify it as you just visiting an old friend. Even the cow-tippers'd figure out you were up to *something*."
Ellison smirked, glancing at the other patrons from half closed lids. He thought long and hard about his next question, he didn't want to offend the general, but couldn't seem to get past the doubts swirling in his head. "So tell me, Blair is the reason you made a point to help me during the Oliver fiasco, isn't it?"
"No." The general shook his head adamantly, "No, it's not. I helped you because Oliver was dead wrong, and you and your men suffered because of him." The general lowered his voice, "but the only reason I knew how to help you with the sensory stuff, *is* because of Blair. I didn't even *know* about the sense stuff until *after* I'd gotten the intel on Oliver.
Somehow, that made Jim feel like less of a freak, "thanks, sir, thanks."
"Well, I'm about done in, and I'm *sure* you are too. We can talk details in the morning," Smith finished his beer and watched Jim do the same, "You can stay at the campsite or your regular room at Wanda's." Smith's grin turned sly, "Or I'm sure you can convince Blair to let you stay with him."
"General!" The tips of Jim's ears flushed scarlet. "I know you've been trying to put us in the same place for years, but that's ridiculous!"
"Call 'em like I see 'em, son."
"See 'em? Who's the guy with the enhanced senses here? I don't remember you being around when I met Blair."
"No, but I know you both, and I'd bet my three silver stars there were plenty of sparks." The general grinned, took their beer bottles and joined Wanda at the bar, leaving Ellison sitting at the table.
The colonel recovered quickly, standing with one fluid movement; he saluted the retired general. At Smith's laugh and nod, Ellison dropped his arm, pivoted towards the door and exited into the somewhat cooler night air. He doubted anyone would call him on his antics, but sometimes it was *good* to attempt to embarrass the old man. Jim walked over to the truck he'd bought for the trip. It was a beat up old blue and white '69 Ford. Ellison didn't know exactly what to expect when the general had called, so he figured it wouldn't hurt to have a vehicle that could get trashed. He leaned back against the cab of the truck, letting the coolness from the metal seep through his hair and clothing. The truck was a little wet from the fast-moving seasonal thunderstorms, but Jim didn't mind. It was better than the cold dry air of the place he'd been less than forty-eight hours earlier.
The colonel pondered his options; the key to the whole scenario was Sandburg. The general admitted it, and from what information the general provided so far, a trained monkey could find the connection. Jeremy Anderson and his crew would be simple rowdies looking for a good time if not for Jeremy's interest in Blair.
Jeremy's interest could be the wild card. It was always hard to plan an operation when the three major wild cards were involved: religion, lack of knowledge, and obsession. Ellison supposed he should add a fourth to his mental list. The *real* wild card was love. It was possibly the most dangerous of all, more often than not it was a somewhat twisted version of love. Love of Deity, love of self, and the love of a person, thing or even an idea that was so misshapen the individual was blinded to anything beyond their chosen obsession.
Power plays were simple, outmaneuver, or outgun your opponents and the problem's solved. Obsessions were a bit trickier. Opponents rarely noticed anything beyond themselves and their goal or ideal. Ellison hoped the Anderson kid just saw Blair as another power play, and *not* an all-consuming obsession.
Maybe I should think about the general's advice, Jim absently tapped the truck door. It's not like there wasn't a spark between us, if I was reading him right, Jim thought. Maybe I'll just go see what Intel I can get out of Blair tonight. So by the time I meet with the general, I'll have some ideas. With that decided, Jim opened the truck door and drove back to the campsite. Even if Sandburg was in bed already, Ellison figured he'd rather be close by, in case something else happened.
The drive back to the campsite soothed the colonel into relaxing a little bit more. The other drivers were few and far between, so the colonel could allow his senses a bit more free rein. When he got back to the store, the soldier could still see what he assumed was Blair's Corsair parked on the side. Ellison shook his head at the younger man's choice, "a deathtrap on wheels," he muttered.
He glanced at the windows to the room at the back of the store, but they were darkened. Killing the engine, the colonel turned his hearing up a notch. Ellison filtered the tic-tic-hiss of the cooling engine out and listened to the summer night sounds coming from the woods surrounding him. He could even hear the lapping of water against the boats and pilings from the dock. A-ha! Goth! Ellison thought as he heard the splashing swish sound of someone swinging their feet through the water. The man, it *was* a man, smelled like the store and grilled food. Jim figured it was a good bet that he'd found Sandburg.
Leaving his bags locked up in the truck, Jim started towards the direction he was hearing Blair. Keeping half an eye on his surroundings, Ellison listened closely to the younger man. He seemed to be having a conversation with himself.
'...wow. I should've come to visit Uncle Jess more often. I had *no* idea Ellison was *so* hot!'
'but I'm not that sure if he was interested. Although after that Kama Sutra crack, but that could've just been macho posturing. But what man would willingly talk about the Kama Sutra with another man? Well, besides me, and I don't count here. And Burton's wife burned his stuff because it had quite a bit of homoerotic content, not just the heterosexual stuff.'
So that's why he blushed, Ellison grinned wider.
'I really doubt it's a coincidence that Jim showed up now though. The last time Jeremy hit the store, he came *way* too close to getting to me. Although why he's always gone through the store instead of my window, I don't know... Unless he thought if it still looked like a burglary, no one would think it was him.'
Jim nodded his head grimly, 'Looks like Sandburg's a pretty smart cookie, but how does he know for *sure* it's Jeremy Anderson.'
'If I wouldn't have found those notes slipped under my door I wouldn't have pinned it on Jeremy either, though. It's not like he doesn't have the money to buy whatever he wants.'
Ok, that was creepy, Jim thought. His hearing was distracted by a boat's engine close to Blair. The boat idled and Jim heard the slap of feet on the pier and the sound of a rope being tossed over wood.
Jim heard Blair's vitals jump a notch.
'Jeremy. I thought Jimmy Lee was playing ball tonight?'
'He did. Game's over.'
Jim heard the sound of skin against cloth and the crinkle of hair being squeezed. Shit, I'm too far away, Ellison thought, Dammit, Ellison began to run as silently through the woods as he could.
'Look, Jeremy, we've talked about this. Ow, let go of my hair, Man. This is so uncool!'
As Ellison burst into the clearing in front of the pier, he saw a burly young man leaning over, forcing his mouth closer to Blair's, but the younger man wasn't allowing Jeremy any closer than a few inches.
"Hey, Sandburg," The colonel called out, startling the Anderson kid, who kneed Blair in the ribs, and shoved Blair's shoulder hard. Blair, who'd been fighting to pull his head away, went careening into the pier face-first with the inertia from his struggles and Jeremy's shove. Jeremy yanked the rope loose and jumped into the idling boat as the man in uniform came running up the pier to Blair's slowly uprighting form. Gunning the engine, Jeremy steered the boat towards the opposite side of the lake.
Jim reached Blair's side as he leaned into his left arm. It looked to Jim like Blair couldn't decide to use his right arm on his face or his left side. "Blair," Ellison touched the younger man's left shoulder gently, "you ok?" Jim hissed as Sandburg turned, showing off a nice cut on his right cheek that was already beginning to bruise.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Blair pulled on his shoes, wincing as he tried to smile, "my cheek hurts like a sonofabitch though. I'm kinda glad you distracted Jeremy."
"He bother you often?" The colonel helped Blair into a standing position while surreptitiously feeling for damage to the younger man's ribs. Finding no breaks or cracks, the colonel sighed inwardly from relief.
"Not unless you count three times a day often," Blair tried to grin, but it turned into a grimace as it stretched the skin of his cheek.
"Yeah," Ellison grunted as he took more of the younger man's weight, "that would count as often. You wanna head back to your room, or into town for a few stitches at the ER?"
"Ugh," Blair started walking with Jim towards land, "no hospitals, man. It's not that far and Uncle Jess keeps medical supplies there."
"You got it, Chief." As they reached the shore, Ellison looked around. "Road or through the woods?"
"Woods, man," Blair said, "it's faster."
The trip back to Blair's place was uneventful, "What does the general say about Jeremy coming in to the store three times a day?"
Blair shrugged, "There's not really anything he can say. Jeremy or one of his buddies always buys stuff when they come in. And its not like Jeremy *says* anything specifically wrong when he comes in."
Ellison took note of Blair's elevated heart rate and slight sheen of perspiration. The colonel could've chalked it up to exertion, but he was betting that Blair wasn't telling the entire truth, "Blair, I know that's not all of the story, but I want to get you patched up first, ok?"
Sandburg nodded and smiled when he finally saw the back door to his room. Blair looked at Ellison funny when he paused outside the door and placed a finger over his mouth, to silence him. Blair did as he was told and watched Ellison cock his head as if he were listening to something. After a few seconds, Ellison steered the younger man to a chair a few feet to the side of the door. Settling the younger man gently, Ellison placed a finger over his lips again silencing the younger man's questions. Pulling out his sidearm, Ellison efficiently checked the clip, cocked a round into the chamber and flipped safety.
Dialing up his sight, Ellison opened the door cautiously even though he *knew* the two intruders were in the bedroom. As he passed through the utility room and kitchen he tried to filter out the smell of the intruders. All he could get was perfume, and *lots* of it. Ellison tried to clear his eyes as he crept into the bedroom doorway. Seeing the girls that had been in the store earlier digging through Sandburg's underwear made him almost chuckle. Switching the safety back on, he re-holstered his sidearm. Leaning against the doorway, Ellison barked, "Hey!" The girls jumped, not expecting anyone to come home during their raid. Ellison smiled evilly, "Looking for something? You girls *do* know breaking and entering is against the law, right?"
"Um, yes, sir." The first girl stammered.
The second was a bit braver, "But it was unlocked, we didn't break in!"
"Ok, smart girl, how 'bout criminal trespass? Where are your parents, anyway?"
"We're old enough to do what we want!" The brave one said.
"They're out of town," She bit her lip, "You're not going to tell them are you, Mister?"
"No, but I might tell Sandburg," Ellison replied, smiling inwardly at their horror, "What if I were him? What would you have done then?"
"We timed it! He goes out to the lake every night--" the not-so-brave girl started before her sister smacked a hand over the babbling girl's mouth.
"We're leavin'. Sorry to bother you, please don't tell Blair." The girls were almost through the door, when the colonel stopped them. He didn't say anything, just held out his hand.
Both girls blushed crimson, dropping the boxers they'd been hiding into his hand. He stuffed them into a pocket and watched them with Sentinel-sight through the window until they got in their car and drove away. He snickered a bit, and went back to where Blair was still sitting.
"Was that Mary and Kim?" The younger man asked.
Ellison looked at Sandburg's face and was horrified he took so long with the girls. The cut wasn't any worse but it was still bleeding. "Damn, Sandburg, I'm sorry. I thought it was that guy with a friend or something waiting on you. I didn't ask their names, but it was the two girls that came in earlier."
Something about Jim's statement puzzled Blair, "How did you know there was anyone in there?"
"It's a long story." Jim wiped his face with his hand, "Let's get you inside first."
Ellison looked around the room and found a chair to help Blair into, it was covered with a tapestry throw. Ellison went into the bathroom and pulled out the first aid kit he knew would be there. He set the kit on the table, retrieved a bowl from the cabinet and filled the bowl with warm water.
"You've stayed here before?"
"Yep," Ellison set the kit onto the kitchen table, "When I spent leave out here."
"Oh, Man! I didn't mean to take your place!" Blair started to get up, but stopped when Jim laid a hand firmly on the younger man's chest.
"Hold still." Ellison waited until Blair settled back down, "It's not a problem." Ellison turned on the lamp behind Blair and dabbed the cut with wet gauze until the blood was washed away. Checking for splinters, and thankfully finding none, Ellison completed the task of bandaging the cut on Blair's right cheekbone.
Blair held as still as he could, and was surprised at the officer's gentle touch, "You're pretty good at this." Blair smiled.
"I was trained as a medic." Ellison nodded at Sandburg's chest, "You mind?"
"No," Sandburg said quickly, "No, go ahead. I don't think there's anything wrong with my ribs though, just bruising."
Ellison started unbuttoning Blair's shirt. "I just want to make sure." Even with the subtle bruising, the colonel thought Blair looked delicious and had to take a moment to admire the younger man.
Under the colonel's scrutiny, Blair blushed. Blair blushed even more when Jim ran his hands gently but firmly over the younger man's midsection. After a moment or two, Blair became aroused.
Jim nearly pounced when a wave of pheromones streamed directly into the pleasure center of his brain. Keeping his cool was extremely difficult, then impossible, when Blair started caressing Jim's arms, leading the older man to the places he wanted touched. Neither man resisted the hazy pull of lust and soon were naked and sated.
"Wow." Blair snuggled into Jim.
"Yep." Ellison ran his fingers through Blair's hair in a petting motion. The repetitive movement soothed the younger man into sleep. Ellison gently let the man out of his arms and checked the perimeter. Locking the doors and shutting the aging curtains, he returned to the bed.
At half past midnight Ellison woke up suddenly. Keeping his eyes closed and body still, the sentinel reached out with his senses. Blair was still sleeping snugly against his side. Hearing a rustle around the back of the house, Jim turned his hearing and sense of smell up a notch. The cheap cologne combined with the rough mumbling confirmed the identity of the prowler. Jeremy Anderson had indeed come back. The colonel could only smell faint traces of gunpowder and oil on the kid, so although he wasn't carrying a gun currently presently, the kid *had* in the past few days. Filing that for future reference, Ellison waited to see what the kid would do next.
The colonel could hear Jeremy leaning against the window in the living room. It was the only window in the place with a clear view to the bed where they were currently lying. He knew from the way he'd left the curtains earlier in the night, that Jeremy could see that Blair wasn't alone, but doubted the kid had the eyesight to make out *who* was next to Blair. Cracking open an eyelid and zooming in with his sight, Ellison took in everything he could about Jeremy.
The kid had to be a few years younger than Blair, but outclassed him by at least fifty pounds, and several inches. The short black hair was shaved practically to nothing. Anderson's face was twisted into an angry snarl. Ellison still didn't move, however, preferring to wait a few minutes more. Blair, asleep and oblivious to his audience, threw a leg over his bedmate and snuggled closer. Ellison watched Jeremy's brown eyes narrow, but otherwise the man remained motionless at the window. Ellison wondered what he'd have to do to get the stupid kid to leave. Keeping his eyes trained on the peeping Jeremy, the colonel reached down and carded his fingers through Blair's hair.
The sleeping grad student woke up gradually. "Hey, man," Blair purred, "what're you doing up?"
"Shhhh," Ellison held Blair's head still, "don't move. We have an audience."
At those words, Blair tensed up, "what?! Who!?"
"It's ok, Blair," Ellison soothed the younger man, "I've got you covered. Nothing's going to happen." Ellison began to card through Blair's hair again. "It's ok."
"Who is it man, and why are they staring in the window."
"Well, it's Jeremy." At Jim's words, Blair buried his head into the older man's side, "and I figure he just wants to watch you sleep. He knows you're not alone though."
"Ok, that's creepy." Blair shuddered minutely, "Damn. You don't think?"
"I don't know, Blair," Ellison wrapped his arm securely around Blair's midsection, "We'll just take it as it comes. Have you dated anyone since you've been here?" Ellison wasn't sure if he wanted to know the answer to that question or not.
"No way." Blair shook his head vehemently. "I hadn't been interested in anyone out here until you came along."
"Well, most of the people my age out here are married, and besides, I'm not really going to be here for long." A thought suddenly struck Blair, "Wait a minute! How did you know Jeremy was out there staring through the window, you didn't get up, did you?"
"Nope," Ellison caressed Blair's side, "that was part of the long story I was going to tell you earlier," Ellison blushed faintly, "well, before we got distracted. My senses are heightened."
"All of them."
"Is he still out there?"
"Damn." Blair sighed, "I really want to jump around. You're the embodiment of my life's work, Jim."
"So, that means you might want me to hang around?"
"Oh, hell yeah!" Blair licked a nipple enthusiastically, "but not just for your senses."
"Mmmmm," Jim purred, "Well, that's good, at least I'm not just a 'subject' or something."
"No way, man!"
Jeremy hadn't moved, so Jim decided to try to risk it, "Blair, I'm going to kiss you now. Try not to move, ok?"
Ellison leaned over and kissed the younger man passionately, all the while keeping his hearing trained outside. At the point his lips touched Blair's, he heard the loud bang of Jeremy kicking the siding on the back of the building. Blair jumped, but Jim ran his hands up and down Blair's sides. The older man listened to the crunch of gravel underneath Jeremy's boots for several minutes. He heard a truck door open, but reeled his hearing back in before the slam of the door could debilitate him. The truck drove in the direction opposite the store, so Jim relaxed. Putting his entire focus and effort into the kiss for a moment, Ellison broke away leaving Blair dazed, "he's gone now."
"That was too creepy, man!" Realizing how that sounded, he amended, "the stalking thing, not the kiss."
Ellison grinned, "I knew what you meant."
"So what do we do now?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Jeremy's staring through my windows now, and I'm guessing you pissed him off on purpose. But what if he had a gun or something? He could've killed us both!" Blair began to vibrate with anxiety, "Wait, he still could! Maybe he went to get a gun. Maybe he's coming back right now!
Before Blair could get too incredibly worked up, Ellison calmed him, "Blair," softer, "Chief, I could hear him coming from a long way off. We'll be ok, but if you want, we can move to Wanda's or pick a campsite."
"I tried the campsite thing, my stuff kept disappearing. You think he'll come back?"
"It's possible. Tell you what," Jim kissed the younger man on the cheek, "you get your stuff together. We'll toss it into my truck and get a room in Nacona. It's still a pretty good sized college town right?"
"Yeah, it is."
"Ok, then, we'll go there. I'll give the general a heads up while you get some things together."
"Um, Jim?" Blair looked at Ellison oddly, "why are my boxers in your pants?"
"Well, you see, Blair, I have this thing..." At his incredulous face Jim snickered, "no, not really. Remember those two girls that came in here earlier?" Ellison trailed off.
Blair blushed beet red, "no!"
"Yep." Ellison grinned at the younger man and sat at the kitchen table. He picked up the receiver and dialed the general.
"Wanda, honey, can you get the general for me?"
"Jim?" sounding a bit more awake, "yeah, sure, hang on."
The general's sleep roughened voice came over the receiver, "What's going on, Jimmy?"
"We're gonna get a room in town. Jeremy paid Blair a couple of visits, once by the pier and once a few minutes ago at the store."
"Is Blair ok, or should I say is Jeremy ok?"
"Yes, sir. Everything's fine. Blair has a cut on his face and some bruising on his ribs, but nothing that won't heal quickly. Right now, Blair's just a little spooked that Jeremy spent half an hour outside our window watching him sleep."
"Not the point, sir. I don't think he knew it was *me* here, but he did see someone was with Blair. The jerk finally left, but he was pretty angry."
"Ok, son," the general paused for a moment, "try the Candlewood out on the loop. They're pretty discreet, but you know the *second* you drive back out here with Blair, everyone will know y'all were together, or at least they'll assume it."
"When does Blair's shift start?"
"Ok, how about this, when people ask just let them know you sent us into town early for supplies. You want to build new shelving along the walls. Blair decided with the break-ins to stay at Wanda's."
"Ok. What about Jeremy?"
"He gets the same story. Jeremy won't say anything about it because if he did, everyone would wonder how and *why* he keeps tabs on where Blair sleeps. If things do come to a head, I'd like it to be in a public place with as many witnesses as possible. I really don't think he'll do anything until we get back. And since I plan on sticking to Blair, he'll be safe at least."
"Thanks, Jimmy, you don't know what this means to me."
"Yes, I think I do."
"Didn't think you'd last long. Lone Wolf Ellison goes down in flames."
"Yeah, yeah, keep it up, old man, and I'll build you crooked shelves."
"Don't believe it for a minute son, you could no more build a crooked shelf than you could leave your quarters sloppy."
"Get some sleep," Jim chuckled, "Blair's actually tapping his foot."
"G'nite son. Tell Blair I know you'll take good care of him and to try and relax."
"You got it. Bye, Jess." Ellison hung up the phone and smiled at Blair.
"So, you wanna sleep at the Candlewood Arms?"
"No way! That's the place that has the jacuzzi tubs in *every* room!"
They gathered their belongings and drove down to Wanda's first. Jim had Blair leave a few personal belongings that he wouldn't miss in one of her rooms. Then had Blair mess up the bed and the bathroom. Blair felt a little guilty at that, *knowing* that Wanda or her daughter would have to clean the place up before they came back, but there was no help for it.
Ellison checked into the Candlewood, requesting an early morning wake up call, quietly and efficiently. It was on the outside of the loop around town, so the place had room to spread out. Each room was actually a suite of rooms. Both men decided that they could try the jacuzzi tub later that evening, rather than stay up any later. Finally drifting off to sleep, Ellison's last thoughts were about how nice it was to sleep with another person, especially Blair. He was like the warmest, softest, most comfy blanket draped over the majority of Jim's body.
The coming of the morning sun woke Jim before its rays even touched the ground. False dawn was always true dawn to the sentinel. Ellison grabbed the phone as it clicked, signaling it was about to ring, "Thank you, Miss. No, breakfast won't be necessary. Yes, I'll be here another night. No, Ma'am, meals aren't necessary at all. Thank you."
"dthfmrng?" Jim heard Blair mumble into his pillow. Jim grinned at his *not* awake bedmate, "No, Blair, the phone didn't ring. I wanted to let you sleep a few more minutes."
"M'up." Blair rolled into the warm spot Jim left as the soldier headed for the shower.
"You can join me, you know, Chief."
One ocean-blue eye popped open, watching an amazing boxer-clad ass walk into the bathroom. Blair's two awake brain cells were busily spreading that vision to all the other sleeping brain cells, who unanimously decided that a shower with *that* ass would be imperative this morning. Blair rolled himself off the bed and onto the floor. Causing Jim to peek out the bathroom door, but Blair held up a hand, indicating he was ok and didn't need help. A few moments later Jim had finished adjusting the water temperature and was joined by an equally naked Blair. Forty-five minutes and two orgasms later they were both dressed and ready to hit McCay's Lumber. Blair had been there before, but Ellison hadn't. Needless to say the soldier was in home repair heaven. Picking out some lumber and tools, Ellison paid for his purchases and both men loaded the truck.
During breakfast at the local truck stop, Ellison felt something strange in the back of his mind. Jim winced hearing the scream of a jungle cat, dropping his fork as well as the hash browns he'd been about to eat onto the table, while Blair dropped a slice of melon into his coffee. Each man looked around warily, seeing nothing amiss at any of the other tables, Blair asked, "What the hell was that?!"
"It happens sometimes, Blair." Ellison surreptitiously cleaned their messes while concentrating on the Jaguar, "It's like an early warning system. Sometimes I can connect with the Jaguar, and its like I'm right there. I know something's wrong, but I can't get a clear image."
"Try again," Blair wrapped a hand around the soldier's forearm, "this time use my hand to ground you."
Ellison tried again, his expression going from concentration to grim, "Jeremy's gotten to Jess." The soldier squeezed Blair's hand minutely, and stood, "We need to go."
Blair finished his orange juice as Ellison peeled off a few bills and dropped them on the table. "I'm ready when you are."
The drive back was quiet, with only a few questions interrupting the miles, "So how is he? Where is he?"
"He's only a little roughed up," Ellison stared straight ahead as if the road would disappear if he removed his eyes, "Jeremy has him at the metal shed down past the pier."
"I just don't understand, Jim." Blair whispered, "What does Jeremy think he'll accomplish? And doesn't he know someone will miss Uncle Jess when the store's left unattended? It doesn't make any sense."
"From what I can get from Jaguar, Anderson hasn't hurt the general since Jess was tied to a chair. And the only reason the general was hurt then is because he didn't *want* to be tied to the chair," The sentinel could clearly see the scene before the Jaguar. Ellison smiled at the general's spirit, and the split lip he'd given to Jeremy. A frown replaced that grin when Ellison heard the question Anderson was asking. "He wants to know where you are and who you were with last night, Blair." Ellison grimaced, knowing Jess' predicament was all his fault. "That's all."
"You think he'll hurt him any worse?"
"Not if I catch him first, Blair," Ellison gripped the steering wheel a little bit tighter.
"Oh." Blair shivered.
Ellison pushed the gas pedal down a few inches further, attracting a local deputy. When the old truck didn't pull over, the sheriff joined the chase.
Blair heard the sirens, "Shit! Is that the Sheriff or Highway Patrol?"
"Get down, Blair," Jim pulled Blair's head into his lap. Stroking the younger man's hair gently, the soldier answered the question, "It's Sheriff Anderson and Deputy Wallace."
"What're we gonna do?"
"Well, Jeremy's going to hear the sirens long before they get there, so he'll probably try to slip off," Ellison went around an old blue Nova on a curve. The soldier barely had time to veer back into his own lane when a couple of logging trucks barreled past them. The other drivers combined with the winding road conditions bought them enough time to turn down the old blacktop road leading to the Marina without detection, "Chief, when the blacktop runs out and we hit dirt, I'm gonna be kicking up as much dust as I can." At Blair's nod he continued, "When we stop I want you to roll out of the truck and get to the store as fast as you can. Go to the back and wait for us. Pretend you were in the room out back when you saw Jess struggling with Jeremy. You stayed hidden and called me." Ellison braked hard and slung gravel and dirt everywhere, "Now go!"
"Jim, what if..."
"Hopefully, they didn't see it was you sitting next to me." Ellison dragged his duffel into an upright position in the passenger seat, and kissed the younger man hard while shoving him out the passenger door, "Go!"
As expected, Jeremy had heard the sirens long before they arrived. Ellison distinctly heard the sounds of a boat engine disappearing at high speed. He filtered boat sounds out, and heard Blair sprinting to the back room. Filtering Blair out momentarily, Ellison listened for sounds in the shed. Hearing three heartbeats, Ellison started towards the shed in a running crouch. One heartbeat was slower than the other two, but the colonel didn't hear any movement or words being spoken. Ellison figured Jeremy had left Wilkinson and Jones with the general, but Jim couldn't figure out why they were stupid enough to listen to Jeremy when the jerk was obviously bailing on them. Ellison shook his head at the idiocy of the two young men, creeping closer to the shed. The colonel sniffed cautiously, catching the fresh scent of gunpowder, he grabbed a handful of suitable flat rocks from the ground.
The soldier nailed the metal door with the first rock causing a straw-hat covered head to poke out the front door. Ellison nailed the young man he identified as Leroy Wilkinson, with another well-timed rock. Wilkinson fell a moment after his hat, crushing it irrevocably. Jim dropped the rest of the stones and crept closer to the fallen thug. The other young man, presumably Petey Jones, was more cautious, leading with his rifle rather than his head. However the instant Petey's hands cleared the door the soldier grabbed the barrel, shoving it downward, while jerking the butt of the weapon back and directly into the younger man's chin knocking him out cold. Ellison could hear the sirens getting closer and shook his head at the timeliness of law enforcement. Although the colonel had to admit there were *many* rural roads they could've chosen.
Jesse smirked at his rescuer, "Took you long enough, dammit!"
"How was I supposed to know you were in trouble?" Ellison groused, "We were in town when you decided to play 'interrogation room' with the Anderson kid."
"I didn't have the heart to tell him his piss-poor technique wouldn't get a bark out of an old hound dog," the general snickered, "and I know damn good and well about that early warning system you've got, Ellison." Smith smirked up at the colonel, "Now get me the hell out of here!"
"Yeah, sure, old man," Ellison cleared his throat, "look, we're saying that Blair was hiding in the back and called me from town, that copasetic?"
"Yeah," the general nodded, "that's fine. It was too early for anyone but Jeremy to be asking about Blair anyway. They all know my boy likes to sleep in." Both men chuckled at the accuracy of *that* particular statement. They were met at the doorway of the store by the sheriff and deputy that had been following Jim. Ellison noted that Blair was behind the counter of the store.
"Jesse," the sheriff nodded at the two approaching men, "You need to teach your friend the basic laws of highway safety."
"Now you listen here, Bill," the general spat, "if *your* boy hadn't tied me up in the shed, Ellison wouldn't have *had* to drive like a bat outta hell to get here."
"I honestly don't know what got into him, Jesse," the sheriff rattled the loose change in his pocket. "You know he's never been like that before." The general just looked at the lawman, "I know, I know." Anderson Sr. said, "I'll make him get some help as soon as I catch up with him."
"You might try Connely's Cove," Ellison interrupted.
"And how do you--"
"Never mind that," the general spoke again leading both county officials to their cars, "he's usually right, *and* he's got some shelves to build." Smith threw a pointed look at his former subordinate.
Ellison, not being slow on the uptake, moved the truck from the side of the road to the front parking lot of the store. He was just bringing in the last of the lumber as the general finally convinced them to leave with Petey and Leroy in tow.
Ellison enjoyed building the shelves for the store. It was a physical task he could lose himself in and not worry about fighting or running to more defensible ground. Blair was unusually quiet, however, and that bothered Ellison more than he cared to admit. Blair spent most of the day re-organizing and re-stocking what had been destroyed in Jesse's struggle. All three men were relieved when Bill called saying that he'd found Jeremy right where Ellison said he'd be hiding. Supposedly Jeremy was hospital custody, but the colonel had his doubts.
"I'm glad you didn't *really* hurt them, Jim." Blair finally said as they were closing up the store.
"I'm not in the habit of killing unarmed, or even armed, American citizens, Chief," Ellison bit off, "no matter what you might think of what I do."
"Whoa," Blair held up a hand, "Wait a minute, all I know is that you're an Officer in the Army, and an old friend of Uncle Jess', that's it, Man." Blair smiled and nodded out at the '69 Ford, "For all I know, you could be in charge of the Motor Pool."
Ellison smiled and relaxed a bit as he opened the glass doors, "Not quite, Sandburg, but if I told you--"
"You'd have to kill me," Blair finished locking the doors from the outside, "geez, do they teach that line in Basic, or what?!"
"As a matter of fact..." Jim grabbed the younger man and proceeded to give him the noogie of the century which had both of them laughing so hard the tears began to flow.
"Wow," Blair struggled to regain his breath. "I needed that."
"Uh-huh," Ellison snickered, "you did."
"Oh, you're gonna get it now!" Blair stuffed the keys into his pocket, grabbed Ellison's Jags cap and smacked the older man in the head with it before taking off running down towards the lake.
Ellison's eyes soaked up the moonlight and had no trouble seeing the younger man jogging through the woods. Apparently, he was heading out towards the rarely used pier beyond even the docks. The soldier finally caught up to the laughing man holding his sides. An odd rustling sound caught Jim's attention. Ellison held up a hand for Blair's silence. "There's someone out there, Blair," Ellison whispered.
"Um, hello?! Anyone home?" Blair gestured all around, "It's a campground at the largest lake around here. It's summer. Of *course* there's people out there, but they're either asleep or not *here* so shut up and strip."
Ellison smiled at the younger man's commanding tone, but followed him obediently down the pier from the lake's shore, shedding clothes all the way to the edge. Blair cannonballed off the edge of the pier causing what was left of Ellison's clothing to get soaked. The water felt really good. It was cool, but not icy, for it still retained some heat from the summer sun. He watched the moonlight play across Blair's face as the younger man leaned back into the water. Smiling mischievously at the serene look of joy on Blair's face, Ellison catapulted into the water, catching the younger man square in the face with a wave of water. Ellison grinned at the spluttering young water nymph before him. Using a covert ops trick, he had the younger man by the ankle and into his arms before Blair had time to even think Ellison's first name, let alone yell it. In the throes of an intense water battle, neither man noticed the lurking danger.
Jeremy paused at a menacing growl, interrupting his journey closer to the marina's farthest pier. He froze for a moment, listening intently. When nothing untoward occurred, he edged another few feet closer. This time he heard the low snarl of a jungle cat. Chalking it up to entirely too much of old man Peterson's White Lightning, Jeremy continued silently through the woods. At the edge of the lake clearing, Jeremy stepped out into the moonlight. He watched while the object of his obsession swam playfully with another man. It was that soldier-friend of Smith's. He saw red, and clenched the rifle in his hands like a vise. The cool metal of the barrel ate into his skin, calming his rage and strengthened his resolve. Jeremy knew that if he couldn't have Blair, he'd make for damn sure no one else'd want him.
Jim surrounded Blair with his body, stilling the water fight momentarily, "You hear that, Chief?"
"Hear what, Jim?" Blair kicked in the water gently.
The colonel grabbed the edges of the pier, still surrounding Blair with his body, "I could've sworn I heard Jaguar growl," at Blair's blank look, he continued, "out loud."
"Couldn't have, man," Blair steadied himself by resting his hands on Jim's forearms, "Its gotta be in your head. Physically, they're not this far north. It has to be your spirit guide," Blair leaned his body back into Jim's willing embrace, "Now use me as an anchor and focus your senses outward."
From a slightly lower angle, Jim looked out towards the lake from the shore. He could see Jeremy clutching a rifle tightly, aiming it towards the water. Ellison's muscles clenched, readying themselves, he leaped, claws and teeth bared... and fell back into his own body as a single shot went wild into a nearby tree; the Jaguar screaming in triumph.
"Jim?" Blair grabbed at the momentarily collapsed man looking around wildly for the shooter, "Jim, man, come on. This isn't cool, big guy."
The colonel blinked blearily, then focused on Blair, "You ok?"
"Yeah," Blair turned in Jim's embrace to face the older man, "are *you* ok?"
"'m fine, Chief," Jim paused not sure how Blair would take his next words, "Jaguar made a kill for me. It was Jeremy."
"What?!" 'He's dead? I should be sad, right? Why can't I be sad?' were Blair's first thoughts, but the scientist's were voiced, "a being entirely on the spiritual plane could physically affect a being entirely on the physical plane? Is that possible, better yet, can we document it?" Blair stopped; the reality struck him full force, "Oh my god, Jim! Jeremy's gone! I mean, he was a jerk to me, and practically everyone else, but... Oh man," Blair's breaths were coming faster and heavier, "Oh geez... Oh man, oh man, oh man," Blair squeezed his eyes shut, "Why did Jaguar," Blair gulped in more air, "kill Jeremy?"
"It's the first I've experienced, Blair," Ellison pulled the younger man closer, stroking his back tenderly, "I don't know exactly why Jaguar killed this time. Jeremy had one of his hunting rifles, and he was about to squeeze the trigger when..."
"What about Bill? Aw, man. It's my fault his son is dead." Blair shivered.
"Chief," Ellison tried to reach the younger man, "Blair, come on." He tightened his grip, but gently pulled Blair's head up, "Look at me." When Jim had Blair's attention he continued, "This is *not* your fault. You had no control over any of it. Bill will know that Jeremy was hunting out of season and ran into a wildcat. He does not have to know that Jeremy came out here to hurt or kill either of us. Ok?" Jim waited for some kind of answer. When the soldier didn't receive one, he let Blair drop his head and tried again, "Look, Blair, it's really the best we can do, and believe me, it'd be better for Bill in the long run."
Blair nodded into Jim's chest, "Ok. Shouldn't we call it in or something?"
"Blair, it's probably best that we don't even mention we were around." Jim kissed the younger man gently, "it would make more sense to Bill if someone else found him, but if it makes you feel better, we can call Jess?"
Blair shook his head, "no, because it would look just as bad if Jess called it in. Dammit, this isn't fair."
"Jess won't call it in himself," Ellison hauled himself out of the water and reached a hand to Blair, "He's too canny for that, and if he's not, well, I'll remind him." Handing Blair his clothes, both men proceeded to dress, "We should probably get back to the Candlewood."
The trip back to the Candlewood Arms was subdued, punctuated by Blair's only comment, "You know, Jim," he said after a lot of thought, "it's not that I'm upset that Jeremy was killed. I'm upset that I'm not *more* upset that a *person* was killed. Naomi taught me that all life is to be revered, no matter if it's a good life, or a bad one, man."
Both men were nearly asleep on their feet by the time they reached their suite. Ellison stopped long enough to phone Jess about Jeremy, then followed Blair into the bedroom. It didn't take much for them to strip, crawl in, pull the covers up and fall into an exhausted slumber. This time the rising sun didn't even phase the sleeping men, nor did the roosters or other early morning sounds.
It was mid-morning before Jim and Blair made it back to the store. Ellison re-fueled the truck and stocked up on junk food. "You sure you don't need us to stay?" Ellison looked fondly upon the general.
"Naw, I'm fine, Jimmy. I'll let Naomi know that Blair went back to Cascade if she ever decides to show up." Smith shook his head. "It's a shame about Jeremy though. Who'da thought the wildcats around here were that vicious." The general grimaced at the memory of that particular scene, "Game Wardens are gonna be more careful, that's for sure. Now you have a nice trip back to Cascade and Fort Brickman." Jess slapped Jim on the shoulder, "and keep tabs on Bullets, okay? He's real good at getting out of tight situations, but that boy attracts trouble like you wouldn't believe."
Ellison nodded and smiled at the approval in the general's eyes, "I promise I'll take good care of him, sir."
A few miles down the road, Ellison spoke, "I think I'm gonna retire. You think Cascade could use a Sentinel-cop?"
"Oh, man!" Blair bounced, "You'd be great, practically an organic walking crime lab! There's no limit to what you could do!" Blair frowned, "Um, from what I've read, you'd need someone to guide you though." His forehead crinkled in thought, "You know, to keep you from zoning out in the field."
"I don't know, Chief. A partner?" Ellison kept his expression carefully blank, "That's a lot to put on a complete stranger. How do I know they wouldn't leave me zoned in a firefight?"
"Jim!" Blair sounded appalled, "Partners don't *do* that, man! I know Simon wouldn't put you with *anyone* that'd leave you high and dry!"
"That's a lot of faith to put in a complete stranger." Ellison still kept his face neutral.
"Oh man, I know." Blair bit his lip in frustration. "I wish *I* could be out there with you. I don't want you in anyone's hands but mine."
Jim's heart warmed at the emotions behind Blair's words, "You know, Blair, Captain Banks *does* owe me a favor."