Rag and Bone
Written for the Spook Me
Many thanks to T Verano for her most helpful and thorough beta reading.
"A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care)
But the fool he called her his lady fair-
(even as you and I!)
'The Vampire' by Rudyard Kipling
The hunger's become both an enemy and a friend. The cramps in
his belly, well, they hurt, as does the scrape of damp, dank concrete
against his face as he tries and fails to find a comfortable position.
But only the dead feel no pain. And he's starting to anticipate the
agony as a break in the monotony.
The thirst is simply a constant; an unvarying, unrelieved torment. He
can't decide what he'd sell his soul for, though; water, or the chance
to stretch out his legs.
At first he was scared and angry but now he's just bored.
If he wasn't delirious, he thinks that might worry him.
Two Weeks Earlier
Jim stared down at the body, plagued by a sense of wrongness that he
couldn't quite pin down. Blair felt it, too, judging by his
restlessness and his pallor; though that could have been down to his
desire to get the hell out. Blair didn't deal well with murder victims,
and this one, young, blonde, once pretty, would be pushing a lot of his
buttons. He was over by the window now, staring out at the rain
striking the pane, with his fingers drumming a matching beat on his
leg, because he knew better than to touch anything.
Jim didn't have buttons when it came to murder. Just a quiet
determination to find the person responsible, no matter who the victim
Okay, a dead child, that was maybe a little harder than most to deal
This was no child; he estimated her to be late-twenties, though the way
in which she'd died made it hard to tell. Gaunt, filthy, her broken
nails crusted with blood as if she'd used them to claw her way free of
some prison -- or attacked someone -- and she was lying in the middle
of a clean, comfortable apartment that was, apparently, her home.
What's wrong with this picture?
"Jim? We're ready to take the body now."
Jim turned his head and gave the medical examiner a brief smile as they
both stepped out of the way of the two men lifting the corpse onto a
gurney. "Sure, Dan. I've got a witness to question but I'll swing by
later and see what you have for me."
Dan rolled his eyes. "Make it much later. Even tomorrow. I need to
autopsy the victims from that house fire on Ridgeway, and I was hoping
to get home before midnight --"
"Dan…" Jim wasn't above cajoling if it got his case moving quickly.
"This one's a real challenge. Interesting."
Dan pursed his lips. "They're all interesting," he said. "But, yes,
there're a few points --"
"Oh, God, where are they taking her?"
The voice from over by the doorway was high, distressed, and Jim
winced. Dealing with distraught friends and family wasn't high on his
list of favorite activities. His only witness -- the victim's roommate
-- had been removed from the scene while the Forensics team did their
initial sweep. The building superintendent had grudgingly unlocked the
apartment across the hallway, number 212, currently empty, and let them
use it. She'd been given a chair, a cup of coffee, and a uniformed
officer to watch over her until Jim had finished his own examination of
the crime scene.
The uniform hung back, his face sheepish, as if her dash forward had
caught him off guard. Jim made a mental note to talk to him later and
replace that look with one of pure misery. Idiot.
Dan shrugged and walked toward the door, giving the woman blocking it a
sympathetic pat as he passed her. "Later, Jim," he called back.
Jim took a deep breath and went to deal with his witness. The woman who
shared Anna Bancroft's apartment was disturbingly similar to the dead
woman. They were about the same build, with the same light hair,
although Diane Simons had hers done up in a complicated twist, not
hanging in a snarled, grimy tangle.
"Where?" she repeated.
Jim really didn't want to be blunt, but it was difficult to dress up
the truth. "To the morgue. The medical examiner -- that man you just
saw -- will need to do an autopsy --"
"Oh, my God!"
He gave her a tight, patient smile that was meant to be reassuring, and
led her back into 212, after giving Blair a whistle to get his
attention and a crooked finger to get him moving.
The apartment was furnished with the basics and was clean. The air
smelled damp, rather than stuffy, as if the windows had been opened
recently and the rain-soaked air had swept through them, though they
were closed now. Diane sat down in the chair she'd been in before;
upholstered back and seat, but with smooth wooden arms that she
gripped, her fingers flexing nervously.
Blair took a seat on a deep, comfortable couch opposite her. A nice
couch; if it hadn't been upholstered in fire-engine red, Jim would have
approved of it wholeheartedly, but he couldn't picture it in his loft,
"An autopsy…" Diane shuddered. "That's horrible."
Blair leaned forward, his pallor replaced by a more natural color. "You
know, some tribal cultures consider --"
Jim suppressed a sigh and joined Sandburg on the couch. He was ninety
percent sure Blair made these stories up. Ninety-two percent sure. One
day, he was going to care enough to do some research on them and
eliminate the eight percent of doubt. He allowed Sandburg thirty
seconds to explain about releasing spirits through painted patterns on
the skin along lines of force (if he didn't live with him and know he
was clean, Jim would swear the kid was high on something other than
life) and then shut him up with a terse, "Chief".
"Yes, Jim?" Wounded blue eyes. Oh, he'd pay for that later. Blair had
"I'd like to ask Ms. Simons --"
"Diane," she said, too automatically for it to carry any suggestion of
intimacy or flirtation. "I'm -- I was Anna's cousin."
That explained the likeness.
"And you live with her in that apartment across the hall? Number 215?"
"Just recently, yes." Diane blew her nose with a prosaic efficiency
that made Jim feel better disposed toward her. He wasn't unsympathetic,
but he needed to start work here, and so far she hadn't been very
helpful. "My place had termites and I didn't want to go back… she said
I could stay here. It's been about a month, I guess."
"And the date you last saw her…?"
Diane met his eyes, her own dry now, shadowed with bewilderment. "I
don't know what you mean. Breakfast. I saw her today at breakfast." The
two apartments had identical layouts and she gestured vaguely toward
the small kitchen, visible through an archway off the main living room
and then frowned as if she'd expected it to be the one she'd eaten in.
It was five in the afternoon. The woman who'd just been carried out of
her former home had been severely dehydrated, her cheeks hollowed by
"Breakfast?" Jim repeated. "That's just not possible. You saw the body
--" Blair gave him a disappointed look as if he'd been callous.
"Oh, my God." Tears welled up again. "I know, I
know, okay. But I swear it was today, I swear. She
-- she spilled her juice and it ran off the table onto my skirt and I
had to change and I was late and I yelled at her, can you believe that?
And when I came back out, she'd gone and I never -- I never saw her --"
The tears choked up the halting account of a scene Jim imagined had
played out in more than one household in the city that morning. Blair
had done it to him only the week before, except it'd been that green
sludge he drank and it had crawled across the table, giving them both
time to get out of the way.
He'd given the kitchen table in 215 a cursory glance and seen the
sticky residue coating it -- smelled it, too; sweetly acidic. Orange
and tangerine. It had been wiped up; he'd seen the tracks the cloth had
made through the pooled liquid, but juice was tenacious and whoever had
done the cleaning hadn't done it well. His vision had sharpened as he
looked for fingerprints, and he'd just found a partial and was losing
himself in the intricate whorls when an elbow in his ribs had jolted
He received a second jab in the same spot and realized that his
attention had drifted again. God; twice in the space of thirty minutes?
What the hell was wrong with him? This time it had been the nap of the
fabric on the arm of the couch, luring his fingers into stroking it
over and over. His fingers were faintly sticky and he sniffed them
curiously. Citrus. Juice from the table in Anna's apartment? Had he
touched it when he was zoning? He'd have to ask Sandburg later.
Blair gave him a casual, rather than meaningful look, covering for him
perfectly, and brought him back into a conversation which seemed to
have been all empty reassurances that you never knew, did you, but you
couldn't live life thinking that way, yadda-yadda.
He gathered his thoughts and resisted the urge to tread on Sandburg's
foot or something by way of repayment for the painful dig. Diane was
staring at him, her eyes speculative, and he wondered, as he always
did, if he'd drooled or something. God, he hated zoning.
"We'll need to track Ms. Bancroft's movements after she left here," Jim
said, and took out his notebook and pencil to avoid that searching look.
"Well, she went to work, of course," Diane said. "She's a legal
secretary at Paulson and Downs, over on Century Road, two blocks away.
She's been there for, oh, five or six years, I think."
"Okay." Jim made a note of the address. "And you didn't speak to her at
all after that? No phone calls, e-mails?"
"No." Diane shook her head. "I'm between jobs right now; I was in a
hurry this morning and stressed because I had an interview." Her mouth
twisted in a rueful smile and then quivered. "I didn’t get the job and
I spent the afternoon going around half a dozen agencies. I got back
here planning to take a long soak and cry on Anna's shoulder over a
bottle of wine, but the door was open and there were all these people
and I pushed past them and I saw Anna -- oh, God!"
"I know," Jim said, hoping that she wasn't going to cry again. "And
that would have been --" He consulted his notebook. "About 4.20 p.m.?"
"I suppose so," she said vaguely. Her voice sharpened. "Sorry, but I
didn't check my watch."
"It's okay," Blair said, shooting Jim an admonishing look. "The police
who responded to the 911 from the apartment told us when you got there."
She gave him a grateful smile. "Did they? Well, that's kind of them."
It wasn't the way Jim would have described officers doing their job,
but he let it pass.
"You identified the body --"
"They made me," she said, transferring her gaze to Jim again. "When I
said I lived there, they took me over and made me -- made me look, made
me -- she smelled." Her hand came up to cover her
mouth. "I feel sick."
"I can imagine how distressing it was, ma'am," Jim said. He could hear
how wooden he sounded and he didn't know why he was finding it so
difficult to sympathize with her. He could tell Blair was going to be
all over him when he left, wanting to know why he couldn't lighten up
at times like this; show a bit of empathy. Nice to have something to
look forward to, along with the autopsy.
He stared at her. "Can you explain the condition of the body? You're
certain it was your cousin, Anna Bancroft?"
Her heartbeat was steady, her eyes unblinking. "Yes, of course I'm
sure. And, no, I can't, I just --" She lifted her hands helplessly.
"No," Jim said. "It's just strange." He ignored Blair's snort and
continued questioning her, making notes like 'single', 'quiet',
'hasn't dated in a year' and a direct quote, delivered with convincing
force: 'Enemies? Anna? No!'.
When he thought he had enough to be going on with, he stood. "I'll need
you to come down to the station and make an official statement tomorrow
morning, Ms. Simmons. Around nine, please." He passed over his card.
"Here's my number if you can think of anything that might have a
bearing on this."
She took his card and stood, glancing around. "I can't -- where can I
stay? Can I go back --?"
"To the apartment?" Jim shook his head. "The Forensics team will be in
there for a while and it's an active crime scene. And you won't be able
to remove anything from there, either. I'm sorry."
She bit her lip. "Oh. Not even clothes -- a toothbrush?"
Blair was a solid lump of disapproval by his side but Jim didn't care.
Procedure was procedure.
"Maybe you can stay here," Blair suggested. "We could ask the
Diane sniffed wetly. "Just across from where she -- I couldn't
"There's a motel at the end of the block," Jim said tersely. "How about
you check in there for the night?"
"We can drop you off," Blair said, his eyes bright with the zeal of a
man doing a good deed. "We're going that way."
Jim opened his mouth to point out that they weren't and then closed it
again. He didn't have anything to hold her on, but that didn't mean
that he wanted to lose track of her. "Sure."
She picked up the large purse she'd been carrying when she walked in,
according to the uniforms; a purse that had been searched with her
permission and revealed nothing beyond the usual crap and clutter women
carried around with them. Jim remembered picking up Carolyn's purse
once and being shocked at the sheer weight of it. "Thank you." Her
smile wavered when it was focused on Jim and warmed appreciably when it
moved to Blair. "And whoever did this --?"
"I'll find him," Jim promised. "Or her."
"Or what," Blair muttered, low enough that Jim guessed it was meant
just for his ears. "Man, talk about freaky."
Blair sure had a knack for summing up a situation.
"Roommate? Cousin?" Mr. Paulson shook his head
slowly, a measured rejection of what they'd told him. "No. Impossible.
Anna was my late wife's niece -- which is in no way why she was hired,
in no way -- and she has no cousin named Diane. Impossible. No."
Paulson's repetitive manner of speech was driving him crazy, but Jim
forgot his annoyance and concentrated on absorbing this new data.
Paulson rolled his eyes expressively. "Why, yes, Detective, I am. But
don't take my word for it." He leaned over and pressed a button on the
intercom on his desk. "Mary? Come in, please."
"Who is --?"
"She's Ray Downs' secretary," Paulson said. "Anna's best friend."
Annoyance seemed to impose unnatural brevity on him.
The door opened and a young woman, eyes swollen, face tear-blotched,
came in. "Yes, Mr. Paulson?"
"These… gentlemen wish to ask you some questions." Paulson's gaze went
to Sandburg as if to underscore the irony of calling cops gentlemen,
especially when they looked like hippies. Jim had introduced Sandburg
as his partner, without elaborating on his role, so the assumption that
he was a cop was understandable. He didn't think Sandburg looked any
worse than usual, but he was used to him. "About Anna."
"She was such a lovely woman. I don't understand it." Mary sniffed, her
gray eyes blinking away tears. Jim was starting to feel soaked in
grief, dripping with it. "She left here at four -- a little early, but
she wanted to do some shopping and she'd --"
"Yes, yes, I told her it was in order," Paulson said, waving his hand
impatiently. "She'd stayed late the night before. Quite in order,
Mary gave a helpless shrug. "And she was fine."
"She left at four?" Jim said. The 911 call from Anna's apartment had
been logged at 4:05. Two blocks. Stairs. It wasn't impossible, but
people would have noticed a woman breaking Olympic records for the
sprint. Anna walked to work, according to Paulson, and she didn't own a
car. They'd have to check to see if she'd been picked up by a taxi.
"Are you sure?"
Paulson's breath exploded in an outraged puff of air. "Detective
Ellison! I saw her leave myself. Four precisely. Not a minute earlier,
not a minute later."
Mary nodded. "That's right."
"Her cousin arrived home at 4:20," Jim said, thinking aloud. "The
uniforms were already there. From the 911 tape, Anna made the call
He'd heard it, a weak, unraveling whisper, husky and defeated, five
simple words: Anna. I'm Anna. Help me.
"And then her cousin arrived and identified the body."
"Her cousin?" Mary gave Jim a doubtful look. "I'm sorry, I don't know
--? What cousin?"
"Diane Simons," Sandburg said helpfully. Jim let him talk. "She lived
"What?" Mary shook her head firmly. "No. No, she didn't. Why, I was
over at Anna's every week; we had a girl's night, you know, watched a
movie, drank a bottle or two of --" She caught Mr. Paulson's eye and
cleared her throat. "A glass of wine, chips, if we weren't dieting, you
know… we talked…neither of us is seeing anyone and we--" She shook her
head again and the broken fragments of sentences became whole, decisive
statements. "She lived alone. It was a one-bedroom apartment, for
heaven's sake, and even when I'd had too much to drink, she never asked
me to sleep over; I always got a taxi home."
Jim felt his face slacken with shock, quickly followed by panic. One
bedroom? Shit, of course there was only one. There had been a tiny
spare room -- smaller even than the space Sandburg inhabited -- but it
had smelled musty, unused, and there had been no bed, just a table
piled high with boxes.
"What was she wearing?" Blair asked abruptly as Jim tried to make sense
of it all. "Anna, I mean, when she left work."
Paulson frowned and hesitated long enough that Jim wouldn't have
trusted anything he'd said, but Mary answered at once with a
description of the outfit Diane had been wearing. The body had been
dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved cotton shirt; Diane in a white silk
top and navy suit.
Diane Simons, last seen checking in at the Plaza Motel (Cable TV!
Complimentary Newspaper and Continental Breakfast!), had just moved to
the top of his suspect list.
In fact, right now, she was the only name on it.
How the hell had he missed that?
"I don't know, Jim," Blair said for the third time. "I missed it, too."
"It's my job not to miss blindingly obvious -- Hey! It's a green light,
buddy, green; move it, will you?"
"I don't think he can hear you no matter how loud you yell." Blair
being soothing was just about the most annoying thing on the planet.
"And we're almost there."
"Yeah." Jim gave him a sidelong glance. "And if
she's still there, whoever the hell she is, I'll cook dinner
all week, okay?" He slammed his hand against the wheel, jarring it
painfully. "I can't believe this. Simon's going to -- God."
"Will you just give it a rest?" he snarled. "I screwed up. Big time.
Simon's going to rip me a new one and I deserve it."
Sandburg nodded, his hair falling across his face. "That's it, Jim. Put
on the hair shirt. Start the self-flagellation early --"
"Do you mind?" Jim inquired acidly. Blair dealing out sarcasm was
better than sympathy, but not by much. "I'm being realistic."
"None of this makes sense."
"That's supposed to be news, Chief?"
"No, think about it. We've gotten so caught up in finding out that
Diane isn't who she said she was that we're overlooking the other
Jim opened his mouth to blast Sandburg -- and maybe the idiot who'd
just cut in front of him, too -- but changed his mind. The kid was
"Yeah… nothing adds up. The whole case is screwy, start to finish."
"Alive and well in one place; dead and --" Blair shuddered. "Skin and
bone, man, skin and bone, somewhere else."
"It's impossible," Jim said. "Which is good."
"Yeah." Jim signaled a right and turned into the motel's parking lot.
"Because it means we can forget about trying to make it make sense."
Jim turned off the engine, feeling suddenly better about the whole
deal. "Sure. Forget about what we were led to believe -- and look at it
a different way; a simpler way."
He watched Blair get it, his mouth rounding in a silent 'ohh…' of
"We only have Diane's word for it that the body was Anna's," Jim said,
spelling it out. "From the photographs in the apartment, it was a
reasonable match, but let's face it, the way that body looked, it could
have been anyone."
Blair grimaced, obviously remembering the state of the corpse. "Yeah."
Two people, not one in two places. And 'Diane' was in Anna's clothes…
Blair jerked upright, the seatbelt tightening with a clunk and spoke
what Jim was thinking. "Jim! It was her! Anna was Diane!"
"Faking her own death, you mean?" Sandburg nodded. "It's neat and
tidy," Jim said slowly, already finding the weaknesses in the theory,
"and you're right; Diane sure as hell looked more like the woman in the
photographs than the victim did, but you're forgetting the 911 call;
she told us her name was Anna with her dying breath."
"That doesn't mean she wasn't lying," Sandburg said.
"Cynicism," Jim said with an approving nod. "Huh. I'm rubbing off on
you. Fair point, especially as Anna had only just left work, with
witnesses to prove it who know her well and had no reason to lie." He
thought it over. "And that Anna was healthy and fit
and the body wasn't -- but why fake your death? And who was the body?"
"My head aches," Sandburg said after a short silence, in which Jim
could almost hear his brain working furiously.
"No kidding," Jim muttered and got out of his truck, only to discover,
as expected, that Ms. Simons had checked in, yes, but wasn't in her
room, and, from the absence of her coat and purse, wasn't ever planning
to check out officially.
They got back to the station, with Jim prepared to face Simon's wrath,
and discovered that he was in a meeting. Jim headed down to the morgue
with an unaccustomed feeling of relief, Blair lagging behind, his
"You don't have to, you know."
"It's easier every time." Blair was already fish-belly-white and
breathing shallowly through his mouth.
Jim put his hand on Sandburg's arm and guided him into an alcove by a
row of filing cabinets. "Blair -- you don't have to," he repeated.
"I'll fill you in. Go back upstairs; grab us both some coffee, and if
Simon turns up, keep your head down, okay?"
"You zoned today," Blair said, his full lower lip jutting out
stubbornly. "Suppose it happens in there?"
God, the kid drove him nuts, but Jim couldn't think of anyone else he
wanted backing him up. Affection, unspoken, unacknowledged, was always
present between them, had been from early on, but there was respect,
too, and it was that emotion that made Jim draw back his hand after a
single pat delivered to Blair's cheek. Belatedly, he realized that he
was still holding onto Blair's arm, not that Blair was trying to break
free. He glanced down at his hand, curled around the green and brown
plaid of Blair's shirt and absently rubbed his thumb over the swell of
muscle. The pattern danced in front of his eyes, complex, an intricate
weave of shades and strands --
"And that makes twice," Blair murmured. His hand had just delivered a
hard tug to Jim's hair, leaving a patch of scalp stinging.
"Sandburg, can you find a kinder way to snap me out of these?" he
"I tried talking, I tried shaking you," Blair said patiently. "After
the hair pull, I was going for something even more drastic, so just be
glad it worked."
"What were you going to -- no, don't tell me." Jim stepped back. "Okay,
you're with me. Don't faint, don't puke, don't make me say 'I told you
Blair sniffed and then went a shade paler. "God, the smell down here…"
"You get used to it." Jim eyed him with some sympathy. "There's a jar
of goop inside the door that you can smear under your nose; supposed to
cut the stink down."
"I tried that, remember? Gave me a rash."
"But it's not a bad idea," Blair said. He patted himself down and then
extracted a small brown bottle from his jeans pocket.
"What the hell is that?"
"Essential oil. Lavender."
Once opened, the scent of the oil made Jim's nose prickle and his eyes
water until he'd gotten used to it. He didn't bother asking why Blair
was carrying it around with him, but it helped Blair to endure the
morgue for a full three minutes longer than his previous best, and that
was enough time for them to discover that the body on the table was
Fingerprints didn't lie the way people did and Anna's prints were on
record following a minor burglary at her apartment four years before.
She hadn't requested that her prints be destroyed after the
investigation was over (it had been a local gang of teenagers paying for
their addiction, not to drugs, but the latest in clothes, games, and
computers) and they were there in the system.
"The body's severely dehydrated and judging by the stomach contents, or
lack of them, she hadn't eaten for a few days, but that's not what
killed her," Dan said, his hands deft as they parted the lank hair on
Anna's head. "See that? What you have there is a standard blunt force
trauma. I noticed it at the scene but I wanted to do some X-rays to
make sure. And from the marks on her wrists and ankles, she's been tied
up. Rope. I found some fibers in her skin and sent them to the lab and
they should be able to give you the type."
"Someone hit her with something," Jim summed up. He shook his head.
"Just wasn't enough to torture her…"
Dan gave him a curious look. "We don't know what happened yet, Jim."
"She couldn't have fallen -- weak from hunger -- hit her head?" Blair
asked from the doorway, his words escaping on carefully shallow breaths.
"No." Dan sounded definite. "From the location of the depression, that
wouldn't have been likely; it's on top of her head and the skull's
caved in -- look, you can feel the floating fragments of bone under the
The door closed on Blair's rapidly retreating figure and Jim exchanged
a grin with Dan. "He's getting better."
"Hey, any day he doesn't pass out is an improvement," Dan said dryly.
He chewed his lip. "Jim, I don't recall seeing anything near where the
body was lying that she could've hit her head on."
"Nothing close," Jim agreed. "She could have staggered a few yards?"
"Not a chance. Not after that killing blow. And given her physical
condition, I don't think she could have traveled far, so where was she
being held without food or water?"
"Beats me," Jim said. "It can't have been in the apartment; the only
room that had a lock was the bathroom, and it was as flimsy as they
usually are --"
"And on the inside of the door," Dan pointed out, beating Jim to it and
earning himself an eye roll. "Plus there would have been a water
"Yeah…We'll find it," Jim told him. Anna's fingernails had been choked
with dust as well as her own blood; she'd broken free of somewhere.
Jim was just glad there had been no splinters of wood mixed in with the
dust and blood. Blair's head was filled with enough gruesome images for
one day; if he started thinking that she'd been inside a coffin, well…
"What do you mean, all the prints in the apartment
-- both apartments -- match Anna Bancroft's?"
Simon wasn't yelling, but his voice still hurt Jim's ears, each
syllable a hammer blow of sound and fury.
"Captain, I don't get it either." Jim made a helpless, palms-up
gesture. "We interviewed the neighbors and no one saw Anna arrive, just
the police, and then this Diane woman. Which doesn't mean much; someone
not making any noise and with a key could have easily slipped in
unnoticed. The two apartments are at the end of an L-shaped corridor;
the short end, and the elevator's just around the corner."
"Pretty private," Simon conceded. "Not going to help us." He shot Jim
an exasperated glance. "These fingerprints --"
Jim had remembered seeing Diane's hands gripping the wooden arms of the
chair she was sitting in and got the Forensics team to lift prints from
the chair in 212 and the table in 215. The results hadn't been what he
wanted to hear. Simon wasn't the only one feeling frustrated.
"I saw the Simons woman's hands on that chair,
Simon, and she didn't have a chance to wipe the prints off. And that
juice spill was recent."
"She could remembered she'd touched the chair and doubled back to take
care of it," Simon said. He arranged the papers on his desk into a
pile, stared at them, and then tossed them aside to fan out untidily.
"When you were interviewing the employer, maybe."
"If she'd wiped the chair, where did the prints we lifted come from?
Anna was in the morgue by then," Blair pointed out, bringing Simon's
fulminating glare down on his head.
"'We', Sandburg? Since when are you part of my forensics team? Did I
miss a memo?"
"Give the kid a break, Simon," Jim protested. "He's right."
Simon got up and poured himself some coffee. "This doesn't make sense."
"Twins?" Jim hazarded.
"With the same fingerprints?" Simon shook his head. "And there's no
mystery about this woman; she's lived here all her life; the uncle
would've known if she had a twin."
"Uncle by marriage," Jim said, but he knew Simon was right. This case
just wasn't adding up.
For the second time that day, Jim stood in Anna Bancroft's apartment.
Something Dan had said had been nagging at him. Weak as she was, Anna
couldn't have walked far -- and why go to her own apartment to call
911; anyone would have made the call for her once they saw the state
she was in.
Unless she'd been held close enough that it made sense to go there.
The dust in her hair was still being analyzed, but Jim had taken a
pinch of it in his fingers when Dan was washing his hands and it had
been from standard plasterboard as far as he could tell, mixed in with
detritus from cobwebs.
"She was kept around here, I'm sure of it," he said to Blair. He stared
at the walls. "Not in here, because we'd have found a hiding place… but
Blair stood beside him, his hands in his pockets. He still smelled of
lavender but the scent was muted now, already absorbed into the
complex, ever-changing superficial smell Blair carried with him
unknowingly. Jim wondered sometimes if people realized just how
impossible it was to cover up the natural scent of a body. He could cut
through all of the red herrings of soap, shampoo, and deodorant and
identify the core smell, the signature scent, the one no amount of
scrubbing could erase. It wasn't susceptible to being broken down; it
was elemental, tagged in his head with a name for people he knew well.
Blair… Blair smelled nice.
"If she clawed her way out of somewhere, made the phone call, and then
was hit on the head, who hit her?" Blair asked.
"I don't know. The Diane woman, most likely."
"And who was masquerading as her at the office?" Blair persisted.
"I don't know," Jim ground out. "I don't know how
the fingerprints can be the same; I don't know why she was targeted,
why she was left without food or water, why she was killed --"
"You can guess that last one," Blair said, his voice soft. "Someone had
to stop her talking."
Jim turned and looked at him. Blair's eyes were shadowed with
tiredness, as if the day had worn him out, but he was there, he was
sticking close. "She said enough, Chief. She asked for help. And we
didn't get there in time."
"No, we didn't." Blair stepped closer, and closer he didn't smell of
lavender; it was as if Jim was drawn in deep, inside Blair's personal
space, with everything else outside. "But you're here now, Jim. Look
down. Follow her tracks from the phone. Follow them back to the point
Blair was running his hands up and down Jim's arms, encouragingly, the
touch firm and confident. When had they gotten this relaxed around each
other? That had to have a point of origin, too, but it was so early on,
Jim couldn't isolate it.
He broke away reluctantly from Blair's touch and did what Blair had
suggested. His fingers could feel the grit of dust deep in the carpet
pile, a wavering line of it. He followed it back to the front door and,
with a lack of surprise that was in itself a shock, across the hallway
to the doorway of the empty apartment.
"In there?" Blair asked. "Jim, are you sure -- no, cancel that, of
course you are. Sorry."
"We'll need the key," Jim said absently, still crouched down, the grit
and dust digging into his fingers like Braille for Sentinels. "Stay
here and don't let anyone in."
Blair swallowed. "Uh, sure." Jim straightened and began to walk to the
elevator, just around the corner. Blair called after him. "Jim?"
"Don't take too long, okay?"
He raised his hand in a reassurance of sorts and hid his grin because
really, Blair jittery with nerves wasn't that amusing.
And he didn't blame him. This case was stirring up some memories
neither of them wanted to surface.
Jim fitted the key in the lock and then paused and took out the key to
Anna's apartment and compared them. "They're the same," he discovered.
"Really?" Blair peered at them. "Huh. What're the odds?"
"I don't know, but remind me to have a talk to the supervisor before we
leave," Jim said, scowling. "So Diane could get in here any time she
wanted, nice and quiet. Interesting."
"If you say so." Blair pushed the door open and walked in, flicking on
the lights using a knuckle, not a finger, the way Jim had taught him.
"So where do we go from here?"
Jim dropped to one knee and ran his fingers over the carpet. "Right
where you're standing, Chief, so get out of the way."
"How the hell did I miss this?" he asked Sandburg a short time later
when he'd found where the trail ended, behind a couch in the spare
room. "It's like I walked around here blind."
Blair frowned. "It isn't like you, Jim. I mean, you weren't looking for
anything, not in this apartment, and you never came into this room, but
your senses, they see more than you consciously realize, and I'd have
expected them to --"
"Yeah. Me, too. Especially once I found that sticky patch on the arm of
the couch out in the other room. Diane must have come in here after
breakfast and brushed against it; she wouldn't have walked around with
her hands like that for long." Jim hauled the couch farther away from
the wall without much difficulty; cheap piece of crap, the
trailer-trash cousin of the aristocrat in the other room, and revealed
an irregular hole in the wall.
Anna had been kept in a space no wider than a coffin, in the darkness.
A soiled gag and frayed ropes were in the small space, thrown there by
her captor, Jim guessed, tidying up the evidence. Diane must have come
back, killed Anna after she'd realized she'd called for help, tidied up
in Anna's own apartment, dumped the evidence in this one, and left
quickly, knowing the police were minutes away from arriving. Then she'd
walked in a short time later, all shocked face and facile tears.
He saw threads hanging from a nail where Anna must have painstakingly
worked at the ropes which bound her; smelled the sour, organic reek of
waste and the acrid stink of fear.
"Anna got free. She couldn't have known if Diane -- Anna --"
"Call her Diane for now." Blair's hand was a warm pressure on his
"She couldn't have known if she was alone in the apartment, or if it
was safe in her own, but she had to try." Jim ran his fingers over the
ragged hole in the wall. "I don't know where she got the strength to
break this down."
"People can do a lot more than you'd expect when it's life and death."
Blair edged forward, frowning, intent. "And think about it; she had to
get put in there. The wall would have been weak in places."
Jim nodded. "Yeah; I can feel the lines of a hatch or something. It's
been plastered over; the paint smells fresh."
"No way of getting water or food to her once she was in there?" Blair
shuddered. "God, that's just -- God."
"Why not just kill her?" The words burst out of Blair. "Hide her body
-- yeah, okay, I can get that, but this? Who does this to someone? Why?"
"It's not your usual murder method," Jim agreed. "I guess the killer
could have gotten a sick thrill out of living in her home, knowing she
was dying slowly a few yards away --"
"Jim." Blair was ghost-pale. "Don't, okay? I'm going to be having
nightmares for weeks."
"Then we'll both be losing sleep," Jim said. "You're noisy when you're
tossing and turning."
Blair gave him a sidelong look. "You'd hear me?"
Jim smiled at him, and hoped it looked rueful, not guilty. "Hard to
miss what you do when you're right underneath me."
"You hear a lot more than you should."
"I hear a lot more than I want to," Jim corrected him. "And before you
ask, no, I don't -- not when you're --" He was blushing. A veteran of
barracks living, and he was blushing trying to tell Blair that when it
came to any number of bodily functions, Blair had more privacy with him
than he would have with a normal roomie. "I dial it right down. Always.
Right away. I go deaf. You're on your own, pal, you got that?"
"Hey." Blair patted Jim's thigh. "Easy. I know. And it's not like I'd
mind --" He visibly reconsidered. "No, I would mind. Am I blushing? I
feel like I'm blushing."
Jim smiled fondly, relaxed, distracted from the horror a foot in front
of him. "Are you kidding? I could cook wieners on your face."
Blair punched his arm and they exchanged grins Jim was fairly sure
qualified for a label of 'goofy'.
"It still doesn't make sense," Blair said.
Jim's grin faded. "Still doesn't," he agreed.
He went back to Anna's apartment on an impulse, and picked up one of
the photographs of her in the living room. She was smiling in it, a
mischievous, triangular smile, turning conventional prettiness into
something charming. It was Anna in the photograph;
no doubt about it; her desk at the office had duplicates of two of the
photographs here, and Mary had confirmed that they were of the Anna she
knew. He tried to match her face to the woman he'd questioned, the
woman with her fingerprints, but one had been smiling, the other
crying, a wad of tissues hovering around her face.
"Pick out a feature. Her ears, maybe," Blair suggested. "I read
somewhere that they don't change, no matter how old you get." He walked
over to a bookshelf and returned with another framed photograph in his
hand. "Here. You can see her ear in this one."
"I don't know, Chief."
"You can do it." Blair didn't sound reassuring or overly confident; he
just sounded casual. "Someone you saw a few hours ago? She's in your
recent memory, Jim, as easy to access as something in your wallet. Just
look for her and match it with this photograph."
Sometimes, he thought he could do things just because Blair believed he
could. God help him the day Blair decided all Sentinels had the power
of flight; he'd find himself shivering on a rooftop, ready to jump.
He sat down on Anna's couch -- no red for her; it was a bland, flowered
fabric -- and closed his eyes; let Blair's voice coax him until he
reached his goal. And when a picture, a snapshot culled from the movie
of the day, was hanging bright and clear in his mind, he opened his
eyes and stared down at the photograph in his lap.
"It was her," he said flatly. "It was her. It was
Anna we interviewed."
"They both were…" Blair sounded interested now, in a way that was
separate from sympathy or outrage. Intellectually captivated by a
puzzle. He moved from the arm of the couch and slid down beside Jim,
who didn't shift over, so that Blair was tucked into a small space,
their arms bumping, their thighs aligned. "Single white female…"
"I remember the movie," Jim said. "But Anna didn't
have a roommate. And no one could mimic her well
enough to fool people she'd known for years."
"Someone did, though." Blair's forehead was furrowed. "Someone stole
her life, all of it, borrowed it, used it, lived it --"
Jim chuckled. "Put like that, Mrs. Donnelly never bringing back our
colander pales into insignificance, doesn't it?"
He expected Blair to smile, but instead he got a questioning, vaguely
amused look that made him move over, ceding a few inches to Blair, just
so that he could turn and meet that quizzical gaze. "What?"
Jim flushed. "Well, mine, I guess. Look, what difference does it make?
"I'm focused," Blair assured him. "I'm --" He broke off. "Body thief."
"Yes, you said that --"
"Name a culture and I can tell you their shape-shifter legends. They
all have them: Greek, Celtic, Norse, Japanese… it's a persistent myth."
"Sure," Jim said. "Emphasis on 'myth'. Not real. A story. Or do you
really think people go around turning into bulls to seduce young women?"
"Zeus and Europa," Blair said approvingly. "Nice. And, yeah, not
literally, maybe, but it's an approach a lot of men think works pretty
well if you mean building up their muscles, making a lot of noise,
"But not you," Jim said, softly, gently, goading Blair. "You're more
the kind who'd turn into a --"
"The words 'golden shower' had better not be what you had in mind,"
Blair warned him, his lips twitching.
Jim shook his head sadly. "For a god, that Zeus was a kinky kind of
"Oh, I'm kinky," Blair said airily. "You have no idea of the depths of
my depravity. I just don't go in for that one."
Jim gave the top of Blair's head a friendly knuckling. "So that's where
my spare cuffs went."
"No, they're in the top drawer of your nightstand," Blair said
promptly. "Along with the feather duster, and yes, I will get you drunk
enough to 'fess up about that one day."
"Chief, you're killing me here." Jim shook his head. Feather duster?
Not likely. He could just imagine the sneezing fit that would trigger.
Real sexy. "Joking aside, Simon's going to have us both committed if
you even breathe a word about shape-shifters."
"What if it's true?"
"Blair…" His automatic protest died away. Why argue, when he was so
indisputably in the right? Blair was just fucking with him, anyway.
"Fine. Shape-shifter, it is. Case solved. We look for the dead woman's
live copy and we lock one of them up and bury the other."
"We still don't know why Anna was kept alive," Blair said, as if Jim
hadn't just heaped sarcasm all over him. "Most shape-shifters kill the
"Will you stop this?" Jim said, his voice tight with irritation. Blair
wasn't usually this persistent about a joke that wasn't going down
well. "We've done all we can here. Time to go home."
And dream of thieves and skinless men, changing, transforming… and a
woman dying slowly, voice and hands silenced, within her home,
surrounded by her life, out of reach, just out of reach.
And that was like another Greek legend, but Jim knew all about
Tantalus. He had since Blair had moved in.
By the end of the week, Anna Bancroft's death -- or disappearance -- or
both -- was no closer to being solved than it had been on the first
day. Blair was meeting Jim's occasional gibes about his shape-shifter
theory with a bland indifference and refusing to talk about it, and
Simon had gotten tired of making asides, in a voice loud enough for
people three desks away to hear, about detectives who were considerate
enough to give murderers free rides to motels, to make escaping justice
Jim spent time each day reading over the statements from Anna's
co-workers and neighbors, trying to pin down the time the swap had been
made between the real Anna and the impersonator, and failing. The
switch, if switch it was, had been seamless. No employment agencies in
Cascade had a Diane Simons on their books and without fingerprints he
couldn't track her down under her real name. And he still hadn't come
up with an explanation about the fingerprints. He'd known criminals
who'd sanded their prints off their fingers, and he'd seen movies where
spies wore false fingerprints over their own, but those stratagems were
a little far-fetched given Anna's mundane life. Anna had been a normal
woman in a normal job. Paulson was a lawyer, sure, but involved in
nothing more exciting than the occasional divorce case. Small-time,
respectable, a dead end.
The autopsy gave him a rough timeline for how long Anna had been
without water -- three days -- but it didn't help. He had nothing.
And each night, he was dreaming of being suffocated, mummified, and was
sleeping with the covers shoved to the bottom of the bed because he
couldn't bear the feeling of being trapped.
Jim stirred his spaghetti sauce with one hand and groped for his wine
glass with the other. Once he'd opened the bottle to add a splash to
the sauce, it'd seemed like a good idea to pour them both a glass, and
he was feeling a mild, pleasant buzz.
The tap of Blair's fingers on his laptop's keyboard merged with the
clunk of the wooden spoon in a homely, familiar way.
"This is nice," Jim offered, moved to words.
Blair turned his head and smiled. "Yeah? Smells good from here."
"I didn't mean the --" A knock at the door interrupted him and he
paused, automatically reaching out with his senses. One person,
heartbeat a little hurried; could have used the stairs; could be
agitated. It wasn't an exact science, no matter how many tests Blair
ran. The data his senses gave him could be interpreted so many
"I'll get it." Blair stood and stretched his arms high, working out the
kinks after being bent over his computer for an hour. Jim watched the
teasing reveal of Blair's stomach as his T-shirt rode up high, Blair's
slow, deep breath making his ribs and hip bones stand out sharply. The
pattern of dark hair feathered on skin was, viewed objectively,
fascinating, but there was very little about Blair's body that Jim
could be objective about.
Blair lowered his arms and caught Jim staring. Jim refused to look
away, even when the mild surprise in Blair's eyes turned knowing, hot.
They were adding straws to camels' backs with each look, each touch,
each foray into flirting. Someone would break soon, fall to their
knees. Maybe they both would. It was enough for Jim to know the
attraction wasn't as one-sided as he'd always thought it was. For now,
it was enough.
The knock at the door was repeated and Blair mimed an 'oops', his face
happy, and loped over to answer the door. Jim shook his head, smiling,
and scooped up a spoonful of the sauce to taste.
The spoon was still in his hand, dripping sauce, when Blair cried out,
the sound holding a note of shock and fear, primal and pure enough to
raise the hairs on Jim's body. He was moving toward Blair and the
threat an instant later, the spoon still gripped in his hand until he
tossed it aside.
Blair backed away and pointed at the empty doorway. "Jim -- it was her
"Diane?" Jim snapped.
"Yes, but -- Jim, wait, she wasn't --"
"No time, Chief." He spared a thought for his gun, but the corridor
outside the loft was empty; he had to hurry. "Call for back up; get
people over here," he threw over his shoulder as he set off at a run,
thankful for the shoes he was wearing because he'd taken some trash out
earlier and forgotten to remove them. The long apron was a pain in the
ass, though, flapping as he ran.
By the time he reached the street, he knew he'd lost her. It was
Saturday and the crowds of shoppers made it easy for a single woman to
merge with them. He scanned the street, stretching his vision until his
eyes blurred, the blue of the distant water of the bay telling him that
he'd gone too far.
Fuck. Furious with himself for not being the one to answer the door, he
retraced his steps, ignoring the curious or openly amused glances he
was getting. It was a fucking apron. So fucking what?
When he got back upstairs, the loft door was open and there was a
current of fresh air pouring out through it. Concern gripped him. Had
she had an accomplice? Someone who'd come in through one of the other
entrances to the loft?
"Sandburg!" he called out, after a cursory glance around. "Blair, where
are you?" The draft was coming from Blair's room; he walked in and saw
that the external door in there was wide open. Blair lay across the
threshold, blood staining his forehead.
In the kitchen, the sauce bubbled; burning, sticking to the bottom of
"I just need to rest." Blair touched his finger gingerly to the
dressing on his forehead. "Not concussed, not hungry -- sorry about the
sauce, man -- just got one hell of a headache and I need some time to
regroup, okay? You've got people looking for her and at least we know
she's still around, so it's all good."
"You're hovering." Blair lay back and tugged a blanket high, until it
was tucked under his chin. He closed his eyes. "Go 'way, Jim."
Jim chewed the inside of his cheek. "Okay," he said reluctantly. He
checked that the exterior door was secure, gave Blair one final look,
and went to deal with the spilled sauce, scorched pan, and --
inevitably -- Simon.
"He heard a noise, went to investigate, and when he opened the door
someone hit him. He didn't see who, he didn't see what."
"Does Sandburg walk around with his eyes closed or something?"
Jim gave Henri a cold look. "Not that I've noticed."
Hands held up, Henri backtracked. "Hey, the kid got hit hard; maybe he
did see something and he's just forgotten it."
"Maybe." Jim eyed the stack of paperwork on his desk meaningfully and
hoped Henri would take the hint that he really didn't want to listen to
Blair get second guessed. "I'll pass on the good wishes."
"What?" Henri looked sheepish. "Yeah. Tell Blair I'm glad he's got a
hard head, okay?"
Jim glanced up. "Tell him yourself."
They watched Blair walk over, the dressing on his forehead reduced to a
Band-Aid, his step jaunty.
"Man, I thought his skull was fractured, the way you were going on."
Henri shook his head and gave Jim's shoulder a friendly punch. "The kid
"Yeah…" Jim said thoughtfully. "Just fine."
Except he still hadn't gotten Blair to tell him why he'd cried out like
that, and whatever else Blair had wanted to tell him about Diane had
been lost, a minute or two of his life sliced out of his memory by that
And Diane Simons had vanished again, leaving Jim wondering what the
hell she'd wanted in the first place, and how she'd found out where
Questions, puzzles, impossibilities… he wanted
answers, dammit, and they seemed to be in short
Like anything resembling encouragement from Blair, whose easy warmth
and smiles had been abruptly redirected this morning to Sandra Sullivan
in Missing Persons, a statuesque redhead who'd turned Jim down when
he'd asked her out a year earlier.
He can feel the world around him, hear it distantly; knows,
somehow, when it's night and when it's day, although he's blindfolded
and drenched in darkness, inky and absolute.
If this is hell, he's dead, and if he's earned this fate, he doesn't
know how. He mewls, a soft, dry sound caught in the thickness at the
back of his throat that fails to escape the gag he's wearing. Leather
and buckles to silence his voice; metal cuffs around wrists and ankles.
His captor's learned a lesson.
He can't escape as Anna did, and the reserves of strength his body and
will possess are exhausted.
He thinks he knew this was waiting for him when he stared into Anna's
prison and fought back panic. For a moment, all his pity had been
directed inward, not at her -- he'd known. Oh, God, he'd known.
Like Anna in her final moments, he needs to say his name, to claim it,
but he can't make a sound. He conjures up an image of a lemon, white
flesh, oily peel, yellow, bright, and pictures the juice trickling over
his lips and tongue. The answering dampness of saliva is barely felt --
he can't cry, either; he's tried -- so he settles for thinking his
name, over and over, and he ends, as she did, on a silent plea.
Jim stood in a doorway across from the entrance to Major Crimes on
Monday morning, and watched Sandburg move through the bullpen bestowing
smiles and nods but never actually stopping to talk to anyone.
A man on a mission. Yeah. Said mission being to reach Jim's desk for
the time-honored ritual of the candy snatch. Jim always had a stash of
chocolate bars in a certain drawer, and selfishness and bad karma be
damned; he didn't share.
The drawer was opened with -- Jim focused his vision -- the key from
Blair's locker at the Rainier gym. That it fit the drawer lock was
probably a sign from the universe for Blair that Jim's Snickers
belonged to him.
Blair sat down in Jim's chair, performed some deftly casual breaking
and entering under the noses of the city's finest, and smiled
triumphantly as his fingers closed around his goal.
Jim was already moving when the drawer was opened.
"Looking for something, Chief?"
The calm of Jim's voice was heavily edged with satisfaction. He'd never
been able to prove Blair was responsible for the thefts because no one
had come forward as a witness. Blair should feel flattered; if he'd
been thought of as an outsider still, they'd have told Jim what he was
doing and thrown him to the wolves unhesitatingly. On the other hand,
Jim knew that he was sometimes just a little too good at his job for
everyone to like him, and watching the Detective of the Year failing to
track down a petty thief was amusing.
Not that Blair would have thought of it as theft, Jim supposed. More an
extension of the mi casa es su casa principle. He would never have
swiped as much as a paperclip from anyone else's desk, but Jim was his
As he'd expected, that was the route the defense took.
"My roomie, my buddy, my pal," Blair wound up after a minute of
impassioned pleading for mercy. Jim went for skeptical with a bit of
menace, eyebrows raised, fingers drumming on a bicep, arms folded
across his chest so said bicep was bulging. "See why this is perfectly
"I see that I've caught a sticky-fingered sugarholic," Jim said. "Maybe
I should dig around in that drawer myself and find my spare cuffs. Take
you down to Processing and book you."
Blair chuckled uneasily as if there was just a little too much bite to
Jim's tone, just a little too much animosity in the gaze leveled at
him. "You'd look like an idiot."
Jim swept the room with a cool stare. People hid grins and ducked their
heads. "Yeah, I think I know how that feels already, thanks."
"What?" Blair stood and faced retribution on his feet like a man, which
didn't impress Jim much. "Jim, don't you think you're taking this too
"I trusted you," Jim said flatly. "Asked you pointblank if it was you
only this morning, and you looked me in the eye and swore it wasn't."
"Yes, but --"
"You lied to me." Jim's hands slammed down on his desk and he leaned
in, his face inches away from Blair's. "I don't like liars," he said,
literally spitting the words out.
Blair wiped the saliva from his cheek and Jim felt his face flush.
Okay, where had that come from? He hadn't really been mad, but it was
as if he'd talked himself into it. "Hey, man…" Blair began awkwardly.
"I'm sorry, okay?"
Anger, swift and hot, scorched through him and burned away his
momentary uncertainty. Betrayal. The candy, the lies, the smoldering
glances Sandra had gotten this morning, giggling like a fucking
teenager, both of them…
"You always are, buddy."
Ignoring the startled faces of the people close enough to have
overheard him, Jim left the room, his back rigid, moving fast. He
couldn't disengage his attention from Blair, though, and he heard him
give a whistle, a slow 'whew' of amazement, and then the crinkle of the
wrapper as Blair tore the candy bar open, obviously considering it his
by right now.
Arrogant, grabby little fucker….
He glanced back. Blair was getting a few disapproving glances from
people nearby, but he gave them a sunny smile and licked a
chocolate-smeared finger clean.
"Are you still mad at me?"
Jim's hands tensed on the wheel but he didn't answer.
Blair sighed. "I'll buy you another Snickers; hell, I'll throw in a
Hershey's bar, too."
"Look, I just want to --"
The truck swerved as Jim took it out of traffic and into a parking
space, a horn blaring disapproval of his impulsive action.
"Jim, you're scaring me here." Blair was wide-eyed and sincere.
"Seriously. You're not yourself, you know?"
Jim turned in his seat. This close to Blair the emotions that had been
tormenting him all day were intense enough that he felt as if he was a
breath away from screaming. Everything felt subtly wrong, an inch to
the left, a shade too dark. "Give me your hand."
Blair extended his hand hesitantly and let Jim cradle it in one of his.
Jim bent his head and inhaled, a sharp sniff followed by a longer one,
his nostrils flared, his eyes closed.
Where was it?
"What the hell are you doing, Jim?"
He couldn't name what he was looking for here, but he wasn't finding it.
He lapped at the fingers Blair had licked clean of chocolate a few
hours earlier, his tongue delving between each digit, tracing the web
of skin and the shape of the nails. A multitude of odors and tastes but
he couldn't taste Blair.
In desperation, he sucked the middle finger into the heat of his mouth
and kept it there, rolling it on his tongue until Blair tugged it free,
words tumbling out. "Jim, man, Jim, that's just gross, you know? You
can't do that -- what's going on with you?"
He opened his eyes and stared into Blair's, from blackness to drowning
in blue in an instant. "I don't know."
That was the truth. Blair encouraged him to give into what he sometimes
called Jim's caveman side, the two of them sharing a smile and a memory
over the word, but Jim usually resisted -- as much as he ever could
resist Blair when he pushed. That way lay a loss of control and he
Tempting, though. The guilt he felt about slamming a babbling stranger
into a wall had long since faded, because, like the punch line of a
joke, that was no stranger; that was Blair. And Blair hadn't minded.
He'd pushed back, his finger stabbing Jim's shoulder, his expression
fierce, determined. Earnest. Not scared. Never scared.
Jim had been the frightened one.
"That makes two of us, buddy," Blair snapped.
"Does it?" A shudder ran through Jim, startling him. "I think… I think
I'm coming down with something. A cold. Flu. Something. My senses…
they're working, but they're not working right."
Blair reached out to feel Jim's forehead and Jim batted his hand away
irritably. "Don't. You know I hate that."
Blair's hand dropped back into his lap. "Yeah. Sure. Sorry."
They drove the rest of the way in silence and Jim went to bed early.
Jim had nightmares again, bad ones, and he called out Blair's name more
than once. Blair didn't answer, or pad softly up the stairs to cajole
him awake, his voice a lifeline, though, so he must have been screaming
in his head, not aloud.
He woke to find Blair crouched over the fireplace, coaxing a flame
alive. It was cool; late October, with the trees wearing shreds of
leaves, but a fire in the morning wasn't worth the effort; they were up
and out too quickly to get cold.
Through the railings, he watched. Papers. Notes. Why was Blair burning
what he usually recycled, or kept stacked untidily in his room? The
papers were dark with Blair's handwriting but Blair's hands were
scrunching them into balls too fast for Jim to read them.
"Hey," he called down impulsively. "What're you doing?"
Blair whirled around, still crouched, and for a moment his face was
blank, literally, the sunlight striking it and wiping it featureless,
nothing but a dazzle. Jim blinked; Blair moved, and it was just Blair
again, smiling up at him. "Two birds, Jim; spring cleaning and taking
the chill off the place."
"Only you would spring clean in fall, Sandburg." He yawned. "Why don't
you forget that and start the coffee?"
Blair hesitated and then nodded. "Sure."
Jim kept him busy so that the untended fire began to die, still vaguely
curious about what Sandburg was doing. Wrong of him to be so nosy; they
were Sandburg's papers; he had a right to burn them; hell, for all he
knew, they were returned love letters and the kid was taking Jim's once
given advice about destroying the evidence.
Once in his head, though, the need to read the papers became
overwhelming. He refused to allow himself to analyze it, but deep down
he knew that it was based in jealousy, which was pretty fucking sick --
He let Blair have time to toss the last sheaf of papers onto the flames
and close the glass door of the fireplace, and then watched Blair's
shoulders relax as ash billowed up in a soft, gray puff, sparks flying.
He chivvied Blair out of the door and down to their respective vehicles.
As soon as Blair had driven away to his first lecture, Jim ran back
upstairs, consumed with a rising urgency he'd given up trying to
The loft, so recently abandoned, looked exactly the same as when he'd
left it, which in itself was somehow startling. The smell of coffee
still hung in the air; Blair's toast crumbs still littered the counter…
and the fire, the quick, hungry fire, was still eating.
He rescued what he could, using a set of barbecue tongs and a damp tea
towel to extract the papers and smother the flames.
Then he used every trick Sandburg had ever taught him to pry into
He had salvaged about a third of the papers, but even those he could
barely read, soft black curls of ash, no more, were all the same.
Notes on shape-shifters. Detailed, precise. What the hell?
Destroying them made sense; the case was a sore point with them both
and he knew Simon, and Blair himself, put the blame for Diane's second
escape squarely on Blair's shoulders. Jim didn't. He blamed himself.
But making the notes, page after page of them -- Blair's suggestion had
been a joke, a nod, maybe, to the approaching Halloween season and the
strange, perplexing case itself. Blair had brought it up; they'd goofed
around; end of story.
These notes had taken hours. Days. And Sandburg didn't have much spare
Jim washed his hands, got a notebook, and made notes on Blair's notes,
separating out the pages with tweezers and trying not to breathe in the
Then he rekindled the fire and stayed until the flames had consumed the
pages, before cleaning up just well enough to hide his tracks.
Halfway down the stairs, an hour late for work, and knowing he'd have
to find an excuse mundane enough that no one would bring it up in front
of Blair, he stumbled, his belly cramping up, the pain severe enough to
bring him to his knees.
God -- God -- What was it? Not his appendix; that
had gone at the age of thirteen; not the onset of a stomach virus; his
guts weren't churning and loose and he didn't feel like puking.
Just the relentless squeeze of hunger, familiar from his first days in
the jungle after his rations had run out. He'd come close to starving
then, injured from the crash, wandering around in circles, delirious,
scared to eat something that might be poisonous, his survival training
only kicking in after his body had become too weak to hunt.
Hunger. Not something that went with the toast, coffee and juice he'd
had an hour earlier. The cramps eased, leaving him lightheaded and
giddy. He hauled himself up and then froze.
He smelled lavender.
Faint, barely there, teasingly elusive, but lavender. Since that day in
the morgue, he'd smelled it on Blair a lot and had finally, casually,
asked him why he carried it.
And Blair had told him, a growing twinkle in his eyes as Jim's
expression had given away his relief. "You thought it was for something
kinky, didn't you?" he'd said after demonstrating just where on his
temples he rubbed it in to ease the headaches he sometimes got. "Come
on, Jim; lavender? It's not all that edible."
"Too much information, Chief," he'd replied hurriedly. "And why you
can't just use aspirin like everyone else…"
But he hadn't smelled it on Blair for a few days. Not since --
Not since Diane's visit.
He put his hand on the wall and let its solidity ground him. What was
he thinking here? How insane was it to take a joke by Blair as a
possibility and to suspect Blair of being --
"God, I can't even say it," he muttered, his voice loud in the
And he couldn't discuss it with Blair, the one person he'd usually turn
to about something this screwy.
That, more than the way Blair smelled, or didn't smell, more than the
burned papers, more than the subterfuge he'd employed to read them,
bothered Jim. Losing Blair's support was something he dreaded, even as
he occasionally chafed at Blair's constant presence in his life. He
knew he needed Blair's help still with his senses, and that wasn't a
comfortable thought given his own inclination to solitude and Blair's
dilettante nature, but Blair had never let him down and he'd grown
accustomed to sharing his life with the man.
Falling in love with him -- that he wasn't used to. He still didn't
know where the hell that had come from, just that it had and he was
dealing with it as best he could.
And how ridiculous was it that part of him wanted to believe Blair
wasn't -- wasn't his Blair, just to explain away the
hot and heavy flirtation with the Sullivan woman?
"Fuck." That helped and he said it again, his voice rising.
"Fuck." His fist hit the wall, the impact leaving
his arm numb and his knuckles bleeding, and the wall undamaged.
Walls… blood… oh, God, was Blair being held somewhere, trapped as Anna
Jim licked the blood from his knuckles and let the act itself and the
taste and smell of the blood waken every primitive impulse he had. He
closed his eyes and filled his mind with images of Blair, saturating
his senses with data from memories. He didn't need anything of Blair's
to know his scent; didn't need a photograph to remember the shape of
his mouth when he smiled.
Blair was locked into his mind, indelible. Blair was his and Blair was
-- His stomach clenched painfully again and he smiled, baring his
teeth. Blair was hungry. That meant he was alive.
He threw back his head and sniffed the air, delicately, carefully, and
then turned, tracking the scent of lavender. He wasn't even sure it was
real; it hadn't been there an hour ago, hell, it hadn't been there a
few minutes ago, but he didn't question its guidance.
Not when it might lead him to Blair.
It took him back up the stairs to Blair's room and the external door.
He went through the doorway and up, climbing to the roof. It was
raining now, a light, persistent patter that wet his face and damped
down the scent, but it was stronger here, even with the wind blowing,
and he could still follow it.
He found Blair bound, bent double, unconscious, blindfolded, and
gagged, at the bottom of an air vent. Shoved through the access panel
to fall ten feet, wedged there like a cork in a bottle, the grille
covering the vent locked shut.
Blair had been so close. All this time, so close.
Dying, close to him, and he hadn't known.
He was making sounds that weren't words, anguished, grieving, and they
were all he could hear, echoing in his head. He had to stop so he could
listen for Blair's heartbeat, but he couldn't. He collapsed to his
knees, staring down at a man he couldn't reach, his hands scrabbling at
cold metal, when all they wanted to touch was Blair.
"Blair --" He'd found words -- that word -- and he clung to it,
repeating it over and over until he realized he was matching it to
Blair's heart, a faint, sluggish beat from below.
"Blair!" He was shouting it now, as if volume would accomplish
something, but Blair was too close to death to hear his name.
Training took over from instinct and he fumbled out his cell phone, his
brain jolted onto a different track now that he knew Blair was still
alive. His thoughts crisp and decisive, he flicked through a mental
list of who and what would be needed to get Blair out and minister to
him. No use him going down there now; he needed a rope; some way to
haul Blair out as the shaft was too deep to be able to hoist him up and
too narrow to make maneuvering easy.
He hated that. To be this close -- to be forced to leave Blair down
there for a moment more while he went for rope --
He took a steadying breath and blinked at his phone until it came into
focus. Okay, his eyes were wet and that had to stop. Stupid to have
tears in his eyes when Blair was alive, found, safe now. He had to call
911 and --
"You found him."
The only thing that would have made him look away from Blair was that
voice. He turned, the phone gripped in his hand, and looked across the
roof at the thing he'd been living with for the past few days.
Living with, talking to, touching -- bile rose in his throat, thin and
acid, and he spat it out, which felt like a fitting greeting.
"I wondered if you would. Impressive. I suppose it was a test, of
sorts." Not-Blair smiled engagingly. "He likes testing you, doesn't he?"
In so many ways, Jim thought, estimating the distance between them.
Would he have time to draw his gun before it attacked him? Or would it
run? He hoped it would run. He wanted a reason to shoot it.
"I wanted it to be you, you know." The shifter nodded, expression
earnest, raindrops starring his glasses. "I saw you and I knew --
you're special, the most special body ever."
Diane's speculative stare after he'd zoned… God, yes.
"Sentinel." The word was split into three separate syllables, equally
weighted, and filled with delight. "Sentinel. So
rare, so few… and now I can be one."
Enough. He had questions, but they could wait. Blair needed to be taken
out of his prison before it became his coffin. Jim slipped his phone
back in his pocket and casually reached back to draw his gun out of his
It lay, cool and heavy in his hand, and then his hand was light, empty,
and the shifter was close, laughing up at him, blue eyes sparkling. It
had his gun.
"Did you see that, farseeing man? Did you hear me?"
"No." The shifter nodded, childlike, pleased. "I can make you Not-see,
Not-hear. I did before, in the apartment, and you didn't notice lots of
things, did you?"
"I didn't notice," Jim agreed. "How old are you?"
The question startled it, he could tell.
"How old is Blair Sandburg?" it said doubtfully.
"No. I know how old he is." He knew more than that about Blair, so much
more, but he was guarding his thoughts, atavistic terrors stalking him.
The rain was easing off; a lemon-pale sliver of sun visible behind a
gray fluff of cloud. Surreal to be facing a nightmare in a bright, open
space like this.
"How long have you --" He couldn't call it living. "Existed. How long?"
"Forever…" The word was a sigh, infinitely weary. "So many changes… I
always want to stay but the bodies I make wear out so fast. Faster
these days. I remember when I could use a body for years, but now --
weeks, if I'm lucky. Yours might last, Sentinel-man."
A section of Blair's notes came back to him, as if whispered in his
ear. Once in a new shape, it's said that when the original
body dies, the shifter's resemblance slowly begins to fade, over time,
as if a link has been severed. (Chk; parasites who lose their host;
sig. or not? Ticks, symbiotes??? Spiritual link involved?
"Forever," Jim said flatly, wondering what Blair had seen when he'd
opened the door, what had made him call out; Diane, or a blurred,
fading copy of her. Even, maybe, his own face staring at him? Or Jim's?
God. "No, not buying it. A century? Two? How long, freak?"
Anger sparked. "I am eternal. Undying."
Jim smiled savagely, all teeth and snarl. "You're history, buddy."
Something to fight. A known enemy. It was all he needed.
It was harder than he expected to hurt the body in front of him, but
after the first few punches, the expression on the shifter's face was
so alien that he stopped caring. He stepped back far enough to be able
to kick the gun out of the shifter's loose grip and let it skid across
He could feel the shifter try to blur his senses again but it didn't
work this time, not when he was ready for it. He evaded it; zoned,
purposely, briefly, losing himself in the slow trickle of a raindrop
down the shifter's cheek, his hands clamped around the shifter's neck,
Blair's body -- he'd never fought with Blair; he'd offered to teach him
some moves, but Blair had always put him off, uncomfortable with the
idea for reasons he'd never fully explained. The shifter was
knowledgeable, but it was using this recreated copy of a body in ways
the body wasn't used to and the shifter hadn't been inside it long
enough to train it.
Jim was winning, tasting victory, when the shifter stopped fighting and
pressed close, ignoring the blows he was raining down on it and
wrapping its arms around Jim in a tight hug.
"I can give you this."
The words were soft, insinuating, accompanied by a lewd, slow writhe,
but there was a thread of desperation running through them. "He knows
you want him, but he hasn't let you -- I would, I'd let you do anything
-- I wouldn't take your body, I promise -- I'd stay like him --"
"I don't want it from you." Liar, he added silently. All of it lies.
Blood on his knuckles again, but not his.
And not Blair's.
He wasn't sure when he realized he had to kill it. It went against his
training as a cop, but he'd been a soldier for so much longer, and he'd
been born a Sentinel.
Protect and serve. He'd never done anything else his whole life.
He couldn't think past the killing to the consequences, but they didn't
matter. Until this thing was dead, he couldn't help Blair. And it had
to die, because as predators went, it was deadly, and as he couldn't
think of it as human, it was outside the system he'd sworn to uphold.
He snapped its neck in the end, a brutally effective twist of his
hands, an action, a movement, they hadn't performed for five years, but
he did it smoothly and well.
The wet crack was sickening, final, and he grunted in satisfaction,
primitive emotions rising only to ebb away as the body slumped in death
at his feet.
It changed, its features softening, running together like butter in the
sun, until it was an amorphous shape, a bag of bones, literally, sharp
points of them held sloshing within a sack of flesh.
Throwing up was tempting, but he watched, still on guard, as the shape
at his feet continued to change, shrinking, drying up, crumbling, until
all that remained was a desiccated heap for the clean wind to scatter.
Handy, he thought distantly, and called 911. Then he went to get some
rope from the camping supplies, moving with a reckless speed.
"I don't like this." Simon's face was set in stubborn lines. "I don't
want to hear this, Ellison."
Jim stared past Simon's shoulder at the door to Blair's hospital room,
most of his attention on what was going on in there. Blair hadn't woken
when Jim had hauled him to the surface and freed him, hiding his bonds
in a corner of the roof to be retrieved and disposed of later. Less
complicated that way. Blair hadn't opened his mouth to take the water
Jim had poured over his torn, dry lips, either -- but he'd made noises
when Jim straightened his cramped-up body that would have been screams
if he'd been able to scream.
Jim had soon been shouldered out of the way by the medics working to
get an IV drip in Blair's wrist, but he'd had chance to drag shaking
fingers through Blair's hair, matted and limp, and murmur an unheard
reassurance to Blair that it was all right; he was safe.
"Then ignore me, Simon. It won't change anything and it doesn't matter."
Nothing mattered now he had Blair safe and that thing was dead.
"It doesn't matter? Jim, that's your friend in there and yesterday he
was fine, dammit, and now --" Simon shook his head. "If I hadn't seen
him myself yesterday I wouldn't believe it, but I did, and this isn't
possible. They say he's been without water for days and he was drinking
some damn herbal tea yesterday -- I could smell it in my office, with
the door shut!" Simon breathed hard. "Impossible."
"He's been without water since he was taken on Saturday afternoon," Jim
said. Almost three days. Two days, seventeen hours. They'd asked and
he'd had to work it out; the simple calculation becoming
incomprehensible, meaningless numbers, jumbled in his head. "We were
drinking wine and it made him thirsty, so I gave him a bottle of water
and he was drinking that when the shifter --"
"Suspect," Simon said automatically.
"When the shifter came to the door." He remembered being annoyed that
Blair had asked for the water, because he'd been chopping onions and
the smell would cling to anything he touched, like the fridge handle,
but when he was standing right by the fridge, making Blair walk over
had seemed churlish.
That bottle, three-quarters-drunk when the knock came, had probably
saved Blair's life.
"Jim…" Simon said helplessly. He moved closer, his hand hovering before
coming down on Jim's shoulder. Jim let himself get pulled into a brief,
hard hug, Simon's fist pounding his back. "The kid's tough."
"He's not waking up." Jim focused on the voices of the doctor and nurse
in Blair's room, and relayed what they were saying. "They've gotten him
stabilized and they don't think there's going to be any lasting damage
to his kidneys, but he's not waking up, Simon."
"He will." Simon said it with a quiet certainty that was only partially
reassuring because he didn't know everything.
"His notes said there was a link between the copy and the victim --
suppose killing the shifter was the wrong thing to do, Simon?" Voiced,
his fear took on weight.
Simon leaned in close, his eyes hard. "I didn't hear that confession,
Detective. I didn't hear it, and I don't want to
hear it, you got me? Blair was kidnapped and the investigation is
"You can't bury this that way," Jim said. "By letting people know he
was kidnapped, I mean. Too many people saw Blair yesterday, looking
normal. And then there's the Bancroft case. We'll never solve that now
and you can't link Blair to it without making it really messy. Think
about it. This has to be an accident as far as the hospital is
concerned; I'll pay his bill myself so he doesn't have to claim for it.
No police investigation needed, no one at the station finds out, and
Blair takes a week off work with the flu or something."
He was talking as if it was fact that Blair was going to wake soon and
wake sane, as if that would make it happen.
"Jim." Simon closed his eyes and visibly fought for control. Jim
waited, trusting Simon to think fast and decide on a course of action
with the same speed. "Okay. I'll take care of the Bancroft case getting
sidelined. One of the ones we never get to crack. Your record can take
it. But Blair -- Jim, I don't see how we can hide this."
"It depends on his condition when he wakes up." When. It had to be
'when' not 'if'. Simon was right; Blair was tough. He'd hung on in
there until he was rescued; he wasn't going to give up now, and if he
tried, Jim wouldn't let him. Hope was beginning to stir within him;
real hope, not wishful thinking. He could hear Blair's heartbeat
clearly, slower than normal, much slower, but strong. Slower… God, yes,
of course… "There's a bruise on his forehead that's going to be a
problem but we keep it simple; we don't tell people he's in the
hospital and no one will come visiting at my place if they think he's
going to sneeze all over them." He gave Simon a worried look. "When I
called you, you didn't tell anyone where you were going and why, did
Simon shook his head. "No. But the doctor's going to be asking
questions about the marks on his wrists and ankles."
"He can ask all he wants and assume anything he likes; if Blair doesn't
want to tell him what happened, he can't be forced to."
Simon chuckled. "I dread to think what Blair would come up with as a
reason for wearing cuffs and a gag if he put his mind to it."
Jim winced theatrically, too accustomed to a cop's habit of leavening a
tragedy with humor, no matter how inappropriate, to take offense at
Simon's levity. "I know where you're going, and don't. Sandburg in
Simon's face sobered. "Fine. We'll try it your way. Just don't mention
that there was someone else on that roof, okay? No one saw you and the,
uh, the shifter?"
Jim thought back. "I don't see how. And there's no evidence. I told
you; it --"
"Melted like the Wicked Witch, yeah." Simon sighed. "Did I mention how
much I hate this?"
"Yes," Jim said, his attention still split between Simon and Blair.
"Oh, call the university and tell them he's sick, will you, but don't
go into details."
"What am I, his social secretary?" Simon grimaced. "God, this is risky."
"It's the only way, Simon," Jim said urgently. "Look --"
The door to Blair's room opened and a doctor came out. "I'm Dr.
Maynard. And you are?" He glanced at them doubtfully.
"Captain Banks, Cascade Police, and this is Detective Ellison," Simon
said, all authority now, flashing his badge at the man. "That young man
is one of my people, and Detective Ellison's partner. His mother isn't
in the country right now, so when it comes to next of kin, we're as
close as you're going to get."
"I see." The doctor's expression had altered subtly, Jim noted, trying
to analyze it. A shift from a generalized, automatic pity to something
with more respect mixed in. Injured cops always did get treated well.
"So he was working undercover, then? The marks on his body -- he's
clearly been kept bound and gagged, and I was wondering --"
Undercover? Jim opened his mouth to correct the man about Blair's
status, but Simon forestalled him, equivocating smoothly and leaving
Jim admiring the way Simon had just made the cover-up a hell of a lot
simpler. "I can't comment on that, doctor, but let me put it this way;
no one but Detective Ellison and myself are allowed to visit him, and
I'd appreciate it if you treated him without asking questions he can't
"Understood," the doctor said after a pause. He shrugged. "It's not as
if I could ask him anything, anyway; the patient's deep in a comatose
"A coma?" Simon repeated, sounding horrified.
"No," Jim answered before Dr. Maynard could respond. "He's put himself
into a -- a trance, that's all. Slowed everything down." Jim had walked
in on Blair meditating, deep under, more than once. Never this deep,
The doctor frowned. "One hears of cases, but to be honest, most are
wildly exaggerated stories."
"He meditates," Jim said. "His mother taught him. Trust me, if Sandburg
thought it was a way out, a chance to stretch the time he could
survive, he'd take it. He wouldn't die easy."
Simon gave a grunt of agreement and the doctor glanced at him. "If he
could induce a trancelike state and lower his respiration and heart
rate, it might have helped slow the effects of dehydration somewhat."
The doctor looked torn between skepticism and interest. "I don't know
why the state is persisting now, though."
"I want to see him," Jim said. It wasn't a request.
"I'm not sure that's wise." The doctor met Jim's cold gaze and sighed.
"For a short while."
For as long as it took actually, but Jim didn't bother arguing. He
closed the door behind him and left Simon to guard it.
Blair lay still, looking uncomfortable in the high, narrow bed, the
white, stiff sheets drawn up. His skin was gray-tinged, wrinkled; old
skin, but he looked better than he had an hour ago. Someone had given
him a cursory sponge bath -- very much needed; Blair had smelled
better, oh, God, yes he had.
"Hey," Jim said softly. He pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed,
his hand finding Blair's. "You can wake up now, Chief. You're safe."
The hand in his was limp, heavy. He slipped his other hand under it and
cradled it as he'd done in the car to the shifter's hand, then bent his
head and breathed in, finding Blair's scent easily through the dirt and
soap, the stink of loneliness and fear.
He smiled. "You're in there, aren’t you? Yeah, I know you are. I'm a
patient man, Sandburg; I can wait."
"You suck at it." Faint, garbled, forced past a thick tongue, Blair's
words were a tangled mess, but Jim heard them.
He dipped his finger in the water jug beside the bed and smoothed it
over Blair's chapped lips, repeating the action when the lips parted
eagerly. The water droplets trickled into Blair's mouth.
"Take it easy," Jim demurred.
"More." Blair's tongue licked avidly at his lips and
dragged over Jim's fingertip; that, and the flicker of his eyelids as
he opened his eyes, the only visible movement from him. Then his
fingers clutched Jim's hand. "Jim."
Jim hesitated, searching his medic training to see if there was
anything that said letting Blair drink too much was dangerous. He
decided it should be okay. The drip was replacing electrolytes and
raising his fluid levels gradually, but Blair's mouth had to taste like
Jim's had the morning after his bachelor party.
"Rinse your mouth before you swallow," he ordered, and put his arm
around Blair's shoulders, raising him a little and then holding a glass
of water to his lips. "Tiny sips. Don't choke."
Blair eyed him sourly and took a greedy gulp, choked, and sprayed water
"Told you so," Jim said with deep satisfaction even as his arm
Blair drank slowly once he'd stopped coughing, and then put his head
into the crook of Jim's shoulder. "Tell me you killed it." His voice
was a whisper, hoarse and rusty.
"Simon doesn't want to hear that, but, yeah, I did."
"Tell me how."
Jim told him, terse sentences, in their own brand of shorthand, because
this was Blair and he could fill in the gaps better than anyone Jim
knew, and people would be coming through that door really soon.
Blair nodded when he'd finished and let Jim ease him down to the bed.
"Knew you'd kill it."
"Don't say it's a Sentinel thing and that I was
protecting the tribe."
"Maybe a little," Jim allowed. "Plus, there was the whole picking on
you to copy deal. I owed it for that."
"Right under your nose for days," Blair said, which was part of it,
sure, but not the main part. "Had to piss you off, man. Like Lash."
"Well, yeah," Jim admitted. He'd somehow gotten hold of Blair's hand
again. Lash. It'd been a while since he'd thought about that psycho,
but the Bancroft case had brought back the bad memories in force. The
Lash case had been a dress rehearsal for this, in some ways. "That and
other reasons. Just so you know, when it comes to you, I accept no
Blair's mouth quirked in a small, pleased grin that faded fast. "Had
time to think down there. I remembered what happened just before I
opened the door."
That exchange of looks, warm, promising…
"So, did you, uh, take it one step further? You know?" Blair made a
grimace that managed, with a quirk of his lips and an eyebrow wiggle,
to imply volumes.
Jim absorbed the implications of that being one of the first things
Blair asked him about. They were many but they all added up to a bale
of hay, not a few lousy straws. "No." Jim lifted Blair's hand to his
lips and kissed it without feeling at all self-conscious, a simple
declaration of intent. The kiss would have been given in a more
traditional way, but Blair's lips were a chewed, chapped mess and Jim
didn't want to crowd him. "He didn't smell right."
"Really?" Interest woke in Blair's eyes. "A perfect copy; how could he
smell different? Man, we are so going to be discussing this later."
The door opened. Jim let Blair's hand slip away after one final,
unhurried squeeze as the doctor came back in, his face stern.
"Detective, you have to go now." He took in the sight of Blair, awake,
aware, and his eyes widened. "Oh."
"Yeah, he's back with us," Jim said. "When he recovers enough to start
flirting with the nurses, send him home."
"I've got your permission to flirt? Really?" Blair folded his hands on
his chest. "More water. And this time, get it in my mouth, okay?"
The next morning, Jim, who'd been told to go home by at least three
people the night before and ignored them, returned to Blair's room. A
stale bagel and lukewarm coffee were heading toward his stomach
courtesy of the hospital's cafeteria, and a headache was already
throbbing behind his left eye. He passed a nurse in the doorway of
Blair's room, a basin in her hands and a towel draped over one arm, and
gave Blair a quizzical smile after he'd closed the door behind him.
"Did you just have a bed bath, Chief?"
"They're not as much fun as they sound."
"You didn't answer my question." He sat down in the chair he'd slept
in, his dreams uneasy still, and felt his ass go numb within seconds.
"And, no, they're not."
"She said I could have a shower later when the drip came out, so I
skipped it. Just washed my hands and face. Not sure I can walk that far
-- my legs don't feel like they'll ever straighten out -- but I'll
crawl if I have to. I want to feel clean again."
The drip might still have been in, but Blair was sitting up and he
looked better. If Jim had been asked to define 'better' he wouldn't
have been able to, but he could look at Blair without feeling a surge
of anger and pity now, which was something.
"We need to talk," Jim said. The pain behind his eye wasn't going away.
He hated doing this to Blair, but he didn't have any choice. They had
to get their stories straight. "Let me know if you need to rest, but we
really do have to talk."
"Yeah." Blair reached for the glass of water by the bed and drank from
it, his hand trembling. He stared at it, frowning, and then brought his
other hand up and cupped the glass. Jim didn't offer to help. Blair was
"I wonder how long it'll be before I take that for granted." Blair said
after setting the glass back down. "Wanting to drink and just reaching
out for it… I dreamed about doing it in the hole, over and over, this
endless loop of doing it, thinking, yeah, this time it's real. Stupid
of me. How could I reach out when my hands were cuffed?"
Jim covered Blair's hand with his own. "Don't, Chief. It's over now."
"Yeah." Blair's voice was flat and his hand lay still under Jim's.
"Keep telling me that."
"Why don't you tell me what happened instead?"
Blair sighed and closed his eyes. "Okay. From when I opened the door?"
Jim hesitated and then started to take his hand away. Blair grabbed it
without saying anything, his eyes still shut, and Jim edged his chair
closer and slid his hand inside Blair's, palm to palm. Blair's eyes
"You've got to understand," he said conversationally, "that I was
convinced about the shape-shifter theory. I'd been making notes --"
"I know. I read some of them," Jim told him.
"Only some?" Blair looked affronted which made Jim want to grin.
"The shifter burned -- no, I'll tell you later." Jim stroked Blair's
knuckles with his thumb. "Go on."
"I was waiting to have enough data that you'd have
to listen," Blair went on. "I was going to get you in a good mood
first. Maybe even drunk."
As plans went, it didn't sound like a good one, but Jim resisted the
temptation to point that out.
"So when I opened the door and saw it, I was surprised, hell, yes,
totally, but I was also prepared, you know?"
"You always yell like a scalded cat when you're prepared for
something?" Jim inquired mildly.
"Hey! If you'd seen it, you'd have done the same," Blair said, his face
flushed with indignation. "It was changing as I watched; your face and
Anna's, all mixed together, blending and swirling… it happened so fast
I wasn't sure what I was seeing, and then you took off after it and I
was trying to tell you --"
"Sorry." He was. If he'd listened, if he'd waited… "I left you alone.
I'm sorry for that, too."
Again, he thought of Lash breaking in to find Blair, terrified,
determined, waiting for him.
"You weren't to know it'd double back. And I was the worried one
because --" Blair gave him a sidelong glance. "It was trying to look
like you, and I didn't know -- when you came back -- how would I have
known if it was really you?"
"I'd like to say you would've known, Chief, but I didn't, did I?" Jim
felt a wash of shame as if he'd betrayed Blair in some way. "I saw you
-- it -- lying there and I was so worried, I just wasn't thinking."
"It's okay," Blair said. "Really, Jim. Don't beat yourself up over it."
He rubbed at his forehead with his thumbnail. "You can probably guess
what happened; I heard a noise in my room, went to investigate, and
wham! The last thing I remember is seeing its face change to mine, and
it did something to its clothes, too… it was like I knew it wasn't
wearing what I was, because, hey, my clothes were still on me, but
unless I concentrated real hard, it looked like it was in my jeans and
shirt. And then I saw this lump form on its forehead and all this blood
trickle down its face and I realized my face felt
wet and I, well, I passed out." Blair looked reflective. "It was one
hell of a bruise."
"It took a chance," Jim said. "It must have just had time to dump your
body and then --" He stood up, pacing around the room, thinking it
through. "No, dammit; there wasn't time to truss you up and hide you,
even if it'd already taken the cover off that vent beforehand. It went
back out. It told me it needed to rest, and I left it in your room and
I bet as soon as I did that, it went out of the door in there and did
what it had to."
Blair shrugged. "I guess. I just know I woke up down there, in the
dark, and wished I hadn't. Man, that hole wasn't fun."
Jim sat down again. "Chief, I know you're going to want to talk about
that part of it and as you can't go to a therapist, you'll have to make
do with me. I want you to know that I'll -- I'll be there for you, I
promise I will."
"Even if you'll need therapy afterwards yourself," Blair said dryly.
"Thanks, man, but no thanks. I'll process it solo."
"No. I want to hear. I need to know what you went through," Jim said,
and meant it. "But right now, before they start asking you questions,
you need to know some things."
He took a steadying breath and then filled Blair in on the events of
the past few days, ignoring Blair's splutters over the candy theft and
the flirtation because he knew damn well Blair was guilty on the first
count, even though he wouldn't have lied about it the way the shifter
had. And the flirtation, well, it was what Blair did.
Used to do.
He put his hand on Blair's leg and smoothed the blankets covering it
until he could see the shape of it clearly. Blair's breath caught and
he did it again, a slow, deliberate stroke of his hand.
"You do this to all witnesses in ongoing investigations?" Blair asked,
his voice gratifyingly husky. "Because it's effective. Tell me what you
want me to confess to, and I will; just don't stop."
Jim gave him a reassuring smile. "No one's going to be interviewing
Blair frowned. "Jim, it's a nice thought, but I don't see that you have
any choice. I'm a material witness in a homicide investigation now. Not
to mention a kidnapping."
"No." Jim met Blair's puzzled gaze. "The university and the people at
the station have been told you're off for the week with flu. The people
here, well, Simon lied, bless him. Told them you were working
undercover, and they probably think you were captured and beaten up as
a message or a warning, or something and then dumped on the roof. They
won't ask questions."
Blair opened his mouth and then closed it. "Flu," he said finally. "You
think we can pull this off?"
"I think we're going to have to try." Jim glanced at the phone by
Blair's bed. "No visitors and no calling people, though. You're
incommunicado until you can walk and that bruise has gone down."
Blair sighed. "I was looking forward to grapes, sympathy; one of those
balloons with something cute written on it."
Jim shuddered. "I can do the first as long as you don't want them
peeling for you, and I'll do my best on the second, but balloons?
Chief, don't make me go there."
They popped and made him jump. He really didn't like that.
Jim stared out at the sleeping city, the cool night air numbing the
tips of his ears. Blair had woken, making harsh, angry, pitiful sounds.
Jim had gone to Blair's room and held him, then curled up awkwardly
beside him, on top of the covers, until Blair had fallen asleep again.
Once that had happened, he'd gone out on the balcony, needing to feel
space around him. Two weeks since Blair had been rescued and Blair's
nightmares were getting worse. Jim's own sleep wasn't all that
Jim turned. Blair stood in the doorway, wearing a sleeveless T-shirt,
shorts, and rising goose bumps, his hair wild. "I didn't hear you get
up," he said.
Blair's lips pinched together in concern. "Are your senses playing up?"
Jim didn't have to check; he always knew when something was wrong with
his senses; the world went flat and gray. "No. I was just thinking, I
"About me." Blair raised his eyebrows. "About us?"
"Yeah." Jim made an effort to be noble. "Blair -- we don't have to do
this. If that's what's bothering you. It can go back to the way it was
"Can't unspill the milk, man."
"No. But we can back away from breaking the jug." Jim swallowed,
remembering the first -- only -- time he'd tried to kiss Blair once
they were back home. It hadn't gone well. Blair had backed off,
scrubbed his hand over his mouth, and given Jim a suspicious look that
had turned to stricken when Jim had hastily apologized. The easy
understanding between them in the hospital had faded somehow once he'd
gotten Blair home. He'd been so busy congratulating himself on the
success of the cover-up that he hadn't noticed at first.
Not until the kiss.
"Friends is good, Blair. We can do that, right?"
"You don't get it," Blair said. "You think the relationship idea is
freaking me out? Jim, I've had that on my mind for over a year. I've
worked through it. Centered myself. Which took three hours, six
candles, and the last of the tequila Rafe got us from Mexico. I've been
waiting for you to catch up for months."
"You could have said." All that time lusting and yearning like a
fucking teenager and Blair had been waiting for him to catch a clue?
Jim didn't know whether to feel annoyed or amused and which of them to
direct the emotion at.
"And lost you through being pushy?" Blair shook his head. "Jim, you've
seen what I do. I grab at people with both hands and they just… they
slip through my fingers, you know? With you, I wanted you to do the
"You think I wouldn't let go," Jim discovered.
Blair stared at him. "Would you?"
"Probably not." Jim licked his lips, needing the moisture, and conceded
the point. "No. You'd be in safe hands, Chief." He frowned. "Wait. It's
not the idea of getting into bed with me? So what is it?"
"Bed? Sex? Way to reduce it to bare essentials, Jim," Blair said,
without giving the impression that he disapproved of that. "It's --" He
bit his lip. "Okay, it'd be good if you laughed at this."
"If it's what's keeping you awake at night, it doesn't seem like
something I'd find amusing."
Blair took a careful pace backward and looked poised to take more. "You
"You tell me you're sorry for that parasite, or think I've got some
kind of bloodlust problem because I didn't hold back, and I'm getting
you checked out by that doctor again."
"You didn't have a mark on you."
"It wasn't very good at fighting." He wished it had been. He could have
hurt it more.
"Maybe -- maybe it was really good." Blair met his eyes, his own
pleading for Jim to understand, laugh, make it right.
Jim worked it out in the space between breaths. "You think I'm the
shifter." Cold. He was so fucking cold out here, wearing boxers and a
robe. The temperature called for a sweater, jeans; he was shivering,
"I think you are -- or I dream I am -- I lie there and wonder if I'm
still in there, trapped and none of this is real --" Blair faltered
through a list of horrors and stopped. "There's no way to tell, Jim."
"And you kissed me. You never kissed me before. Not
like that. Maybe you're trying to confuse me, distract me --"
"It tried that with me," Jim said dully. "On the roof. Rubbed up
against me and promised me anything."
"It did what?" Astonishment made Blair's voice squeak high. "I was
right there! Dying! How stupid is that?"
Jim shrugged. "It knew it was about to die; I guess it would have done
"So sex with you isn't a fate worse than death; that's good to know."
"Sandburg!" Jim protested indignantly, and for some reason, that was
all it took, because Blair was giggling, snorting really, but Jim loved
him, so he'd call it giggling, and when Jim walked toward him, Blair
was already moving forward. The clean, cold air was a good reason to
hug each other close.
"You smell right," Jim whispered into Blair's hair. "You're not the
shifter. I'd know. And I swear it's not me. I'm still a Sentinel and I
don't think the shifter would be; it had your memories, but it wasn't
you, Blair. It wanted my body because of the senses, but if it'd gotten
it, I think it would've been disappointed."
Blair rubbed his cheek against Jim's, his smile invisible but tangible,
his cheek muscles shaped by it. "Stop fishing. You're hot, senses or no
senses. Prime real estate." His voice turned thoughtful. "Interesting
idea, though, that the senses wouldn't transfer… They're so rooted in
the spirit, and all it could copy was the body… yeah…"
"Test me. Anything," Jim said and tried not to make it sound like
"Don't need to."
"Oh, man…" Blair exhaled. "It feels like this is more about me and my
trust in you."
"Chief, this isn't about trust; it's about keeping you safe. I want you
to do it. Do it." He meant every word. Blair could
test him until every sense he had was fried; he didn't care. Blair was
scared of him; fuck, that hurt. Blair had never been
Blair nodded. "Okay, I will. But I already know." He went to the
balcony and looked down at the street. "I came in after you tonight,
"Right," Jim said, joining Blair. "So?"
"The deli on the corner; the owner put a notice up in the window. I saw
him do it as I walked by and I read it." Blair pointed. "There. I can
see the window, but that's about it."
It was a long way and it was dark, but Jim was motivated and the store
was close to a streetlight…
"Lost. A kitten. Black with green eyes, answers to Esmeralda. Call,
umm, the edge of the paper's curling up and I can't read the number."
"You're amazing," Blair said.
He didn't feel amazing; not when he'd missed what was upsetting Blair
all this time. "Enough?"
"Oh, yeah," Blair said. "Definitely."
Jim feathered a kiss over Blair's temple and tasted lavender. He was
getting used to it now; it barely made his nose tickle. Blair sighed
and snuggled closer which made Jim grin.
"What?" Blair asked suspiciously. "Are you laughing at me?"
Jim shook his head. "No. It's just…you wouldn't have done that if you
didn't believe me. Hugged me, I mean. I like it. Don't stop."
"You're disturbingly sentimental when you're attracted to someone, you
"Yeah?" Jim considered that insight about as revelatory as the fact
that he had a dick. "Does it bother you?"
"No. I reserve the right to make fun of it, though. I'm more the
"Sentiment won't stop me kicking your ass if you do."
"Threats of violence if I give in to my natural impulses; that sounds
Jim kissed Blair's cheekbone. He wished Blair would kiss him back but
the smooth skin under his mouth, with the promise of a rougher surface
to explore along Blair's jaw and chin, was sufficiently beguiling to
distract him. "I can think of some natural impulses of yours I'd
"I bet. Sorry I'm not delivering on anything I promised." Blair sounded
desolate again, not flirtatious.
Jim fumbled for the right words and settled for, "You're tired."
"Yeah, I am. Haven't been sleeping."
"I've noticed." Jim shivered. The cold was striking up through the thin
slippers he was wearing and Blair was -- shit, he was barefoot.
"Inside," he said firmly.
Blair didn't protest; just turned and went inside. He drifted over to
his room and hesitated outside it. "Jim --"
Jim made sure the balcony doors were locked and walked over to him.
"Can I sleep with you?"
Yes. Please. Any time. "Blair -- there's no need to
"No, not that kind of sleep, not tonight; I'm just too tired to -- it's
just --" Blair gestured vaguely at his bed. "He slept in there. I threw
out the sheets -- God, I wish it could be anything he touched, but I
can't replace everything, I know that."
"Oh, God." Jim sighed. "I never thought about that."
"My skin crawls," Blair said vehemently, his fingers scratching at his
bare arms. "I think of him -- it -- and it crawls, like I'm trapped
inside that thing and it's all over me, all around me --"
Jim caught Blair's hands and held them, watching the blood well up in
three separate places on Blair's upper arms. "It's not, baby, it's
not." He licked Blair's bare shoulder, wet warmth against chilled skin.
"You taste fine. Smell fine. I'd know."
"Taste me. Make sure."
"Taste you?" Jim could see Blair's face, pale in the reflected light of
the city, half in shadow. "Kiss you?" he said.
"Sure." Blair stood passive under the tentative press of Jim's mouth
against his, and then swayed forward, his arms locking around Jim's
body. His tongue flickered over Jim's lip, a question, a command, and
Jim let him in. The soft, liquid spill of Blair's saliva mingled with
his own and Jim swallowed, his throat working as he kissed Blair with
The long kiss ended with both of them half-hard and breathless, hanging
onto each other, communicating in soft, questioning murmurs. Jim
couldn't stop his hands from moving in restless, curious caresses over
Blair's body. Heat was gathered in the small of Blair's back and Jim
pushed his hands under Blair's T-shirt and sought it out, spread it
around. His fingers teased the line where back became ass, a shallow
curve before the thrust of solid muscle below.
"Got more you can taste than spit and skin," Blair said.
"Thought you were tired."
"Ninety percent of me is asleep," Blair said. "Twenty percent is wide
"I think you need to work on your math." Jim palmed Blair's cock
through thin cotton and shuddered with a pleasurable ache of wanting.
"Upstairs. My knees won't take this floor."
"They wouldn't have to for long."
Jim slung his arm around Blair's shoulders and got them heading toward
the stairs. "You're not getting off that easily. I've waited too long
for this to rush it."
"You get your mouth near my dick and I'll lose it," Blair warned him as
they split up to take the stairs. "I've been waiting too long, period."
They stripped out of the little they wore, the loft filled with enough
ambient light that Jim guessed Blair could see him, more or less. He
wanted, not to pose, but to stand still under Blair's steady regard,
basking in his approval. Blair desired him. Every message Blair's body
was sending told Jim that, an emphatic, shouted, 'yes!' of approbation.
And he hoped like hell that Blair could see well enough that Jim's own
expression was visible. He had a feeling he was giving a lot away,
standing there, hard and hungry, learning Blair's body, his senses open
wide. It would be a pity if it wasn't getting picked up.
"How do you want to do this?"
"How do you?" Jim countered. "Blair -- have you ever --?"
"Had my dick sucked by a man?" Blair chuckled, a slight edge of
nervousness showing, as if his crudity had surprised him. "Once. I was
so drunk I'm not even sure I came." He frowned, and pinched his lip
between his fingers, plucking at it in thought. "Nah. I came. Well, a
blow job; who wouldn't?"
"I've never not," Jim agreed. "Whether it was a man or woman doing it."
That seemed to cover the depth of their experience -- or lack of it.
Thirty seconds later, he was kneeling on the bed, his body bracketed by
Blair's spread legs, his hands holding Blair down because Blair had
arched his hips at the first testing, tasting lick, looking wanton,
wordlessly begging, and Jim liked that look too much to exchange it for
flushed and satiated just yet.
The acrid salt of sweat and the musk-salt glossing the head of Blair's
cock were present in every breath Jim took, coating the inside of his
open, panting mouth. "Maybe I'll come," he said, and knew each word was
airbrushed over taut, stretched skin because his mouth was so close to
Blair's cock that the bush of rough silk hair curling around it was
tickling his chin. He spoke, ending each statement, with a lick of
Blair's cock, his tongue dragged from root to tip, sometimes slowly,
sometimes a fast, wet lap. "Come first. Come on you. Because I want to.
Just from this. God, I love you."
Blair broke free, violently twisting, his hands finding a precarious
purchase in Jim's short-cropped hair. He got up on his knees and drew
Jim's head down, until Jim was sprawled on his belly, propped up on his
elbows, Blair's cock painting his lips, his cheek, hell, his nose,
until he surrendered and opened his mouth.
Blair pushed the tip of his cock in, and then waited to go deeper for
three long seconds Jim filled with all the welcome and encouragement he
could, keeping his jaw loose, his tongue busy, the back of his fingers
describing short, jerky arcs on the inside of Blair's thigh.
"Can't wait, gotta do it, gotta, oh, Jim, Jim, gonna come --" The
breathy urgency of Blair's voice, panic-laced and exultant at the same
time, made Jim moan helplessly. If his mouth hadn't been filled with
cock, he would've -- no, what was there to say? Blair was doing what
Jim wanted him to without being asked; fucking his mouth in powerful,
choppy strokes, his hands possessive and oddly gentle.
He swallowed soon, choking because the angle wasn't good. His back,
bowed like this, was killing him, too, but he didn't give a fuck. He
managed to get a grip on Blair's ass, his nails digging in, and held
Blair there for longer maybe than Blair wanted to stay, keeping that
taste in his mouth and coaxing a final spurt of come out of the slick,
swollen head. He usually swallowed fast, grimacing, but even though
Blair's come tasted pretty much the same as everyone else's -- he
didn't have a lot of memories to compare it to -- the intimacy of the
act appealed to him in a way it never had before.
Blair eased free, gently but firmly, and stroked his hand over Jim's
head. "God. If you ever want me not to come, don't
say stuff like that, okay?"
"Meant it," Jim said.
Blair flopped back on the bed, his eyes glittering, his mouth a sin and
a temptation. "Yeah. It sounded that way. I love you, too. Now come on
me, if that's what you want, or tell me what you need me to do, because
Jim kneed Blair's legs apart again and got between them. He grinned,
savage, wild, elated. "I've jerked off over you every night for months,
Blair laughed, the sound husky with arousal. "I love the visual I'm
getting, whichever way I take that."
Jim took Blair's hand and put it on the ache of his cock. "Do it for
me, this time."
Awkwardly, his expression intent, Blair got up on one elbow, closed his
hand tight, and started to work the captured flesh. It took an
embarrassingly short space of time and then Jim was shooting over the
hair-dappled skin beneath him, pale squiggles and streaks of come
decorating Blair's chest and belly.
Blair thumbed the slippery, tender head and then leaned in and ran his
tongue through the mess. "Okay, that's an acquired taste," he said a
moment later. He gave it one more cautious lick and then shrugged.
"It's not bad, just…"
"Different?" Jim suggested. He waved a hand at the box of tissues on
the night table, moved by a vaguely hospitable impulse.
"Thanks…. Want some? Yeah. Different."
"Want to acquire it?"
Blair gave him an amused look and disposed of both handfuls of used
Kleenex. "No, Jim, that was the worst sex of my life and I'm going to
join the brothers at St. Sebastian's."
"Riiiight," Jim drawled. "Sure you are."
They got under the covers and slotted their bodies together for a hug.
Blair's breath was warm against Jim's shoulder and the patch of skin
under Blair's left hand, curled loosely on Jim's hip, was starting to
"I can't go to sleep like this."
"You want me to go?"
"No." Jim cleared his throat. "No. Just… we don't have to sleep all
wrapped up like this, do we? Because I move. A lot. Carolyn used to say
"Jim." Blair's voice was firm. "Go over to your side of the bed. Shoo.
Do your tossing, turning thing. I'm good. Just don't mention --"
"Sorry." Jim gave Blair a kiss half-penitent, half-regretful, and
rolled over to his side, his hands finding the positions they always
did, one tucked under his chin, the other flat against the mattress.
He'd stay like that and then roll back again a few minutes later;
always did. And, no, it wasn't anything like a dog turning around three
times before lying down, no matter what Carolyn said.
"It's been a hell of a month," Blair said, his murmured words loud in
"Yeah." It had been, but sleep was seductive and talking was not.
"Do you think there are more out there?"
"There could be."
Jim abandoned his routine and turned, then hauled Blair in close again
with an irritable grunt. "Go to sleep."
"You're scared, too."
Jim stared past Blair's head into the darkness, filled with monsters
with familiar faces.
"They die, Blair. I'm not scared of anything I can kill."
There was enough truth in that for Blair to sigh and settle down,
satisfied, but Jim couldn't sleep until he'd convinced himself that
he'd know one if he saw it, and from now on, he was going to look.
And hope that soon he could look at Blair and not hear the sick crack
of snapping bone and see blue eyes glaze over, empty of life.
Look at Blair without needing to make sure he hadn't been taken away
from him again.
He turned his face into the soft fall of Blair's hair and breathed in.
Smelled lavender, and beneath it, Blair.
Did it again, just to make sure.
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