Master Post on my LJ
Master Post at sentinelbigbang
Tuesday, early evening, July 3, 2001
“Buck, there’s an accident up ahead, so we should take the next exit and detour around to get to the ranch. You know, it’s kind of cool that I can see stuff that far away.”
Buck moved into the exit lane and said, “I’m fine meeting up with Sandburg, he sounds like he could be a real help to us, but I ain’t so sure about Ellison. Chris said they thought it best we meet each other in neutral territory. I don’t like it.”
JD reached out and lightly smacked his distrustful partner on the shoulder. “When Ellison and I meet, it’s not going to be like that stupid movie you saw back in the dark ages. C’mon. Do you really think that we’re going to circle around each other and then throw down to see who’s in charge? And the winner gets to keep the other sentinel’s guide to add to his harem? How can you take seriously anything called, “Twenty Captive Guides?” JD rolled his eyes. Buck was a great guy, but he did have a tendency to believe some outlandish bullshit. He flashed briefly on their epic “discussions” about how valid love potions claims were. Buck was certain there was truth in all the hype about some plants' abilities to enhance the libido.
Buck replied a little heatedly, “Well, of course I don’t think it’s gonna be like that movie. Not exactly. I’m just saying there’s probably some truth buried under the baloney.” JD gave him a skeptical look and Buck said defensively, “I just think we should watch ourselves. I wasn’t counting on dealing with another sentinel.”
JD said, with an almost serious tone to his voice, “I won’t let him make you his love-bunny, Buck.”
“Damn straight you’re not. Ah, JD, I know I’m being kind of a worrywart; there’s just so much we don’t know about all this stuff.”
“We know what’s important. We’re partners, and we’re going to help each other through this. Buck, will you tell me the truth about what you think about us going into the Army?”
“I did already, JD. I’ll go if you go. I’m not against serving my country, but whether or not the Army can tolerate me… that’s a horse of a different color. What about you? Don’t make your decision based on what I said. Do what you think is right.”
JD drummed his fingers on his thigh. “I considered joining the Navy when I was in high school, but after thinking it through, I became a cop. I wanted to do something to help people and it appealed to me more than being a sailor. I’ve never regretted my decision to join the Boston PD, and later the ATF. I like our team; we do good work and I don’t want to stop. But, I think I should talk this over with our guys who have served. Anyway, we may not get a choice.”
Buck glanced at him, his expression somber. “Would you leave, go to Canada to avoid the draft?”
“My gut says no. I still want to protect and serve. How can I do that by hiding in Canada?”
Buck made another right turn. “Checking with our team -- that’s a good idea. I think Vin might have gone into the Army to try to get ahead of living on the streets. The Army drafted Josiah, but he did volunteer for a second term. Chris, he went in after high school. Navy helped pay for his college. Nathan – not sure what helped him decide to sign up.”
JD closed his eyes. “I don’t like the idea of being drafted. I think sentinels and guides should decide like everybody else – on a voluntary basis. I don’t like the idea that we don’t get a choice.”
Buck reached out his right hand and wrapped it around JD's. “We’ve had a bellyful of not having any choices, haven’t we? Are you okay, JD? You know before we return to work the shrinks have to clear us.”
“I’m all right. I’m not going to let those assholes win by making me afraid of living.” JD kept his eyes closed and Buck squeezed his hand again.
“Me neither, partner. Me neither.”
Larabee Ranch, Denver County
Tuesday evening, July 3, 2001
Chris watched Ellison cock his head to the side while he answered the most recent question Chris had asked about any undercover cases the Cascade detective had worked. Ellison was a bonus, and Chris wasn’t inclined to waste manpower. He had an idea of just how he could use the sentinel.
The tantalizing smell of cooking meat wafted up from the grill and he gave an appreciative sniff. The hamburgers were almost done, and he expected JD and Buck to arrive soon.
“There’s a vehicle coming down your road. Sounds like a truck.” Ellison picked up his beer from the patio table and fixed his gaze down the gravel road.
“Probably Buck and JD.” Just then the grill fire blazed up and Chris had his hands full with spraying the flames with water, so they didn’t end up with charcoal bricks to put in their buns.
In a few minutes, Chris heard Buck’s truck pull into the driveway. Sandburg popped his head out from the kitchen where he was making potato salad and bullshitting with Ezra.
“Where’s Ji– Oh, I see. He’s feeling a compulsion to bond.”
Chris turned around and saw that Buck and JD had gotten out of the truck; Ellison had almost reached them.
“What the hell --? Do I need to stop him?”
Blair laughed and the sound of his mirth made Chris realize he could probably relax. Well, Ezra had said Blair Sandburg had been a mischievous imp as a child and it didn’t look like he’d outgrown that trait.
“I don’t think anybody could stop him from running his hands over that truck. Jim loves classic trucks; at home he’s got a Sixty-Nine Ford that he calls, “Sweetheart.” He’s probably crooning right this minute about what a beautiful color that candy-apple red is, and making lovesick eyes at the chrome grill. I’m going to finish cooking; he’ll be a while quizzing Buck about how he restored his truck – it’s his truck, I’m guessing. JD has a motorcycle, doesn’t he? And Buck did restore it, right? Ezra mentioned a while back that he’d helped restore a friend’s truck, although I told him I’d have to see photographic proof before I’d believe it.”
“We all helped, Mr. Standish included. So… no special precautions about two sentinels meeting for the first time?”
“No. We didn’t come into JD's and Buck’s living space -- their territory, so to speak -- so Jim and JD can relax. Now, when I meet JD, you can bet that Jim will hover over me. That’s because our bond isn’t completed.” Blair turned around to head back to his potato salad or whatever else he was pulling together from the ingredients in the fridge and cupboards.
“Until we complete the bond physically and spiritually, a sentinel -- well, Jim, at any rate – worries that his guide might break the bond for another sentinel. Really, really, very unattractive genetic imperative.” Blair turned again towards the kitchen.
“Hang on. Why haven’t you completed the bond?”
Blair looked stone-faced at Chris and said, with no trace of amusement in his voice, “That’s personal, Special Agent Larabee. And if we want to have potato salad with the hamburgers, I need to finish up.” He returned to the kitchen and Chris felt his eyebrows rising in speculation as he turned his attention back to his grill.
After a few more minutes spent babying his burgers, Chris took a plate and slid them on it. He’d brought up a forbidden subject, that was for sure, and now he was curious. Why didn’t Sandburg and Ellison have a full bond? There was so much about this bonding shit that they just didn’t know.
He hollered that supper was ready to the three men who were conversing and looking under Lady’s hood. He supposed Ellison admiring Buck’s truck was as good a way as any to break the ice.
The three men walked up to the patio and found themselves seats at the picnic table. Chris stuck his head into the house and yelled to Sandburg and Ezra that the burgers were done and to fetch the potato salad on out. He snorted to himself when he heard the topic of conversation between Ellison and the other two and sat back down to listen to the old argument once again.
“Of course a truck can be female. Mine’s a real sweetheart,” Ellison was telling JD, who was rolling his eyes.
“Lady was just waiting to be rescued. She’s a beauty, ain’t she? I could show you pictures of the sad shape she was in before her knight in shining armor found her. She’s my Lady in Red,” Buck enthused to Ellison.
JD looked pityingly at both Ellison and Buck. “Trucks aren’t girls. Now, a smooth little number, like a Corvette, sorta like a snooty sorority girl, I could maybe see that comparison.”
Chris decided to interrupt them, as entertaining and familiar as this comedy routine was. “Supper’s on. Beers and pop are in the cooler; help yourselves.”
Sandburg had predicted Ellison’s behavior to a “T,” all right. The other sentinel had kept an arm draped around Sandburg when JD and Buck introduced themselves. He sat next to his guide during supper and even tugged on his curls once in a while. Sandburg didn’t seem to mind, which made Chris wonder even more about their incomplete bond.
By mutual unspoken agreement, the conversation at the cookout was kept to law enforcement topics, and the fat had been comfortably chewed by them all by the time Blair – who had made himself right at home in the kitchen – had dished up ice cream for everybody.
Chris causally remarked, “Tomorrow all of my team will be here for a Fourth of July beer and brauts cookout. JD and Buck are sleeping here tonight. You two are also bunking at my place, unless you’ve got an objection.” He looked at the two men from Cascade, but they just nodded. “Now, this is what I’ve got in mind about work schedules. Sandburg, you’re with Buck and JD every day, until that bond of theirs is stable. Will you need Ellison or can I have him for a little project?”
Ellison grumbled good-naturedly, “You could ask me, you know. Blair’s my guide, not my keeper.”
“He’s the expert consultant. You’re a tag-along. In my book that puts him in charge,” Chris replied, but without any heat in his voice.
“Jim could be a big help to JD, explain things from an insider’s perspective, but he wouldn’t be needed all the time. Maybe two days a week after the first one. Jim and I think going camping with Buck and JD would be very beneficial, since Burton’s research postulates that sentinels and guides developed in tribal societies in wildernesses. Our modern-day society with all the environmental stress associated with technology plus overcrowding tends to overwhelm a sentinel’s control of his senses, especially in the fragile days of initial bonding.” Sandburg looked ready to lecture for the rest of the night, and Chris held up his hand.
“JD and Buck can go, but I won’t order them.”
JD and Buck looked at each other, wordless communication flying back and forth and then Buck spoke up. “Sounds fine to us.”
Ezra muttered softly that getting insect bitten didn't sound fine to him, and then looked chagrined when JD and Jim both laughed at him, realizing that the two sentinels had heard every syllable he'd said under his breath.
They teased Ezra a while about his “delicate sensibilities,” then Ellison spoke into the lull of the conversation. “What’s this little project you mentioned? What do you have in mind, Larabee?”
“Well, since Buck blew his cover – he was posing as a gun seller with contacts to sell big shipments of arms illegally – I need a new undercover guy. You’ll do.”
Chris motioned for Buck to join him as he walked out to the barn to check on his hay supply. Ezra and Blair were playing a game of chess and JD, after finding out Ellison had been an Army Ranger, had asked to talk to him about his time in the service. The two sentinels had gone for a stroll down the gravel road, so this was as good a time as any to check on how his old friend was handling the changes that had landed in his lap.
“How’re you doing, you old dog?” They were walking side by side, their flashlights hardly needed since the almost full moon was visible high in the sky.
Buck looked at him and said simply, “I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that JD and I can make this bond work and that things won’t change too much. I’m hopeful that JD will decide to stay with the ATF and not join the army, but don’t you tell him I said that. If he decides to go, I’ll go willingly. And I’m crossing my fingers that Blair can teach me what I need to know to keep JD in one piece.”
Chris stepped inside the barn door and flicked the light switch. “Has he been having more trouble with spikes?” He walked over to his stack of hay bales and started counting, while Buck chewed his lip before answering.
“Some. We’ve found that it helps if I’m touching him a lot. And, uh… Chris? We’ll only need one bed, so why don’t you put us in the den and we’ll use the pull-out couch.” Buck scuffed his boots on the ground and stared at them.
Chris turned around and said, “You sleeping together or are you sleeping together?”
Buck slowly raised his eyes to look at Chris. “Yes. And no. But… maybe. Hellfire, I don’t know where we’re headed with this. I never was much attracted to men, but I liked – well, my body liked – having sex with JD. I think I could get to liking it fine if we tried it again, because, well, I love JD, loved him for a long time as a friend, and now – well, it’s friendship, and brotherhood, and lovers, and it feels good to touch him. Maybe that’s the bond – Sweet Jesus, I don’t know.”
Chris blew out a long breath. “You think you could be with JD and still see women on the side?”
“I don’t know! I’ve been wrapped up in what happened to us and dealing with JD almost dying, and then getting him back. And that’s what’s important. I got him back. I never really was serious about any woman. I’ve never loved a woman like I do JD. But I don’t know. I haven’t had any desire to go get laid, I do know that.” Buck looked down again, and Chris wasn’t going to have that. He punched Buck lightly on the arm and caught his eye when he looked back up.
“So you better talk to him before you go and do something stupid.”
Buck gave a tired chuckle. “That I'll regret, you mean. Such as looking up some floozy to help me reassert my heterosexuality? JD, he says he’s okay with whatever I decide. He says he’s always been a little bit bent, so having sex with me won’t shake him up. But I don’t know, he and Casey were starting to get tight. She came over this morning and jumped to the conclusion that I was JD’s boyfriend and he’d been lying to her all this time. She’s a nice kid, and I didn’t enjoy seeing her get upset. JD thinks if he’s going in the army, then they should break up anyway. But if we stay here? I’m thinking he might like to see her, hell, maybe marry her. It’s just a mess, Chris.”
Chris walked over to two large garbage cans and lifted the lids to see how much horse feed he had left, since he was going to have to order more hay. He leveled an assessing gaze at Buck, who was looking tired. He’d probably been worrying for days over all of this.
“Buck, Ellison and Sandburg act like there's no personal space between them, and they're only partially bonded. With a full bond like yours – Casey might not cotton to seeing you and JD being so tactile.” Chris reached out and gave Buck a gentle shove towards the door, walking beside him as they left the barn and headed back towards the house. He heard Ezra’s motor start and the sound of that fancy car of his driving away.
Chris stopped on the path, Buck following his lead. They were silent for a few minutes, taking in the stars. Then Chris said quietly, eyes still on the heavens, “Take this one step at a time and learn about being a guide. Don’t have sex with JD unless you both know what kind of relationship you want. And why don’t you find JD and call it a night; you’re both still wiped out.”
Buck made a grunt of agreement and gave a wave before heading for the patio, where JD was sitting looking up at the night sky. Chris went on inside and spotted Ellison and Sandburg seated on the couch, talking softly to each other.
“Ezra said to tell you he’ll be back around noon tomorrow. It was great to catch up with him.” Blair yawned and looked up at Chris with his eyes half-shut.
Chris wanted to get everybody settled so he could go to bed. It’d been a long week and he was looking forward to sleeping in a little longer in the morning. Probably Ezra wouldn’t get up till after eleven. If he were here on time tomorrow, Chris would eat his hat.
“So, one bed or two?”
They’d answered his question at the same time. Blair was looking a little bit flushed and Ellison a tad stubborn. Well, Blair’s request trumped Ellison’s, as far as he was concerned.
“Blair, you’ve got the couch. Sheets and blankets are in the hall closet. Ellison, you’ve got the room at the end of the hall.” He called back as he left them staring at each other, “Breakfast is at eight.”
Larabee Ranch, Denver County
Wednesday, late evening, July 4, 2001
“Man, I miss watching fireworks from our balcony back home.” Blair, sprawled out in a padded patio chair, sounded wistful as he stared up at the brilliant stars in the Colorado sky. Personally, Jim didn’t miss the explosions rocking his eardrums or the searing lights against his retinas at all.
“You can’t expect a bunch of ATF guys to shoot off illegal fireworks, Chief,” Jim pointed out reasonably as he shifted in his patio chair. Sandburg could be such a kid sometimes. Jim might not care for the fireworks display, but he always enjoyed watching Blair “ooh” and “aah” over the annual light show Cascade put on each Fourth of July.
“Yeah, I know. Hey, speaking of all these ATF guys, what’s your opinion of them? You’re going to be working with them, after all.”
Jim sighed to himself. He was nicely mellowed out and really didn’t want to get all analytical this late at night. Maybe if he played possum and didn’t answer… He raised his beer to his lips and finished it off, then lined up the latest dead soldier with the other two on the table.
“Okay, Jim. Give. We’re alone. Everybody else has gone home or gone to bed.” Blair was looking at him with curiosity written all over his face. He had some choices here. He could stall and put this off, claiming the beers he’d had were drowning his brain cells. But why bother? Blair would just bring it up again. And again.
“C’mon, Chief. It’s a nice night. Haul your butt out of that chair and let’s walk down the road a bit.” He pointed to his ear and Blair nodded that he understood. They did have a rookie sentinel around and he’d rather have privacy for this conversation.
They walked silently for a mile and a half down the road in the bright, silvery moonlight, Jim enjoying holding tight to Blair’s hand, before he answered Blair’s question.
“They – all of them – remind me of my old unit. You can tell they’ve been through some tough times together and they trust each other. Body language and scent was fairly obvious about that. I did pick up on some worry-scent – they’re concerned about Dunne and Wilmington – and not entirely sure about me. You, though, everybody’s pretty relaxed about you being here. The Blair Sandburg patented charm at work again.”
Blair gave a small chuckle.
Jim was silent, thinking over his impressions of the men he’d met yesterday and today.
Blair spoke up. “Buck seems like he’s got the usual guide constellation of personality traits: He’s kind, cheerful, and shows a lot of empathy in his dealings with others. If he and JD agree, I’d like to add them to my research population, have them do some personality tests and take my questionnaire.”
“Being around Wilmington is easy; he’s a jokester, gets people smiling. He and Dunne feel right to me. I don’t have any uneasiness around either one of them.” Jim left unsaid, “Unlike Alex,” but he knew Blair would understand.
“JD’s confident and resilient. Smart, too. Ezra told me that JD’s a member of MENSA. His accent is a hoot. Part Boston and part western. He’s the youngster of the group, but he’s respected. The teasing he gets? It’s the group’s way of showing him affection.” Blair almost tripped over a larger rock on the gravel road and Jim took the opportunity to pull him up next to him.
“I’d like to show you some affection, Chief. Team Seven doesn’t have a monopoly on the stuff.” Jim kissed his reluctant guide. Several times. Blair was panting and flushed when Jim finally stepped away from him.
“I want to, Jim. You know I want you and the bond. But not at the cost you’d have to pay. I’m sorry, but we can’t. Not yet. Not till I find out…”
“Find out what! Why won’t you tell me what you’re waiting for? And what’s this about the cost that I’d have to pay? You didn’t mean to let that slip, did you?” Because Blair’s scent had changed from sexy-aroused to guilty-worried.
“Umm… Please, Jim. We agreed I could have as much time as I needed to make my decision.” Blair was running his hand through his hair in a nervous gesture and Jim capitulated. Like usual. He might top Blair by seven inches or so and outweigh the squirt, but somehow the deciding vote was always cast by Sandburg.
“Will you at least sleep with me tonight? It’s been two weeks since we slept in the same bed and I miss feeling you at night.” Jim hated groveling like this, but to go to sleep with Blair’s scent surrounding him was just so right… and he always had less trouble with his senses after one of their sentinel-guide nights.
“Jim, each time we do that we come closer and closer to playing with fire. We can’t afford to get burned. We’ve been on the verge of the bond manifesting physically for a long time, and I’m betting that if we have sex, even just one time, bammo – we’d be fully bonded.”
“I’m willing to take that risk. Sleeping together, I mean. And I think I have enough self-control to not jump your bones, Chief.” Jim didn’t like pleading like this. In a way, he understood the stereotype of the primal sentinel carrying off his or her guide and forcibly seducing their reluctant partner. He could fantasize about it, sure. Just toss Blair over his shoulder and haul his delectable butt away to a private place, stocked up with blankets and food. First thing to do would be to strip him, and make him comfortable in a nest of blankets and pillows. Then he’d begin at his feet, massaging them and sucking on the inside of his ankles…
“Earth to Jim. Hey, are you trying to zone? You got a little glassy-eyed there. You okay?” Blair --fully clothed and probably too ornery to be seduced by sucking on his ankles – Blair was looking at him with a mixture of concern and trepidation.
Jim coughed. “I had a thought sidetrack me. But I won’t hit on you in bed, Chief.”
Blair laughed wryly. “I know I could trust you, Jim. It’s me that would probably crack and start kissing your nipples and running my hands down your belly, following your treasure trail –“
Blair stopped talking, and Jim prided himself on his quick action of gagging Blair with his palm. “If you’re not going to do it, then keep it in your head, okay? So, will you sleep with me tonight? Strictly platonically, and if you get amorous I’ll dump your cute little ass right out of bed onto the floor.”
Blair looked up for a minute, then nodded. Jim removed his hand and kissed him. “We’re still vertical, Sandburg; save the protest. Let’s go on back in a minute. Anyone else in particular you want my take on?”
Blair shrugged. “Vin seems quiet. I think whoever said still waters run deep had him in mind. Nathan and his girlfriend look like they’re pretty tight. He’s a clever guy, to have put together the sentinel clues and he was willing to listen to Buck, when even Buck thought he sounded crazy about how he knew where JD was. So, I’m thinking he’s pretty open-minded.”
“I’ll agree with your character study, Professor. Now, Sanchez, he’s an educated and well-read man, but something about the way his eyes look makes me think he could come across as a little fanatical or crazy. I think I’ll see if we can disguise him a bit, and have him pose as a survivalist attending the gun show where I’ll be hawking my stock. He can rave and rant about Jesus and guns -- act like a real whacko -- and get me noticed in a hurry. Maybe he can claim that I sold guns to… hey, I got it. The Sunrise Patriots. I know enough about how Kincaid operated that I could bluff through any questions. And if asked, I’ll deny I sold those bastards anything, but I’ll wink when I say it and they’ll be sure that I did.”
Blair reached up and ran his hand over the crown of Jim’s head. “Seeing you bald is gonna be weird, but I guess I should get used to it.”
Jim growled. Sometimes it was fun to play up the supposedly primitive streak sentinels were known for showing. Blair just snickered.
“If I wasn’t afraid you’d trip over your own feet, I’d make you run, Sandburg. Then I’d pounce on you like my alternate spiritual self and --”
“Hah! You wouldn’t do anything to me except maybe blow raspberries on my belly,” Blair said breathlessly.
“To start with… But I can think of some other things to do to you when I’ve got you laid out under me and helpless to stop me.” Blair’s arousal-scent wafted around them and Jim decided he’d better stop flirting before they got in over their heads. Blair was dead serious about not moving ahead with their bond until he had no more doubts about being his guide for the rest of his life.
“Something like this, Junior.” Jim rubbed his knuckles over Blair’s scalp, giving the kid an impressive noogie.
“Aaaah! Will you cut that out! My tangles are gonna have tangles.” But Jim had diverted Blair away from producing those intoxicating pheromones, so he’d achieved his mission goal.
He slung his arm around Blair -- he enjoyed how Blair’s small, sturdy frame fit neatly against his side -- and started them walking back to the ranch house.
“What about Ezra? You left him out. And Chris. Of course, you know I trust Ezra and we’re like day and night but, really, we’ve always gotten along. Chris – Ezra told us about his wife and son, so we wouldn’t do the foot in the mouth bit by asking if there was a Mrs. Larabee. What a horrible thing to happen to him, to lose his family that way in a bombing.” Jim tightened his arm around Blair’s shoulders in sympathy as Blair kept talking.
“Chris is actually on the little side – I mean, he’s pretty wiry, but the way he holds himself you’d think he was half a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier. So, what do you think about our temporary boss? He doesn’t bellow like Simon does, but he gets his points across just the same.”
“I think he’s a good team leader, looks out for his men, he’s practical, and I suspect he’s been to the edge and back again. Did you notice he didn’t drink any beer?” Jim also noticed his interest in Mary, a pretty blonde woman who’d come to the cookout. The man was attracted to her… and to Vin Tanner. Tanner returned the interest, from what Jim could tell through identifying scents. But if they’d ever crossed that line from teammates to something more intimate, Jim couldn’t tell. He was keeping that observation to himself. It wasn’t any of his business, anyway.
“Standish. He strikes me as liking the finer things in life going by that Rolex watch and his clothes. Comes across as a bit of an outsider, but the others trust him. I’m betting that trust was hard-won, too.”
“Ezra’s mom is a lady who always looks out for number one.” Blair smiled cheerfully. “I learned that over the years from eavesdropping, mostly. She’s a bit of a con artist and she tried really hard to convince Ezra to join her in that way of life. Really inconvenient for her that Ez developed a set of ethics somewhere along the line. There’s a little of her in the way he sizes things up. Still, glass houses, stones, and mothers. I avoid the topic of Maude, if I can.”
“They’re all good men. If they’d been in my unit I’d have been proud to serve with them. I think we’ll get along fine. So. Tomorrow we start officially training; I’m glad we had a day or so to relax with Wilmington and Dunne. Wilmington’s got a nice place picked out for primitive camping and between Tanner and Larabee, we’ll have enough camping equipment for us. The rookies have their own stuff.”
They had walked back about a quarter of a mile when Jim put his fingers to his lips. Blair gave a small nod and slid his arm around Jim’s waist. They walked on in companionable silence. Soon, they‘d be sliding into the big bed in his room and Jim would be able to relax with the weight of his guide against him. He hoped it wouldn’t be too much longer before Blair made his decision. He was sure that Blair would decide to complete the bond and not break it, instead. Now if only Blair would figure that out for himself. If they’d been fully bonded then that disaster with Alex would never have happened, and he kicked himself mentally once again for his part in that cluster-fuck. Blair looked at him, alerted maybe by a change in Jim’s muscle tone, that something was bothering him, and he made an effort to relax again, smiling down at Blair’s quizzical face. He leaned down and kissed Blair one last time, so that he could go to sleep with the taste of Blair’s lips on his own.
Larabee Ranch, Denver County
Thursday, mid morning, July 26, 2001
Jim raised his razor to the top of his head, bypassing his beard. He watched his progress at shaving in the mirror, and mentally prepared himself for the gun show he would be setting up at this afternoon. Wilmington had drilled him on what he should know, and he felt ready to go undercover as a legitimate gun dealer who was a gunrunner on the side. He'd also been spending a fair amount of time letting his face be seen at bars where, according to Wilmington and Dunne, customers met with shady dealers.
He thought that the past three weeks had gone by smoothly. Mostly. Dunne and Wilmington had suffered a few bad days, times when something had triggered memories that had kept Wilmington moody and Dunne quiet. They’d apologized for the occasional nightmare they’d had during their week of camping, and he and Blair had tried to make them not feel embarrassed about it. Blair had talked about the nightmares he’d suffered after he’d been kidnapped by Lash, and Jim shared his childhood memories of sleepless nights after finding his coach’s body. He could have brought up Alex and the damage she’d wrought, but he found himself reluctant to bring her name and her actions up during campfire confession time.
He took a towel and wiped off the remaining foam from his chrome-dome – Blair’s new favorite word. The kid had stammered out the name between bouts of the giggles after his first look at Jim Anderson, gun runner. Still, Blair couldn’t keep his hands from smoothing Jim’s bald head and Jim made him pay a kiss as a forfeit every time he did it. He’d let his beard grow out while they were camping; the face he saw in the mirror looked older and rougher than the man who lived in Cascade.
Overall, the trip up into the Rockies had been good, and he’d demonstrated for Dunne what a sentinel was capable of achieving. He’d also talked to the kid about the pros and cons of being in the service. Dunne still hadn’t decided if he would voluntarily join up or not; he had a strong sense of duty and was painfully sincere about wanting to do the right thing.
Blair had included the current controversy over the draft with his lectures on the history of sentinels and guides. When Blair was in his college professor persona – well, he almost had a PhD, but his dissertation wasn’t completed – he left out his personal opinions. Blair was passionately against the draft, but he wouldn’t try to sway the rookies. This wouldn’t be an easy decision for Dunne to make, and Jim was glad the levelheaded kid was searching out his team's veterans' opinions about their time of service.
One of those veterans would be acting this afternoon in the little drama they’d put together to give Jim some street cred. Sanchez could rant like nobody’s business and the script called for him to name Jim as one of the gunrunners for the Sunshine Patriots.
Jim took his contacts out of their case and put them in his eyes. He didn’t look so Aryan with brown eyes, but he didn’t want to be recognized as one of the cops who’d taken down Kincaid and his bigoted men. Blair didn’t like the contacts -- Jim could tell from his body language – but he didn’t bitch about it. His partner was pretty good about accepting things that couldn’t be changed -- probably from all those years of meditating.
Blair had taught Dunne and Wilmington to meditate, and how to do visualization exercises that would help the young sentinel gain control of his senses. This was something that Jim still struggled with himself. A simple dial for each of his senses worked best for him. Dunne, with his technological bent, had clicked with the idea of a bar graph like the one displayed for volume control on his TV. He said he even mentally pushed the button on the remote for displaying which sense he was trying to balance out. Hey, whatever worked for the kid. Jim reached for his plain black t-shirt and pulled it on. It was a little tight on him, so that his muscles were more noticeable.
He sat down on the closed toilet seat and pulled on his socks, then pushed his feet into his boots. The ones with the lifts. Funny how two more inches of height made him feel twice his normal size.
He opened the bathroom door and stepped out into the hall. Blair, Dunne, and Wilmington were out doing field-testing today on Denver’s streets. Dunne was improving on his ability to stretch his senses and it pleased Jim to see how quickly the young man had caught on to the things Jim and Blair had taught him. Wilmington had a deft touch with the kid and was good at realizing when Dunne was in a pre-zone state; most of the time the rookie guide could avert his sentinel from falling into a full-blown zone.
He’d also had some private chats with his fellow sentinel about the care and feeding of guides. He could see the two-way protectiveness that went between the other two men. He’d shared how Blair had saved his life after Blair had figured out Jim was a sentinel, when he hadn’t accepted yet that Blair was right. He’d stormed off only to be zoned in the street by looking at a damn Frisbee; Blair had saved his ass. Dunne had examples to pull out, too, of how Wilmington had saved his life on some of their cases, and his stories sounded a damn sight better than one about being rescued by his guide from being run over by a garbage truck.
Jim wandered out to Larabee’s kitchen and made himself a ham and cheese sandwich. He poured himself a cup of coffee and turned off the coffee machine. He’d leave to pick up his stock and then head over to the Merchandise Mart, which was hosting this week's gun show. He was alone, and it was a welcome respite, despite the fact that he’d enjoyed their camping trip and time spent with the members of Team Seven. Jim smiled, remembering the long talks at the campfire, three of them drinking Irish Coffee and Dunne content with his mug of hot chocolate. They discussed politics, vehicles, how annoying working with the FBI could be, and groaned at Dunne’s attempts to tell jokes. Blair was good at tying in sentinel and guide education into the conversations.
Jim carried his coffee and sandwich out to the patio, and sat where he could look out over Larabee’s ranch. He took a bite of his sandwich and thought about how Blair was teaching the rookies what they needed to know to stay out of the draft. He was doing a great job and Dunne and Wilmington were becoming much more confident about using their gifts. He was very proud of his guide’s talents. Blair’s spirit animal was a wolf, a social animal that mated for life and stood for the ability to connect with others as a teacher. The wolf was perfect for Blair.
Around the campfire, there’d been some hilarious moments when Blair had de-bunked some of the commonly held ideas about sentinels and guides. His guide had been careful to include the kernel of truth within some of the outlandishly held beliefs. Sentinels could feel territorial, but they weren’t slaves to any compulsions to beat the shit out of other sentinels that had intruded on them. Jim had explained that it was more of a feeling of awareness – and a feeling of caution. Dunne had agreed that he’d felt that way, too, when meeting Jim.
Another moment of truth had been that the guide “voice” couldn’t hypnotize a sentinel into a trance state. It was useful for helping a sentinel focus and calm down, and provided grounding, and the familiar sound of his guide’s tones could help stop a sentinel’s zone. Wilmington had been amusing as he’d groused about the now lost chance to make Dunne cluck like a chicken or walk like a duck.
Jim finished his food and sipped at his coffee. He’d have to leave soon but he’d try to soak up as much peace and quiet as he could before he climbed into the beat up van that the ATF had provided for his use.
Blair had made sure to cover every perception the public had about sentinels and guides. He’d explained that there was no secret order of sentinels or guides, which was a popular myth that popped up in novels and movies. Also, a sentinel or guide couldn’t shape-shift into their animal spirit. Hearing that he wouldn't wake up some morning and find himself in an animal body had relieved Buck.
Blair had questioned them both about dreams or hallucinations they’d had about animals. It was clear that Dunne’s spirit animal was a red-tailed hawk. In the dream he’d had when JD was missing, Wilmington had followed the bird to find his missing teammate sitting on an abandoned bunker in the park Dunne had played in as a youngster. When Wilmington and Jackson had arrived at the deserted ranch, a hawk’s cry over and over had attracted Wilmington’s attention to the hidden root cellar the boy’d been buried alive in.
Wilmington’s spirit animal hadn’t made its appearance yet, in his dreams or in the physical world, as far as they could tell. Wilmington was getting impatient to find out what it would be.
Blair had been in his element, explaining what he knew about spirit guides. Jim had let him tell about the times Jim had seen his black panther – or melanstic jaguar, to be one hundred percent accurate, but even Blair would slip and call the big cat a black panther – during times of emergencies.
Blair had only seen his own wolf once – and that was when Jim had followed his drowned partner down the path of the dead – and the wolf and the panther had joined. That was when they had completed their spiritual bond, and it had brought Blair back to the living world. Even now, thinking about how he’d tried CPR on Blair with no success, and how even the medics had given up on him, made Jim feel almost dizzy with anxiety and fear.
And afterwards, regret and recrimination.
Jim no longer felt peaceful and stood up, restless with remembering how much he’d fucked up with his guide.
Blair, caught up in the wonder of the spiritual bond, had extended an invitation to Jim to join him fully. Jim had been stupid, stupid, stupid to put him off. And for what? He’d gone after Alex, murderous, sensual, criminal Alex with her stolen nerve gas. Blair, being Blair, had followed, against every doctor’s restriction, and had seen Jim and Alex kissing on the beach. The offer to fully bond with him had gone by the wayside then. And really, Jim couldn’t blame him. It was hard to explain the influence the female sentinel had exerted on Jim, even when he knew he didn’t really want her. Blair was his guide; the forced journey to the spirit world Alex had drugged him into had been all about Blair. Jim came out of that mess knowing he wanted the full bond with his guide. Blair came out of it determined not to let himself be hurt by betrayal again. So, he’d refused the physical bond but wouldn’t abandon Jim. It had taken a long time for Jim to get him to reconsider a total bond. And now the kid had let slip he had some other concern for Jim that were holding him back. Jim needed to get him to spill the beans about that. Jim wanted them to be together in every sense of the word. Domestic partners, work partners, and fully bonded to each other, physically and spiritually.
They’d been walking a very fine line, the two of them. It was possible to have a physical bond without having sex, but the physical intimacy – the skin to skin contact that would precede the bonding hormones production – very naturally usually led to having sex. They were only human.
Jim carried his coffee cup and plate back into the kitchen and washed them in the sink. He placed them on a towel and reached in his jeans pocket for the van keys. He locked doors and walked to the van. There were bumper stickers on it with slogans making it clear that he didn’t believe in government regulations. He climbed in and started the engine. As he drove back towards Denver, he focused on what was most important to him – Blair agreeing to be his guide in every way. Right now, there was wiggle room for Blair to change his mind.
Jim’s genes were almost fully turned on; Blair’s weren’t as much as Jim’s. Right now, Blair could leave him without physical repercussions, but it was only a matter of time -- if they had sex or more intense skin-to-skin contact -- before full bonding happened.
If Jim became fully engaged as a sentinel, he would have to have a guide’s touch. He would need the guide whose touch had initialized him. Impressed on him. If the guide withdrew from his sentinel, he was risking their health. Theirs would be a symbiotic relationship.
Up at the campsite, Jim had ducked out when Blair had begun explaining the birds and the bees of bonding to the rookies. He was uncomfortable talking about his needs, for crying out loud, with his own guide. He didn’t want to get into it with two other guys. When he was out of sight, Blair had cheerfully whispered to him that he was a dick for bailing, causing Dunne to choke on his drink and Wilmington to pound on the kid’s back. Jim had quietly -- and with, he hoped, dignity – asked Dunne to tell Blair he was going for a hike and he’d be back in an hour. Blair had stuck him with cooking and KP duty when he returned.
Jim made an exit from the Interstate that led to Denver and traveled some back county highways for while before turning onto the winding gravel road that led to a state of the art security fence beyond which a few isolated storage units could be seen. The gate was unlocked, and he pulled up next to the storage unit the guns had been transferred into so that there wouldn’t be a direct trail back to the Federal Building. Tanner and Larabee got out of Larabee’s black truck and met him at the door of the unit. Jim took a discreet sniff and yep, they were both floating in pheromones, but no actual arousal scent. He reminded himself again that this wasn’t his business, and concentrated on the job at hand.
Once they'd inventoried and loaded the guns, and Jim signed off on them, he drove to Merchandise Mart, registered, and set up his sales tables. He decorated his booth with some very attractive bait. A poster advocating that the government keep its nose out of private citizen's lives. NRA banners. Survivalist manifestos. And in a visible place, the symbol of the Sunrise Patriots. Then he waited for Sanchez to make his appearance.
Larabee Ranch, Denver County, Colorado
Thursday, early evening, July 26, 2001
JD slumped down in the big armchair in Chris’ living room. He felt tired and kind of down in the dumps, actually. He hadn’t done very well on their town field trip at all. He’d had three incidents of zoning, and come close to it a half-dozen other times. Buck was able to snap him out of it pretty quickly, but filtering through car traffic noise and the hum of machinery in buildings to identify scents and sounds had given him a headache. Blair had only let him take a baby aspirin, and he wasn’t looking forward to the teasing he figured the rest of the team would dish out once they heard about it.
Blair and Buck were listening appreciatively to Josiah relating how he and Jim Ellison had put on the best floor-show since Gypsy Rose Lee.
“Ellison kept denying that he’d ever sold guns to such a righteous group as the Sunrise Patriots. Said it would have been his honor to do so, but that he couldn’t allow me to leave under such a misapprehension. So while he was 'correcting my error', more and more people started to gather round, listening to me exult him for supplying weapons to the finest group of Americans of this century.”
Ellison walked out of the kitchen and said, “You really came across as a religious nut. You know your bible, that’s for sure. It’s a wonder the police weren’t called to cart you away for disturbing the peace.”
Josiah gave an acknowledging wave of his hand and continued. “It was the winking that was the finest touch.” He turned to JD and Buck and gave a toothy grin. “After he’d swear that he never had the pleasure of doing business with the Sunrise Patriots, he would wink. I’d say that everybody who saw him firmly believes he was the supplier of the Patriot’s weapons.”
“I heard a lot of buyers and sellers saying just that after you left, Sanchez.”
Buck rubbed his hands together greedily. “Now we wait and see who takes the bait. Greer, we know from informants, is a straw purchaser. It’s likely he’ll check you out. And maybe, if we’re lucky, a few others will, too.”
Blair raised his eyebrows. “Straw purchaser?”
Ellison answered him. “Somebody who legally buys guns to pass them to others who can’t buy them themselves. And I’m getting hungry. Did you pick up some steaks on your way here?”
“I did. Who’s staying for supper? I’ve got salad stuff, too, and I thought I’d make this rice dish…”
“Sounds good, Blair, but I think I’ll pass,” Josiah said, and stood up.
JD thought to himself that he might as well talk to Josiah now as later, so he got up, too, “Josiah, I’ll walk you out. Been meaning to talk to you.”
The two men walked outside together and JD thought about what a study in contrasts they were. Tallest to shortest. Oldest team member to youngest team member. Philosopher to tech geek. But none of that mattered because he and Josiah were both members of Team Seven, and Josiah had always made time for him, when he was troubled.
“What’s on your mind, John Dunne?”Josiah said encouragingly, which JD appreciated.
“A lot. Can I ask you some things that are kind of personal? I’d understand if you’d rather not let me pester you.”
“You’ve never been a bother, son. And this isn’t the first time we’ve talked together, is it? I’ve told you often enough to come see me if you need somebody to listen. I stand by what I said. So, what can I do for you?”
“During the Vietnam War, the army drafted you. How did you feel about it?” JD asked the question as respectfully as he could. Josiah didn’t often talk about that war.
“Been expecting you to bring that up. Well, John Dunne, my country said it needed me, and so I went. Lots of mistakes were made in that war, and I followed orders I sometimes didn’t agree with. That’s part of what it means to be in the service, you know. You follow orders and policies that you, personally, may not agree with. Now, with the volunteer army, when you sign up, you are choosing to put yourself in that position. A conscripted soldier, he doesn’t put himself in that place, he gets forced there. Of course, we always have choices, even if they are hard choices. A lot of good men chose to say ‘No’ to the draft and went to Canada or Mexico or Sweden. I can’t fault them. It’s not an easy thing to do to walk away from your home and family for your beliefs, thinking you could never come back again to the land of your birth.”
JD flashed on what it would mean to Buck to never be able to return to Colorado. Buck didn’t have any family here anymore since his mother had passed away, but just the same his roots were in Colorado.
“Law says that a soldier can’t be forced to follow an illegal order. But in circumstances where you’d question an order, it’s likely you’ll be in battle or under serious pressure to follow that order. It’s not easy in those circumstances to know what’s right. And, you’ll be hoping your superior officers will see it your way during the inquiry you’ll face for refusing an order.
“Some of the men in my unit considered the draft as being necessary, the price you pay for being a citizen. They were proud to serve their country. Hell, JD, I was proud to serve; I signed up for a second tour in ‘Nam. And I served with a sentinel and guide pair. They saved our lives many times. I know that the talents you would bring -- you and Buck – would be invaluable in the service of our country. But those same talents would also be invaluable right here in Colorado being utilized by the ATF. And speaking selfishly, I hope you and Buck can remain members of our team.”
Josiah looked over for a while at the sunset, evidently lost in his memories. Then he sighed. JD used his “gifts” as Blair called them; his teammate's scent made him think of sorrow and regret with a tinge of anger. Josiah stroked his chin, before he spoke again.
“Others felt like the Army owned them, that they were slaves until their time was up. They were bitter – especially because the draft was never fair, not even the lottery.
“When it comes right down to it, son, the fact is that when Congress relieved the rest of our citizens from their obligatory draft responsibilities – of course, it had always been stacked against the poor – sentinels and guides got left behind. They didn’t have enough political clout – just too few of them. But I don’t believe that made it right. “
Josiah reached out and squeezed JD’s shoulder. “Krishna once told a man who was in despair about what decisions in life he should make to, ‘Know what your duty is and do it without hesitation’. You’ll figure it out, John Dunne. And I’ll support you when you do.”
He gave one last squeeze and stepped backwards, turned and walked to where his ancient Suburban was parked, climbed in and drove away, waving to JD as he passed him on the driveway.
JD focused on the Suburban’s taillights till they were mere pinpricks of red, then extended his hearing to find out what his guide was up to. Buck was drinking a beer and joking about a girl who had flirted with Blair at the bar they’d had lunch in. Blair had said that having lunch there was a dry run for times when, as a sentinel, he’d have to meet with informants at places like that, but JD suspected that he’d just wanted a bowl of the chili that JD had described to him on the street outside of the bar and grill. Blair was always coming up with tests for his senses, and talking to Buck about how important testing was to keep up. He’d started Buck on filling out notebooks about the reactions JD had experienced and the things that tended to bother him. But, Blair said that he didn’t seem to have as much sensitivity as Jim did, and Jim managed to do his job as a detective. Blair said he’d be okay. So did Buck.
JD shook his head as Jim asked Blair about that girl.
Blair was denying that he’d been interested in her, and JD bet that Jim was on that like white on rice. Jim would be listening to Blair’s heartbeat and watching for all the other signs of not telling the truth. The man was crazy about his guide and since Blair and he hadn’t done the full bond, Jim tended to act a little possessive.
He could understand that.
He and Buck hadn’t decided how to handle the physical end of their bond, except they did a lot of cuddling – in bed and out of bed. So far, that level of intimacy was enough to keep them both healthy. But it was hard. He got hard, all the time, when he was close to Buck and touching his skin.
Blair hadn’t been interested in that girl; he was telling the truth. But it had been more fascinating to him that Buck hadn’t made any effort to flirt with her and there had been no signs of arousal from him. And that was good. He guessed. He wanted Buck to be happy, and if that meant that Buck cuddled him and had sex with women, then that would be what he would settle for. But it wasn’t what he wanted.
He wasn’t interested in getting tangled up with a woman, either. Not even Casey. She still hadn't returned any of his phone calls, so Vin had spoken to her granny; Nettie had told her about JD's and Buck's kidnapping and bonding.
He shook his head. Maybe he and Casey would have had something together, if the last month hadn’t happened, but it had and they didn’t anymore. He didn’t think they ever would. Not now.
Still, he’d hoped they could stay friends. Vin said she was real sorry to hear what had happened to him and Buck but that she was hurtin’ too bad to see him, that the wound was too fresh and lookin’ at him or talkin’ to him would just make it worse. He felt bad for Casey, but he just couldn’t start sleeping with her when the person he wanted for his lover had a mustache and a bent for practical jokes. And muscles. Real nice muscles and sexy skin.
He sniffed the air and smelled the steaks cooking, and decided to go back inside the ranch house. Thinking about Buck had made him want to sit next to him and drink in his scent. Later tonight, there would be at least some skin to skin touching, when they went back home and went to bed.
Continued in In Our Time of Need -- Part Five