Then There Shall Be Ashes
"I still think it's just a firebug looking for a thrill."
Detective Ellison sighed. Normally he liked working with Sergeant Lars Guttermann, on those occasions he worked with *anyone*, but this case had been dragging for three weeks. They had practically no leads, and Captain Banks was growing more and more irate. Thus far no one had been hurt, but there was no assurance that wouldn't change.
Guttermann had voiced his opinion about the nature of their arsonist every day since they'd first been assigned the case. At first Ellison hadn't minded, he'd even appreciated discussing the complexities of buildings burning down in the middle of the night for no discernible reason. But now the complaint was wearing, and singularly unhelpful.
Ellison didn't respond, knowing it would only encourage the other man. There was nothing about the fires which made it look like anything *except* a firebug out for a thrill. None of the buildings were connected to each other, via ownership or anything else, so they couldn't pin down either motives for revenge or an insurance scam.
There *was* something about the fires which gave Ellison the feeling there was more to it. Maybe the locations or the nature of the businesses housed or once housed in the torched buildings, he wasn't really sure. The only common theme was that each had been empty. Some of the buildings hadn't been used in over three years; others had been empty only for the weekend. The reasons for their being empty weren't even similar. It sounded simply like a pyromaniac with a value on life.
Except Ellison didn't quite believe that. He hadn't been able to figure out what it was that tickled his instinct that there was something else to find, and it was beginning to grate on his nerves. It didn't help that even his senses were telling him there was something wrong with the scenes of the fires. Whenever he went to investigate the scene of a fire, his sight or hearing or sense of smell would start acting up, as if trying to find something to latch onto and show him -- only nothing was ever found. He'd see close-ups of cracks in the concrete or catch the lingering scent of cigarettes from the employees there a week before, but nothing he found useful.
He always regained control once he left a scene, so he hadn't had to avoid re-visiting the scenes of the fires. He wished he knew what his senses were looking for. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose. Hell, he wished they would turn themselves off so he could stamp this case 'unsolved' and go on to the next with a clear conscience.
"Guttermann, you've been saying that for 19 days in a row," Ellison replied to the man's comment. He was tired and frustrated.
"Well, I've *thought* it for 19 days," Gutterman said, unhelpfully.
Ellison threw the latest report from the arson investigators back onto his desk. The fire department was just as baffled as the police, and, from the tone of today's report, just as tired. "Do you have anything *useful*, Guttermann? If not, I'm going to call it a day and head home for supper while there's still a chance of there being any." It was actually an unfair accusation, but it made his point that he wanted to go home *now*.
Guttermann started to smirk, then just shook his head. "I've got nothing. Go home, Ellison. I'm gonna do the same -- maybe tomorrow someone will have pity on us, and drop us a lead."
With a laugh, Jim shook his head. But he closed down the computer and re-stacked the files on his desk, then stood up. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Take it easy, Ellison."
A few minutes later Jim was out of there, heading down to the garage, heading for home. Just the thought of it was relaxing.
Tired as he was, it was no great surprise to him that his senses deemed it appropriate to share with him every sound for the surrounding mile. He rolled up the windows and tried to ignore it as best as he could, focusing the way his partner had taught him. It helped, a little, and he was able to drive home safely.
When he got to the loft he found his hearing was settling down; he was only able to hear what everyone was doing for the surrounding quarter-mile. Wincing, he headed for his front door hoping that a backrub and earplugs would be waiting.
He smelled dinner, suddenly, and walked through the front door with a grateful smile. "Pasta again?" he said lightly, as he shut the door behind him. "Darrin, that's the fourth time this week."
"Is it my fault all we have in the cabinets is spaghetti? Be glad I made a different sauce each time." His lover threw him an amused glance, then asked, "You want a beer?"
"No," Jim shook his head. "My hearing's all over the place -- I'm gonna head upstairs. Come get me when it's done? Smells great," he added, belatedly.
"Sure. You OK?" Darrin gave him a concerned look from the kitchen.
"I will be," Jim sighed. He headed for the stairs. Darrin's voice was the only thing not pounding at him; the traffic down on the street felt like it was running through his brain. He stripped off his holster and set it on the nightstand, picking up his case of earplugs. He sat down on the bed and wasted no time putting them in. The noise dimmed and he leaned back. He whispered the meditation Darrin had taught him, and eventually the noise abated altogether.
The next morning his hearing was cooperating a bit, as it usually did after a good night's sleep. His eyesight was having a tendency to go 'wonky' on him, though, so Darrin had driven him to the station. As he headed for the bullpen, Jim found himself praying that *something* would break on the case -- other than him. He spotted Guttermann at his desk, and headed over.
"Hey, Ellison." The barely-enthusiastic greeting told him all he needed to know.
"Nothing," Jim said, discouraged.
Guttermann gave him a half-grin. "That obvious, huh?"
"After nine days in a row, yeah -- it's obvious." It had been that long since they'd started the day with anything they'd hoped could be useful. It had been nearly that long since they'd made it through the entire day without turning up anything useful.
His partner gave him a forced smile. "Well, cheer up, Ellison. Maybe--" He was interrupted by the phone. With an astonished expression, Guttermann picked it up.
Jim was able to hear Lieutenant Scott, of the Fire Department, telling Gutterman that they had another suspicious fire. Guttermann told him they'd be right there, then Ellison was putting his jacket back on and heading out of the bullpen, Guttermann right on his heels. It was the first time they'd had warning of their firebug's work while the building was still in flames. It wasn't much, but there was the hope that being there now would give them the clues they needed.
When they were still several blocks away from the address, Ellison smelled the smoke. He concentrated on keeping his senses under control, ignoring the extra information as best as he could. Guttermann pulled in behind the arson investigator's car, out of the way of the engines, squads, and firefighters intent on putting out the blaze.
It looked like an old warehouse, possibly years abandoned by the upkeep of the surrounding grounds. Ellison took everything in with a glance, noting the crowds, neighbouring buildings, and rusted machinery on one side of the warehouse. Someone's dog was sitting by itself, watching the fire calmly, tongue lolling and head turning to follow the firefighters' movements. The heat and light of the fire danced about him as he followed Guttermann over to meet Lieutenant Scott. Jim had to fight from being drawn in, as even the smoke tried to mesmerize him. He turned his attention back to Guttermann as he heard Scott answering his question.
"We can't tell for sure, yet, but it looks like we've got another firebomb. Same type, if the men who found it are right. They didn't move it, but one of them described it pretty clearly when he came out for a break. We won't know if it's the same kind as the others, until they get the fire under control. But otherwise, it's the same MO."
"The building was empty?" Guttermann clarified.
"Yeah. Nothing at all of value in the place, according to the owner. In fact, to hear her talk she stands to make more money from the insurance than she's made from rent in the last five years. Long as she had nothing to do with it," Scott added with a sardonic smile.
Ellison continued to listen, but turned to scan the area again. The police on-scene at the previous fires had never caught their suspect hanging around watching the fires -- as most thrill-seeking arsonists did. That didn't mean he wasn't there, only that they hadn't found him.
He checked the crowd gathered across the road, watching from behind the barricade. None of them seemed unduly interested, and he didn't overhear any suspicious remarks. His hearing suddenly spiked, and the voices merged together and over-ran everything. Jim closed his eyes and tried to block them out.
"Hey man, you ok?"
Someone touched his arm, and Jim opened his eyes. One of the firefighters was standing there, face covered in soot and clothing beneath his open turnout coat soaked in sweat.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Jim managed, though he felt anything but. Electric blue eyes peered at him -- vivid colour against the blackened face captured his sight and Jim had to once again fight from being overcome.
"You sure?" The man grinned at him, and Jim found himself unable to think at all. He did manage a nod before the firefighter decided to call the paramedics over, and apparently that was good enough. "You're the cops looking for our arsonist, aren't you? You and the guy with Scotty?"
"Yeah." Jim blinked and tried to recollect himself. "Yeah, Detective Jim Ellison." He held out his hand.
"Blair Sandburg. Nice to meet you. Think you can get this guy off the streets and let us get back to sleeping in?"
"Been here awhile, have you?" Ellison turned towards the building, watching the firefighters running in, out, and all around the place. Shouted orders, crackling radios, the rush of water being pounded through hoses and falling through the flames swirled around him.
He felt a hand on his back, briefly, and suddenly he got everything back under control.
"You sure you're all right?"
"Yeah. Just tired."
Sandburg laughed. "I hear *that*! We've been here since four am; every single time it's the same. Four am, always my shift, always our district. I wish this guy would--"
"What did you say?" Ellison turned to Sandburg, seeing his surprise but focusing instead on what the firefighter had said.
"We've been here since four am," he began, uncertainly.
"No, I mean -- always your shift. I thought firefighters work one day on, one day off, one day on then two days off. Right?"
"So, it's a rather strange pattern for someone to replicate, isn't it?"
Sandburg started to reply, then he stopped and thought it over. "That would mean whoever's doing this wants my shift to be the one responding. But why?"
"I don't know. But it's something we need to check. Excuse me," he said, giving Sandburg a nod before heading over to Guttermann. He shivered, once, and glanced back to find Sandburg staring after him.
The new insight gave them, if not an actual lead, something to do in order to find one. They'd told Lieutenant Scott to call them back once his investigation turned up details on the cause of the fire, then they'd headed back to the station to pull all the records on all the firefighters on Sandburg's shift, in the district in which all the fires had occurred.
"I can't believe we missed *that*," Guttermann muttered, as they began divvying up folders between them.
Ellison set a stack on his desk, and picked up his coffee mug. "Missed what?"
"That the fires have all been in fire district 14. I mean, now it looks *obvious*."
"Yeah, and once we find out who's doing it, we'll think *that* looks obvious." Ellison went to get a cup of coffee, and came back wishing he could put sugar or cream in it. Tolerance for either taste was among the things he'd lost when his senses had flared up again three years ago.
"Yeah, yeah," Guttermann sighed. "So, you think maybe someone has it in for one of our firefighters?" He picked up the first folder and opened it.
"If so, he'd have rigged the fire to injure, or kill, the one he was after. So far, no one has even come down with heat exhaustion."
With that, they settled in to read, leaving aside the speculation for when they had more facts.
Hours later, Jim groaned, stretched, and tried to remember when the last time had been that he'd stood up. Far too long ago, he decided, when felt his legs protest as he tried to get his feet under him. Apparently he'd been too focused on his reading, losing himself in the files and becoming oblivious to the world around him. Luckily he remembered what he'd been reading -- even if he didn't remember turning pages, or picking up new files. Moving on automatic, Darrin had decided when Jim had explained it, months ago.
But it had been happening more often, of late. When he'd get settled in somewhere, reading or watching TV or, sometimes, in bed with Darrin, he'd find himself losing touch with everything else around him except a single point of focus. It was disconcerting, but basically harmless. It irritated him that he couldn't prevent it, but so far nothing had come of it except a sore back from sitting hunched over in the same position all morning.
He'd been unable to determine from the records if any of the firefighters on B shift at Station 21 had an enemy likely to set fire to a building. He'd been unable, in fact, to determine if any of the firefighters had any enemies, at *all*. Ellison discovered that Guttermann had had similar success when they compared notes.
"I suppose we'll have to go talk to each one, and see if any of them knows anything," Guttermann suggested, tone decidedly unenthusiastic despite their having something to *do*, finally.
"I'll call Captain Dayton, and set something up," Ellison replied. "We should talk to Lieutenant Scott about any past incidences of arson involving this company, as well."
"I'll call Dayton, then, and you can call Scott," Guttermann offered. "You wanna set up the interviews together, or split 'em up and each take half?"
Ellison consulted the list of names. There were twenty. Figuring fifteen to forty-five minutes per interview.... "Split 'em up."
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly. Phone calls, more files, and getting Captain Banks caught up kept Ellison and Guttermann busy. By the time five pm rolled around, Jim had forgotten most of his frustrations from the past few days. With the prospect of having a full day ahead of him, Ellison was able to leave the station that day in reasonably high spirits. They had ten interviews apiece set up beginning tomorrow morning, as tomorrow was B shift's second day off.
His senses seemed to be reflecting his mood: only a little out the norm, and easily ignored. When he got home he realised it was his turn to make supper, so he headed for the phone and placed an order for pizza. There was a game on later and he and Darrin could spend a relaxing evening doing basically nothing. Jim was feeling a slight headache coming on despite the lack of frustration at work, so he was looking forward to it.
When Darrin got home half an hour later, the pizza had just been delivered. "Hey!" he called out cheerfully, as he made a bee-line for the pizza. "Wonderful. My timing's getting better." He grabbed a paper towel, and slid two slices onto it. "Last time you had half the pizza *eaten* by the time I got home."
Jim gave him a swat, and headed for the fridge. "I left you half. Don't complain." He grabbed a couple of beers, set one down on the counter for Darrin, then took his own, with pizza, towards the table.
Darrin sat down across from him, already chewing. "So, how was work today? Get any farther?" he asked when his mouth was empty.
"Maybe," Jim told him. "We were at a fire, today. One of the firemen pointed out a connection we'd missed. We're looking into it, see if it pans out."
He had a sudden memory of Blair Sandburg, smiling at him. He'd smelled of smoke and sweat and water from the firehoses. Jim had been completely unable to pick out any distinguishing feature about his face, other than his eyes, under the soot. Add to that, that Sandburg's body had been hidden underneath turnout gear. So why did Jim feel an unmistakable surge of... *something*... when he thought back to their four-minute long meeting?
It couldn't have been lust -- he hadn't seen *enough* of the man to know if he were attractive. Maybe it was just the eyes. He'd never seen that shade of blue, before. Or maybe the fact that his eyes had been the only colour visible, had made them look more striking?
"Yeah?" Jim blinked, and realised Darrin was looking at him with a slightly worried expression.
"You with me again?"
"Oh, yeah, sorry. I was thinking about the fire...."
Darrin just nodded. "So, you think you have a lead?"
"No," Jim shook his head and pushed Blair Sandburg from his thoughts. "But we might be able to *find* a lead, now. We have something to do other than wait for the guy to do something stupid and get himself caught."
"That's something, at least. Keep you from going nuts." Darrin grinned, and bit into his pizza.
"Yeah." Jim took a bite of his slice. The sauce was bland, and greasy from the cheese. But it was hot, and edible. He finished his pizza while Darrin told him about the redesigns for a bank lobby he'd been stuck with, that week.
They finished the pizza, and Darrin cleaned everything away in time to catch the end of the pre-game. Jim grabbed a second beer, intending to simply nurse it for the next two hours. He'd found that too much alcohol made his senses act like he was on an acid trip. Fortunately, domestic beer had so little alcohol that he could drink two or three in a single evening without much problem.
Darrin was still moving around in the kitchen when the game started. Jim left him to it, and proceeded to relax with nothing more than football on his mind.
Football, and blue-eyed firefighters.
The next morning Jim was at Station 21 with Guttermann. Captain Dayton met them and brought them into the firestation. "The guys are all waiting in the dayroom. You can use the Captain's office and the log-room, for your interviews."
"Thanks, Cap'n," Guttermann said. "Seeing as how this could take a while, why don't we get started right away?"
Ellison and Dayton both nodded their agreement. Dayton showed them to the respective offices, and Ellison took a seat on one side of the table in the log-room. He looked over the list of names of firefighters he'd be talking to. He stared at one in surprise.
Blair Sandburg was third on his list. Jim didn't know why he ought to be surprised; there had been a fifty-fifty chance he'd be talking to Sandburg. There was no reason to be surprised, or even startled.
The pleasure he felt at seeing Sandburg again, on the other hand, *was* a surprise.
The first two interviews were enlightening, but not with regards to finding the arsonist. Ellison had never spent much time with firefighters, though he'd crossed paths with a couple in the last few years. This case was the first time he'd spent any appreciable time around them, and today was the first time he'd spoken at length to any besides Lieutenant Scott.
He found the first two men to be open, honest, and sincerely concerned that someone was deliberately setting the fires. Neither seemed to care much that their shift was being targeted -- each was more concerned that *next* time, someone might get hurt.
The second man left after expressing his hope that they catch the guy soon. Ellison seconded it, then Blair Sandburg walked in.
Jim blinked. Sandburg looked utterly transformed: clean, wearing civilian clothes, with a curly mop of hair that went past his shoulders. The grin was the same, though, as was the blue of his eyes.
Jim had to concentrate to avoid getting distracted, and held out his hand to greet him.
"Nice to see you again, Detective." Sandburg accepted his hand. Jim felt a shiver -- now he could easily call it lust. Maybe somehow yesterday he'd just *known* that Sandburg would look this good.
"Likewise. Your captain explained what it is we want, I understand?" He had a feeling he needed a new opening line - with seven more people to interview, he'd start boring himself.
Sandburg nodded. "Yeah. You want to know if anyone is out to get me, or anyone on my crew."
Jim found he appreciated the man's forthright manner. His instincts were already telling him if Blair knew anything, he'd tell him. "Do you know of anyone?" Jim asked.
Sandburg shook his head. "No way, man. I've been thinking about it, and there's nobody I know who'd do this. Doesn't mean it isn't someone after *me*. I just don't know about it, if they are."
Jim nodded. "Has anything unusual occurred in the last few months? Any unusual visitors to the station?"
This time Sandburg laughed. "Man, we get *all* kinds, visiting the station." He shook his head. "But not like you mean. Kids, folks we've helped... those people seemed OK. There was a woman here, wanted to see the engines and our gear. She was a student, said she was working on a sociology paper. I showed her around, though, and she... well, she seemed to be on the level." Sandburg added calmly, "I've got pretty good instincts about that sort of thing. But I'm sure the Captain can dig out her name, so you can check her out."
"Thanks. I'll do that." Jim had the weirdest feeling, however, that the woman *would* check out. It was nothing he could put his finger on, but it felt as if Guttermann, or even Simon, had told him the same thing.
He trusted Blair Sandburg.
Jim gave himself a mental shake, and made a note to check the woman out, anyway.
He ran Sandburg through the rest of his questions, learning nothing more about potential leads. He continued to feel the strange pull that threatened to distract him. Jim frowned at himself; he hadn't been this troubled by his libido in years. He told himself to pull it together and get on with the interview.
He managed to do so, with as much professional distance as he could. Soon he was standing again, thanking Sandburg for his help. Jim watched Sandburg go, reminding himself he was *perfectly* happy in his current relationship, and didn't need to upset things by chasing someone he'd just met.
He was grateful when the next man came in. Jim gave him the standard spiel, asking the now-routine questions and getting the now-routine answers. They reached the end of the interview with time to spare; the next person wasn't due in for another fifteen minutes. Jim wondered briefly if he ought to repeat any of his questions, hoping for a more useful answer, but didn't.
This man, Dravin, didn't know anything. Just like the three before him.
He realised he was frowning, when he saw Dravin watching him, waiting patiently. "Detective? Was there anything else you wanted?"
"No, sorry," Jim gave himself another mental shake. "I was just thinking--" He sighed.
Oddly, that made the man smile. "Yeah. Just talked to the witchman, didn't you?"
"Blair Sandburg. He was in here just now, wasn't he?"
Ellison looked at him, perplexed. "Why'd you call him--"
"Witchman." Dravin grinned. "He is, you know, a Shaman. Fully trained by the Dine. Comes in handy sometimes when we're trying to calm down a hysterical mother, or get to sleep past the nightmares." He gave Ellison a nonchalant shrug, but his grin hadn't faded. "You get used to him."
"A shaman?" Jim wasn't sure he believed what he was hearing. "What is he doing working as a firefighter?"
Dravin laughed. "He used to live in Cascade, before he got his training. Came back up six months ago, started on here. He'd been a volunteer, both inhouse and forest fires, down in Arizona. He says it doesn't matter *what* he does, really. But he likes fighting fires."
Jim took a moment to let this information sink in. It felt right; it even seemed to explain his unusual reactions to Sandburg. He thought he'd left that sort of thing far behind him, though. He wasn't quite prepared to come across it in Cascade, WA. Peru, yes. Here -- no.
But the information gave him a reason to understand, and therefore disregard, his strange reaction to Sandburg. Mysticism was nothing he needed to get involved in. He nodded to Dravin. "I'd better get on with the next interview. Thanks for your time."
The firefighter smiled, and stood. "Glad to help, Detective Ellison."
He left the room, and Jim felt a shiver run down his spine.
The remainder of the interviews turned up little else to go on. A few names, a few possible irate ex-es, but nothing concrete.
At the end of the day Jim was feeling a little frustrated again. Nothing like before, as there was still a chance one of the names he and Guttermann had gotten would pan out. But he had a feeling none of them would, and *that* led to the worry he'd been trying to ignore -- that they might not catch the arsonist at all.
Jim was driving home, stopped at a light, when everything went red. He froze, hands on the wheel and foot *very* carefully still on the brake. He shook his head and tried urgently to refocus, lose whatever it was that was coating his vision.
He tried taking deep breaths, tried telling himself that his sight was *normal* and he could see just fine. The affirmations sometimes worked. He didn't hear any loud, annoyed honking so he guessed the light hadn't turned, yet. He slipped the truck into 'park' and fumbled for his hazard lights anyhow, in case his eyesight didn't clear.
Everything was still red. Bright, unblinking, stoplight red. He jumped when someone touched his arm.
"You OK, detective?"
It was Sandburg. His vision swirled, and cleared. The first thing he saw was blue.
Sandburg ended up driving Jim home. Jim hadn't explained what had happened, he'd fumbled through a barely-formed excuse as to why he'd been sitting in his truck, staring as if blinded. Halfway through Jim's mumbling, Sandburg had opened his door and given Jim a nudge. "Scoot over."
Jim had done so, only because he'd been too stunned to do otherwise. They hadn't talked on the way back, beyond giving and clarifying directions to the loft.
Halfway back, Jim started feeling in control once more. His eyesight was behaving itself, and the headache was still bearable. He didn't say a word, however.
He didn't invite the firefighter upstairs, when they arrived; Sandburg simply came along as Jim headed up. Jim found himself hoping Darrin wouldn't be home. He wanted a chance to talk to Sandburg without interference.
When he unlocked the door, he found his wish answered. Darrin wasn't there, and as he stepped inside Jim saw the answering machine light blinking. It was blinking red, and for a heart-stopping moment it filled his eyes.
"Detective?" Sandburg asked, and the vision lost its grip.
"Jim," he corrected, vaguely.
"Call me Blair," Sandburg responded. "Nice place you have here." He was looking around, but Jim noticed a hint of reserve. He realised Sandburg -- Blair -- was being polite, and grinned.
"Huh? No, thanks. Um... Jim, are you all right? I mean, do you need anything?"
Jim was taken aback by the concern he heard in Blair's voice. For a brief moment he felt a resurgence of the trust he'd felt before, but it was overcome by the *other* things he'd felt every time he was in this man's presence. He shook his head. "I'm all right. Been working too hard, is all." He rubbed at his head, wishing the headache would go away, wishing painkillers actually *helped*.
Blair looked at him, and Jim had the impression the other man didn't believe a word he'd said. He didn't say anything, he just continued to look at Jim.
Jim found himself opening his mouth to tell him everything, and he clamped down tightly. "Thanks for your help," he offered, not exactly sure why Blair had bothered. Near-total strangers don't often offer to drive each other home.
Nor do they usually allow it, he told himself. He gave Blair another look -- something was going on, and he wasn't sure he liked it. "Did you want something?" Maybe he'd thought of a potential suspect and hadn't wanted to say so at the station.
But Blair shook his head. "I just didn't want to see you get into a traffic accident is all. You looked like you were having some difficulty." His tone asked the question, but Jim ignored it and didn't explain. After a moment he asked, "Is there someone you should call? I mean... you aren't doing this alone are you?"
"Doing *what* alone?"
"Umm...." Blair looked suddenly uncomfortable, as well as confused.
Jim narrowed his eyes. He knew perfectly well what Blair was talking about, but he didn't know how *Blair* knew what Blair was talking about. Darrin hadn't said anything about talking to anyone, and *he* certainly hadn't, either.
Unless he knew, because he was a shaman. Jim disregarded the notion -- he wasn't entirely convinced Blair *was* such a thing, regardless of what his shiftmates called him.
"I was told you didn't have a guide, but surely you know what you are?"
This time, Jim just gaped.
Blair had to reach over and tug on his arm, leading him to a chair and sitting him down. Jim was sure Blair was talking while he did this, but the surprise had made everything like sensory information seem irrelevant. Surely his hearing wasn't working properly, he told himself. Because it *sounded* like Blair had said--
"Come on, sentinel, don't zone out on me already."
Jim's attention snapped to Blair. "Don't call me that."
"Because I'm--" not, he wanted to say. Though he knew he was.
"Oh." Blair sat down at the table beside him and asked, "Jim, look I can help you with your senses. I've never worked as a Guide but I know what they do. I could help you, maybe help train whoever your Guide is."
Jim still wasn't certain he was following the conversation. "Train a Guide? Help me, help me do what?" He was feeling way out of his depth, and resented Blair's apparent equilibrium.
"Help you not zone out at intersections, for one thing."
Jim didn't reply. It occurred to him, that if he said yes, it would mean spending a lot of time with Blair. He looked up; vivid blue fire stared back.
The first lesson was not at all what Jim expected. It wasn't what he'd asked for, either. He'd asked Blair how he could turn his senses off and received such a look of shock that he'd been immediately sorry he'd asked. He wondered, later, why he'd cared so much to erase the fleeting disapproval, but let Blair conduct his lesson as he'd seen fit.
He'd taught Jim to understand what his senses were doing -- delivering a dry, monotone lecture on the biology and sociology behind what he was. Jim was sure it would have been fascinating, to someone, but all he wanted was to stop 'zoning out in traffic'.
In actuality, Jim had to concede that the lecture probably hadn't been that boring. But he'd had little interest in listening to the historical account of what was happening to him. Blair's voice soon faded into a background droning which was easy to ignore. Instead he focused on Blair's face, and watching as the shaman moved around -- getting caught whenever Blair met his gaze. Soon enough his hearing took the hint and gave up, returning to normal levels, while his eyesight correspondingly picked up everything it could.
The lecture had ended at some unnoticed point, but the lesson following had proved extremely interesting. It had seemed ridiculously easy, if not at first irrelevant, to visualise dials and intensity indicators. But when the lesson had concluded, Jim was able to control what his eyesight was showing him. They'd celebrated with a toast of Tsing Tao, raided from a nearly forgotten stash in the kitchen.
After Blair left, Jim practised what he'd just learned. He repeated the exercises, turning his eyesight up then lowering it to normal, even lower than normal. He sat in his living room, facing the open windows to the balcony, and alternated between making out the print of the curtains in a window a mile away, and barely seeing the glass panes of his own windows. He felt like a kid with a new toy.
When Darrin came home, Jim was practically ecstatic. As soon as Darrin walked in the door, Jim tried to tell him all about what he could do, how Blair had taught him and would continue to teach him how to control his senses. He stopped when he realised Darrin was looking at him oddly. "What?" he asked.
"Oh." Jim stopped. "He's one of the firefighters we talked to today. Actually, he's the one who clued us in on it being the same shift."
"He was here? About the case?" Darrin sounded surprised.
"No, he was... well, he was here to help me with my senses." Jim found himself disappointed, but he wasn't certain why.
"I thought they were fine. Did you have some kind of problem with them today?"
"No more than usual. But Blair says--"
"They why'd you tell him?" Darrin interrupted. "I thought you didn't want anyone to know."
"I didn't tell him," Jim said, evenly.
"How'd he know, then?"
The disappointment flared again, and this time Jim understood it. Darrin was confused, but basically interested. But Blair had spent more time in one afternoon talking with Jim about what his senses were doing, than he and Darrin had done in a year.
"He's a shaman," Jim told him, no longer caring if he surprised -- or convinced -- Darrin.
Darrin just stared at him. "A what?"
"A shaman. He was trained by the Dine, and he learned about sentinels from them as well."
Darrin just looked back, obviously bewildered. Finally, though, he only shook his head. "So, he helped?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah. He helped."
"Good." Darrin gave him a nod. He asked about progress on their arson case, then, and the conversation dissolved into work and dinner plans.
They headed for bed late that night, and curled up around each other under the sheets. Darrin whispered 'goodnight' and 'I love you'. Jim whispered it back, and waited as Darrin fell asleep in his arms. Then he lay awake for an hour, trying not to think.
One week later, Jim had had five more lessons in controlling his senses. He'd slogged through a pile of records with Guttermann, getting nowhere fast. He'd watched two more football games and eaten three more pizzas with Darrin. Pasta twice, and once Darrin had worked late and come home as Jim was getting ready to go to bed. Most of it constituted a typical week. Even his senses seemed to be behaving themselves.
The only interesting part of his life, he realised, was the bouncy, blue-eyed, inexplicable presence of a certain firefighter-cum-shaman.
That Saturday, Jim was facing the prospect of pounding the pavement trying to catch up with more of the names they'd turned up from talking to Blair's shiftmates. At the station beforehand Guttermann had started muttering about gods who were unkind to police detectives, and Jim had taken to ignoring him.
He was trying to think of a reason to visit Station 21 later, as he headed out on the various interviews, when he remembered that Blair wouldn't be on-duty today. That realisation slashed any enthusiasm he'd felt for stopping by the station. That's when Jim realised he had it bad.
And he really didn't need it. He tried reminding himself he *had* a lover. He was content, comfortable, and happy. Then his mind would show him pictures, and he'd be lost again. What *was* it about Blair's smile, that made him remember it so clearly? Or so often?
Jim told himself to concentrate on work, instead, and to forget about things he didn't need to be thinking of, anyhow. That lasted nearly half an hour, but only because the computer from which he was verifying current addresses, crashed.
While he waited for it to reboot, he amused himself by playing with the exercises Blair had taught him. It was a little disconcerting to find his senses obeying him, giving him only as much as he asked for and stopping when he told them to stop. He left everything on 'normal', as he imagined it, when the CPD records system came onto the screen.
He was halfway through typing in Blair's name for the next inquiry before he realised what he was doing. He hit 'clear' and moved on to the next name on the list.
By Tuesday they'd completed their list and come up empty. On the other hand, B shift had been on-duty four times since the last fire, and there had been no more suspicious fires. The longest the arsonist had gone between striking was five days; no one thought that he'd simply given up, but it was, at least, encouraging.
Jim was home, staring at the ceiling and playing with checking out the cracks in the plaster which only a spider might find, and trying to think of what to do next. He and Guttermann had spent all afternoon trying to come up with theories, plans of action, or missed clues. They'd even spent ten minutes writing an explanation for why the arsonist should have suddenly disappeared, never to return.
Unfortunately it had involved little green men from New Mexico, so they hadn't tried it out on the captain.
He heard Darrin heading for the loft, and smiled at his new-found ability to reliably identify visitors. It occurred to him that his senses might actually come in *handy*, say, during an investigation. He might be able to overhear conversations in another room and be privy to admissions of guilt. They wouldn't be useful as legal evidence, but at least he could verify what evidence he had.
Darrin was to the door, now; Jim got up and headed over, intending to tell him about his new idea. When he saw Darrin's face, the words died.
Darrin shook his head. "Nothing. Everything. Jim, I--"
"What? Come on, you're worrying me here. What is it?"
Darrin looked nervous, then said, "I've been offered a job."
Jim was surprised. That should have been *good* news. But Darrin was acting like he expected Jim to hate it. "And?"
"In Washington, DC."
There was silence in the loft while Jim absorbed this. Darrin waited. Finally Jim said, "And you want to take it, I'm guessing...?"
Darrin nodded, then sighed. "Jim, it's a *great* job! It's Macklin's firm, and he's promised me I'd get to do my *own* designs. Not redrawing some fifty-year-old design that nobody really wants changed, anyhow. It's twice the salary, and...." His voice faltered, and he finished weakly, "You know I've always wanted to get back to DC someday."
"Darrin, I can't--"
"I know! Jim, I know. You can't move. You can't change jobs. I *know* that. Why do you think I'm not jumping for joy, here? I... Jim... I really want this job."
Jim watched as his lover waited for a reaction. Two years they'd lived together; before that they'd been friends, once upon a time in another world, soldiers and comrades in arms. Back then, they'd felt as if they'd never take a step without the other.
For the past two years... Jim suddenly felt as if they'd been walking by rote, for lack of any other direction suggested.
"Darrin," his throat tried to close up. He forced himself to speak. "You know I love you. But if I ask you to stay... you and I will *both* end up regretting it. I'm the only thing you've liked about Cascade and we both know it." The words turned to slick wine as he said them. Smooth, easy, and with a kick in the back of the skull afterwards.
But Darrin nodded. "I know. That's why I didn't tell you I'd talked to Mack until I knew for sure."
That surprised him. But it didn't hurt. Much. "You talked to him...?"
"Called him a couple days ago. Just to... see if it'd be possible. I never dreamed he'd offer me a job! Jim -- it's a *perfect* job. I-- It really is."
Jim saw how badly Darrin wanted to start raving about the offer. His eyes were shining, and he kept holding himself back when he spoke. Jim could suddenly hear Darrin's heartbeat -- racing. He blinked and pulled his hearing back.
"I know." He was glad he could say it. It was nothing at all he'd expected, but he was glad he could say this, now, without fighting. "I know, Darrin. It's OK."
The last might have been a lie. Jim wasn't sure. But he wanted Darrin to go, and be happy -- cliched and trite though it was. He reminded himself that things become cliches because they are true.
"You don't... we should talk about it. Shouldn't we?" Darrin looked at him, confused. Upset, and still underneath it, hopeful.
It was the most emotion Jim had seen in the man for months. That, if anything, told him this was the right thing to do. "Do you really want to?" he asked gently.
Darrin shrugged. "I feel like we ought to. But... it won't change my mind."
"I know." Jim walked over, and took his arm. "Come on. Let's have dinner, and we can talk."
Darrin put his hand over Jim's. "I'm sorry." The regret was sincere. Jim could see and hear it even without heightened senses. But they were apologising for the end of something that hadn't been alive for a very long time.
And they both knew it.
They talked over dinner, about Darrin's plans to move and hopes for his job, as well as family he would be able to see again.
Jim felt guilty each time his thoughts strayed.
Darrin ended up moving much sooner than either had expected. Only three weeks passed before they spent a weekend going through the loft, dividing up belongings and setting some aside for shipping. It was oddly painless, Jim found, to pick up something and hand it over to Darrin and know he'd never see either again.
Friends came over the following Saturday morning and helped carry the boxes down. Darrin's cousin had flown out, and together they were going to drive the moving truck to Washington, DC. Jim kept overhearing them, when they thought they were out of range, talking excitedly about the trip and Darrin's being home again. Jim smiled as his friends tried to offer condolences, but even they seemed to realise there was little to be sorry for.
He spent much of the last hour standing in the parking lot with Simon, talking about the case. They hadn't found their arsonist, but neither had he struck again. Two weeks, now, with no fires that couldn't be confidently attributed to other causes. Jim tried to be worried about it, wondering if they were missing something important, or if the arsonist had simply gotten better at hiding his tracks.
But he wasn't worried. He didn't know why, exactly, but each successive day he'd spent more time on other cases, and less time with Gutterman working on the arson investigation.
That didn't bother him much, either. Though he'd not had a single excuse to stop by Station 21, he'd seen Blair twelve times. Not that he was counting, but ten times Blair had stopped by for more lessons, or just long explanations about what his senses were doing.
Twice Ellison and Guttermann had been called to fire scenes for suspected arsons. They hadn't checked out, but both times 21's B shift had been on the scene, and Jim had seen Blair working the fire.
With his new control over his senses, Jim had been able to avoid being sucked into the dancing images in the flames, and focus instead on watching Blair. Neither time had he noticed Blair see him, but afterwards, each time, Blair had mentioned it.
Today, watching Darrin pack the last of his belongings, Jim thought about him. Blair smiled so easily, even when he had been working a fire for several hours and was hot, tired, and hungry. His eyes never stopped sparkling, and, given a chance, he never stopped talking. What Jim had found amazing, was that everything he said was interesting. Sometimes he got the impression that it was important, too, even the things which sounded like obscure tales and trivia.
He remembered something Blair had said, part of a story about working as a smokechaser at the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. They'd walked all morning, only to put out a single, smouldering log. Before Jim could figure out why he'd been reminded of that, Darrin was walking towards him. Simon moved away, and the rest of their help drifted politely away as well.
"This is it," Darrin said.
"Yeah." Jim gave him a nod, then reached out, and took him into an embrace.
"Take care of yourself, Darrin."
"You too, Jim."
Then there was nothing else to say. They stood there a moment, searching -- but eventually Darrin just nodded, and walked away. Jim watched until they had climbed into the cab and started the truck; then he turned and went back inside.
Jim discovered that The Learning Channel had some very interesting programs on firefighting.
In the days after Darrin left, Jim also discovered reruns of an old show about firefighters, but only watched a few episodes before he grew frustrated with it. The uniforms were wrong, twenty years out of date; they weren't....
They didn't remind him of Blair. Not that the guy who drove the engine wasn't cute, Jim admitted. But he wasn't Blair.
Mostly Jim spent his free time alone in his loft, wondering what the hell he was doing, or he spent it with Blair. The time together was spent working, with Blair training him to actually *use* his senses, instead of simply controlling them. Blair talked about things he wanted to do, making plans for them to work on skills Jim would have said were ridiculous.
Would have, had they not been said with such melting blue fire.
Blair even wanted to go back to Arizona, so they could work with the medicine man Blair had studied with. Jim was simply amazed at how *long* Blair apparently intended on doing this.
He was further amazed when he found he couldn't think of any objections.
He had a dream, one night, of Incacha.
He was back among the Chopec, in the forest surrounding their central village. He could hear in the distance the monkeys and birds, high overhead. The air was hot, and thick with moisture. Incacha was waiting for him, smiling easily and waving him over as Jim came into the small clearing.
Jim went over to Incacha's side, and greeted him. He wanted to ask what his friend was doing here, but Incacha tended to get vague and mysterious when presented with direct questions. So, he used the tactic he'd learned worked better. "Looks like rain, doesn't it?" Jim asked.
Incacha laughed. "It always looks like rain, Enqueri. We call it 'rain forest' for that reason."
Jim nodded, wisely, and waited.
He tried again. "How 'bout them Jags?"
"I've been meaning to talk to you about that," Incacha surprised him, then. Jim started to ask what he was talking about -- without actually doing so and getting something like "The green is on the hill, ready for sunset," but the shaman continued, "He is ready for you."
"He? Not they?" he tried, lamely. If his destiny was wrapped up with a basketball team... he'd want more than a dream-visit from an old friend to convince him. Incacha nodded to something behind him, and Jim turned. "Blair?"
"Hey! Jim, this is *cool*! Amazon, huh? Wild.. literally, too." Blair was looking around him, eyes wide with amazement.
Jim blinked. "Blair?"
Blair turned to him. "Yeah?"
That was when Jim noticed his eyes were no longer blue. They were brown, dark, deep brown.
Like Incacha's eyes. Jim turned back, and Incacha was gone.
"This is a hint, right?" Jim asked the forest.
He turned back, wondering if he'd remember any of this when he woke up and getting the distinct impression he'd dream it again if he didn't, and gaped.
"Like this?" Blair asked in a much more seductive tone. He hardly needed it. He was dressed as Jim had first seen him, even smudged and sweaty and smelling of smoke. "Really?" he continued in a doubtful tone. Blair wrinkled his nose. "I mean... I smell."
Jim shrugged. "Vivid first impression," he said vaguely, and took a step towards Blair.
He sat up, in his bed, and found a darkened bedroom. He sat there for a few minutes, pondering the meaning of it all before going back to sleep and dreaming of cats.
When he woke up, he forced himself not to do anything about the dream until he'd showered, shaved, and eaten breakfast. He even considered not doing anything about it until after reading the paper, but that lasted about two minutes before his nerves got to him and he headed for the phone.
He had Blair's home number halfway dialed before he remembered Blair worked Sundays.
Monday morning found Jim pacing. He was trying to disguise it as checking files, going for coffee, and sharpening his pencil, but in actuality he was pacing.
Guttermann was out on a case of his own, so the arson case was shelved for the day. Captain Banks had even made noises about filing it a cold case in another week or so if nothing more happened.
Jim continued to futilely try to distract himself with busywork. He couldn't call first thing in the morning; he had to at least wait for a decent hour in case Blair liked to sleep in on his days off. Jim shuffled files and folders and even started to clean his desk, when he finally gave in and called at 10.30. Surely *anyone* would be awake by then, he reasoned.
The phone only rang only twice before Blair answered. "Sandburg."
"Hi, it's Jim."
"Hey! What's up?"
Jim found himself smiling at the delight he heard in Blair's voice and told himself to calm down.
Then he realised he had no idea why he was calling.
He fumbled for a moment before latching onto a reasonable, if flimsy, excuse. "You wanna do lunch?" An hour was enough warning, surely....
"Lunch? Um, today?"
Jim figured it was sentinel hearing, because he'd swear he could hear Blair smiling. "Yeah. I know it's short notice but I just thought--"
"Sounds great! Can you give me an hour to get dressed and head over?"
Jim's brain cells stopped processing Blair's question and showed him instead what those three words could mean. He was still trying to resume rational thought when he said, "How about you don't get dressed and I come over there?"
It was probably the blood no longer feeding oxygen to his brain that made him say it, though why it chose to resume doing so right *after* he'd said it, so he could realise what he'd just said, Jim didn't know. But Blair just sucked in a breath, and replied, "I can do that."
The blood left his brain again, cheering.
When Blair opened the door, Jim found him almost naked. He was only wearing shorts, and it was impossible to tell if he'd been wearing them the entire morning. Jim didn't care. He stepped in when Blair invited him in, and Jim stared. Much better than covering him up with Nomex and soot. Almost. Jim moved forward; Blair moved back only enough that they could close the door, then he stopped. Jim reached down and pulled the elastic-waistbanded shorts down, out of the way.
*Now* it was better than turnout gear.
Blair gasped, and Jim put his hands on Blair's waist, guiding him backwards. When Blair's legs hit the couch, Jim stopped and went to his knees.
Blair smelled wonderful. Jim leaned closer and let his senses dial up a single notch, heightening the effect of the scent, and touch, and sound of Blair. Jim leant forward and licked the straining cock which had been rampant since he'd stepped into the apartment. He felt Blair shaking, and opened his mouth.
Blair cried out and grabbed onto Jim's shoulders, digging his fingers in as Jim sucked. Jim wrapped his hands around Blair's legs, his fingers pressed into the curve of Blair's buttocks. He squeezed as he worked the cock in his mouth; rhythmically going down and kneading flesh in constant, smooth motions. Blair's scent was wonderful, already memorised from fleeting scents, but now, vivid and unmistakable.
Blair shouted, and Jim felt the muscles under his hands tensing; he stood up and drew Blair towards him, wrapping his arms around Blair's naked back. He felt heat, and play of muscles vibrating underneath their intense spasms.
Jim pushed himself closer, rubbing his own cock against Blair's body. Hands were suddenly pulling at his shirt, and he moved just enough to let Blair draw it up. He pressed his chest against Blair's, and moaned. Blair continued undressing him, unzipping his pants and pulling them down as far as he could with Jim not letting him go.
But Jim could feel him now, feel Blair's body through skin-on-skin. He rubbed his cock against Blair's hip again, slick and pressing hard. Blair's arms were around him and every sense he had was telling him he was holding Blair, touching him with nothing in between them.
His cock slid up Blair's skin and he bent his head to reach Blair's neck. He bit when he found more warm flesh waiting for him. Blair's hold on him tightened; Jim shuddered, and came.
They were both panting slightly when Jim raised his head. Blair was incandescent, smiling at him, his eyes still shining though they were dark with dilation, and a little unfocused.
"I--" Jim cut himself off, embarrassed to realise the habit he hadn't ever noticed before. For two years he'd been with Darrin and the words had been true, if rote.
But Blair raised his hand, and caressed his cheek. "I love you, too."
On a hilltop, not far away, two animals lay together. They were watching the city, and smiling. The jaguar yawned, and stretched, ready to roll over for a nap.
The Coyote laughed, and wandered away. He liked starting fires, but he didn't care about staying to watch them burn.
Author's Note: The Trickster, the Coyote, is a Native American spirit who enjoys playing tricks on humans. It's possible he was a little more helpful in this story than usual, but maybe he owed Blair a favour. OK, that's not to say Coyote is really good about repaying favours, either. But he doesn't *not* repay favours, and he isn't *not* helpful. Sometimes. Sort of. OK, how about I just hope He doesn't mind that I borrowed him for this story? Nice, Coyote, good Coyote. Nobody here needing a trick....