"Is it just looking?"
"It's changing. It's...it's Pop. No...it's me..." His voice faded out and he became very still. Blair just held him. Minutes went by before Montana slowly opened his eyes again. This time they were clear and filled with tears.
"What is it, Montana?"
"They said I'd already made my choice. And I had. There were two paths, but one was closed. And when I saw that, all I felt was joy. The other way was death, madness. Loneliness. You were right. This *is* home. Where you are is home."
"It always will be. I love you." He had to whisper.
"I know. I love you, too, Blair. I...ca...oh, God!" Montana pressed his face into Blair's shoulder. Blair held him tightly and let him cry himself out. Everything would be fine.
Blair pressed small kisses on his head and stroked his back. Eventually - an endless time later - Montana looked up. "How do you stand it, boss? Doesn't this genetic imperative bother you?"
"It took over my life a long time ago - the day I met Jim. One minute, I was just another grad student, you know? And then, bam! everything was about him, and I *knew* I was in love. So, everything you're going through, I've *been* through. Besides, I think it's more than genetic. There's a major spiritual connection here."
Montana pulled away from him and looked him in the eye. "You really believe that?"
Before Blair could answer him, the phone rang.
He shot Montana an amused look and reached for the cordless phone on the coffee table. "Sandburg."
"Chief, is everything all right?" Jim sounded worried.
"Why are you asking?"
"Look, just *tell* me, okay? Is everything all right, or do I have to jump in the truck and get out there?"
"Everything is *fine*, Jim. Now, tell me what's going on."
He could hear him collapse in relief. "Thank God. All I could think for the past twenty minutes was 'Something's wrong at home.' You sure? Montana's all right? I kept seeing Montana and that hawk."
Blair couldn't help it. Maybe it was all the tension earlier or the concern in Jim's voice. Maybe it was Montana's confused look. Whatever it was, Blair could not help laughing out loud.
And when both Jim and Montana squawked at him, he just laughed louder.
"Sandburg! What the hell's so funny?"
"Boss, what the hell is going on?"
That was just the icing on the cake.
Finally, unable to stand the stereo scolding and equally unable to either breathe or talk coherently, he gave the phone to Montana and wiped at his eyes.
"No, tiger. I do not have a clue why he's like that. What did you say to him?...oh. I guess he was right. Yeah, I know. He's always right. How do you stand it? Yeah, he is cute. Especially when he writhes on the floor."
Blair shot him an outraged look...from the floor where he was indeed writhing.
Montana just grinned at him. "What, Jim? Actually, yeah. I was upset. It's...yeah. Exactly. No, I don't. I'll adjust. Seriously. You want to come home?" Blair, who was beginning to calm down, shook his head. "It's nearly lunch time. We'll meet you there. Besides, I have to meet this boss of yours. Okay. Love you, tiger. Yeah, I'll tell him."
"Tell me what?" Blair, still fighting the occasional giggle, stood up and dusted himself off.
"That he's going to kill you and that he loves you, too."
Blair grinned. "Okay. How do you want to do the shower thing? Concurrently or seriatim?"
Montana grinned and pretended to consider, while Blair indulged in a quick fantasy involving a wall of muscle. "Concurrently is more...environmentally sound, don't you think?"
"You two are fifteen minutes late." Jim's broad smile took the place of the hug he couldn't give them in public.
"Sorry, Jim. We got...distracted." Blair knew he sounded anything but apologetic, and Montana looked decidedly smug. "What's going on?"
"Not much. The bombers took the day off. You guys probably saw more action." He gave both of them a searing look that caused even Blair's sated body to react. He was grateful for loose pants and untucked shirts.
"Hey, Ellison, who's your new friend?" Henri and Rafe walked in, carrying a deli bag.
"Guys, this is Professor Montana Jones. He's going to be staying with Blair and me, indefinitely."
"You really got a thing for eggheads, Jim. First Sandburg and now this guy." Henri nudged Rafe in the ribs. "Is he going to be your partner, too?"
Jim glared at them. "He's a friend."
"Sure." Henri's grin grew wider.
"Of course, Jim. A friend. Just like Blair." Rafe winked. "Have you told the captain yet?"
"You guys have filthy minds."
Blair could feel himself turning red with the effort not to laugh. He admired Jim's perfectly composed facade - and he didn't dare look at Montana.
Rafe nodded at Jim's comment. "That's why we're such good detectives. We think only the best of people. C'mon, H. Let's do lunch in the breakroom."
"That was interesting, tiger. How come you dropped it on them like that?" Montana looked at Jim.
Jim shrugged. "You're going to be hanging around a lot, babe. This way, they'll get all the jokes out of the way *now*. Besides, they've had the wrong idea about Blair and me for years now."
"Well, it was wrong until yesterday, okay, Chief?"
"What was wrong until yesterday? And who's your new friend, Jim?"
Simon Banks strode into the room, taking it over by his sheer presence, as usual.
Blair could see Montana's eyes widen as he bent to whisper in Blair's ear. "*That's* Jim's boss? Oh, my."
Blair shook his head. "He's straight, and you, my love, are *taken*."
"If I'm taken, it doesn't matter what *he* likes. And I can still look."
Blair just chuckled.
"What do you mean, indefinitely?"
"Meaning he'll be around for a while, Captain. He's...part of the Sentinel thing."
"Blair, is this true?"
"Yeah. Meet our Hunter, although we're not altogether sure what that means here."
Simon looked at Montana carefully. "You're the one going to do the day to day stuff, professor? Taking care of my boys here?"
Blair watched the two big men size each other up. "Something like what you do here at work, captain."
"Good. They both need it."
"Simon, we've managed fine for years." Jim sounded hurt.
Simon frowned. "I've thought of you two as unbalanced...not just mentally...for a while now. Something was missing. Montana, welcome to the team."
"Thanks...Simon. I'll do my best. Right now, I think I'd better see about getting these two fed."
"You do that."
They found a secluded table at one of Jim's favorite restaurants. To Blair's amusement, both of his partners ordered slabs of animal flesh and fried starch - steak and potatoes. He thought about lecturing them on cholesterol but decided that today was for celebration.
He just enjoyed his own salmon steak and salad without comment.
"Your Captain Banks sounds like a very tolerant man, tiger." Montana thoughtfully cut into his red-rare beef.
Jim and Blair exchanged glances.
"Simon? Tolerant?" Jim couldn't seem to keep the laughter out of his voice.
"What's so funny, you two? He was perfectly nice."
"We've been wondering where the pod was. That was *not* our Simon." Jim took a mouthful of ketchup drenched fries.
"How do you mean?"
Blair grinned. "We mean that Simon *hates* this Sentinel stuff. He barely accepts me as Jim's partner, and he will only talk about it if he has to. He should not have accepted you so easily."
Montana shrugged. "I wasn't surprised. Tribal chieftains know when something needs to be fixed. You two were, as he put it, unbalanced. Also, Blair as shaman has authority all by himself. I don't."
"I'm an authority?" Blair was incredulous.
"Oh, yeah, boss."
Jim nodded. "Haven't you noticed, Chief?"
"Noticed what?" What was he talking about?
"Everyone does what you tell them. Not just *us*, but Joel and Brown and Rafe. And Simon, for that matter."
"You gotta be making that up, Jim. No way." Blair looked at his partner in disbelief.
"It's true. You make a suggestion and the next thing we know, we're doing it. I'm not saying you throw your weight around, but everyone listens. That has to get Simon's goat."
"You know, Captain Banks really got the short end of things here." Montana took a slow sip of his beer.
Jim's eyes narrowed. "How do you mean, babe?"
"Look at him. He's the *captain*, the tribal chieftain. I mean, the man exudes power. Hell, I could feel it as soon as I saw him. He has his own superior, but in his own domain, he's the man in charge."
Blair nodded. "That's Simon, all right. I don't like using this terminology, but the man is pure alpha."
"Good word, boss. And Jim fits in well enough because you're a warrior-type. You can lead if you have to, but it's easy for you to follow orders. All you need to do is serve and protect." Montana winked.
Jim shot him a look and a grin, and applied himself back to his bleeding hunk of meat.
"So, I'm Jim's partner."
"You're a *shaman*. Simon has physical, temporal authority. You have spiritual authority - and you don't have any superiors to follow. You entered his domain as an authority all your own, *and* he can't fight it because it's not in his realm."
"Oh, man! That makes too much sense." Blair ran the events of the past few years back in his head, and everything Jim and Montana said made sense: the way people listened to him; the way Jim always obeyed him; the sense he had that Simon thought he was being challenged, even though Blair would never dream of challenging him. With a start, Blair realized why. *Oh, God, help me. I've already won. I don't *want* this; I don't *need* this. What do I do now?*
At that moment, two very different but equally strong hands touched him. "It's all right, Chief. It's the way it's supposed to be." Jim stroked his arm.
"How do you know this, Jim? How?" Blair forced himself to stay where he was instead of running out of the restaurant.
"Because he knows, boss. Just like I do. Just like I could feel Simon's power, I could feel your wisdom. Simon obviously cares about you - all of those men do - but he has no place for you in his hierarchy and he knows it."
"I can't wrap my head around this. It's too big. It's bigger than I am." He took a shaky sip of his water.
"No, Chief. It's just your size." Jim's smile was...proud and happy and relieved, as if a puzzle had been solved.
"Yep. As my grandmother used to say, 'God doesn't give us anything more than we can handle.'" Blair looked at the Hunter. That saying was oddly familiar. "So, that explains you. Now we have to figure out why Simon accepted *me* so readily."
"Because you make things work. We need you. Jim's the Sentinel. He's the reason for this group, but he can't do his job alone."
Montana nodded. "Right. You're the Guide, the Shaman. You keep him spiritually centered, make sure he uses his senses the right way. He depends on you to do his job. In return...he gives you emotional grounding, I think, so you can do your *other* tribal job of healing, counseling and teaching. He keeps you tied to the world around you through his senses."
"Blair depends on *me*?" Jim sounded amazed.
"Oh, yeah, man. Much as I love my mom, she's not someone I can lean on all the time. I *know* you're there. I need a center so badly, and you're it for me."
"So, where do you come in, tiger? What is the Hunter?"
"That's harder. In the tribe, it would be easy. The two of you have full-time jobs, so my job would be to take care of the material things, and maybe some physical protection. That's what my pop's paper said."
"We don't need that here, though. Jim's *paid* to be a Sentinel. And I can get by on my grants."
"You shouldn't have to 'get by'. And it's more than money. Just like Jim can get lost in his senses - 'zone out' - you can get lost in *him*. You can get so buried in helping him that you *can't* do your jobs."
"Like a...material center?"
"Yeah. Keeping you guys safe. I bet Simon was always calling you two back to the real world - Blair especially, but Jim, too."
"Simon's a rock. He's very grounded."
"He's always yelling at us for taking chances, and making sure that we don't over do things." Jim spoke slowly, carefully. "He's always like that with his people but he's more so with us, especially after my senses came back. He hates the Sentinel stuff but he's always behind us. That's your job, isn't it? No wonder he was so relieved. He can...let someone else do the watching."
Blair nodded. "Makes sense, Jim. But there's more to this. I gotta sit down and figure it out."
"*We* do, boss. And now we have to get Jim back to the PD." Montana pulled out his wallet and dropped some bills on the table. After he put on his fedora, the three of them left the restaurant, almost hand-in-hand.
"Truck is just around this corner, right?"
The restaurant was in an odd part of town - a sort of boundary between a gentrified residential area and the remains of a old immigrant neighborhood. It had abandoned buildings only feet away from nice eateries. The truck was parked in front of one such building.
"Yep, here it is." Jim took out his keys to unlock his door. He paused. "Do you hear that?"
"Hear what, man?" Blair started to slip his backpack off his shoulders.
"Sounds like...there's a woman screaming in there!" Jim pulled out his weapon and tossed Montana his cell phone. "Babe, call for back up. Top speed button."
He took off into the building. Blair dropped his pack and ran after him. As he went inside, he could hear Montana haltingly tell the dispatcher what was going on. After this was over...no time to think about it now. He had to keep up with Jim.
Blair found him crouched by a staircase. "I can't hear her anymore, Chief. What do I do?"
"Okay." He took a couple of deep breathes. "We were outside, and a lot of those windows are broken. She was probably clearer there. Just filter everything else out. Listen for her voice and her voice only."
Jim nodded. He stood quietly. His eyes became unfocused so Blair knew he was concentrating. He put a hand on Jim's arm to aid him.
"Got her. Two floors up." Jim began to run. Blair took off after him. They climbed the stairs in breakneck speed. After years of practice, he could keep up with his long-legged partner.
They halted together at the landing two stories up. Even Blair could hear her shouts and tearful pleadings. It was all he could do to stay with Jim, to not rush to her side. *There'll be time enough for that later.*
Jim checked his gun and motioned Blair to go behind him as he opened the door from the stairway. Her voice came from two doors away. The lock there was clearly broken. Blair didn't have to think about what to do at this point. He stood behind as Jim kicked the door open, shouting, "Police!"
At that sound, a man jumped up and ran out of the room, knocking Jim over in his race to get away. Blair got an impression of limp, pale flesh as the guy tried to tuck himself in along the way, but there wasn't time to think about it.
He was vaguely aware of Jim picking himself up as he ran into the room, and sat on the floor to gather the weeping woman in his arms.
Montana finally made himself clear to the police dispatcher and shut off the cellphone. What the hell was he doing down here when his two men were in danger? It was *his* job...every muscle in his body was urging him to rush into that building and take care of things. He forced himself to remain quiet. There was nothing he could do. He wasn't even armed, except for Pop's old bullwhip.
Go to Part Three
Back to Sentinel Page