Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

Authors note: serial killer alert - this guy is NOT nice.

Rating: R

Cascade Con

by Shedoc

********************
Their first day at home started badly. Perhaps if they'd stayed in Peru a little longer Jim wouldn't have reacted the way he did. But Blair had been eager to put some distance between them and the Temple, and Jim had been too relieved to have Blair alive and almost well to put up much of an argument.

First night home from Peru and Jim was glad to just tuck Blair into bed and then go up to his own. He slept through dreamlessly and woke at his usual time, well rested and content. As he usually did first thing when waking, Jim extended his hearing to listen to his Guide sleeping.

Blair was wheezing for breath. As Jim listened he muffled a cough. Jim was out of bed and running. Blair called something to Jim, but Jim didn't hear - he was so focussed on the sounds of Blairs breathing he was almost zoned. He bundled his feverish Guide up in blankets and half carried his struggling Guide out to the car - driving like a bat out of hell to the hospital. Again he half carried a now resigned Blair into the emergency room and watched the doctor and nurses hurry Blair away for treatment.

Doctor Anne Mallory asked Jim to come into the treatment cubicle ten minutes later and made Jim sit in behind Blair on the treatment table. The Sentinel had wrapped his arms around Blair and prepared for the worst - her manner was so serious and concerned that Jim was sure the pneumonia had flared up again. Memories of waiting in the ICU with Blair flared up for a moment and Jim shivered before focussing on the doctor again.

Blair had a minor cold. He'd caught it on the plane. He was going to take some very strong antibiotics to prevent the cold from complicating the almost gone pneumonia. He was to take liquids and rest for the next twenty-four hours. Then he could return to his normal activities provided he felt able for it.

Blair walked back to the truck and into the loft wrapped in his blanket, thinking about Peru. Jim was waiting for an explosion of anger - totally justified. Nothing. Blair had a shower and got dressed, then made some tea and sat down on the couch to go through the mail. Jim went grocery shopping and then did the laundry in a kind of cringing silence.

By late afternoon Blair had folded away their clothes and put his away, then carried Jim's upstairs. He was coming back down and stopped on the bottom step when Jim came to stand in front of him, standing in a cringing attitude. Blair put his hands out and gathered Jim in close - using the height the step gave him to tuck Jim's face into his neck and cradle Jim against his body.

Jim resisted for a moment and then collapsed into the embrace. Blair stood stolidly; supporting them both as Jim wept quietly into his partner's neck. Jim's hands grabbed fistfuls of Blair's shirt, the knotted fists tucked along Blair's spine. Blair almost wept too - the release that Jim needed was finally here - now his friend could move on from the horrors of the temple and hospital in Peru. Jim cried Blair's name and Blair tightened his embrace, moving his hand to caress the back of Jim's head, his lips against Jim's hair.

"I'm here partner, it's ok. I'm right here, Jim," Blair whispered the words over and over in endless variations. The crying gave way to heart wrenching sobs - so frenetic that Blair's throat ached in sympathy. He closed his eyes and calmed his breathing as best he could. The sobs were slowing now, quieting. Jim breathed raggedly against Blair's neck as the litany of comfort continued - the soft whispers filling the loft. The last of the gasps faded and Jim breathed quietly, luxuriating in the contact with his partner - Blair's smell enveloped him as his arms did. The steady sound of his heartbeat pulsed with the whispered words of comfort. Jim could see the pulse in Blair's neck beating steadily. He could taste the skin that rested against his lips.

The whispers died away as Jim's fists loosened their grip. The partners held each other close and breathed together. There was a knock at the door and Blair laughed, wheezed once and then coughed.

"Go wash your face, Jim," the Guide commanded and gave the Sentinel a gentle push in the right direction before heading to the door. Simon Banks stood there a little uncertainly and Blair remembered he'd invited his commanding officer to dinner at the airport.

"Hey, Simon, come on in," Blair smiled and took the older mans coat. Jim emerged from the bathroom - the worst of the damage repaired.

"Hey Blair. How are you feeling tonight?" Simon asked as Blair hung up the coat.

"Much better for a quiet day at home," Blair smiled, and then coughed, turning to cover his mouth.

"Go sit down - I don't want you coughing on our dinner," Jim smiled as he fished out a couple of beers and a fruit juice. Blair took his juice to the couch and switched the sound on the TV down a notch. Simon came and sat with him while Jim prepared dinner. It didn't take a detective to figure that Blair was unwell and Jim upset, the redness of Jim's eyes spoke eloquently of that.

Dinner was a stir-fry and ice cream for dessert. Blair and Simon did most of the talking. Blair started to clean up the kitchen, but was shooed out by Jim. During the resulting argument Simon started the washing up, amused at their antics. That started another argument and then one of the famous pillow fights that seemed to be Jim's way of solving any argument he was losing to Blair that wasn't a matter of life or death. Simon only participated because he kept getting targeted.

In the end Jim was laughing so hard Blair and Simon managed to pin him to the floor and pummel him pretty hard. Blair was laughing too, and had to break away to avoid coughing on them.

"That sounds healthy," Simon frowned, letting his worry show. This was the reason for Jim's tension - or at least part of it. Blair sat back and regained his breath.

"The doctor says it's ok," he told Simon as the Captain got off his detective, "We went this morning and got some antibiotics. I'm going to be fine."

"But you had pneumonia again," Simon pressed, not wanting to destroy the mood but needing to know. He'd been terrified that Blair would die in Peru and they'd lose Jim to the jungle. The whole team in Major Crimes had freaked out when they'd heard the reason Blair and Jim were coming home later than expected. Simon had been forced to turn down several leave applications from people intending to go to Peru. The department couldn't afford to lose anyone at the moment, especially with this new case…

"Let's tidy this up a bit and I'll tell you everything," Blair suggested and began picking up the sofa cushions. They did this in silence, and then Blair sat next to Jim on the sofa and told Simon about Peru - or at least most of it. The wolf vision was left out - Simon was uneasy enough with the Shaman side of Blair - and the drowning was described in a terse sentence that had Jim twitching in remembrance. Blair put a hand on Jim's and smiled at his roommate. It warmed Simon's heart to see them sitting side by side, relaxing at the touch of each other's hands. This had started some pretty weird rumors about his best team, but Simon knew better. A roommate, soul mates, life mates - yes. Lovers - no.

"I woke up in the hospital with Jim sitting next to me as always," Blair rolled his eyes, trying to lighten the expression on Simon's face. This was hurting the Captain too much, "I got speech number twelve - I guess Jim was pretty tired - and a week later they let me out."

"Number twelve," Simon seized on the distraction gratefully, "Is that the 'you'll be ok' speech or the 'what were you thinking' speech?"

"The 'you'll be ok' speech - but with the 'sorry I didn't get there' guilt trip added," Blair replied, ignoring Jim's growl.

"Oh, the one where he apologizes for being a mere mortal without superpowers and psychic abilities," Simon nodded, hiding a grin as Jim became more animated, drawn out of his memories by their teasing, "Did he get the standard response?"

"Yep, speech number two," Blair agreed, "'Cause I was still on oxygen - it has the advantage of brevity and I can guilt him into stop feeling guilty."

"Uh huh," Simon leaned back a little, "That one always reminds me of the verbal equivalent of a slap upside the head and a really nasty look."

"It's supposed too," Blair nodded, "I only use it when I can't reach him anyway."

"I am still here, you know," Jim reminded them and received two perfectly matched looks of astonishment. He chuckled at them and Simon broke first, a huge grin splitting his face. Damn, it was good to have them back.
********************
The next morning Jim and Blair went to meet the others at the hotel. Blair was glad he'd arranged at the airport for everyone to take a day to recover and acclimatize. From the looks of his charges - and they were his charges, just as he was their Shaman - the time had been well spent processing. They looked better - fatigue was gone and the Sentinels were grounded. Jim was a little twitchy - after all they were in his territory now, but Blair had talked him through it over breakfast and the other Guides had already been briefed on the plane. Things would be ok.

Blair wasn't too sure why they'd all come to Cascade. A small part of him said the others wanted to make sure he was ok, but he'd dismissed that as egotistical and decided that they didn't want to break up just as they were starting to get used to the idea that others went through the same things they did.

They spent the first day doing tourist things - taking walks through the streets and looking at the sights. The Cascade markets were open and the group spent the afternoon there, stocking up on some much needed travel supplies and buying a few frivolous items too. Only four of the group spoke English, and were fairly busy translating for the others who could only communicate to the others in the language of the Sentinels.

None of them gave a second thought to the fact that they all spoke a common language - Blair thought vaguely it might be a genetic language, but didn't dwell on it too much. The odds that seven Sentinels and seven Guides from widely different countries had all learned a second common language were very small. Obviously the gods that looked after Sentinels had covered all the bases, imprinting a language in them that could be called upon in circumstances such as these - hence the genetic language theory.

They went back to the loft for dinner, with Blair and Jim busy in the kitchen preparing lasagna and garlic bread - their specialty. Just as it slipped into the oven someone knocked at the door and Sarah opened it. Brown, Rafe, Taggert, and half the bullpen stood in the doorway, laden with various take out bags and beverages.

The looks on their faces were disappointed when they realised that Jim and Blair had guests - but Sarah welcomed them in happily and Jim started collecting coats. Their friends had come to see Blair - to reassure them that he was ok after all they'd heard. Blair had indicated to Jim to let everyone mix - maybe the detectives would be able to take some of the heat off Blair as the slightly over protective group of Sentinels and Guides tensed up each time he coughed.

Henri joined Jim in the kitchen quietly as Blair introduced everyone around out in the main area.

"Hey, Jim, who are these people?" Henri kept his voice to Sentinel levels only, something Blair had taught them to do.

Jim gave what the Major Crimes crew privately called 'evil grin number three' and patted Henri on the shoulder.

"Welcome to your worst nightmare, H.," he said and Henri looked out into the room. A young man with dark spiky hair laughed and looked back at him. A red head asked him what Jim had said and the scene clicked for Henri - seven of the people out there were Guides and six were Sentinels. From the look on Taggert's face he'd recognized it too.

"Trust me, Jim - that's not my worst nightmare," Henri replied and clapped Jim on the shoulder before heading over to be introduced, leaving a stunned co-worker behind him. Jim wondered why he'd never realised that his Sentinel abilities were accepted as part of him, not in addition to him. He suspected that his Guide had a lot to do with that.

Dinner turned into a buffet. Chairs were spread around in a circle and when they ran out people sat on the floor. Blair was put into the yellow armchair by the windows and mothered to within an inch of his life by his friends. He put up with it as gracefully as he could, even played up to it a bit - making it obvious that they'd all better get it out of their system now. As soon as they returned to work he wasn't going to take any more and they all knew it.

Despite the language barriers the new comers were accepted as they were. Blair watched with interest as Taggert teased the shy Ebony into giggles with the pantomime that he was using to communicate. Sean was laughing too on the other side of the room as Jim told him the story connected to the drink coaster that was sitting propped up against the mantelpiece. Brown and Rafe were playing cards with Terry and Rory - and winning by the look on Terry's face. The TV was on and Sarah was watching the game with Denton and Keller while her Sentinel read one of Blair's books. Everyone else was out on the balcony, drinking beer and pointing at the stars - swapping names for them at a guess since they didn't share enough language for small talk. Blair just sat and smiled at the people around him glad they could just hang out together - no one threatening the city or Jim. He smiled up at his Sentinel and then grimaced at the orange juice Taggert was holding out to him.

"Hey Jim, I thought you lived with the Chopec in Peru," Taggert ignored the grimace and put the glass in Blair's hand.

"That's right," Jim leaned against the window, and folded his arms.

"But Blair said the Topec were under attack, who are they?" Taggert stuck his hands in his pocket and watched Blair sip the juice.

"The Topec lands border on the Chopec. The oil company guessed the Chopec would be too clued in after the last attempt to pump that oil field, so they decided to take on the Topec instead," Jim frowned. Blair swallowed his mouthful and took over the explanation.

"They were going to take the women and children from the village and force the men to fight the Chopec. In the ensuing war they'd be too distracted to notice the oil field being pumped. And no one would be the wiser - a quick profit made at the expense of two living cultures," Blair's voice was angry and Jim shifted against the window. The curly haired man sent a soothing smile to his partner and took another mouthful of juice. Taggert let the subject go - he had no wish to rake over old wounds with these two.

Blair's coughing finally broke up the party. Taggert and the others ushered the visitors out so Jim could get his friend to bed and rest. Taggert had a feeling that now Jim and Blair were back in Cascade the Mayor and the Commissioner would pressure Simon into putting them back to work on the latest psycho case that had Major Crimes so stumped. And with Blair being sick and all, that was a fight no one wanted to witness.
********************
Simon Banks winced at the yelling that was coming out of the office in front of him and knocked loudly. He took the sudden silence as permission to enter and glared at the Commissioner.

"Good morning, sir. I thought I was going to be the one who requested Detective Ellison's return to work," Simon let the Commissioner know just how mad he was. The Commissioner nodded, letting Simon know how mad he was.

"I thought it would be better if I made the request myself - after all it was my initiative," the Commissioner growled, "We need you on this, Ellison. I realize now that Detective Sandburg is too ill to work as yet, but I'd like you to cut your leave time short."

"I am present in the room, you know," Blair's annoyed voice cut across any retort Jim might have made and effectively shut him up. He stood and Simon was reminded how thin and pale the pneumonia had left him, "The doctor has said I may return to normal activity when I feel fit for it. I do. From the rumors I've heard in the press today we've got a real live one on our hands - and as you know Commissioner the clues he's been leaving are within my area of expertise. There will be no further discussion on the matter. If and when we need the leave time at the end of this case I expect there will be no obstacles to our securing it. I'm sure you have a busy schedule, Commissioner so with your permission we'll head for the office. I'm sure Captain Banks and the rest of our team can bring us up to speed."

Looking at the Anthropologist turned Detective Simon was also reminded how no one got in Blair's way once he made his mind up to do something. It had been that way when he'd first met Jim, when he'd first applied for observer status at the precinct, when he'd come back after Lash, when he'd gone after the rogue Sentinel and she'd killed him, when he'd gone for his Doctorate after the press sensation had died down. Simon had stood in his way once or twice and been put down hard for it each time - learning finally that Blair's determination was an unstoppable force of nature. From the expression on the Commissioners face it looked like he'd gotten a glimpse of that too. They were dismissed in record time.

Jim brooded all the way to the Major Crimes bull pen - and the sight of his clenched jaw told everyone that one of the famous Ellison/Sandburg shouting matches was about to begin. Simon got a lot of sympathetic looks as he dragged the two into his office. The shouting went on for about five minutes before it was interrupted by a hacking cough that had Simon running for water and Jim holding his friend's arm as Blair braced himself upright on the corner of Simon's desk. Seeing the rest of the team in the room he shook Jim off and headed for the conference table.

"Now that's over, you can bring us up to speed," Blair said and sat down. He accepted the water Simon handed him and sipped at it, controlling his breathing as he waited for everyone to realize he'd won the battle, but Jim hadn't lost the war. Simon growled and gestured everyone into chairs or to get files.

"About three weeks ago a victim was discovered autopsied in his own house. The man was laid on his back on the dining room table and the killer had … written on the wall in his blood. A set of symbols, carefully arranged and delineated," Simon kicked the briefing off, "We haven't had much luck with isolating the language as yet and the Commissioner is reluctant to call in outside help. Rainier U isn't too co operative these days anyway."

No one glanced in Blair's direction, knowing that the University's bad attitude stemmed from the example he'd set and several TAs had followed. Cascade PD was becoming known as observer central. Brown and Rafe handed copies of the files over to Jim and Blair - making sure that Blair got the one missing photos of the victims. Bad enough he was working against Ellison's wishes - if he was exposed to the ugliness of the crime scenes on the first day Jim would commit murder against several of his colleagues.

"How many victims have there been?"

"A total of three - one a week. And we're about due for a fourth," Brown admitted heavily. Blair realised that he'd have to tread softly on this one, the team at Major Crimes were hurting and the best way to alleviate that pain was to let them go with their instincts - the mother hen instincts that Jim had woken in everyone would be working full time now.

"Are the messages the same at each scene?" Blair asked now, digging through his censored report for the pictures.

"We're not sure - there are some changes but since we don't know what language it is we don't know if the differences are spelling mistakes or deliberate changes. They're minimal," Rafe spoke up, "It looks like the guy is using some kind of paint brush - probably one you can buy in stores everywhere. He's not leaving any hair or fibre traces behind either."

"Serena thinks he's wearing a bunny suit like hers - and that would make sense 'cause all the guy would have to do is take it off after and he'd be blood free," Taggert grimaced, "The scene is usually very messy."

"Any sign of forced entry?" Jim asked now and the group relaxed a little at the calm tone of voice.

"None - the victim let him in each time," Taggert replied, "And he locks up when leaving."

"Any reason we think it's a he - not a she?" Blair frowned. Taggert nodded and pointed to Jim's folder.

"A woman would have to be pretty strong to follow this MO. The victims are all drugged to sleep, then washed in the bathroom. Then carried - not dragged - to the table where the autopsy is performed. The victims fight the drugging - he uses chloral hydrate in concentrated liquid form. By the time the victim's on the table they're three quarters of the way to overdose," Taggert sat back with a frown. Blair nodded - relieved the victims felt no additional pain. At that level of dosage the drugs usual affects would also be different - they'd have no idea what was happening to them. Unlike the victims of David Lash … Blair frowned and concentrated on the present. Good thing Jim was too upset to focus properly at the moment.

"No fibres or fingerprints," Jim mused, "So are we looking at a psycho forensics expert?"

"Has Serena got an alibi?" Blair piped up innocently and won himself some smiles and chuckles. Just what he'd been aiming for.

"Yep," Simon confirmed and Blair looked down at the pictures in his folder while the team did a detailed walk through each crime scene. The victims - two men and a woman - had all been fairly well off and single. Hired help discovered them all.

"Maybe this guy is working for the cleaning company," Blair mused aloud and all eyes hit him.

"What?" Simon blurted, and Blair looked up. There was no hostility in the looks he was getting, even though the team had probably already thought of this.

"The victims all hired someone to clean for them. If you were cleaning someone's house then you would be in a prime place to learn all about his or her habits. Are the victims all using the same cleaning company?"

"No," Brown shook his head, "Two were, one wasn't."

Blair sighed and nodded. That earned him some more smiles and he smiled back. Simon broke the meeting up then; asking everyone their plans for the case while Blair stared some more at the writing on the wall.

"Sandburg!" from the irritation in Simon's voice this wasn't the first time he'd asked, "What are you doing today?"

"I'll work on these until lunch," Blair held up the photos, "And I'll take them home with me to look at tonight."

"You only on half days?" Rafe asked and Blair nodded immediately. The last of the tension drained out of Jim.

"But I reserve the right to stretch my time if I have to," Blair warned his partner who nodded. The rest of the team grinned, recognizing a peace treaty when they saw one. The meeting broke up and Simon headed out of his office too - walking towards the men's room, though everyone knew he was just giving Jim and Blair some space.

"Don't start," Blair said as soon as the door closed, "I can see which way the wind is blowing in here - they don't need any more stress. Besides if I end up in hospital we'll really be in the poop. So I'll work half days here and spend time with the others. You just make damn sure I'm with you in the field. With other Sentinels in your territory you'll be less likely to listen to a second Guide."

"Deal," Jim nodded, accepting the inevitable, "Just promise me you won't waste energy pretending more health than you have. Be sick, Blair, so you can get better."

"Promise," Blair nodded, and gathered his files, "I'll want to see the victim photos after I've had a good look at the writing - and I'm coming with you to the next crime scene so deal with it now."

"I'll get some wood," Jim nodded and suppressed a grin at the puzzled look on Blair's face, "So I can build a bridge to get over it."

Blair laughed until he coughed, shot Jim a look and headed for his desk.
********************
Blair took his charges up to the lookout that gave a great view of the city and sat them all around the place. He wanted them to absorb the city so they weren't fighting the stimuli of their senses. If they could relax then Jim would also calm down a bit.

He led them through the city, pointing out the sights and having the Sentinels tag additional sounds and smells to them while the Guides learned the layout of the place a little. Then Blair had them all process for a while, and leaned against the rail to watch.

Terry sat on Rory's lap and he stroked her back while he whispered to her. Sarah and Denton faced each other and held hands. Sean sat in front of Ebony and she held him close while she whispered in his ear. Arthur and Tom stood much as Blair and Jim used to, close without touching. Lee stroked the back of Sue's hand while he spoke and Charlie had a hand on Emmy's leg. Guide Voice filled the air and Blair wished Jim could be here to see that all Sentinels loved that tone of voice. There was no one else around and Blair would have let things go on indefinitely, but he coughed hard once and was ushered away to the cars that everyone had hired at the airport.

Blair took everyone to the Museum of Fine Art and they spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the exhibits. The museum was warm and not too busy so Blair had them exercise their senses in a sedate game of hide and seek. No one zoned and Sean's pride was uplifting to them all when he found Ebony four galleries away. The group headed back to the loft for dinner and Jim.

Blair issued new orders - mainly that all Sentinels should be sharing a room with their Guide by now - and sent everyone out early. Doubtless they would party on somewhere - Blair was too tired to worry about them. Jim had written their names and phone numbers onto twelve pieces of paper on the plane and everyone carried one in case of emergencies.

Jim sat close to his partner and watched the game while Blair went through the pictures of the writing again. When the group left both men had changed into their usual sleep wear and Jim had foisted tea and honey on his partner in an effort to soothe the coughing. It seemed to be working. Blair had stopped coughing and his breathing evened out a little. As the game ended Blair packed up the notes he'd been making and leaned into Jim tiredly. Jim had been told all about the afternoon's activities and was glad the group was looking out for his friend.

"Tired, huh?" Jim smiled at the blue eyes that searched for his and Blair nodded. He leaned harder against Jim, letting his body become loose.

"Well, you can't sleep here, Chief. Get up and go to bed," Jim ordered and Blair nodded again, not moving. Jim sighed at him and slipped an arm around the smaller man. Blair smiled slowly.

"The things I do for you," he grumbled and got up, pulling Blair with him. He maneuvered his friend past the table and towards the French doors Jim had hung up. Jim stripped the blankets back and helped Blair into bed, tucking him in and switching off the light.

"G'night, Jim," Blair's voice was small, but Jim heard it easily. He recognized the need that Blair had just fulfilled and shook his head. The Sentinel must protect the Guide.

"G'night, Blair," Jim smiled and went to turn off the rest of the lights.
********************
Their days slipped into a pattern. Blair would go to the station in the morning and disappear into the interrogation room he'd appropriated to work on the message that was left behind. The room was a maelstrom of books, papers, files and photos. He'd work until lunch, using his cell phone to call the others to check on details and hunches. Jim would meet with the group for lunch and hand Blair over into their keeping until he could meet them for dinner. Each night Jim and Blair would spend quiet time together, and Blair would let Jim fuss a little over his cold.

The team at Major Crimes noticed that Jim was virtually desk bound and realised the presence of the group was making things difficult for the Sentinel - hence his grounding. Remembering all too clearly the last time a Sentinel had come to Cascade they gave Jim's things a wide berth and did their best not to infringe on Jim's personal space.

Blair was pulled aside by everyone at one stage or another and had to explain that there wouldn't be a need for him to move in with anyone else, that Jim had invited the others in and was ok with it, that there wouldn't be a repeat of Alex Barnes. It didn't help Jim's tension level knowing that all this was going on. The lack of progress on the case was adding another burden to their cares. Blair was still shaking off the cold and pneumonia, and apt to tire easily. The Mayor was getting antsy, as was the Commissioner.

Then the fourth body was found.

She was an interior decorator and her house looked like it came straight out of a 'Home Beautiful' catalogue. Everything was modern, sleek and perfectly placed for maximum effect. It totally lacked personality. Each room in the house went with a different colour scheme, theme and style. The dining room was colonial wood and she lay on her back under a brass ranch lamp. Blood had soaked into the hardwood floor and chairs. Her internal organs had been flung onto the sideboard against one wall - from a distance. The back wall was covered in the writing that the detectives had come to expect.

"Jim," Blair said as he stood behind his partner, "I want you to take a look at the incisions on the body. We know the killer cut an artery, what I want you to do is see if he cut first to collect the blood and then again to disguise the first cut."

"With all the blood on the floor I'd say that's unlikely, Sandburg," Jim commented, hearing the nervous quaver in his partner's voice. Blair just put his hand on Jim's back and waited for the other to start breathing properly. Jim reflected how well his Guide knew him and sighed out, then stepped closer to begin his inspection. The ME had taken all the photos they needed, and forensics was waiting out in the hall. Over the years it had become easier to just let Jim and Blair into the crime scene first. Some time ago Blair had gone down to forensics and asked to be tutored in evidence collection procedures. The team had made up a pack of things for the anthropologist to carry - gloves, tweezers and collection bags mainly - and the partners would process the scene in their own way. They very rarely missed anything of importance, and properly informed the forensics team what they had found. The 'Sandburg packs' were slowly being distributed to the patrol cars in an effort to preserve crime scenes in danger of being destroyed before forensics could arrive.

"There," Jim pointed, and Blair nodded without looking. Not that Jim expected him to look - it was second nature for a person to point out what they saw to others.

"Well done," he complimented his partner and then began going through the other senses to gather as much information as possible. Blair examined the back wall thoroughly and took a few notes.

"Can you tell anything from the brush marks?" Blair asked Jim, who grimaced and looked away.

"Just that the guy's using blood, not paint," his voice was pained and Blair patted his arm in sympathy.

"Sorry, big guy. Guess I forgot about that," Blair said gently, "C'mon, let's go."

They headed out. On the front porch they pulled the cotton overshoes off carefully - the victim's blood had been tacky and no matter how careful they'd been occasional blood specks was inevitable. Simon met them out at the mailbox.

"Anything new?" he asked and Jim shook his head.

"There's no scent that shouldn't be there. Just like before the guy tracked blood back to the bathroom where he changed - or whatever - before locking the house and leaving. No hair or other fibres left behind - even where he changed," Jim growled and Blair pursed his lips in echoed frustration.

"Means he's got a large bag full of gear," Blair mused, "He'd have to take a lot of gear along - a bowl to carry the blood, whatever cutting materials he used, something to clean himself up with and of course changes of clothes. He'd also need to have a lot of plastic sheeting and stuff to catch fibres when he changed."

"Hence nothing for us to work with," Simon sighed gustily and shoved his hands in his pockets, glaring at the house in irritation. Blair nodded and turned to look at the yard.

"Who found her?" he asked absently. Simon glanced down at him, but couldn't see the other man's face.

"The cleaner - like all the others," he replied, "A different company again. I've got Brown checking to see if there's any links - you know, sub-contractors or something."

"Hmm," Blair headed off. Jim and Simon exchanged looks and took a couple of steps to follow, but Blair waved them off absently. Jim shrugged and Simon frowned, sighing in annoyance.

"What?" he asked as Blair returned. Blair shook his head and shrugged.

"I'll let you know when I figure it out - just gotta shake it into my forebrain," Blair sighed. Jim put his hands on Blair's shoulders.

"Hey, Simon grab hold," Jim grinned and Blair laughed back, ducking away. Simon pulled his hands out of his pockets and Blair dodged, hurrying for the truck and locking himself in. The early morning sunshine made the windows nearly opaque, but Simon had no doubt Blair was laughing. Jim was laughing too, until a cough sounded from the truck.

"He's not getting much better," Simon frowned, "Is he still taking the medication?"

"Yeah," Jim replied, unlocking the truck door to reveal a breathless detective. Jim fished a bottle of water out of Blair's pack and uncapped it - handing it to him. Blair sipped obediently and leaned back into the seat.

"I'm ok, Simon," Blair's voice was hoarse, "It's going to take a little while is all."

"I'd feel better if you gained some weight and colour," Simon replied, reaching into the truck to brush Blair's shoulder, "So would the rest of the team."

"Stop it," Jim said sharply, "Don't try to guilt him into getting better quickly. He's sick - he shouldn't be pretending otherwise."

"Jim," Simon protested softly, and felt Blair's hand cover his gently. He looked at the other half of his best team and saw understanding there.

"Enough, Enquiri," Blair's voice was sharp, and Jim shut up in a hurry, "Simon's right - I'd feel better too if I put on weight and gained some colour."

Jim nodded, reminding Simon of a soldier who'd just been disciplined. An ominous feeling settled over the police captain as he realised the Sentinel in Jim was slowly taking over from the detective. He glanced at Blair, who was still touching his hand and Blair smiled in reassurance. Blair's voice softened.

"We need you focussed, Jim. Drive me back to the station so I can get back to the translations and check a few things out. Simon, do you need anything else from us?"

"No," Simon squeezed the shoulder under his hand and stepped back, "I'll see you both there."

He watched the truck pull away with a feeling of foreboding.
********************
Blair cracked the first message that afternoon. It was an old script, and fairly obscure. Others had long absorbed the culture that used it and it was the similarities that had made things so difficult. He showed the translated text to Simon and then the rest of the team.

"It's a question," Blair explained, "Whoever's doing this is looking for the answer to a question - and they think that by sacrificing their victim they'll find an answer. The autopsy is probably to disguise their real motive."

Everyone looked at the evidence he'd stacked up to support his claims. As usual his research was impeccable.

"So, what's the question?" Simon asked. Blair bit his lip and sighed.

"It has many layers, but it all boils down to the same theme: 'why me'," he explained, "The person we're looking for has had something nasty happen to them - something life altering and they want to know why. This person has no one to support them in their grief and probably has a minimum wage job that frustrates their choices in life. The victims are wealthy and successful and therefore the ideal offering to the gods."

"So it could be the cleaners?" Taggert spoke up, frowning. How had they missed that?

"No, you've already checked that out," Blair responded, "You wouldn't have missed that, I'm sure of it."

The vote of confidence warmed the detectives at the table and Simon too. Blair had more schooling than most of them, though they'd all gone to college before joining the PD. The idea that a Doctor respected their intelligence so much was a boost never the less. Simon was proud that Blair had picked up on the need for affirmation and responded so well.

"We need to look for someone else - maintenance worker, delivery people, property managers, anyone that might be on minimum wage and recognized enough to gain access to the house without forcing it," Simon spoke up and started assigning tasks. Blair promised to start on the other messages - now he had a place to start it would take less time. Jim followed Blair into the interrogation room and slumped into the spare chair.

"I'm sorry about this morning," Jim sighed, "I've already apologized to Simon. I don't know what came over me."

"You're frustrated, worried, territorial and tired," Blair replied, putting his book aside. Jim's mouth quirked in a wry half smile.

"Thanks for clearing that up for me," his voice was dry and Blair smiled - the one that lit his whole face and made the recipient feel like they'd just had twelve hours of peaceful sleep and a good meal. Jim smiled back.

"I want you to take my half day today - go hang out with the group for a while. Show them the botanical gardens or something - you need the contact with nature anyway and if you spend another afternoon at that desk you'll probably go postal on us. Now I know where to start I want to get as much done as possible - maybe the questions can give us the clue we need," Blair put a hand out, which Jim grasped gratefully. As always the contact reaffirmed their commitment to each other and Jim felt re-energized by it.

"What about Simon?" he offered a token protest and Blair smiled.

"I cleared it with him before we called the staff meeting," he replied serenely and grinned at the look he got.
********************
The messages were a progression. The theme remained the same, but the question became refined - more complex and specific. Blair added to his profile of the killer: someone who had lost a spouse or de facto to a long illness or accident. Brown and Rafe started going through the paper files - looking for anyone that would match the profile.

"The problem is that he's building up to a big finale," Blair sighed and sipped the water Jim kept on hand in their desks and Blair's pack.

"How big a finale?" Simon growled and Blair shook his head.

"I don't know - it will probably involve multiple victims, though," the detective ran his hand over his hair and sighed again, then coughed. Simon frowned.

"That's it. I want the two of you to go home today - Blair, you're tired and Jim…" he shook his head, "We can't do anything if you two cave on me and the rest of the team is under enough stress without having to carry you two home to bed. So please, go home and get some rest today. Visit with the others if you like, but go and rest."

"Ok," Jim stood, much to Blair's astonishment, "You're right, Captain. Blair - we're no good to anyone as we are."

Blair looked from one to the other. He dropped his head in resignation and neatly shuffled his papers into order and put them away and got up slowly.

"Thanks, Simon," Blair replied, "Truth told, we are tired."

"You just take care of each other," Simon nodded, "I'll see you tomorrow."

They walked out quietly, nodding to the team. Simon had pulled the 'take some time' routine with the others too - which made it easier to persuade Jim to take the time, and easier for Jim to bully Blair into it. Simon had put it to his team that Ellison and Sandburg would be more likely to take the time if the others had - and they'd know if anyone turned it down. A devious mind and shrewd intellect - that's why Simon was the Captain.
********************
Blair and Jim were eating dinner in the park with the other Sentinels and Guides when the call came in. The psycho had struck again - but this time in a warehouse. This time he'd slaughtered animals as well as a human victim and painted the message on the floor. A guard who'd noticed an open door had discovered the mess.

The Sentinels accompanies Jim and Blair to the scene. They got there before the ME did, and even before the rest of Major Crimes. Blair took one peep at the scene and then turned. He organized the patrolmen to establish a perimeter and then walked past his colleagues to have sharp words with the ME and forensics crew.

"What's he saying?" Simon asked Jim who shook his head.

"He gave me the Look, Simon - the one where they'll never find the body if I listen in on his conversation there," Jim replied and Simon sighed in resignation. Blair nodded to the people he was speaking to, and headed back to the group. Simon looked at him uneasily - there was an aura to Blair that Simon equated with the Shaman side of things. The side that made Simon most uncomfortable because it meant that things were happening that Simon couldn't control. Blair stood beside Jim, between his colleagues and his charges and drew their attention with a quiet word.

He began to speak the common language of the Sentinels and Guides and Jim translated it to English in a quiet voice, his face almost trance-like in its appearance. Simon shivered at the sight, as did several of his men. Once Blair had everyone's attention he began to simply issue instructions.

"We're going to process this differently today. Sean and Ebony, I want you to walk the grid outside the warehouse. I want to know who's been here and where they went. Don't look at the building or inside, just outside. Track down everyone. Any evidence you find must be collected correctly - Joel you'll do that. Just follow procedure once Sean and Ebony show you what they've found. These are my children, Joel - just three months old. I'm counting on you to keep them safe and to back Ebony up. Denton, I want you to check the front and left side of the building - that includes the fire escape on that side. I want to know what's there, who put it there and how long ago that happened. Who's been inside and how often? Once you're done start on the roof. Brown - you'll take them. Emmy I want you to the same for the back and right side - Rafe will look after you. Arthur and Sue - once Denton's cleared the fire escape take the third floor and catalogue it - I want to know who's been there and when. Detective Parker will watch over you. Charlie and Lee take the second floor and do the same. Detective Benson will accompany you. Terry and Rory - you're the closest I have to veterinarians here - I want you to examine the animals. Captain Banks will guide you through the police procedures. Jim, you're with me. Remember, we can't convict if you contaminate the evidence, so don't touch anything - let the professionals with you gather what you find. I'll give you all four hours to work, and then I want you back here with your findings. The ME and forensics team will send someone along to help out, but the detectives are in charge - remember that."

Blair nodded beyond the group he had gathered together and the forensics team headed over with kits for everyone as well as cameras. Blair turned, touched Jim's arm and led the way inside.
********************
By dawn everyone was still working. They had returned to the bullpen and continued working the Sentinel and Guides' findings. The victim had been taken at home and washed, as was the usual MO. Then he had been transported to the site for the killing. The blood of the animals was liberally mixed with his, leading the experts to believe that they had been killed after the human victim. All the animals were strays, but had been cleaned up before their throats were cut. Simon had been impressed that the pair he'd worked with hadn't needed to disturb the animals to know what had been done to them. From what he was able to gather they worked as Wardens on the preserves of Africa - their homeland. Terry had stood next to each carcass and simply told Rory what she'd found. Simon had got a glimpse of what Jim would be like in ten years time and was awed. They'd pointed to the anomalies on the bodies and mimed what they were pointing at. Simon had taken pictures and tweezed samples at their direction and sent a full load back to the lab - somehow Blair had managed to get the lab to dump all outstanding work to get their findings rushed through.

Simon didn't want to know how he'd done it - but from the looks Blair received when the lab technicians came upstairs with the reports the Shaman had struck again.

The language barrier had broken down that night - the Sentinel and Guide pairs had managed to teach a little of the basic to their watchers. Mime and simple gestures were still the primary mode of communication, but the basic ideas were flowing through smoothly.

Blair was working at his desk again, acting as the focal point of all the activity. All new theories and findings were run by him, and he kept track of it all on a paper map that he'd begun days ago. Sean and Ebony had provided some new possibilities for their suspect and Joel was checking the files for someone who matched. The killer had been careful as usual - but this time there had been seven very focused Sentinels and their Guides. Not to mention a pissed off set of detectives.

By ten people were moving slowly and starting to stutter in exhaustion. Blair looked around, took a deep breath and spoke softly to Simon. Then he sent the Sentinels and Guides back to their room to rest while Simon sent his team home. They arranged to come back later that afternoon. The bullpen emptied rapidly, until only Simon Jim and Blair remained.

"Who the hell were you last night?" Simon smiled at Blair and got a tired grin back.

"Sorry, Simon. I didn't mean to invade your territory," Blair's voice was hoarse and Jim cleared his throat in sympathy.

"You didn't," Simon reassured him, "I've just never seen you like that. It wasn't even a threat to me because I knew you'd hand my people back safely. If we crack this case it will be because of what you did last night. I've got more evidence than I know what to do with."

Blair smiled - the gentle thank you smile that made you feel proud and warm. Simon smiled back and told Jim to take his partner home before he went to sleep at his desk. Jim tucked an arm around Blair and took him home.
********************
They broke the case that afternoon.

Simon pulled everyone and their files down to the main conference room on the third floor and Blair stuck paper all over the walls to write on. Jim ushered in the Sentinels and Guides. Everyone settled down and Simon kicked things off.

He called for information, ideas, hunches, wild theories and their grandmothers knitting patterns to make some sense of what they'd found at the warehouse.

Blair pulled the information together, writing all over the wall and joining ideas with coloured lines and streamers. The Sentinels added information in their own language, which Blair translated into English for the others.

The Guides prowled the room with Jim beside them, talking in low voices and gesturing. Something Jim translated from their discussion for the others sparked off an idea for Rafe, who in turn inspired Brown and then Taggert jumped in. Blair began moving rapidly, and writing it all down as Simon and Benson went pawing through the few forensic clues they had. Voices rose in excitement and hands waved for emphasis.

Three hours after they entered the room they knew who they were looking for. Simon went for the warrant and the others prepared for the raid. Given this mans tendency for violence they weren't taking any chances.

Blair instructed the Sentinels and Guides to resume their partnerships with the Cascade PD, and pulled each detective aside to make sure the group would be able to function without being endangered. He and Jim rode with Simon, Rory and Terry to the junkyard that the suspect was using. The man had inherited the place from his dead father - a man who'd died of brain tumors after a long illness. He worked the yard when he could, but most of his income came from delivering gourmet dinners to the upwardly mobile. The suspect was divorced - she'd left him for a clerk - and his mother had abandoned the family at a very early stage.

His father had raised the boy in their ancestors' beliefs - and once the man had died the support system became his focal point.

Or as Jim summed up 'the guy is one confused munchkin'. Blair had laughed at the choice of words, which was what Jim wanted, and Simon pulled the car to the side.

"Ok, are we ready?" Simon asked and received affirmatives from the other cars. The idea was to let the Sentinels and Guides secure the area before sending Jim and Blair in to make the arrest. Simon led Rory and Terry to their area and Jim and Blair slipped into the junkyard quietly.

"Ok, Jim," Blair's Guide voice instantly focused Jim, "Extend all your senses together. Tag each event you come to and put it aside for later. Map the junkyard out in your mind, and then locate the suspect. We did this before - at the boat yards last summer. We can do it here."

Jim took deep breaths and opened his mouth a little to taste the air as well as smelling it. He let the density of the piles of scrap push against his skin and the sound of them settling impress his ears. He let their size imprint on his mind and tasted the decay of each piece. Blair waited a few moments and then ran his hand along Jim's arm. Jim took a deep breath and looked down at his Guide.

"Ready to go?" Blair whispered and Jim nodded.

"Our guy is in the shack in the middle of the yard. There's a dog near Brown and Denton. The stack that Rafe and Emmy are about to climb is unstable in the center - they should go around to avoid knocking it down. We're moving in now," Jim said it quietly and moved off, leading Blair along the path quietly. They were in hunting mode now - the Sentinel leading quietly, with the Guide shadowing every move.

The man in the shack had no idea what hit him. Jim and Blair had him under restraint in seconds flat. Rory and Terry located the place he'd cleaned and collected the animals, and Denton and Sarah found his kit. No one was hurt, everyone was happy.

Until Blair fainted in the middle of the yard from exhaustion.

"Time to call in that leave time," Jim told Simon, "And make it stick, sir. I don't want him back at work until he's 100%."

"You and me both," Simon replied. Terry tapped him on the shoulder and kissed his cheek when he turned. She said something that Simon didn't understand and he looked at Jim for help. The other Sentinels and Guides were ranged beyond her.

"What did she say?" Simon asked Jim. Blair answered automatically, his voice a drone in the night air.

"They're saying goodbye - they're leaving tomorrow."

"Glad to see you awake, Sandburg," Simon growled gruffly, "Now shut up and rest."

"They're leaving? Why?" Jim looked down at his Guide. Blair sat up, away from the coats the others had spread for him to lie on. It was all so abrupt - Jim felt like he'd been kicked in the shins.

"They all have their own lives to lead," Blair soothed, "Leave time and holiday periods are over - Sean and Ebony have to return to school and also get the kidnapping charges against Sean cleared. I'll speak to their parents before they go home."

"I'll contact them too," Simon spoke up, "It's the least I can do."

"We'll see them off to the airport," Taggert spoke up, "Jim, take him home until he's better. Say your goodbyes now, Blair ‘cause if you step foot outside before you're healthy, I'll arrest you and throw you in the lock up."

Jim lifted Blair to his feet and he said his goodbyes to his charges. No one translated this time - and the Detectives figured it was none of their business. He was in tears when Jim led him away to rest. Jim understood - a quick goodbye was painful, but preferable to a long drawn out scene in the airport.
********************
Epilogue

Simon sneaked into the loft two days later. Jim had said Blair went to sleep the second they were home and hadn't woken yet. The Commissioner had ratified the leave application without a word - not that Simon was surprised. Even sick, Blair was a formidable force to be reckoned with. Simon shut the door softly and put his keys in the basket and coat on the hook. He'd long since been given the run of the loft by his friends - now he was more of an inhabitant than a guest.

The Sentinel was out on the balcony, meditating. Eight years ago the very idea of Jim Ellison folding into a lotus position and contemplating his navel would have sparked hilarity in anyone who knew him. Then Blair had stepped into Jim's life and everything had changed. The meditation enhanced his control, so Jim did it. He still wasn't up to Blair's level - the younger man had once meditated for two days straight, sitting out on the balcony and scaring Jim with his stillness. Knowing better than to disturb the detective and sure that his presence wouldn't wake Jim until he was ready, Simon went looking for his other detective.

Blair's doors were open and Simon peeped in to see his young detective sprawled against the pillows, sleeping easily. His breathing was slow and steady and his face had gained some much-needed colour. He would need to gain some weight to look healthy again, but Simon's worries faded as he watched Blair curl onto his side and sigh softly. Blair would be ok, this sleep was easing the last of his illness away.

Not wanting to disturb either man, Simon helped himself to a drink and sat on the couch. The Sentinel and the Guide were recovering. That was all that mattered.

He'd be glad to have them back at work soon.

End

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