By Vision

  Beta Read by: Gemini
Written for PetFly by: Harold Apter and Juan Carlos Coto
Rated PG

~~~~~~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~~~~~~

"When’s the last time you went on a date?" Blair asks, in between bites of his bagel.

He catches me just before I’m about to take a large bite of my donut. My mouth is hanging open, and I swear he timed that remark perfectly. I figure that there are two ways that I can handle this situation, one that will land me an hour-long lecture, and one that will hopefully get him off of my case.

"I don’t think that’s any of your business, Sandburg. You’re crossing that line again."

Blair waves a hand dismissively and downs the last of his juice before answering. "This has nothing to do with the Sentinel stuff. I’m just curious."

I can see where this is heading now, and I can feel my defense mechanisms locking into place.

"Remember the old saying, curiosity killed the cat? Well, I think that applies here quite nicely."

He’s smiling now, flashing me that "I’ve got an idea" look. I hate that look, it always spells trouble.

"I’ve got an idea, Jim. You’ve got tonight off, right? What do you say the two of us paint the town red?"

I know I’m going to regret this, but the thought of maybe getting in a few games of pool, downing a couple of beers, and generally unwinding, sounds pretty tempting.

"Under one condition, Chief. You keep out of my love life, do you hear me?"

He does the old "Scout’s honor" sign, and I’m pretty damn sure Blair Sandburg was never a Boy Scout.

"Scout’s honor, man. I’m strictly there as an observer."

If it weren’t for that tiny blip in his heart rate, I might even have believed him…

I’m just about to polish off the remains of my breakfast, when the phone rings. Blair rolls his eyes in the direction of the phone, but makes no attempt to answer it. He knows as well as I do that the only person who calls this early in the morning is Simon. I get this hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach as I reach for the receiver. I just hope that it’s not another one of those robberies again. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep my emotions in check if it is. I’ve managed to keep my feelings regarding this case from Sandburg up until now, but I’m not sure I can do it any longer.

Blair listens in on my conversation, and before I’ve hung up the phone has already put on his shoes and jacket. He hands my jacket out to me as I walk towards the door. All I can do is hope that he doesn’t notice that tremor in my hand as I take it from him. I keep telling myself that the tremors are just an aftereffect from the bullet wound to my shoulder just a few weeks ago, but even I find that hard to believe.

We arrive at the crime scene, and I find myself drawn to the vault.

*There it is again. What’s happening to me? Get a grip, Ellison.*

I shake my head, trying to clear the fog from my brain. Fog? No, it’s more like a mist, a light dew that drizzles its way along my senses, enveloping everything in its path. It feels good, sensual, and at the same time…forbidden. I feel helpless, drawn to the light sprinkling of sensations that cool and heat my body at the same time. I can almost taste its sweetness, a nectar born of passionate promises. My hands tremble as I near the vault.

"You picking up something?" Blair tosses me a concerned glance from across the room.

I nod, not wanting to let my hand fall away from the door of the safe. "It’s kind of hard to define. Well, maybe it’s just a nervous reaction."

He presses me about my findings, wanting to know every detail of what I’m feeling. I guess this is as good a time as any to tell him that I’ve felt this way before. I honestly didn’t think it was important. I never really made the connection between the other robbery scenes and this one until now.

I can practically see the wheels in Blair’s head turning. The two old men in the room with us have taken to whispering in the corner. I’m sure they think we’re some kind of lunatics.

Blair has me walking around the room measuring intensity levels. I can feel a kind of shift as I near the safe, but part of me is unsure of exactly what it is I’m feeling.

I’ve taken the old men’s statements, and quite frankly I’m ready to leave. The thieves really cashed in this time: five hundred thousand dollars’ worth of jewels. The question is, how did they manage to break into the window of a building thirty stories up?

I don’t say anything on the elevator ride down to the lobby. I can feel Blair’s eyes on me, a million unanswered questions running through his head. He waits until we exit the building before he asks me the one uppermost in his mind.

"So it’s gone now?"

"Everything’s back to normal," I say, trying to avoid a lengthy, drawn-out conversation.

Of course, Blair is not as quick to dismiss things as I am, and we end up talking all the way back to the truck.

"You can’t just let this go, Jim. I really think you should tell Simon what’s going on."

I do my best to keep my eyes on the road, but I can’t help but give him a quick sideways glance.

"No!" I really didn’t mean for the word to sound so abrupt, but sometimes the kid just drives me to the brink of insanity. This is my job, dammit. I can’t go around "feeling" my way through it. I need proof, hard evidence, something concrete. Sometimes I wonder if Sandburg’s feet ever touch the ground.

I try to lighten the conversation a bit, suggesting places where we might spend our evening out together. At least he’s smart enough to let this one go, but I’m never sure for how long. Blair Sandburg has a way of bringing things up at inopportune times.

We park the truck and head up the elevator to Simon’s office. Another robbery, and still no leads. I don’t need sentinel senses to feel a lecture coming on.

I can see the lines of tension in Simon’s face as we enter the office. We take up positions in chairs in front of his desk and await the inevitable speech that he no doubt has been rehearsing for the last hour.

"There’s been seven robberies in the past three months, each netting over a hundred thousand dollars in gems, all pulled off by daredevil acrobatic stunts."

I can hear the frustration in his voice, and find myself thinking out loud. "They’ve beaten every security system just by doing things nobody would expect."

Blair nods in my direction and then adds his two cents’ worth. "High wires, trapeze, and now this."

I try to replay the robbery scene in my head, blocking out the feelings that only manage to complicate the case. If I can just keep things in perspective, take in the evidence without my emotions getting the best of me, I’m sure I can crack this. "It’s as if they swung down from the roof on a cable and broke through the glass," I say, not really expecting a reply.

Simon looks at me dejectedly, as a resigned sigh passes from his lips. "Maybe they should sell tickets," he murmurs, more to himself than to us.

I feel a bit uncomfortable with my next statement, and I’m just hoping that he keeps an open mind. "Well, actually, sir, we’ve been checking out circuses, local gymnastics teams, that sort of thing, to see if any of their people had records. One high-wire act — it played Cascade a couple of months ago. They came up clean. Also, none of the out-of-towners that have stayed in Cascade have been here more than a couple of weeks."

Simon doesn’t seem to find this theory ridiculous, and I’m more than happy to leave with my dignity intact. He tells us to, "Keep at it," and I move towards the door. I assume that Blair is going to follow at my heels, but no such luck.

*He wouldn’t!* I whisper to myself.

"Wait. There’s something new with Jim’s senses," he blurts out, totally oblivious to the fact that my face has taken on this charming shade of red.

I can feel the fire in my cheeks flaring as Simon looks me in the eye.

"I don’t think we need to bother the captain," I manage to grind out, gesturing for Blair to make a hasty exit.

"What’s he talking about, Jim?"

"Nothing, sir."

Blair tosses aside my best attempt at visual daggers and continues. "This is not nothing, Jim."

Simon, being the practical man that he is, asks Blair if this new "development" will in some way benefit the case. For the first time in our working relationship, Blair is at a loss for words. If only I could harness that moment…


We spend the rest of the day basically chasing our tails. Whoever these guys are, they’re definitely professionals; there’s no doubt in my mind. By the time five o’clock rolls around, I’m actually looking forward to our evening out. A distraction is just what I need right now. This case is really starting to bug me. If there isn’t a break soon, I’m thinking about making Sandburg join the circus.

We stop at the loft to change, and I find myself being scrutinized by two piercing blue eyes.

"You’re not gonna wear that, are you? Come on, Jim. You gotta, you know, put yourself out there."

I can feel the redness in my cheeks quickly returning. "Put myself out there?"

Sandburg’s doing that ridiculous little… movement that he says drives the women wild. Personally, I think he’s acting like some kind of animal during mating season. Hell, what do I know? He’s the one with the full calendar and the black book. Maybe he has a point.

I can’t believe I’m actually going upstairs to change. For some reason, I feel compelled to listen to him. I don’t quite know why, but whatever it is, it certainly has gotten the best of me. He even talks me into using some of that cologne that he boasts about, what next? The kid will probably have me wearing plaid and growing my hair long if I don’t be careful.

~~~~~~~~~~ Act II ~~~~~~~~~~

Sandburg certainly does have a way with women. Here I am, still nursing my first beer, and he’s already got two girls sitting with us. I’m really not used to this kind of thing, and I’m feeling incredibly awkward. Maybe a bit of fresh air will help.

"Where are you going, man? What’s the problem?"

I was really hoping that he would just let me leave on my own, but no such luck. "You didn’t have to pounce on the first two girls that smiled at you here," I say, rather defensively.

Sandburg sees right through my insecurities and meets me head on.

"Come on, Jim. That’s the way it’s done, you know? You just got to hit it, you know?"

How can anyone argue with "Sandburg" logic?

"Sandburg, I’m just not really good at this kind of stuff, you know?"

He’s smiling now, and I find myself relaxing a bit under the weight of his gaze. He seems to have this grounding effect on me that I can’t quite explain. I remember feeling it on the bridge when we were with Brackett. He was holding me, literally keeping me upright, pulling me back towards him. I wonder sometimes if he had pushed instead of pulled, if he could have talked me into taking a step forward…

"Just, just relax, man. Take it easy. The important thing is, just roll with it."

I try to respond, when something strikes me. I’d like to say it’s like lightning, but that would be wrong. It’s more subtle, almost like a wave, breaking over me, leaving me breathless and gasping for air. It feels cool, not cold, not hot, just cool. I can’t quite explain it, and part of me really doesn’t want to explain it anyway. Whatever it is, or should I say whoever it is, has just swept me away with the tide. I’m feeling light-headed, euphoric, almost as if I’m really not here. I’m tracking her now with my vision; taking in her beauty, drinking in her essence, with all of my senses wide open. I’m still able to hear Sandburg, and for a fleeting moment I feel almost… torn. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but it’s like, like I need his approval or something. I can feel his hands on me, shoving me towards her, and it’s as if a dam has broken, and there’s no turning back.

"Oh, Jim, hurry up, hurry up. You’re about to get snaked. Go, go, go, go."

The force of Sandburg’s push propels me towards her. Her smile ignites something in me, and I feel pushed to boldness.

"I told that other guy that I was waiting for you. I think he was trying to pick me up," she says wistfully.

"I never would have guessed," I add dryly.

I’m standing beside her now, willingly giving in to every impulse to capture her. She’s flirting with me, and I can barely contain the desire to touch her.

It’s as if time has stood still, and I feel helpless in any way to control it. Every strand of her hair is so incredibly inviting, and I want nothing more than to let my fingers play along the smooth, silken strands forever.
She tells me about herself, and it all seems so… relevant.
"So when my parents split up I figured it was a good time for me to get out, too. I was 16. Never been more than 50 miles out of Atlanta. Had this boyfriend. He was older…wanted to be an actor. So we went to New York. It was awful. This is really boring. I’m sorry. Well, it was a long time ago. If I could do things different, I would. Tell me something about yourself."

I lean in closer now, wanting more than anything to feel her lips against my own. Passion flares within me, and I "roll with it," as Sandburg would say. She breaks the kiss, but the heat of the moment lingers between us as if suspended in mid-air.

Her whisper-soft words steal what is left of my resolve. "I shouldn’t have started this. I don’t know what got into me. I’m sorry. I like you, Jim. Let’s not ruin it with a lot of details. You and me just wouldn’t be a very good idea right now."

I can feel her starting to slip away, and I don’t care how desperate I might sound. "Well, we could take our time… get to know each other. Just be friends."

"I’ve got to go," she says, and I can feel my heart pounding wildly as she walks away.

I try to follow her, but my mind seems shrouded somehow. By the time I get to the truck, my hands are shaking so badly I drop the keys. I’ve lost her, and yet the only thing that seems to make sense is pursuit, going after her, finding her…

My senses are so screwed up that I can’t seem to track her. I’ve lost all of my bearings, and I honestly don’t know where I am. I pull the truck off to the side of the road and try to shake the cobwebs from my head. Sandburg? When the hell did he leave? Oh god, this is… I don’t know what this is…

I manage to make my way back to the loft, and to my relief Sandburg is tucked safely into bed. I’ll just avoid him in the morning, and maybe he won’t ask questions like why the hell I’m standing here watching him sleep.

I find no peace in slumber, and even though I feel control coming back with every passing moment, the residual effects of the night before are still with me. I pretend to be sleeping when Blair leaves for the university in the morning, hoping to avoid any questions that he might have. I stare at the piece of paper on the counter that he’s left for me, and try to piece together a better story than the, "I don’t remember you leaving, I got lost on the way home," one that is the unfortunate truth. He wants me to meet him at the station later to go over some evidence. I still have time for a quick shower and a bite of breakfast before I have to meet him, and I’m glad for the distance and time between us. Something is wrong, very wrong, and I need more time to process exactly how I feel. Process? Man, I’m starting to sound like the kid more and more with each passing day.

I’ve pretty much committed myself to one of those half-truth type tales by the time I meet him in evidence lock-up. He’s sorting through a box filled with items from the crime scenes when I walk in. You can do this, Ellison. Just act casual.

"Hey, Jim, I didn’t hear you come in last night."

"It was late."

"Oh, yeah?"

I take a deep breath, hoping that my next words are, well… coherent. "Yeah, I was driving around by myself. Got halfway to the Canadian border before I realized where I was."

Blair asks me what happened, and the impulse to blurt out the truth is almost too much for me. I settle for another curve in the road to the truth. "I guess she wasn’t interested."

Avoiding the playful expression on his face, I try to allow the last dregs of tension to leave my body. He congratulates me on my attempt at the dating game, and I feel more relaxed as the conversation shifts away from me to something else.

We go through a number of items from the seven robbery scenes and, despite my feelings that the subtle sensory shifts were all in my mind, he refuses to believe me. At some point in the discussion, he asks me to trust him. My initial reaction to that statement is to brush him off, telling him that, coming from him, those two words are the scariest in the English language. The opposite, of course, is true; trust is the one thing that I need, that I’ve needed my entire life and yet have never had. I can’t do this anymore. I’m frustrated, confused, and downright pissed off. I’ve got a case that leads nowhere, a woman who has left me vulnerable, and a partner who’s getting just a little too close to my inner self. Time to pull back.

"Believe what you want, Junior. The reality is the thieves are still out there and we still have nothing solid to go on."

This discussion is getting us nowhere, and quite frankly the only thing that I want right now is to get the hell out of here. I find myself heading for the door without even a backward glance. I can feel Sandburg staring at me, but I refuse to allow the nagging desire to turn around to get the best of me.

The rest of my day is spent alternating between police reports and research. I try my best to focus on the task at hand, but find it difficult and basically futile. I do a bit of legwork at some of the crime scenes, hoping that some new development will fall into my lap. Sandburg sticks close, taking notes and offering his two cents whenever possible.

Just after ten, a call comes through from Joel asking us to meet him at a place not far from where we’ve stopped for a quick bite to eat. We head out in silence. I can smell the fumes from the fire even before the place comes into view. Whatever went down here was big.

Sandburg and I meet up with Joel and he explains the situation.

"I was talking to Chief Roberts from the Fire Department. Fire started when the thieves blew the safe. Sparks ignited the draperies and then the wood paneling went up. Folks across the street saw the windows implode from the back draft, thought it was a bomb and called us. It’s pretty much under control now, though."

I take a quick glance around the area, amazed at how the perps managed to get away with a million-dollar take without setting off the alarms. "It’s built like a fortress. How’d they get in without tripping one of the alarms?"

Joel shrugs, as he tells us that, just like the other robberies, there was no obvious way in or out. Just what I want to hear.

"Let’s go check it out, Chief."

We excuse ourselves and head towards the office where the break-in occurred. I find myself mysteriously drawn to the safe once again, and the same rush of unexplained sensory mystique clouds my judgment.

"I’ll be damned," I mutter mostly to myself.

Blair must have heard my words, and is at my side in an instant. "What?"

"That…that feeling again. That sensory thing." I can’t seem to put my feelings into words, and I mentally kick myself for sounding so ridiculous.

Blair has me sweep the office with my senses, trying to find any other hot spots that might prove of use in the investigation. I feel a presence above me, hovering as if suspended by thin air. I look upward, noticing the broken skylight far above my head. I motion Blair to join me, and point out the point of entry.

"Yeah. It looks like when they remodeled this place to put in the store, they neglected to put in the, uh, new alarm system to the old skylight. And that’s how they got in. The guard was added for extra security."

Blair shakes his head in disgust at the thought that a person has to die for a fistful of diamonds. I stare at him for a moment, silently wishing that I could spare him the horrors that go along with police work. He looks so young standing there, so incapable of believing in the dark, sinister world that spins so close to his own. I wonder sometimes if bringing him into my world, the world of hardened criminals and shattered psyches, is really something that he’s ready for. He’s been through so much already, and I wonder if this is really worth it. This dissertation, this book that he’s writing, is it really worth the daily hazards, the nightmares, and the upheaval that it brings to his life? Sometimes I wonder…

We end up moving outdoors again, searching for any other clues to the mystery that has befallen us. I’m able to ascertain how the thieves entered the building after finding an explosive bolt and a cable running from a building across the street. Hopefully, someone in the opposite building saw something and can ID our high-wire daredevils.

The crowd gathered outside the building makes it hard for us to push our way to the entrance. I’m able to get the attention of two other officers, and order them to seal off the exits, not allowing anyone to leave the premises. Blair and I make our way inside, but are stopped by a woman just inside the door.

"Excuse me, gentlemen. May I see your invitations, please?"

I flash my badge at the woman and push my way inside. I can hear her calling for assistance from one of her co-workers, Ted, but there’s something else, something… that feeling, it’s that feeling again. It’s strong, just as strong as it was before. The circus hasn’t left town, Sandburg, it’s still here, right here.

This man, Ted McCarthy, gets in my face, and I’m losing my patience, big time.

"You have no right to come in here and insult my employees and disrupt the evening."

I try to explain that I have no intention of bothering anyone, or causing any scene. I just want to talk to the people and see if they’ve noticed anything. He seems to accept my presence, grudgingly, and goes off in a huff. Simon joins us, and Blair presses me to try to concentrate on the sensory shift once again.

"So, what, did you lose the trail or what?

The perfumes and aftershaves mingle in the air, and I’m unable to get a clear fix on anything. My eyes are drawn to someone across the room, and I take a faltering step forward.

I whisper her name, more as a confirmation to myself than to the world at large. "Laura?"

Blair sees her, and I can feel his hand on my back, pushing me forward. "Go talk to her, man, maybe she saw something."

Each step seems to intensify the warm drizzle of sensation running through my body. I manage to remain focused, despite my desire to the contrary. I approach her, gently taking her arm and turning her to face me. The emotion is almost too much, and I pull back, remembering that I have a job to do.


"Jim? What are you doing here?"

"We need to talk. Is there someplace we can go?"

Laura glances around, trying to find a place where we can be alone. A lock of her hair brushes my face, and I inhale sharply. The scent of jasmine and exotic perfume fills my senses.

"There’s always the closet."

She smiles at me, a wistful, playful smile that sends shivers up and down my spine. I stare at her lips, luscious and full, wanting only to feel their supple wetness against my own. A voice tugs at my conscience, sounding very much like Simon’s.

"Isn’t there any other place we can go?"

"What’s the matter, Jim, never been in a closet with a woman before?"

She leads me, hand-in-hand, to the coat closet and shuts the door behind us.

"I’m a policeman, Laura. There’s been a murder and a robbery across the street here tonight, and I need to know if you’ve seen anything."

She’s fingering my collar, playfully running her hand along my chest. It takes every ounce of self-restraint I have not to give in to the sexual desire that has suddenly overtaken me. I capture her wrists, gently pushing her away from me.

"You didn’t tell me you were a cop," she breathes, her breath caressing the side of my cheek.

"You didn’t tell me your name," I counter, quickly dialing down my sense of touch.

"Laura McCarthy. I used to be married to… Ted’s brother, Bruce."

My hearing picks up a disturbance outside, and I release Laura’s hands.

"I have to go."

She grabs my hand again, and places a seductive kiss on my lips. The door swings open before I can break away, and we turn to see one slightly embarrassed Blair Sandburg peeking in at us. He stumbles all over his words, trying to get me to follow him, and I quickly exit the room.

"I’m not done yet," I say, tossing the comment over my shoulder as I hurry towards Simon.

I hear the soft purr of her voice, low and sultry, echoing in my ear. "Neither am I, Jim, neither am I."

Simon has cuffed a man and is handing him over to a uniformed officer.

"Well, nice of you to join us." Simon gives me his best deadpan stare, and the best I can manage is a lame apology.

It seems as though a group of petty thieves have been working the room, and Simon has stumbled across their pick pocketing scheme. I guess we must have spooked them when we came in looking for information. Despite the fact that it’s been over an hour since the fire, I know the perps are still in the room. I ask Simon to allow me to continue my search, but he flatly refuses. For the most part, Simon Banks has kept an open mind about this sentinel thing, but this time he has good reason to doubt me. I’ve tried to keep this case as professional as possible, but something seems to be clouding my judgment.

I see Laura across the room, just as she is turning to leave. Bruce grabs her, and a part of my protective instincts rises to the surface. There’s something about her that makes me feel the need to keep her safe. I can hear Bruce’s voice rising in indignation.

"If you want to tart yourself up and go out on the town with some policeman, you do it in someone else’s restaurant."

She refuses to back down from his verbal abuse, and I feel the need to step in. Her voice is strong with a confidence that breeches no argument.

"It’s none of your business what I do anymore, Bruce."

Bruce stands his ground, meeting her eyes with a coldness that forces me into action. "You’re a whore, and a cheap one at that," he bellows, loud enough to draw attention to himself.

I watch with suppressed amusement as Laura tosses the contents of her wine glass into Bruce’s face. She catches my eye as I approach her, quickly softening her expression to one of pleading innocence. She seems okay, but I need the gentle cadence of her voice to reassure me. She tells me about Calli, and how Bruce has been dating her for months, and yet refuses to let her lead her own life.

Her whisper-soft request to take her home fuels the desire that already burns through my body. I force myself to break eye contact to make sure that Sandburg is safe. He and Simon are at the bar, deeply engrossed in some conversation. My mind fixates on the decision to stay or to leave, and for a moment I almost change my mind….

I spend the night with her, allowing my senses to fully explore every curve of her body. Desire scalds me, the sensations almost too much for me to handle. I’ve never felt such passion, such lust and arousal with any woman before. She tells me that she wishes that things were different, and I wonder what exactly she means. I want to know more, but in some ways, I want this relationship to remain uncomplicated.

~~~~~~~~~~ Act III ~~~~~~~~~~

With the break of dawn comes the realization that this night of unbridled passion must come to an end. I dress quickly, oblivious to my own appearance. For long moments I watch her sleep, her soft, even breaths sweeping my senses. Her hair frames the delicate features of her face and I have to look away before I become lost in her beauty once again. I tear myself away from the scene, focusing on the trip back to the loft with concentrated effort.

I stand outside the door to the loft, feeling like some schoolboy who has just broken his curfew. It’s ridiculous, this feeling, and yet for some reason, I just can’t shake it. I want this to be real; I want this relationship with Laura to work. I’ve had so many disappointments in my life, so many failures with women. I just want… I just want things to be different this time.

My hands are shaking, and it takes me two tries before I can slide the key into the lock. Sandburg is in his room flipping through some pages of a book, and I’m relieved that he isn’t sitting right in my line of vision when I enter the loft.

I head for the kitchen, hoping to forestall any line of questioning by pretending to make myself breakfast. I keep my head down, unable to meet his eyes as he makes his way towards me. My hand automatically reaches for the coffee pot in response to his sweeping gaze.

"I wouldn’t drink that if I were you," he says flatly, an edge of restrained anger evident in his voice.

I swallow uneasily, bringing the mug I have grabbed from the cupboard closer to my mouth. "Why’s that?"

"We ran out of coffee. I’m reusing the grounds."

I take a small mouthful of the bitter liquid, instantly turning down my sense of taste. "It’s not too bad. No breakfast?"

We banter back and forth about breakfast items, and I suddenly become aware of my outward appearance. My shirt is hanging out, and I must look like something the cat dragged in. I mumble a quick apology for running out on him last night, and throw an excuse about being preoccupied over my shoulder as I head up the stairs to change.

I sigh heavily as I reach the top of the stairs, happy for a reprieve from the interrogation I know is still to come. A part of me needs to get out of these clothes, to rid myself of any last lingering sensations that may be hidden among the fibers.

There’s no hesitation in his steps as he moves up the stairs towards me. Part of me would like to haul off and yell at him for intruding on my space, but the other part, the uncertain part, welcomes the intrusion. I’m almost done changing when he reaches me, but I linger on the buttons of my shirt, mostly to give my shaking hands something to do.

"Jim, we got to talk about something. About that woman."


I try to keep my tone light, feeling somewhat defensive, and yet unsure of quite why I feel that way.
"Don’t you think that your attraction to her is just a little bit off scale? I’ve been watching you and…"

The impact of his words sets me in a tailspin. Suddenly I feel like I’m the subject of some cruel experiment. "You can study the sentinel thing all you want, but keep out of my personal life."

He knows that he’s struck a sensitive chord with me, and he quickly changes gears.

"I have been studying, Jim, all night long, because I was sure that this experience that you’re having with Laura somehow factors into this thing at the crime scenes."

I try to hold on to the memories of last night, not wanting to believe that this is anything more than two people who have found one another. He rambles on about how my relationship with Laura isn’t normal, and how I must see that. I do see it, but I don’t want to. It’s a double-edged sword, and I’m the one carrying the weapon.

I feel suddenly powerless, and my legs can no longer support the weight of his words. I sit on the edge of my bed, staring up at him, knowing that he speaks the truth, but needing confirmation of his accusations.

"It’s pheromones, Jim. They’re a substance manufactured by the body. We’ve all got them – it’s been proven. Now there are these microscopic receptors in our nose, which pick them up. It’s kind of like when people say that you’ve got chemistry with somebody. Well, we actually do have chemistry."

"What’s this got to do with me?" I state, trying to salvage something from the memories that are still fresh in my mind.

"My point is that these feelings that you’re having at the crime scene are in response to Laura’s pheromones. Your sentinel powers exaggerate them to the point of irrationality. It’s the only logical explanation for what’s going on with you."

I feel like that double-edged sword has just pierced my heart. Her voice in my head taunts me as I challenge him to prove his theory. Her words replay in my mind,

*If things were different….*

Blair hands me a wrapped object and asks me to open it. I hold it in my hand, the tingling warmth of her presence filling my fingertips. I want to throw the glass across the room, to watch it shatter into a million pieces just like every other relationship has shattered in my grasp. His voice stops me, the apologetic tone deflating my anger with his words of support and understanding. As much as it hurts me to watch another woman slip between my fingers, it must hurt him more to have told me the truth….

"But you pushed me." The words are suddenly out of my mouth before I can stop them.

A look of confusion crosses his face, and I quickly turn away.

"What? What did you say, Jim?"

"You pushed me," I say more forcefully, trying to keep an air of confidence in my voice. "You liked her, approved of her."

"I don’t understand."

I’m becoming a bit unnerved by his lack of understanding, and I shift restlessly in my seat. "When I first met her, you pushed me towards her. You did it again at that party last night."

"What are you saying? Are you saying that I might have had something to do with this?"

"All I’m saying is that you didn’t exactly help, okay?"

I can see the wheels in his head turning from here, and I quickly squelch any ideas that he might have about helping me choose any future girlfriends.

"Don’t get any delusions of grandeur, Chief. You are not, I repeat, not going to cross that line again. Now, if you don’t mind, I need a few minutes alone."

It takes me a few moments to compose myself, and he leaves me alone with my thoughts. This friendship of ours is still so new to me, but in many ways there seems to be something unique about it. If anyone else had told me that my attraction for Laura was a chemical reaction, I’d have stormed out of here without a second thought. Maybe there’s more to Sandburg than I’m willing to admit, even to myself.

He doesn’t say a word to me until we get in the truck. He offers to drive, and I really should have taken him up on it. I’m still a bit dazed by all of this, but quite frankly, I need some kind of distraction. I know he’s afraid that I might have given Laura some kind of information about the case, but in some strange way a part of me knew better. I’m not quite sure if that little voice inside me is my conscience anymore, or just a tiny Blair Sandburg whispering in my ear.

There’s a sympathetic tone to his voice as he tries to comfort me about the situation. I still don’t understand how my feelings and chemical reactions can work so closely together. He explains to me that my body chemistry as a sentinel can go wild, but my reactions as a man are interpreted as feelings. I dwell on this thought as we near her apartment, and come to the realization that maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’m not just a subject for his studies; maybe he is studying the man as well as the sentinel. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that fact, but for the moment I have a job to do, and I don’t have time to think beyond that fact.

I point out the apartment house, and we watch as Bruce jogs across the street to Laura’s Porsche. All we can see of the woman in the passenger seat is her lower leg, graced with an ankle bracelet above her sandal. Bruce enters the car, and a faint click shouts a warning in my mind. I reach across the seat, grasping Sandburg’s arm, and pulling him towards me. The world around us explodes in a blaze of color and thundering noise. I press his head into the seat, hoping to shield both of us from the flying debris.

"Stay down!"

I lose all track of time, until the head beneath my hands jerks slightly.

"What the hell happened?"

The voice is muffled by my still tightly clenched arms, and I quickly release him, watching as his eyes take on the glazed expression of shock. We sit there for a second, staring at what remains of the demolished car. My stomach clenches at the thought of the identity of the woman passenger, and I suddenly feel the need to get away. Blair senses my anxiety, calls for backup, and sticks close to me until they arrive. There isn’t anything left of the vehicle or its occupants, and we leave the cleanup in the hands of others.

Back at the station, I leave Sandburg to do some file searching while I try to catch up with Joel and Simon. The clear evidence bag with Laura’s ID is dropped into my hands, and I quickly find myself handing it back. Simon suggests that I take the rest of the day off, but I just can’t do that. I feel the need to redeem myself in his eyes, or maybe it’s a kind of self-redemption that I’m looking for. Whatever it is, I need to finish this.

The pieces of the puzzle quickly shift into place. An internal search of circus performers uncovers both Ted and Bruce’s names. Laura seems to have been caught in the middle somehow, and I’m determined to end this once and for all. Blair looks at me in surprise when I accept Simon’s offer for backup without an argument. I’m still a little off balance for some reason, and he follows close at my heels back to the truck.

~~~~~~~~~~ Act IV ~~~~~~~~~~

We drive to the hotel, and I immediately spot Ted near the front desk. He tries to run. We exchange gunfire, and for once Blair actually agrees to stay out of the action. The battle continues up to the roof, and I manage to stop Ted just as he is about to escape across a wire leading to the adjacent building. Backup arrives, and I hand the perp over to a uniformed officer.

Blair accompanies me and the hotel manager to Laura’s hotel suite. He waits for the man to unlock the door and moves to block my entrance into the room.

"Are you okay with this? You don’t have to do this, Jim."

This time, he pushes me away from the door, gently but firmly steering me towards the opposite wall. At that moment, the spell-like trance that has enveloped me for the past few days seems to lift. There’s a calm reassurance to his words that makes me realize that my battles may need no longer be fought alone.

"I’ll be okay," I say, for the first time in a long time, actually believing my own words.

I brush past him, giving him a small smile of understanding as I enter the room. I feel her even before I reach for my gun, the air currents carrying her scent spiraling towards me. The rush of air feels different now, not nearly as powerful as in our previous encounters. Her seductive stance as she lingers by the four-poster bed no longer appeals to me. A trickle of sound in my ear telling me to dial it down helps to dissipate any lingering desires. Sandburg has obviously witnessed our meeting, and is doing his best to help me stay in control.

I listen to her tale of how she, Bruce and Ted first met. She tries to convince me to pretend that she died tragically in the car explosion. I nod, playing the game that she so masterfully has used against me since the beginning, only this time, I hold the aces. She kisses me, and I smile internally as I hear Blair’s voice becoming more urgent. His anger turns to amusement as he sees the cuffs lock into place.

He crosses the room, his smile widening as he takes in the scene.

"You had me going there, Jim. I’m gonna get you back for that."

"Oh, really, " I add teasingly. "I’d like to see you try."

Two hours later, the case file closes on Laura McCarthy, a.k.a. Jane Cunningham. She is eventually found guilty of not only the jewel heists, but of setting up the car explosion as well.

Simon, Blair and I exit the bullpen, and I use my best love struck stare at an older woman passing by. Blair grabs my arm, a look of horror crossing his features. I can barely contain myself long enough to milk the joke for all it’s worth.

"Gotcha, Sandburg," I jest, quickly moving towards the elevator.

He barely speaks to me the rest of the day, and I wonder if I have taken the joke a bit too far. He insists on taking separate cars out to do the grocery shopping and remains silent throughout the entire trip. He heads home before me, leaving me with the boring job of picking up dinner. When I finally reach the loft, juggling the two bags of takeout, I can smell the soft scent of candles even before I slip the key into the lock. I must have really pushed him to the limit this time if he’s taken to meditating. The door swings open, and my jaw goes slack at the sight. The elderly woman that I had gawked over just hours before sits patiently waiting for me at the kitchen table. She smiles at me, the ‘come hither’ look on her face bathed in candlelight.

Faint chuckles erupt from somewhere down the hall, the softly spoken words masked by fits of laughter: "Gotcha, Jim."


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Next week’s episode: Vow of Silence by Melinda