Attention: This is an ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE. In reality, or as close to reality as Zen&nancy can get, Jim would never act this way. We love Jim!!!
This is a crossover. We're not sure where it came from, nancy doesn't even like crossovers. Zen kept pushing this outline for a Blair/Duncan piece and this monster of an ongoing work in progress is what happened. It doesn't seem to have an end in site. At first we weren't even going to post it, but now Zen really wants to share. We'd really appreciate some feedback here, so by all means, do tell us what you think. However, we really need you to read this one with the words 'alternate universe' firmly fixed in your mind. We don't think we've committed any character assassination (except that Jim isn't really a bigot), but if you do, let us know. We're tougher than we look.
That said, this story takes place somewhere roughly around the beginning of the yet to be fourth season of the Sentinel, and the never to happen seventh season of Highlander. BTW, Zen&nancy are in complete denial of the Archangel stuff and, so far, the entire sixth (crappy) season. So, none of that really matters here. :)
Story title and lyrics borrowed without permission from Bob Marley (r.i.p.)
Three Little Birds
Jim woke up early the next morning, looking around the loft in confusion for a second, before he realized where he was. Duncan and Blair were both still asleep in bed. The sun was just starting to lighten the sky outside, and Jim took a deep breath, determined that he would somehow make it through this day.
He looked over at the bed, at Duncan curled around Blair under the covers. Jim imagined what that felt like, sleeping with Blair's back hugged tightly to his chest, the fuzzy curls brushing his face. Duncan's arm wrapped around his Guide on top of the blankets, holding Blair with his arm across his chest.
Asleep, Duncan's feelings for Blair were even more obvious than they were when he was awake. He cradled Blair against him, his body draped around the smaller man, sheltering him. It was hard to understand if what Jim was feeling was anger or pain. It was both, it was jealousy, and Jim told himself that he was going to have to get used to it. Getting up off the couch, he went into the kitchen, searching until he found a glass, and got himself some water at the sink.
Standing at the counter drinking, Jim saw Duncan sit up in bed, and rub his face with his hand. He looked around, seeing Jim in the kitchen and threw a half wave in his direction. Jim nodded back, and Duncan got out of bed. Going into the bathroom, he returned a minute later in a red bathrobe.
"Morning, Jim," Duncan's voice was wide awake, and his brown eyes bright. Jim had somehow imagined that Duncan wouldn't be any more of a morning person than Blair was, another wrong assumption about Duncan MacLeod.
"Morning. You're up early."
"I'm an early riser. I'm going to put on a pot of coffee and go for a run, do you want to join me?"
Jim looked up, surprised. "Yeah, that'd be great. Let me change into some sweat pants."
Jim went over to Blair's backpack, pulling out dark blue sweat pants and a clean t-shirt. Blair had managed to pack a weekend's worth of his clothes into the bag, although Jim noticed he'd split the zipper doing it. He made himself a mental note to buy his Guide a new one.
Duncan made coffee while Jim changed. He really wanted to get to know Jim better, for Blair's sake, and it would be nice to have someone to run with. Jim came back out in sweats and a loose t-shirt.
"Do you want a cup of coffee before we leave?"
"Sounds good. Do you run every morning?"
"Yeah, I drive down to City Park, it's a three and a half mile path."
"I haven't been running as much as I should lately, it's definitely time to get my act together. I hadn't even been to the gym in a couple of weeks before yesterday, and man, let me tell you, I felt it."
"Yeah, it's definitely an all or nothing commitment. Well, now you've got the dojo downstairs, so you don't have any excuses."
Jim smiled, and for some reason he found himself telling Duncan the truth, "Well, actually, I think not killing a bottle of whiskey after work every night is going to be the motivating factor. Weight lifting and hangovers just don't mix."
Duncan nodded, he agreed wholeheartedly. "Pour yourself some coffee, I'm going to go change and shave, I'll be out in a minute."
"Okay, sounds good."
Jim found himself a mug and filled it. Once Duncan
was in the bathroom he found his eyes straying back to Blair, asleep in
the bed. He'd moved to the exact middle, and was curled up on his side
around a pillow. The bed was huge, and it made Blair look even smaller
than he really was. For just a moment, Jim pictured him lying in his bed
at home, exactly like that, and a pain spread from his gut up to the back
of his throat. Then Duncan came out of the bathroom, and they left.
Blair was awake by the time they returned, sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee cradled between both hands. He looked up when they came in through the back door.
"Hey, morning," his voice was thick with sleep.
Duncan came over to ruffle the messy curls, bending down to give him a quick kiss, "You just wake up, kiddo? You don't look very with it yet."
"Yeah, first cup of coffee."
Duncan nodded, turning to Jim, behind him, "I'm gonna shower, if you don't want to wait till I'm done you can do downstairs to the locker room. There's towels and soap and everything down there. My manager's name is Spencer, just let him know you're a friend of mine and you're staying here for a while."
Jim looked surprised for a minute, then he recovered, "I can wait, I could use another cup of coffee. Thanks for the run, it was great."
"Yeah, it was, we should do this every morning." Duncan headed off to the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
Jim stood still, trying to figure out if Duncan had really just called him his friend.
"Morning. Did you have a good run?" Blair squinted up at him, the sight familiar and bittersweet.
"Yeah, it was great. Nice park."
"What did you talk about?"
"We ran, you don't talk while you run, Chief."
"Oh. Wait, I need more coffee."
Jim followed Blair back to the coffee pot, glad that there was a cup left after Blair had refilled his. Blair leaned back against the counter top, bracing his hands to hop up and sit cross legged on top of it.
"So, we should do some tests today. How were your senses while you were running, did you notice anything?"
"They're fine, everything feels pretty normal. I used my eyesight and my hearing a little, didn't want to go too far and zone while I was running or anything, but they worked okay."
"That's great, Jim. Which does not get you out of letting me run a few simple tests."
"Okay, okay, we'll do some tests," Jim sounded like he was agreeing to go to the dentist. "Blair, do you think we could find some time to talk today, alone? I want to talk about this Sentinel/Guide thing you're telling me is the root of all this."
Blair nodded, both pleased and nervous, "Yeah, man, that'd be good. We can talk about anything you want."
Jim took a deep breath, and looked Blair in the eye, "I feel incredibly stupid for being such a homophobic asshole with you, Blair. I don't know why I reacted that way. I mean, maybe I'm not totally comfortable around gay people, but how I reacted to you was way out of line, and I feel like such a jerk."
Blair put his hand on his arm, "Hey, I know that. I know you, remember? You reacted violently because you didn't want to face your own feelings. It's okay, Jim. We're gonna get over it, I promise."
"Okay. I can't go back and change it, so I guess that's my best bet."
Blair nodded, smiling. He was glad that Jim was starting to face that fact that he could only go forward from here. He started to answer, but Duncan emerged from the bathroom, and he could tell from the look on Jim's face that he didn't want him to continue the conversation.
"Do we want to make breakfast or go out, Caro?"
"You want to make pancakes."
"What's in it for me?" Duncan grinned playfully at Blair.
"I'll make more coffee and do the dishes?"
"Fair deal," Duncan walked up to Blair sitting cross legged on the counter, reaching out to tug a curl. "You're gonna have to get your adorable ass off the counter top if you want me to make breakfast."
"Hey, man, I live here too you know," Blair grinned back at him, climbing down off the high counter.
"I know." Duncan gave Blair a sweet, warm smile, "Didn't you say something about making more coffee?"
"Yep, I'm on it." Blair moved around Duncan to the coffee maker, taking the plastic basket out to throw away the grounds from their first pot.
"I'm gonna take a shower, Chief, did you pack my toothbrush?"
"No, I'm sorry, I didn't think to grab it. You can use mine, I don't care. It's the purple one."
"I would have guessed."
Blair laughed, he did have a penchant for outrageously colored toothbrushes. Jim went to shower and Duncan started putting pancake batter together in his largest mixing bowl. Blair came up behind him, wrapping his arms and his legs around his lover, "I love you so much," Blair crooned as he climbed up to settle on Duncan's back. Leaning in, he sucked Duncan's earlobe into his mouth, flicking with his tongue. "You are absolutely wonderful."
Duncan turned his head, nuzzling the side of Blair's face. "You don't have to thank me, I want to. You're right, it's the best solution. We should go downstairs after breakfast and check out what's down there, I don't even know. I think there's actually several rooms that could be made into an apartment, I don't really remember. I know there's a lot of furniture..." Duncan's words trailed off as Blair's mouth began to bite a line around the back of his neck, under his hair.
"Blair," Duncan cautioned, trying to measure flour while his lover molested his neck, hips grinding into his back.
"Hmm?" Blair's teeth bit down harder, sucking sensitive skin into his mouth.
"You're sabotaging your pancakes," Duncan informed him breathlessly, unable to resist bending his neck to offer more of his skin to Blair's teeth.
Blair chuckled against his skin, moving over to the other side of his throat. Duncan set the measuring cup down, backing Blair up to the counter top next to the sink. He slid Blair's behind safely onto the counter, and then turned in his lover's arms. In the blink of an eye Duncan's mouth was devouring Blair, suckling his full lips.
Blair wound his legs around Duncan's hips, grinding slowly against him. He grabbed Duncan's face and pulled their mouths apart.
"You're killing me, man," Blair panted, his eyes wild.
"You started it," Duncan teased, breathlessly. He held Blair's hungry gaze for a moment and then went back to his lips. Duncan's tongue plunged into his mouth and Blair squirmed, suddenly uncomfortable in his jeans. His hands trailed down Duncan's chest of their own accord, grasping the growing erection through Duncan's blue jeans. His palm rubbed back and forth insistently, his other hand caught up in Duncan's hair, holding his lips against him.
"Mmm, not nice."
"Very nice," Blair argued in a throaty whisper, squeezing his lover gently.
"Jim's in the shower," Duncan warned, but never stopped nibbling Blair's full mouth.
"Yeah... I know," Blair tore his mouth from his lover, suddenly remembering that Jim could hear everything they were saying if he wanted to.
Duncan reached between them, pulling Blair's hands away reluctantly. "Later. I promise."
"Okay," Blair took a few deep, shaky breaths, watching Duncan go back to the pancakes. When Jim came out of the bathroom a few minutes later, he was very glad that Duncan had made him stop.
Jim felt better, for both the run and the shower. In fact, he thought, he felt almost like his old self. He left the bathroom, and went to join Duncan and Blair in the kitchen. Halfway there he stopped, and sat down on the couch instead. The scent of Blair's body hit him hard, filling his nostril with the sharp/sweet scent of arousal, and then he realized it was Duncan's, too. Jim took a deep breath, grinding his teeth behind his clenched jaw. He didn't want to react to this, he didn't want to feel this at all. It was enough, he told himself firmly, to have Blair's friendship. It was all he'd wanted in the first place, to have his Guide back, but watching Blair watching Duncan made him ache inside.
Duncan poured the first of the pancakes onto the griddle, and the wonderful smell hit Jim's sensitive nose.
"Ah, that smells great, MacLeod," Jim gave Duncan a genuine smile.
"Thanks, Blair's a real fan of pancakes. What do you say we check the rooms downstairs after breakfast? I think there are four different rooms on the third floor. They're all pretty big."
"Sounds good to me," Jim poured himself another cup of coffee now that the smell of the pancakes was filling the room, and sat down at the island. "What kind of tests did you want to do, Chief?"
"Just some simple stuff, establishing perimeters, y'know, the usual. I want to be sure you've got the full extent of all of your senses back. You look a lot more like your old self today."
"I do feel better. More stable than I have in a long time."
Duncan flipped his pancakes and got himself some coffee. Jim did look better today, he thought. Was this improvement all because he had his Guide back? Blair seemed to think so. After spending the past few weeks with Blair, Duncan could certainly understand how someone could become dependent on him. He thought that if Blair were to leave him now his world would be very dark, lonely and boring. But this connection between Jim and Blair went deeper than that. What was it like to depend on someone for your sanity? Jim must trust Blair implicitly, for him to be able to put his life in Blair's hands like this.
Blair took a seat next to Jim at the table, waiting for the pancakes to be done. "How'd you sleep? That couch isn't exactly your size," he flashed a silly grin at the larger man.
"Not too bad, actually,." Jim let Blair's light hearted mood wash over him. He was admitting more than he'd planned to before he knew what he was saying, "I just tuned in to your heartbeat and I was out before I knew it."
"Seriously?" Blair's eyes got big and Jim could swear he could hear the gears moving in Blair's head,"That's the kind of thing I was talking about yesterday, man. Did you do that before, when we lived together?"
It was tearing Jim apart to think about how it used to be, but he answered Blair truthfully, "Yeah, Chief, every night. It was as much of a habit as brushing my teeth."
Duncan could hear the pain in Jim's voice. He was beginning to understand what it must have been like for Jim to lose his Guide. If he fell asleep every night listening to Blair's heartbeat, what other daily assurances of his Guide's presence did he lose? Thinking about what had happened between the Sentinel and his Guide from Jim's point of view for the first time, Duncan was beginning to realize just how horrible losing Blair must have been.
Blair was looking at Jim with sad, wide open eyes, "How come you never told me that before?"
Jim shrugged uncomfortably, "I don't know, Chief."
"Did you tune into my heartbeat at other times? Was it something you did consciously?"
"Maybe I wasn't thinking of it consciously at the time, but now that you mention it, I did focus in your heart rate. I think it was kind of a reflex reaction. I'd do it at crime scenes, or when we were in a crowd, or just from time to time throughout the day. Strange that I never really thought about it before."
Blair shook his head, hair flying, "No, Jim, it's not, not at all. What's strange is that I never thought about it. I mean, there it is, the key to preventing you from zoning right inside my chest, and it never occurred to me to tell you to concentrate on my heartbeat. That's got to be way easier to hold on to than my voice when you're focused on something else, like scent or sight."
"Sometimes when you brought me out of zones it was the first thing that would register. It's almost like I hear it different than other heartbeats."
"Different how?" Blair was excited.
"I don't know, Chief, just different. It's just that I can always identify it, I can find you in a crowd, I can hear it when you're farther away than I can normal people."
"Wow. Jim, this is a major revelation." Blair was interrupted by the plate of hot flapjacks that Duncan set down in front of him.
"Oh man, you've outdone yourself, Duncan. These look fabulous!"
"Thanks. Here you go, Jim, be careful, the plate's hot."
"Thanks." Jim started in on his pancakes with enthusiasm, "Hey, MacLeod, these are phenomenal. You a chef or something?"
Duncan laughed, coming over to join them at the table with his own plate. "No, just years of practice."
"They're perfect," Blair told him, rolling up half a flap jack to stuff in his mouth.
Jim watched Blair, imagining the speed of light processing his Guide's brain was doing with the data he'd been given. What had made him tell Blair about listening to his heartbeat? Jim told himself it didn't matter anymore, he might as well give Blair the truth.
"Jim?" Blair reached for his coffee cup, taking a big gulp to wash down the gooey flapjacks.
"Try and remember the first time your senses screwed up after I left. When was it? Do you remember?"
Jim frowned, closing his eyes for a moment. He didn't want to have to remember that night anymore, it hurt too damn much. He nodded, his eyes still closed, "Yeah, I do."
Blair leaned forward in his chair, excited again, "When was it? Where?"
Jim opened his eyes. "About three weeks after you left, at the loft... I was sitting on the couch, watching t.v., and my hearing spiked. It was like somebody turned the dial all the way up and ripped the knob off."
Blair winced, "What happened? What did you zone on?"
Jim looked quickly at his Guide, and then down at his plate. "I don't know what caused it, I don't remember, I was uh, pretty drunk."
"How did you turn it back down?"
"I... I went and sat on the floor in your room."
"Did that work?"
"Yeah, after awhile."
Blair thought quickly. "Do you have any idea why? Can you remember what you were thinking about when you were there, or what you were feeling?"
Blair's voice had slipped into it's slower, deeper, Guide mode, trying to lead him back and coax the memory from him. Jim didn't need him to, he remembered everything about that night in vivid detail. It took him a long time to answer. Jim glanced at Duncan, and saw that he was listening with interest, but obviously was not going to butt in.
"Yeah, I could still smell you. Only for about the first six weeks after you were gone. It faded."
"And that made it better?"
"Yeah, I guess. I don't know, Chief, I wasn't really thinking straight. I was so pissed off at you..." Jim looked down at his hands miserably. "I kept going back to your room though. The only time I was okay was when I'd sit in there."
"Okay as opposed to what? Tell me about it."
Jim shrugged, slumping back in his chair. "Didn't Simon tell you everything?"
"He told me that you were zoning like every other day, and you'd turned into a total asshole. I'd really like something more specific, Jim."
Jim tried to find the words to describe what the past four months had been like. They'd been hell. "Like being trapped in a bubble. The opposite of sensory overload. I couldn't feel anything. Everything looked dim, everything sounded far away. Even smell... And I got really frustrated over it when my senses didn't work. Just, like, rage. Actually, Chief, everything made me mad. I was a total jerk to Sam, to everybody, really. It was like I was watching myself go over the deep end, and I couldn't do a damn thing to stop it. Then I'd get pissed at you for not being there to fix it, and that would make me pissed at myself for throwing you out, and then it'd be zone out time."
"Oh man, that must have sucked."
Jim looked at Duncan, because he knew he wasn't ready to face the sympathy in Blair's eyes, "I brought it on myself. I deserved it."
Duncan nodded slowly, but it was more than just agreement. There was sympathy and acceptance and encouragement in the other man's direct gaze. Jim let out a deep breath, and smiled his thanks briefly back at Duncan. He felt better for saying it.
"No way, Jim. You're only half right, man. Yeah, you brought it on yourself, with some help from me, but man, you didn't deserve it. Nobody deserves to be in pain, no matter what they did. I don't want you to look at it like that, Jim. We're both going to have take some radical steps here and give up on the guilt thing, okay?"
"If you say so, Chief."
"I do, and I mean it."
Jim nodded, meeting his Guide's serious eyes, "Okay, I'll try."
Blair got up, taking all of their plates into the kitchen and stacking them in the sink. After clearing off the rest of the table, Blair started in on dishes, leaving Duncan and Jim to make conversation between themselves. Blair listened to them making plans for Jim's apartment downstairs. He was still amazed by how easily his lover and his Sentinel had come to terms with each other. Blair watched them from the sink, thinking about it, and finally he decided it was a tough-guy thing, a matter of pride and a willingness of both parties to please him. He smiled, thinking that the best thing to do was to stay out of it and let them find out for themselves how much they had in common.
When the dishes were done they all went downstairs to inspect Jim's future living space. As Duncan had thought, more than half the third floor was empty. Crates of furniture and trunks full of his belongings were stored in two of the rooms on the floor, but the larger two were empty. They went to the back of the building and looked around a space that faced east. The hardwood floor was in fairly good condition, but it would need to be scrubbed and waxed. Jim walked around slowly, his eyes studying everything with careful attention.
"So, whatcha' think? Is this gonna work?" Blair was standing in the middle of the large, empty room, bouncing excitedly on the balls of his feet.
Jim nodded slowly, "Yeah. Yeah, I think it is, Chief. It's not bad. We can definitely work with this. Duncan, what do you think it's gonna cost to get the wiring and the plumbing in?"
"I have no idea. We'll work it out, don't worry about it."
Jim agreed amiably, but was already deciding to sell the loft in Cascade and use the money to repay Duncan the costs of setting the place up for him. Whatever was left over should be enough to do something with, as soon as he figured out what the hell it was he was going to do with the rest of his life.
Standing between Jim and Duncan in the elevator on the way back up to the loft, Blair laughed out loud. Craning his neck up first to look at Duncan, and then at Jim, he shook his head, "Man, I feel really short."
"You are," Duncan and Jim replied in unison. Realizing what they'd done, their eyes met over Blair's head, and they laughed.
"Oh man, I can see this situation having some very serious drawbacks. House rule: No ganging up on the little guy, okay?" Blair looked from his lover to his partner, both had mock innocent expressions. "Great, I'm doomed," Blair mumbled in faked disgust, preceding them into the loft.
"So, you ready to run some tests, big guy?"
"Yeah, let's get it over with."
"Come on, Jim, it's no big deal. Just relax, I'm not gonna make you do anything hard, I just have to make sure I know where you're at, and compare the results to the levels of your last test."
"Do you need me to leave?" Duncan asked, looking from Jim to Blair.
Blair shrugged, "No, as long as Jim's okay, it doesn't matter to me if you're here. We might have to go outside to work on the sight though."
Duncan looked back to Jim, raising his eyebrows questioningly.
"No, man, it's your house. I'm not gonna kick you out..."
Duncan shook his head, "No, it's no problem. If it's easier to do the tests without me here just let me know, I can go out for a while."
Jim saw that Duncan really didn't mind, and he almost said yes, just to be alone with Blair, but his conscience wouldn't let him. He felt like it would be taking advantage of Duncan's good will, and he couldn't do that, not after everything he'd done for him.
"No, I don't care if you're here. Long as you don't go running off to notify the National Inquirer and the local news stations."
Blair laughed out loud, thinking that his Immortal lover was the very least likely person to do such a thing. Duncan gave him a quick look, and then smiled at Jim.
"I won't, I promise." Going over to his desk, he pulled out the invoices for the dojo for the month. Taking out the checkbook from the top drawer, he began the task of writing out the monthly checks and entering the payments into the leather bound account book.
Blair was in the kitchen, adding minuscule amounts of salt, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and vodka to four different glasses of water. He filled a fifth glass with pure water for control. Jim sat on the couch, his back obediently turned away from Blair's preparations.
"Okay, Jim, we're ready, come on over."
Jim got up, going to stand next to Blair at the counter.
"Close your eyes for me, okay? I don't have a blindfold."
Jim closed his eyes and Blair handed him the first glass.
Jim's hand fumbled for the cup, and Blair closed his hand around it for him. With his eyes closed, the touch went right through him, filling him with a longing for his Guide's touch so strong that Jim almost moaned. It wasn't sexual, or not exactly, he didn't even know what he wanted, other than that he needed to feel Blair's touch, to have his Guide as close as he could get...
"Jim, come on, Jim, you're hearing me here buddy, open your eyes. Listen to my heart beat, Jim, open your eyes..." Blair's coaxing voice broke through the thick haze of need that had drawn him into himself. Jim opened his eyes, Blair was standing very close, one hand reaching up to touch his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Chief."
"No, no, don't be sorry, It's okay. We'll take it slow. I shouldn't have taken sight away without testing it first, now I've screwed it up..."
"No. I wasn't zoning. Not exactly."
"Jim, you zoned, trust me buddy, I was here, you weren't," Blair's smiled at him, and Jim had to put his hands behind his back to keep from touching him. He made himself look at Duncan, sitting at his desk, hoping that would help.
"No, Chief, it wasn't... You touched my hand..."
"And it hurt?"
"No. It just made me... Never mind. I'm okay now, really. Let's go ahead." Jim closed his eyes again, feeling for a glass on the counter top. Taking a small sip, he made a face, "Baking soda. What, no vanilla, Chief?"
"Nope. Good job, here's the next," this time Blair was careful not to touch Jim when he put the glass into his hand.
Jim tasted the water, then drank again. "Nothing."
"Alright, great. We're doing really good."
Jim passed the remainder of the test, easily identifying all the substances Blair had laced the tap water with, and gave him a breakdown of the trace minerals as well.
"Wow, Jim, this is really impressive. You've identified more trace elements in the water than you ever have before. How did taste feel earlier, when we ate breakfast? Was it heightened? More intense at all?"
Jim shook his head, "I don't think so, Chief. Although I may have been guilty of turning it up a little, Duncan's flapjacks were fantastic."
"Okay, lets move on. We can work on sound next. Relax, take a breath, tell me what you can hear."
Jim closed his eyes again, filtering through the layers of sound. "Your heartbeat, Duncan's. His pen on the paper, the refrigerator, water in the pipes, traffic noise."
"Good, good, now stretch it out a little, take it slow..."
Jim cocked his head to the side, listening intently for a moment. "There's a couple arguing in a car in traffic just outside the building. She thinks he's cheating on her... She's right, his heart's pounding like crazy, he's lying... Some kids are playing on skateboards or something, I hear wheels on the sidewalk. There's a woman walking on the other side of the street with high heels, she's carrying something, bottles..."
He realized that Duncan had looked up from his books and was staring at him in astonishment. Jim grinned at him, shrugging his shoulders eloquently.
"That's great Jim! You're doing really good. Can you stretch out a little more for me? Try and see how far you can go."
Jim's eyes closed, and his head turned to the side, towards the open window. "Just traffic noise, pieces of different conversations... Wait, about three blocks down there's a movie theater. I can't tell you what's playing, sounds like an action flick though."
"Mafia Kickboxer 3. It was awesome. Man, you are totally amazing. Okay, pull back before something annihilates your ears."
Jim nodded, using Blair's voice to gauge how far back to turn the dial.
"You're doing really great, Jim, way farther than the last time we tested. I'm kinda confused by that, but I've got a few theories going that I'll run by you when we're done. Just a couple more, okay? Let's do smell next. Take a deep breath, start filtering through the scents closest to you. Tell me what you get."
Jim inhaled slowly, Blair's new shampoo and the familiar condition registering first. There was the salt of Blair's sweat, not very strong, the smell of fabric softener on his shirt, and the mellow, earthy scent that was just his Guide. On top of that, sharper, was Duncan's smell on his skin, and the lingering trace of Blair's arousal. He forced himself to turn it down, as quickly as he could, his brain sending urgent signals to block the painful scent out before he zoned. He had the desperate, almost violent urge to pull Blair against his body and replace the unfamiliar scent. His hands closed over the edge of the counter top, gripping it hard to keep from yanking Blair against his body and rubbing Duncan's scent off his skin until it was gone completely. He took a deep breath, and made himself answer Blair.
"You. You changed shampoos. Sandalwood. Something else is different..." His voice dropping so that Blair had to strain to hear him, "Duncan, on your skin."
"No way! You can smell him on me? That's amazing. I mean, it's not like we just screwed around or anything," Blair stopped, biting his lip, "Oh, man, I'm sorry, Jim, that was totally crass.
Jim wondered if maybe he was a masochist, because it was almost easier when Blair spit it out like that, the pain was more direct.
"It's okay, Chief."
Blair nodded, watching Jim carefully, "Okay, um, let's just try and pan around the kitchen. Tell me what you get."
Jim nodded, closing his eyes again for a moment. His sensitive nostrils flared, filtering through the myriad of scents surrounding him, "Spices. Some I don't know. Cumin? Oregano, basil, chile powder... Do you want me to name them all or keep going?"
"Go ahead and take it a little farther out, what else can you smell in the kitchen?"
"The food in the refrigerator. Fish, milk, cheddar cheese. A couple different kinds of bread. What is that? Cream cheese? Yeah, and um, some kind of chutney, mango, I think. Oh, and something's going bad, leftover lasagna I think...you might want to check on that Duncan."
Blair grinned at Duncan across the room, he just nodded, looking a little shell shocked.
"Okay, great, let's keep going. What else?" Blair's voice was resonant, coaching Jim patiently.
"Um, cleaning products under the sink. Cleanser, bleach, 409 or Windex or something, a moldy sponge. Lemon oil for furniture."
"Oh man, that's really good Jim, you're doing great. Okay, scan out a little, what else is around you? What other scents?"
Jim smiled, shaking his head at Blair's unflagging enthusiasm. He closed his eyes, inhaling obediently.
"The oil and grease in the elevator gears. Something from Duncan's coat, he's been around water, a harbor probably, traces of boat fuel and pollution. And there's a mint in his pocket. There's that other oil I smelled earlier, too."
Blair sent Duncan a look that plainly said, 'relax, don't worry' and moved to less dangerous subjects.
"Keep moving around the room, anything else?"
Jim frowned, inhaling deeply again. The layers of scents were starting to give him a headache.
"There's enough hair care products in that bathroom to start a supply company. Do you want me to start naming extracts?"
Blair laughed, but he could see that the exercise was beginning to put a strain on both his Sentinel's sense of smell and his patience, and called an end to the test.
"No, that's okay, Jim. That's enough for now. Let's take a break for a minute. Do you want a glass of water?"
"Yeah, that'd be good," Jim rubbed his temples, leaning against the counter.
"Here you go. Man, that was way more than I expected. Your senses aren't just 'fine' Jim, they're more acute than they've ever been. Were they like this in the jungle?"
Jim thought about it for a minute. "Yeah, after Incacha found me, when he started following me around and telling me stories."
Blair's eyes lit up, and a slow, victorious smile spread across his face, "It's me."
"Whatever, Chief. What's next? Are we almost done?"
Blair laughed, Jim was like a little kid taking medicine when it came to testing his abilities. This was the most willing he'd ever been, and he was still complaining.
"Yeah, almost. Three down, two to go. Gimme a second here."
Blair went to his backpack, pulling out one of spiral notebooks. Finding the last page he'd written on, notes for the midterms he'd be giving that week. Turning three more pages into the spiral, Blair ripped out the page, bringing it over to Jim at the counter.
Jim took it, squinting at the slight depressions. "No, no, close your eyes," Blair admonished, taking the sheet of notebook paper from Jim's hand and setting it down on the counter top. "Use your fingertips, see if you can read it."
"Come on, Jim, they make machines that can do this for murder cases, you can do it, probably better. Give it a shot..."
Jim's hand fell to the counter, finding the top of the page. Holding the confettied edge under his left hand, Jim moved his fingertips slowly across the page. At first he didn't follow the blue lines of the notebook paper, but then as his fingertips picked up the slight impression he began to read, slowly,
"This is the driving force in society today, need gratification, and for that reason...," he slowly deciphered the words.
"Jim! That's incredible! Wow, you couldn't do this two pages past the writing last time we tried, and that was three. You're awesome, man."
"Nice to have a clean bill of health," Jim joked dryly, finishing the rest of the sentence out of curiosity's sake before Blair took the blank sheet away.
"Almost done. Just a couple more, I promise. Here, um, let's see... Yeah, that should work." Blair pulled the tie out of his hair, shaking out his mop of curls, "Give me your hand."
"Because I fell off my bike when I was nine and got four stitches on my scalp and I bet you can find the scar, although it's got to be invisible by now."
Jim closed his eyes resolutely, and let Blair take his hand and put it on the top of his head. Soft, but not silky, like raw silk, actually, soft and rough at the same time... Jim clenched his jaw, afraid to do this and unwilling to tell Blair why. His fingertips worked their way through Blair's curls all by themselves, finding his scalp. His whole hand was buried in Blair's hair, it was that thick, and the sandalwood was soothing, now that he was used to it. Jim tried to concentrate on the hair follicles and soft scalp beneath his fingers, but Blair's exhaled breath on his arm was too much. He moaned quietly, and dragged his hand away.
"Jim? Talk to me... what is it?"
"Okay, no problem, you don't have to, buddy. I'm sorry. Talk to me, Jim, what happened?"
"I don't know," Jim knew he was lying, but he couldn't find any words to say what happened, especially not with Duncan across the room.
"Yeah, you do, but it's okay. No problem, Jim, we'll talk about it later. You're wiped out, we should stop."
"No arguments here, Professor."
Duncan made his last entry and put the record book back in his desk drawer. Getting up, he stretched, his arms crossing behind his back. He wandered back to the couch, settling in the corner.
"That was really amazing, Jim. How much of a strain does it put on you to use your senses like that?"
Jim shook his head,"That's normal for me, everything is just a little bit... more. But I can focus one sense if I think about it consciously."
"Oh, yeah, he doesn't need any help or anything, he can do it all by himself... Don't give me any credit." Blair grinned at Jim across the room, teasing lightly.
Jim gave him his best tough-cop glare, and then cracked up, "With help like you who needs trouble, Chief?" But Blair knew he didn't mean it.
Duncan reached for the remote, flipping channels until he found a basketball game. "Hey, Jag's are playing the Nuggets, it's a game they can win, Blair."
"Hey, come on, they are not down that far," Blair came over to flop next to Duncan.
"Face it, kiddo, they're not going to make it to the playoffs this year."
"No way, man, you have no faith!" Blair poked Duncan in the side.
Blair reached for his laptop, settling cross legged next to Duncan on the couch to divide his attention between the game and the results of the tests he and Jim had done.
As Duncan had predicted, the Jags won the game. Blair had abandoned the laptop in the last quarter. He bounced on the couch, yelling encouragement to the players and arguing with the commentators and with Jim. Duncan chuckled at his lover's enthusiasm, ruffling his curls. Turning the volume down, he handed Blair the remote.
"I'm going to go work on my kata, I'll see you guys in a couple of hours."
Duncan went to get the katana from its place next to the bed. Grabbing the elevator keys, he dropped a quick kiss on Blair's forehead, leaving Jim and Blair alone in the loft.
End Part 17