Clouds drifted across the moon, darkening the night to the point where only a Sentinel could see clearly through the gloomy cast of the flickering street lamps.
Jim sighed as he locked his truck. He glanced upward at the sputtering security light that was supposed to brighten the small parking area at 852 Prospect Place. His neighborhood was normally safe, but considering Blair's history with Cascades various psychos and sinners, a faulty security light was just asking for trouble. He'd have to call someone in the morning and have it fixed.
Heading toward the stairs, Jim dialed up his hearing, seeking any sound that might indicate that Blair was home. It was the end of the semester, and Blair had been pulling late nights at the University, much to Jim's consternation. Ever since the whole Alex disaster he found himself growing uncomfortable when Blair spent too much time at the University. He didn't like the idea of his Guide sitting in that office late at night. Granted it had been morning when Alex Barnes had dragged Blair from the office at gunpoint and proceeded to drown him in the University fountain. But still--night brought on additional worries, an added element of danger and. . . well, darkness . . .that left Jim increasingly uneasy of late.
Blair-sounds echoed back at him: Blair humming to himself as he moved through the loft, the heavy thud of an overstuffed backpack hitting the floor, the double thunk of two tennis shoes being toed off and kicked into the bedroom, the rustling of paper as Blair fingered through the day's mail, the sudden intake of breath at. . .something. . .the increase of that familiar heartbeat.
Alarmed, Jim ran the last few steps up the stairs and hurried into the loft.
"Blair?" he called in concern as he pushed open the loft door.
Several things hit him at once--first and foremost that Blair was unharmed, standing in the center of the living room by one of the couches, a letter clutched tightly in his hand. Second that there was a strange scent in the room--very faint, elusive, feral, wild--like the musk of a wild dog. And third--and here Jim felt his body stiffening in concern--that there was a large black jaguar sitting on the balcony, black tail flicking restlessly back and forth. Something hard and cold gripped Jim's heart. Blair's scent was wrong, tinged with shock and grief.
"Blair? Are you alright?" Jim asked quickly.
Blair nodded and looked up, and just for a moment, his eyes rested on the balcony as if he too saw something there. But when Jim checked, the cat was gone, vanished like the figment of the imagination it was. "Yeah, Jim, I'm fine. Just got some bad news is all. I'm going to have to go out of town for a while."
Out of town. Jim did not like the sound of that. Bad things happened to Blair when he was alone. He quickly took in Blair's appearance--skin pale, blue eyes luminous in the dim light, tinged with sadness. It wasn't a deep sadness, nor a terrible shock, but still whatever this news was, it made Blair unhappy.
Tired of the darkness, despite his Sentinel sight, Jim flicked on a couple of more lights as he made his way to his Guide's side. "What happened?"
Blair just shrugged. "My Uncle Andros died. My cousin sent me an express letter about the funeral arrangements. He wants me to come."
Germany. Jim felt the cold sensation around his heart tighten. Germany was a hell of lot farther out of town than he'd expected.
"I didn't know you had an uncle in Germany," Jim remarked, trying not to let his panic show through.
Blair smiled wistfully and nodded. "Yeah, Uncle Andros--he was a pretty amazing guy. I lived with him for about a year when I was a child. One of the happiest times in my life."
"Happiest?" Jim prompted, hoping Blair would volunteer a bit more information about this past. To his knowledge, Blair had never mentioned this uncle before.
Blair nodded as he moved toward the kitchen. "He made me feel wanted, you know," he explained. He began to make tea while he spoke, but it was obvious from the far away look in his eyes that his thoughts were elsewhere. "I was shuffled around a lot as a child. Naomi and I would go from one place to the next and eventually she'd get tired of where ever we were and take off. She always said she didn't want to constantly drag me out of school, which is why she left me behind--but I don't think it really would have mattered. I did my best studying on my own anyway. I was usually well ahead of the kids my own age. I would have preferred to travel with her."
"Why?" Jim asked.
Blair just shrugged. "Would have added some stability, you know."
"Stability? Getting moved from one place to the next?" Didn't sound very stable to Jim.
Blair laughed, but far from being a carefree sound, it was heavy and laced with sorrow. "No, I don't mean that. I was shuffled around anyway. I mean it would have been nice to have one constant in my life--a person or a place. Home is where the heart is. . . it would have been nice to have known that place would have always been at Naomi's side. But she'd leave, I'd get sent to one relative after another--no one really wanted me. I think I moved around more than my mom did."
Jim frowned. He couldn't imagine anyone not wanting Blair. Much as he liked Naomi, the more he heard about her past the more he disapproved of the way she raised Blair. That he'd become such a warm, compassionate human being was a testimony to his strength of character.
"Anyway, one day she took off and I was stuck with some relatives in England. They waited exactly one week before putting me on a plane and sending me to Uncle Andros in Germany. I was only eight at the time, and I'd never met him before. I was a bit frightened. The next thing I know I'm arriving at this ancient castle in the Black Forest--it was like something out of a dream or a fairy tale."
"A castle?" Jim's voice rose with disbelief.
The kettle of water boiled and Blair removed it from the burner. "Yeah, a castle. Been in the family for hundreds of years apparently. Uncle Andros has some sort of title--though I don't really remember what it is at the moment. Anyway, this castle was just amazing. . . seemed to be in the middle of no where. I remember there was a small village nearby where we did a lot of our shopping. . .these people were like something out of the past. . . so full of wild superstitions and stories. I loved it."
"What sorts of stories, Chief?" Jim asked as he took the cup of tea Blair had automatically made for him. He didn't particularly like tea, but he always ended up drinking it when Blair gave it to him. Just seemed force of habit anymore. One of the many ways Blair had changed his life.
"Well, like in World War II," Blair began. "The Nazis went around seizing all sorts of estates. They stole a fortune in property from the Jews, and most of the time there was no one left alive after the war to reclaim any of it. But for some reason they left Uncle Andros alone--"
Blair glared at Jim as he was about to speak up, silencing the comment he was about to make. "And no, Uncle Andros had nothing to do with the Nazi party. Just the opposite, he hid hundreds of Jews during the war and smuggled them to safety. The villagers all said that Uncle Andros had some sort of power that kept the Nazis away--not like political power but like magic. What ever it was, they seemed to have simply overlooked the castle. Maybe it was just too remote. . . I don't know. What ever it was, he saved a lot of lives. The villagers were a bit afraid of Uncle Andros, but they all agreed he was a good man."
"What did he do when he met you?" Jim asked. "You said you stayed with him for a year?"
"Yeah," Blair smiled, a dreamy expression crossing his features. "He welcomed me the moment he saw me. Made me feel like he wanted me, even loved me, despite the fact that we'd never met. It's like we had this instant connection. Closest I'd ever come to having a father." He sighed then heavily. "I'll miss him. I should have visited him, but. . ."
"You can't regret the past, Chief," Jim offered, wishing he knew what to say to ease the pain of loss.
"I never saw him again, Jim," Blair explained, his voice laced with guilt. His blue eyes were wide and filled with regret. "I don't know why I never went back. . . it just seemed. . ."
"Naomi showed up one day unexpectedly," Blair replied. "She was enraged. I've never seen her like that--not then and not since. I remember her yelling at Uncle Andros, furious with him about something. And then she just grabbed me and left. Didn't even let me pack. She just shoved me into a car and drove away. I remember crying and screaming at her, telling her I wanted to stay. But she ignored me. She wouldn't even stay in Germany that night. . .had to get out of the country immediately. I think I hated her. And then--" Blair broke off, a perplexed look crossing his face. For a moment his heart rate fluctuated as if he were experiencing some sort of emotional distress.
Jim took a step closer to the young man, restraining himself from actually touching Blair. "And then?"
Blair just shook his head and shrugged. "And then. . .it just went away."
"Went away? What went away?"
Blair shook his head, obviously searching for someway to explain it to Jim, but finding it difficult. For someone who was so good with words, it seemed a strange occurrence. "I don't know how to explain it. One moment I hated Naomi for taking me away from Uncle Andros, and the next I didn't. It suddenly seemed as if it had all happened a long time ago. Only a day had gone by and yet it seemed as if it were nothing more than a distant memory--like Uncle Andros was just someone I had met a long time ago and couldn't remember."
Blair glanced down at the letter he still clutched in his hands, a look of disbelief and confusion on his face. "To be honest with you I don't think I've even really though of him except in passing until now. How weird is that?" He set his cup of tea down on the counter and began pacing back and forth restlessly.
Jim watched him for a long moment, disturbed by the young man's behavior. He seemed suddenly very agitated, filled with a restless energy different from the normal exuberance he typically displayed. This was almost manic. "Chief? Blair?"
"How weird is that, Jim?" Blair demanded, his eyes flashing. "I loved this man like a father, and I never think about him again until he's dead? I should have called him! Written to him! Visited him! What the hell is wrong with me?"
Jim moved forward and caught Blair's shoulders, stopping his frantic pacing. "Calm down, Chief. You were eight years old and suffered a loss. . .maybe it was more traumatic than you realize."
"Maybe you blocked it out, repressed it. . .as a defense mechanism. You said yourself that you wanted something stable in your life. It sounds to me like Uncle Andros gave you that, and then Naomi took it away from you. Maybe you just couldn't deal with it, and blocking it out was the only way to cope."
The explanation sounded plausible, and Jim saw that Blair did indeed take time to consider it. But in the back of Jim's mind he couldn't help thinking of another, darker theory. Much as he might disapprove of Naomi's parenting skills, there was no question that she loved Blair. There must have been some reason she was angry that day--some reason she didn't want Blair with Uncle Andros. Jim could only hope there wasn't something far darker Blair was blocking from his mind--some other reason Naomi Sandburg might not want her eight-year-old son staying with some mysterious Uncle in the Black Forest of Germany.
"Maybe," Blair conceded, though he still looked perplexed, confused, and deeply hurt by the discovery. "I have to go pack."
The abrupt change of subject caught Jim off guard and he stepped back, watching in some trepidation as Blair headed toward his room. "Pack?"
"For the funeral," Blair explained. Jim watched as he hauled out his largest duffel bag and began stuffing clothes inside it.
"You're just going to fly to Germany on a moment's notice?" Jim exclaimed, alarmed at the thought of Blair going off on his own like that. "Where are you going to get that kind of money for the plane ticket?"
"Don't need to," Blair replied. "My cousin arranged everything for me." He stopped suddenly, glancing uncertainly at Jim. "He chartered a plane. I don't suppose you'd consider--" He broke off abruptly and shook his head. "No, probably not," he muttered under his breath.
Jim latched onto the offer he thought he heard. "You want me to go with you?"
Blair glanced uncertainly up at him. "You don't have to. I know it would be hard for you to get the time off and all. Besides it's my family. . . .I just. . ."
"Blair," Jim cut in, looking the young man directly in the eyes. "Do you want me to go with you?" He spoke clearly and distinctly, letting his Guide know that his answer was important.
Blair stared at him for a moment, opened his mouth to speak, then changed his mind. Finally he just nodded. The look of apology in the young man's blue eyes disturbed Jim deeply--like he thought he didn't have the right to ask such a thing of Jim.
"I'll call Simon," Jim said simply. "He owes me some time off. When do we leave?"
Relief flooded Blair's features, and he let his breath out in a loud sigh. "Eight o'clock, tomorrow morning. And. . . . thanks, Jim."
"Any time, Chief," Jim smiled. He headed upstairs then to call Simon and begin packing. Looked like the two of them were going to Germany.
They reached the airport with time to spare the following morning, both men somewhat restless with the thought of the long flight ahead of them. To Jim's surprise, rather than steering the two of them toward the Lufthansa gate, Blair headed toward the private sector of the airport.
"Where we are we going, Chief?" Jim asked with a frown.
"Oh, didn't I mention?" Blair grinned at him. "My cousin chartered us a private jet."
"Private jet?" Jim stared at him in shock. "I take it your family has more money than you ever let on?"
Blair shook his head. "Just Uncle Andros. Old money, Jim. Really old money. I guess it's all Tristan's now."
"My cousin," Blair explained. "He's Uncle Andros' son . . . only child if I remember correctly. He was quite a bit older than me." Blair frowned then. "I don't think I ever really liked him all that much. Or he didn't like me. Tristan was always rather cold to me. I always thought he was a bit jealous of my Uncle's attention."
Unease flooded through Jim at that. If Tristan hadn't liked Blair, why would he bother sending him a private jet to fly out for the funeral? He wondered if perhaps there was some stipulation in Andros' Will that had arisen. The last thing he wanted was for Blair to become involved in some sort of battle over money between some strange cousin and his dead father, particularly if there was already animosity on Tristan's part. Still, he decided not to mention it to Blair. His Guide was uneasy as it was. No sense in making this trip any harder for him.
The private jet was luxurious to say the least. The flight crew was waiting for them, and treated both deferentially. They were seated in a plush cabin, offered breakfast and beverages while they lounged in cushioned leather chairs, and then were politely asked to strap themselves in while the plane took off.
"Okay, I think I could get used to flying like this," Jim confessed with a grin.
Blair grinned back at him. "Sure beats coach." He leaned back in his chair, squirming a bit to get comfortable. "Jim," he said quietly. "Thanks for coming with me."
Jim smiled quickly. "Sure, Chief. That's what friends are for."
Blair just nodded and turned his head to watch Cascade disappear out the window. Jim felt his smile melt away from his lips as he studied the young man. There was a lot the two of them needed to say to each other--a lot of confusion they still needed to clear up. Ever since Alex and the strange trip to the Temple of the Sentinels, their relationship hadn't quite been the same. Granted Blair had moved back in with Jim--but Jim knew that was largely due to the fact that Jim had moved the young man's belongings back in himself. They had never discussed it beyond a simple comment in the hospital after Blair's revival. But before Jim had gone in pursuit of Alex, he'd moved everything back where it belonged into the loft, and then brought Blair home without comment.
He could still remember the way Blair had glanced uncertainly around the loft--his gaze lingering on his own belongs--the African mask on the living room wall, the books on the bookshelf, the CDs by the stereo. For a moment there had been a look of grief in the young man's eyes before he'd covered it up and shot a bright grin at Jim, telling him it was good to be home.
Jim had tried to apologize, but at the time his mind had been too focused on finding Alex. In the end, he'd just muttered a few words about how good it was to have Blair back, and then had taken off without explanation to hunt down the other Sentinel. Now, months later, he couldn't help feeling that there was something more he was supposed to say to Blair. Something more they were both supposed to say to each other. And not knowing what that 'something' was, was slowly driving Jim crazy.
Sighing, he leaned back in his chair and tried to sleep. He let his senses drift, and like they so often did, they drifted in Blair's direction. He fell asleep to the sound of his Guide's heartbeat, the scent of Blair's warm body soothing him.
Nearly seventeen hours later, the two of them found themselves in a plush limousine driving through some of the most beautiful wine-country Jim had ever seen. Both of them were exhausted. There had been a hold up in customs, and they had despaired of ever getting out of the airport. Finding a driver and limousine waiting for them, courtesy of Blair's mysterious cousin, had mollified them immensely. And the sight of the surrounding countryside was certainly relaxing, but as they drove, Jim could sense his Guide growing increasingly anxious.
He watched as Blair stared out the window, the observer in him taking in all the new sights. There was a frown-line between his eyes, a mark of nervousness or extreme concentration, and Jim couldn't help wondering what he was thinking about. More than anything he wanted to reach out and sooth that frown from the young man's forehead, but as he so often did, he suppressed the urge to touch.
It worried him sometimes--his need to constantly touch his Guide as if to assure himself that he was really there and not lying dead by a certain fountain. But even before the whole Alex incident, he'd touched Blair a lot--more than anyone else. Truthfully, he couldn't recall touching Carolyn as often as he touched Blair.
Still Blair never commented on it, never seemed to notice one way or another. Never stopped to ask him, 'hey Jim, why do you touch me so much? You don't touch Simon or any of the other guys that much. . ..?'
Jim smiled at the thought. No, it just wasn't the sort of question Blair would ask him. Wasn't the sort of question a guy would ask another guy. Still, he had to admit it was a question that warranted answering--maybe then he could figure out why there was still such a disconcerting distance between the two of them. Maybe then he could figure out what precisely he was supposed to say to Blair to make everything all right again.
"Anything look familiar, Chief?" he asked, deciding that perhaps it was time to push his Guide a bit and get him to talk some more about his year with Uncle Andros.
Blair shrugged. "Sort of, maybe. . . I don't know." He sighed and shook his head. "Now that I think about it, I don't think Uncle Andros and I ever actually went anywhere. We stayed close to home, visited the village, walked through the woods. Seems to me we spent a lot of time in the woods."
But Blair just frowned. "I'm not sure I remember. I remember enjoying it. . .feeling a strange sense of both freedom and belonging. I think Uncle Andros liked to hunt or something."
"He took YOU hunting?" Jim asked in disbelief. Blair had trouble stepping on a bug. He couldn't imagine the young man actually shooting anything.
"No," Blair replied thoughtfully. "I don't think that was it. I've never liked guns. Neither did Uncle Andros. I don't know, Jim. It was so long ago. It all seems rather like a dream really." He shook his head and turned away, his gazing moving back to the scenery out the window.
Eventually they left the vineyards and moved into a more wooded area. Jim had glanced at a map earlier, trying to figure out where precisely this 'castle' was located. The nearby village had not been listed on the map, but Blair had indicated that the castle was in the northeastern part of the Black Forest, in a mountainous region near the Bavarian Alps.
It was just afternoon when the limo slowed to drive through a small hidden village; the jarring of cobblestone roadways beneath the tires was rather startling. Jim found himself staring in amazement out the window. Blair had been right--the village was like something out of a fairy tale. While there were obvious signs of modernization--telephone wires, electricity, the occasional car parked in an alleyway--the village looked as if it probably hadn't changed much since the middle ages. The people who paused on the walkways to watch the limo drive by were all plainly dressed, probably not too dissimilar from their ancestors. But Blair had explained that the villagers he remembered had liked Uncle Andros--these people stared at the slow moving black limo with distrust and fear in their eyes. Their dark gazes sent chills down Jim's spine.
A narrow roadway led out of the village and up a steep incline toward the castle. While not overly large, it was nonetheless impressive--several watchtowers overlooked the main stone structure, and Jim could almost imagine ancient knights manning those battlements, watching like Sentinels over the village below. No moat to protect the gate--the castle was however built on the edge of a rather steep chasm that would have protected it from attack from any direction save the front. And the front of the castle was accessible only through a great archway that could be sealed off with an iron gate.
The gate was open today and the limo drove directly into the main courtyard of the castle. And while the limo driver went to get their luggage, Jim and Blair both climbed out of the car to stare around in silence. The air was fresh and clear, but a strange scent struck Jim immediately. It was faint, too faint perhaps for Blair to notice, but to the Sentinel it was both strong and familiar. Wild, feral, musky--it was the scent of a wild dog--the same scent he'd smelled in the loft when Blair had received his cousin's letter.
He had little time to ponder the scent, however, for a moment later a young man emerged from the main structure and made his way toward Blair. Jim frowned. He guessed the man was Blair's cousin Tristan--but from the description Jim had expected him to be older. This man wasn't anything like Jim imagined. Not overly tall, he was nonetheless several inches taller that Blair. But beyond that there was a certain family resemblance Jim couldn't deny. His dark hair was thick and wavy and hung to his shoulders. His eyes were gray not blue, but shone with the same intensity as Blair's did; and like his Guide he was extremely handsome--almost to the point of being pretty. Lean and wiry, he moved with a definitive grace--more like a practiced fighter than a dancer, and Jim found himself feeling strangely wary of him.
Blair smiled hesitantly at his cousin, as if not certain of the greeting he should expect. But Tristan's smile, despite Blair's claim that the two of them had not been close, was warm and welcoming. Tristan moved forward and set his hands lightly on Blair's shoulders, and then to Jim's surprise he bent and kissed Blair gently on the cheek.
"Welcome home, Cousin," Tristan murmured, his voice low enough that only Blair was meant to hear. But Jim heard and noted immediately the almost seductive quality in the tone.
Jim stiffened, his jaw tightening. Cousins or no, the kiss had been strangely intimate, and Jim had not liked the sight at all. And his words--the very idea of any place other than the loft being referred to as Blair's home--it chilled him to the bone.
But if Blair found anything at all odd in the greeting, it did not show on his face. He smiled warmly instead, and said simply, "Tristan." And it seemed to Jim as if in that instant Blair had been taken away from him and claimed by a life Jim knew nothing about.
Frightened, angry, filled with an absurd panic, Jim took a step toward Blair, reaching out as if to grab him and pull him out of Tristan's grasp. "Sandburg!" he said warningly.
Instantly both Blair and Tristan turned toward Jim, and if either noticed Jim's alarm they made no mention of it. Rather Blair grinned and caught hold of Jim's outstretched hand, the physical contact instantly soothing Jim's nerves. "Hey, Jim, this is my cousin Tristan," he exclaimed.
Tristan smiled and offered his hand to Jim. "You must be Detective Ellison," he said as he shook Jim's hand. "Welcome to Anwen Castle."
Tristan's skin was cool, and his grip was strong--almost too strong for a simple handshake as if he were subtly challenging Jim in some manner. Jim frowned and simply nodded at the man in greeting, still too disconcerted to know precisely what to say.
"I'd forgotten how beautiful this place is," Blair sighed as he gazed around the courtyard. "The castle, the forest, the village. . .it all brings back so many memories."
"We'll have to go for a walk and look at all the old places," Tristan offered. "I remember how much you loved the woods."
"Yes," Blair agreed, his gaze growing distant as if he were remembering something long past.
Again the scent of wild dog assailed Jim's senses and he frowned, not certain he liked the idea of Blair wandering out in the woods. "Are there wolves in these woods?" he asked Tristan.
Tristan raised one dark eyebrow, his mouth twisting in amusement. "Wolves?" he laughed. "There haven't been any wolves in the Black Forest in years Detective. But come, you both must be exhausted after so long a journey. I'll show you to your rooms so you can rest. There will be a gathering tonight with some close family and friends--a wake of sorts for my father."
Blair's face darkened with sorrow at the mention of Andros. "How did he die, Tristan? You didn't say in the letter."
"Didn't I?" Tristan asked with almost a careless shrug. "It was a hunting accident, I'm afraid."
There was something odd in his words--a strange inflection to his voice, a brief irregularity to his heartbeat, a nearly imperceptible flush to his skin. Jim didn't know why, but Tristan was lying. Andros, whoever he might have been, had not died in a simple hunting accident.
"When's the funeral?" Jim asked.
"Tomorrow, Detective," Tristan answered as he showed the two of them into the castle. For all Tristan's warmth and affectionate greeting of his long lost cousin, he did not look like a man who was about to bury his father tomorrow.
Tristan showed Jim to his room first, and then led Blair away. And for the life of him, Jim couldn't think of a single excuse to go with them. He couldn't complain about the accommodations--the room he was given was fit for a king. Blair had been right--this place was like something out of a fairy tale. Decorated with artwork dating back hundreds of years, it was like a museum showplace. And while it had been modernized with plumbing and electricity, Jim still felt as if he'd stepped back in time.
His room was large, finely furnished with beautiful tapestries and embroidered rugs. His suitcase was already placed beside an enormous wooden wardrobe that was decorated with gold inlay enamel. An enormous four-poster bed dominated the room--complete with a heavy curtain that was currently tied back with strips of velvet. And the two windows looked out over the great chasm and the forest beyond. But rather than unpacking or exploring the room in more detail, Jim found himself standing near the door focusing his hearing on his Guide.
To his consternation Tristan led him down the hallway and into a separate wing to a bedroom on the far side of the castle. He heard Blair's murmurs of appreciation as he looked around his bedroom. But more importantly Jim heard Tristan's words to his Guide. "My room is right next door. If you need anything just ask. It's good to have you home, Blair. You've been away much too long."
And then another sound--and Jim dialed his hearing up all the way to catch it--the gentle slide of flesh against flesh. Jim guessed that Tristan had kissed Blair again--on the same cheek, he wondered? Or was it perhaps the other this time? He tried to picture it and found he could do so only too well. Or perhaps he'd opted instead for the forehead.
No, Jim thought--that would have been too paternal, and he suspected Tristan's interest was not even remotely paternal. He would have gone for the cheek again--but what if this time it had been more intimate--what if his mouth had brushed the skin closer to Blair's lips? What if. . .
Jim shook his head. What was he thinking? Why should any of this matter? But still he listened. He heard footsteps, heard Tristan leaving Blair's room, heard the door shutting behind him. And then finally the sounds of his Guide moving about the room until finally coming to rest on the bed. Then the slowing of Blair's heartbeat, the easing of his breath as sleep over took him.
Jim shook himself again, realizing he'd been standing unmoving for nearly a half hour, his senses so focused on his Guide he'd been zoning. Not good, he told himself, wishing suddenly that neither he nor Blair had ever left Cascade. He wasn't looking forward to this gathering tonight--not if Blair's other cousins or family members were anything like this Tristan. Best to make certain he was well rested so he could keep any eye on things.
Stripping down to his boxers, he moved to the bed and climbed in. A few hours sleep and he was certain he'd feel better--too much travel, too much coffee, not enough rest. It was bound to make anyone uneasy.
No wolves in the Black Forest. Why then, he wondered as he drifted off to sleep, could he smell them all around? And what was that sound--far off in the distance--like a lone wolf howling in joy? But sleep claimed him before he could ponder it any further.
It was late when Jim finally awoke; the sky beyond the castle walls black and wind-tossed. The curtain around the bed was closed. It had been open when he'd fallen asleep, and the heavy drapes muffled the sounds of the room. Still, a breeze from the windows--both now open--rustled the curtains, and Jim could see the darkness beyond.
Shocked by his prolonged slumber--he'd only intended to sleep an hour or so--Jim sat up quickly. He pushed aside the bed-drapes in consternation, not able to remember whether or not he'd pulled them closed before he'd lain down. He didn't think so--nor did he remember opening the windows.
Once out of bed, he spotted a tray waiting for him on the nightstand. The scent rising from the tray--a covered bowl of soup, and a pot of tea, both still hot and accompanied with fresh baked bread--caused his stomach to growl, and Jim guessed that perhaps his Guide had brought it up to him when he'd slept so long. More than likely Blair had gone down already to join the gathering of his family that Jim could hear faintly below in the main halls of the castle. Still he frowned at the thought that Blair hadn't awakened him--both that Blair hadn't bothered to shake him awake, and that Jim hadn't heard him come in. Wasn't like him to sleep quite so deeply--especially in a strange place.
He extended his senses, trying to get an idea of what awaited below. People--lots of people--he could hear their voices, their laughter, the movements of their bodies. There was music--strange haunting tunes with dark, primal beats, and he could smell food of all types. Perfume mingled with the scent of dinner, other scents too, like smoke from the fireplace, and the stronger scents of wine and alcohol. But he also smelled stronger aromas--opium, absinth, both heady and powerful. And deeper still, beyond the normal scents Jim expected at a gathering, was that odd musky scent of wolves.
Perplexed, Jim reached for the bowl of soup and ate quickly, trying to find his Guide amongst all the different heartbeats below. It was supposed to be a wake, he knew--but he didn't hear the expected sounds of grief, couldn't smell sorrow in the different body aromas. Far from it--it seemed more a party, wild, perhaps exotic--but not a funeral wake.
The soup was oddly spice, but Jim ate quickly and toned down his taste buds to compensate. He drank several sips of the tea, and then pushed it all aside to change his clothing. He showered quickly and changed into something more suitable to a formal gathering--glad to note that someone at least had thought to unpack his suit. Blair, he suspected. Must have done that when he'd brought in Jim's dinner.
As he dressed, Jim continued his search for his Guide, growing concerned when he had trouble locating him. He thought time and time again that he'd found him, thought he'd heard his heartbeat below in one of the rooms, but he lost the sound over and over again, seeming unable to focus.
He finished dressing and headed quickly toward the door, frowning in confusion when it seemed for a moment as if he were moving slower than he should be. But no. . .he shook his head. . .must still be tired, which might of course explain the light-headedness that overcame him suddenly. He paused briefly, hand on the doorknob, and shook his head. A deep breath relaxed him. He pulled open the door and stepped out into the hallway.
He could hear the laughter and the music clearly now, and the sound seemed to pull him forward toward the stairs at the far end of the darkened hall. There were no lights turned on up here, but that hardly bothered him. Truth be told there was something oddly soothing about the darkness; he felt warm, relaxed, and a strange languid pleasure began stealing over his limbs.
The throbbing beat of the music filling the castle worked its way into Jim's veins, and it felt suddenly more like a heartbeat guiding him forward and down into the gathering below. He smiled faintly, moving with the rhythm now as he made his way easily down the stairs. The scent of opium grew stronger, and mingled with it were so many exotic perfumes it threatened to overwhelm him. He breathed deeply again--musk assailed him, reached inside him. His body vibrated with a sudden nervous energy.
He rounded the corner of the long curved stairwell, and caught sight of the gathering below--not a few relatives, not a small simple gathering--but hundreds of people. The rooms below were lit by candlelight alone, and the flames danced before Jim's eyes. Laughter and music and the soft murmured whispers of so many conversations caressed his skin, the sound vibrating against his flesh, and he could now taste the drugs in the air.
Beautiful people--so many beautiful people--all ages and types, dressed in strange exotic clothing--some it seemed were in costume, faces hidden behind feathered masks, others dressed in old-world attire of velvets and brocades, others still in sleek, chic fashion out of some modern erotic world with so much sweet, smooth skin exposed it made Jim's body burn.
He frowned, trying to shake the sensations that had grabbed hold of his thoughts. He spared a moment--a brief moment only--to consider the possibility he'd been drugged. The soup perhaps, or the tea--or maybe nothing more than the scent of drugs in the air had effected his mind---certainly something he guessed. But the thought, while terrifying, was elusive in light of the powerful pull of the sights and sounds and scents all around him.
Blair, he thought, he had to find Blair. If something were wrong with him, if he had reacted to the drugs in the air or some spice in the soup, Blair would know what to do, would figure out how to take care of him. And beyond that Jim had a powerful urge to see his Guide--a powerful urge to inhale his Guide's unique scent, see the candlelight dancing among the highlights of his hair, watch his body move to the heartbeat of music all around them.
He moved from room to room, so slowly it felt as if he were somehow moving through water instead of air. The music, he thought, he couldn't quite seem to break out of the rhythm of the music, and he walked in time to it, moving among the strangers as they too circled in a fluid endless waltz. From time to time he found himself standing still amid a group of strangers as they moved about him, and only after the fact becoming aware that he was being touched and spoken to. A hand against his shoulder, a caress of gentle fingers against his face--some soft female body pressed briefly against his own as he turned on the dance floor he never remembered entering.
They spoke to him too--these strangers--seeming not to care that he did not speak back, seeming not to care that he didn't even understand most of the foreign words they uttered. And they smiled and laughed as if he'd responded somehow, responded in someway that pleased them, delighted them. And more than once he felt a kiss against his skin, against his lips, and again and again wine upon his tongue.
And later still he found himself wrapped in warmth, seated upon a low couch, surrounded by perfumed strangers who spoke and laughed. Someone was stroking his hair, and from time to time he felt smooth silky skin beneath his own fingers as if he too was reaching out to return these odd caresses. These strangers passed around bottles of wine and gleaming crystal goblets that danced in the candlelight--and someone was reading from a large black book--a voice beautiful and soft and filled with such amusement.
Jim smiled faintly when he realized that the words he listened to below the strains of music were English when so many of the others tonight had not been.
It was a woman's voice who read to him, a woman who held the dark book in her hands. "'It was, he said, a constitutional and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy--a mere nervous affectation he immediately added, which would undoubtedly soon pass off. It displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations.'"
Jim frowned, something vague and bewildering grabbing hold of him. "Unnatural sensations?" he whispered uncertainly. He glanced around trying to clear his mind, trying to catch hold of thoughts that seemed to be eluding him. There was a young blond woman seated on the ground at his feet and he'd tangled his fingers in her hair. He felt caught in the long gold strands, watching the way they twisted like silk around his fingers.
The woman continued reading, and Jim tried to focus on her words. "' Some of these, as he detailed them, interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms, and the general manner of the narration had their weight. He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odor of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and those from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.'"
Laughter interrupted the reading, and Jim frowned, his heart growing heavy in his chest. This sounded familiar--like perhaps he'd read it before, long ago. A morbid acuteness of the senses--he glanced around, trying to focus on the individual faces surrounding him. The woman at his feet, a young man beside him on the couch, another woman behind him, her own fingers stroking his neck. Other young faces seated around them, smiling at him. His senses were all dialed up--but still bizarrely muted. Nonetheless he could hear their heartbeats beyond the rhythm of the music--he could smell the musky scent of wolves still, and the overwhelming perfume of pheromones.
"Shall I continue, Detective?" a soft voice asked, and Jim turned to stare at the speaker--the reader, the woman, young and beautiful, with dark hair and dark eyes.
"Where's Blair?" Jim asked, wishing he could shake off the cloud that muddled everything.
"Nearby, I'm sure," the woman smiled. The others around them laughed. "Sweet, Blair, how we missed him."
"So sweet," someone else agreed--the young man beside Jim on the couch. "But do continue, Allisia. Let's hear more of the story."
"Yes, Allisia," another woman urged. "Keep reading."
Allisia smiled, and turned her attention back to the book in her hands. Jim shuddered. A morbid acuteness of the senses--did they know, he wondered. Did they know he was a Sentinel? Is that what this book was about? He tried to focus his eyes on the cover, tried to see the title, but everything seemed so far out of focus.
"'There were times, indeed,'" Allisia continued with the narration, "' when I thought his unceasingly agitated mind was laboring with some oppressive secret, to divulge which he struggled for the necessary courage. At times, again, I was obliged to resolve all into the mere inexplicable vagaries of madness, for I beheld him gazing upon vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of the profoundest attention, as if listening to some imaginary sound.'"
A zone out--she was describing a zone out. And Jim realized in that moment that hours had gone by, and not the few minutes it had seemed since he'd wandered down stairs from his room. Hours had gone by, and he'd been drifting and zoning on all the sights and scents and sounds around him, and not once had his Guide come to rescue him. Not once had he seen Blair in all this madness.
He lurched to his feet, trying to throw off the dream he'd been drifting in. But it didn't seem possible; he didn't seem able to pull himself out of the overload of images.
He moved away from the strangers, and no one reached out to stop him. No one even seemed really to care that he'd wandered away--indeed others smiled and laughed around him as if a stoned Sentinel was the most natural of sights.
He heard wolves again, howling around him, and for a moment the strangers moving through these crowded rooms looked dark and dangerous--more like predators than people. He shuddered, hearing a hundred heartbeats pounding through him--he had to find Blair. Had to find out what was happening here.
Someone touched him, and he shuddered at the sensations that washed through him. His skin was on fire and the very air was alive with electricity. The hand on his arm seemed momentarily like a claw and Jim gasped in horror as he looked up at the woman who'd stopped him. But no--she was just a woman--just a woman who smelled of musk, perfume and sex--and her eyes were dark and hungry, and her red lips were twisted with amusement.
Jim backed away from her. He had to find Blair. Something was wrong--something was so terribly wrong here.
He dialed his hearing up farther, tried to filter through the hundreds of heartbeats to find the one he recognized. He tried to filter out all the strange exotic scents--the perfume and the drugs, and the drink and the food, and the wolves--and the scent of sex was growing stronger--and surely there was more skin visible now than there had been when he'd first entered these chambers. And certainly the dancers were moving together so much closer, touching and stroking each other as they had not been before.
But there--a heartbeat--familiar, nearby. Jim moved through the crowd, but so many reached out to distract him. He felt hands on his skin, against his face, his chest, his legs. Heat against his groin. He moaned, trying to move past it all--couldn't even tell any more who was touching him, how many of them he brushed past, men and women, all seeming not to care that he did not know them, did not want to know them. He pushed through the crowd trying not to see the bare skin exposed now to his sight, trying not to drink from the cups that were pressed time and time again against his lips.
And then somewhere, amidst all the madness, finally, he spotted Blair. Saw his Guide from across the room--beautiful Blair who was smiling and laughing as he made his way through the crowd, moving and circling as he wandered from person to person who greeted or touched him.
Blair was dressed in dark jeans and a blue silk shirt that shimmered as he moved. His hair was down and the light from the candles gleamed within the deepest red highlights. His skin was flushed, his eyes luminous, and his full lips seemed somehow swollen as if from kisses.
Kisses indeed, for as Jim watched him across the room, stranger after stranger came to Blair to kiss him. They touched his face and tasted his lips, and Blair simply laughed and accepted as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Never mind the fact that these must be strangers to the young man, that many of these kisses came from men as well as women. And it seemed to Jim as though with each kiss placed upon his Guide's lips, Blair slipped farther and farther away from him. He could hear his Guide's heartbeat--slow and steady--could smell his scent--but that scent was slowly changing. There was the scent of a hundred strangers mingled on Blair's skin, and the rise of pheromones, and the heady, foresty scent of musk mingling with the heat of his body. The scent of wolves grew, overwhelming everything else, and still the kisses continued, and Blair moved farther away into the shadows.
Jim growled low in his throat--a sound that had nothing to do with wolves or passion. It was the angry low cry of a cat, and something primal rose within him. For one moment, for one sweet blessed moment, the heated press of bodies drew back as if momentarily repulsed. Jim moved forward then, stalking, hunting, moving after his Guide as he disappeared into yet another room. His senses focused and narrowed, and he saw Blair moving then toward a familiar face--Tristan. Tristan stood off to one side in the shadows, overlooking all the rest, seeming as if he'd been waiting for Blair to join him.
As Blair reached his side, the young man caught him about the waist and pulled him tightly against him. No cousinly kiss this time--no simple brush of his lips against Blair's cheek--Tristan bent and took Blair's mouth with his own. Jim's heart spasmed in shock at the sight, and he growled again, a deep burning anger overtaking him. He pushed harder against the bodies between him and his Guide, desperate now to reach him, to pull him out of Tristan's embrace. But more and more people seemed to be crowding the space between him and Blair, more and more people seemed to be touching him, distracting him. He saw Tristan pull Blair from the room, saw Blair go willingly, his hand held tightly in his cousin's. And though still deep in the fog that had gripped his mind, Jim knew without out a doubt that if he didn't get Blair back, didn't get him away from Tristan, he'd lose him forever. Just as he knew suddenly, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that these strangers all around him were purposely keeping him from pursuing.
It was too much, and Jim snarled in rage, pushing violently at the strangers now. They parted quickly then, suddenly cowed by his anger. Someone tried to give him more wine, someone tried to tell him that it was pointless to go looking for Blair, that he'd never find him in the dark. But Jim was beyond caring now. Something terrible and primitive had awakened within him--and wolves or no, he'd hunt and kill anything that stood between him and his Guide.
He caught up to them in one of the rooms beyond, stopping Tristan's retreat, his hand closing tightly around Blair's arm. Blair seemed not to notice, but Tristan frowned and glared up at Jim. And for one thrilling moment, Jim thought Tristan was going to challenge him. He saw it in the gray eyes, saw anger and rage and the need to possess deep inside eyes that looked more animal than man. And the hunter inside Jim awoke, and the black cat that had for so long guarded his spirit, snarled beside him.
Abruptly, Tristan backed away. Something flashed in his eyes--recognition perhaps, acknowledgement of one killer to another--and then Tristan was gone, vanished from the room, and Jim and Blair were completely alone in a room full of strangers who laughed and swayed in some wild dance to music too powerful to ignore.
Jim pulled Blair against him, took hold of his chin, searched his eyes for some sign of recognition. But there was nothing there in the bewildered blue of his eyes, and Blair laughed and threw one arm around Jim's shoulder's moving his body to the rhythm of the music. And the heat pressed against Jim now was too much all of a sudden--for it wasn't a stranger this time. Jim knew this scent, the sound of this heartbeat, and those silken, kiss-swollen lips were so near to his own.
"Blair, " he whispered. But Blair didn't seem to care where he was, didn't seem to care who he was with--perhaps didn't even know what it was that was happening. He continued moving, and pressed his hot body more tightly against Jim. The fire that flashed through Jim made him gasp in shock, even as the desperation to bring Blair back from whatever world he'd slipped into grew unbearable.
Kisses had stolen him away--every kiss these strangers had placed upon Blair's lips--Tristan's touch, Tristan's kiss--all had conspired somehow to pull Blair into a world Jim could not see, could not touch, a world perhaps where this weird nightmare of a party made sense. But if kisses had stolen him away, then kisses could bring him back--or so Jim's heat-clouded mind informed him.
Either way, logical or not, Jim soon had Blair pressed back into another shadowy alcove, body pinned up against the wall. He caught Blair's wrists, pulling his arms from around him, pinning his hands over his head even as he held his body immobile with his own. Blair just threw his head back and laughed, eyes dancing with mirth; he rocked his hips against Jim's in an effort to continue his dance.
It was too much for Jim. The heat he now knew was desire, and the painful ache in his groin had nothing to do with the wild, near naked strangers behind him. He surged forward and caught Blair's mouth with his own, swallowing Blair's laughter, forcing Blair to open to him, forcing his tongue inside that hot sweet cavern. He heard Blair moan, and he forced the kiss deeper still, devouring Blair's mouth, mating with him with lips alone. An no kiss had ever been so sweet, so hot, so desperately craved and Jim growled with hunger, and rage, and pain, wanting it all, wanting everything, unable to move fast enough, unable to claim and possess enough.
But God it was so good, so desperately wonderful--and when he felt Blair's hips rocking up against his own, pressing the heated length of his cock against Jim's, it was as if the world took on a new dimension. Blair turned his head away momentarily to gasp for much needed air, and Jim sucked at the heated skin of his neck, leaving marks as he moved his teeth down the pale expanse of his throat. He rocked his hips violently against Blair's seeking a friction through the rough material of their pants to ease the need raging through him. He released Blair's wrists, and caught instead at his hips, moving his hands to cup Blair's ass and pull him more firmly against him.
Blair was moaning now, moving desperately with Jim as they both sought relief, both sought release. And no longer was Blair's heartbeat slow and steady--but wild and out of control, and his breath was coming in broken gasps, and Jim could feel the blood pounding beneath his skin. And the smell--his scent now mingled with Blair's, sweat and sex, a mixture of their own--and it didn't matter that they were in a room full of strangers. Nothing mattered any more but the taste on his tongue, the skin beneath his mouth, the wild thrashing body in his hands, the heat burning into his groin.
The music grew louder, and the haunting wail of wolves out in the woods harmonized now with their own moans and cries. Blair staggered under the onslaught of Jim's violent caress, his arms winding around Jim's body in a desperate attempt to keep himself up right. Wanting more, needing more, Jim tightened his hold on Blair's hips, lifting him, pressing him more firmly against the wall behind him, sinking his teeth into Blair's shoulder even as Blair lifted his legs and wrapped them around Jim's hips, locking them into place. It gave Jim the angle he sought, and he thrust more violently against him, moving now in a driving rhythm that pressed heat against heat, with such friction he thought surely he'd burst into flames.
And the pressure was building, the fire growing hotter, and he caught Blair's mouth again with his own, needing to taste him once more, needing to swallow the scream that burst from Blair's chest as his body convulsed with such force. And Blair's release, shattering and unbearable, triggered Jim's own, and as he came, he tasted blood, and that too was sweet beyond imagining.
Dawn found Jim face down on the cool mattress of the bed. He groaned, his head pounding unnaturally, and he slowly tried to sit up. Momentarily tangled with the bed sheets and the bed curtains, he experienced a brief bout of panic as he tried to free himself. Then he thrust back the curtain and found himself staring into a brilliant patch of sunlight shining in through the bedroom windows.
Disoriented at finding himself in a strange room, in a strange place, Jim took a moment to get his bearings. The castle, he remembered. Blair's uncle's funeral---but the time of day was wrong. Wasn't it?
Jim frowned, glancing down at himself. He was stripped down to his boxers, and he couldn't for the life of him remember undressing. Hadn't he simply lain down on the bed in the clothes he'd been wearing in the car? But no--that had been yesterday--yesterday afternoon. And last night he'd. . . .
Last night. Something had happened last night.
He searched the room swiftly, trying to find something to prompt his memory. He'd eaten something--he remembered that. Tea or soup or something--and then. . . .
Drugged? he wondered. It would certainly explain his headache.
He inhaled deeply, and there--beyond the room, lingering in the air of the castle he caught the faint scent of candles and smoke and opium--and deeper still, beyond that, the scent of strangers. Hundreds of strangers.
There had been a gathering last night. A party. He remembered music, and dancing. And he remembered someone reading to him. Something about a zone out--and that thought filled him with fear. Had he zoned? Had he zoned and forgotten something important? And where was Blair? Where was his Guide during all this?
He sifted through the scents in the air, catching hold of Blair's illusive aroma. Yes, Blair was here--nearby from the scent--Blair--but his scent was mingled with wine and opium and sweat and sex. . . .
With a gasp of shock, Jim stood as a tactile memory of heat rushed over him. He tried to grasp it, tried to see it clearly--but it remained only images of so many faces and forms moving and dancing around him.
He raised his hands to his face, inhaling deeply--and the scent was there. Faint but unmistakable--Blair. Blair's scent was all over him. He flashed on a vision of his Guide dancing against him, head thrown back, lips swollen from kisses, eyes darkened by passion.
"No!" Jim growled shaking his head in denial. It was a dream. Had to be a dream.
He stormed over to the wardrobe against the far wall and threw it open. His suit hung inside, but one glance let him know that someone had taken care to clean and press it. And yet he remembered putting it on last night--he remembered wearing it.
But why couldn't he remember anything else more clearly?
He paced the room, trying to clear the fog from his head. He'd eaten something when he woke last night--and he was fairly certain now that it had been drugged. Either that or simply inhaling the drugs in the air had affected him more strongly than they should have. After that he'd gone downstairs--and the room had been crowded. There'd been a party--a huge party with hundreds of people.
And somewhere in the middle of all that confusion he'd found his Guide, pushed him against a wall, and proceeded to have sex with him like some sort of insane, rutting animal.
"No!" He shook his head again--it wasn't real. It couldn't have happened. His whole body seized up with the very idea--and he felt his skin flushing painfully. He wasn't gay--certainly wasn't interested in Sandburg that way. Shit--what in hell had they put in that soup?
No, he'd be the first to admit that he cared for Blair Sandburg--deeply. More than anyone else in the world really--but that was as far as it went. He was pretty much one hundred percent certain that there was nothing sexual between them--or maybe ninety-nine percent certain. He sniffed his hands again, breathing in Blair's scent--he'd concede that one percent he decided--that one percent that admitted that there was certainly nothing unpleasant about Blair's scent. But that was it.
"Didn't happen," he decided. Despite the scent clinging to his skin. There was another explanation--he'd simply touched Blair last night. That would account for the scent. He'd been in Blair's company nearly all day yesterday when they'd flown on the plane--that would explain it. And the rest was all just a dream--just some weird drug induced dream because he'd breathed in the wrong substance and zoned something big.
Determinedly he headed for the bathroom, eager to wash the scent from his skin. But as he stripped off his boxers he noticed a certain stickiness that made him shudder in shock.
"Not going to go there," he told himself. Not going to think about it. Certainly wasn't going to examine this evidence more closely. And good God, if Blair said anything at all, even hinted at the mere possibility, Jim was going to deny having any recollection at all!
He showered and dressed quickly, figuring he'd find out more once he saw the condition of the rest of the house. He figured he could piece together the rest of his memory from the remains of the party downstairs. Maybe he could find out what had been consumed--or what book had been read to him. Certainly he could compare his memory with the placement of the candles he remembered illuminating the castle.
But as he descended the stairs, he found himself growing more and more bewildered.
There were no candles--all gone from the mantle over the huge fireplace which last night had been burning. No wax lingered on the carved wood. Granted, ash filled the fireplace--but it had been so yesterday afternoon as well. Still, there were no signs of plates or cups, no scuffs on the marble floor--no spills on the priceless carpets. He moved through several other rooms--but all signs of a party had been cleared away, the place cleaned and disinfected. Nothing at all remained, no vase out of place, no curtain wrinkled or torn, no cushion littered with crumbs. The place had been cleaned methodically.
And yet, whoever had done the cleaning, could not entirely wipe away the signs from a Sentinel. The air still smelled faintly of perfume and opium--but perhaps that could have been from another night he reasoned. And there was still residual heat coming from the ash in the fireplace--but it wasn't unreasonable that there might have been a fire there last night, party or no. It grew cold at night here. Just enough clues to leave him wondering and dissatisfied.
The scent of food drew him toward one of the large balconies off the main floor of the castle. A wide marble patio overlooked the great cliff, and beyond that lay the dark woods of the Black Forest. Tristan was seated at a small table, coffee and breakfast laid out before him. He reclined casually in a chair, reading the morning paper by sunlight. He looked up as Jim approached, smiling cordially, though behind his gaze Jim could see a certain calculated coldness that had not been there yesterday afternoon. Jim's memories of Tristan from last night were hazy as well--but he knew something unpleasant had passed between them--dream or no the tension was still there.
"Good morning, Detective. I trust you slept well?"
It was hardly the greeting Jim expected in light of foggy memories, and he was momentarily taken aback.
He was spared from answering by Blair's sudden entrance.
"Good morning," he greeted both men with a tired grin. Jim turned toward him, taking in his appearance swiftly and trying to reconcile it with the images of passion that had flashed through his mind. His Guide looked much as he always did--though perhaps more tired than usual. "I'm sorry about missing the gathering last night, Tristan. I guess I was more tired than I thought."
Jim frowned, about to correct Blair, but Tristan chimed in quickly. "Don't worry, Blair," he shrugged unconcerned. "I made the apologies for you and the good Detective. It was really only a small gathering of a few family and friends. Nothing to be concerned with."
Small gathering? Jim stared at the two men in disbelief.
"I'm sorry I missed it still," Blair sighed.
"You'll see everyone tonight," Tristan assured him.
Doubt filled Jim. His heightened senses told him one story--but everything else told him something else. And surely much of last night had to be in his imagination? Certainly the state of the castle bore out Tristan's explanation--no sign of the wild party Jim had imagined. But that left him unable to account for the scents in the air--or the scents that had been clinging to his skin that morning.
He glanced at Blair, wondering what he'd find if he lowered the collar of the dark blue shirt his friend was wearing. Marks where his mouth had tasted his throat, or nothing more than smooth, unmarked skin?
"I had a strange dream last night," Blair murmured suddenly, his eyes gazing distantly out at the surrounding woods.
Tristan, solicitously pouring coffee for both of them, smiled curiously. "Really?" he asked, and to Jim it seemed as if there was something more than passing interest in his tone. "What about?"
Jim waited expectantly, wondering if his Guide would claim any vague recollection of the wild party Jim had experienced.
"Wolves," came the unexpected reply, and something cold and dark shivered down Jim's spine. "There was a great pack of wolves," Blair continued. "All lead by one very old silvered male."
A strange light entered Tristan's eyes and he leaned forward. "What happened?"
Blair frowned uncertainly. "Another wolf broke away from the pack. But this one was different. Bigger somehow, stronger--but he seemed strange, as if there was something more than wolf in him--a creature, a perversion of a wolf."
"Perversion?" Tristan frowned as if personally affronted. "Perhaps merely more than simply an animal," he suggested. "Surely that doesn't have to be perversion?"
Blair shrugged. "Unnatural then--like a thing possessed. And as I watched, it seemed to infect the other wolves, till at last the silver stood alone."
"What happened then?' Tristan asked darkly.
"They fought--the silver wolf and the other one. And in the end, the silver was defeated."
"And the other wolf became the Master?" Tristan finished for him.
But Blair shook his head. "The Leader, but not the Master."
Tristan stiffened. "What do you mean?"
"There was one wolf remaining that he had yet to master," Blair explained. "But he couldn't find him--that wolf had left the woods forsaken in favor of the jungle."
At the mention of the jungle, Jim startled in shock. Tristan was staring hard at Blair. "But why do you suppose he did that?"
For a long moment Blair was silent, his gaze still lost as he stared out at something distant. Jim stilled the impulse to reach out and touch him, to bring him back to the present; he wanted to hear the answer too.
"He died," Blair said softly, and his words carried such weight upon them. "He died, but he came back to live in the jungle--because he heard a voice begging him to return."
Jim stared hard and long at his friend, seeing him suddenly in a new light. Had Blair really returned from the dead because he'd heard Jim calling him back? They'd never talked about that horrible moment by the fountain, and things had been so strained between them since--so hard to talk about anything at all.
"What voice?' Tristan demanded, startling Jim out of his thoughts with the anger in his tone. There was a darkness in Tristan's eyes that worried Jim, reminding him too much of the primal hunger he'd seen last night--dream or no. And he felt certain that he did not want Tristan to know that it had been his voice that had called Blair back from the dead.
Quickly he reached out and touched Blair's arm. Instantly Blair took a deep breath and shook his head as if startling out of a dream. "What?" Blair asked in confusion, turning to look at Jim.
Rage flashed across Tristan's face, barely concealed from Blair; but Jim saw it nonetheless.
"You were telling us about your dream," Tristan prompted.
"Was I?" Blair laughed sheepishly, glancing almost apologetically at Jim. He stood abruptly and walked to the balcony. A breeze blowing down from the Bavarian Mountains lifted the red tinged locks of his hair, and he breathed deeply. Jim was struck by his beauty, seeing him momentarily in a strange and bewildering light. He recalled again a moment of abandoned passion and wondered at the clarity of the memory.
"It's so beautiful here," Blair sighed. "Makes me wonder why I ever left."
His words struck a dagger of fear straight through Jim's heart even as they pulled a predatory smile from Tristan. "Indeed," Tristan agreed. "I've often wondered that myself."
Tristan stood abruptly and moved to Blair's side, draping his arm companionably around Blair's shoulders. Jim noted the way Blair leaned into that touch, and something dark and territorial rose up inside him.
"Why don't you and I go walking in the woods like we used to?" Tristan suggested. "We can reminisce and talk about my father. I'm sure the good Detective wouldn't mind being left to his own devices for a few hours. There's plenty here to amuse him."
Jim bristled at Tristan's words. He made it plainly clear that Jim was not invited on their walk--and Jim could hardly argue the point without explaining to Blair the nature of his concern. He doubted very much that his Guide would be thrilled by the sudden possessiveness that gripped him--or the deep mistrust he felt for his cousin.
"Of course," Blair agreed. "It sounds like fun. You don't mind do you Jim?" Blair turned his wide blue eyes toward Jim and for a moment, Jim thought he saw a small flash of fear in those eyes. But it was gone before he could confirm.
"Of course not," Jim gritted in irritation, making the attempt to force a smile. Jim could practically smell the satisfaction coming from Tristan, and the mere thought of letting the two of them go off alone together galled. But what other choice did he have? He didn't own Blair--couldn't tell him what to do. It was quite out of his hands.
Tristan allowed them time enough only to finish their breakfast before he urged Blair to join him. Jim watched in silence as the two of them headed out into the forest, Tristan's arm draped once again across his Guide's shoulders.
Irritated, and determined to get some answers about last night, Jim left the castle through the front gates, and headed down toward the village he'd seen on the way here.
As he approached, he became aware that the majority of the town folk were gathered at a small ancient cemetery near the edge of town. He hung back and watched with some surprise as they sped through the burial rites even as three men hurriedly dug a grave. They dug while the village priest read from a small bible--the whole thing showing signs of a hurried and unplanned funeral. He scanned the crowd for some sign of public authority--a police officer or mayor. But save for the priest himself, there was no one even remotely official present.
The casket--a plane wooden box, was quickly lowered into the newly dug grave, and then just as quickly covered with dirt while two weeping women and the rest of the villagers looked on.
It was over in moments, and the mourners began swiftly and silently filing out of the graveyard. Many spied Jim standing off to the side and threw him unreadable dark looks. Jim watched them uncomfortably, feeling vaguely like he had stumbled upon some dark secret.
The last man from of the graveyard was the priest, a rather gaunt fellow with tired brown eyes. He hesitated a moment at the entrance, as if weighing a heavy decision. Then he sighed and walked toward Jim, his bible clutched tightly to his chest.
"You're not one of them, are you?" the priest asked in nearly flawless English. Only his accent betrayed him.
"One of them?" Jim asked.
The man frowned, the dark lines of his face lengthening. "You know what I mean, well enough," he informed Jim. "You do not belong here, and you are not prepared. As you can see we too were not prepared--we who were raised on the stories of the castle. But we still remember the old ways--they were not needed when Andros was Master--but now we will remember. And we will defend ourselves. You can be certain of that."
The reference to Andros sent a cold chill down Jim's spine. "Defend yourself from what?"
"The wolves of course," the priest replied.
"I was told the Black Forest no longer had wolves."
The priest laughed bitterly at that. "There have always been wolves in the Black Forest. Just as there have always been men to fear them. Stay out of the woods and leave here as quickly as you can."
With that he turned and hurried away.
Jim frowned after the man, suddenly painfully aware of the absence of his gun. Dream or not last night, he was certain now that something was wrong.
"And it's time I found out what," he growled softly. He quickly scanned the village, and then headed toward the small tavern near the entrance of town. The heavy wooden doors creaked loudly as he pushed it aside, and the dark glares of the few men inside greeted him.
The tavern owner glowered behind the counter, not at all the welcoming barkeep a tourist might expect. Far from it in fact as his hand rested purposely upon a large hunting rifle lying across the bar.
Jim paused in the doorway, sensing clearly the lack of welcome. But he was not to be deterred. "Is there a telephone I can use?' he asked firmly.
The man's eyes narrowed, but he motioned with his chin toward the back of the tavern. Aware of the eyes watching him, Jim made his way quickly toward the booth. Once there, he pulled out his wallet, and using a calling card, dialed a number he'd memorized before leaving Cascade.
It took several rings before a familiar voice answered on the other end of the line.
"Jim? Is that you?" Naomi Sandburg greeted brightly. "Is everything alright?"
"I wanted to find out if anyone had informed you that your Uncle Andros had died," Jim told her, trying the most direct approach he could think of.
Jim heard the sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line, and for a moment Naomi was silent. "Jim, where are you? Where's Blair?"
"We're in Germany. We came for the funeral."
Through the line Jim could hear Naomi's heart pounding. "Jim, who is master of the castle now?"
"Tristan," Jim stated flatly.
"Jim, has he shown any. . .any interest in Blair?"
"What?" Jim demanded.
He heard the muffled curse Naomi bit back. "I can't afford to be delicate here. Has Tristan shown any sort of sexual interest in Blair?"
Something tight clenched Jim's heart, and he felt his face grow hot. "Yes," he stated immediately, deciding not to give himself too much time to dwell on the subject.
"Jim, you have to listen to me," Naomi said urgently. "You have to keep Blair away from Tristan."
"Naomi--" Jim began, trying to reason that there wasn't any plausible reason for him to keep the two cousins apart.
"Jim, listen to me!" Naomi interrupted. "If Tristan succeeds in seducing Blair, then Blair is lost to us!"
"What?' Jim hissed in shock, not certain he had heard what he thought he had. "What in hell are you talking about?"
"Look, Jim, I know there is some sort of bond between you and Blair, you're as close as any friends could be. And I'm sorry if this topic makes you uncomfortable, but if Tristan succeeds then you will never see Blair again. He won't return home with you. He'll never leave the castle. He'll belong completely to Tristan and will end up like all the other lost souls there in that endless dreaming masque in that castle."
Endless dreaming masque--the images from the previous night came back with a vengeance. "Naomi, what in hell is going on here?"
"There's too much to explain," Naomi cut in. "And you probably wouldn't believe me if I tried. Just don't leave Blair alone with Tristan. And get him out of there immediately."
"Look Blair is hardly going to let--"
"Jim, dismiss all your preconceived notions of Blair and yourself where Tristan and that place are concerned. Gender, personal preferences, history, sanity--none of that matters. The rules are different and if you don't get Blair out of there quickly, you may not escape yourself. If you care for my son at all you'll keep him away from Tristan."
"He's alone with Tristan right now," Jim said with a sickening feeling growing in the pit of his stomach.
Naomi hissed in dismay. "What time of day is it there?"
"Morning, nearly noon."
"Tristan is stronger at night--but go to Blair immediately and don't let him out of your sight until you get him out of Germany. I don't care what you have to do--kidnap him, arrest him, drug him and sneak him out--just get him away from that place."
"All right Naomi," Jim promised. "But I want a full explanation when this is over."
"Fine! Just go to him. Now!" Naomi begged.
Caught up in her urgency, Jim hung up the phone and headed toward the exit. As he moved through the bar, he spotted an old crossbow hanging on the wall near the door. He paused, frowning, and glanced toward the bartender. "Can I borrow that?" he asked.
The bartender, hand still resting lightly on the rifle, stared long and hard at him. "What are you planning on hunting?"
Instinct prompted Jim's response. "Wolves."
It seemed it was the proper response. The bartender smiled thinly. "Then you can borrow it, stranger. The bolts are in that case next to it."
Jim nodded his thanks and reached for the crossbow. In Peru, he had hunted with a compound bow, and felt more comfortable with that weapon--but this would do in a pinch. He'd fired a crossbow before, knew how to arm and fire it properly. And if aimed accurately, it could be as deadly as his old compound bow had been.
He found the path Blair and Tristan had taken into the woods. Without too much difficulty, he began covering ground swiftly. Less than a half mile in, he saw the break in the trees where Tristan had strayed from the road. He paused to study the ground more carefully.
Dialing his senses up, he scanned the surrounding woods. He found Blair nearly immediately, tuned as he was to his Guide. Tristan was still beside him, and the two of them were talking softly together. From the sound of things, Tristan was trying to get Blair to stay at the castle--extolling the virtues of family and clan. And to Jim's dismay, Blair was making no effort to steer Tristan differently. Not once did Jim hear him mention his life back in Cascade.
Another scent reached him then, strong and unmistakable--the musky scent of feral dogs or wolves. This time too Jim could hear the soft rustle of leaves as lupine feet padded through the undergrowth. Wolves most definitely--several of them from the sound. And they were moving toward Blair and Tristan. One of them was quite close.
Jim broke into a run, cursing again his lack of a gun. What was he going to do if he did come across a pack of wild wolves in the forest? How was he supposed to protect Blair from them?
Tristan appeared to be leading Blair farther into the forest, closer to the wolves, and Jim couldn't quite understand how a man who lived and hunted here could be so mindless of the dangers. He had taken no weapon with him that morning.
A hunting accident--Tristan had called his father's death. Jim wondered now, based on the veiled references of the villagers, if wolves might not have gotten Andros.
Even as he ran, keeping his senses trained on both Blair and the approaching wolves, Jim heard Tristan's voice taking on a new tone. No longer extolling the virtues of home and family, Tristan spoke now of pleasure and beauty. His manner turned toward seduction and Jim couldn't help remember last night and how the sight of Blair in Tristan's arms had filled him with such dread. And Blair--Blair had fallen silent now as if listening to Tristan's every word.
The scent of pheromones rose on the woodland breeze--mingling with the musk of wolves until they were virtually interchangeable. So similar the scents, and Jim could nearly taste the hunger--faintly inside that perfume he caught the odor of fear--Blair's fear as if somehow he too sensed the danger.
He spotted them before they saw or heard him approaching. Down in a small copse of trees near a small meadow, they stood in the shadows of a tall gnarled tree. And like last night, Blair was in Tristan's arms, the two of them locked in a most passionate embrace.
Jim stood stunned, still half believing that last night had been entirely in his imagination. Then rage swiftly over took him, and heat erupted through his body at the sight of the two of them like that. One of Tristan's hands was buried in Blair's hair, the other wrapped tightly around Blair's back, pulling him against him--and Jim knew intimately the heat Tristan must feel pressing along the length of his body.
Blair's hands rested on Tristan's hips, his knuckles white with their grip. Jim was torn from not knowing if it was to pull Tristan closer or to push him away.
"Sandburg!" The shout broke from Jim before he was even aware of the desire to speak. All he knew was an overwhelming urge to get Blair away from Tristan.
Blair made no response that he even heard him--but Tristan opened his eyes in shock. But he did not even break the kiss--rather simply turned them both so that he could see past Blair toward Jim, who stood above them on the hill.
Before Jim could even wonder at his reaction, a dark gray blur broke from the trees to interpose itself between Jim and the two cousins. Jim froze in the very act of heading down the hill to break the two of them apart. A wolf--fangs bared, hackles raised, stood before him, as if barring the way to Blair's side.
As the wolf neared, Jim whipped out the crossbow, bolt already cocked.
The sight of that weapon finally drew a reaction from Tristan--he broke off the obscene kiss and released Blair to turn his full attention to Jim. Oddly enough Blair did not move, did not react at all to the sudden interruption of passion. He simply stood in silence, his back to Jim as Tristan stepped around him.
"Do you have any idea what he'll do to you if you miss, Detective?" Tristan asked curiously. He seemed not in the slightest bit alarmed by the wolf's presence--a fact that sent a chill racing up Jim's spine.
"I never miss," Jim stated flatly.
"Never? You mean you've actually used a crossbow before?" Tristan sounded highly skeptical.
Jim sited along the bolt, his shot would take the wolf straight through the heart. "Didn't Blair tell you? I spent eighteen months living in the jungles of Peru. I learned how to use all sorts of interesting weapons. I prefer a compound bow when hunting, but the crossbow works well enough, certainly enough to shoot one wolf through the heart."
Tristan pouted almost defensively. "And if there's more than one?"
"There's not," Jim stated with absolute certainty. He could hear the other wolves approaching--but they were still quite far off. "The rest of his pack are several miles away still."
A frown filtered across Tristan's face and anger flashed through his eyes. And then unexpectedly the wolf backed down. He dropped his aggressive behavior and backed away from Jim. A moment later he turned and loped off into the woods. Jim slowly lowered the crossbow, hand still on the trigger as he glared at Tristan.
Tristan smiled. "Well, how lucky for all of us," he laughed. "Now we don't need to rely on your aim, Detective, to keep us all safe."
"I thought you said there were no wolves in the Black Forest?"
"Perhaps it was just a wild dog--obviously not too dangerous."
"I doubt the villagers would agree with you. One of them was killed by wolves last night."
Tristan shrugged, unconcerned. "There's a man in the village who keeps vicious hunting dogs. The man probably just got drunk and wandered where he didn't belong. Most unfortunately."
He shot a brief glance at Blair who still had not moved, and then he smiled again at Jim. "I have a number of things to deal with before the funeral, Detective. I trust you and Blair can find your way back unaided?"
"Not a problem," Jim bit out, glad he was leaving.
Tristan just shrugged and headed back toward the castle. "Don't get lost," he murmured in amusement as he passed Jim. Jim didn't grace him with a reply.
Once Tristan was gone, Jim hurried to Blair's side. His Guide stood unusually still, staring off into the dark woods, his gaze so distant and dreamy it reminded Jim of a zone out.
"Sandburg!" Jim called, shaking his Guide with his free hand, his other hand still tightly gripping the crossbow. He was more unnerved than he wanted to admit, and Naomi's words rang in his ears--if Tristan succeeded in seducing Blair, then his Guide was lost to him.
What if he were already too late? Certainly Blair was strangely unresponsive.
But no, he could smell the truth. Tristan's scent was on him, but from contact from the kiss only. It hadn't gone any further than that.
But that didn't explain Blair's condition. "Sandburg!" he shook him again, trying to get a response, any response from his Guide. But Blair seemed not to notice, not to even hear Jim's voice.
What did Blair do when Jim zoned? "Blair listen to my voice," he began, but even as he spoke he knew he lacked Blair's cadence. Blair's voice held music within it that pulled Jim out of a zone.
"Crap!" he shook him again, hoping to jar him to awareness. "Blair! Snap out of it!" But Blair seemed to be listening to something far off, something even the Sentinel could not hear.
A memory hit him suddenly--the wild music, gyrating bodies, the scent of perfume and opium, and the sight again of Blair in Tristan's arms, kisses stealing Blair away from him, pulling him farther and farther into the world of the wild masque.
And somehow in the midst of all that chaos, Jim had reasoned that if kisses had stolen him away, then kisses could bring him back.
"Shit!" he cursed under his breath. Was he really going to do this? Was he really going to kiss his Guide? Here in broad daylight without the excuse of drugs or alcohol to explain his actions?
But what choice did he have? Nothing else was working and he couldn't leave Blair like this--couldn't leave him lost and defenseless.
"Blair?" he called again, but Blair seemed no closer to awareness than before, and Jim's heart began to pound. A strange fluttering sensation settled in his stomach as he contemplated what he was about to do.
It was ludicrous, and just as certainly he knew somehow it would work.
He shook him again for good measure, receiving no response. "The things I do for you, Sandburg," he grumbled. Though somehow he knew Blair would do the same for him. Blair, he suspected would not even hesitate, would jump in with both feet, just like he had in the past when he'd followed Jim through one dangerous escapade after another. Just like he had when he'd died, and then followed Jim back to the land of the living simply because he called him.
And Jim realized then that there was a precedent for this after all, he had in fact kissed Blair prior to coming to Germany. Of course then it had been under the guise of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but the principle was the same. Breathing life into a still form, as simple and as terrifying as that.
He caught Blair's chin in one hand, tilting his face upward. And then slowly, hesitantly, he lowered his mouth toward Blair's, his gaze scanning Blair's face for any sign of awareness as he did so. Nothing--only the lost, blank look.
Then his lips touched Blair's. So strange he thought, kissing a man--but Blair's lips were silky like a woman's, firmer perhaps, but there was a certain lushness to them that most women would kill for.
And Blair's scent was tolerable--he'd always thought so. Couldn't live with a person if you disliked their scent. And up close like this, with the scent strong from the heat rising off Blair's body, he had to acknowledge that perhaps the scent was more than just tolerable. That perhaps it was downright pleasant. Pleasant enough that his heart sped up as he inhaled deeply.
He moved his mouth against Blair's, uncertain of what exactly he was seeking. A response of some sort. . .and so nice the way lips felt against lips--silky and soft, with a touch of moist warmth. . .and taste, his tongue flicked out as if of its own volition and tasted Blair's lips. And this time he could feel the tightening in his groin and the sweating of his palms as his whole body flushed at what he was doing.
Blair gasped, and Jim felt air leave his lungs as his Guide once more inhaled a breath of life from him.
Jim intended to pull back immediately, the moment he felt a response from Blair. But irrationally he felt a sudden flare of anger at the Pavlovian response. Tristan had certainly done more than simply touch Blair's mouth with his own. Blair had allowed more than that. And somehow the memory of last night's insanity came back right then to torment Jim, and he felt at once used and denied. Though for the life of him he couldn't explain either emotion.
Rather than pull away, he gripped Blair's chin tighter and pressed his mouth more firmly against Blair's. Why shouldn't he taste what Tristan had tasted, why shouldn't he know what that heat was like? Blair was his Guide after all.
He forced his tongue past Blair's lips touching and tasting the heat inside. Blair moaned in shock, trembling in Jim's hands--but he did not pull away. Instead he allowed the invasion, parting his lips willingly and letting his tongue move against Jim's.
Ironically, that capitulation caused the anger to peak within Jim. Would Blair simply roll over and take it from anyone who touched him? It would seem so, and in a fit of rage he thrust Blair back away from him, glaring down into the now aware blue eyes.
"Shit! Sandburg!" he hissed.
Blair stared at him in shock, one hand rising to touch his lips. They were kiss swollen and Jim shook from the realization that most of that had been caused by Tristan.
"Did you just kiss me, Jim?" Blair asked in disbelief.
"What in hell is wrong with you, Sandburg?" Jim demanded.
Blair looked pole-axed. "Wrong with me? You were the one who just kissed me?"
Jim stiffened at the accusation. "I came out here looking for you, only to find you playing tonsil hockey with your cousin of all people!"
"What?" Blair interrupted in shock. He glanced around at his surroundings in sudden confusion. "Where is. . . I mean how. . .didn't Tristan and I--"
"Never mind!" Jim yelled. "He's gone! Now answer the question."
"What's wrong with you?" Jim demanded in exasperation. "Have you lost your mind? Have you suddenly turned gay? Are you using drugs? What the fuck is wrong with you?!"
Blair stared at him incredulously, the color rising in his cheeks. "What in hell are you talking about? You know I don't do drugs--and gay? First off my private life isn't any of your goddamned business, and even if it was, you were the one who kissed me, you big jerk!"
"Because of Tristan, you asshole! " Jim growled. "And it sure as hell is my business since I got dragged into all this!"
"What are you talking about?"
"I come out here and find you going at it hot and heavy with Tristan, which for some reason sent you into a first class zone out!"
"Zone out!" Blair looked completely dumbfounded now. "I don't zone."
"Then you sure did one hell of an acting job! I shook you, I yelled at you--nothing got to you."
"So you kissed me?"
"What in hell else was I supposed to do? That's what caused it, and that's what brought you out of it. And now Naomi says that if Tristan succeeds in fucking you, then you'll go so far beyond a zone out that you will never come back."
"What?" Blair shrieked. "Naomi said what? What in hell--how did she--"
"Forget about her--we're discussing you and your irrational behavior. I want to know why you allowed Tristan to touch you at all. If I hadn't shown up when I did, in another moment he would have had you on all fours in the dirt--"
The fist that struck his jaw caught him completely off guard. He staggered back a step, even as rage exploded with the pain. Without thinking he dropped the crossbow in the dirt and lunged at Blair. He caught one flash of Blair's eyes widening in alarm before he struck him with his full weight and knocked him to the ground.
Blair fought with a desperate panic, struggling and squirming. Jim grunted as a knee hit his shin, and Blair's chin caught him sharply in the sternum. Pain flared in his ear as one of Blair's fists struck a glancing blow to the side of his head.
Sharp stones dug into his back as they rolled body over body, each trying to gain the upper hand. But despite Blair's agility, Jim was bigger and stronger, and he knew how to subdue an enemy swiftly. In a manner of moments, he had Blair pinned beneath him. He straddled Blair's hips, holding Blair's arms to either side of his head. He stared down into Blair's angry face, breath coming in gasps.
Rage and pain shone up at him through those blue eyes, mouth tight in a grimace of anger, nostrils flaring as Blair tried to catch his breath. Leaves tangled with the auburn locks that framed the flushed face, and the body trembling beneath his own was so hot.
Blair squirmed and Jim tightened his grip, feeling the bones in Blair's wrists grating together. Jim saw the flare of pain echo in Blair's eyes. "Don't you ever hit me again, Sandburg!"
Blair glared up at him, and his mouth tightened with silence. The little shit wasn't going to apologize!
"Don't you dare put this on me, Sandburg!" Jim yelled and for emphasis he forced Blair's hands more firmly into the dirt. "This is all you! You're the one who zoned! You're the one who's acting nuts. You're the one who let Tristan crawl all over you. You're the one who let everyone crawl all over you last night!"
That last bit caught Blair's attention and Jim saw the blood drain from his face. "Yeah, that's right, Sandburg. You remember last night? You remember getting stoned and letting those nut cases pass you around like a party favor?"
"I thought it was a dream," Blair whispered so softly Jim wouldn't have heard it if he hadn't been a Sentinel.
"No dream, Sandburg," Jim snarled and, releasing one of Blair's hands, he caught at the collar of Blair's blue shirt, pulling it away from his neck and revealing the bite mark he'd left there last night. "That look like a dream to you? Your scent was all over me this morning!"
Blair's eyes widened in shock. "My scent--oh my God! You. . . you bit. . .we. . .last night we--"
"Shut up!" Jim snarled unable to face those memories in light of his rage. He was peripherally aware of the position he was in--of how he had Blair pinned beneath his body, just as he was aware of the fact he was rock hard inside his jeans.
"I was drugged, Sandburg!" he continued. "Do you understand what I'm saying? We were both drugged--something fucking weird happened last night at that party that Tristan says we didn't go to. You were zoning just like you did today. And that was the only way to bring you out of it. But it's not going any further than this! Do you understand me?"
Blair stared up at Jim in utter shock, his body so still beneath him that Jim became all the more intensely aware of how he was pressing him into the ground. And still that heat was burning into him, and he felt a sudden urge to grind his hips against Blair's. With a strangled yell he lurched upward and moved several yards away from his Guide in an attempt to cool off.
"What do you want me to do?" Blair asked uncertainly
"Do?" Jim stared at him incredulously. "Are you even listening here? Something seriously wrong is going on here. I want to leave--now--before this happens again. Because all it seems to take is for Tristan to smile at you and you're panting at his heels. I'll be damned if I play anymore of this sexual hyjinx with you. You're not my type, Sandburg!"
He knew the moment the words were out of his mouth that he'd hurt Blair. Embarrassment, shock, humiliation--it was all there plain on Blair's face, clear to see. And in a moment of timelessness, Jim saw his Guide stiffen and turn away from him, physically withdrawing, and suddenly all Jim wanted to do was go to him and pull him back into his arms. Somehow, this withdrawing was worse than the zone out. This was losing Blair because of something he'd done, not because someone was stepping in between them.
"Blair," he said hesitantly, reaching out toward the young man to apologize.
But Blair just shook his head and climbed unsteadily to his feet, his back to Jim. "No, you're absolutely right, Jim. This is not fair to you. I shouldn't have asked you to come here in the first place. I'll get a ticket home for you immediately."
"For both of us," Jim cut in.
Blair stiffened. "I came for my uncle's funeral. I'm staying for it. I owe him that. But you can leave immediately. You can be back in Cascade tomorrow. . ."
"Damn it, Blair! I'm not leaving you here! Something is seriously wrong here. Don't you see that? Can't you understand that? You're not safe here!"
"Because my cousin has the hots for me?" Blair demanded, turning an angry glare toward Jim. "So what, Jim?"
Jim froze. "What?"
Blair shrugged coldly. "You heard me--oh-great-Sentinel. I said, so what? Who the hell cares if Tristan wants to fuck me or not? What business is it of yours? You admitted yourself that you certainly have no interest in me that way, so why in hell should you care who else does? It's nobody's business but mine. My virtue is not your responsibility."
"It is if someone's drugging you!" Jim snapped. "I'm your friend. I'm not letting someone force you into anything."
"Do I look drugged to you?" Blair questioned.
"Not at the moment," Jim agreed. "But you didn't see yourself before--Jesus, Blair--you zoned through a wolf attack!"
Blair stopped at that, starting at Jim in utter confusion. "A what?"
Immediately Jim scooped up the abandoned crossbow and showed it to his Guide. "Wolf attack, Blair. While you were standing there zoned, a wolf tried to stop me from reaching you."
"A wolf?" Blair just shook his head. "There aren't any wolves in the--"
"Tell that to the villagers, Sandburg!" Jim cut him off. "Because last night one of them was killed by a wolf."
Blair paled. "My God. . ."
"Blair, there was a wolf here--it ran off when I pointed the crossbow at it. And you were so out of it, you never even noticed."
"What did Tristan say? Did he see it?"
Jim frowned in disgust. "I get the impression that Tristan was more amused than anything else. He didn't seem overly surprised by its appearance. I don't trust him."
"That doesn't make any sense, Jim," Blair protested. "Are you sure it wasn't just a dog--"
"I know a wolf when I see one!" Jim shouted.
And Blair fell silent at that. Because of course they both knew that Jim wouldn't be mistaken in something like that.
"Come back home with me," Jim said.
For the longest moment, Blair just stared at him, and Jim could see so many conflicting emotions in his eyes. "I dreamed of wolves last night," he said quietly.
Jim didn't want to talk about dreams--and he most certainly didn't want to talk about wolves. He wanted to get his Guide away from this strange place--quickly. "Blair, come home with me. . . now."
"After the funeral," Blair said firmly, looking away from Jim, his lashes hiding the blue of his eyes.
"I'm staying for the funeral, Jim," Blair said simply, clearly. "I owe it to my uncle. You can leave if you want. I'll understand if you do."
"Crap!" Jim hissed under his breath. "Fine, Sandburg. Have it your way. But we leave as soon as the funeral is over."
Blair neither agreed nor nodded; he just gazed sadly at Jim for a long moment. "I'm sorry I hit you," he said finally. "But you shouldn't have said what you said."
Jim swallowed uncomfortably, his jaw still stinging from Blair's blow. "I know. I'm sorry I kissed you. . ."
That at last caused a reaction in Blair--a faint twitch of his lips. "Yeah, I sort of gathered that much. Don't worry, I won't bring it up again."
And Jim wasn't certain if he was entirely happy about that response. He finally just sighed and motioned for his Guide to follow him. "The castle's back this way."
Blair followed the Sentinel through the forest.
They arrived back at the castle in silence, only to find a most bizarre sight waiting for them. Both men stopped in shock as they entered the courtyard, their eyes fixed on the elaborate wooden platform in the center of the cobbled stones. Piled high beneath it were bundles of oil soaked wood, the platform was merely awaiting the arrival of a body to crown its top.
"You have got to be kidding me?" Jim stated out loud as he gazed at the funeral pyre.
Blair stared, looking as bewildered as Jim felt. "Okay. . .that's different," he muttered, more to himself and to Jim.
"This keeps getting weirder and weirder," Jim grumbled, his hand instinctively tightening on the crossbow as if he subconsciously perceived a threat.
He extended his senses and caught the sounds of dozens of new heartbeats and voices inside. The family had gathered apparently, but before he could warn Blair, the great double doors to the castle proper opened and a group of young men and women emerged, laughing and smiling. They swarmed around the young Anthropologist, greeting him happily as they gathered him up with hugs and kisses.
Blair, somewhat dazed, greeted most of them by name, even though to Jim's knowledge, in the three and a half years he'd known Sandburg, he'd never once mentioned their names.
One person in particular caught Jim's eyes--a beautiful dark-haired woman with a deep resonate voice. The voice more than the face was familiar to him. She was the woman who had read out loud last night--the one who'd chosen a story that sounded so much like a tale of a Sentinel.
"Allisia," Blair greeted her by name, kissing her as he had everyone else.
The group moved in around Blair, effectively cutting him off from Jim. Jim's mood darkened as he remembered clearly how this same group had tried similiar tactics last night. The urge to wade through the crowd and pull Blair back to his side was great, but he settled for simply keeping his senses honed on him. He pulled aside the woman instead.
"Allisia," he growled, his gaze hard as he silently dared the woman to pretend she'd never seen him before.
She raised her face, giving him a vacant smile until she saw the look in his eyes. Her smile faded and she lowered her gaze.
"Detective," she nodded. "What can I do for you?"
"You can tell me what's going on here," he demanded.
She smiled almost coquettishly, but he could see the furtive glance she darted in each direction. "You should be careful of asking too many questions, Detective," she murmured. "You'd be amazed at how good people's hearing around here is."
"I doubt that," Jim stated flatly. "And I'm a detective. Asking questions is what I do. Especially if something is threatening me or my partner."
Her voice dropped low, so low that an ordinary man would have needed to lean closer to hear her clearly. "You shouldn't have brought him here. Not with Andros gone. Tristan will never let him leave."
Jim's gaze hardened, his body stiffening as he took in her words. He still had Blair on radar--was still monitoring his progress inside the castle. "Tristan has nothing to say about it. And even if he did, why would he try to keep Blair here?"
Allisia's eyes widened slightly as she gazed up into Jim's angry face. "Don't challenge him, Detective. You have no idea what you'd be going up against."
"Neither does he," Jim growled. "But answer my question. Why would Blair be so important to Tristan? They're cousins, but they haven't seen each other in years. Blair said even then they weren't close."
Allisia shook her head in disbelief. "Blair has always been special. Ever since he was a child, we've known he was special. He enhances everyone around him."
Jim had heard some odd compliments in his life, but the way Allisia said 'enhanced' led him to believe that there was something more to her meaning than a simple compliment. "Enhances? What do you mean?"
"He takes someone's natural abilities and gifts and makes them better," she shrugged. "He enhances them, improves them, helps a person refine or control them. He's always been like that." She laughed softly, the sound light and bell like. "Of course couple that with the fact that he's now a Schamanen and he's far too valuable for Tristan to ever let go. No, Detective, you shouldn't have brought him here, not with Tristan as master. Andros himself might not have let him leave, and he was a far better man than Tristan will ever be. Tristan is completely feral. He'll use any means necessary."
Schamanen--Jim's German was poor, but he knew that word. Shaman
"And once the other Alphas arrive and get a look at him. . . ." Allisia shook her head. "As long as he's unbonded, none of them will let him leave. Not while there's still a chance they could claim him for themselves. Good luck, Detective."
He grabbed her arm before she could walk off. "What in hell are you talking about?"
She smiled sadly at him. "Perhaps someone will challenge Tristan," she suggested. "Perhaps someone else will become Master--like Marco maybe. He is a good man, an honorable Alpha. You might like him--Blair certainly would. It wouldn't be a bad life for your friend."
"No one is going to become Blair's 'master'," Jim snarled.
"It's not up to you, Detective," Allisia informed him. "Blair's one of us. And our laws have existed longer than yours. There's nothing you can do about it."
"This has something to do with those damned wolves, doesn't it?"
Something flared in her eyes, something wild and bright, and for one moment she almost looked amused. "Do you believe that people can send their consciousness into the minds of animals, Detective?"
Jim's eyes narrowed. "No," he stated flatly, not willing to play her game. He wasn't going to go there, wasn't going to entertain such wild thoughts.
She shrugged. "Then there's nothing you can do to help Blair." She pulled her arm from Jim's grasp and hurried off after the others.
Jim stared after in her in alarm. This was making less and less sense. Masters? Alphas? Maybe Naomi was right? Maybe he just needed to get Blair out of here anyway he could? But based on his Guide's stubborn refusal earlier, drugging him or knocking him out might very well be his only option. Regardless he had to keep an eye on him; until they left this place, Jim intended to stick to Blair like glue.
He headed into the castle following the sounds and scents of his Guide.
By evening a large crowd had gathered inside the stone walls of the old fortress, certainly a larger group than he recalled from last night. They all claimed to be cousins, and they greeted Blair like a long lost brother. Jim found the whole thing more and more ridiculous. No one had that many cousins. Ten or twenty he could believe--Carolyn had actually had sixty-five first cousins on one side of the family. But here there were hundreds and Blair had never once mentioned any of them by name. Nor had Naomi--to his knowledge Naomi hadn't even motioned any siblings.
"Just how many cousins do you have, Sandburg?" he demanded.
Blair just shrugged. "They're not all first cousins, Jim. Most are second, third, and fourth cousins, some many times removed."
"All from Naomi's mysterious family?"
Blair glanced at Jim in surprise. "No, Jim. This is my father's family."
That caught Jim completely off guard. "Your father? I thought you didn't know your father?"
"I don't. I mean he died shortly after I was born and Naomi never really talked about him that much. As near as I can figure there was some sort of fight between my father and another group of family members about me. In any event there was an accident of some sort and my father was killed. Naomi took me and left."
"An accident?" Jim asked. "Let me guess. Another hunting accident."
Blair frowned, his blue eyes thoughtful. "I never asked. Never really felt the need to ask."
"For an inquisitive person, you certainly never made much of an effort to question things around here."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Don't you think things are a bit odd around here?"
Blair just shrugged. "Maybe a little. But they're family, Jim. I wish you'd just lighten up." With that Blair stormed off to join a group of his so-called cousins out in one of the side courtyards. Jim followed at a distance.
It wasn't long before he understood what Allisia had meant about other Alphas. Another group of men--also supposed cousins--had arrived. Though they didn't necessarily look alike, all of them reminded Jim of Tristan. They had the same hard look in their eyes, the glint of a hunter, and they moved amongst the crowd with an easy confidence as people parted before them and greeted them the way they might a superior.
As Blair talked with a group of fawning women, one group of men stood off to one side eyeing him closely. Jim dialed up his hearing in curiosity.
". . .not expected," one of them was saying. "Quite a coup on Tristan's part."
"Or a mistake," said another darkly. "I hadn't intended to challenge him over Andros' death, but for that one I might make an exception."
"Tristan is too strong--you know what he's become. He's returned to the old ways."
"He'll get us all killed," another complained. "We'll be hunted down like our ancestors were. Andros was right about that."
"I suspect that's why Blair is here--with his guidance Tristan could always stay one step ahead of the enemy. According to some of Tristan's females, Blair is already nearly his--would have been last night if the good Detective hadn't gotten in the way."
"That surprises me," the first remarked. "From what I hear the man confronted him and Tristan backed down. He's got the presence of an Alpha but not our scent--doubtful he's a relative."
"I doubt Tristan backed down--I think he simply delayed the confrontation. Saved it for later. I suspect the good Detective is part of tonight's festivities."
There was some laughter at that. "After all, what good is a hunt if we don't have a challenging prey."
A shiver ran down Jim's spine at that. It sounded like a threat to him, a death threat. There was more at stake here than simply Blair's virtue. But if they wanted a fight, Jim would give them a good one.
The funeral began just as the sun set behind the distant mountains. Tristan spoke briefly but his words were in a language Jim did not recognize. It wasn't German, but the crowd seemed able to understand his words. After he spoke he set torch to pyre and the whole thing burst into flames. The sudden flare of light along with the scent of burning oil and flesh caught Jim off guard. And for one moment he feared a zone out. He fought to pull himself back, focusing instead on the scent of the forest beyond the walls. But as he focused he became aware of two things. First--the scent of wolves had grown nearly overpowering, and second--Blair was no longer beside him.
Startled, Jim shook himself out of the zone. One glance around confirmed that he had indeed been zoned for a while. The pyre had burned hot and fierce in his mental absence. And far from weeping at a funeral, the guests had begun dancing, wild music filling the air once again. And the scent of wolves--he could hear howling now amongst the music and the laughter, the sharp cries of animals just beyond the walls. He turned, watching in alarm as a group of young men strode forward to push open the iron gates of the drawbridge. In the darkness beyond the firelight, he could see the baleful eyes of animals gazing inward toward him.
It was happening again--the drugs were heavy in the air. But this time, Jim had not eaten anything tainted. This time his head was clear. He cast his senses out even as he headed swiftly toward the nearest entrance of the castle. Blair--he caught his Guide's scent, heard the sound of his heartbeat inside, upstairs near Tristan's wing of the castle. Jim wasted no time.
He took a brief detour past the room where he'd earlier hidden the crossbow he'd borrowed from the barkeeper. If Tristan wanted a fight, Jim would give him one. He wasn't certain what was going on--what the connection between these people and the wolves were. He just knew that somehow it threatened his Guide.
Reentering the hallway, he headed through the stone halls toward the stairs, intent on reaching Blair. Alarm grew inside him as he heard what was occurring up there--Tristan was with Blair, kissing him, stroking him. He could hear Blair's moans--of pleasure or distress--he couldn't tell, didn't want to guess. He could hear also the sound of clothing being undone, material sliding against skin. He sped up, racing now toward the stairs.
But no sooner had he rounded a corner than all hell broke loose. Wolves--huge, feral, eyes gleaming yellow in the darkness--entered the castle. He paused only twenty feet from the stairwell, staring down the hall in fear. There were three of them --huge, powerful beasts, staring at him from the far end of the hall. And in their eyes he saw a strange intelligence, and a deep hunger. For one breathless moment they stared at each other--hunters all, Sentinel and animals. Jim's hands tightened on the crossbow--but this wasn't his bow, wasn't the compound bow he was so used to using, the one he could rearm in an instant. It had only one bolt cocked inside it--he'd have to reload after each shot. He'd never get all three of the wolves before they were upon him.
The wolves broke and charged him. Jim dove off to one side, leaping into an unused room and slamming the heavy oak door shut behind him. He heard the thundering weight of the three wolves as they leaped against the door--heard the crack and splinter of wood. But the door held. For one moment he breathed a sigh of relief. But then, to his shock, the handle on the door turned, twisting to open. Jim threw his shoulder against the door, slamming it shut again. He heard the snarling of wolves beyond.
Wolves could not open doors! Braced against the door, all his weight pressed to keep it shut, Jim knew that somehow there were humans on the other side of the door as well as those wolves. He'd no doubt in his mind that those had been wild animals--wolves or no in the Black Forest. How or why they were working with humans--his mind couldn't quite grasp the possibilities.
Looking around in desperation, he tried to find something to hold the door. The room was nothing more than a side parlor--a few chairs, a coffee table. The chairs were not tall enough to brace under the door handle. He had only one option.
"Crap," he muttered under his breath as he slung the crossbow over his shoulder. Then taking a deep breath, he bolted toward the window, leaping through the glass as the door crashed open behind him.
He landed on the cold flagstones of the courtyard. More wolves appeared from out of the shadows near the castle walls. But Jim had done his homework earlier. He rolled swiftly to his feet, thankful that he'd seen fit to wear his heavy leather coat earlier as the glass crunched beneath him. Then he leaped toward the thick ivy coating of the castle wall nearby and began climbing. Five feet, six feet--he just barely made it past the snapping jaws of the wolves below him.
Two men emerged from the room below--two of the Alpha's he'd seen earlier. They watched his progress briefly, before one returned inside. The other began climbing up after Jim. Jim climbed faster.
Three stories up, he dialed his hearing--Blair was still with Tristan, and their coupling was growing more heated by the moment. Rage flooded through Jim, jealousy flaring to life like a wild fire inside him. Reaching another window, he yanked open the glass door, and stumbled inside.
Another room--door wide open. Jim raced for it, unslinging the crossbow as he ran. One large black wolf dominated the hallway beyond. Jim raised the crossbow and fired even as the animal leaped for him. He saw the bolt strike home, burying itself deep in the heavily furred chest. The wolf howled in pain, dropping to the floor--but somewhere else, nearby, he heard the cry of a human as well, a human voice screaming in pain with the wolf he'd dropped.
Not sparing it more than a second's thought, Jim raced down the hall, leaping over the fallen animal, even as he rearmed the crossbow. He had to get to Blair.
He turned the corner. He could hear the others coming--other wolves, padded paws and sharp claws scrapping across the stone floors. Musk filled the air, the hot scent of hunting animals. He rounded a corner, nearly stumbling across one of the upper floor balcony railings. He could see the large curved stairwell at the far end of the hall. Not one or two animals this time--a whole pack of hunting wolves. At least a dozen of the animals were streaking up the stairs toward him. Jim fired a second bolt, hitting the lead wolf in the front shoulder. It stumbled and fell, and down below he heard again another human crying out in pain. He re-armed the bow.
It slowed the advancing pack briefly and Jim raced toward the doorway to Tristan's suite. He shoved open the door--it gave immediately, unlocked as it was. The locks had been unnecessary--two men stood guard in the outer room, and beside them stood two wolves. Jim shot immediately, taking out one of the wolves instantly. One of the men collapsed as well, gasping in pain.
Unable to re-arm the bow, Jim simply swung the heavy weapon, catching the second man in the side of the head. He crashed hard into the stone wall, blood streaking his temple. He dropped and Jim turned toward the second wolf. The animal snarled in rage and leaped at him, jaws snapping, teeth razor sharp. Jim swung the bow again, missing. He stumbled back. The wolf darted forward, his teeth tearing a deep rent in Jim's jeans. Pain blossomed in his leg and instinctively he kicked out. He caught the animal a glancing blow against the ribs.
The wolf stumbled and Jim used that brief distraction to pull back the catch on the bow and re-arm it. His leg nearly gave out beneath him and he stumbled, turning in panic to face the animal. The wolf leaped for his throat this time, and Jim raised the bow, firing. It struck home, catching the animal dead center in the chest, burying itself all the way inside him. The heavy weight of the animal crashed into Jim, carrying him down to the ground. He caught the beast, pushing it aside as he tried desperately to catch his breath.
But he had no time to lose. He grabbed the bow, only to discover the bolts were all gone. He had no way to reload it. Cursing, he stumbled toward the door to Tristan's bedroom. One glance inside confirmed Jim's worst fears, and his rage erupted in a shout of denial. Tristan and two women were with Blair. His Guide was naked, face down on the covers of the great curtained bed. The women on either side of him were stroking his hair, whispering softly to him as they kissed his back and shoulders. Tristan was nearly on top of him braced between Blair's spread legs, hands in the process of opening his pants--he was seconds away from taking Blair, seconds away from lying on top of him and burying his cock in Blair's body.
Jim didn't think--he simply acted on instinct. One minute he was by the door, the next he was racing across the room and leaping. He caught Tristan in a full body tackle, carrying him across the bed and off the other side. They tumbled to the floor, Tristan shrieking in rage, the bed curtain tearing. Jim, landing on top, drew back his fist and struck. His knuckles encountered flesh in a satisfying crunch only once before another weight knocked him off the castle lord.
A wolf, larger than the rest, bore Jim to the ground, and luck alone saved Jim from getting his throat torn out in that instant. He'd somehow gotten the bed curtain tangled up around his body, and the heavy material shielded him briefly from the wolf's sharp teeth. But it saved him only once, for the wolf snapped and snarled in fury. Jim felt pain as the animal's strong hind claws dug into his belly. He caught hold of the animal's fur, trying desperately to keep those teeth away from his face and throat. The strength of the creature stunned him. He had but one chance--he rolled, taking the rest of the bed curtain with him. Strong or not, the wolf did not quite outweigh him. Jim struggled on top, and the curtain, wrapped now around both Jim and the wolf, hampered the wolf's attempts to scramble out from underneath him. Jim used the opportunity to do the only thing left to him--he drew back his fist and began hitting the animal in the face.
His blows were crushing and the animal howled in pain. Five strikes, and then something sharp and painful wrapped tightly around his throat and began pulling him off the animal.
A garrote made of the silk curtain cord choked off his air. Tristan tightened the rope, pulling Jim up and off the wolf, using all his strength to crush Jim's windpipe.
Jim grasped at the rope, trying to break it, to ease its pressure. Tristan snarled in his ear. "He's mine, Detective. They're all mine! How dare you challenge me!"
Strong Tristan might be, linked in some inexplicable way Jim didn't understand to these fierce wolves--but Tristan was no Special Forces operative. Jim struck back hard with his elbow, shifted his weight, twisted his body. In moments he had Tristan off balance. Seconds later the castle lord flew over his shoulder, striking the ground with a bone crushing crash. Jim ripped the garrote from his throat as he kicked the man sharply in the ribs. He heard the satisfying sounds of bones cracking beneath his boots. The man screamed in agony.
But the wolf had freed itself from the curtain, and now Jim saw it was not alone. Two other wolves flanked it--both smaller, female, but just as deadly. But another object had caught Jim's attention. Only a foot away from him, strapped to the castle wall as decoration was an old-world Morning Star. One step and he clasped his hand around the hilt, yanking the mace from the wall. The heavy iron ball attached to the long chain swung free, a welcomed weight in his hand. He swung it twice, picking up speed and momentum. The male wolf leaped. Jim landed a crushing blow against the side of its head. Blood spurted into the air, coating the wall and the bed where Blair lay unmoving. The wolf collapsed to the ground, and Tristan, in the process of trying to rise, collapsed with it.
The other two wolves took advantage of Jim's distraction and darted swiftly forward. One caught hold of his right wrist, sinking her teeth deep into his flesh and preventing him from swinging the Morning Star again. The heavy weapon dropped from his hand, and Jim stumbled to his knees in agony as he tried to rip his hand free of the wolf's teeth.
It left him completely open to the second wolf, and he had only a second to raise his gaze in horror as the animal leaped toward him, intent on his throat. One hand would not keep those teeth from his jugular.
But the wolf never struck. The instant before it reached Jim another silver shape leaped from the shadows beyond the bed and caught the animal by the throat bearing it down to the ground. Another wolf, Jim realized in shock--attacking not him but the second wolf.
Incongruitious as it was, not certain if it simply wanted to make the kill instead of allowing the female to do so, Jim took the moment's reprieve to grab up the fallen weapon. He used the handle to pry his hand free of the wolf's jaw, striking the animal hard on the nose in the process. Howling in pain the wolf released him, backed away. Jim raised the Morning Star again--the wolf bolted toward the door. A mad scrambling across the bed caught his attention as the two women also bolted toward the door in panic. It left only the other two wolves still locked in snarling, vicious combat. The animals fell over themselves in a fit of fur and teeth, snarling and snapping so violently that the sound hurt Jim's ears. And then the female scrambled away and followed the two women out the door.
Jim hefted the Morning Star, gritting his teeth through the pain of his wounds as he turned to face the remaining wolf. It was a silver male, large and strong. Jim wasn't certain he had the strength left to fight another one of them.
The wolf turned, blue eyes flashing as it gazed up at Jim. And for one brief, startling moment Jim thought he saw something familiar in those eyes, something desperate and sad and so lost. He heard the cry then of a cat, saw from the corner of his eyes the black jaguar appear, snarling in dismay. And then remarkably, the wolf whimpered and lay down in submission, placing his silvered head upon his front paws as it gazed mournfully up at Jim.
Jim's leg gave out and he collapsed in shock. "Blair," he whispered, for the look in those clear blue eyes was so familiar. The animal whimpered again. Jim's mind felt numb.
A sound caught his attention then--more wolves, beyond the door. The blue-eyed wolf perked his ears and turned. The animal growled in warning, and regardless of whatever was happening, Jim understood one thing--this animal was no threat. For some reason it intended to fight for Jim.
Jim wasted no time in crossing the room and slamming the door shut. Unlike the parlor, this one had a heavy wooden brace that dropped down over it, sealing it off from outsiders. He quickly locked out the remaining animals and humans beyond.
Turning, he saw that the wolf still had not moved. Nor had Blair. His Guide still lay face down on the bed, completely still, and Jim felt a moment of blind panic as he feared that Tristan had done him some irredeemable harm.
But no, surely he had just drugged him, like before.
Heart pounding in desperation, Jim limped to the bed and caught Blair by the shoulders turning him over. "Blair?" he whispered. His Guide fell over limply in his arms. "Blair?" Blair's eyes were open but empty, his face completely expressionless. For one awful moment Jim thought he might be dead.
But no, he could hear his heart beating still. His skin was still warm, his lungs still filled with breath. He touched his fingers to the young man's throat--strong and steady, his pulse was like music to Jim's senses. "Blair, wake up!" He shook him. But there was no response--no more so than there had been that morning in the woods. A zone out--so far gone that Jim couldn't see even the slightest flicker in his eyes.
The wolf whimpered in fear and Jim paused to stare at him. What in hell was going on? First things first, he had to make certain the room was secure.
Settling Blair gently back down on the bed, he pulled a blanket over the young man's naked form. Then he crossed to the black wolf. One quick inspection revealed that the side of the animal's head had been caved in by the heavy mace. The wolf was dead.
And Tristan--Jim turned him over. Tristan gazed up at Jim with the same blank expression in his eyes as Blair had. Frowning, Jim reached for his pulse--not quite as strong or steady, but still there. Yet, Tristan was completely unresponsive. Strange, he thought. The most Tristan should have suffered was a few broken ribs, possibly a bruised jaw. He'd never hit the man in the head.
But Tristan had collapsed the moment the wolf collapsed. He remembered the human screams he'd heard accompanying the wolves he'd injured earlier. And when he'd first entered Tristan's outer chamber he'd shot one of the wolves-- and a man had instantly collapsed with it.
His mind churned through possible explanations--all things Jim did not want to entertain as reality. He turned to Blair--he had to wake him, had to get him to see what was happening. Maybe Blair could understand this? Maybe Blair could help him make sense of this?
He rose, crying out in pain as his wounds made their presence known again. A quick inspection: his shin was bleeding badly, as well as his wrist from deep tooth marks. He needed them bandaged, needed to clean them properly. One thing only assured him--all these animals smelled healthy and undiseased.
He could hear noises outside the door now, wolves scratching at the wood. And people were now pounding against it, calling out to Tristan to let them inside. Not good, Jim thought. Not good at all. He had to get out of here--had to get Blair out of here. But he knew he lacked the strength to carry Blair anywhere even if he could find a way past those animals beyond. Injured as he was, the window was no longer an option.
Crossing to the bed, he touched Blair's face again. "Come on, Chief," he whispered. "You have to wake up for me. We have to get out of here." He breathed deeply and felt a flash of rage burning through him again as he realized that he could smell Tristan on him. Tristan's arousal, his sweat and saliva. This had gone on far past kissing this time--and Jim flashed briefly on the image he'd beheld when he first entered the room. A second later and it would have been over--what was it Naomi had said, that if Tristan had succeeded in seducing Blair, that Blair would be lost to him forever?
Blair looked pretty lost now as it was. "Blair, please," Jim shook him again. The wolf watched it all, eyes mournful and sad, and Jim couldn't help but remember the spirit animal he'd seen by that fountain. But no, this was not the same--not entirely, that other wolf had been vision only--like the jaguar. This animal was flesh and blood--he could smell it for God's sake!
What was it Allisia had said--something about humans sending their consciousness into he minds of animals. How the hell was he supposed to accept that--but here in this moment of chaos it was the only thing that was making any sense to him. Was that why Tristan was unconscious--because his wolf had died while his consciousness was inside it?
But why wasn't Blair waking up. He stared again at the wolf. "Blair?" he whispered. The animal whimpered. Jim shuddered--he couldn't accept it! How could it be possible? But if it was, why wasn't Blair waking up? If he could send his mind into the wolf, why couldn't he pull his mind back?
The sound of pounding at the door distracted him momentarily, and he stood up, beginning to pace in a panic. He had little fear that they'd get inside the room any time soon--this was a castle and this room was the most fortified of all of them. It would take a battering ram to break down the heavy oak of Tristan's door. But Blair--how was he going to get Blair out of here? How was he going to wake him up?
"Detective!" a voice from beyond the window called to Jim. He moved swiftly toward the window. Only a Sentinel would have been able to make out the dark shapes below in the fire-lit courtyard. Jim's eyes zeroed in on the group of Alphas he'd seen earlier. "Detective. We know Tristan is gone--you killed his wolf. His mind is lost. But surely you don't want that to happen to Blair? Give him to us and we'll let you go. You can walk out of here unharmed."
"Blair is mine!" Jim yelled down to them. "Tristan couldn't have him and neither can you!"
"You can't save him, Detective," one of the Alphas raged at him. "Look at him! He's trapped. He doesn't know how to get back. Tristan didn't have time enough to show him. If you leave him like he is, he'll die! You can't want that. None of us want that. Let us have him. Let us save him!"
"Save him? How? By raping him?" Jim shouted back down in fury.
"You can't understand, Detective. You don't know what we are. You don't understand our ways. Give him to us, before it's too late! If he is not bound and bonded, he will be lost forever!"
"Like hell," Jim muttered under his breath. He drew back from the window, closing it firmly. Let them howl all they wanted. Blair was his, his friend, his Guide, his partner. The Sentinel/Shaman connection had to take precedent over wolf-blood.
He turned toward the bed. Blair still lay unmoving. And his heartbeat had slowed perceptibly, grown weaker. Bound and bonded--God! They were talking about grounding him--like Blair did when Jim zoned. It some strange, twisted way, it made sense--if Jim zoned on one sense, Blair used another sense to pull him back. This wasn't much different--Blair was lost, zoned. Tristan and those others intended to use one of the strongest physical sensations possible to bring him back to himself--sex. Jim had seen it work twice before--last night at that party, and this afternoon in the forest.
But somehow he doubted simple kisses would work this time--he'd gone beyond that this time. And if he didn't do something, or didn't let those Alphas down below do something, Blair would be lost. He could hear his heartbeat slowing, could practically feel Blair drifting farther and farther away from him.
Bound and bonded. Bound back into his body, and bonded to an Alpha. That was what Allisia had meant by Master. That's what Naomi had hinted at when she warned him against leaving him alone with Tristan. Jim knew, deep in his gut, that if he let one of those other Alpha's 'help' Blair, Blair would be tied to him forever. He couldn't allow that. Couldn't accept it.
Which left him with only one option.
"Oh, dear God!" he squeezed his eyes shut in shock.
Jim's heart began racing, his skin growing uncomfortably hot with the realization of what it was he had to do--what it was he intended to do. This wouldn't be like earlier, like it had been in the forest. He wasn't just going to kiss Blair. A simple kiss would not bring Blair back. Jim flashed briefly on the clouded memory of last night. Of holding Blair in his arms against that alcove wall, feeling him writhing and panting against him, Blair's heat, Blair's taste.
Jim shuddered, his own body tingling with reaction to that memory. God, what was he doing? He was going to claim Blair, to have sex with Blair--with a man! But if he understood all he'd heard, there was no other choice. Either that or let someone else take Blair, claim Blair--and as terrifying as the thought of sex with a male was to Jim, everything inside him cried out against the thought of leaving Blair to someone else.
He crossed to the bed, climbing slowly upon it. His body ached, hurt from the wounds he'd received, but he couldn't deny the slow heavy rise of arousal within him at the thought of what he was going to do. He glanced at the wolf, saw the animal staring at him curiously.
"You understand, don't you?" he asked, feeling foolish talking to the creature. "You understand why this has to happen? You'll. . .Blair will die. . ." But no, this was ridiculous--even if Blair was inside that wolf, surely he wouldn't be able to understand his words. He turned toward his unmoving Guide. "You have to come back to me, Chief," he said softly. He touched Blair's face. "Blair? You have to wake up now. You have to come back to me." But there was no response--as he knew there wouldn't be.
"Come on, Blair, please," Jim pleaded. "Don't make me do this, Chief. . .don't make me. . ." He shivered. Blair did not respond at all.
"Blair," he leaned forward, breathing deeply, taking in his Guide's scent. It was such a sweet smell, so familiar, it permeated his own body. But still mixed within it was Tristan's scent and the jealousy returned full-blown. How could he feel such rage, he wondered. How could he feel such jealousy for a man he wasn't supposed to want like this? Was he truly so twisted up inside? He didn't want Blair, but by God no one else better touch him either.
But he did want Blair--he couldn't deny that, not with his body craving that heat, craving that taste. Not with his cock growing hard and heavy at the mere thought of touching him. How could he do this? How could he want this when the thought had never before occurred to him? A buddy-fuck, he tried to tell himself. He'd heard about them all his life--had known guys in the army who had practiced such release--perfectly straight guys who'd gone on to marry women and never think about it again. Not for him--never for him--but if he could think of it as that--perfectly understandable. And necessary in this situation.
But the howling outside was growing louder and the jaguar growled in warning. They wanted Blair, they would take Blair away from him--he'd never see his Guide again--and that was unacceptable. Utterly unacceptable.
He paused in the act of leaning down to kiss his Guide. Men don't kiss--somewhere in the back of his mind he vaguely remember hearing a conversation about those self same 'buddy-fucks' he'd never paid any attention to. Fuck a man--just don't kiss him. Kissing was too much, too intimate, kissing implied something more. But staring down at Blair's full, lush lips he couldn't imagine doing this without kissing--how could he not want that taste?
Jim moved forward swiftly, claiming Blair's mouth, pressing a fierce kiss against those soft lips. And the heat of Blair's body burned him, rising with his own temperature so that he drank desperately, forcing his tongue into that sweet dark mouth. And as before, as it had in the woods--there was a spark immediately, sudden life flaring in the still body--Blair gasped, opening his mouth to Jim, allowing him entrance, allowing him anything as Blair's body arched against him.
The anger was there again, as it had been before--so fierce, so hated, to think that Blair would respond like this to anyone--any one of those Alphas below if they just touched him, kissed him, tasted him. Did he even know it was Jim holding him, Jim kissing him?
He almost stopped then--almost pulled back to see if Blair was awake and aware. But Allisia's words came back to haunt him--as long as Blair remained unbonded, she'd said, the Alphas would never left him leave. They'd take him from Jim the moment he stepped outside this room, and that was unacceptable. He couldn't stop--couldn't let the anger, jealousy or fear stop him from following through.
He cursed against those soft lips, muttering recriminations against his Guide's skin. And then he deepened the kiss, lowering his body to Blair's.
Blair moaned, writhed against him, his arms coming up around Jim's back, one of his legs bending and sliding against Jim's hip as he rubbed his now swollen cock against the hard pressure in Jim's pants. And his kiss was so hot, so desperate; Jim groaned and rubbed against him, unable now to get close enough, unable now to stop. He sucked Blair's tongue into his mouth, reveling in the sounds his Guide made, letting his senses sweep over Blair's body--scenting his arousal, his need. Pheromones filled the air until Jim was certain that even the wolves beyond would be able to smell them, smell their desire.
Heated kisses down Blair's neck, against the pulse point at his throat, and Jim's teeth closed over the bite mark he'd made the night before. Blair cried out, arching against that sudden pain. He felt his Guide's hands tighten on the leather of his jacket, clawing at him even as his hips moved harder against him. It built so swiftly, Jim thought he would explode. But he wanted to taste more, wanted to taste it all.
He moved down, his mouth closing over one of Blair's hardened nipples and the gasp of pleasure that came from Blair shot arousal straight to his groin. He didn't think he could stand much more, didn't think he could hold back; yet he knew that more was required of him. This wasn't about foreplay he tried to remind himself even as he ran his tongue over that nipple and suckled it hard. This was about taking, about claiming--he couldn't afford to delay this, didn't want to delay this.
Even as he tasted and kissed Blair's skin, he reached down between his Guide's spread legs, his hands closing briefly over Blair's throbbing cock--and oh, God, he liked the way it felt in his hands, liked the weight and the silk and the heat of it. Blair thrust up into his grip, trying to bring himself relief, crying out and thrashing beneath him. Jim released him immediately, moving further down, sliding his fingers over the heated perineum, seeking out the hidden entrance there. He fingered Blair and his Guide nearly came up off the bed in reaction, spreading his legs farther apart, making it easier for Jim to reach, to touch.
Hot rage boiled through Jim as he realized that his Guide was already oiled, already prepared for what was to come. Tristan of course had done it already--and Jim felt the sudden need to kill the unconscious castle lord for daring to put his fingers here, daring to touch Blair like this.
Blair cried out, thrusting back hard against Jim's fingers. He felt his fingers slip inside his Guide, felt the tight heat surround him, and he lost his train of thought. Lost all thoughts of Tristan as the sensations flooded him. He had to have this--had to take Blair, had to be inside him now.
With a strangled cry, he drew swiftly back, reaching for his own belt. And the sight of Blair lying beneath him, staring up at him through passion clouded eyes nearly made him come right there. He tore at the buttons of his jeans, releasing his aching cock. Blair looked so beautiful, his skin flushed, his lips swollen, his chest glistening with sweat as it rose and fell with his gasping breath. His body was so perfect, slender, muscled, his chest covered in a light dusting of hair, his cock thick and sleek, swollen from Jim's touch--and Jim couldn't quite get his mind around the fact that he found this man so arousing, that he could ever find a male body so beautiful--but God, he'd never seen anything more lovely in his life.
He caught hold of Blair's legs, pushing his knees up to his chest. And Blair moved willingly, so trusting, so hungry with his need. And it was more than Jim could bear. He surged forward, placed his cock against Blair's entrance and thrust deep inside the young man.
Blair screamed, his whole body arching in shock, and there was blinding pleasure, beyond anything Jim had ever known. Blair's cries at the coupling were not of pain--though that was there to some degree--but of hunger and need and desperation and fear all swirled together in chaos. But the pleasure was all consuming, and Jim found himself thrusting mindlessly into his Guide's tight body, his hips working fiercely to drive himself deeper and deeper into that source of ecstasy. He drove himself forward over Blair's body, burying his face against his Guide's throat as he took in his scent and his taste, even as he took his body. Blair's arms wrapped tightly around Jim, one hand sinking into Jim's hair as he moved with Jim's rhythm, driving his hips upward as Jim drove down into him. And God, Blair's legs were made to wrap around his hips like that, the hard strength of his muscles lending speed to Jim's thrusts.
It couldn't last--it could never last--anything so explosive, so blinding--the sheer need would make his heart burst if it went on any longer. And he could feel the pressure coiling inside Blair, heard the change in his cries as he arched and rocked frantically beneath Jim. Jim's thrusts increased, desperate now, so violent they shook the entire bed. He thrust his hands into Blair's hair, pulled his face toward him, and kissed him fiercely. And Blair's scream of pleasure and release entered him, sending vibrations through his whole body and he came, exploding inside that hot body, spilling his seed in the ultimate act of claiming.
He collapsed at last, gasping for breath, forgetting for a moment that he was lying on his smaller Guide. But Blair's arms were still locked around him, and he could feel the young man shaking beneath him, trembling with reaction. For a long moment Jim did not move, letting his thoughts resettle, letting his brain reconnect with his mind. He inhaled Blair's scent--and it was different now, or perhaps it was just Jim's perception of it that was different--it seemed at once sharper, stronger, more intimate. He nuzzled the skin at Blair's neck unconsciously, his tongue darting out to taste that scent.
Blair shuddered again, gasping at the sensation; and that movement and sound pulled Jim all the way back. He realized then where he was, what he was doing--the hunger finally lifted. He'd just had sex with Blair--with a man. God, he was lying on top of him, still buried inside his body, and his skin thrummed with energy, more alive than he could ever remember feeling. What in hell was he doing? What in hell was going on with the two of them? His thoughts crashed against his emotions and left him utterly confused.
Wolves--he could hear them howling still. And the wounds on his body were beginning to make themselves known again. They were still surrounded by the enemy. He still had to find a way to get them out of here--get them both safely away from the castle. And Blair. . . God! Blair! He'd been lost--Jim was afraid to draw away, afraid to look into Blair's eyes. What if they were still blank and vacant? What would he do? How could he bring him back?
And what if they weren't?
But the wolf literally still howled at the door, and Jim knew he didn't have time to delay. He pulled back, pushed himself up off the smaller man. Blair's arms released him immediately, though his legs were still somewhat loosely wrapped around Jim's hips. Jim pushed upward and found himself staring down into Blair's blue eyes--they were aware at last, but filled with confusion as if uncertain what was going on or where he was.
Jim gently braced one hand against Blair's hipbone and slowly pulled his softening cock out of the younger man's body. As he slid out he saw Blair's eyes widen in shock, as if realizing for the first time what that sensation was, what it meant. The confusion in his expression gave way to panic, his flushed skin growing pale as he began to hyperventilate.
Released from their embrace Jim stared down at Blair in horror, not certain what to do. One of two things was happening here--either everything he'd believed ten minutes ago was true and his Guide had been psychically forced into the body of a wolf and then pulled back just as suddenly into his own body. Or he really was insane and Tristan had simply drugged Blair--which meant that Jim had just essentially raped him. He felt sick to his stomach.
He reached out tentatively, placing his hand against Blair's chest where he could feel his pounding heart. "Blair?" he asked softly.
And then they both froze--a more immediate sound catching their attention: the low angry growl of an animal.
Jim and Blair both turned to look. There in the far corner of the room was the silver wolf. He'd backed himself into a corner and stood defensively with his hackles raised, fangs bared as he glared at both of them. The look in his eyes was different now--wild, feral--there was no longer that gleam of awareness Jim had seen earlier. This was nothing more than a wild animal who'd discovered himself trapped.
Jim reached slowly for the Morning Star, realizing that he'd have to get down off the bed to retrieve it from the floor. The wolf didn't look as if he was going to give him that much of an opportunity. Any second now it was going to leap.
And then just as suddenly, Blair sat up, one hand stretched toward the animal, a hard, focused gleam in his eyes. The wolf snarled, and then suddenly stopped, looking vaguely confused. Finally he just lay down on the floor and watched the two of them expectantly. Blair dropped his hand, breathing hard, looking utterly drained.
Jim stared at him. So he hadn't been mistaken. There was some strange connection between Blair and that wolf. "What did you just do?" he asked, not certain he wanted to know.
Blair shivered and bowed his head. "I'm sorry," he whispered, almost too soft for even the Sentinel to hear him. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you earlier about the wolves. I'm sorry I dragged you into this mess."
Not certain how to respond to that, and not certain if he should touch Blair again, he made an abortive attempt to pat his shoulder, dropping his hand at the last second. Blair turned toward him, his gaze running swiftly over Jim, noting with a flush the fact that Jim's jeans were still unbuttoned. Embarrassed, despite the fact that Blair was sitting there stark naked, Jim quickly readjusted his clothing.
"I'm sorry you had to go through. . . that you had to. . .," Blair shuddered and sighed, closing his eye. "Gods, Jim. . .I. . .. "
"Look, we still need to get out of here," Jim pointed out. "We're essentially trapped in this room. And we're surrounded by those nut cases and their wolves."
Even as Jim spoke, Blair's eyes fell on Tristan and his gaze widened in shock. "Tristan?" he scrambled swiftly out of bed and hurried to his cousin's side. Blind rage flashed through Jim. Surely he wasn't concerned about that animal? Tristan had tried to kill him! He felt his skin flush with fury as he watched Blair reach out and touch Tristan's face, placing his hand along side his cheek.
"Sandburg!" he roared. He grabbed Blair's bare arm, jerking him away from the unconscious man. Blair stumbled and fell against Jim, his naked body pressed up against his. Despite what had just happened Jim felt his body reacting to Blair's presence; he was growing hard again, wanted to push Blair back down on that bed and take him again. "What in Hell are you doing? Do you have any idea what he was going to do to you? What he tried to do to me?"
"How badly are you hurt?" Blair asked, one of his hands sliding down to close gently around Jim's wounded, bleeding wrist.
Jim hissed in anger. "You didn't answer my question!"
"Yes, Jim," Blair said quietly. "I know what he was going to do. You did it before he could, it would seem."
At that Jim paled, recoiling from Blair as if he'd been struck. "You were. . . you wouldn't wake. . . I had to . . ."
"It's all right, Jim," Blair cut in quickly. "I understand. And I didn't want Tristan--never wanted to join him. I never wanted this to happen. You did the right thing. I'm sorry."
"Shit!" Jim cursed, hating every bit of this conversation.
"Jim, I'm sorry--"
"Look, let's just concentrate on getting out of here. We'll worry about the rest of it later." Jim paused to look down at his Guide, becoming conscious of the way he still had the young man pressed against him, his hand still holding Blair in place beside him. He forced his fingers to unclench from around his Guide's arm. "You need to get dressed."
Blair, as if realizing that he was still naked, turned swiftly away and began looking for his clothes. He found them tossed off to one side of the room. Jim couldn't seem to help himself--he watched intently as Blair scrambled back into his clothes, committing the lines of Blair's body to memory. His heart pounded oddly in his chest, aching strangely, and he couldn't help wonder if he'd ever see Blair unclothed again.
"Detective!" the voice of the Alpha below called again. Jim moved toward the window cautiously. "You're running out of time, Detective."
Glaring down at the man, Jim regretted being out of crossbow bolts--he'd start target practice if he had anything left to shoot. Blair moved up along side of him and pushed open the window. "Marco!" he yelled down to the man below.
Blair's voice caught the attention of all the wolves and humans below. They turned as one to stare up at the castle window. Finally the howling ceased.
"Marco, Tristan is gone," Blair informed him.
The dark-eyed man stared hard up at him. "How has this stranger brought you back?" Marco demanded. "He does not smell like a wolf!"
"He is from a different tribe, Marco," Blair informed him. "Not wolf--but not so different either."
"Come down here, Blair," Marco ordered. "Come down here and I will bring you back to the family."
Every instinct in Jim told him to grab Blair and pull him away from the window. He could hear the black jaguar snarling in rage at the Alpha's suggestion. Jim's hands clenched into fists and he moved fractionally closer to the heat of his Guide.
"No, Marco," Blair shook his head. "You know I can't do that."
"You belong with us!" Marco insisted.
"I am the Shaman, not you," Blair told him. "I know where I belong. You cannot change this. You must let us leave here--both of us."
Marco angrily began pacing back and forth like a caged animal. In the darkness and firelight his eyes seemed to glow with an inner fire. Jim couldn't help wonder what Allisia's definition of a 'good and honorable man' was--if this creature below him was the one amongst this group she thought he could trust with Blair's safety.
"Marco, listen to me," Blair reasoned when it became obvious that Marco was not going to respond. "Tristan killed Andros."
That caught the man's attention. "We know."
"Do you also know that last night Tristan killed a villager?"
The man stopped pacing, growing still. "Are you certain?"
"Yes, Marco," Blair nodded. "I have seen it. He wanted to return to the old ways. But those days are gone--the villagers will not stand for this. Even now they have sent for help. Men will arrive--from the military. They will come and they will hunt every wolf they can find in this area. You're in charge now Marco--as Andros meant you to be. You must take the others and get them away from here. You must protect the tribe."
Jim stared at his Guide in silent disbelief. He spoke to this man as if he were a Sentinel--protect the Tribe? A tribe of wolves? Of killers? So much of this made no sense.
"Are you certain, Blair?" Marco asked, and his voice no longer sounded so angry or so confident. "Are you certain they are coming?"
"Yes, Marco," Blair nodded. "I have seen it."
"Come with us," Marco pleaded. "We are blind without you?"
But Blair shook his head. "I can't. You know that."
"How are we to make our way without you?" Marco asked, one hand outstretched in entreaty. Jim's heart tightened. His Guide hated turning his back on anyone who might need his help.
Blair's mouth twisted in an odd frown and for a moment Jim feared he was going to give in to the request.
"I can't stay," Blair told him tiredly. "You'll have to accept my word on that."
Marco stared long and hard up at Blair, and around him the rest of the pack waited in breathless silence. Jim watched the silent struggle, wondering what he could do to ensure the outcome of the moment. And then something shifted in Marco's eyes and he saw the man's capitulation even though he reached a hand imploringly to Blair. "Stay with us," he asked. Not an order this time, a request. "We can make you happy, Blair."
That more than anything frightened Jim. Make Blair happy--his Guide had not been truly happy for a long time now. How could he be when things had been so awkward between them ever since Alex had entered their lives?
"We can give you a home," Marco told him.
Something dark flickered in Blair's eyes. "I. . . "
Jim stared at him. I have a home--that was the response Blair was supposed to give. He silently willed Blair to say those words.
"I can't, Marco," Blair replied softly, and Jim's heart tightened painfully in his chest. He heard the regret in Blair's voice. He also knew that Marco too had heard it.
Marco's gaze shifted toward Jim, and the coldness in those eyes raised the hair on the back of Jim's neck. He felt the jaguar tensing inside his soul, preparing again to battle.
But the war it seemed was over. Marco merely stared at him as one Alpha acknowledging another. The threat was not spoken--merely implied. If Jim let down his guard for even an instant, the other Alphas would be waiting in the shadows to take his place. Such was the way of wolves.
"Go," Marco ordered. "We won't stop you."
Jim tensed, trying to scan Marco for the truth. But he couldn't really tell anything with all the other sensory input he was receiving. Blair, however, tugged on the sleeve of Jim's leather jacket. "Come on, Jim," he murmured Sentinel soft. "We need to go while we still can." Then he headed toward the door.
"Blair!" Jim snapped in warning when he realized that Blair intended to unbar the door and walk out into the hallway. Blair glanced over his shoulder at him, noting as Jim grabbed up the Morning Star again.
"It's all right, Jim," Blair assured him. "Marco is Master now. If he said we can go, we can go."
Not about to be so trusting, Jim stalked toward Blair, catching his hand before he could lift the wooden beam from the door. He cast out his senses, searching the hall beyond. Oddly enough, he could hear the people and wolves on the other side retreating. They were backing out of the room, out of the hall beyond, back down the stairs. They were all moving outside. In fact he could hear the sounds of car engines beginning to start. He focused and found Marco's voice again--heard him ordering a retreat, ordering an evacuation.
"All clear?" Blair asked expectantly.
Jim nodded, and removed the bar himself. The room beyond was deserted. There was no trace of the wolves and men Jim had battled.
Blair's room was closest, just across the hall, and they went there first to retrieve his bag. Then they made their way together down to Jim's room. Retrieving his belongings, they started back down the stairs. The castle seemed deserted now, only lit periodically by a candle here and there. Not once did Jim relinquish his hold on the Morning Star. He took up point as they moved finally into the courtyard where the light from the pyre was beginning to die out.
It too was deserted, only the dark shape of a single car waited for them beneath the light of the moon--the limousine that had brought them here. Through the tinted black windows, Jim could see the shape of the same driver behind the wheel.
As they moved toward the car, the dark shadow of a wolf raced past them, and a moment later a man appeared, stepping toward them from the darkness. Marco--he paused at least ten feet away and tossed something small and dark at Blair. Blair caught it mid flight, holding it up for inspection. A cell phone.
"Keep it," Marco explained. "You're still our Shaman. We won't loose touch again. I will call."
"I'll answer," Blair promised him.
"The driver will take you to the airport. The plane will be waiting."
"Thank you, Marco," Blair nodded.
Marco turned then toward Jim, noting the bloody weapon still gripped in his hand. He raised his chin slightly, inhaling deeply as if trying to catch some scent. "Not a wolf," he remarked, indicating Jim.
Jim glared. "No," he agreed simply, wondering just how strong Marco's sense of smell was. Could he smell Blair on him? Could he smell Jim's scent covering his Guide?
"Don't much care for cats," Marco shrugged, then he turned and walked away, heading back into the shadowy castle.
"The feeling is mutual," Jim murmured, and knew from the laugh that echoed from the shadows that Marco had heard him. Blair too, for his Guide stiffened beside him, clutching the cell phone tightly to his chest.
Jim turned toward him. "What?"
Blair looked stricken, his heart pounding, as if all this had just hit him. The younger man shook himself suddenly and turned away. "Nothing," he replied, yanking open the car door and tossing his bag inside. "Let's just go."
Jim climbed in beside him and a moment later the car pulled out of the courtyard and began the long journey back through the moonlit countryside toward the airport.
Feeling safe at long last, Jim allowed himself to relax, letting his white-knuckle grip on the weapon release. He sank back into the plush leather seat, becoming instantly aware of the aches and pains covering his body. He felt black and blue, not to mention the fact that he was bleeding from several wounds.
He was about to say something when Blair suddenly yanked open a compartment in the side of the car seat and pulled out a first aid kit. Silently, Blair dropped to his knees on the floor of the car in front of Jim and went to work cleaning and bandaging the various wounds dotting Jim's body. Jim watched him intently as he applied alcohol to the wound visible on Jim's shin through the tear in his jeans. Face pale, lips pinched as if in effort to keep from speaking, a certain pained tightness around his eyes, Blair looked as upset as Jim had ever seen him. He wasn't quite certain what reaction he should expect from his Guide--he had no basis for a comparison. Was Blair angry, frightened, confused--all of the above? Jim wasn't certain what to say.
Nor did it help that here in the confined quarters of the car, all Jim could smell was the scent of sex. He could smell himself all over Blair--and that was doing things to his mind he didn't know how to deal with.
Don't think about it, he told himself. And for the love of God, don't talk about it. He couldn't talk about it--not now, not with the memories still so close, with Blair's taste still in his mouth. And he certainly didn't want to think about why Blair's touch, doing this simple task of delivering first aid, suddenly meant so much more than it had in the past. Or why Jim was aware of the heat from Blair's fingers, the pulse of his blood in his veins, the minute shifts in his body as he swayed alternately closer and farther to him with the motion of the car.
Blair's touch was gentle, tender almost--but then it always had been, all the times Blair had patched Jim up in the past. But when the car took a corner and Blair stumbled and fell against Jim, he flinched away abruptly from Jim's touch--that was different, that was new, and Jim didn't like it. He felt his own anger returning--would Blair have flinched like that from Tristan? From Marco?
As if sensing his anger, Blair made short work of the first aid job, and then swiftly backed away, moving to sit on the seat opposite Jim. As he put the first aid kit away, he pulled open the limousine's wet bar and took out a bottle of expensive whiskey. Jim watched in some surprise as his Guide poured himself a tumbler full of the liquid and then downed it in a couple of gulps. He poured himself another.
"Sandburg," Jim growled in warning. "What are you doing?"
"Getting drunk," Blair explained coldly. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
Jim stared at him. Granted if anyone had a right to get drunk it was Blair--himself too actually. But this was not a typical reaction for Blair--meditation would have been more his speed.
A thought occurred to him suddenly, a question he should have asked earlier but hadn't been certain he was prepared to hear the answer to. But he knew he should ask now, before Blair got too drunk to think straight. "Are you. . . did I. . .I mean. . ." Jim growled in frustration--how exactly did one ask one's best friend if he'd managed to hurt him when he'd fucked him for the first time--especially if one didn't want to actually mention the incident in question? "Are you alright?"
Blair abandoned the tumbler abruptly and began drinking straight out of the bottle. "You mean apart from a sudden desire to chase rabbits? Sure, I'm fine." He held up the bottle and shot Jim a humorless smile. "Just want to get drunk. Don't have a problem with that, do you?"
Behind the coldness in Blair's eyes there was a look of despair--that more than anything kept Jim quiet. He simply shook his head and fell silent, watching from his own dark vantage point while his Guide drank himself into oblivion. He monitored his Guide's heartbeat and respiration, and when he finally decided Blair had had enough, he reached over and firmly took the bottle from Blair's fingers. Blue eyes glared at him in fury, but only for a moment. Then Blair slumped sideways in his seat and fell asleep.
Jim replaced the whiskey bottle and took a beer for himself instead. It was daylight by the time they reached the airport.
They drove straight out onto the tarmac of the private sector of the airport where the family jet waited for them. And while the driver transferred their bags to the aircraft, Jim helped his barely conscious Guide inside. Blair was asleep again by the time they were airborne.
Worried now for a thousand different reasons, Jim merely watched and waited, uncertain what to do. The farther away they got from Germany, the more like a dream all this seemed. But it hadn't been a dream--he was wounded, blood-stained, and Blair. . .Blair smelled of Jim's semen. That thought hit Jim like a ton of bricks and he shuddered and closed his eyes.
Oh God, he wondered, what in hell had they done? And how was he ever going to make this right again?
It took them another twenty hours to get home. It was evening by the time they walked into the loft. By then Blair had sobered up, but both men remained silent. Blair made a beeline toward the bathroom, and Jim let him go. He waited patiently on the stairs while he listened to the sounds of his Guide showering in the other room. When Blair finally emerged, smelling once again like himself and nothing more, Jim fought against the ache in his heart. He said nothing as Blair entered his bedroom and closed his door without even glancing in Jim's direction.
Sighing, Jim went to shower himself. He cleaned his own wounds, squelching the desire to wake Blair and have him do it. Then he headed upstairs to his room, fell face first onto his bed, and slept like the dead until dawn.
His alarm woke him at seven and he groggily got up and headed downstairs to start the coffee. Blair woke as well and emerged from his room, looking rumpled and sleepy but much better than he had the night before. He made a brief detour to the bathroom before claiming some coffee for himself. From long habit the two of them fell into their typical morning routine.
Still something was off--Jim couldn't seem to keep himself from watching Blair more intently than he usually did. Blair's scent was different--or rather Jim's perception of it was different. What had he thought prior to all this--that Blair's scent was tolerable? Who had he been kidding--his Guide smelled fantastic. More than once he'd found himself making an abortive move toward his Guide--as if to grab hold of him and bury his nose in his hair.
What in hell had this done to him, he wondered? Had all that craziness back at the castle done something to him as well as Blair? Had that binding ritual, or claiming ritual--or whatever the hell the Alphas wanted to call it--somehow pulled Jim into the whole wolf-thing as well? Or was it more personal that that--maybe that he now knew what Blair looked like when he came, knew what his Guide looked like and felt like and smelled like when aroused. And as impossible as it was for him to believe or accept, he found everything about it beautiful. Blair was beautiful, and he'd responded to Jim in a way no one ever had before.
Of course he'd responded to Tristan the same way. And if he'd understood Allisia right, he would have responded to Marco as well. The thoughts twisted inside Jim, awakening his anger. He didn't want to be part of this--didn't want to be tied to these wolfish instincts. It wasn't right, wasn't normal.
"Jim?" Blair's voice was almost timid. Startled, Jim realized he'd been glaring at the young man. Worried blue eyes gazed up at him from across the kitchen island. "Jim, are we. . . are we alright?"
The anger faded almost as quickly as it had appeared. This wasn't really Blair's fault. He was as much a victim as anyone--Jim at least had had a choice. Blair hadn't had any. "Yeah," he assured him quickly. "We're . . . we're good." He wasn't quite ready to talk about it yet--not now, not when he still felt so off center. "I think I'll head into the station. Tell Simon we're back. You should call your mother. She was worried about you."
"Do you want me to come in later?" Blair asked, and the wariness was still there in his eyes.
Jim almost said no, almost told him not to come to the station. But he caught himself before the words left his mouth. He knew that if he pushed Blair away even once, he might never figure out how to pull him back. And right now the only thing he was certain about was that he didn't want Blair leaving him.
"Sure," he forced the seemingly casual tone. "If you have time. There's probably a ton of paper work waiting for me."
"Alright," Blair nodded, the wariness in his eyes giving way to something else--something oddly more vulnerable. Jim wasn't quite able to identify the emotion.
As he'd guessed, the paperwork was piled high, and Simon was glad to see him walk into the bullpen. He asked briefly after Blair and the funeral, and Jim found himself lying with practiced ease. What could he say--that Blair's family were a bunch of psycho werewolves and he'd had to have sex with his Guide to keep him from joining the pack? Somehow he doubted it would go over well--not to mention the fact that certain loose ends were beginning to worry him. If he understood all that had happened correctly--by killing that wolf, he'd essentially killed Tristan. And while he suspected Marco probably had some way of cleaning the trail of evidence behind him--after all it wouldn't help the pack any to have the police investigate the whole family too closely--what would Jim do if he didn't keep him and Blair out of it? It offered the perfect way for Marco to get rid of Jim, leaving Blair unprotected.
Still the less Simon knew about this the better. Either way he'd deal with the problems as they arose.
He tried instead to focus on the paper work he had yet to finish, tried to turn his mind back to the mundane details of every day life. But time and time again, the memories of the past few days distracted him. The wolves were one thing, the strangeness of the nights, the drug induced pandemonium--but more and more the only thing he could really seem to think about was Blair. Blair's reaction aside--he couldn't think about that part anyway without getting angry--his reaction to his Guide had been completely unexpected.
He could lie to himself and say that the only reason he'd been able to have sex with Blair was because his Guide's life had depended on it. But the truth was, he'd enjoyed it--more than enjoyed it. He'd never reacted like that before--never felt such need, such hunger, such desire. His gut twisted with the thought--had he been gay all this time and not known it? Didn't seem possible. It had to be something else--drugs perhaps, a Sentinel/Guide thing, something.
By lunchtime he was so tensed up over his thoughts he couldn't bring himself to eat. Instead he found himself sipping lukewarm coffee at his desk while he surreptitiously studied the other detectives in the bullpen. He dialed up his senses, scanning them all one by one, looking for some reaction within himself he'd never noticed before. They all had unique scents--he'd learned long ago to distinguish one from the other. Rafe's scent was slightly more pleasant that Brown's--but only because Brown was currently dating a woman who tended to drench herself in a perfume Jim couldn't stand. The perfume clung faintly to Brown's clothing. And Simon's scent--beyond the cigar smoke--was familiar, pleasant also. But none of them had a scent he was even remotely attracted to. . .why was Blair so different?
He supposed from a purely abstract sense he could concede that the other three detectives were handsome enough. But they were still men. . .just men. . .not like say. . . Megan, for example. Now her scent was more than just pleasant. He rather liked the floral undertones that rose from her skin, and she was lovely to look at. . .long beautiful legs, slender waist, curves in all the right places. Granted their personalities tended to clash, but he could definitely see himself in bed with her under the right circumstances. Or for that matter the cute little blond secretary that brought up the files from Forensics, or the new redhead over in Homicide, or that woman down in Holding who had legs to die for. But Simon, Henry, Rafe? Or even that new pretty-boy Vice had hired straight out of the academy? He just couldn't see it. He shuddered at the thought.
Frustrated, he focused again on their scents. Not unpleasant. Nothing to turn him on, but nothing to turn him off either. They didn't revolt him--okay, Parker across the hall smelled like old cabbage--that revolted him. But other than that, the most he could say was that they weren't unpleasant. And Megan's scent--was it just that he was conditioned to like the softness of the female scents? Truth be told, it really wasn't *that* much different--didn't necessarily turn him on one way or another. It could, he conceded, under the right conditions. But did that mean all the other pleasant scents could do the same given the proper stimuli?
And then he caught a new scent in the air--one as familiar to him as his own. Blair. His Guide had arrived, was in the elevator on his way up to the bullpen. And all his careful analysis went completely out the window as his senses locked on Blair. He smelled of the earth after a rainstorm, of the forest at night, of passion, and hunger and blood-pounding desire, and Jim found himself growing hard in reaction. He nearly moaned out loud. Yeah, maybe he could see himself in bed with Megan, but he hadn't reacted like this to even her. There were no other conditions to be met, no other stimuli required.
He heard the elevator ding in announcement, and involuntarily he turned to watch Blair step off the lift. Blue eyes caught him, and again it hit him that Blair was beautiful. Not in some abstract way, but in a visceral, tangible sense, and the desire to touch nearly overwhelmed Jim. Had he always felt this, he wondered? Had the last few days simply made him more aware of it? He couldn't imagine it. Didn't seem possible.
But as Blair entered the bullpen and moved to his usual seat beside him, Jim barely managed to check himself from reaching out to touch his Guide's hair. And even as he stopped the motion, he realized with some surprise that this wasn't entirely new--he always did that. Always reached out and touched Blair when he entered a room--it was as natural to him as breathing. Not doing it felt awkward and empty.
Blair too seemed to sense something different. He shot Jim a fleeting half-smile, as if uncertain of his welcome.
"Hey, Chief," Jim forced the nickname from his lips. He didn't know what else to do. How was he supposed to fix this--this unsettled emotion that burned through him?
"Hey, Jim," Blair nodded. "Can I help?"
Startled, Jim looked at him in alarm. For a brief moment he thought Blair was referring to his thoughts--offering help to sort them out. Then he realized that Blair simply meant the paperwork. "Oh, right. . ." he handed over the top file. "Thanks, Chief."
"Sure, Jim." If anyone else in the bullpen noticed how forced they both sounded, they didn't say anything.
They worked in silence for a few hours, neither making a whole lot of headway into the task. Jim couldn't help wondering if Blair felt as off kilter as he did.
"Did you talk to your mother?" he asked after too long a silence.
Blair looked up, startled. "Yeah. She's good. . .she. . .we talked." He shrugged almost helplessly. "She had a lot to tell me. . .about my father. " He shook his head. "I'll tell you some time."
"When you feel like it," Jim nodded, trying to sound more understanding than he felt. He was angry at Naomi--Naomi should have warned them about this. Should have at least told Blair about this long ago.
"Um. . ." Blair started to speak again, then stopped abruptly. He stared down hard at the papers before him. "Marco called too."
It was funny how the mere sound of a name could cause such a reaction--every muscle in Jim's body tensed suddenly, as if poised for a fight. "What did he want?" the question came out as a growl.
"The loft phone number, my address," Blair explained.
"Did you give them to him?"
"Yes," Blair nodded.
Jim violently yanked open a file drawer and shoved the current folder into it before reaching for another. He slammed the drawer with a loud enough bang that a number of people glanced over at them. Jim's withering gaze quickly fended off any questions. "Why in hell would you do that?" he hissed at his partner.
"Jim," Blair sighed. "He is still--"
"Family?" Jim demanded. The anger burning through him hurt it was so strong. "In case you failed to notice Sandburg, that family of yours nearly killed us."
If he'd been less angry, he might have been able to interpret the emotion that flickered through his Guide's eyes. As it was, he didn't have a clue. "They weren't trying to kill me."
"No," Jim nodded in agreement, jaw clenched with fury. He dropped his voice. "They just wanted to fuck you. I'm the one they wanted to kill."
Blair paled, and Jim saw his fists clench. He couldn't help remembering the punch Blair had given him in the forest. He wondered if his Guide wanted to hit him now.
"What would you have done if they had killed me, Sandburg?" Jim growled low, with menace. He had to know. Had to know what Blair would have done to Tristan or Marco. The mere thought of Blair in either of their arms. . . .he was going to start breaking things in a minute.
It seemed at first as if Blair wasn't going to answer. Wasn't even going to look at him. But his head came up suddenly, and Jim saw the unnatural brightness in his eyes. Tears, he wondered, or simple rage.
"I don't know, Jim," he whispered. "I'm not the one with experience. Alex killed your partner. What did you do with her afterwards?"
He couldn't have shocked Jim more if he had hit him. Jim rocked back in his seat, unable to process the words. As it was, a reply wasn't expected--Blair immediately rose and left, disappearing into the elevator before Jim could even catch his breath. And when he was finally able to breath again, he found that everything inside him hurt as if he'd been beaten and left for dead.
"Jim?" Simon's voice pierced the veil of pain around him and he looked up in confusion. His boss stood in front of his desk, a concerned look on his face. "Anything wrong?"
Wrong? How could anything be wrong? Sure his whole world was falling apart, but things were just fine, weren't they? Especially since he and Blair could talk about anything. "No, sir," he lied.
Simon looked unconvinced. "Is Sandburg alright?"
"Slight case of lycanthropy, but other than that he's fine," Jim shrugged, the pain receding and leaving him simply numb.
"Huh?" Simon looked bewildered.
"Nothing, sir," Jim assured him. "He's fine. I'm fine. Everything is. . . "
"Fine?" Simon guessed. "Well, will the two of you be at the picnic tomorrow?"
Picnic? Jim glanced briefly down at his desk calendar. Saturday--Major Crimes annual picnic down on the beach. A fun filled day of drinking too much beer, eating too much junk food, and playing too much football and Frisbee. Just what he wanted to do.
"Yes, sir," he sighed, knowing it was expected. "We'll be there." Though he wasn't so certain he should be speaking for Blair. Still it would save them both from sitting at home together all weekend and not talking about all the things troubling them.
"Good," Simon nodded in satisfaction. "Now go home. You look beat and I don't think you've actually managed to do anything today. Get your head out of the clouds, Ellison."
"Yes, sir," Jim nodded. He stood and retrieved his coat, only vaguely aware that Simon was still watching him.
He glanced back at Simon. The tall man looked worried.
"You sure everything's okay?"
"Ever read the story of Little-Red-Riding-Hood, Simon?" Jim asked.
Simon's eyebrows rose in confusion. "Yeah, sure."
"The wolf was the bad guy, wasn't he?"
Simon nodded. "Near as I can remember, yeah."
"That's what I always thought too," Jim sighed. "Good night, Simon." Jim headed for the elevator. Behind him he could hear Simon muttering to himself.
"It's got to have something to do with his senses," the captain was saying. "It always has something to do with his senses."
The lead weight tied around Jim's heart grew heavier--Simon was right. It always had something to do with his senses--and just once, he wished it didn't. He'd come to that proverbial fork in the road, and he'd taken the road less traveled. He'd always figured he was strong enough to handle it, strong enough to handle anything. But only if he didn't have to travel that road alone.
Blair was in his room when Jim arrived back at the loft. He stood hesitantly outside the French doors for a long moment, not certain what to do. Finally he knocked. He heard Blair sigh, waited for a response of some sort. Finally, after a long agonizing minute, he heard Blair say, "It's open."
He pushed open one of the doors and stood just inside the entrance. Blair was seated on his bed, book in his lap, glasses perched on his nose, hair tied back in a loose ponytail. He looked oddly young, terribly vulnerable, and Jim couldn't help but wonder if he was hurting as badly as Jim was.
"The Major Crimes picnic is tomorrow," he reminded his Guide, not really knowing what else to say.
Blair just nodded, not meeting his gaze. "You don't want me to go," he guessed.
Jim's throat tightened. How could so few words hurt so badly? "Of course I want you to go," he assured him. "Everyone will be expecting you."
"Oh. . . okay," Blair still didn't look at him.
Jim frowned. "You hungry? I could cook something. . . "
"I'm not hungry."
"Oh. . ." Jim shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His hands, he discovered were shaking, and his stomach hurt from being so tied in knots. He didn't know what to say. His gaze moved desperately over Blair's features, looking for some sign, some clue about what he should do. His eyes honed in on the mark visible just above the collar of Blair's tank top--he could still make out the teeth marks where he'd bitten his Guide. His breath caught in his throat. "I. . .I guess, I'll let you get back to your reading then. . . ."
He turned to leave.
"Jim?" Blair's voice stopped him and he turned swiftly, desperately. Fix this! He begged silently. Blair had to know what to do--he was the Guide after all.
Blair's eyes were wide and uncertain, and in their depths Jim could see so much pain and sorrow that he thought his heart would shatter.
"Yes?" he asked, praying that one of them would find some words to say--if not to fix this, at least to make it stop hurting so damned much.
But Blair, it seemed was just as much at a loss. He sighed and shook his head, turning away. "Nothing," he muttered.
"Oh. . . good night then." Regretfully, Jim backed out of the room and closed the door. The silence on the other side of the French doors was nearly deafening.
They hardly spoke two words to each other the following morning. Both of them avoided the other until it was time to leave the loft for the picnic. The only bright side was that the day itself was beautiful--sunny and warm, perfect weather for a day at the beach. Packing the food they'd promised to bring, the two of them moved about each other in silence. Though they drove together in Jim's truck, they might as well have been worlds apart. By the time they reached the beach, both were relieved to have the company of other people between them.
Despite the good company, for Jim the day dragged on. Blair seemed subdued, a fact that a couple of people commented on. He moved about the group, talking to people as he normally did. But there was just something off about his behavior--like he was lacking in energy. Jim knew exactly how he felt.
He sat on a beach towel later in the day, beer in one hand, while he watched his Guide talking to a pretty, young woman. She was flirting with the young man, an act that annoyed Jim more so than usual. He felt tense, uncertain, as he watched the mating dance the woman seemed compelled to display around his Guide. Blair for his part responded as he usually did--all smiles and flashing eyes. But he didn't quite enter the dance as completely as he normally would have, as if keeping himself just out of range of the passes being thrown at him.
He really was beautiful, Jim decided as he watched. Couldn't really blame the woman for flirting with him. Couldn't really blame anyone for wanting to catch him. If he had the chance, he'd--
Jim stiffened and looked away, sending his gaze out across the blue ocean waters. If he had the chance, he would do what exactly? Where precisely had his mind been going with that thought? If he had the chance he'd fuck him? Been there, done that, wasn't supposed to want to ever do it again. But somehow just the thought of touching Blair again made him ache with need. He couldn't afford to think about that any more.
Or maybe he'd been thinking along different lines--if he'd had the chance he'd flirt with him? Maybe that was what he'd meant? God knew he and Blair had spent most of their friendship flirting with one another. Had never meant anything--just a weird form of male bonding that seemed to have worked well for the two of them. Couldn't do that now of course--once sex was added to the mix flirting took on a whole new meaning.
Or maybe he meant he'd try to woo him--try to lure him back to his side without the whole Sentinel or wolf thing coming between them. Simply for his own sake. Just the two of them, two friends, two male friends.
Jim groaned and shook his head--this wasn't really about being men at all, he realized. This was just about him and Blair--or rather he wished it was just about him and Blair. But somehow they'd gotten stuck in some unforgiving genetic imperative that didn't seem to care about their genders, their emotions, or their own personal desires. He'd fucked Blair to save his life--the universe couldn't care less that he'd enjoyed it. That didn't matter. And Blair--he'd let Jim fuck him because he'd needed it--from anyone available. Any Alpha male would have done just as well. And never mind the fact that he'd told Jim that he'd done the right thing--Blair probably hated it, hated him. He'd have to hate him--wouldn't have said what he'd said about Alex if he didn't.
And truth be told, Jim couldn't blame him. Not one damned bit. Right now he hated himself.
He heard someone laughing nearby, heard Joel saying words that snapped him out of his thoughts with a jolt of shock. "Hey, look at that, Sandburg has a new best friend." More laughter followed.
New best friend. Jim's heart lurched and he snapped his head around swiftly, looking for his Guide. He spotted him almost immediately though he was several hundred yards away, moving off down the beach. Not with the woman--Jim hadn't noticed him leaving the group. Rather he was in the company of an enormous German Shepard. Blair was throwing a ball--the dog and Sandburg were then both chasing it. The dog would get it first, race around Sandburg several times before giving up the ball. Then Blair would throw it again--with each successive throw, the two of them were moving farther and farther away from the group. For the first time in hours, Sandburg seemed alive and animated.
"Don't worry about him, Jim," Simon spoke up seeing the look of alarm on Jim's face. The police Captain tossed Jim another beer. "That's Max."
"Max?" He could hear Blair's laughter echoing back across the sound. The sunlight glinted in the highlights of his wind-tangled hair, and even from this distance Jim could see the flush of excitement on Blair's cheeks.
"He's here with Pete Rodgers. You remember Rodgers from the K9 unit?" he motioned toward an older man sitting near Megan not far away.
Rodgers waved to Jim good-naturedly. "Max is my partner," he explained to Jim. "Don't worry, he won't bite."
"No, but Sandburg might," Jim muttered.
"What are you worried about?" Simon laughed. "He's got a police dog with him."
Blair and Max were getting farther and farther away--too caught up in their game to realize they were wandering off. Jim stood up. "Come on, Simon," he groused. "This is Sandburg we're talking about. If we leave them alone for too long, they'll uncover a terrorist plot to take over the world." He headed down the beach after them.
With his hearing dialed up, he heard the comments the others said--mostly about how overly protective Ellison was, or who should be kept on a leash--the kid or the dog. And finally one parting shot from Rodgers, said with a trace of confusion, "You know, I've never actually seen Max take to a stranger like that. Rather odd really."
It took Jim a while to catch up to Blair. He and Max had covered a great deal of ground with their game. As he followed them, he kept a close eye on them, worried that they would get into some trouble. Despite the beautiful day, there weren't a lot of other people on the beach, and Blair had managed to wander off into a less populated stretch of sand.
Blair stopped running after a while, and Jim watched as he sat down on the sand to stare out at the crashing water. Max began happily frolicking in the surf before him. And then suddenly Jim noticed Blair's body grow unnaturally still--Jim paused, tensing, wondering what had just happened. Blair was not moving--looking somewhat stiff and unnatural as he sat in the sand staring straight ahead into the horizon. And Max--Jim's eyes widened in disbelief as the dog suddenly stopped his playful leaping and turned swiftly, staring back at Blair intently. The dog's entire body grew still, then seemed to quiver in anticipation. And then suddenly the dog started running--not playing any more, simply running as if for the pure joy of the experience. He took off like a bullet, outracing the wind as he shot up and down the beach several times, turning on a dime and racing back and forth. And Jim knew--he knew what Blair had just done.
Terror and rage nearly blinded Jim and he ran the final distance to Blair's side, cursing under his breath every step of the way. How could Blair do this? Why would he do this?
He fell to his knees in the sand beside Blair, caught his Guide's arm in a bruising grip. "Damn you!" he hissed. "God damn you!"
He shook him; Blair didn't respond, but out of the corner of his eye Jim saw the dog stop immediately. Max turned, and Jim met his gaze--feral eyes gleaming with awareness unnatural to the animal.
"Don't you do this! Don't you goddamn do this!" Jim cursed, terrified that this time he wouldn't get Blair back--this time Simon or someone else would cart him off to a hospital--and once there, once out of Jim's control, he'd be taken from Jim, stolen away by Marco or another Alpha.
Abruptly he felt Blair's hands on his arms, heard Blair calling him as if pulling him back from a zone out. He stared in shock into his Guide's face--Blair was awake, aware, and Max was now simply watching them with a goofy dog-look. The world was normal again.
"Blair?" Jim stared at him in shock.
"I'm fine, Jim," Blair assured him immediately. "I'm here. I'm fine."
Jim sat back on his heels, feeling drained. "God damn you, Sandburg. You were in that damned dog!"
"I know," Blair nodded. "It's okay."
"Why?" Jim couldn't for the life of him fathom why Blair would do something like this.
Blair frowned and shrugged. "I just wanted to see if I could."
"What?" Jim stared at him incredulously. "Why in hell would you do something like this? You almost died the last time?"
"Only because it was the first time and I didn't know how to come back, Jim," Blair explained, his tone soothing as if trying to calm him down. Jim didn't want to be calmed down. "I know how now. There's nothing to be worried about."
"What in hell are you talking about? You can't do this, Sandburg! You can't go around doing this!"
Blair just stared at him in confusion. "Why not?"
"Why not?" Jim grasped desperately for words. His mind was still in shock. "Well. . .first off. . .that's, that's. . .it's a dog!" Not quite what he intended to say, but it gave him a moment to think up something else.
"I know," Blair nodded, glancing almost ruefully at Max. "He's less wild, less feral, not nearly as liberating--but the similarities to a wolf are close enough."
"Liberating!" Jim glared at him. "Are you listening to yourself? You can't do this! It isn't normal!"
Blair's blue eyes flashed with sudden anger. "Normal? It's part of me now, Jim! I can't just turn it off--any more than you can turn off your senses. It's who I am."
"You're my Guide," Jim insisted, denying him any other life.
"I'm also a Shaman," Blair reminded him. "And let me point out that you saw the wolf in me long before I did. I can't just forget about this, pretend it didn't happen."
"Because I like it," Blair insisted.
Jim felt like he'd been punched in the face. "You like it? What part of this do you like, Sandburg? Being in the mind of a predator? The possibility that you might hunt down and kill a human being without suffering any consequences? Let's face it--Tristan committed the perfect murder."
Blair's face paled even as his eyes lit with fury. "I'm not Tristan! God, Jim! How could you even think such a thing?" He turned away, fury radiating in his tense body.
Jim would have reacted with anger--would have lashed out again with cutting words if he hadn't seen the hurt in Blair's eyes just before he looked away. He forced himself to rein in his anger. "Then explain it to me," he pleaded, needing to understand.
For a long moment, he though Blair would not answer. Finally however his Guide sighed and just shook his head in confusion. "It's like suddenly learning you can fly, Jim. You don't ever want to touch the ground again."
"From being in the mind of a wolf?" Jim demanded.
"No," Blair sighed. "You're breaking it down to its most base component. It's the bloody 'call of the wild' man. It's discovering that you're a force of nature." He shook his head. "Jim, it's in my blood. It's who my family is. It's who I am."
Wolves--Jim shuddered. A part of him could understand exactly what Blair was describing--he'd felt it himself once or twice when he'd touched on the most wild, primitive part of himself. Could feel it when the jaguar raged beside him. But wolves were wild, couldn't be tamed. He could lose Blair to this--how in hell was he supposed to cage an animal that was meant to live free?
"It's not who Naomi is," Jim reasoned, trying to invoke the name of someone Blair felt more loyalty to than his 'pack'. "There has to be a reason she kept you away from your family. She knows more about this than you do--she didn't want you with them. She was afraid for you."
But Blair shook his head. "It's not the wolf Naomi feared," he told him. "It was the Alphas. Naomi is a gypsy at heart and she couldn't bear the thought of me being enslaved to an Alpha like Tristan. Wolves are pack animals and they're ruled by the lead Alpha."
Enslaved? Jim balked at the word. Is that was this was? Did Blair now feel that he was somehow enslaved to Jim? He couldn't bring himself to ask the question.
"God damn it, Sandburg," Jim just cursed, unable to think straight. They both fell silent for a long moment. Overhead a group of gulls screamed, and Max barked happily up at them.
"Do you want me to leave, Jim?" Blair asked quietly, his body still vibrating with nervous energy. It was setting Jim on edge.
"Leave?" Jim stared at him. Blair couldn't possibly be suggesting such a thing. "And go where? Back to Germany? Back to Marco? Over my dead body!" The very thought. . . .his eyes burned.
Blair flinched back from him. "What?"
Jim growled and climbed to his feet, moving down to the water's edge. Anything--just to put some distance between himself and Blair--if he didn't, he wasn't certain what he might do. "You're my Guide," he stated coldly.
"I know," Blair murmured.
"Do you?" Jim turned, glaring at him. Blair stared back at him in lost confusion. "Do you really have any idea at all what that means? What happens to me if you leave? What happens to me if you're not here to ground me? Do you even care?"
"Of course I care! How can you ask me that?"
"Because if you did, if you really cared, you wouldn't talk about leaving! Shit!" He turned away again in fury, unable to bear the look in Blair's eyes. "I hate this! I hate every part of this!"
"I'm sorry," Blair's voice was low and lost, and filled with sorrow.
"Sorry?" Jim laughed. "What in hell are you sorry for? It's not your fault. You said it yourself--it's in your blood. It's in my blood. It's fucking genetics! And there's not a God damned thing either of us can do about it."
And Blair it seemed didn't have a reply to that. They waited in silence, both listening to the scream of the gulls and the pounding of the surf, Jim wishing again for the hundredth time that he knew what to do to fix this. Finally his senses drew him back to the present. "We should get back," he sighed. "The others are wondering what's wrong. And dinner is ready."
"All right," Blair sighed, climbing to his feet. Max immediately raced to his side. "I'm hungry."
They began walking back toward the others, Max racing ahead. Jim heard Blair's stomach growl. Despite the distance between them he could still feel the tenseness in Blair's body. "You sure you're alright?"
"Just restless," Blair replied. "There's a strange energy in me. . .but I'm fine. I wasn't in any danger, really. . ."
Jim just snorted in disgust. "Assuming no one decides to shoot you in your canine form. Near as I can figure, if your mind is in the animal when it dies, you die or drop into coma or something."
"Canine is for dogs, wolves are lupine," Blair explained. "I think Max is part wolf actually. . .somewhere in his ancestry. Lot of half breeds in Cascade, you know. I can feel them all over the city."
"Oh, God!" Jim groaned, not certain he should fear the threat of the lecture, or the possibility that Blair might decide to take yet another jaunt into the mind of someone's pet wolf.
"I'm really hungry!" Blair said suddenly, as if surprised by the discovery. He took off after Max at a quick run. "Come on, Jim," he called over his shoulder. "Don't want to miss dinner."
"Blair!" Jim stared after him in disbelief.
"I'm hungry!" Blair insisted.
"You do still want your meat cooked, right?"
He almost laughed as Blair flipped him the finger. At least not everything had changed.
Over the next few hours, Jim and the gang of Major Crimes watched Blair with something akin to awe. Had he been surrounded by walls, the Anthropologist would have been bouncing off of them. If circumstances had been different, Jim might have been amused. As it was, he was just perplexed--especially after Blair's previously subdued manner. Now it was like he had too much energy to contain.
The constant stream of talking wasn't that unusual, nor was the animation--but this was extreme even for Blair. He couldn't seem to sit still. He managed eventually to organize a game of touch football with some of the detectives. The others played briefly, more interested in drinking and relaxing. When they gave up, Blair tried another group. Eventually he gave up all together on the adults and moved off down the beach to join a group of teenagers playing volleyball. From the looks of things he was running rings around the kids as well.
"What in hell did you put in his hamburger?" Joel laughed in amusement. "He makes me tired just watching him."
"Yeah, Jim," Simon agreed. "You been slipping the kid vitamins again?"
Jim just shrugged. "It must be the fresh air, Simon."
"Well, whatever it is, I want some!" Megan laughed. "Too bad you can't bottle that energy."
He wasn't intended to hear the other comments--the ones some of the women said under their breaths to one another about what they'd like to do to help Blair burn off that energy. But as a Sentinel there was very little he missed. He sat in silence and listened with growing anger while they discussed strategies to get Blair to go home with them instead of Jim. They made it sound like all they had to do was perform certain tactical maneuvers to catch Blair--like it was some battle. The very thought set him on edge.
He was ready for them when they decided to make their individual moves--the continued flirtations, the offers they had prepared. By the time the sun began setting, and people began heading home, Jim was already packed up and ready to leave. He intercepted the women before they could reach Blair, placed a proprietary hand on the young man's shoulder, and steered him toward the truck.
"Time to get going, Chief," he told Blair, who was somewhat startled to be led off the beach so abruptly.
"Oh. . ." He turned and waved over his shoulder. "See you later!" he called to Simon and the others. They waved and called after him, and Jim ushered him quickly off toward the truck. If Blair even noticed the disappointed stares from the group of admiring women, he never said anything.
Tired from the long day in the sun, and neither really ready to attempt another conversation after the last several disasters, both men retired fairly early that night. But hours after he had gone to bed, Jim lay awake listening to his Guide tossing and turning down below in his room. Worry had kept Jim from sleeping, concern about what had happened to both him and Blair, fear that he might never be able to set things right between them. He hated the strain this had put on their friendship--hated the fact that every time they spoke to each other they ended up saying the most hurtful things imaginable. And all, he suspected, because they were both feeling trapped.
Ironically, Jim found himself thinking about a series of kids movies he'd seen when he was a child--stories about boys who'd found wolf cubs and raised them to adulthood, only to be left alone when the wolf took off into the wild to join up with a pack of his own. He'd always hated those movies--thought the endings sucked. But there'd always been some wise old adult in the story who would tell the grieving boy that it was better this way, that wolves belonged with their own kind.
"Not a wolf," Marco had said. Jim wasn't their kind--wasn't one of Blair's pack. Not family. And yet he couldn't help remembering Blair's dream-- where one wolf had abandoned the woods in favor of the jungle. That had to mean something, he reasoned. Incacha had made Blair Jim's Shaman--Incacha wouldn't have done that if he thought Blair intended to leave him.
But would Blair be happy here--would either of them be happy? And was he now supposed to be grateful for the fact that he could lay claim to Blair because of the Sentinel/Guide bond? It felt like a chain around his neck because he wanted there to be something more between them than just instinct--but if that was all he had, how could he hate it? Without it, Blair would be gone in an instant.
Blair's restlessness had increased, and Jim heard him now pacing in his bedroom. He frowned, wondering why Blair couldn't sleep--he would have thought the young man would've been exhausted after the day he'd had. Blair's scent was strange too--somehow more intense than normal, wilder. And he could smell that musky scent he'd come to associate with the rest of the pack. It made him think of sex.
He rolled over in his bed, clutching one of his pillows tightly to his chest as his body responded instinctively to that scent. He squeezed his eyes shut. It was going to drive him nuts, he suspected. How could he react so sexually to Blair? He wasn't supposed to want this at all. Hadn't he told Blair only three days ago in the middle of the Black Forest that he wasn't his type? Apparently he'd been lying. Big time.
Blair paused suddenly in his pacing, and Jim heard the faint electronic sound of a phone being dialed. With his hearing dialed up, the voice that sounded over the telephone seemed loud. Jim sat up in shock.
Jim recognized that voice immediately and he had to force himself to remain still, and just listen.
"Marco, what in hell is wrong with me?" Blair hissed into the phone as if trying to keep his voice low enough to avoid the Sentinel sleeping above him.
"Blair, calm down," Marco's voice was deep and melodious, a Guide-voice of sorts. Jim's stomach twisted. "What's wrong?"
"I feel like I'm going to crawl out of my skin," Blair explained, sounding almost desperate. "I can't sit still, can't stop moving. . .I feel . . . shit! What is this. . .?"
"Blair," Marco caught the young man's attention and Blair stopped talking. He did however start pacing again. Jim heard the restless footsteps moving back and forth.
"You spirit-walked, didn't you?" Marco asked.
Spirit-walked. Jim shivered--he supposed that was as good a name as any for what they did. Walked from one body to another.
"Yes," Blair admitted. "There was a . . .a dog. . ." he sounded almost ashamed of the fact that it was a dog. "Part wolf. . .I just wanted to see if I could."
"How long were you in it?" Marco clarified.
"I don't know. A couple of minutes maybe."
Jim heard Marco sigh. "Not long enough, Blair. You're all right, you just weren't 'out' long enough."
"What do you mean? What does that have to do with anything?"
"It's a chemical thing, Blair," Marco explained. "Hormonal, I suppose. We have more energy than an average person--a lot more energy. It's why we tend to be so hyper all the time. What we do takes enormous amounts of energy. But the moment you spirit-walk your body produces a chemical that increases your metabolism. You're flooded with huge amounts of energy so that you have the strength to maintain contact with two bodies. But you have to stay 'out' for at least a couple of hours in order to burn off that excess energy and clear the chemical from your system. Otherwise it has no where to go."
"Oh man!" Blair moaned. "You're kidding me?"
Marco laughed softly. "There's a reason we spend our nights drinking, dancing and fucking, Blair. It keeps us healthy and sane." His words brought back images from the wild party that Jim had inadvertently stumbled on. That was their definition of sanity?
Blair's pacing had increased. "What am I supposed to do now?"
"You shouldn't have left the pack, Blair," Marco admonished gently. "You belong with us. We could have helped you through this. It's worse in the beginning. You'll get used to it eventually, but it never really goes away."
"Marco," Blair sighed. "I had to leave. . .you know that. . .please. . ."
"You'll be all right, Blair," Marco sighed. "You have two options."
"Spirit-walk again. Head off into the woods, run for hours. That's the best--that's the healthiest. You'll need to do it fairly regularly anyway--you'll go mad without it."
"I'm in the middle of the city," Blair explained, and Jim could smell the scent of panic rising in him. "I can't just. . .there aren't any wolves near by."
"You'll have to do something about that," Marco said simply. "If not tonight, then soon. You can't simply stay where you are. The call is too strong--sooner or later you'll have to heed it."
"Then what do I do tonight? You said there were two options."
Marco laughed at that. "That's easy. Go get that Detective of yours to fuck you into oblivion. That will burn the energy off."
His words sent a shock of awareness through Jim's body. He grew completely still, listening to Blair's silence below.
Marco too apparently heard the silence. "Blair?"
"That's not likely to happen, Marco," Blair said quietly.
This time it was Marco who fell silent. But only for a moment. His voice sounded angry when he spoke again. "I can be on a plane in an hour, Blair. I'll come get you. I'll bring you home." It was the Alpha again, asserting a claim, and Jim's hands closed into fists. He waited for Blair's response--wouldn't really matter what Blair said, he supposed, he wouldn't let him leave. Couldn't let him leave. But still, he had to hear, needed to hear Blair's decision.
"No, Marco," Blair said softly. "I can't leave. You don't understand."
"You're right Blair, I don't understand," Marco agreed. "He's not one of us. You belong with your own kind."
"No, Marco," Blair said more firmly--and while Marco might be the Alpha, it seemed a Shaman had certain strengths all his own. Marco fell silent for a long moment.
"As you wish," he said at last. "But if you change your mind, you just have to call me, Blair. I'll be there in hours."
"What will you do tonight?" Marco asked in concern.
"I guess there's really only one option," Blair sighed. "I'll be fine. Thank you, Marco."
"Good luck." Marco hung up.
Jim listened as Blair switched off the phone, and then he waited in tense silence as Blair opened the doors. Only one option--what would Blair do? Call him? Come up the stairs to his room? The very thought of his Guide standing there beside his bed asking for Jim's touch, needing it, his body aching for it--Jim felt as if he'd been lit on fire. His hands trembled, energy coursing through his veins.
He listened as his Guide crossed the floor toward the stairs. His cock grew hard with each step, his heart pounding in anticipation. It was all he could do not to start stroking himself.
And then. . . .he heard the sound of the balcony doors opening, of Blair stepping out into the moonlight. And beyond the city sounds he heard the sudden restless barking of neighborhood dogs, as if they'd awakened and responded to a call only they could hear. And Jim knew what Blair had chosen.
Fury slammed through him. He was out of bed and storming down the stairs before making a conscious thought to do so. Blair, clad only in boxers, stood at the edge of the balcony, unmoving, face turned to the wind as if searching for something only he could detect. Not gone yet--not spirit-walking--but only moments from it, only moments from leaving Jim behind.
Jim didn't think. He simply caught Blair by the arm and dragged him back inside the loft. Blair stumbled in Jim's grasp, only just catching his footing as Jim shut and locked the balcony doors. "Jim?" Blair looked shocked, stunned by Jim's actions.
"You're not doing this, Sandburg!" Jim growled. "It's not safe!"
Blair's eyes were somewhat dazed, and Jim could see now the state he was in--the young man was vibrating with the excess energy. Anger flashed across his face. "Leave me alone!" he shouted. "You don't know what you're talking about. You don't understand."
"I know that if you take a dog and start running through the city and get hit by a car, you'll die!" Jim informed him. There was a reason wolf packs didn't run through city streets--civilization killed them.
"That won't happen!" Blair snapped. "I'm not stupid!" He began pacing again, frantically, moving violently back and forth across the living room floor. To Jim he looked remarkably like an animal trapped in a cage.
"You don't know that!" Jim shouted back. "You don't know what kind of control you have. What if you lose your sense of self the longer you're out there. What if you forget the dangers? It's too new! You don't know what your limitations are!"
"Then maybe I should have stayed with the pack!" Blair growled, pacing swiftly. He kept looking toward the balcony doors, his eyes growing frantic as if searching for a way out. Jim suspected it was only a matter of moments before he bolted--either to the balcony or out the front door.
Jim, shaking with anger at the thought of Blair going back to the pack, crossed the distance to his Guide, moving up behind him and catching hold of his shoulders. Blair struggled against his grip, trying to get away. Jim pulled him back against him, plastering his body against Blair's back. He could feel the energy coursing through Blair's veins, it was radiating off him as heat. So hot, he thought Blair might burn up--was certainly running a fever that could land him in a hospital if it continued.
Blair struggled again, and Jim slid his arms around him, pulling him tightly back against his body. It was like touching a live wire, igniting all of Jim's senses. Blair gasped at the contact, his struggles ceasing as he arched back against Jim, feeling the heat of Jim's cock against his lower back. The sheer blind need that burned through Jim made him moan with the contact as he buried his face against Blair's neck, drinking in his scent.
Blair rocked back against him, throat bared and arched, eyes closed, mouth opened as he gasped for breath. It was almost like they were back at that wild party again, music surrounding them, the pounding beat moving through both their veins, driving them forward. Blair was certainly lost in his need, no longer fighting but grinding seductively back against Jim's erection. The scent of arousal coming off him washed through Jim like a drug.
"Please," Blair moaned, and Jim couldn't wait a moment longer, had to have him now, this instant. He pulled Blair back, stumbled toward the open doors of Blair's bedroom, hands moving over Blair's body, soaking up the heat in the trembling muscles. And Blair's cock was so hard, and the groan of desperation that came from Blair's lips as Jim closed his hand over it was like music. Jim licked the burning skin behind Blair's ear. The taste of his Guide's skin made him desperate for more. He shoved Blair face down across his bed and yanked the young man's shorts off frantically. Blair went willingly, spreading his legs even as he ground his hips into the mattress, desperate to release his own need. The sight was nearly too much for Jim; he fought back the urge to come right there on the spot, scrambling desperately to remove his own clothing, stripping down to bare skin.
He was on Blair in an instant, spreading the young man's legs farther apart as he lay between them, desperately grinding his hips against the firm muscles of Blair's ass. His cock slipped between those hot cheeks, fighting for entrance. Jim was nearly mindless with need, wanting to be inside that heat. But God, it was so tight! He pushed against the barrier, and Blair moaned in pain. Jim froze instantly, knowing something wasn't right--it had been easier last time, so much easier to push inside that tight channel. But despite the pain, Blair was making no move to push away--if anything he was more frantic now, begging with his gasping breath.
Jim hissed in desperation, sorely lacking in knowledge despite having done this once before--oil, there had been oil last time. Even Tristan, cruel controlling Tristan, had used something to ease the way, to spare Blair the pain of entry. Jim shuddered; he would hurt his Guide if he continued, damage him. He pulled away, looking frantically around the room. There had to be something.
"Please, Jim!" Blair gasped. "Please! Don't stop!"
Hearing his name on Blair's lips--knowing his Guide was aware this time that it was him, doing this with him--it was intoxicating and Jim found himself trembling with need. A frantic search of the nightstand produced a bottle of massage oil. Popping the lid, Jim smeared a generous amount onto his hand, then he moved again back to Blair, slicking up his own cock even as he probed Blair's entrance with his fingers.
The first touch made Blair moan in pleasure, and as Jim pushed his finger inside, Blair thrust back hard against him, driving him in deeper. Blair's hands closed into fists around the bed clothes, and he pulled in his knees to gain better leverage, pushing back harder as if desperate to take Jim in as deep as he could. He cried out, calling Jim's name with each thrust, begging for more. Shaking from the effort to control himself, Jim worked another finger inside that tight opening. The hot pressure around his fingers was exhilarating, and he didn't think he could wait another moment. Removing his fingers he caught hold of Blair's hips and positioned himself against his opening. Slowly he began pushing in, savoring each new sensation as his cock disappeared inside Blair's body. The moans coming from Blair's lips nearly drove him mad, as did the frantic way Blair rocked back against him, seeking to drive him in harder, deeper. Jim kept control this time, holding Blair's hips firmly so he could inch his way in without fear of hurting him.
Such pleasure, coursing through every inch of his body--he whispered Blair's name and rocked inside him as Blair held on for dear life. And then the thrusts--slow at first, but building as his body began trembling uncontrollably with need. He leaned hard into Blair's body, holding him tightly against him, and he sought out the tender skin beneath Blair's left ear again, kissing it, tasting it as he drove into his body. "You're so tight," he breathed against Blair's ear. "So hot!" And he thought Blair might shake apart in his hands, lost now in the throws of mindless ecstasy.
He wanted to feel again the strength of Blair's cock in his hands, and he reached around him, stroking that heat. His touch was too much. Blair's whole body stiffened and spasmed, and he cried Jim's name as he came.
His name on those lips, that body shuddering and tightening around him--Jim felt his own control slip loose and he pounded into that body, pleasure exploding through him as he came hard and deep inside him. They both collapsed onto the bed, and Jim still lost in a haze of bliss, finished with several more shallow thrusts as he lay on top of his Guide.
He held onto to Blair, unwilling to part from him, savoring his scent, his heat, the steady beat of his heart against Jim's own. Both of them were trembling, twitching in the afterglow. He buried his face against Blair's neck, soaking in the feel of the soft curls brushing his skin. He shifted slightly to the side, keeping Blair flush against him, but taking his weight off the smaller man. The subtle shifts made Blair moan, and Jim felt himself slipping out of Blair's body.
Concerned that he might have hurt Blair, he slid his hand between them, probing gently between Blair's legs, seeking his opening. Blair gasped and shivered as he fingered him briefly, seeking signs of tearing or bleeding. Not finding either, his touch turned teasing, and he simply stroked his fingers over the heated opening, enjoying the slick feel of his own semen there. His mind shied away from words and thoughts, not wanting to acknowledge just what it was he had done, what he was still doing, what it might mean for tomorrow. He didn't want to think at all--just wanted to lie here and hold Blair in his arms.
Blair shifted his legs--giving Jim better access he realized--a thrill of awareness shot through Jim's body. At the moment he felt too spent to go again--but this touching was nice--they hadn't had a chance to do this the first time. It occurred to him suddenly that they hadn't actually kissed yet--he wondered what it would take to get Blair to turn around so he could remedy that.
"How often," Blair whispered suddenly--and despite Jim's blissful haze of pleasure, he heard the note of strain in his Guide's voice.
"What?" he whispered back, confused, not really wanting to talk, not wanting to face any of this just yet.
"How often will you fuck me like this?" Blair clarified.
The bottom dropped out of Jim's stomach. He tensed--something was definitely off, definitely wrong. He stilled his hand, moving it instead to Blair's hip. "What are you talking about?"
Blair wasn't so much trembling now as he was shaking. "How often will you fuck me like this?" Blair repeated. "Once a month? Once a week? I need to know. . ."
Jim sat up abruptly. He stared down at his Guide in shock. "What in hell are you talking about?"
Blair turned, his expression strangely distant considering he was lying naked on his bed. "You obviously listened in on my conversation with Marco," Blair informed him. "You know my situation here. You know why I needed this. So I need to know how often I can count on it?"
"How often you can count on it?" Jim glared incredulously. "You're asking me to tell you how often I'm willing to fuck you?"
"You can give me some sort of estimate, can't you?" Blair demanded.
Fury shook through Jim. He rose to his feet. "Go fuck yourself, Sandburg," he snarled and stalked out of the room. He had to get away from Blair before he did something they'd both regret--he slammed the door to the bathroom and climbed into the shower, turning the water on full force.
How often would he fuck him? God damn him! God damn! How could he ask something like that? What in hell was this? Service on demand? No wonder they hadn't kissed--seems all was still fine with the world. They were both still completely, safely straight--this was nothing more than the proverbial 'buddy-fuck' he thought he'd been avoiding. He struck his fist against the tile of the shower. God damn him! He wasn't certain who he was angrier with at the moment--Blair for doing this to him, or himself for caring.
He hid out in the shower for as long as he could--the water grew cold eventually. His body however had long since taken a chill, feeling bereft in a way he'd never before experienced. Twice now he'd fucked Blair--the first time Blair had gotten blind drunk afterwards. The second time he'd acted like they'd agreed on some sort of business contract. He wasn't certain which was worse.
This time was worse, he told himself. This time Blair had been conscious and aware through the whole thing--this time Blair's response had been more real.
This time Blair had not kissed him.
Toweling off, Jim stepped reluctantly out of the bathroom. He knew the moment he did so that Blair was no longer in the loft.
Panic reached out and gripped Jim's soul. He thought first of Marco--that somehow Marco had come for him, taken him away. But no--Marco was still in Germany. Even with a private jet it would take hours before he could get here. No, Blair had left on his own. Blair had left the loft, left Jim. Without a kiss, without an understanding, without an agreement. A wild thought flared through his mind--that maybe he should have said something--given Blair a number--once a week, once a month, once a day--anything. . . just so he'd know when Blair was coming back.
He raced quickly upstairs to his room and pulled on his clothes, cursing under his breath as he rummaged through his closet for his shoes. He was taking too much time--Blair might be gone already--on a plane to Germany. Surely he could have called Marco while Jim was in the shower and told him to have the family jet waiting for him at the airport. He could be gone long before Jim ever got there--he might never find him again.
Jim stilled suddenly--what if that wasn't it at all? What if Blair had gone out looking for a wolf instead? Dear God! He could be out there right now, his body zoned and catatonic while his soul ran free through the mind of an animal.
Grabbing his keys he raced out of the loft, nearly falling down the stairs in his haste to get to the bottom.
He knew the moment he reached the parking lot that Blair had not gone to the airport. His car was still there. He'd set out on foot then--took off in some unknown direction. Pausing on Prospect, Jim took a deep breath, inhaling the night air. There was a storm blowing in--a strong wind picking up. He could smell rain coming--a few more hours and this place would be drenched. But there. . .on the wind. . .he caught Blair's sent. Thankfully Blair had headed into the storm, moving off toward the beach--his scent carried all the way back to Jim easily. His scent and Jim's mixed with it--the Sentinel imagined he could track that scent through an ice storm if necessary.
He took off running, determined to catch up to Blair. He'd spent too much time in the shower. If Blair had left right after Jim had started showering, he could be far out of range by now--in all sorts of trouble already. And if one of those animals Jim had heard howling earlier happened to cross Blair's path--God only knew where Blair might be now.
Sandburg was on the beach. Jim cleared a parking lot and climbed over a floodwater breakwall, and then scanned the long deserted expanse of beach below him. Pitch black save for a few periodic streetlights giving out a pitiful glow here and there--it looked empy. The storm blowing in had already blocked out the light of the moon, and the water and sand were nearly indistinguishable from one another. Still, Jim managed to spot Blair sitting down on the sand not far from a large pile of rocks. He was dressed in a pair of torn jeans, his old sneakers, and a single flannel shirt--Jim could only imagine he must be freezing. The temperature was beginning to drop as the wind picked up. Silently Jim made his way across the sand toward him, searching his still form for some clue as to what was going on.
No wolves around--no dogs either. That at least was something. And Blair, while unmoving, didn't have that unnatural stillness about him that Jim associated with a spirit-walk. He was still here, still present and accounted for. But there was something so lost and distant looking in his face. He hadn't bothered to tie his hair back and the wind whipped the dark locks about his face--he looked wild, untamed. Jim sucked in a deep breath. He was beautiful.
Jim paused for a long moment and just stood in the darkness staring at his Guide, mindless of the wind buffeting his body. There was a paleness to Blair's skin and a faint blue tinge to his lips that Jim did not like, and for one horrible moment he was transported back to that morning by the university fountain. "Come on in, Jim, the water's fine," Blair had said back then. But the water wasn't fine--the water had killed him. And Jim no longer knew what was happening between them.
Steeling his heart he moved the last few feet to Blair's side and sat down beside him. He could feel the heat pouring off his Guide's body, could still smell the scent of sex clinging to him. He wanted suddenly to warm Blair's lips with his own, and wondered what Blair would do if he just leaned over and kissed him.
"I don't understand what's happening," Jim told him quietly, deciding that honesty was the only route left to him.
"With the wolves?" Blair asked for clarification.
Jim shivered. He loved the sound of Blair's voice. "With us."
"Ah," Blair nodded in agreement, but fell silent then.
Jim waited, staring out across the dark water. The tide was still far out, not threatening them in any way--but the rain wasn't too much farther off. He turned then in the darkness to stare at his Guide, wondering what would prompt him to speak. Nights like this, conversations in the dark--he hated them really. They always signaled either the end of something or the beginning of something else. He wasn't certain which he feared more. Was Blair going to end their friendship--end their partnership? Was he going to announce his decision to rejoin his family and begin a new life with them? And did Jim even have the power anymore to affect any decision Blair might make?
Or what if this was the beginning of a new life with Jim--a new life based on genetic imperatives and physical needs? Something so much less than even the friendship they'd shared. He feared his heart would shatter.
"It's simple really, Jim," Blair said at last. "Wolves mate for life."
And apparently Blair was going to explain no further than that. Which meant Jim was left to interpret what it was he thought that might mean, in light of all the conversations they'd had these last few days.
"So what does that mean? Are you saying that we're. . .we're m..married or something, and that unless I give you some sort of schedule, tell you how often I'm willing to . . .to fuck you, you'll divorce me and go back to Marco?" Jim stumbled over the words, nearly choking on some of them in an effort to get them out. Worse case scenario--their friendship was already over, and nothing he could say could make things any worse.
Startled, Jim could only stare at Blair. "No?"
Blair shook his head, his curls tangling briefly about his face before the wind swept them back again. "You're batting a thousand, Jim. Got it wrong on all accounts."
"Then explain it to me," Jim demanded.
"Wolves mate for life," Blair just shrugged. "You're not a wolf. Last I checked, cats just go into heat."
His words made Jim angry again. "God damn it! I'm not a cat. I'm human. So are you!"
"Yes, Jim, but you're also a Sentinel," Blair shouted back. "And I am. . .what I am. And there's nothing either of us can do about that."
"And because I'm not one of the pack--" Jim said the words as if it were dirt. "--that means I can't understand what's going on? I can't. . .you and I aren't. . ."
"You aren't stuck! You dumb shit!" Blair pushed Jim, shoving at his shoulders in anger. Caught off guard, Jim fell backward onto the sand, momentarily pinned by Blair's weight as he stared down at him in fury. "You aren't stuck! I'm mated for life! I'm yours--body and soul! You, however, are free to go fuck whomever you want. I'm stuck! I'm so. . . " He pushed away abruptly and got up, taking several swift steps away from Jim. He stood staring out to sea, arms wrapped around his shivering body. "God. . .I'm so fucked. . ." He laughed when he said it, but there was nothing humorous in his voice. It broke and shook as if he were in pain.
Jim slowly sat up, staring at Blair in alarm. His mind was working over time trying to process what he'd just heard. "Chief?"
"The woman at the picnic today," Blair said. "She was beautiful and she wanted me. And I felt nothing. Nothing! A week ago I just had to look at a woman to get turned on. Now. . .now there's nothing. I used to at least still have that."
Still have that? Jim frowned. Something else Blair had said--something important. He replayed the words over and over again.
"I can't even get mad at you," Blair sighed. "I can't even get mad at you for not letting Marco have me."
Jim's stomach clenched at that thought--his heart tightening in his chest. Was that what this was about? Jim should have let Marco. . .
"Tristan," Blair whispered, shaking his head as if trying to dislodge a memory. "I fought him. Despite the horrible things you said to me, I fought him. But there just didn't seem to be anything I could do. I had no control at all. And Marco. . .I should hate you for not giving me to Marco. At least he wants me. But I would have fought that too. Granted, I would have lost. But I still would have fought. He thought he could make me happy. Still does, actually. But the thought of leaving you. . ." He shuddered. "That's the part neither of them could understand."
And then Jim found it--the thing Blair had said. The thing that set off Claxton warnings in his head. "Body and soul," he repeated.
Blair stiffened. "What?"
"Body and soul. You said you were mine, body and soul. I get the body thing--I understand that. It's instinct, genetics, chemical--on the wolf level. Or a territorial imperative on the Sentinel level. I understand that. But you said 'soul'. You said body and soul."
Blair turned and stared at Jim as if he were crazy. There was a look of incredulous disbelief in his eyes. "Jesus, Jim!" he said in disgust. "You had my soul long before you ever had my body. You know that!"
"You left the woods forsaken in favor of the jungle," Jim murmured in growing wonder. "That's what you meant. You left the woods for me."
Blair looked furious and upset and hurt, and for a moment Jim thought he might try to hit him again. "I left the fucking Land of the Dead for you! You understand the body thing? You can accept the fact that you have a desperately horny roommate that's hot for you, but God help us if there should be any actual emotions involved! Fuck you, Ellison!" Blair turned and took off down the beach, his fury sparking from him like electricity.
Jim was after him in an instant, racing down the beach to catch hold of his arm. He managed to block Blair's swing before it landed this time, catching hold of both his arms and pulling him tightly against his body, effectively trapping him. When Blair fought back, Jim simply tripped him and they both went down in the sand, Blair landing beneath him. Jim straddled his hips, holding him down while he pinned his arms over his head with both hands. He couldn't help remembering being in an identical position only days ago in the Black Forest. This time however he made no effort to hide the fact that everything about this turned him on.
Blair struggled beneath him, trying to get away. Jim just held him down, waiting patiently for Blair to figure out that it wasn't going to work. Finally his Guide stilled, giving up. He lay beneath him glaring up at Jim, panting in fury when he realized he just wasn't strong enough to dislodge the Sentinel.
"You may have left the Land of the Dead for me, Chief," Jim told him, gazing down into those burning eyes. "But in case you failed to notice, genius, I went into the Land of the Dead for you."
Blair stilled, his eyes narrowing mistrustfully. Jim shifted his weight, let his erection brush against Blair's own. He heard his Guide's breath hitch in his throat. Jim smiled slowly. "This isn't complicated, Sandburg. Why do we always make things complicated? We've got all the pieces--we just have to put them together."
"What in hell are you talking about?" Blair fumed.
"The friendship thing--never been a problem for us," Jim explained. "We've had that since day one. As for the body thing--okay, I guess the fact that we're both men threw us for a loop, but let's face it--between hyperactive senses, spirit guides and werewolves, I think gender is the least of our worries. So let me go on record as saying that I like having sex with you, Sandburg."
He laughed softly at the shocked look in Blair's eyes. Bending swiftly he nuzzled his Guide's left ear. "I like everything about it," he murmured against the skin of Blair's throat. "I love the way you taste, the way you smell, the sounds you make when you come." He bit Blair's earlobe, heard him gasp in reaction, heat pouring off both their bodies so they didn't notice the cold wind whipping past them. "You're so fucking beautiful," he whispered, thrilling at the shudder that ran through his Guide's body. A soft desperate moan escaped Blair's lips and Jim drew back, staring down at him again. Blair looked dazed and uncertain now.
"As for the love thing," Jim continued. "You just admitted that you loved me--"
"I did not!" Blair protested, struggling again against Jim's hold.
Jim glared down at him, pushing his wrists deeper into the sand even as he tightened his legs around Blair's hips. "You deny it?!"
Blair stopped struggling and met Jim's angry gaze. He looked at once bewildered and hurt. Finally he just looked away and shook his head, unable to deny it.
"Then I just gotta know one thing, Chief," Jim told him. "You just have to answer one question for me."
For a long moment it looked as if Blair wasn't going to play--wasn't going to even meet his gaze again. In fact he shut his eyes, blocking Jim out. Jim waited patiently, heart in his throat. "You came back from the dead for me, Chief," Jim murmured softly. "How much harder could it be to answer one simple question for me?"
He saw Blair's lips tighten as if he were biting back an angry retort, but Blair finally looked up, nodding slightly, indicating his willingness to answer.
"If none of this had happened," Jim began, his heart pounding with nervous energy. "If we were just friends--without this Sentinel/Guide thing between us, or this wolf thing. There was no territorial imperative, no genetic instinct, no freaky spirit-guide-shaman mumbo jumbo. If it was just us, and I came to you and told you that I loved you, that I wanted to grow old with you, share my life with you--what would you say?"
He saw Blair swallow, could hear the frantic way his Guide's heart pounded against his rib cage. "I'd say--" Blair swallowed again as if trying to clear his throat. The look in his eyes was so raw, almost painful to see. Jim held his breath. "I'd say. . . you're not gay."
Jim let his breath out in an explosive sigh, nearly collapsing on top of Blair in exhaustion. Trust Blair to do it this way. "Fine, Sandburg," he growled softly. "Have it your way. Once a day."
"What?" It was obviously not the response Blair had been expecting. Jim figured as much. His poor Guide had been through the wringer too many times--he didn't trust anything any more.
"Your schedule, Sandburg," Jim explained. "How often I'll fuck you. Once a day." He shifted his hips, rubbing his cock against Blair's, creating just enough friction to tease them both. "Twice a day if you're nice about it." Then releasing Blair's arms, Jim slid one hand into his Guide's tangled hair, giving in at last to the urge to kiss him. He sealed his mouth over Blair's and conveyed with touch what he could not with words.
Blair hesitated only a fraction of a second before surging up against him, returning his kiss in desperation, sobbing into Jim's mouth as he wrapped his arms around him as if he'd never let him go. When lack of oxygen forced them apart, there were tears streaming down Blair's face and Jim kissed them away, realizing in some surprise that he could taste some of his own tears mingled within them.
"Do you really love me?" Blair asked, and the need in his voice was enough to light Jim on fire.
"More than life," Jim whispered, sucking at Blair's lower lip. "More than life."
Blair's arms tightened around him and he felt him shudder in response. "I love you," Blair said burying his face against Jim's neck. "I love you so much it hurts!"
Jim leaned back, brushing Blair's hair away from his face. The wounded look was still there in his eyes, but it was fading beneath a new onslaught of hope. "You're just going to have to trust me to take the pain away, Blair. Can you do that?"
Blair nodded--just nodded. His Guide, who had words for everything, had no words for this. Jim's heart swelled and he kissed him again, deeply, passionately. "We'll figure this out, Blair," he promised. "The Sentinel thing, the wolf thing--we'll figure it all out together. I promise."
He stood swiftly, holding his hand out to his Guide. "Come home with me, Blair."
Blair stared up at him for a long moment. Then he smiled and took Jim's hand, letting the Sentinel pull him to his feet. "Home," he agreed somewhat breathlessly.
Grinning, Jim slipped an arm around Blair's shoulders in deference to the cold wind. His Guide fit perfectly against his side.
"Twice a day, huh?" Blair asked as they walked.
"Absolutely," Jim agreed whole-heartedly. "Three times if I can manage it--assuming I eat right and take all my vitamins. Did I mention I like having sex with you?"
Blair laughed softly. "Yeah, I think you covered that part."
Jim couldn't resist. "I'll cover all your parts if you let me." He slid his hand down Blair's back and gently squeezed his ass.
"Jerk," Blair gasped.
"Oh, come on," Jim teased. "You can do better than that." He pinched Blair this time.
"Fuck you, Ellison!" Blair laughed, squirming out of his grasp.
"Promises promises," Jim taunted.
It started to rain.
Neither of them noticed.
With William Ellison's help, it took less than a month. The Escrow closed on the new house, and the entire gang at Major Crimes helped Jim and Blair move. A rustic two-story cabin, just on the outskirts of town--a slightly longer commute for both of them to work, but neither were going to complain. The property backed right up against a national park--one that still had wolves running free in the wilds.
They'd been coming out here a couple of times a week for the past month as it was. And along with satisfying a craving inside Blair, Jim had discovered it benefited him as well. Sentinels weren't meant to live inside a city--they were meant to live on the outskirts patrolling the borders. Getting away from the noise and smells of downtown cleared his head and relaxed him. And when Blair felt the need to answer the 'call' as he named it, Jim was more than happy to stand guard over the man while the wolf ran free. Blair always came back to him.
They sat together one night on the front porch, both sprawled on the porch swing. Blair lay exhausted against Jim's chest, drained from his most recent 'spirit-walk'. Jim stroked his hair, content just to listen to the sound of his heart beating.
"Jim?" Blair said suddenly.
Jim looked down at him. His Guide had been quiet and thoughtful ever since he'd gotten back that night. Blue eyes looked up at him suddenly, open and earnest.
"I'd say yes," Blair explained then. Jim's heart tripped, and then sped up. Even though a month had passed, he knew exactly what question Blair was answering. "I'd say yes."
"I know," Jim whispered. "I've always known."
"Good," Blair smiled in satisfaction. "Just wanted to make sure." He leaned up and kissed Jim, stealing his breath away as only he could.
Far off in the distance, a wolf howled.