*This is a long one so it's been divided into two somewhat equal parts: Chapters 1 - 6 (below), and Chapters 7 - 12/Epilogue. Also the language is slightly stronger so just to be on the safe side, I'll raise the rating to TV-M.
*The story has references to some of the shows and some of my other stories but nothing that really needs explaining. If you get lost, e-mail me.
*This story is due in part to a particular reader who shall remain nameless (Hi, Sarah!) who urged me to write of Jim's dark past since I'd made several references to it in earlier stories. I don't know if this explains it or not. I just know it turned out much longer than I expected. BTW, it's not an AU, merely a detour off the usual path.
"What's wrong, Jim?" Blair Sandburg asked his partner and best friend as they headed home to their loft in Cascade, Washington. Jim was a police detective in Major Crimes and Blair was sort of a consultant to the department and acted as Jim's partner. But mainly he was a grad student in anthropology at Ranier University. How and why he was Jim's partner had started as a research project and grown into something more.
In a few ancient texts there were stories of persons called sentinels, guardians of Peruvian tribes. These persons had enhanced senses which gave them the ability to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste dangers to the people under their watch. Most esteemed anthropologists considered the stories mere myths or legends. Apt student Blair Sandburg, however, firmly believed that these sentinels had existed and wondered if they still did since it was an inherited trait not learned behavior. He made friends with nurses (actually he made friends with females who happened to be nurses) and one day he got the call he was waiting for. Someone in the hospital was showing signs of having hyper-senses. That someone turned out to be Det. Jim Ellison and the rest was either history or history waiting to be written...
Jim sought the words to answer Blair's question. He thought he had concealed his tension, but he should have known Blair would sense it. The younger man was his Guide, a Sentinel's constant companion as well as teacher. A bond had grown between the two and it had deepened now to the point of an almost psychic connection. Just as it was hard for Blair to hide his real feelings from Jim, it was equally hard for Jim to fool his partner. "I wish I knew what was wrong, Chief. Roderick Masters is in jail. His victim, Stacy Thomson, is home with her family. There's not a scratch on you or me. But I feel--"
"There's something wrong," Blair finished for him.
Jim glanced at his partner. "Then you feel it too?"
Blair shook his head. "Not this time." In addition to being a Guide Blair was also a Shaman and he had the ability to "sense" emotional imbalances in certain situations. But this time he felt nothing, other than the unease in his partner. "Pull over, Jim." He motioned him into the far end of a parking lot. "Take a deep breath."
"You want to approach this as if one of my senses has kicked in?" Jim asked with a frown, recognizing Blair was in Guide mode.
"Why not? It is another sense. And we've suspected all along it may be enhanced too."
"You've suspected," Jim clarified. It was hard enough trying to absorb the fact his five senses were enhanced and still consider himself a normal person. But an enhanced "sixth" sense would mean something totally different. "And why are we doing this? Why don't we just wait and see if anything happens?"
"Because, man, I'm about to suffocate in the tension emanating from you. Whatever you are feeling is strong. So be a good Sentinel and listen to your Guide," he added with a smile, trying to get Jim to relax.
Jim started his deep breathing and immediately began to focus. "There's danger, Chief," he said softly as he tried to control the feeling or at least trace its origin.
"Who is the danger directed toward? Me?" Jim shook his head and Blair gave a sigh of relief. Then he grew anxious again. "You? Are you in danger, Jim?" he demanded.
"No. At least I don't think so." He opened his eyes and looked at Blair in frustration. "It's all very fuzzy, Chief. There's nothing I can focus on like I do normally. There's no sound to search for, nothing that I'm supposed to see. There's just this vague warning. But I am sure you're not the one in danger. That feeling I've very familiar with."
Blair nodded and Jim started the truck. "We'll work on this at home, Jim." His roommate clenched his jaw, a prelude to an argument. "It's too powerful to ignore. And I think we would be fools if we did." The detective grunted in reluctant agreement.
Jim parked at the loft and told Blair to stay in the car for a second. "Let me check out the area first." He sent his senses out into the night, gathering information his brain processed as naturally as if he were merely reading a book. "Nothing out of the ordinary. Let's go." Usually he would then "turn" his senses back to normal because operating at high levels left him open to the shock of a loud noise or flash of light. But this time he entered the building in full Sentinel mode, his Guide placing his hand on his shoulder in order to keep him from zoning, a condition where he focused too deeply and lost contact with the physical world.
Jim was debating whether to take the stairs or the elevator when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Someone was at the top of the stairs, on the landing outside their apartment. He concentrated harder, finding three heartbeats and nothing more. Whoever they were, they were well-trained in stealth tactics. An ordinary person wouldn't know they were there until they attacked. Too bad for them they weren't dealing with an ordinary person.
Blair recognized that Jim was not merely in Sentinel mode but cop mode as well. He must sense something. He reached into his backpack for the cell phone just in case they needed backup, stepping into the stairwell to dial when he saw Jim draw his gun. Then Jim frowned and held up his hand, signaling his partner to hold off on the call. "What's wrong?" Blair whispered so only a Sentinel could hear.
"There's something familiar about..." He holstered his gun and raced up the stairs, Blair at his heels. He stopped, automatically reaching back to keep his partner from plowing into the back of him. "It's me, Adam. Come on out so I can see you, all three of you."
From where Blair could only see shadows, three men emerged. Two were obviously goons, muscle hired apparently to protect the third man. The cut of the Italian suit, the drape of the dress coat, the lack of a defining bulge underneath his arm made it clear he was the man in charge. "Should I ask how you knew it was me, James?" the man queried softly.
"You can ask, but I won't answer," Jim replied tightly. "Why are you here?"
"There's been an incident, an attempt on Father's life."
Blair felt Jim stiffen and he put his hand on his back in support. "Unsuccessful I take it?"
"Yes. But at the moment he is unfit to lead. You know what that means."
A shudder rippled though Jim, unnoticed except by Blair who was still touching him. "Jim?" he questioned softly in concern. Who was Father? And what did his being incapacitated have to do with his partner?
Jim turned around, briefly searching the face that he knew so well, trusted so completely. "Forgive me, Blair. I thought there would be time to prepare you for this."
"Prepare me for what?" he asked, confused and frightened. Somehow he didn't think it was something "happy" Jim had kept from him.
Jim didn't answer, merely turned and nodded to the man he'd called Adam. The man took something out of his pocket and Jim held out his hand. Blair watched in silence as Adam slipped a ring onto his partner's finger. The scene felt slightly familiar to the grad student and his mind flashed to the Godfather movies and other mob-related lore he knew. He laughed silently at the eagerness of his imagination. Gee, all he needed now was for Adam and the others to kiss the ring and the fantasy would be complete.
Adam dropped to one knee and the other two men followed suit. Jim looked at the ring on his finger and with an apologetic glance back at Blair, he placed his hand in front of Adam. Blair felt his world shift as the man's lips sought the ring.
Jim heard his partner's shocked intake of breath and mentally sent out another apology. This wasn't supposed to happen now. It was supposed to be in the future. After his police career was over. After he had mastered being a Sentinel and Blair wouldn't feel obligated to stay with him. After he'd gotten up the nerve to tell Blair about the other life that had begun long ago-- before he was a cop, before he was a Sentinel, before Blair, Simon, and the rest of his friends had become the family he wanted when he'd joined this one...
"I pledge to you my loyalty, Elder," the third man was saying before Blair let loose the breath he'd been holding. What the hell was going on? There was no way he was going to believe Jim Rules and Regulations, Law and Order, By-The-Book, Ellison was a mobster. If that were true, the Laws of Nature themselves had changed.
"The plane is waiting for you," Adam said as he got to his feet.
"Drive around for about half an hour, then pick me up."
"As you wish. William, stay with the Elder."
"James," Adam started to protest.
"Disobeying me already, Adam?" Jim asked quietly.
Adam paled. "No, sir. We shall return in thirty minutes. But James, you must know there will be changes in your life now, that certain precautions will have to be taken."
Jim nodded. "And in half an hour those changes will be accepted. I am merely requesting a brief period of adjustment. I know my place, Adam, and what is expected of me." The man looked closely at Jim, then signaled for the bodyguards to come with him. Jim waited for them to reach the bottom of the stairs before he unlocked the door to the loft and ushered a still stunned Blair inside. "We have exactly thirty minutes left to ourselves, buddy. If you have some comments to make to me, I suggest you get started," he said when Blair remained mute.
"What kind of comments are you looking for, Jim? That I understand? I don't. That I believe what I just saw? I don't. That if what I saw is correct, that I accept and condone? I don't think you want to hear my comments, man."
"It's not what you think," Jim said as he did a quick reorganization of his life. He was actually proud of himself. He hadn't screamed, yelled, destroyed furniture or humans, even though he was possibly giving up the life he wanted for a life he didn't want but had promised to accept. Either living with Blair had mellowed him or he was a better person than he thought he was.
Blair collapsed on the sofa with a relieved grin when Jim said the words he'd been waiting for. "I was so hoping you would say that, man. Whew! For a minute I was thinking you were involved in some kind of syndicate."
"Uh, by syndicate you mean?" Damn. He needed more suits. No more sweaters and tees.
Blair shrugged. "You know, a group of people who get together and control stuff."
"Stuff like?" Where had he put the suitcase? He hadn't seen it in years. A duffel bag was good enough for his usual wardrobe.
Blair started getting nervous as Jim asked for more details. "Drugs, prostitution, gambling..."
Jim dragged a suitcase out of the closet and sniffed the inside. Musty, but it would do. "Nah, I guess it's not a syndicate, Chief."
"Then what exactly is it, Jim?" He hadn't lived and worked with a detective for five years without knowing when to be suspicious.
Jim ignored the question. "I have to call Simon."
"And tell him what?"
"That I have family business to take care of."
"You think he'll believe it?" Blair asked skeptically. Simon knew Jim's family consisted of his father and his brother Stephen, both residents of Cascade.
"It's his choice, Chief. I'll ask for an indefinite leave of absence but if there's a problem, I'll just call it a resignation."
Blair didn't think he was capable of being more shocked, but he was. "You would give up who you are for whatever this crap is? You like being a cop, man. Hell, you are a cop. Is this other shit that important?"
"This other 'shit' as you so call it, was decided, was destined, before I became a cop, before I was aware I was a Sentinel. It's something I can't change," Jim explained with a hint of sadness.
"Oh, yeah, I saw the movie, Jim. How does it go? Something like, 'I try to get out, but they just keep pulling me back in'."
"The Family is my responsibility now, at least until Father is able to lead again." He climbed the steps to his room. "I gave my word. You know what that means to me."
Blair knew, and had counted on it many times in the past. "And you gave your word to this Father? Who is he?"
"Head of an organization we simply, and unoriginally, call the Family."
Blair heard the rattling of hangers and knew Jim was going through his closet. "And the purpose of the Family?"
"Too complicated to get into considering our current time restraints."
Nice dodge, Jim. "And since Father is hurt, you...?"
"Must assume control."
"Because I am Father's successor, his chosen heir. It's not something I asked for or something I courted, Chief. But it is something I accepted. I'm calling Simon now, so hold the next question."
Blair unabashedly listened to Jim's part of the conversation and could tell Simon was just as confused and as concerned as he was. This was not the Jim Ellison they knew. Well, yeah, in a way it was because he was keeping his word. But their Jim wouldn't have given a promise like this. Not if it involved something illegal. And forgive him for stereotyping, but those three men who had been waiting on them did not operate wholly on the right side of the law. They knew the shadows too well to enjoy the light.
"Okay, that's that," Jim said as he came back down the stairs.
"Simon wasn't pleased," Blair stated.
"When is he ever?" Jim tried to joke, gripping the suitcase tight in his hand to hide the tremble. The kid was already unnerved. If he exploded now, he'd have to peel Blair off the ceiling. No, that task would have to go to Simon because he'd probably be in jail for the murder of Adam. But it would be so cliche to kill the messenger...
"What did you mean by 'it's his choice'?" He'd heard the answer, thought he knew what the question was but wanted to be sure.
"He wanted to know if you were going with me."
"Hard to make a choice when I haven't been asked the question," Blair replied.
"That's because I'm too scared to ask."
Blair looked at the man who was now dressed in a blue suit and would blend in all too well with Adam and the goons. "Scared I'll say yes or that I'll say no?"
Jim shrugged. "Either way, I lose."
Blair was tired of the word games. This was too important to him. From the moment Adam had mentioned a plane, he'd been wondering if Jim would ask him to go with him. In fact he'd been close to begging his friend to take him along. "Want to explain that statement?"
Jim sighed. "It's not a big secret that I like having you in my life, Chief, and if you decide you want no part of this, it will hurt like hell to tell you goodbye. But if I get you involved in the Family, if I expose you to this side of my life, then I'm a failure as a Blessed Protector."
"Is this some kind of black ops thing, Jim? If I don't have the right clearance, I die?"
"You would have my clearance, Chief, and my protection. To harm you would mean certain death," he said fiercely. "But what you would see, what you would hear, what you would watch me do... Life is not just black and white, Blair."
"I've seen the gray, man," Blair argued.
Jim shook his head. "I'm not talking about gray. I'm talking about shades of black. Some people might describe them as necessary evils. That's what the Family handles, Chief." There was a knock at the door.
Blair glanced at his watch. "Adam?" he asked, swallowing hard. Was it time to make his decision?
"No. It's Simon." Jim looked at the door, wondering how much he would be tested this night. He'd been expecting this visit. When he realized the captain had answered his cell phone in the car, he had known Simon would arrive at the loft before Adam returned.
"I'm going to let you two hash it out in private for a few minutes," Blair said as he headed for his room. "Besides, I have some thinking to do."
"While you're doing all that thinking, Chief, don't forget about yourself." He received a solemn nod in reply, then opened the door. "Come on in, Simon."
"What the hell is going on?" Simon Banks believed in cutting through the crap and getting to the heart of the matter. "Why is there a block-long limo parked outside with two gentlemen lounging around it who look like rejects from a Puzo novel?"
Jim smiled but it didn't reach his eyes. "My ride must have returned. I'll tell the guys to be a little less obvious next time."
Simon frowned and pushed his glasses up on his nose. "You know those men? What the hell kind of trouble are you in?"
"That's a two-part question, Simon. One, I'm not in any trouble and two, I'm definitely in hell or at least heading toward it. But its one of my own making so I'm not going to bitch and moan about it, no matter how much I want to."
"Your own making or not, Jim, I thought we were a team."
He rubbed his temples. "The man those guys are waiting for is on someone else's team and the contract is solid. No buyouts. No free agent status. He's locked in and he can either play or ride the bench. There are no other options." Jim reached into the outer pocket of his suitcase. "I was going to drop these by the station. Thank you for saving me the trip. I don't think I could face many more people tonight." He lay his badge and gun in Simon's hand.
Simon blinked, refusing to acknowledge the pain in the center of his chest. "You'll be taking a leave of absence, so these will be waiting for you when you get back. I'll just hang onto them for you."
Jim nodded, his jaw clenched firmly against the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. "I want to come back, Simon, and if given the chance, I will."
"I have always hated your past, Jim."
A tentative smile. "I know. Thank you for that. Thank you for caring about my demons even when they managed to interfere with work."
"You and I haven't been merely about work for a long time now, Jim," Simon acknowledged. He took a deep breath and decided to fall back on the practical. "Where will you be?" Jim looked away. "Well, at least tell me how I can contact you."
Pain burned in the blue eyes which raised to meet his brown ones. "Don't, Simon. Don't contact me. Don't ask questions, start people to looking. You won't like the consequences."
"Damn it, Jim! Don't do this to me," Simon replied angrily. "You know very well I'm not asking as a cop or even just a friend. You and Sandburg made me into a Watcher. I just can't turn it off and on."
Would that we could-- all three of us. Jim tore a sheet from the pad near the phone and scribbled a number. "It's a Virginia exchange. Promise me you won't try to find out more. I really need your word on this, Simon," he said to the man who held the same values as he did.
Simon's honor warred with his cop nature, but in the end a Watcher's need won out. "You have my word, Jim." He tucked the number unread into his wallet. "About your partner. Any decision been made?"
Blair figured this was his cue to reenter the room. "I'm going with Jim." He had changed into a suit, sans tie, and carried a battered suitcase. He looked at his best friend. "Was there ever any doubt?"
"Doubt, no. Hope, yes," Jim said softly. He watched Blair and Simon exchange glances and knew it was time to give them the same privacy Blair had given him and the captain. He felt like a kid walking away from a teacher/parent conference, knowing his behavior was going to be the topic of discussion. "I'm going to head to the car before Adam gets nervous. Just come on down when you're ready, Chief." He shrugged into his coat, picked up both suitcases, and took a lingering glance at the loft, then Simon. "Take care, sir."
Simon stared at his friend, wanting to order him to stay and knowing he had no say in the matter. "You do the same, Jim." The detective inclined his head in agreement and left. Simon spun around to face the remaining roommate. "We don't have much time, Sandburg. I doubt if those guys downstairs have much patience."
Blair shrugged. "Doesn't matter what the Family wants to do. Jim's the boss."
Simon's eyes widened. "The Family? What do you mean 'the boss'?"
"As in fucking 'kiss my ring and call me don' boss," Blair said with disgust. "I witnessed the damn ceremony with my own eyes."
"Shit!" Simon took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "What are we going to do about this, Sandburg?"
"Whatever it takes. If I'm not back in two weeks, I'll blow the entire Spring semester. But that's minor compared to this."
"You have my number?" Simon asked.
"Number 3 on my speed dial, sir. Right behind Jim."
Jim was two? "What's number one? 911?"
"Actually that's number 4." Simon continued to stare at him. "Hunan's Chinese, okay!"
Simon laughed. "We need to have a long talk about your priorities, Sandburg. As soon as we extract your partner from this... mess. I expect you to report in regularly."
Blair checked to make sure the stove was off and the heat was turned just high enough to keep the pipes from freezing. In Cascade, the weather was unpredictable in the winter. "I will, Simon. And before you say it, I'll be careful. For all our sakes. Jim's already hinted if anyone messes with me, he'll kill them."
"He always says that," Simon pointed out. Jim was very protective of his partner.
"Yeah, Simon, but this time he means it, literally. I'm scared for him," Blair admitted.
"We both are, Sandburg."
"Before we got home and found the goon squad waiting for us, Jim's danger alert was going off big time. He says it has nothing to do with me and now I'm really worried because the reason Jim is temporarily in charge of the Family is that someone tried to take out the true leader. What if..." He let the sentence drift off. "What are you picking up, Simon? Is it Jim that's in danger?"
"I've been so freaked since Jim's call, I can't separate what's real and what's my imagination, Sandburg. But I can tell you one thing I've observed since I got here. You're partner is a fucking time bomb. Something or someone is pushing and squeezing him and I'm willing to bet the only reason he hasn't exploded is you."
Blair nodded, having seen the signs himself. "But I can't hold him together forever, Simon. At the moment he feels he owes some kind of debt and when that's paid, he wants to come back here and become plain old Det. Ellison again. But I don't think they are going to want to let him go. And when that happens, the clocks ticks out and Jim will go boom."
Simon reached out to place a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Just make sure you duck to avoid the shrapnel. If you go down..."
"Yeah, I know, Simon. If something happens to me, hell won't be big enough to contain Jim Ellison."
Blair sat beside Jim in the roomy interior of the limo and studied the man sitting across from them. Adam. Who exactly was he? More than a henchman. Really close to the top of the heap if his arrogance was any indication. And he had called Jim by name, as if they had once been equals. He'd even challenged Jim until the "Elder" called him on it. Suddenly black eyes flicked across him and if he'd been alone, he would have dropped his stare. But the warm presence next to him gave him courage and he merely continued his assessment.
"See something you like?" Adam said, his tone a mixture of amusement and annoyance.
"You better watch yourself, you little--"
Whatever he was about to say was lost in a gurgle as Jim's hand curled around his throat. "Don't tempt me, Adam. I'm not in a very good mood." He released the man and settled back against the soft leather.
"I'm sorry, Jim," Blair said softly. He'd just finished telling Simon he was going to be careful, that he knew how close to the edge Jim was, and what was the first thing he did: piss off Adam bad enough to make the man attack him. So far you're a big help, Sandburg.
"It's okay, Chief. You're as unsettled as I am. When we're on the plane you can do one of those relaxation techniques your mother taught you."
"So this is how it's going to be," Adam muttered as he absently rubbed his neck, knowing neither of them could hear him across the expanse of the car.
"Yes, Adam," Jim said, startling his companion. "This is exactly how it's going to be. I'm here because I gave my word, but you would do well to remember I am here on my own terms."
"Father may have something to say about that."
"If and when Father is well enough to get into my business, then he'll be well enough to mind his own and I can come back here to Cascade. Until then, you should let it be known to the rest of the Family that Sandburg is off limits. I will not tolerate any abuse, verbal or otherwise."
Blair started to protest Jim's seemingly excessive protectiveness, then he closed his mouth. He had no idea of what the Family was capable of. Jim's heavy-handedness just might be warranted. The car slowed to a stop, breaking the tension in the back of the long auto. When the door was opened Blair looked out and saw they were at a private airstrip, a sleek Lear jet throbbing nearby under bright lights.
He settled into the cushioned seat and clicked the belt in place. "Haven't been in anything this nice since the trip from Indiana." Blair felt eyes fall on him and realized what he had said. The private jet he remembered was one Stephen Ellison had arranged to bring a tortured, mentally unbalanced Jim home to Cascade. The whole episode was still very disturbing to his partner. "I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't mean to bring any of that up. I'm nervous and my mouth is outracing my brain," he said in a rushed apology.
"I'm okay with it, Chief. But it's a really bad subject for Adam."
Blair craned his neck to look at the other man. He had indeed paled. "What's he got to do with it?"
Jim chuckled. "Adam is in charge of North American ops, which means my security is in his domain. Losing track of me almost got him killed. In fact, Chief, you and Simon saved his life by finding me. Then he owes you again for helping me regain my 'mental integrity'. Because of that, I was able to beg for his life."
"I tried to pay you back," Adam said vehemently. "I offered to help you with that presidential assassination fiasco. You wanted to go solo."
"I wanted to save my partner's life! Hell, if I'd let you interfere Blair and the President would be dead! You are uniquely inept when it comes to security matters."
Blair figured by the time this was over, his mouth would be permanently fixed ajar in shock. "Excuse me, gentlemen," he interrupted, wanting to make sure his ears weren't playing tricks on him. "But are saying that Jim and I have been watched since day one?" They nodded and his skin crawled to think of the lack of privacy. Damn. All the girlfriends, the panic attacks, everything, observed by a third party. Could it get any worse? Yes, it could. Because that meant someone saw Lash come after him and had witnessed the colonel kidnaping Jim and... "You son of a bitch!" he shouted, glaring at Adam.
"Calm down , tiger," Jim said benignly. "He's not just a son of a bitch, but a sorry one as well. We were supposed to be under surveillance but Adam here thought it beneath him to see to it personally so he sub-contracted out the job. He never even noticed when I bought the contract and pulled the surveillance. The only reason he found out was that I went missing for six weeks and failed to contact Father on schedule. When he asked his Vice-President of North American Operations why I hadn't responded that was when the shit hit the fan, wasn't it, Adam?"
"Go to hell, James," the man spat.
"Thought I was already there," Jim adjusted his hearing as the engines prepared for takeoff. "Once we level off, see if you can get comfortable and sleep, Chief. When we get to Virginia, things are going to happen fast."
"You think there will be problems with acceptance of your leadership?" Blair asked hesitantly.
Jim shrugged. "I hope not, but I'm not worried. I am not totally without support." He looked at Adam as he spoke.
"What about... about what you were feeling earlier?" Blair was careful because he could tell Adam was monitoring the conversation.
"It's still there."
Blair watched the seatbelt light wink out and with a click turned to face his partner. "Then why the hell are you so sure you're just going to walk into this place and take over? Someone took out Father and since it wasn't you, maybe someone else wants control and they could be willing to move you out of the way too."
Jim smiled. "Now you're thinking like a detective, Chief. The guys at the station would be proud of you."
Blair refused to respond to the warm feeling that gave him. "Don't distract me, Jim. Who would benefit from your death? Who is next in line?"
"Well, that would be Adam. Isn't that right?" Jim looked at the man in question. "So how about it, brother? You planning on taking me out? Oops, that's right. You've tried that before and failed."
"That was merely in self-defense. You were trying to kill me."
Jim laughed, a harsh sound that contained little humor. "Wrong. If I was trying to kill you, you'd be dead. I merely wanted you to have a lasting warning of what would happen if you ever fucked up like that again."
"Apparently I haven't, have I? He seems pretty safe and sound to me." He glared in Blair's direction.
"And he better stay that way."
Blair had no idea how he had once again become the bone of contention, but he was very aware that Jim was baiting Adam, daring him to react in violence so he could do the same. And while Jim seemed certain Adam was little or no threat, he wasn't so sure. "Jim, didn't you say something about getting some rest? Why don't we move to the sofa in the back?"
Jim looked at Adam, waiting for him to comment but the man didn't oblige. "Sure, Chief. Let's get comfortable." He followed his partner to the long leather sofa. "Don't think I don't know what you're doing," he warned.
Blair didn't pretend not to understand. "You're spoiling for a fight, Jim. And while it may be acceptable in the standards of this society, I don't recommend fisticuffs or any other form of violence on an airplane. Too many things can go wrong."
Jim cupped his hands over his eyes, wondering why the lights were so bright. "You mean worse than it already is?" He pushed a button and a steward appeared. "Dim the lights, please," he requested.
"What's the matter, Jim?" Blair asked in a rushed whisper, everything else leaving his mind. "Are your controls weakening?"
"The lights are just too bright, that's all."
A thought jumped out at Blair. "Jim, you haven't been operating in enhanced mode since back at the loft, have you?"
"Had to turn down my hearing at the airport."
"Damn it, Jim, that's too long. You'd already used your senses in the capture of Roderick Masters. Now you're telling me you've been using them all night?"
Jim sighed. "You're the one who said it, Chief: Adam is a prime suspect in Father's assassination attempt. I'm damn well going to be on alert in his presence."
"Yeah, so alert you zone, man. Listen to me, Jim. If Adam is going to do something, it won't be here on the plane. He would basically be the only suspect and although he's inept, he's not a fool."
"Yes, Det. Sandburg," Jim agreed with a faint smile. "So, you're telling me I can stand down?"
Blair nodded. After living with Jim, ex-Army Ranger, so long he was beginning to understand military jargon. "Yes, captain. The word is given. But just in case..." He tried to remember a name. "William?" One of the goons turned toward them. "The Elder needs to rest. You have the watch."
William looked at Jim who gave a tiny nod. "Yes, sir." He got up and moved to a chair closer to them.
"Close your eyes, Jim," Blair ordered softly. "Take a deep, cleansing breath, then set your senses to normal. Now turn them down one notch. And another. Good. I'm not telling you you have to fall asleep, but I suggest you stay at these levels for a while. Think you can do that?"
"Sure I can, Chief."
A minute later. "Jim?"
"Hmm?" He felt so peaceful and calm in the little muted haven Blair had created for him.
"Why did you try to kill Adam?"
"So the professor's notes at the station didn't all pertain to me, huh? So who's technique are you copying? Luring your suspect into complacency then attacking. Sounds like Rafe's style of interrogation. Doesn't work on everyone though."
"Does it work on you?" Blair inquired shamelessly. Jim sounded amused rather than annoyed.
"I never tried to kill Adam."
Blair sighed. Certain hardened criminals were harder to crack. "Why did you seriously hurt Adam? I know it had something to do with me."
Jim cracked an eye open. "Getting vain, are we?"
"We would punch you but your pain sensors are so low you probably wouldn't feel it," Blair complained. "Come on, big guy, spill."
"Adam fell down on the job again. He allowed something to hit the streets that shouldn't have. Especially the streets of Cascade."
"What was it?"
Blair gasped. That designer drug had nearly destroyed both of them. "Golden blinded you."
"And almost killed you. I spent all that time by your bedside, locked in a fuzzy golden haze while listening to that damn machine breathe for you, and all I could think of was killing Adam. When you finally started to recover and I regained my eyesight, I ordered the son of a bitch to Cascade, then proceeded to beat the crap out of him."
Blair could feel tremors of residual anger coursing through Jim and understood. Besides the damage Golden had done to the two of them, Jim had watched a young woman fall willingly from a bridge while under its influence. He had tried to save her and failed. Sentinels didn't like failure. Sentinels took it personally. "I'm not a violent person and I often don't understand the aggression that seems to flourish in you military types, but why didn't you kill him, Jim? Not just for the Golden but for all his screw ups. I have no idea of what he's done wrong because I have no idea of what he's supposed to do, but I have listened to you say over and over again that he's incompetent. Why is he still in charge, still alive?"
"Because North America is our biggest operation and there is only one person at this time who has the knowledge and the contacts to replace Adam. And quite frankly, his life is not worth mine, Chief."
"You... you could take over North American operations? What about the others?"
"Are you asking if I could take over for any of the vice presidents? Of course. I couldn't fill in for Father otherwise."
"Why didn't I know any of this?" Blair questioned. How could he have not noticed that Jim was juggling another life on the side? How could he keep it a secret? He too had a double life but one certainly knew about the other. He'd missed classes to do police work and missed important stuff at the station because he was needed on campus. It was inevitable that both lives overlapped. Why hadn't Jim's?
"Successful compartmentalization depends on organization," Jim replied, reading his friend's thoughts. "You assumed I was fixated on neatness because I needed to be in control, not because I had two lives to keep separate."
Blair tried to equate color-coding leftovers to Jim mastering the intricacies of running a world empire while becoming Cascade's best detective, and ended up with a headache. "I think I need to sleep now," he said, his brain requiring time to digest what it had learned.
"Your best idea yet, Chief."
Jim felt the plane change altitude and guessed they were probably about a half an hour from their destination. He opened his eyes and confirmed the estimate with a quick glance at his watch. He had rested quite well and that was due in part to William. Sometime in the middle of the flight he had heard someone moving around. Barely opening his eyes he saw Adam moving past them toward the restroom in the rear. He had also seen that William was tracking Adam's movements with the air of someone on alert. That went a long way in defining William's true loyalties.
Without disturbing his partner, who was curled up beside him as only Blair could do, Jim went to the restroom and taking advantage of the amenities there, he shaved and freshened up. Then he woke Blair and told him to do the same. Adam was curious as the two found their original seats and buckled in. "It's still early. You could have done that after we reached the farm," he commented.
"We're not going straight to the farm. I want to go by the hospital and check on Father first."
"It's too early."
"By the time we land and get to the hospital, it will be well after 6 A.M. and that will be late enough. I assure you, I'm very familiar with hospital schedules."
Adam still didn't like the idea. "What are you hoping to find, James? Father is getting excellent care. It's a private facility for security purposes but I had a specialist flown in. Juliette recommended him, just in case you're wondering."
Jim anticipated Blair's question. "Juliette is in charge of European ops. She's the only person I know who comes close to being your intellectual equal, Chief. Father chose his children well, some of them anyway."
"You have a vice president on every continent?" Blair asked jokingly.
"Yes," Jim and Adam answered simultaneously.
Blair reached up to hold his jaw in place. He was getting tired of the country rube look. "Even Antarctica?"
"Of course." Jim let Adam answer by himself this time. "You been holding out on your partner, James? I thought you two shared everything."
"What we share is none of your concern," Blair said absently before Jim could reply. What the hell was the Family into that they needed someone in Antarctica? Last he heard, the mob wasn't interested in snow and ice-- well, at least not the kind made of pure water. Which brought up another point that had come to him as he slept. Jim had lied to him. He'd said the Family didn't have anything to do with drugs but then admitted Adam had failed to keep Golden off the streets of Cascade. Was this the beginning of a new phase in their relationship? Was he going to have to take everything Jim said and analyze it before accepting it as the truth?
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be, he mused silently as they once again occupied the back of a limo. Jim never straight out lied. Sure, on occasion he'd held back the truth if he thought it would keep his partner safe from harm. Sometimes Blair liked being lied to by Jim because afterwards, when he finally learned the truth he knew he would have worried himself to death if he had known. Protective lying. Sentinel lying. That was what he had come to expect from Jim. But to doubt every word that came from his mouth, to always suspect a lie even when it was the truth? Could he exist like that, could they?
"You coming, Chief?"
Blair looked up to see that they had arrived at their destination. The hospital looked more like an antebellum mansion than a medical facility but Adam had said it was private. William escorted them in and he noticed an exchange between the bodyguard and a man who looked as if he was waiting for someone in the lobby. So Adam did have security set up. The medical staff apparently had been on the lookout for them because no one stopped them as William led them to a room on the fourth floor. The woman sitting outside the door stood stiffly as they approached. Blair decided to give the Family an A+ for Women's Rights.
"Elder," she acknowledged as Jim passed through the door.
"Do you think you could get his medical file for me?" Jim asked. "If a nurse must accompany it, so be it."
William took her place at the door and Blair followed Jim inside. The lights were still dim, the morning nurse not having made her rounds yet. The man in the bed looked to be in his late sixties but Blair knew that injuries and pain could make someone appear older than he was. He quickly scanned the displays of the equipment and to his chagrin, could actually understand most of it. "Too many hospitals," he murmured to himself.
"I know," Jim replied as he reached out to touch the wrinkled hand that lay atop the white blanket. "Father?" he called softly.
Eyes flickered open, a smile coming to the chapped lips. "James, you came."
"You doubted it?"
A hand fumbled for the button to raise the head of the bed. "No. I just wasn't sure if anyone had told you." He turned his head as he started coughing. Jim placed his hand on his shoulder to steady the older man, then handed him a Kleenex to wipe away the phlegm.
"Should he be elevated?" Blair asked in concern.
"Not a problem. My lungs needed cleaning out anyway," Father replied, then peered around Jim into the semi-darkness. "Who is that?"
"I brought Blair with me," Jim said as if it had been his idea.
"Finally," Father said with a smile. "Come here, Mr. Sandburg. I've waited a long time to meet you."
"How do you do, Mr.--"
"Father," the man said. "All Family members call me Father."
"But he's not a Family member," Adam pointed out, reminding them he was in the room.
"Of course he is, Adam," Father protested. "James is allowed to bring anyone into the Family that he wants to."
Jim skewered Adam with an icy stare. "Don't concern yourself with this, Father. Adam and I will work it out privately. I want to know how you are."
"Did Adam give you the details?"
"You were thrown from your horse. Later it was discovered someone had cut the saddle."
Father nodded. "Guess I'm not as young as I used to be. I've been thrown by horses before and have walked away."
"Depends on the fall," Jim said in a reassuring tone. "Your injuries could have happened to anyone. Your age is not to blame; the person who cut your saddle is."
"Adam has started an investigation but since that's your forte, I suppose you will take over?" Father asked hopefully.
Jim grinned. "And do your job too, old man? No, you get well and then I'll find out who did this to you and make sure it never happens again."
"What is going on in here?" a voice called from the door. A tall thin man in a white coat came into the room. "This patient shouldn't be disturbed like this!"
Blair saw Father's blue eyes flare colder than Jim's. "This patient will be disturbed when he damn well feels like it, doctor! James, this is Dr. Renin. Dr. Renin, my son, James."
Renin must have been warned of Jim's position, because his whole demeanor changed. "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know it was you who was visiting your father. The nurse said someone was demanding to see his files and I thought... Would you care to discuss his case outside, sir?"
"What are you going to tell him that you can't tell me?" Father demanded.
"Trust me," Jim said and Father nodded. Jim indicated the doctor should lead the way out. Adam joined them.
"Mr. Sandburg," Father called when Blair started to follow Jim. "Stay and talk to me, please? I'm very interested in getting to know someone who is so close to James."
"From what I gather, you already know me quite well."
Father shook his head. "Untrue. James has been quite diligent in protecting your privacy. I'm truly surprised that he even brought you this close into our clutches."
"It wasn't his idea."
"You have him wrapped around your finger," Father commented with a chuckle.
"Apparently I'm not the only one."
Shrewd eyes assessed each other and Father was impressed by the strength the young man was showing. Even a few of the people he had chosen as his "children" cowered in his presence. Was he losing his touch, was it that he was sick and appeared weak, or was it this man was so sure of his convictions that he was willing to take on the Family for the soul of James Ellison? It would be interesting to find out the answer. "You think I'm wrong, forcing him to take over for me."
"I think he's happy living the life he has."
"The life I allowed him to have," Father clarified. "When he left the Army he should have come here and taken his rightful place. But he was disillusioned, bitter, not the man I had chosen to succeed me. So I told him that if he promised to keep informed, to always be prepared to take over in a moment's notice, he could go out and find what he had lost. And he found it. He found you and once again he is all that I can ask for. I will not give him up."
Blair figured the old man was drawing a line in the sand. Two could play at that game. "Neither will I. I don't understand why he is the only one who can do this. You have Adam, other sons and daughters that apparently like doing whatever it is you people do. Why Jim? Why the one member of the Family who doesn't want it?"
"Because that tells me he has what is needed for the job. His ethics, his sense of duty and honor, all are requirements."
Blair decided to admit his confusion. "Requirements for what? Jim has been very vague when it comes to the purpose of the Family. Maybe you would care to enlighten me?"
Father smiled. "Quite simply, Mr. Sandburg, we control the world."
Blair didn't remember much after that. Jim and the others returned and there was some argument over security in the hospital. Blair was no longer concerned about his partner's emotional stability, the rest on the plane had apparently defused some of the anger in Jim, so it was easy to ignore the squabbling as they all got back into the limo. Instead, he had more important matters to worry about like what he'd learned from Father. Of course, he knew the man didn't literally mean they controlled the world. That would be an impossible task. But it also meant the Family wasn't merely another mob or cartel. Father had quoted Jim's sense of duty and honor as among his qualifications for the job. Not the usual characteristics necessary for drug smuggling or gun running.
What had Jim told him back at the loft? Something about necessary evils. Shades of black. That was how he referred to what the Family did. Shades of black which required duty and honor and ethics... He thought about a tape he'd heard or seen in some ethics class. It was Oppenheimer talking about whether he should have continued working on the nuclear bomb when he realized what the military intended to do with it... Nah. It couldn't be. Jim wouldn't be involved in... Oh God. Could the Family be trafficking nuclear weapons? Could they be selling them to third-world countries, setting the planet up for destruction? Controlling the world, just as Father had said? He carefully inched away from Jim, not wanting his partner to feel the fear racing through him. He needed time to think.
"The horses look in fine form," Jim was saying as he looked out the window at the fenced meadows they were passing. "Any good racers?" he asked Adam.
"There are a couple of two-year-olds who look promising. Tony can give you the details."
"Have you questioned Tony about Father's saddle?"
"Of course. But a couple days before the incident, we'd held an auction and there were a lot of people on the farm, especially in the horse barns."
"An auction? Why?"
"To benefit the local United Way. Father likes to stay on everyone's good side," Adam said dryly as if it was a waste of time.
"That's only good business, Adam."
"You aren't the only businessman here, James."
"I'm not a businessman; I'm a cop," Jim replied, angrily defending himself. "What can you tell me about the investigation?"
"I put Pete Archer in charge. I'll have him come and report to you. So you are going to be taking over the investigation?"
Jim shrugged. "It appears Father will be well enough to take control in a few days and I want to get back to Cascade as soon as possible. I can only do that when I'm sure Father's safe." He sighed and glanced out the window again. "Being a cop is what I'm comfortable doing, Adam. Despite what you and the others think, I don't want Father's job."
"Hell, we all know that, James. That's one of the reasons we resent you, you know," Adam pointed out. "You have what we want and you don't even want it. Then there's the fact we work our butts off doing what Father tells us to do, yet you go off and do whatever you want to do, but you're still the favorite, the chosen one. Just doesn't seem fair."
"Do you think there are members of the Family that believe if Father is dead I'll abdicate the throne, so to speak?"
"Still think I'm a suspect, huh?"
Jim shook his head. "No, not you. I think you know that despite my misgivings, despite the sacrifices I'll have to make, I won't go back on my word. I will head the Family. But everyone doesn't know me as well as you do, Adam. Could the attempt have been in-house?"
Adam slumped back against the dark leather. "I wish I could say no, but some of us are more cutthroat than others and although Father disagrees, I think there may be one or two who have been corrupted."
"Who?" The car slowed and Jim gave Adam a look which said the discussion wasn't over. He glanced at the strangely silent other member of their party. "Something wrong, Chief? The last time you were this quiet... well, actually I can't remember the last time you were this quiet."
Blair tried to smile, but it was difficult with the thoughts that were running through his head.. "I think it's jetlag, Jim. A short nap and you'll wish you hadn't said anything."
Jim frowned. "I didn't think you got jetlag. At least I've never noticed it before."
"Usually I have time to prepare my body by eating fresh fruits and upping my vitamin intake. But I didn't have very much notice this time," Blair lied smoothly as he slid out of the car and looked at the mansion masquerading as a large white farmhouse. It looked so peaceful... to be a den of death. "Nice house."
Jim nodded, not hearing the sarcasm. He smiled when an old man appeared in the doorway. "Raleigh, why is it you never appear to get any older?"
"When I reached the age of water, I stopped the damn process. Welcome home, Elder," Raleigh said, giving Jim a hug as the younger man hurried up the steps. "Your room is ready and like you requested, your friend will have the connecting suite."
Jim threw an arm around Raleigh's shoulder. ""You've always been so good to me. Why haven't you and I run off together?"
"You couldn't afford me, sir," the man replied drolly, amusement glinting in his eyes.
"I guess that means I'm just a cheap date," Blair said as he and Adam came up the stairs.
Jim wasn't sure whether Blair was teasing or not. In fact he wasn't sure how his partner was taking any of this. "Cheap is not a word I associate with you, Chief. Raleigh, this is my friend, Blair Sandburg. Blair, this is Raleigh. He runs the house."
"Nice to meet you," Blair responded politely.
"Any friend of James is welcome here, Mr. Sandburg. Although your appearance is far from conservative, I know James' tastes. You will be neat and courteous. I wish all visitors here behaved like that."
Jim barely held back the laughter. Poor Raleigh was in for a shock. If Blair was in a room for any appreciable amount of time, books and papers would soon be everywhere. "Come on, Mr. Neat and Courteous. I'll show you where you can crash."
Blair was led to a large bedroom with hand-carved furniture and carpet deep enough to sink into. "Wow. Makes the loft seem like a tent," Blair commented as he bounced experimentally on the bed.
"Then give me a tent any day," Jim replied. He pointed to three doors."That's your bathroom, your closet, and this door," he walked over and opened it, "leads to my room. I thought we might need the privacy."
Blair peeked over his shoulder and felt his jaw slipping to the floor once again. Get a grip, Sandburg. "Jim, this is your room."
"That's what I just said, isn't it?"
"I mean, man, this is your room. You have stuff in here. Like you live here." There were pictures on the dresser, a football on a stand atop the chest of drawers. He walked over to the closet and opened it, forgetting to ask permission as he absorbed the fact that this at one time had been Jim's home, and still was. "You have clothes in here," he said, his tone accusing.
"Old suits, Chief. Things I didn't need in Cascade. That's what all of this is: things I don't need." Jim wondered if Blair was finally going to let him in on what was bothering him. Well, he knew what was bothering him, he just wanted to be informed of the specifics. "You've been oddly quiet since I left you alone with Father. Did he say something to upset you?"
Blair debated how much to tell Jim. His suspicions about the Family he was going to keep to himself for a while, at least be reasonably sure before he accused his best friend of such a horrible crime. But maybe he could be honest about what he was feeling relating to other matters. "In all honesty, Jim, nothing is as I expected. Call me arrogant, but I really thought we would come here and you would see that everything you loved was in Cascade and that there was nothing here worth your time coming back for."
Jim sat on the bed and leaned back against the headboard. "And now?"
"Now I find two old men who care for you and you obviously for them. I see you have a home, friends..." He picked up one of the photographs.
"My OCS class," Jim supplied.
Blair looked at the young men who had made it through Officer Candidate's School. Only the best. "Is this Adam?" Jim nodded. "Not just friends, then, but old friends. You have the respect of everyone around you and I think it has little to do with you being the Elder. There's nothing so different about this life than from your other. No wonder you could keep them independent. No wonder it is so hard to choose."
"Sandburg, have you listened to anything I've said? If I had a choice, it wouldn't be a hard one to make. I made this my life when I thought it was the best I could do. Life with my father, my dad, was hell, okay? He never allowed Stephen and me to be brothers and I resented that. So when I was approached in OCS by a man who called me son, told me I would have brothers and sisters, I bought into it. I knew there would be strings attached but I didn't care. Maybe that was because I was young and brash, or maybe because I was desperate to forget my past. But that crash in the jungle, Chief, opened my eyes in more ways that one. I--" He was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Come in," he called impatiently.
"James, Pete Archer is downstairs. You want--" He paused when he saw Blair was in the room. "Sorry, I didn't know I was interrupting. I knew you wanted to get the details of the investigation as soon as possible."
Jim raked his hand across his head. "No problem, Adam. I would like to speak with Pete. Have him meet me in the library. I'll be there in a second." Adam nodded and left. "Is it okay if we discuss this later?" he asked Blair.
"Sure, Jim. I'm used to this kind of duty taking you away," Blair said, although now that he had gotten Jim to talking about the past, he wished it could have continued. "If you decide to go out investigating, don't go without me, okay? You're still in danger of zoning."
"I hear you, Chief. I'll behave." There was another knock at the door as he was crossing the room to leave. "Grand Central Station around here, huh?"
A man stood in the hallway with their suitcases. "Your luggage, Elder."
"Jerry, sir. I'm part of Raleigh's staff. Would you like for me to unpack for you?"
Jim shook his head. "That won't be necessary. And you can leave Mr. Sandburg's bag here as well. We'll drag it to his room later."
"Is this a house or a hotel?" Blair demanded. Raleigh had his own staff?
"From my point of view a hotel, Chief. I promise we'll get back to this discussion later."
Blair nodded. "Uh, is it okay if I call Simon?"
Jim grinned. "In need of backup already or have you missed your check in time?" Blair rolled his eyes. "No problem, Chief." He pointed to the two phones beside the bed. "The white one links to a system but the black one is a private line. Use it to call Simon and save the battery in your cell phone. Tell the captain I said hello."
"Do I need to use my calling card?"
"I think the Family can afford the call, Chief."
"Very funny, Jim," he muttered under his breath as his partner left. He stretched out across the bed and dialed. He didn't want to admit how reassuring the terse, "Banks," sounded to him. "Hey, Simon, it's me."
"Where are you, Sandburg?"
"In a very large farmhouse in Virginia. Actually, I think it's a horse farm."
"I just wanted you to know we arrived safely."
"Considering the crowd you were traveling with, that's a relief. What have you learned so far?"
"For one thing, this is more than just a repayment of a debt. Jim likes these people, Simon. They're like his family, I mean one with the little 'f'. He has quite a history with them."
"No easy extraction then?"
"No, sir. There's already been sort of a challenge tossed out as to who will have Jim in the end."
The sigh was clearly audible. "These aren't the kind of people to be challenging, Sandburg."
"Hey, Father challenged me!"
"Father? The head guy? The one in the hospital? You challenged the man in his hospital bed?"
"He challenged me!" Blair reiterated. "They know all about me, Simon. Jim and I were supposed to be under surveillance, but Jim took care of that a long time ago. You know how he did it? He bought the contract from the guy Adam hired. Jim buying contracts from thugs, Simon. What is this world coming to?"
"What have you found out about this organization? What are they into?" Simon asked, trying to keep Sandburg from drifting off on a long tangent.
"Uh, still no clue there, captain. This hasn't exactly been a normal business day. And Jim's main concern at the moment is finding out who tried to kill Father."
"Despite the suit and the bodyguards, he's still a cop, huh?" Simon said proudly. "Stick with him, Sandburg, and keep me informed."
"Will do, Simon. I'll call you when I get anything."
There was silence on the line. Then another sigh. "Just call me, Blair. It doesn't matter why."
Blair silently thanked whatever entities that had made Simon their Watcher. "I will, sir. Talk to you later." He replaced the receiver and turned over on his back. Hell, even the ceiling was expensively done, stucco with some kind of frieze-like molding. The criminal life certainly had its advantages.
Were these advantages appealing to Jim? Blair had never heard him complaining about what they had or didn't have in Cascade. He seemed content with the loft, the clothes he had, and well, his choice of transportation was just that-- his choice. But he seemed equally comfortable here with private jets, limos, servants, etc. Of course he'd grown up in a big house with a housekeeper and whatever. And both his father and brother were businessmen. Maybe this was more of who he was. Maybe the loft and the police station were anomalies in his life, not the norm.
But as Blair reflected back on the life he had shared with Jim, it had certainly felt normal to him.
Blair awoke with a jerk and a moment of disorientation. Then he realized he was in Jim's room in the farmhouse. He must have fallen asleep after talking to Simon. He sat up, noticing a coverlet had been spread across him as he slept. Great. Who had discovered him curled up on Jim's bed like a faithful puppy? Raleigh? Adam? Damn it. They already treated him like Jim's favorite pet anyway, tolerated because the master so ordered.
Nature calling, he went to the bathroom and with relief, he noticed the wet towels which had been carefully folded before being stuffed into the hamper. Jim. His partner had been the one who covered him up. Had he been that wiped that Jim had come back to the room, showered and changed, without waking him? He'd been hedging when he spoke of jetlag earlier but apparently it had been more true than he thought.
Finally going into his own suite where his suitcase waited-- Jim's doing again he supposed-- he showered and changed into less formal clothes. He'd worn the suit so Jim wouldn't be embarrassed by him as they traveled but surely it wasn't required for mere lounging around the house. If it was, he'd just have to come back up and change again. He didn't need Jim to tell him how important blending into a society was. It was after all, his field of expertise.
Downstairs he found Adam reading the Washington Post and for some reason that irritated him. "Head of North American operations has time to sit around and read the paper? Must be a slow day, huh?"
Adam didn't even bother to lower the paper from his face. "I have fifty-three people directly under me and they themselves have their own staffs. Believe me, I can relax when I want to. If you're looking for James, he's out in the stables talking to our head groom Tony. He said to tell you not to worry, he was only talking and he would look around only when you were with him-- whatever that means. He also said to tell you to eat something. Raleigh set up a mini-buffet on the sideboard at the back of the room. Help yourself."
Blair laded a plate with a little bit of everything that didn't seem too unhealthy and took the plate back to the living room. "It's okay if I eat in here, isn't it?" he asked belatedly.
Adam shrugged. "Raleigh makes the maids clean everything good enough to eat off of, so I doubt if it's a problem."
"Gee thanks, Adam. Are you always such a big help?"
"Are you always such a little snot?" Adam retorted, dropping the paper to his lap. "God, I don't know how James puts up with you. He's usually such a good judge of character."
"Sure he is. That's why he's convinced you have nothing to do with Father's accident," Blair said snidely, stabbing at the eggs on his plate. "But I don't have a past with you, Adam, no familial bonds, no brotherhood of the soldier crap. So it's going to take a lot more to convince me of your innocence."
"Oh, and convincing you is required?"
"Jim values my opinion."
"Screw you, Sandburg."
"Whoring yourself isn't the way to change my opinion, Adam."
"Ooh, baiting Adam is one of my favorite sports. Can I play?" a voice asked from the front door which they apparently hadn't heard open.
Blair looked around, almost dropping his plate as he took in the new arrival. A tall slender, redhead with a face that begged to be sculpted and long legs that he could imagine wrapped.... But that wasn't why Blair was almost in shock. No, he was stunned because he knew her.
"I should have known you'd be slinking into town, Juliette," Adam said as his eyes flicked over her beautiful features. "Someone tell you he was here or did you come sniffing just in case?"
"You... you're the Juliette they talked about?" Blair stuttered. "Head of European operations?"
"That's me," Juliette said. "And you are?"
"Blair Sandburg, Dr. Saunders." He'd listened to her lecture at the Sorbonne during one of his treks through Europe while an undergrad. Juliette Saunders was a bona fide genius. She got her first degree when she was fifteen and had been collecting them ever since in a variety of fields.
"It's been a while since anyone in this house has called me that, Mr. Sandburg. Wherever did Father find you?"
"Cut the act, Juliette," Adam said dryly. "You know James' life better than he does. Don't let her fool you, Blair. If it has anything to do with James Ellison, Juliette will dissect it and put it back together to suit her purpose."
"And what purpose is that?" Juliette challenged.
"Getting James, of course."
"See what jealousy can do to a man, Blair? I may call you Blair?"
"Of course, Dr. Saunders. I'm a big fan of yours."
"Call me Juliette. Anyone with your taste must be worthy of knowing. Tell me about yourself, Blair. What brings you to the farm?"
"Funny, that's what I was going to ask you," Adam interrupted.
"Everyone is flying in, Adam. It's protocol that we pledge our allegiance to our new leader. Where is he by the way?"
"Right here, Juliette." Jim came through the door. He too had opted for casual clothing-- sweater and pants, with his leather jacket. "How can it be that you are even more beautiful every time I see you?"
I definitely have to remember that line. Blair watched Juliette practically fly into his partner's arms. Hmm. Seemed there was history between the two of them and something hotter too, he added as their embrace melted into a long, smoldering kiss.
"I've come to pledge my loyalty, Elder," Juliette said as the kiss ended.
"It's the ring you're supposed to kiss, Juliette, not the man," Adam pointed out, clearly disgusted by the display.
In response, Juliette lifted Jim's hand to her lips and kissed not just the ring, but each finger and the palm. "Thanks for the tip, Adam. Tell me, is there anything else I'm supposed to kiss?"
Jim blushed and carefully pushed her slightly away. "Juliette, have you met my partner, Blair Sandburg? Blair, this is--"
"Dr. Juliette Saunders," Blair completed. "I heard her lecture in Paris. I was just about to tell her it's an honor to be in her presence."
"You have excellent taste in friends, James," Juliette said with a gracious smile. "But I really am here to support you. Gregory is on his way and so is Theresa."
"South America and Australia, respectively," Jim translated for Blair.
"Sorry, Blair," Juliette apologized, "I didn't realize you were that far out of the loop. Anyway, Matthew, vice-president for Asia, is having a bit of a problem in the Middle East and may be late in coming. Walter, Africa operations, is going to see if he can help."
"What kind of problem?" Jim inquired.
"Iraq, of course. He's trying to handle it himself, but since you have taken over..."
Jim's jaw muscle protruded as he picked up the phone. "Sam, get Matthew on the line," he ordered. He held the receiver away from his ear as the lines crackled and popped making the secure satellite connection. "What about Arielle?"
Juliette shrugged. "It's a long ride from the South Pole, James, but she's on her way. I just talked to her yesterday after Adam contacted us. Actually, we all talked. A means of comfort I suppose."
"It was probably a pool as to when and if you'd take over, James," Adam guessed with a knowing smile. "What date did you choose, Juliette? Or were you too busy choosing which lingerie to pack?"
Jim started to protest but Juliette held up her hand, signaling she could handle him. "Why do you ask, Adam? Looking for something to borrow?"
Blair laughed and received a glare from Adam which made him laugh that much harder. Jim started to laugh too but a voice finally came on the line.
"Matthew, I heard you were having problems. Fill me in." Blair watched as Jim listened to the brief explanation. Apparently his partner didn't like what he was hearing. "Tell him that Father is not in control at the moment, I am. Furthermore, whatever deal Father had with the late Saddam Hussein is now null and void. In my opinion, his country should have been wiped off the map fifteen years ago and my motto is 'later is better than never.' In other words, he will either cooperate or be the ruler of a pile of rubble. If he has any problem with that, tell him he can contact me directly. Does that solve your problem, Matthew?" Pause. "Excellent. So I'll be seeing you soon? Good." He replaced the receiver.
"Succinct as usual, James," Adam complimented. "I almost crapped in my pants myself and your comments weren't even aimed at me."
"You are so crude, Adam," Juliette fussed, wrinkling her nose at the vivid picture he'd painted. "Escort me to my room, James?" she invited with a smile.
"Sorry, Juliette. I'm in the middle of an investigation. I think we'll all sleep better if we find out who set Father up. I just popped in to pick up my partner."
Juliette ran a hand along his shoulder. "I'm impressed, James. I thought the transition would be harder for you."
"Perhaps it would be if it were permanent. But Father is much better. It looks like I'll only be here long enough to finish the investigation," he said, his relief evident. "Grab your jacket and your gloves, Chief. There's a chill in the air."
Blair had been looking kind of dazed and had gone quiet again, but he complied easily enough. "You think you can solve the mystery so quickly, James?" Juliette asked as he waited for Blair to return.
"Without the added burden of being head of the Family, yes." He looked up as Blair bounded down the stairs and they went out into the crisp Virginia air. "You looked sort of out of it in there for a second, Chief. Something I should know?"
Oh, like how your little speech on the phone has scared the hell out of me? How listening to you threaten to wipe out an entire population of mostly innocent citizens has made me sick to my stomach? "Just trying to get over the fact you know Dr. Saunders," he said aloud. "And that you apparently know her very well."
"Juliette is a hard woman to resist," Jim mumbled as he easily felt the heat in his cheeks contrast with the nip in the air. "I thought you would like her and it really doesn't surprise me that you know her."
Blair shook his head, remembering their talk on the plane. "And to think you said she came close to being my intellectual equal. Thanks for the compliment, man."
The detective shrugged. "Just stating facts."
This time it was Blair who felt the heat of a flush. He never ceased to be amazed at how smart Jim thought he was. But if he was so smart, how come Jim had so easily hidden this life from him? Before he could request they finish the discussion Adam had interrupted, he saw his friend cock his head to one side and realized the Sentinel was keying in on something. "What is it, Jim?"
"Another limo." He stared at the end of the road. "Gregory."
"South American operations, right?"
Jim grinned and headed away from the road and in the direction of the barns. "See? I'm surrounded by genius."
"You're surrounded by sycophants obsessed with kissing that ring of yours. You don't expect me to do it, do you?"
Jim looked so horrified, Blair couldn't help but tease him. "Come on, Jim, let me kiss it, huh?" He reached for the hand and it was snatched away. "Please, James," he wailed.
"Get away from me, Sandburg," Jim said, walking away quickly. When Blair followed just as quickly, he began to run. Blair gave chase and soon both were laughing between quick gulps of the biting air. Then Jim held up his hand and signaled Blair to stop. "I want to show you something." He changed direction and led his friend to a white wooden fence. In the distance Blair saw a crowd of obviously young horses playing together in the pasture. "Our yearlings," Jim explained softly.
"Beautiful," Blair said, watching the carefree animals.
"Father keeps them because he says they are a celebration of life."
Which is a good thing to have around when you're in the business of selling death, I suppose. "Is this why you didn't go in with Simon and the others when they bought that horse?"
"Compartmentalization, Chief," Jim said quietly. "Keep everything separate and in its place."
Blair glanced up at his partner who watched the young horses closely, probably seeing them as if they were under his nose. How did you get involved in this? Did Father play into your Sentinel need to protect? Did he tell you that you would be controlling the terrible power by controlling who had it and by the time you figured out the truth, you were in too deep? Did he bind you to him by forcing you to make promises before your eyes could see what he had kept hidden? Is that how you got sucked into this, Jim? And if so, how the hell am I supposed to pull you out?
"Your eyes are starting to run, Chief. Let's get to the barn before you catch a chill. Besides, I want a closer examination of that saddle."
Blair reached up and wiped the moisture from eyes. "Right behind you, Jim."