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.

Paternal Instincts

by Rae Evans

********************

My ever grateful thanks to Linda, the wonderful beta. She makes me a better writer.

Warnings for bad language, but otherwise I don't consider any other warnings are needed.

Alex is back and the clock is ticking. It's a bomb that takes nine months to go off.

Constructive feedback is always welcome.

********************

Diary entry - May 1st

When I think back now, it seems such an innocuous start to it all. Little did I realise at the time the impact this was all going to have on me, the ache it would leave in my gut and how much anger and hate would rush in to fill the void inside me. I didn't think I was capable of that much emotion. I was wrong about that, but then I was wrong about so many things.

********************

Approximately eleven months earlier -June 6th

It was a typical evening at the loft; Jim was watching some inane action movie starring Steven Segal and Blair was reading the latest anthropological journal. The sound of the TV was somewhat muted in deference to Blair and to take account of Jim's enhanced hearing. The younger man on the couch had his hair tied back and his glasses perched on the tip of his nose. A white t-shirt and blue jeans clothed him, while sheepskin lined moccasins adorned his perennially cold feet. They had been a gift from his mother after her recent trip to the Grand Canyon. Jim took the single chair, his legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed, one hand holding the remote even though he had not changed channels for over an hour. It was cosy.

"Feet, Sandburg," Jim growled kindly.

He easily heard his companion's muttered words of "anal" and "retentive", as he knew he was supposed to. Blair had surreptitiously stretched from his cross-legged position on the couch when his muscles told him he had been sitting that way for too long. The feet had rested, albeit briefly, on the coffee table. House rule number 37, no feet on the coffee table. They went through the ritual at least once a night when they were both at home relaxing. Blair knew the rules, Jim enforced them and Blair tried to push the envelope. Sometimes Jim let him, sometimes he didn't, but whatever happened it was all done without rancour or ill-feeling and with a splash of humour. They were like an old married couple.

It was ten o'clock when the movie finished and, with the news to come on next, Jim left the channel unchanged as he went into the kitchen and made tea for them both. He didn't ask Blair if he wanted a drink. The younger man had his routines as much as Jim and a late night cup of tea was one of them. What sort of tea was another matter, but Jim believed he knew his partner well enough now to gauge his mood and therefore whether he needed to be calmed down, cheered up or helped with a dozen other moods that his roommate carried around inside him. Tonight had been a quiet night, but the last few days had been tough, and he knew Blair had been getting by on a lot less sleep than normal to accommodate his academic demands as well as those that Jim placed on him in being his guide and a police observer. Hell, Jim was feeling the strain too, so he opted for camomile. He put honey in his own, not overly fond of the slightly bitter taste that the tea left on his palate. Jim smiled at the thought of drinking herbal tea. Once upon a time he drank coffee, water or alcohol and rarely strayed from those choices. Now he drank all manner of weird and wonderful juices, teas and other concoctions introduced into his life by the bundle of energy that once again had his feet on the coffee table. The one thing Jim refused to try was the algae shake that Blair had every morning for breakfast. Jim had to draw the line somewhere.

Handing over the mug of hot liquid to the man on the couch, Jim remained standing, one eyebrow raised at the infraction until Blair relieved him of the mug and muttered "thanks", swiftly followed by "sorry man" as, once again, the feet were removed. Blair continued to read, the mug waiting patiently on the coffee table while its contents cooled. Jim sipped his hot tea immediately. The news was on its third item, when Jim felt and heard his companion stir.

"Turn up the volume, Jim."

Blair sat forward, his glasses in his hand as he watched a grizzled reporter inform the viewers that a bombing at a fertility clinic in Cascade was the third such incident along the western seaboard, the other two having occurred in California. With the cross-border violation, the matter had now become a federal issue and FBI agents had taken charge of the investigation. Behind the reporter the remains of a smouldering building could be seen, emergency services working hard to douse the last of the flames. No one had been hurt in the blast, but unofficial, unnamed sources blamed extremist right wing activists, who seemed to equate fertility clinics with all things unholy.

"Why the interest, Chief?" Jim asked. "It won't be our case if the Feds have already moved in."

Blair shook his head and Jim was surprised to see a faint blush on Blair's cheeks.

"Sandburg, is there something you want to tell me?" Jim asked, intrigued.

Blair waved his hand at Jim and the older man let the piece finish before he expected an answer.

Sitting back, his eyes still on the TV, Blair asked, "Why do people have to be so prejudiced?"

"You really expect an answer to that, Chief?"

"No," Blair sighed and looked at Jim. "But sometimes I wish I could."

"You and me both, Sandburg," Jim agreed. "So why the interest in this?" Jim nodded his head towards the television set. He noticed the blush again.

"Well … you get well paid. You know doctoral students are good candidates and I'm not that ugly." Blair stuttered to a halt and looked at his feet intently.

Jim looked at the TV and then back to Blair. The penny dropped. "You were a sperm donor?"

Blair nodded. "Once or twice."

Jim said nothing.

"You don't seem surprised. I thought you'd be kidding me about it."

"Why?" Jim was starting to enjoy himself.

"Well you know," Blair stalled, his hands trying to find something else to do. "Whacking off into a plastic cup to some porn magazine and then getting paid for it. You know, Sandburg's little soldiers out there doing their thing."

Jim sighed and, keeping a very straight face, spoke sincerely to his friend. "Blair there are a lot of couples out there who are desperately trying to have children. For some of them artificial insemination is the only way and if it weren't for people like you, then they would have no hope of having children. Better little Sandburgs than some kind of knuckle-dragging hulk."

Blair stared at the man across from him, dumbfounded. "Wow, man, I didn't think you would be so cool about this, so … enlightened." His surprise was genuine.

"What, once a Neanderthal, always a Neanderthal, Chief?" Jim put hurt feelings into his voice.

"No, Jim, I never meant that. It's that not everyone is so understanding."

Jim harrumphed his response and drank his tea. Blair put his glasses back on and picked up the journal he had put beside him. When he looked again at the older man, Blair thought he saw something in his face. Tossing the journal aside, Blair picked up a cushion and threw it at Jim. It hit the older man square in the face.

"Sandburg!" he shouted.

"You miserable bastard. You were really going to let me think you were a genuine new age sensitive man, weren't you?"

Blair was glaring at the man who was now losing the battle to keep a straight face. Standing up, Blair grabbed the second cushion and threw that after the first. Jim was openly laughing now.

"You should have seen your face, Sandburg."

Blair stood in front of Jim, hands on hips, righteous indignation on his face. "You did it too, didn't you? There are little Ellison soldiers out there, swimming against the tide?"

Jim could only nod. Blair opened his mouth to continue to remonstrate with his sentinel, when he suddenly snapped it shut. A warning bell went off in Jim's head.

"If being a sentinel is a genetic predisposition then this would be a perfect opportunity to conduct research into the offspring you fathered. I know neither Stephen or your dad have ever exhibited any signs of enhanced senses, from what you've said, but if there are little Ellisons running around out there, then maybe we could be talking about full blown sentinels, all five senses, Jim." Blair was lost in the moment. "I know data protection would be an issue, especially in an area as sensitive as this, but if I could get the University to back me, let people see this was a genuine research project, there might be a way round it."

Blair's face was flushed with wild thoughts of sentinel daring do, when Jim brought him down to earth with a bump.

"Blair!" he shouted, knowing the use of the younger man's first name would get his attention.

"What, Jim?" He almost sounded annoyed.

"Slow down, Chief. There's one big problem before you rush out and claim the Nobel Prize."

"What?" Blair was obviously perplexed, not accepting that there could be a flaw in his plans.

"My little soldiers are still firmly tucked away in their test tubes or wherever it is they're kept."

There was a pause before Blair actually looked at Jim and realised the import of what he had said. "Why?"

"As special operations units, the army offered the service to all of us. They pumped us full of all sorts of drugs to fight off diseases you probably haven't even heard of. You can't have the best of the best jumping into the middle of some sort of insurgency in the middle of nowhere and then all coming down with the local version of chicken pox or something equally innocuous. Then there would be the local bugs and creepy crawlies. You'd be surprised how many of them you can be inoculated against. At least the top brass were up front about it with us. They told us that they didn't know what effect it would all have on us."

Blair sat on the edge of the coffee table facing the older man. "Did you ever think about saying no?"

"It was what we'd been prepared for, Chief. We were dogs of war, foaming at the mouth and trained to kill. You could have told us that we had to have our right arms amputated before we went and fought for our country and most of us would have pulled up our sleeves and put the blade to our skin."

"Cry havoc?" Blair asked.

Jim nodded.

"Didn't you think about the consequences?"

Jim shook his head. "We were young and wanted to fight, needed to fight."

"With what we now know about Gulf War Syndrome, I can't believe people were willing to take those risks."

"That was then and this was before the full implications of that were in the papers every day. A few shots seemed a very small risk compared to what we were heading in to."

"So where are they, all the little Ellison sperm?" Blair's face had lit up. Suddenly he seemed to have overcome his concerns for Jim's well being.

"No idea." Jim looked at the TV trying to see past Blair to the report on the Jag's latest outing.

"You're not interested?" Blair couldn't hide his surprise.

"No. It's not like I'm ever going to need them now. It's not likely I will ever have a family, so I don't need to know."

"Jim!" Blair wheedled.

"What, Sandburg?" Jim gave up on the Jag's report.

"It's not like you're too old, man. There's still plenty of time for kids, for a family."

"I have enough trouble taking care of you, Sandburg. Why should I want another child?"

Blair ignored the dig at his youthful exuberance and kept on. "As a sentinel you have a moral obligation to propagate."

"I don't think so, Chief. If I had wanted a family I would have given it a go with Carolyn. Neither of us wanted kids then and I don't want them now."

"That's really sad, man."

"It's not sad, Sandburg, just realistic. I don't exactly have the best track record with women and I am dammed sure I'm not bringing a kid into this world outside of marriage." There was no vehemence in Jim's voice, but the issues he still felt over the behavior of his father had left him with definite views on children brought up by one parent and he had stated them forcibly. Blair sat back, unsure what to say. Jim realized that he had probably put his foot in it. "Blair, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that Naomi and you …" he paused and tried again. "That you were … should …" He spread his hands as if in surrender. "You know what I mean, Chief."

Blair stood and took Jim's mug from his hand. "I know what you mean, Jim, and on the whole I agree with you; a child should have a mother and a father. Sometimes, though, it just doesn't work out like that." He sounded wistful.

Jim got up and followed Blair into the kitchen. He felt like he had just kicked the family pet.

"Blair, I'm sorry …" He stopped when Blair turned and smiled reassuringly.

"Jim, we both missed out on a normal childhood for lots of different reasons and we both have regrets about that, but come on, man, we didn't turn out too badly, did we?"

Jim moved to the sink and ran some water. He started washing the mugs. "Well one of us didn't, Chief."

Blair picked up the dishtowel and flicked it at the back of Jim's legs, making contact with his target.

"Hey watch it, Chief!" Jim shouted as he jumped at the swipe. "I'll tell Naomi and you know how fond of me she is," he leered.

"That is sick, man, she's my mom," Blair protested.

"I wonder if she has any more baby photos," Jim mused, knowing full well the effect it would have on his partner.

"No more baby photos, Jim, and don't think I don't know who was responsible for that copy appearing on the bulletin board in the break room." Blair was pointing his finger at Jim's chest. Putting on his most angelic expression, Jim claimed his innocence and made a grab for the dishtowel.

Blair moved away as Jim sized up his opponent.

"Come to Daddy," Jim chuckled as the dishtowel flicked out.

"Sick, man, really sick." Blair laughed as he danced away. Battle ensued.

********************

June 7th

It was Jim's turn to cook and dinner was still fifteen minutes away, so Blair powered up his laptop to check his emails. He dealt with all except one, which he was tempted to delete without opening, thinking it was spam. It was from a sender he didn't recognize, but the title of the email caught his attention. 'Propagation of the Species.' If it's an ad for Viagra, Blair thought, I will be very disappointed. The email was short and cryptic.

"Blair. Thank you for the donation. A."

He couldn't remember making any donations recently and certainly nothing to do with propagation. Deleting the email, he ran the ISP's security check to make doubly sure no virus had been hidden in the email and turned off the laptop when he got the all clear.

"Dinner's ready, Chief. Want to set the table?"

"Sure, Jim," he replied, putting the laptop in his room and ignoring the niggling feeling at the back of his brain.

********************

June 18th

Jim walked slowly into the foyer of the building that housed the loft. Unlocking the mailbox, he juggled the two bags he carried to enable him to grab the envelopes inside. He took the stairs even though, for once, the elevator was working. It was a matter of principle. Thirty minutes later he was showered and changed, the groceries put away and he was drinking coffee, checking through the envelopes to see who was writing to him. Most of it was junk. There was one official looking letter for Sandburg, an invitation from his dad for both of them to join him at a fundraiser which Jim had already mentally declined and a hand written letter for Jim from an old army buddy.

Opening the balcony door to let in the weak early summer sunshine, Jim took his letter and sat on the couch, his white sock clad feet resting on the coffee table. They're my rules, he thought, so I get to break them. The letter made him chuckle. Pete Dawson had gone through basic training with Jim. He was a southern man, bigger than Jim by four inches and forty pounds, with a shock of red hair and a temper to match. Pete had cried when his hair was shorn and had fought side by side with Jim through the horrors inflicted by training sergeants and the like, until they had stood shoulder to shoulder in sparkling uniforms to graduate from basic training. Their paths had crossed many times in the intervening years and the two men now swapped Christmas cards and the occasional letter.

Finished reading, Jim looked into the bottom of his coffee mug. He didn't remember drinking the last mouthful. He stood, ready for a second cup, when a smile ghosted across his face and he pulled another mug from the cupboard and filled both of them with hot black coffee.

"Hey, Jim."

Blair Sandburg breezed in, dropping his keys into the basket, his backpack onto the floor and his jacket onto a peg, all in one seeming continuous movement.

"You're early," Jim commented, handing him the coffee.

"Oh boy, I needed that. Thanks, man."

Blair wandered to his room clinging to the coffee mug like a lifeline. Jim could tell exactly which drawers he was opening, which pile of books he was moving and what words were muttered under Sandburg's breath. It was a little ritual Jim observed whenever he had the chance. He had used it as a tool to sharpen his senses; it was almost a game, a test of sorts. The strange thing was, he still did it even though he could rarely tell if his guesses were correct, unable to watch his guide as he puttered around his room, but he did it whenever he could, regardless. Jim dialled down his hearing when Blair entered the bathroom. Tests only went so far.

"My last meeting was cancelled and my marking is up to date so I skipped out early," Blair said as he came out of the bathroom.

Sandburg had finally answered the question that Jim had asked over five minutes earlier. Jim shook his head; he was used to it. "There's a letter for you on the table," Jim told the younger man as he picked up the TV guide to check what time the movie he wanted to watch started.

"Naomi said she would write when she got settled," Blair replied sinking into the chair opposite the couch.

"It's not from Naomi, Chief. Looks pretty official to me. Are all your shots up to date?" Jim smirked.

"Ha, ha, Jim," Blair said sarcastically. "Don't give up the day job."

Blair didn't move from the chair. He rested his head back and closed his eyes. His hands still grasped the mug.

"Aren't you going to check it out, Chief?" Jim asked.

"Not yet," Blair responded, taking a sip of coffee. "It will still be there later and I'm in no mood for anything 'official' to rain on my parade."

The two men sat quietly. Late afternoon sounds drifted up from the street below. Jim watched his guide. A still Blair Sandburg was a rare occurrence. The dark circles under his eyes that had previously been rapidly becoming a permanent feature after the drowning at the fountain and the fiasco of Peru were gone. The pre-fountain Blair Sandburg was coming back more and more each day. Without warning, Blair jumped up.

"My turn to cook."

Jim shook his head in wonderment and slowly stood, stretching out the kinks of the day.

"What delights are we creating tonight, Sandburg?" Jim queried.

"Who knows, Jim? Who knows?"

Indeed, thought Jim. Indeed. Dinner turned out to be pasta and salad that Jim prepared while Blair threw together a strange concoction of items into a bowl that eventually transferred itself into the oven, after Blair had declared he wanted something sweet. The something turned out to be pineapple upside down cake, which was finished off with an organic ice cream that Blair always bought. It cost a fortune, but Jim's taste buds told him it was worth every cent. Jim sighed as he pushed his bowl away, replete. Blair had finished a few minutes earlier; he had skipped the second helping Jim had and finally opened his mail.

"You remember that attack on Bayside Clinic earlier this month?" Blair asked. Jim nodded, not trusting himself to talk as he felt a burp bubbling up. "According to the Clinic director all the sperm samples held were destroyed. They're asking for new donations."

The burp never made it all the way out. "Are you going to do it?"

Blair nodded slowly. "I think so. The money will still come in handy and if I can improve the human gene pool, who am I to argue with that."

He spoke with a deadpan voice, and it wasn't until Jim looked that he saw the smile plastered on Blair's face.

"Asshole," Jim laughed.

"You should do it too, Jim."

Jim checked to see if his roommate was yanking his chain. Blair's face was serious this time.

"Sorry, Sandburg. One Sentinel in the family is more than enough."

Blair shrugged and dropped the letter on the table.

"Come on, Chief. Let's get cleared away. The movie starts in fifteen minutes and I don't want to miss the start."

"What brain dead shoot 'em up are we watching tonight?"

"Bruce Willis."

"I am not watching another 'Die Hard' film, Jim."

"It's 'The Fifth Element'."

"Now that's a really interesting film. I saw that when it first came out. Some of the ideology is used in a very inventive way, especially the Egyptian overtones."

"Think I'd look good in that orange top he wears?" Jim asked, suddenly stopping Blair's ramble in its tracks.

"You, wearing Jean Paul Gauthier?" Blair asked, surprised at the question from Jim.

"Don't you think I could pull it off, Chief?" Jim struck a pose that shouted macho.

Blair laughed. "Anything Bruce can do, you can do better, Jim?" Blair patted Jim on the shoulder before drying another bowl.

Jim nodded firmly in agreement. "Damn right," he smiled.

Blair threw the dishtowel on the work surface and made his way to the couch. Jim picked up the towel, folded it and hung it neatly from the handle on the front of the oven. Another routine he indulged in with Blair. Without asking, Jim grabbed two bottles of beer from the fridge and passed one to his partner as they settled down for the evening.

********************

Approximately nine months later - March 13th

It was wet and cold. Blair sat in the truck. His hands were tucked under his armpits, trying to retain what little warmth there was. He could see Jim walking back towards him, Jags cap pulled down firmly on his head, shielding his face from the rain that had been pouring all day. The collar of his jacket was pulled up and his shoulders were hunched. Blair was suddenly grateful for the small amount of shelter and warmth the truck gave him. The outside world blasted in as Jim opened the driver's side door. Blair hunched away from the invading elements.

"All done?" Blair asked.

"The uniforms have just taken Hayford away. Vice will interview him at the station. Chalk up another one for the good guys."

Jim turned on the engine and hot air started to dribble into the cab. Blair put his hands over the heater vent to catch the warmth.

"Stop hogging the heater, Sandburg," Jim growled. Blair ignored him and the bigger man didn't ask again.

The stakeout that had led to the arrest of Tony Hayford had started early that morning. Hayford was a pimp suspected of killing two hookers from a rival stable. Major Crime and Vice had been working a joint task force, when a tip had come in from a snitch Vice regularly used, that Hayford was shacked up with one of his own girls after a busy night on the streets. Blair and Jim had arrived at six a.m.. Hayford had finally emerged from a small apartment on Kerry Drive six hours later to be grabbed before he reached his car. Jim had wanted to break into the apartment and haul Hayford away in cuffs, but Captain Weston of Vice was a more cautious soul and decided to wait until the suspect was in the open. Blair had listened to Jim's complaints about the waste of time for forty-five minutes before telling Jim to shut up. The rest of the time had passed amicably enough, until Jim had suddenly exited the truck with only a cursory warning to Blair, having heard Hayford say goodbye to the other occupant of the apartment.

Jim got caught in lunchtime traffic on the way back to the station and finally pulled into a Wonderburger drive thru, after making Blair more than aware of the shortcomings of the drivers in front of them. Blair knew that Jim's bad temper was in part due to lack of sleep and in part due to lack of food. The rest was just Jim. To be fair to the man, he had got back to the loft very late after a long fruitless day of enquiries into a current murder case and had had far too little sleep when the call from Captain Weston had woken them both at a little after five a.m..

Jim had managed only a slice of toast while he waited for Blair to dress and comb the tangles from his hair. Blair knew from experience that a tired, hungry sentinel was a short-tempered sentinel, and arguing now over the health value of a Wonderburger was not a smart move. At least he could go for a less fat option of a grilled chicken sandwich. Jim would go for the full fat option.

Jim ate as he drove. A little of the traffic had eased and, by the time they made it to the station, Jim was almost human. Major Crime was busy as they entered and, after a few muttered greetings, both men settled into work for the remainder of their shift. Blair was just checking one of Jim's reports, when the window opened on the computer to tell him that he had mail. There was an attachment on the mail which the internal firewall had allowed through. The wording of the email was cryptic.

"Blair, don't you think she has her father's eyes?"

The email had no title and he didn't recognise the sender. He opened the attachment. It was a photo of a baby.

"Is that you, Sandburg?" Henri Brown asked, peering over the young man's shoulder.

Blair shook his head. "I don't know who it is. I just got it in an email. No idea who it's from."

Henri shrugged. "He looks like you."

"It's a girl, H," Blair laughed.

"What do I know?" the tall black man replied, laughing.

Blair was still looking at the photo, pondering, when Jim sat down next to him.

"Your girlfriends get younger and younger, Chief."

Blair snorted in response.

"Who's the lovely lady?"

Blair showed Jim the email.

"Who's it from?" he asked.

"No idea," Blair replied. "Do you think Simon would mind if I asked Dominic if he could backtrack the sender's ISP? Maybe they would give us an address."

"Why don't you ask him yourself?" Jim asked with a smile.

Blair started as a deep voice behind him demanded, "Ask me what, Sandburg?"

Blair recovered quickly and showed Simon Banks, the captain of Major Crime, the photograph. Explaining the favour he wanted, Blair waited while Simon considered his request. The tall black man towered over Blair, but the small man seemed completely unbothered by the disparity.

"Okay, Sandburg, but ask him on your own time." Simon spoke gently even though the words were hard. "Let's not have any repeat of the unauthorised use of resources that we had last month, shall we?"

Blair blushed in remembrance of the dressing down he had received from his captain, when it had been discovered that he had used the police computer to get the telephone number of a woman he had met at a coffee shop. She had given Blair only her first name, but he had seen her drive away in an old style Volkswagen Beetle. It had been an easy thing to run the licence plate through DMV and get an address. That led to a phone number and put Blair in Simon's bad books, when his inventiveness came to light. It had taken Simon a very long fifteen minutes to explain to his observer why behaviour of that sort would not be tolerated. As Blair left the captain's office, he felt as though the entire office had been privy to his telling off and was suitably shame-faced and contrite. The memory of that occasion meant Blair was more than happy to agree with Simon's suggestion.

"No problem, Simon. Thanks." Blair shot a relieved look at Jim, grinning.

With the paperwork from the earlier arrest finished, Blair left to catch Dominic before he went home. The Chief of Police had approved funding for a network technician as part of an ongoing modernisation that was supposed to bring Cascade PD to the forefront of crime fighting in the twenty-first century. Dominic had a thankless task. He battled under investment, out of date equipment and an attitude to computers that would not have been out of place in the prehistoric era. Blair had found a kindred spirit in Dominic and the techno geek had welcomed the free-spirited observer as an oasis in a desert of ignorance and indifference. He readily agreed to help Blair try and track down the sender of the email.

Blair came out of the stairwell into the parking garage almost at the same time as Jim exited the elevator. Jim handed Blair a brown envelope as they got in the truck.

"I thought I'd print this off for you, Chief. Give you a chance to have another look," Jim said seriously.

"Thanks, Jim," Blair replied.

He waited until they were out of the garage before slipping the photo out of the envelope. He stared at the image.

"How old do you think she is?" he eventually asked.

"A few weeks?" Jim offered

"I can't think of anyone I know who was due to have a baby in the last couple of months," Blair commented.

"Could Naomi have sent it?" Jim asked.

"Maybe," Blair considered. "But she has her own hotmail account. I guess she could be using someone else's email account, but why would she just send a photo and nothing else?"

Jim shrugged. He didn't have an answer for his partner.

"No, there is something going on here, Jim. I can't explain it, but I just have this feeling that scares me."

Jim took his eyes off the road momentarily and met Blair's blue eyes. Blair could see the concern he felt, mirrored in Jim's eyes.

"She's a pretty little thing," Jim commented.

"She is," Blair agreed.

********************

March 16th

Mondays were busy days at the University and at Major Crime. Most Mondays Blair never made it in to the station and Jim was forced to work on his own. He would never admit to Blair how much he missed both his company and input, but he knew, deep down, that Mondays were the days when his fellow officers gave him a slightly wider berth than normal, knowing he was more likely to snap at them.

"Jim, my office."

Simon Banks stood in the doorway of his office, coffee mug in hand. As Jim entered he was silently offered a coffee by his captain. Jim nodded and waited until he was sitting in front of Simon's desk, mug in hand, before asking what Simon wanted.

"Vice has let Hayford go." Simon came straight to the point.

"What!" Jim spluttered.

"Captain Weston was advised by the DA that he didn't have enough to hold him. Hayford lawyered up the minute he got back to the station and wouldn't say a word. The DA had no option."

Jim shook his head. "The man is as guilty as hell," he muttered angrily.

"Then the evidence will be there. All we have to do is dig it out." Simon sat back, hands wrapped around his mug. Jim stared back trying to work out if Simon was being sarcastic. "Captain Weston is expecting you in Vice in ten minutes for a council of war. He is not a happy man," Simon went on.

"He is an idiot," Jim added sotto voce.

"That's as may be, detective, but he is an angry idiot and you are going to help him get a murderer off of our streets, whether he realises it or not. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir." Jim stood, placing the coffee mug on the desk. "Thanks for the coffee, Simon."

Leaving the room, Jim headed straight for the elevator to go down to Vice.

********************

Jim returned to Major Crime a very frustrated detective. Sitting behind his desk, he waited for the summons to Simon's office. He had just left Captain Weston, having finally lost his patience. The captain's refusal to apply for a warrant for Hayford's house had been the last straw for Jim, and he had stormed out of Vice commenting that he had real work to do. He heard Simon's footsteps as he approached and braced himself for the fallout. Instead, Simon dropped a file on his desk.

"Never apply for a job in the Diplomatic Corps, Jim," his captain said, smiling.

Jim relaxed, letting the tension seep from his body.

"The man is an ass …" Jim stopped mid-word when Simon held up his hand.

"Enough, detective. Captain Weston has a conviction rate that is second only to this department. Show the man a little respect, Jim." Simon softened his tone. "He is good at what he does."

Jim leant back in his chair. "His conviction rate is only good because he won't go forward on cases where there is any chance he will lose. He has half the cases we do that get to court."

"So play him at his own game," Simon suggested. "Go interview Hayford's companion from the other night. Maybe he's in to pillow talk."

Jim picked up the file for Nicollette Conway, Hayford's hooker. "Okay, Simon, but this had better work."

"That's up to you, Jim." Simon turned away. "Oh, and, Jim … be charming."

Jim couldn't see the smile on Simon's face as he went back to his office, but he could hear it in his voice. "Yes, sir," he muttered in reply. Jim opened the file and prepared to interview a hooker.

Five minutes later, Jim had all the information he needed on Nicollette Conway. Packing the loose papers back into the folder, Jim placed the folder into Rhonda's 'Out' tray on his way out of the office.

Nicollette was easy to find, easy to talk to and easy to look at. Unfortunately that's where the easy stuff ended. Nicollette had no information on Hayford that Jim could use, but as he was leaving, she gave him the name of Annie Koch, Hayford's 'regular girl'.

"Just tell Annie I sent you. She'll know you're okay," the hooker told Jim.

Jim waved his thanks and went in search of his second hooker of the day. Despite his recommendation from Nicollette, Jim got nothing out of Annie. She was Hayford's girl alright, and she knew better than to speak to any cop, even one with a recommendation from a co-worker.

Jim got back to the loft frustrated and hungry. A note from his roommate awaited him. Jim had forgotten Blair was going to the movies. It was some sort Japanese retrospective and, while Jim didn't mind the odd Kurosawa movie, he wasn't into all the art house crap that Blair regularly went to see.

He ordered pizza because it was the quickest option for eating. Jim was showered, changed and contemplating a second beer by the time the knock on the door came. Blair finally got home a little after ten, full of the movie he had seen and the girl he had gone with. They were going to bed when Blair asked Jim if Dominic had any news for him. Jim saw the disappointment cross the smaller man's face when he told him he hadn't heard from Dominic all day.

********************

March 20th

It was nine-thirty a.m. when the two dishevelled men trudged into Major Crime. They had been out all night sweeping the streets talking to hookers and then pimps, when the men would talk to them. Blair was exhausted. He muttered a 'thanks' to Henri Brown when he handed him a coffee from the break room. Blair was so tired the coffee tasted good. All week Jim had been out on the streets. When he didn't have classes, Blair had joined Jim, but all their hard work had drawn a blank. If anyone knew anything about Hayford, no one was talking. Seated behind his desk, Blair didn't realise he had started to doze until a voice startled him and he made a desperate grab for his coffee, only to find he had rescued an empty cup.

"Blair, you okay? You look like shit," Dominic asked.

"If you had been out all night with Jim you'd look like shit," Blair replied with a tired smile. He saw Dominic's confused look and smiled. "It's okay, we were working."

Dominic smiled, but still looked a little unsure. "I wonder if that information helped at all." Dominic asked quickly.

Blair knew his brain cells weren't firing too quickly and he had to think hard to work out what Dominic meant. He failed.

"What information?"

"I left a note on Jim's desk on Monday. I got you that address you wanted."

Blair sat bolt upright. "I didn't get any note."

His eyes went to Simon's office where Jim was reporting on their continued lack of success. Jim suddenly looked at Blair as though aware of his gaze. There was a question in Jim's eyes.

Blair turned back to Dominic. "I'm sorry, man, I didn't get the note. Can you tell me what you found out?"

As Dominic spoke Blair fumbled around the desk for a pen to write with. He did a double take when that part of his brain that was listening heard the address that Dominic gave out.

"What did you say?" Blair demanded.

"It was a local address," Dominic said simply.

"Repeat the address," Blair insisted urgently.

"Eight fifty-two Prospect, apartment three-oh-seven."

Dominic was unaware of the implications of what he had said, but saw Blair's reaction. Blair took a deep breath to steady himself. His eyes briefly went to Simon's office again before he forced himself to ask the next question.

"Do you have a name for the account?"

Blair wasn't sure if he had written anything down. He managed to stutter his thanks to Dominic who went off shaking his head.

"Anytime, man."

Blair stood, keeping tight hold of the piece of paper in his hand. With his eyes firmly on Jim, he knew that Jim was watching him walk from the desk to Simon's office and through the door. Whatever Simon had been saying was cut short in mid-sentence. Jim moved to Blair as the observer handed over the piece of paper.

"She's back. She sent the email … the photograph."

Blair watched his own hand shake as Jim took the piece of paper. There were two words written on the sheet - Alex Barnes.

********************

Blair had recovered his equilibrium by the time he finished the mug of coffee Simon had handed to him. He had also managed to get most of his brain cells working again.

"She used our address for her ISP account! Can you believe that? Why would she do that?" Blair was angry at Alex and at his own feelings.

"To mess with our heads," Jim tried to explain. "She would know we would try and trace her. This way we've gotten nowhere fast."

Blair stood in the middle of Simon's office, hands on hips, and took a deep breath. His eyes closed briefly.

"Isn't she still in the psychiatric hospital in San Diego?" Blair asked, opening his eyes and looking at Simon.

Alex had been deported by the Peruvian authorities as an undesirable alien. The court had decided she was unfit to stand trial and, as her first port of call onto US soil after the deportation was California, she had been detained at an asylum in San Diego.

"As far as I know," answered Simon. "And I would have been informed if she had been released.

"So what happened?" It was Jim who spoke.

"Maybe she's recovering. Patients at Conover get computer access to aid their recovery," Blair explained.

"But do they get Internet access?" Jim asked.

"No," Blair replied. "But different institutions may have different programmes, different approaches."

"We can make guesses all morning," Simon grumbled. "There's only one way to get answers."

Simon lifted the receiver and dialled. As Simon spoke to an FBI contact in the Los Angeles office, Jim tapped Blair's arm.

"You okay, Chief?" He asked.

Blair looked at his Sentinel. All sorts of emotions were stirred and all sorts of images flashed in his memory.

"It's weird. I thought she was gone from our lives." Blair saw the look of guilt pass across Jim's face. "I'm okay, Jim." He wanted to reassure the older man. "But it's like so many things have been dredged up that I thought were dead and buried." He saw Jim struggle for words. "Do you feel anything? Any vibes?"

Jim sat back in his chair as though stung by the simple questions. Blair knew that for a long time after the events at Sierra Verde, Jim had carried around a whole load of guilt. At first Blair was too sick to do anything about it. As he got better he didn't want to do anything about it; his anger at Jim's actions with Alex, raw and painful. Eventually, as he had worked through the grieving process, Blair had realised that easing Jim's guilt was as much a part of his own recovery from dying as it was Jim's. They had spent a whole weekend, some six weeks after their return, talking through it. Blair hadn't realised Jim still had such strong feelings about the whole matter. For Blair it was in the past, he had let it go.

"I didn't mean 'feelings', Jim," he hastened to reassure the shocked man. "I meant do you sense anything? Another sentinel in your territory?"

Jim shook his head to signify no as he stared at Blair, seemingly at a loss for words.

"Then she's probably not back in Cascade," said Blair quickly.

Jim looked down, not speaking. Blair kept his own counsel. It was patently apparent that he and Jim needed to talk more about Alex. That conversation would not take place in Simon's office though.

"Agent Johnson will call me back as soon as he has checked out Alex's situation. Why don't you two go home and I'll call you when I have any news?" Simon suggested.

Blair looked at Jim, deferring the decision to him.

"We'll stay," Jim said firmly and smiled as Blair nodded.

"Okay, but if you change your mind, let me know."

The two men left Simon's office. Jim hung his jacket on the coat peg behind his desk. Sitting down he looked lost for a moment, then Blair saw him shrug his shoulders, and as if that shrug was both physical and mental, suddenly he was all business, turning on the computer and opening a blank report form to write up the interviews they had conducted during the night.

"Let me help with those," Blair offered.

Jim nodded. As Blair reached for a pen his hand met Jim's. Jim looked up. Blair withdrew his hand, but returned Jim's stare.

"We need to talk about her, Jim. I thought we had this all worked through."

"Me too," Jim replied with meaning. "Later though, okay, Chief?"

"Yeah later, Jim."

For the next few hours the two men worked quietly until Rafe announced he was going to make a run to the Subway two blocks over and asked if anyone wanted him to pick anything up. Blair offered to go with him when the orders came in thick and fast. The two men exited into the cool but dry day and strolled leisurely along the sidewalk. They made small talk in the elevator down and that continued all the way to Subway. With orders filled, the two men were walking back when Rafe asked, "Any news on tracking down the little girl in the photo?"

"Simon's waiting on a call now that might give us a lead," Blair answered, strangely reluctant to give more details even though Rafe was a good friend.

"Do you think it was your daughter?"

Blair stopped walking and stared at Rafe.

"My daughter?" He spluttered. "Why would you say that?"

Rafe looked bemused. "Henri said she looked a lot like you. I thought maybe it was an old girlfriend taking some weird way to let you know you were a daddy."

"No, it wasn't my daughter," Blair answered numbly, suddenly horribly convinced that Rafe was somehow right. The 'somehow' he had yet to work out.

Blair was silent the rest of the way back to the bullpen. By the time he was handing out sandwiches, the 'somehow' had become a reality.

"Jim, we need to talk," Blair whispered.

"I thought we were doing that later, Chief." Jim looked uncomfortable all of a sudden.

"This can't wait, Jim."

They made their way to the break room. Jim sat down and started eating. Blair put his sandwich on the table but stood. His hands pushed through his hair and his eyes roamed from Jim to the table, to the door and back to Jim. Putting down his sandwich, Jim finished chewing before he interrupted his partner's consternation.

"You need to eat," he verbally nudged.

"Rafe asked if the baby is my daughter."

Jim's sandwich-filled hands stopped halfway to his mouth and he put his food down again. Blair stared at Jim, almost daring him to deny the suggestion. When Jim didn't say anything, Blair continued. "The timing works and you remember I had that email thanking me for my deposit." Blair was getting more uptight.

"Last time I looked, Chief, it took two to make a baby and unless there is something you aren't telling me, I don't recall you sleeping with Alex," Jim said quietly and calmly.

Blair gesticulated. "But that's what I mean. The timing fits." Blair's hands were flailing around.

There was confusion on Jim's face that seemed to excite Blair's hands even more. Taking a deep breath Blair explained. "The fertility clinic, all the samples were destroyed. You remember the news report on the TV, the letter."

Blair's voice trailed off and he looked at Jim for some sort of validation of his ideas. Jim got up, filled a paper cup with water from the water cooler in the corner of the room and gave the cup to his partner, while guiding him to the seat facing Jim's. Blair sat. He looked at the cup as if unsure how he came to be holding it.

"What do you think?" he asked uncertainly.

Jim sat back down and took a bite of his sandwich. "If that's what you think then we need to check things out," Jim managed when he had finished the mouthful.

Blair was grateful for Jim's unwavering support. He knew he should have expected nothing less. "Thanks, man. That means a lot."

Blair drank his water and started on his sandwich, pondering just how easy it would be to check things out. Jim finished eating. He stood, bundling the food wrappers before dropping them into the trash.

"Don't set yourself up for a fall, Chief. Not again. Please."

Jim left the room. Blair wanted to exclaim his innocence but stopped, mouth open, considering the meaning behind Jim's words. He finished his food in silent contemplation.

********************

March 21st

Jim was surprised to see his roommate up and about so early. After the week they had been through, he expected Blair to take the opportunity to sleep in. The younger man was not a morning person at the best of times, and had fallen asleep almost before dinner was finished the night before. He had told Jim he wanted to trace the directors of the fertility clinic through the Internet that evening so that he could try to talk to them this weekend. Blair's intentions had not been enough to keep him awake though and so, while Jim was in the bathroom that morning, Blair got up and powered up the laptop. He sat at the table now, moving his index finger over the touch screen. Coffee bubbled through the percolator.

"Bathroom's all yours, Chief," Jim said as he walked to the thermostat. He didn't need Blair sitting around in boxers and a t-shirt to tell him that the younger man had turned the heating up. His senses had already alerted him to that.

"Thanks, Jim."

Blair tore himself away from the screen. Jim made breakfast; pancakes for himself and a bagel and cream cheese for Blair. When his partner was in this sort of driven mood Jim knew he could get him to eat only food that needed the minimum of utensils, and preferably none at all. Coffee had joined the bagel by the side of the laptop by the time Blair came back to the table, showered and changed, his hair still damp. Jim sat at the table with Blair but knew that conversation wasn't going to happen. He was surprised to get a "Thanks, Jim," when the younger man sat down. Jim took the opportunity to spend a quiet uninterrupted breakfast reading the paper. He had finished the sports section, refilled Blair's mug, cleared the table, washed the dishes and was reading the travel section before he was aware of someone approaching the loft. It was Simon. Jim let his captain knock. He had finally given in to the man's plea to be allowed to at least knock on the door before Jim opened it up. That didn't stop Jim pulling the door open before the man had finished knocking though. Jim smiled at the frustration on his captain's face.

"Come in, Simon," he said, tongue in cheek, and withstood Simon's glare.

Blair hardly looked up, waving a hand in the general direction of the door with a mutter that Jim interpreted, but left Simon frowning.

"Coffee, Simon?" Jim asked as he reached for the kettle.

Simon nodded. "Please, Jim."

Sitting at the table Simon studied Blair's earnest endeavours.

"I have news, Sandburg."

Blair looked up, his hands leaving the keyboard for the first time in over an hour.

"Is she there?" Blair cut straight to the chase.

Simon took a piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. "According to the FBI, Alex Barnes left the San Diego Institute for the Criminally Insane at the beginning of April last year."

"What!" Blair was on his feet.

"Let me finish, Sandburg, before you fly off the handle."

"Sorry, Simon," Blair apologised and sat back down again.

"In the three months prior to her transfer, she had been receiving a very new, very experimental drug which had apparently achieved remarkable results. So much so that she was considered suitable for transfer to a less 'restrictive' facility. It seems she never arrived."

Blair was about to interrupt again when Simon held up a restraining finger. "When the new facility received an email purporting to be from the Institute, stating that Barnes' transfer had been rescinded because of a relapse, they accepted it at face value."

"The email was from Alex?" Blair made it sound like a statement rather than a question.

"Well it wasn't sent by the Institute," Simon replied, taking a mug of coffee from Jim. "Thanks."

Jim put Blair's mug on the table. The young man was already pacing. "So Alex has been free for almost a year and no one has known?" He sounded incredulous.

"That about sums it up."

Blair's pacing stopped and he squinted at Simon. Realising he still had his glasses on; Blair removed them and put them into the pocket in his shirt.

"Does the FBI have any leads at all?"

"No, though they do have a lot of red faces." Simon was smug.

"That doesn't do me any good," Blair snapped. "She is out there somewhere with m …" Blair stopped himself and then continued quickly. "With that little girl. She is hardly the mothering kind, with or without any wonder drug. I can't believe this has happened."

Blair started to pace again. Jim wasn't fooled. He had heard Blair start to say 'my' before he stopped himself. Jim didn't think Simon had heard it judging by his lack of reaction, but Jim knew what was driving Blair and, though he didn't agree with him, he was going to be there for his partner this time. Alex wasn't going to catch him out a second time.

Pushing himself up from the pillar that he had been resting on, Jim reached for the piece of paper Simon had retrieved from his pocket.

"Does it say anything about what this drug is that she's taking?"

"Yeah it's here. Some unpronounceable name followed by a dozen numbers," Simon replied, scanning the fax before handing it over to Jim.

"What good is that going to do?" Blair asked angrily, turning to Jim.

He allowed a resigned look to come over his face and stared at his partner. "Because, Darwin, if this drug is as new as the FBI say and she is still taking it, tracking her through her prescriptions is going to be a relatively easy job. I know it's a big assumption …"

"No!" Blair interrupted. "That's it!" He put his hands on Jim's forearms, his eyes sparkling. "You've got it, Jim."

"I am a detective," Jim stated smugly.

"Will it be that easy?" Blair suddenly had doubts.

Jim shrugged. "We can put an alert out to all pharmacists," he said, now engrossed in the hunt.

"We'll have to go nationwide," Blair added.

"Not a problem, we can do that," Jim agreed.

A cough stopped them both. Simon sat at the table with his arms crossed. He looked like the cat that had eaten the cream.

"Not only am I a captain, gentlemen, but I am also a detective. The alert was issued before I left the office. We should start getting responses very soon."

"Nice going, Simon." Jim nodded.

Blair was moving quickly to his room. "I need to get to the station and wait for the reports to come in," he shouted as he dressed.

Jim sighed, "There goes my weekend."

While Blair was busy in his room, Simon drew closer to Jim and spoke quietly. "The kid's wound up about this. That's not good."

"He's got a handle on it, Simon, don't worry, and I'm there to keep a steady hand on the tiller," Jim replied, not surprised by his captain's concerns. He had the same concerns.

"Make sure you do, Jim. The Feds are all over this. They won't let Sandburg or you interfere. Get in the way and you'll both find your butts behind bars." Simon was serious.

"It's okay, Simon. Don't worry. I'm all over this," Jim reassured.

Simon nodded. Blair came out of his room, backpack at the ready. He didn't stop as he moved towards the door, picking up his jacket and keys on the way. "Ready, Jim?" and Blair was out the door.

"I'm spending the day with Daryl. If you need me call," Simon ordered.

Jim took his jacket off the hook and waited for the taller man to precede him. "That won't be necessary, Simon. Enjoy your quality father-son time. I'll take care of this."

"Make sure you do, Jim."

********************

The drive to Major Crime was quiet. Blair tapped his fingers on his thigh. As soon as Jim parked, Blair was out of the car. By the time Jim was out of the vehicle, Blair was halfway across the parking garage.

"Chief," Jim called out. "Hold up."

Blair stopped and looked back towards Jim. The frustration was plain on his face. "What?" he protested quietly.

Jim headed towards the exit. He purposely kept his pace slow, almost leisurely. Blair had been building up a head of steam and Jim needed him to put the brakes on.

"Blair," he started, knowing the use of his partner's first name would grab his attention.

Blair looked up at him. "I know what you're going to say, Jim."

The elevator arrived and the doors slid open. Both men stepped inside and Blair hit the button for Major Crimes' floor. He leaned against the back of the elevator. "I'm letting this get to me, aren't I?"

Jim assumed the question was rhetorical. "I know what you're thinking, Chief. No, let me finish …" Jim said firmly, pre-empting Blair's attempt to respond. "… and whether you are right or not, you have to stand back, be objective. You won't do a good job if you let your emotions rule your actions."

"Check my humanity at the door?" Blair sniped

"No!" Jim said harshly, maybe a little more harshly than he intended, but he needed to get through to his partner. "Keep your humanity; just don't let it lead you by the nose. If Alex is behind this then she's trying to provoke you, both of us, and we'll only keep our edge if we don't play into her games." Jim's tones grew more understanding.

"Do you think it is her?" Blair asked quietly.

Jim wasn't sure which 'her' Blair was referring to but he chose the less contentious one. "No doubt about it," he replied. "She wants us off balance."

"And she's got that. Well, with one of us at least." Blair grinned ruefully as the doors opened and the two men stepped forward. "I guess you're not the only one who hadn't got Alex totally out of his system. I thought I had let go of all that."

"It's a lot to let go, Chief," Jim said sympathetically.

"I guess we both need to talk about this," Blair added as he sat down behind his desk.

"Let's see how good a detective our captain is first, Chief," Jim suggested; relieved when Blair nodded in agreement.

********************

Nothing had come in and, as the day wore on, frustration gave way to disappointment.

"Maybe she doesn't have to keep taking the stuff," Blair suggested, resigned.

"How about we call it a day, Chief?" Jim prompted. "I'll cook. We'll stop at the store on the way home, pick up some of those munchies you like and watch that video I bought on Thursday?" Jim was going for comfort food and activities for his partner, knowing the lack of success in the search would gnaw at the younger man.

"And talk?" Blair asked.

"And talk," Jim sighed, knowing he wasn't going to avoid the subject.

Deep down Jim wanted to get this out in the open. He hated these emotional outpourings that Blair believed were cathartic for the sentinel, but he had to admit to himself that, for the most part, he always felt better afterwards. He might not tell Blair that, though Blair would know. Sometimes Jim thought his guide knew him better than he knew himself. Blair shut down the computer and stood.

"How about the linguini with that clam sauce?" Blair asked.

"Only if we get some of that good garlic bread to go with it," Jim replied.

"Fat city, Jim." Blair smiled.

"Let's live dangerously for once." Jim placed his hand on Blair's shoulder as the two men walked out of the bullpen.

Before they got to the elevator the phone on Jim's desk rang. Jim stopped and looked back. Blair followed Jim's stare; he hadn't heard the phone. Jim knew that the call would be picked up by someone else if it rang long enough. Jim turned away and pushed the down button for the elevator.

"What is it?" Blair queried.

"Nothing," Jim replied nonchalantly. "Just thought I heard something." Jim entered the elevator, knowing his words had piqued the interest of his guide. "Come on, Sandburg, the garlic bread waits for no man."

Blair stepped inside and the doors shut.

"What did you hear, Jim?" Blair wouldn't give up.

"Your stomach rumbling," Jim teased, smiling.

The conversation continued as the elevator descended.

********************

Blair allowed Jim to talk him into, not only the garlic bread, but an enormous cinnamon roll dripping in icing. It was a meal all on its own for Blair, but he knew Jim would eat the whole thing as dessert if he let him. Blair wouldn't. Someone had to look out for the waistline of the sentinel and the sentinel certainly wasn't doing that this weekend. Jim's efforts at comfort paid off, Blair had to accept later that evening as he sprawled on the couch totally replete.

"I shouldn't have eaten any of that cinnamon roll," Blair complained.

"I told you not to," Jim said smugly from the sink.

"I was saving you from yourself, man," Blair said nobly.

"My hero," Jim chuckled. "Put the video in, Chief."

"I can't reach, Jim," Blair moaned dramatically, pathetically stretching an arm towards the TV.

Jim walked out of the kitchen and sat in the chair. "I see a session at the gym for you tomorrow, Sandburg," he declared.

"Urgh, I feel sick just thinking about it."

Blair lay back, adjusting the cushion under his head. Jim relented, reached forward, turned on the TV and pushed in the video. Blair let the movie wash over him. It was a typical Jim-chosen film, all action and no plot. His mind wandered to Alex, coming back to haunt them both and a little girl, an innocent, caught up in the middle of it all. At the end of the show, Jim got up and helped himself to a beer from the fridge. He held his bottle to Blair, silently asking if he wanted one. Blair declined and, as Jim walked back towards him, he asked a question he had already asked, but hadn't really answered for himself.

"Do you think she is my daughter, Jim?"

Jim sat down and took a long draught. "To be honest Blair, it doesn't matter if she is or not," he said simply.

"It does to me," Blair remonstrated, sitting up.

"No, I don't mean that," Jim explained. "A child is out there, potentially in danger. Whatever drug Alex has been taking I refuse to believe she is well-balanced, so whoever this little girl is, we have to find her and get Alex back behind bars." Blair nodded as Jim went on. "If she is your daughter then we cross that bridge when we come to it." Jim stopped.

Blair was constantly amazed at Jim's uncomplicated take on issues. His world was more black and white than Blair's shades of grey.

"One thing I do know," Jim broke into Blair's thoughts. "If she is your daughter, she couldn't have a better father."

Blair blushed at Jim's honesty. "Thanks, Jim," he muttered, embarrassed by his own reaction.

Jim smiled.

********************

March 28th

Time added nothing to the search, save frustration. Jim handled it stoically, the way he normally did. Blair got busy. For Jim, waiting was an occupational hazard; you waited for the bad guy to make a mistake, you waited for a deal to go down or you waited for that piece of information that broke a case wide open. Sometimes you could shake the tree and make something happen, but other times there was nothing for it but patience. Jim could wait. He was used to it. Soldiers did a lot of waiting too. However, anthropology students obviously did very little waiting, Jim mused as Blair powered up the laptop again to see if there had been any responses to the internet enquiries he had sent out the night before. Blair had not liked waiting. He had surfed the 'net, posting on medical sites, emailing the company that made the drug, and for good measure he had called them too. Jim was convinced that, if he hadn't pulled rank with the younger man, he would have caught a plane to Switzerland to visit the drug company headquarters after they politely refused to deal with his email. Blair had contacted anyone and everyone he thought might even vaguely be able to help, but a week later he was frustrated and finally out of ideas.

The cover of the laptop was slammed down. Jim looked over at the sound.

"Easy, Chief."

"Nothing," Blair groaned and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked tired, Jim thought, as Blair got up and walked to his room.

"I'm going to have a shower," he said. "Let me know if …"

Jim interrupted. "I'll call you if anyone phones. Go, enjoy the shower," Jim reassured him.

Blair had been a driven man over this. Jim wondered if his reaction would have been the same if it had been his child out there. He had never considered himself paternal, had never wanted kids, and with Carolyn it had never really been an issue; she was too much of a career woman while they were married. His own experience as a child had left him unenamoured of the whole fatherhood concept. Blair's zeal to track down Alex had made Jim stop and revisit that premise. Did he want to be a father? Would he be a good one? He had considered the issues without coming to any conclusions and had not let that bother him. Fatherhood, where he was in his life, was a moot point anyway. Female companionship had been sadly lacking from his social activities; a situation, Jim told himself, he had to correct as soon as this thing with Blair was done, one way or another. So he had watched Blair expend hour after hour trying to find Alex and become more frustrated every day. He did what he could to help, but Blair was a man on a mission and nothing could divert him; nothing except failure, a failure that was rapidly growing to fill Blair's horizon. Blair would hit that wall at some point and Jim was afraid for his friend and what that would do to him. He had seen men become consumed by lesser obsessions. He didn't want Blair to go the same way.

The phone rang. Jim answered. It was an old friend of Blair's and a new friend of Jim's.

"Hi, Jack. How are you?" Jim asked.

The usual pleasantries were exchanged and then Jack enquired, "Is Blair there?"

"Hold on," Jim replied. "He's right here."

Jim handed the phone over. His back had been to the bathroom door while he spoke to Jack but he had heard Blair come out of the bathroom barefooted. He had been in the middle of shampooing his hair when he left the shower. Jim had heard it all happen even as his conversation with Jack Kelso continued and now he watched his partner as, finally, there was news. Blair pushed the receiver under his chin and hunched his shoulder to hold the receiver in place, as he wrote furiously on the notepad that always sat next to the phone. The occasional 'yeah' was interspersed with 'okay' and 'uh huh' as the writing got faster. Blair was beaming as he handed the notepad to Jim.

"This is fantastic, Jack. Should I ask how you got this information?"

Jim deciphered the academic scrawl. It was an address in Florida, in Orlando. Jim remembered visiting Florida once when he was on leave. One of his men had suggested deep sea fishing. Jim had enjoyed the trip but had never done it again, preferring the greater solitude of fly fishing, even with the guppy. He turned his attention back to said guppy as he put the phone down. Blair breathed deeply, still smiling, and launched into an explanation.

"I asked Jack if he had heard anything about Alex from his sources. You remembered you suggested the whole escape might be a government cover-up to hide taking her?"

Jim's recollection was that it was one of Blair's wilder ideas about Alex's disappearance, but he nodded, encouraging the young man to continue.

"Jack heard nothing from his old CIA contacts about Alex, but when he started digging around he mentioned the E-four-two-four-H and it set off all sorts of alarms."

Over the week it had proven an easier way of referring to the drug.

"Apparently Jack was warned off in no uncertain terms by an old friend."

"I am assuming Jack didn't take the advice," Jim suggested.

Blair nodded. "His friend is in the medical research division."

"I didn't know the CIA had a medical research division," Jim mused.

"Well you do now. So Jack took his enquiries elsewhere. The CIA has five other patients undergoing trials. They are all short to medium term comatose victims. They all had symptoms of sensory or auditory 'episodes' before becoming comatose for inexplicable reasons."

Blair stopped, looking at Jim, his face no longer smiling, just pale.

"Other sentinels?" Jim swallowed hard.

His thoughts spun and the questions that bubbled inside him to be asked at that revelation lay trapped behind a mouth clamped firmly shut after those first two words were blurted out.

"I don't know Jim, but …" Blair's sentence came to a halt.

There was silence between them for long moments as the realization of the implications of the news sank in for both of them.

"Erm …" Blair eventually continued. "A little over twelve months ago a new patient using the E-four-two-four-H was registered with a doctor in Orlando. The name of the patient was Alicia Bannerman."

"Alex," Jim breathed.

Blair nodded. "It has to be."

Blair sat down, suddenly overcome. Jim joined him at the table. There was silence between the two men. Jim watched his partner, taking in the rapid pulse and deep breaths. Blair was staring at nothing, his eyes downcast. He's centering himself, Jim thought as he listened to Blair's vital signs slow and return to something more like normal for his guide. Blair looked up and opened his mouth as if he were going to talk. Something made him change his mind at the last minute and, instead, he got up and went into the kitchen. Jim stayed at the table.

He knew what Blair wanted to do and he knew he would go with his partner to Florida, but he also wanted Blair to ask for this, wanted him to realize the implications for both of them if he pursued this to the end. Blair would become a father, with all the responsibility that entailed. Okay, technically he was already a father, Jim conceded silently, but to be a father was a big step for any man. For his free-spirited, fun-loving guide it would be a total change of lifestyle.

As Blair clattered in the kitchen, Jim considered that maybe it wouldn't be such a change for his guide; after all Blair took care of him well enough didn't he? Jim knew that he never let on to Blair how aware he was that Blair 'mothered' him. The man would be mortified if he thought Jim was conscious of the care that Blair took of him. Everything Blair bought was sentinel-friendly, no matter that it cost more or that Blair had to travel that little bit further to find it, and that wasn't all. His guide nurtured him, encouraging his newly struggling relationship with his dad and Steven, rarely said 'I told you so' when another disastrous attempt at a relationship with a member of the opposite sex foundered, and just generally made Jim feel cared for and wanted in a way Jim didn't remember anyone else ever doing before.

His vague recollections of his mom didn't have enough detail to attribute any real sense of a relationship and his dad always wanted him to achieve, to be the best, which was fair enough. Every parent had aspirations for their child, but Jim's lasting impression of his childhood was achieving for the sake of achievement, succeeding only because it reflected well on his dad. There was nothing in it for Jim to feel good about himself.

Life after he left home was not much better. The Army wanted its soldiers to achieve, but it set the agenda and the targets and in the sort of jobs Jim carried out, there was little to feel good about in taking a life, regardless of how black that life had been. Even after killing Lash, Jim had danced with his own demons over the five shots he had put into the man who had terrorized his guide. That was the closest Jim had ever gotten to walking away from a kill with a clear conscience. In the Army his conscience survived, stained and tarnished but never clear.

The police was not unlike the Army. Protect and serve. What he did, he did for the people of Cascade, his tribe, but that came at a price. It was a price he was willing to pay to keep them safe. His dad wanted a good son, the Army wanted a good soldier and Cascade PD wanted a good detective, regardless of the costs to Jim, but he knew inside himself that Blair only wanted what was best for Jim; that came first and if that made Jim a better sentinel, then it was a convenient byproduct. Jim contemplated being brought up by a father who only ever wanted the best for his child and his soul ached, briefly, for the lost days of his own childhood. Yeah, Blair would be a great dad, hell a fantastic dad, Jim decided in that moment and what his friend needed now was to realize that. He made a decision.

"Want me to book the flights to Florida, Chief?"

Blair's hands stopped in the sink, the bubbles up to his wrists. He didn't turn around to face Jim, but Jim knew he was struggling with conflicting emotions.

"I'll call Simon; tell him we're taking some personal time. It's not like the department doesn't owe us enough and we can probably get a flight out tomorrow afternoon or the next day at the latest. We'll visit this doc and see if we can't persuade him to help us. If he won't, then we'll do things officially, get Simon to request the help of the local PD. After all, she is a missing felon."

Blair had dried his hands while Jim spoke. "You'll come with me?" he asked quietly, surprise and pleasure passing over his face.

"You think I'm going to let you go traipsing off across the country on your own, Sandburg? You'd end up in Canada or Alaska." Jim smiled at his guide. "Besides, there is no way I am letting you anywhere near Alex on your own after last time." Jim's voice faded at the end of the sentence. Blair's 'death' at the fountain was still too painful to bring up without walking on emotional eggshells.

"Thanks, Jim, that means a lot to me. I'm not sure I could have done it on my own."

A faint blush spread across Blair's cheeks and he turned quickly back to washing the dishes. Jim contemplated making his point more forcibly, but it wasn't in his nature to wear his heart on his sleeve, like his younger partner and he had done enough soul-searching for one day.

"Not a problem, Chief," he murmured as he grabbed the towel and started to dry the dishes Blair had washed.

********************

March 29th

It turned out that making arrangements to go after Alex took slightly longer than either of them wanted. Simon had been happy to give them the time off, but had said he needed to clear it with the Feds first before two of Cascade's finest went charging across the country in search of a missing felon. The Feds had finally agreed, though Jim suspected that it had taken some serious arm twisting on Simon's part to persuade them. The delay had given Jim time to book flights and a hotel. Unfortunately, it also gave Blair time to tie himself in emotional knots. Blair had hardly slept the previous night and was running on fumes all through the day. By mid afternoon Jim had had enough and had sent his guide home with instructions to get some sleep or meditate or both. Blair had apologized and gone back to the loft, if not willingly, then at least without argument. By the time Jim got home the vaguest hints of sandalwood incense told him which option Blair had chosen. Blair had also cooked; lemon chicken.

"Smells good, Chief," Jim commented to an empty room.

A newly showered and shaved guide stepped out of the bathroom. "I figured we should get a good meal before the flight tomorrow," Blair responded.

"It's not a last meal, Chief."

Blair shrugged. "Well you know in-flight meals are pretty bad and who knows what we're going to get to eat in Orlando. I just thought it would be a good idea … you know …to eat."

Jim smiled. "Eating is good, Chief."

"It won't be ready for another thirty minutes if you want to shower," Blair suggested.

"I think I'll pack first."

Removing his jacket, Jim made his way upstairs. He was a little surprised when Blair followed him, but said nothing. Jim had no problem with Blair being in his bedroom, but for two men who lived in such close proximity, they seemed to have some sort of unspoken agreement, and rarely invaded each other's private space. Blair sat on the bed as Jim pulled out a duffle bag and started removing socks and boxers from his drawers.

"I know I haven't handled this well, Jim, and I'm grateful for your patience, man. It's been a lot to take in, you know." Blair didn't look up as he spoke, playing with his fingers.

"You've handled it better than I would, Chief," Jim said honestly. "I don't know how I would have reacted, but having my life turned upside down would have had me climbing the walls. Don't beat yourself up about how you've coped, Blair." Jim continued to pack as he spoke.

"That's sort of what I wanted to talk about, Jim." Blair stopped and Jim turned to find startling blue eyes staring at him. Jim wasn't sure what response was needed from him.

"What?" he asked hoping it covered all eventualities.

"When … if," Blair corrected himself. "We find Alex and the baby." He stopped again. The two men maintained eye contact. "I want to bring the baby home … here …If it's okay with you." Blair paused and then launched himself. "I know it would be difficult and we don't have a lot of space, but we could make it work. It would mean changes and we'd have to work with your senses to dial back on all those bad baby smells and the crying and stuff, but we could make it work, I know we could. And it's important, you know, for a child to have two parents. Not that I'm suggesting that we're a couple or anything, but a child couldn't have a better role model than you. And I know I would have to cut back on some of my hours at the University and at the PD, but we could find some day care. Maybe we could get the PD to start a crèche. In fact, Rainier already has one and I could enroll her there. That would make things easier. From what I've heard it's pretty good and not too expensive."

Jim waited for Blair to stop; he knew it was nerves that made him run off at the mouth like this. He stood leaning against the wardrobe, arms crossed. When Blair ran out of steam Jim knelt down in front of his partner and deliberately took his time in replying. He wanted Blair to hear what he was saying and take it in.

"When we find Alex and you decide you want to bring the baby back to Cascade, I will support you any way I can. This is your home, Chief, and that means it's your daughter's home too. I would be honored to be a substitute dad for her, though I'm not changing diapers after midnight."

Blair smiled at that. Good, thought Jim, he is hearing what I'm saying.

"And if we have to make changes round here then we make changes. It wouldn't be so bad. You're on your own with Simon, though. You want day care at the PD, then that's your crusade. I'm not taking on the Chief over another of your schemes, Sandburg." Jim teased his partner and got the chuckle he had been aiming for.

"Hey, the quit smoking support is a great success," Blair pushed back.

"Tell that to Simon, Sandburg."

In an effort to make PD Headquarters a completely smoke free zone, Blair had persuaded the Chief of Police to pilot the project with Major Crime, which was fine with everyone but Simon, who had been forced to leave his office whenever he wanted to light up one of his cigars. Blair had signed Simon up for the support group. Jim still wasn't sure how Blair had escaped alive from Simon's office when he had told the captain.

"If this is what you want, Blair, then we'll make it happen." Jim stood, his knees cracking at the effort and he ruffled the younger man's hair. "You packed?" Jim asked changing the subject.

"Almost," Blair replied. He stood and made his way to the stairs. "Thanks, Jim," he said quietly and fled down to the lower level.

Jim chuckled to himself. Things would change around here with another Sandburg in the loft. He groaned quietly. Two Sandburgs! Life was suddenly very complicated.

********************

March 30th

Jim managed the flight with Blair's help, but as they drove from the Holiday Inn Express to the pharmacy, Jim was left with a head that felt as though it was stuffed with cotton wadding. A shower at the hotel hadn't done much to improve things. Maybe I can pick something up when we get to the pharmacy, Jim thought, and smiled at the irony of that.

Their destination was a small outdoor shopping center on the outskirts of Orlando, about two miles from Disney. A large parking lot was surrounded on three sides by stores of all shapes and sizes, with the pharmacy on the right hand side. Jim parked the Chevy Trailblazer they had rented and strode to the entrance. Blair followed him. It took Jim only seconds to locate the dispensary inside the store and, as he checked out the notice to one side of the counter, he removed his PD badge from his pocket and approached the short balding man who was talking to a young female customer. Jim waited.

"Aaron Henken?" Jim asked, showing his badge.

The man squinted behind his glasses and cleared his throat. "How can I help you … Detective Ellison?"

"I'm working in conjunction with the FBI." Jim didn't mind obfuscating a little when it helped him. "We are hoping you can help us locate a missing felon, a woman called Alex Barnes. It is possible she may be using an alias, but this is a photo of her."

Blair put the Cascade PD mug shot on the counter.

"Take a close look, Mr. Henken. Have you seen this woman? We believe she is coming here to collect a very specialized prescription."

For some reason Jim held back on naming Alex's drug. The man picked up the photo and stared intently at it. Jim registered his reaction; heart rate up, rise in body temperature, a slight tremor in the extremities. Putting the photograph back on the counter and pushing it back towards Blair; Henken shuffled his feet and wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers.

"I'm sorry detective, I don't recognize her, but we have an awful lot of customers as you can imagine and I'm not the only pharmacist. Perhaps I can show this to my colleagues?"

Henken adjusted his glasses and Jim recognized the gesture as a nervous tic. The balding man had repeated the movement several times already. He's lying through his teeth, thought Jim.

"It could be she has changed her appearance." Blair pushed the photo back towards the pharmacist. "Dyed her hair, cut it short. Look again Mr. Henken."

The nervous man licked his lips and gave the photo a cursory glance. "No, I'm sorry. Now if you'll excuse me, I am very busy."

He started to turn his back, but Jim spoke again. "Maybe we need to put this another way, Aaron." Jim watched with grim delight as the man jumped at the use of his first name. "You are dispensing E-four-two-four-H to this woman and we want to know where she lives." Jim stepped in close to the counter and hardened the tone of his voice.

There was a small moment of silence before Henken stepped back and spoke again, his voice several pitches higher than before.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he blustered, his fingers clutching at the joint of his glasses where the frame met the arms. "I have never heard of E-four-two-four-H and I have never seen this woman. Now I suggest you leave before I call security." The man was breathing heavily.

Blair moved forward, but Jim put out an arm to stop him. "Let's go, Chief."

Jim felt Blair bristling beside him as they left the store.

"He was lying," Blair muttered.

"I know, Chief, and we rattled him. So now we wait and see what shakes loose."

Blair took a deep breath. As they reached the Chevy, he looked up. "There's a Subway over there. I'm going to grab something. Do you want anything?" he asked.

"Get my usual, Chief, but don't be too long; we need to be ready if he takes off."

Jim sat in the rental car watching Blair make his way through parked cars. He knew his guide was tense. He felt it too. They were so close he could almost taste it. Jim sat up. If Alex was this close then maybe he could track her with his senses, use the tension he was feeling to bring them to Alex and the baby. He needed to talk this through with Blair, see if they could do it. Jim got out of the truck and hit the button to lock the vehicle. Heading towards Subway, he looked back and saw Aaron Henken scurrying from the pharmacy. Jim turned and rushed back to the Chevy. Backing out of the parking space, Jim looked towards the Subway, willing his partner to appear, and then back to where Henken was getting into a Lincoln town car.

"Come on, Sandburg," Jim muttered under his breath.

As if in answer, Blair came out of the Subway, sipping at a straw in a large cup. Jim put the Chevy into drive and raced towards his partner. As Jim came to a stop, Blair threw the cup on the ground and jumped in beside Jim.

"What?" he asked, as the bag containing their subs went roughly on the back seat and he pulled on his seatbelt.

"Henken is on the move."

Jim pushed the Chevy to the limit as he made his way around the parking lot, avoiding pedestrians and slow moving vehicles. "Damn it, move!" he shouted at two women parked by the curb loading groceries into a station wagon.

"Easy, man," Blair encouraged.

Jim got to the exit as Henken took a right off the road that fronted the mall and disappeared from sight. Jim pulled the SUV in front of another vehicle, causing it to brake hard. Blair grabbed the interior door handle. Fortunately, there was nothing approaching from the left as Jim turned right to follow the pharmacist. Up ahead Jim could see the Lincoln.

"I got him," Jim sighed.

"Good!" exclaimed Blair and let go of the handle.

They followed Henken for nearly three miles before he pulled into a condo complex. Solid wrought iron gates closed behind the Lincoln before Jim had a chance to see what code Henken had punched in.

"Think he's run to Alex?" Blair asked as Jim pulled the car to a halt a hundred yards from the gates.

"Either that or he's gone to ground." Jim paused and considered. "My guess is he has gone home. I can't believe Alex would leave herself vulnerable to someone like Henken."

Blair nodded. "So what now?" he asked.

"We eat those subs. It could be a long wait, Chief."

Blair took off his seatbelt and reached behind him. He handed Jim his sandwich and unwrapped his own.

"No coffee, Chief?" Jim asked.

"You hate Subway coffee, Jim," Blair mumbled around his food.

"Any coffee is better than none, Sandburg."

"I have water." Blair reached into the door pocket and pulled out the bottle.

"That is not coffee," Jim uttered, stating the obvious as he wiped his chin of marinara sauce.

Blair raised his eyebrows and handed the water to Jim. "Drink it, Ellison, and be grateful. I dumped a perfectly good Dr. Pepper in the parking lot."

Behind the remains of his sandwich, Jim muttered something unsympathetic which he knew Blair wouldn't be able to hear or at least understand.

"Nice, Jim. Nice," Blair smiled. "Next time you get the food."

"Damn right, and at least we'll have coffee."

Food finished, the two men chatted amicably until the conversation stalled and they sat in companionable silence. An hour had passed before Jim broke the silence.

"I was thinking, Sandburg." Blair opened his mouth to give some smart ass reply, but Jim held up a solitary finger in warning. "Can we use my senses to track Alex? Not in the can I smell her, hear her, see her way, but maybe backtrack on this itchy feeling between my shoulder blades way?"

Blair's open mouth changed to a look of annoyance. "You have itchy shoulder blades and you haven't told me?" He was indignant.

"It only came on this afternoon when we were with Henken. I forgot to mention it until now." Jim knew he sounded defensive.

Blair sighed and scrubbed his hand through his hair. "Okay let's look at this logically. Are these feelings the same as the ones you had last time?" Blair asked, turning in his seat to face Jim.

"No, totally different," Jim stated.

Blair waited. "Details, Jim," he prompted.

"There's no feeling of threat, no feeling of … um … attraction. In fact it's more of a cop thing, than a sentinel thing."

"Like a hunch?" questioned Blair.

"Exactly," Jim answered, staring into the distance.

"Okay. Well, we've never done this before, but I'm sure we can come up with something."

Blair was lost in thought as Jim shifted imperceptibly in his seat, leaning forward.

"We need to refine what you're feeling, Jim. See if we can use it as some sort of tracking system," Blair suggested, still deep in contemplation.

"No we don't, Sandburg," Jim said quietly.

"Look, Jim, I know you don't like talking about your feelings and you hate tests, but we have to do this. It might be our only chance to find Alex," Blair persisted.

"No, Chief."

"Jim, we don't have a choice. You have to do this." Blair stared at Jim.

"No, Chief." Jim grabbed Blair's chin and twisted his head round. A red car had just disappeared through the gates.

"What?" Blair demanded.

"Alex was in that car." Jim explained.

Blair jumped. "Did you get the code, Jim?"

"Does your hair clog up the drain, Chief?" Jim asked smugly.

"No," Blair protested. "Yes," he added lamely and then, realizing what Jim meant, smiled. "Then what are we waiting for?"

"You, to get out of the car, Sandburg."

The two men approached the gates. Jim tapped in the code and they walked through. The access road led past four condo blocks before it bent round to the right and continued out of sight. From what Jim could see, each block consisted of four units around a common swimming pool. Parking was outside in a fan shape, delineating each block from the other. At the point where the road bent to the right, a single one-storey unit hugged the corner. Bigger than the rest of the units, it was the only one to have garage parking. They checked each block for signs of either the red hatchback or the Lincoln. Turning with the road they were faced with another four condo blocks, a replica of the earlier one. Neither car could be seen. Jim turned back to look at the corner. He slipped his gun from its holster, flicked off the safety and made sure there was one in the chamber.

"Keep behind me, Chief."

They approached cautiously. Dropping down behind a car parked outside the condo block nearest to the single storey building, Jim turned to explain his plan to Blair when, without warning, the air was rent with a massive explosion. The shock wave knocked both men off their feet. As the debris settled, the only noise that could be heard was the cacophony of car alarms.

********************

By the time the paramedics arrived Jim had regained consciousness. Bad scrapes on the right knee and elbow were painful but not serious. A cut above the right eye was evidence of what had knocked him out. Blair was still flat on his back. The first thing Jim had done on coming round had been to check his guide. There was a good-sized lump on the back of his head and a sore shoulder, but other than that he had gotten off lightly. They both had. Blair woke up as the paramedics worked, complaining loudly. Once he was sure Jim was relatively unharmed, his immediate concern was the fate of Alex and the baby. Jim helped Blair to his feet and waited while he stopped swaying.

"We need to get checked out at the hospital Blair. I've told the emergency services what to look for."

It wasn't just the shaky legs that caused Blair to stumble up into the ambulance; it was Jim's use of the word 'what' instead of 'who'.

********************

March 31st

Patched up and warned about the contra indications of head injury, the two men were released from the ER in the small hours of Friday morning. A cab took them back to where they had left the Chevy. The wrought iron gates were standing open and a forensic crime scene unit was still present at the now demolished building, working under arc lights. In a moment of unspoken mutual agreement they both left the rental car and walked up to the smoldering ruins. They stood silently watching the crime scene team work.

"Can you smell it, Chief?" Jim asked quietly.

Blair shook his head. He looked pale and Jim could see the pain that caused him to squint against the arc lights in the dark.

"The smell of human flesh."

Blair turned and walked back the way they had come. A tall red-headed woman approached Jim.

"Sir, this is a crime scene. I'm going to have to ask you to leave," she spoke.

Slowly Jim removed his wallet and flipped it to show his badge.

"Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade PD," Jim introduced himself.

"You're a little out of your jurisdiction detective, but I'm not surprised to see you here. I spoke to your captain earlier this evening to advise him of your injuries just out of courtesy. Captain Daisy Austen, at your service." The tall woman held out her hand. Jim shook it.

"Can you tell me what you've found?" Jim asked.

"We've removed two bodies; a middle-aged man and an infant. We are convinced there are no other DB's in the remains."

Jim hung his head. Christ, how was he going to tell Blair, he wondered. "Are you sure?" he mumbled, not really caring.

"I'm sure detective. Look, you guys look beat, why don't you go back to your hotel. Come into my office tomorrow and I'll show you the preliminary report. It will be ready by two."

Jim had turned after Captain Austen had referred to both of them. Blair was standing behind him, had heard everything she had said. I must be more tired than I thought, Jim realized, if Blair can come up behind me without me knowing. Jim knew he wouldn't have to be the bearer of bad tidings. Part of him was grateful for that.

"Come on, Jim, let's go." Blair turned, not waiting to see if Jim followed.

The drive back to the hotel was completed in silence. Blair declined Jim's offer of room service and grabbed the first shower. When Jim had finished washing off the grime of the day, his sandwich and coffee were waiting. So was Blair. Jim sat in the one comfortable chair while Blair took the hard-backed chair serving the desk. He turned it to face Jim. Rubbing his temples, Blair asked the question that had been plaguing Jim.

"What happened to Alex?"

Jim got up, grabbed a diet coke from the mini bar and handed it to his partner with the pain pills the hospital had given them. It was a mark of Blair's hurt that he took the pills without argument.

"My best guess is she got out before the explosion." Jim continued to eat, knowing he was leaving out the most important part.

"And would it be your guess that she set the explosion?" There was an anger underlying Blair's words.

Jim nodded, his mouth full.

"Don't treat me like a child, Jim. I'm not going to break. After all the things I've been through in the past three years, you of all people should know that." The anger had reached Blair's eyes.

"You're right, I'm sorry. I just didn't want to make it any harder for you." Jim knew he had made a mistake, even if it was borne out of good intentions.

Blair stared at Jim and then stood. "I shouldn't have done this." Jim kept quiet, letting the younger man vent uninterrupted. "I wove this into some sort of happy-ever-after fucking fairytale. You, me, the baby. Shit, all we were missing was the white picket fence and the roses round the door. This woman fucking killed me and I expected her to play by the rules. I know she's a sociopath and here I am imagining her playing at mother of the year. What was I thinking, Jim?"

"You did what you thought was right, Chief. You wanted to save the child."

"You mean she played me. Just like she played me the last time … and to think I was angry at you for being so taken in by her. What a jerk!"

Jim assumed Blair was referring to himself. "Blair …" he interrupted.

"No, Jim, no more platitudes. I know you mean well and I can't tell you how grateful I am for your support, but this bitch …" Blair fairly spat out the word, "is going down and she will never see the light of day again. She killed an innocent child. She doesn't deserve to live." Blair's voice subsided, but Jim could see the anger in his eyes, fuelling an icy coldness Jim couldn't remember seeing in his partner before.

"My head hurts, I'm going to sleep."

Jim watched his guide undress, slip into bed and turn off the light. Sitting in the gloom, Jim let thoughts of the day wash over him. He knew he was angry at Alex too; angry for the lives she had taken, angry for the pain she had caused his partner and was as determined as Blair that justice would be served. Yet he mourned too, just as he knew Blair would mourn eventually, for a lost chance, a lost child, a lost daughter. He rose with a sigh, stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers and slept on top of the covers.

********************

Jim and Blair arrived at the headquarters of the Orlando PD just before two PM. They were swiftly directed to the third floor, where Daisy Austen was the captain of Homicide. Coffee was available from a dispensing machine in the bullpen itself and both men were surprised to be asked to sit around a desk in the bullpen. Daisy explained that she believed that whatever was good enough for the men and women under her command was good enough for her. There was a small room for private discussions which she offered to use but Blair declined the gesture, stating that the captain's desk was fine. Captain Austen had produced copies of the preliminary autopsy report. Both men read in silence. Blair finished before Jim.

"Is the M.E. absolutely certain?" he asked.

Austen nodded. "The child was dead before the explosion, possibly several days before and probably of natural causes."

"Probably?" Blair pushed.

"Further tests are being done and my man won't commit himself until he has all the results in, but …yeah … probably."

"When will he have the results in?" Jim asked.

"Three or four days," the redhead replied.

There was a short awkward silence which was broken by Captain Austen clearing her throat. "Captain Banks has given me some brief details surrounding the case, but I do have some questions for you, if you can answer them."

"Fire away," Jim suggested with a glance at Blair, who was still staring at the photographs in the file.

"We have no in-State record of a child being born to an Alex Barnes or any of her other known aliases within the stipulated time frame," Captain Austen continued. "It is, of course, entirely possible that she used a different name, but checking that out is going to take a lot of man hours. We have no missing person's reports on a child of this age and to be honest, without more to go on, if the death turns out to be from natural causes, I don't know if I can justify the time it would take. What would help would be if either of you can confirm categorically that Alex Barnes is the mother of this child."

Both men spoke at the same time.

"Yes," said Blair.

"No," said Jim.

They started at each other.

Blair sighed. "Detective Ellison is right. We don't know for certain. However there might be a way we can speed up your enquiries." Taking a deep breath, Blair continued. "Alex Barnes led us to believe that I am the father of the child. A DNA swab from me compared against the baby should clear that up." Blair stared at the Homicide captain almost daring her to delve behind those words.

Austen's face softened. "I wasn't aware of that, Mr. Sandburg." She paused. "How likely is it to be true?"

Jim saw the captain flinch as she realized the words had come out harsher than she intended. Blair paled.

Captain Austen spoke hurriedly. "We can carry out the test here." She was trying to make things up to the younger man. "If you want to go down to the labs I can let Dr. Lane know you're coming."

Blair nodded.

"How long before you can release the body?" Jim asked.

Captain Austen looked even more crestfallen as though the answer was somehow her fault. "Until all the tests have been concluded and the M.E. has signed off we have to keep her here. I'm sorry," Austen offered to both men.

"It's okay captain, we understand the red tape." Jim held out his hand as he stood.

"Will you wait until the body is released before you go back to Cascade?" she asked.

"No." Blair stood quickly. "We've wasted enough time on Alex Barnes already."

Jim turned to look in surprise at his partner. The anger was still there, pulling the skin tight at the corners of his mouth and eyes. "But we will take you up on the offer of DNA testing, Captain, if that's still on the table?" Jim put in firmly, ignoring Blair.

Captain Austen nodded. "Dr. Lane's lab is the first door on the right as you step out of the elevator on the fifth floor. I'll let him know you're coming." She picked up the phone as the two men left the room.

In the elevator Jim hit the button with the number five on it. "This gets settled, Chief, one way or another. We both need answers to this one," he said firmly, letting some of his own anger show. Blair didn't reply.

********************

Blair hadn't wanted to go back to the hotel. Jim drove them there anyway. He had previously noticed a small grassed area off to one side with a pond hidden behind a copse of small trees. When he stopped the car Blair sat in the passenger seat, not moving. Jim let the silence stretch. It had been a bad twenty-four hours. Eventually Blair turned to him. The anger was still there, but it was matched in equal parts by sadness and resignation. Jim didn't know what to do to make it right for his partner. Before he could say anything, Blair spoke. "Let's go home, Jim."

"Is that what you want, Chief?"

"To be honest, Jim, I'm not sure what I want anymore."

Blair got out of the car and walked towards the pond. Jim followed. Before Jim was able to catch up with his partner he could hear his words.

"You were right back there, we have absolutely no proof that the child was mine and yet right from the get go, that's what I've accepted as gospel. Why would I do that? You would think the three years with Major Crime and a lifetime of logical reasoned study and research would have made me the ultimate skeptic. So why did I do it, Jim?"

Blair dropped to a squat, picking up small stones that lay scattered around the edge of the pond. "Was I that desperate?" Blair turned and threw the pebble across the water, watching it skip.

Jim stood next to his partner sorting through his own pebbles. Choosing one, he sent it towards the centre of the pond. It dropped into the water after its second bounce. He tried again and managed three skips. Blair's next pebble had twice as many bounces.

"It's all in the wrist and the angle, Jim," Blair advised with half a smile on his face.

Jim dropped the remaining stones and rubbed the dirt from his hands and pushed them into the pockets of his pants. "Blair, you're the only person I know who always puts others before yourself. You always look for the best in people. You are a good man, Chief, and that means you are always going to be let down. You knew what Alex was like, but when an innocent was at risk you wanted … no, needed, to do something. Maybe believing the baby was yours was your way of justifying your reaction." Jim desperately wanted to help his partner.

"I think you're wrong, Jim." Blair dropped to sit cross-legged on the ground. Jim sat next to him.

"Nothing new there then." There was a note of depression in Jim's voice.

"Don't put yourself down, man." Blair nudged Jim's shoulder with his own. "Yeah I think I wanted this baby to be mine, but I think there's something missing in my life that I thought a baby would fill." Blair fell silent and Jim felt the resonance of that statement down to his toes.

"You mean being my guide isn't enough?" Jim hated to ask the question but couldn't not ask it. He waited on a knife edge for Blair to answer.

"Do you remember what I told you when you first came to me at the University?" Blair asked.

"Would that be the throwback to a breed of pre-civilized man or the thing about jungle drums in modern music?"

Blair chuckled. "Not those, man. I told you that you were the real thing and I meant it, I really did and you still are, but … maybe I need something more." Blair paused. "Maybe I'm just getting old." Blair's fingers played with the earth as a distraction to his words.

Jim took a deep breath. "Do you still want to be my guide?" Suddenly he felt as though his whole world was about as secure as the clouds that scudded across the sky.

Blair went to his knees and looked Jim in the eyes. He pushed himself into Jim's personal space and, as Jim returned Blair's earnest gaze, he was momentarily lost in the myriad shades of blue he found there. Blair was smiling sweetly at him.

"Only you would ask that," he sighed as though explaining something to an inattentive child. "Whatever it is I am missing, if I am missing anything, one thing I know without a doubt is that you are still the real thing, Jim, my real thing. I couldn't go back to what I was before I met you even if I wanted to and I don't. I need this, Jim." Blair's hand fluttered between them as though it highlighted some unseen connection. "It's what I am now. What we are. You don't get rid of me that easily," he finished, relieving the intensity with a chuckle.

Jim felt the lump in his throat and swallowed. He maintained eye contact with his guide until he felt able to return the smile. "Home it is then, Chief."

He patted Blair's shoulder and watched the younger man spring to his feet.

"Want a hand up, old man?" Blair laughed and offered an outstretched hand. Jim allowed his partner to pull him up but then held on to that hand. Jim wanted to say something profound, something deep and meaningful, to tell his guide how much he appreciated him, but he couldn't find the words. But then he didn't need to.

"I know, Jim. I know."

********************

April 8th

Jim Ellison's phone rang. His official observer answered, as Jim was getting coffee and flirting with the girl who sold muffins.

"Mr. Sandburg, it's Captain Austen from Orlando PD."

Jim looked up and concentrated on his partner. They had been waiting for this call.

"Hi, Captain Austen. What can I do for you?"

Blair looked up and caught his sentinel's eye.

"I wanted to call you myself. We have the results of the DNA test."

Jim sat down next to his partner and put a blueberry muffin in front of him.

"I'm afraid the DNA shows that you were not the father of the child." Blair stayed quiet. "I've had your fax and have released the body to the funeral home you chose. I understand they will be contacting you as soon as the body reaches Cascade. A full copy of the autopsy is on its way to you."

"Thank you, Captain." Blair's voice was calm and steady. "We appreciate all your help."

Jim watched his partner put the phone down. "You okay?" he asked quietly, not wanting to attract attention.

Blair looked up at him. "Surprisingly, yes." Blair sat back in his chair and then looked at Jim. "If not mine, then whose?"

Jim sipped his coffee. He shrugged his shoulders. "We can ask Dan to run the baby's DNA through CODIS, see if it throws anything up."

"Okay," Blair agreed. He bit into the muffin and chewed thoughtfully. "I'm not a father," he said to Jim. There was no surprise in his voice, but maybe a little sadness.

"Being a father isn't just about genes and DNA, Blair," Jim told him. "You were that little girl's father for a few days. In here, where it counts." Jim touched his partner's chest.

Blair merely nodded. "Everyone needs a father," he said eventually.

Now it was Jim's turn to nod, realizing the double meaning in Blair's words. "Let's go see Dan."

Blair picked up his coffee and the two men left the bullpen, together.

********************

April 10th

Dan Wolfe rarely left his laboratories, so when he knocked on Simon's door; the tall black man was surprised to see him.

"Come in, Dan. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

He offered the M.E. coffee, which was accepted with a curt nod of the head.

"Not good news I'm afraid. I have the results on baby Barnes."

"Sit down. Tell me." Simon ordered.

********************

"Sandburg, what did your last servant die of?" Jim yelled from the bathroom.

Blair was running a pick through his unruly curls as Jim came into the living area with two wet towels.

"Sorry, man, I forgot. Ow!" Blair pulled a clump of wet knotted hair from the teeth of the pick.

"Going bald, Chief?" Jim joked.

"You wish," Blair retorted good naturedly.

Depositing the towels into a basket that was going down to the wash later that day, Jim glanced at Blair's laptop.

"Sandburg, you've got email."

An icon blinked in the corner of the screen.

"I'll get to it, Jim."

Blair pulled the last piece of hair from the pick and put it in the wastebasket by the side of the couch. Having combed all the knots out of his hair, Blair ran his fingers through his curls, fluffing his hair up.

"Want tea?" Jim asked from the kitchen.

"Green tea with lemon please," he replied as he made his way to the table.

Blair hit the touch pad and a list of incoming mail dropped down. Jim heard the jump in Blair's heart rate before Blair was able to speak.

"Jim! There's another email from Alex. It's for you."

"For me?" Jim queried. He moved from the kitchen and came to stand behind Blair's chair. "Open it up, Chief."

Blair clicked 'read'. Both men read the words. Blair was the first to speak.

"Oh my God, Jim." He pulled his eyes from the words to look at the man standing behind him.

There was a knock at the door. Simon stood in the doorway, a folder in his hands.

"I need to speak to Jim," he said.

Blair saw sadness in his eyes. He put two and two together. "I think we already know, Simon."

Turning, Blair went back to his sentinel and steered him to the couch, where the shocked man sat down. Simon took the seat opposite and put the folder on the coffee table. None of the men spoke. On the table, the laptop still showed the email from Alex Barnes. Its simple words were stark.

'R.I.P. Rachel Alexandra Ellison.'

********************

Diary entry - May 13th

Blair told me a journal would be a good thing; help me sort through my issues. On this he's wrong. I don't have issues. I never had a daughter, I never was a father, not in the real meaning of the word. He wants me to acknowledge the baby as my own, but I can't see the point. It won't change anything; I will still feel the same. Blair says he knows what I am going through, but he doesn't. He thought he was a father, he thought he had a child and he wanted both those things. I didn't, I don't. He means well and I appreciate what he is trying to do; he is caring for me, looking out for me, like he always does. Nothing has changed though; I'm still Jim Ellison, detective and sentinel. It's what I'll always be.

I'm not going to write in this journal anymore. It's too hard and it won't make a difference.

But I would have been a great dad.

The End

Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Rae.

Back to Rae's page.