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“Mobley’s going to be the one to watch,” Jim said definitively. “He came off the bench strong at the end of last season.”

“Maybe.” Lorne took another hit off the blueberry smoothie he’d made. Who brought smoothies on a stakeout? “But no-one’s going to beat Richards for the three-point shot. The man is like a monster behind the arc.”

“You can’t compare ball-handling skill with showmanship,” Jim disagreed. He was drinking coffee like a normal person.

“You don’t think there’s skill in consistently hitting a three-pointer?”

“I think you can’t count on that the way you can ball handling.”

Jim didn’t enjoy stakeouts as a rule. He hated being confined to the non-descript police-issue car for long periods of time, especially at night when it was a whole lot easier to nod off. But he didn’t mind being stuck in the car with Lorne. They had a lot of similar interests, and he was easy to talk to. Except when he was being wrong about the Jags lineup.

“Heads up,” Lorne said, instantly all business. “We have movement.”

There was a glowing, moving light in the second-floor window of the dry cleaners they were watching. As far as Jim knew, it was an empty apartment. All their intel on Kolya’s operation was centered on the business downstairs.

“What can you hear?” Lorne asked. He laid a hand lightly on Jim’s shoulder to help ground him.

Jim focused in on the light and stretched out his hearing.

…darkness. There’s a really heavy presence here. I can feel it pressing down on me.

He didn’t recognize the voice, which was masculine and deep. No Russian accent, so probably not one of Kolya’s minions. Jim couldn’t determine age, but something about that voice made him want to keep listening.

I’m getting anger. Frustration. Desperation. I don’t feel like it’s active, though. It’s strong, but it’s residual. Man. Something bad went down here.

“Ellison. Focus back on me. Come on now.”

It was more difficult than it should’ve been, pulling back hearing. Jim really had to concentrate to escape the strong pull of that voice.

“You back with me?”

“I think we’ve got ghost hunters,” Jim said.

“Local boys?” Lorne asked with interest. “Cascade Boo Crew did a show on the Aladdin Theater last month. It was pretty cool.”

Jim rolled his eyes. The only thing his partner was wrong about – besides the Jags – was his childish belief in ghosts. He realized it was an odd position for a Sentinel to take, considering the amount of time he’d spent on the spirit plane, but he’d never experienced anything since coming online that indicated ghosts were real. As far as he was concerned, the weird stuff he’d gone through was unique to the Sentinel experience.

For the record, he didn’t believe in vampires or werewolves either.

Lorne held his hands up. “I know, I know. So what do you want to do?”

“Nothing. Let’s assume they have permission to be on site. I don’t want to spook Kolya’s guys by busting these idiots for talking to ghosts.”

“Closed minds never open new doors,” Lorne said.

Jim snorted. “More commune wisdom?”

“Just putting it out there.”

Jim liked to tease Lorne about growing up surrounded by hippies, but truth was he was as steady and down-to-earth as anyone Jim knew. He was former military, like Jim, and they both preferred to keep things organized and orderly. It made Lorne a great fit as a partner and as a Guide.

“We should talk about you having a hard time pulling back hearing just now,” Lorne said. “What was going on there?”

“It was nothing. I was just really focused in.” Jim kept his eyes on the light in the window but was careful not to listen in even though he wanted to hear that voice again.

“It’s cute how you think I won’t know if you lie.”

“What makes a person decide to hunt ghosts?” Jim asked, ignoring Lorne’s question.

“Is that a complaint or an honest question?”

“I just don’t get it. It’s not like they ever find any proof. What’s the point?”

Lorne raised his compact binoculars and scanned the area around the storefront. “I’m sure it’s different for everyone. It’s a very popular form of entertainment these days. Do you know how many different ghost hunting series are on TV right now?”

“More than there should be,” Jim grumbled.

“Well, look who just rolled up to the party.” Lorne elbowed Jim.

Sure enough, there was Kolya’s vintage mint green Mercedes pulling up in front of the dry cleaners. His driver got out first and did a quick scan of the street, hand on the butt of the Glock she wore in a shoulder holster.

“Sora Tyrus,” Lorne said, making a note in the log. “You think she’s picking up some shirts?”

“I think all her clothes are made of Kevlar,” Jim replied.

He could see Kolya through the tinted windows, relaxing in the backseat with what looked like a cup of tea. If Jim opened up his sense of smell, he’d know for sure. But he wasn’t interested in what Kolya was drinking, he wanted to know what he was doing there at such a late hour.

Once Tyrus made sure it was safe, she opened the back door and Kolya slid out like the slippery eel he was. Everything about that guy set Jim’s nerves on edge. He was cruel, calculating, and looking to set himself up as the Al Capone of Cascade. He’d been systematically eating up chunks of the city that belonged to other organized crime leaders.

Jim was going to do everything in his power to stop Kolya in his tracks.

“They’re going inside,” Lorne said. “Narration is on you.”

“On it.” Jim dialed up his hearing, but instead of homing in on Kolya, he got the ghost hunter again.

…recommendation. I’d suggest a spiritual cleansing, get all the lingering dark energies out of this space.

Wait a minute, a new voice said. I heard something.

“Kolya is heading upstairs,” Jim reported. “I think the ghost hunters are expecting a supernatural visitation.”

Holy shit, dude! You gave me a heart attack!

Sorry to interrupt, gentlemen, Kolya said smoothly. I just couldn’t resist a chance to see the famous Mr. Sandburg in action.

“One of the ghost hunters is named Sandburg.”

“Sandburg?” Lorne parroted. “Blair Sandburg?”

“Didn’t catch a first name,” Jim replied. “You know him?”

“He’s got his own show and he’s written a bunch of books – he’s real popular in supernatural circles. Calls himself a Spirit Shaman. I can’t believe he’s in Cascade! I wonder if he’s working on something with the Boo Crew.”

Lorne sounded like an excited fanboy, so Jim tuned him out.

He doesn’t shake hands, the guy who was with Sandburg said. It’s nothing personal.

I need to keep the frequency open, was Sandburg’s less-than-illuminating response.

“What do you hear?” Lorne asked.

“I don’t know,” Jim answered, without thinking. “There’s something in the lower register of his voice I can’t quite make out. It’s almost…animalistic.”

He dialed up hearing, trying to chase down the sound. If he could only isolate it, examine it, then he’d –

Lorne wrapped his hand around Jim’s wrist. “Who are you focused in on, Ellison? You need to pull it back.”

Jim shuddered and blinked, and his hearing spun back down.

“You back with me?” Lorne leaned in close, studying Jim’s face with concern. “You’re really off tonight, partner. Maybe we should bag this op for now, get you to a safe space.”

“No, not until I find out why Kolya’s here.”

“Stubborn ass,” Lorne muttered. He kept his hand on Jim’s arm. “Stay on the room, don’t put all your mojo on one person.”

“Roger that.”

…hire you, Kolya was saying. I’d like you to take a reading of my personal office. You’ll be handsomely compensated.

Jim frowned. “Kolya wants Sandburg to do the ghost thing at his office. Does that seem strange to you?”

“Nothing in our intel points to him being superstitious.” Lorne made a humming noise in the back of his throat. “Might be a good in for us. How long have we been trying to get eyes on his office?”

“Too long.”

As far as they knew, Kolya didn’t allow anyone into his inner sanctum, not even his most trusted advisors. CPD had slipped in an undercover officer to try and gain Kolya’s trust about a year or so ago, and he never got anywhere near the office. He claimed no-one even knew where it was, but Jim was sure that was a load of BS.

I’ll have to check my shooting schedule. Can I call you?

Of course. Here’s my card.

Jim could hear the sound of Kolya rustling in his coat, could hear the slide of one business card against the others as it was removed from whatever Kolya kept them in.

“Sandburg’s going to get back to him,” Jim reported. “That buys us time.”

Time to convince the ghost whisperer they needed his help getting eyes and ears on Kolya’s inner sanctum. They needed something, anything even remotely tied to his illicit business dealings, that would convince a judge to issue a search warrant; a Sentinel’s word alone wasn’t enough.

Sandburg, wired for sight and sound as part of his job, would be the perfect person to get eyes on the office and provide proof to the judge.

Kolya and Sandburg left the dry cleaners at the same time, going in opposite directions. Sandburg was a passenger in the car driven by the owner of the other voice Jim had heard. He tailed them to the Cascade Royale, where Sandburg was let out. Jim did the same for Lorne.

“Intercept him before he hits the elevators,” Jim said. “I’ll park the car.”

“On it.”

Lorne was the better choice to make initial contact with Sandburg, especially considering the late hour. As a Guide, Lorne could make sure Sandburg didn’t get too squirrely and run if he was feeling threatened. Plus, he was just so damn nice he barely needed to put the whammy on anyone to get them to talk to him. Jim came off as more aggressive, even when he wasn’t trying.

The Royale was a theme hotel – every floor was named for a James Bond movie, and there was a moderately sized casino on the main level. It was the only casino in the state not tribally owned, which had been the source of much debate and contention during construction. The male staff wore tuxedos, the female staff wore evening gowns, and Jim thought the whole thing was pretty ridiculous.

He tracked Lorne and Sandburg down in the Shaken Not Stirred bar. They were in a booth, Sandburg pounding down something that looked like a cocktail but only smelled of cranberries. Lorne had a bottle of water for Jim, a cup of coffee for himself.

Sandburg didn’t look at all how he sounded. Despite the heavy five o’clock shadow, he had a very youthful face. His hair was long and curly, and his eyes…Jim had never seen eyes such a bright, bold shade of blue. They almost perfectly matched the blue on the tie-dyed t-shirt he wore over a tan Henley. The whole ensemble was topped off with a necklace cluttered with various religious and esoteric charms.

He smelled of oatmeal soap, lavender shampoo, and something else bright and sharp, like an underlying electrical charge. Or maybe it was just pheromones.

“Mr. Sandburg, this is my partner, Jim Ellison.”

Lorne introduced them as Jim gave himself a mental shake and slid into the booth.

“Always a pleasure to meet a fan,” Sandburg said cheerily.

“I’m not a fan, I’m a detective with Major Crimes.” Jim flashed his badge, the stylized S indicating his Sentinel status gleaming blue under the dim lights. “Lorne here is the believer.”

Sandburg grinned. He had a great smile. His physiology told Jim the ghost whisperer found him attractive. “It never fails to amuse me how close-minded Sentinels can be on the topic of the supernatural. I could write a book."

“We can’t all be neo-hippie psychics,” Jim said dryly, ignoring Lorne’s amusement. He had to keep his hands fisted in his lap to keep from reaching out to touch Sandburg. Hopefully Lorne wouldn’t notice that.

“More’s the pity,” Sandburg said. “So do you want to tell me why Cascade PD wants to chat me with at this hour of the night?”

“You were doing an investigation at one of Acastus Kolya’s properties tonight,” Lorne said.

Sandburg held up his hands. “Hey, that was totally above-board, man. We had his permission to be on site.”

“What do you know about him?” Jim asked.

That earned him a look of confusion. “Mr. Kolya? Nothing, really. My producer contacted him about doing a reading of the apartments over the dry cleaners. Tonight was the first time I met him.”

Jim nodded. That tracked with what he’d heard.

“We know he wants you to do your thing at his office,” Lorne said. “We’d like you to agree.”

“Okay, what’s this all about?” Sandburg frowned. “Is Mr. Kolya in some kind of trouble?”

“Let’s just say he’s a person of interest in an ongoing investigation,” Jim replied. “We can’t tell you more than that.”

“Mr. Sandburg,” Lorne said, voice backed up by his Guide gifts projecting a sense of trustworthiness, “you have an unprecedented opportunity to get into Kolya’s inner sanctum. No-one, not even his own bodyguards, is allowed in there. You could learn invaluable information that would help our investigation.”

Sandburg leaned back, stretching out his legs under the table. His foot knocked into Jim’s. “You can ease off on the Guide stuff. It doesn’t work on me.”

Jim and Lorne exchanged a look, Lorne’s eyebrows raised in surprise. Most people couldn’t tell when he was using his Guide gifts.

“Mr. Sandburg –”

“Let me stop you right there. I’m not a cop. And I have no desire to get roped into some off-the-books undercover operation. That’s not my brand.” Sandburg drained the rest of his cranberry juice and slid out of the booth. “It was a pleasure meeting you, but I really need to hit the sack.”

Jim listened in, tracking Sandburg to the front desk, where he asked for a nine o’clock wake-up call, and then to the elevator.

“Well, that was a bust,” Lorne said.

“We’re not beat yet. I’ll figure out another plan of attack and we can come at him again in the morning.” Jim used one of the cocktail napkins on the table to take hold of Sandburg’s empty glass. “Let’s print this. The more we know about Sandburg, the better we can negotiate for his cooperation.”

“Simon’s not going to like it,” Lorne said. “Sandburg isn’t a person of interest.”

He is to me, Jim wanted to say. “I’ll deal with Simon.”

He left some money on the table for the glass before they walked out. Jim didn’t bother mentioning to Lorne that, out of a hotel full of guests and staff, he had no trouble making out Sandburg’s heartbeat up on the fourth floor.

*o*o*o*

I’ve traveled all over the world, from the time I was four years old. There are two constants: birth and death. Thanks to an education punctuated by teachers who were shamans, holy men, and witch doctors, I learned how to attune my consciousness to an alternate plane of existence. The consciousness of the dead is all around us, separated by a barrier very few can penetrate. I’m one of those people. I want to help spirits who are stuck move on and let go of the ties that hold them here. I’m Blair Sandburg, and I’m a Spirit Shaman.

Instead of going to sleep, Jim stayed up and watched a few episodes of Sandburg’s show. He had no idea how it compared to any of the other ghost hunting series available on the streaming services Jim subscribed to, because he’d never been interested in checking them out, but he found it surprisingly compelling.

Or maybe it was just Sandburg.

Each episode followed the same format. Sandburg would go into a location cold, without doing any research or talking to anyone, and get his own read on it. Then he’d interview the locals, talk to anyone associated with the property, and do a deep dive with historical records. That was followed up by another session at the supposedly haunted location, where Sandburg would try to make contact and help the spirit move on.

Jim found the production values overly dramatic, though the storylines were interesting. It wasn’t as easy for Jim to tell from a recording – the process dulled and flattened the sounds of body physiology – but Sandburg sounded completely sincere. It helped that he had a baseline to work from, after the conversation in the hotel.

More importantly, Jim found a new way to approach Sandburg about Kolya.

“Are you sure about this?” Lorne asked on the drive over to the Royale in the morning.

“Solid eighty-five percent.”

“Well, that’s comforting.” Lorne set the file Jim had put together on the dashboard. “We still haven’t talked about last night.”

“Last night was a glitch,” Jim said. His fingers tightened on the steering wheel.

“You’re gonna have to do better than that, Ellison. We may not be bonded, but I can still read you pretty well. You looked like you wanted to jump across the table and put your hands on Sandburg. And not in a combative way, if you catch my drift.”

Damn Lorne. He was a powerful Guide, as most Universals were. His inability to bond with a Sentinel hadn’t hampered their working relationship in the slightest, and Jim had never felt a burning need for a bond anyway; he was fine without all the extra touchy-feely emotional garbage.

He sure as hell didn’t know how to explain his reaction to Sandburg.

“I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“The truth would be nice.”

Jim shrugged. “I don’t know. And that’s the truth. There’s just something about him, that’s all. Maybe it’s the shaman thing.”

Lorne made a humming noise in the back of his throat, which meant he was giving consideration to Jim’s lame theory.

“Could be you feel a connection there. Incacha was the shaman of his village, and your mentor. Maybe you’re feeling a similar vibe.”

Jim rolled his eyes. “There’s no vibe.”

“We’ll see.”

That sounded vaguely threatening. Jim glanced over at his partner, but Lorne was back flipping through the file.

“Anything turn up on the background check?”

“He’s clean,” Lorne replied. “Not even a parking ticket. There were some trespassing and B and E charges that were later dropped, probably mix-ups with filming permits.”

Jim wasn’t surprised. He’d Googled Sandburg while he watched the show. There were plenty of skeptics who’d lambasted him online, but that was all opinion. There were just as many, if not more, believers lavishing him with praise, and even thank yous from families he’d helped. And his mother was apparently a well-known travel writer, which bore out his claim of traveling the world from a young age. There were pictures of him at various ages posed in front of every well-known wonder of the world from Machu Picchu to Stonehenge to Mt. Fuji.

“Do you have a backup plan if Sandburg won’t for it?”

“I’m working on one,” Jim replied. Which wasn’t a total lie, but in all honesty, they were running out of ways to get to Kolya. And Jim didn’t feel like waiting around for the man to make a mistake.

They found Sandburg in the hotel’s dining room, availing himself of the breakfast buffet. He looked more resigned than surprised to see them.

“Good morning, officers. Scrambled eggs?”

“Pass,” Jim said, though it did smell good. He and Lorne joined Sandburg at his table.

“If you’ve come here to try and convince me to change my mind, you wasted a trip.” Sandburg scooped some eggs onto a wedge of rye toast. “If you’d like me to come and do a read on your offices, I’d be happy to oblige. Are you aware that the Browne building has a long history in Cascade?”

“We’re not here for your psychic abilities,” Jim said. “I’m here about these people.”

He pulled some pictures out of the file. Three women and two men. Some of the photos were candid, some were high school portraits, and one was a mug shot. Jim knew all of their names.

“Why am I looking at these?” Sandburg asked.

“Sunny Gonzalez,” Jim said, tapping the dark-haired girl posed with a set of pom-poms. “Kolya hired her to do some summer work at his offices. Three weeks later she was found in a storm drain. Raped, beaten, and strangled.”

Sandburg visibly paled but didn’t look away. Jim tapped the mug shot.

“Chad Michaels. Low-level distributor of illegal narcotics, repeat offender. He was the son of one of Kolya’s rivals. Word on the street was Kolya offered him a job and he declined. Ten days later he was found dead in an abandoned warehouse. Tortured.”

“Yeah, okay. I get it.” Sandburg pushed the pictures back toward Jim. His face was pinched and pale, and Jim felt pinpricks of guilt for having caused the horrified expression on the other man’s face. “I suppose you can prove Kolya had those people killed?”

“If we could, he’d be in jail,” Lorne said. “We can’t tie him directly to these deaths, but we have enough circumstantial evidence to paint a fairly accurate picture.”

“Kolya wants to be Cascade’s crime lord, and he’s been taking over the local syndicates a little bit at a time.” Jim leaned forward across the table, wrapping one of his hands around Sandburg’s wrist. He could feel the other’s man’s pulse fluttering against his fingers. “You can help us stop him from hurting anyone else.”

It was a low blow, and Jim knew it, but he was desperate. Sandburg didn’t call him on it, though. Just stared at him wide-eyed, his arm gone rigid under Jim’s hand.

“Mr. Sandburg? Are you okay?” Lorne voice was full of concern. “Jim, what’s going on? I’m getting a weird read off him.”

“His pulse is slow. He’s barely breathing.” Jim tightened his hand on Sandburg’s wrist. “He’s acting like he’s in a zone out.”

Except only Sentinels zoned out like that, and Sandburg was no Sentinel.

Lorne put his hand on Jim’s shoulder. “Let him go.”

Jim snatched his hand back as if he’d burnt it, and the effect was immediate. Sandburg took in a big, gulping breath and furiously blinked his eyes.

“Whoa. That was intense.”

“Mr. Sandburg, are you okay?”

“Call me Blair. And yeah, just give me a minute.”

Sandburg went back to the buffet and returned with three glasses of cranberry juice, which he chugged in quick succession.

“Cranberries are good for spiritual rejuvenation,” Sandburg explained. “And I just took one hell of a trip, man. That’s why I have a hands-off policy.”

Jim bit back an apology. He wasn’t getting pulled into the psychic mumbo-jumbo, no matter how guilty he felt about whatever the hell had just happened.

“Let’s stay on topic. We need your help. You’re the only one who can get us access.”

Sandburg gave him a calculating look. “Okay, detective. I’ll help you. And then you’re going to owe me one.”

“Thank you,” Lorne said. “We really appreciate it.”

“Let’s take this down to the station,” Jim suggested. “We’ll get you fully briefed.”

Sandburg nodded. “I’ll have to call Chaz first, move my schedule around a little.”

“Whatever you need.”

*o*o*o*

It was a busy day. Jim and Lorne stuck with Sandburg, prepping him on the kinds of things he should be looking for when he met with Kolya. They went with him to his meetings – Lorne geeked out with the Boo Crew, taking a few selfies with them and Sandburg – and got him fitted out with a hidden camera when Kolya made it clear no filming would be allowed on the premises.

Jim also got an education on what exactly it was Sandburg did for a living.

“It’s like an open frequency on a radio station,” he explained while getting his makeup done for a television interview. “Anyone with the right equipment can use it, and I’m one of the lucky few with a direct line to that plane of existence.”

“So the ghosts talk to you, is that right?”

“You’re thinking it’s like a phone call, but it’s not. More like a burst of static made up of different impressions and feelings and memories. It’s not always easy to make sense of what I pick up on.”

Jim wanted to ask what impressions Sandburg had gotten when they’d touched, but he was pretty sure he didn’t want to hear the answer.

Sandburg was very affable and open during his interview, and even signed a copy of his book for Kiya Bitsoi, the host of the talk show.

Jim watched as Sandburg went through his day, saw how friendly he was with everyone. Even flirty, sometimes, though he always kept a careful physical distance. Saw the ways he tried to engage with total strangers, always making eye contact and smiling and finding ways to be complimentary. Sandburg was a genuinely nice guy who had the weirdest job on the planet.

As the day progressed, it got harder and harder for Jim to control his need to touch Sandburg, his need to step in front of him when a stranger approached. And the worst part was that he could feel Lorne watching him watching Sandburg, and undoubtedly drawing erroneous conclusions.

“You like him,” Lorne said while they sat in the hall at the radio station, waiting for Sandburg to get through yet another interview. “You feel protective of him.”

“I’m a cop. That’s my job.” Which sounded like a lie even to Jim’s ears.

“No. There’s something different at play here.” Lorne leaned forward, elbows on his knees and a thoughtful look on his face. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think our friend Blair was a Guide.”

Jim shook his head. “He doesn’t feel like one.”

“Which is why I haven’t seen it till now. But think about it. A kid who doesn’t know he’s a Guide gets trained to use his gifts to talk to the dead. That kind of focus would alter the way he presents, to Sentinels and other Guides. I saw something like this once before.”

“On the commune?” Jim asked, half teasingly.

“At the Academy. The daughter of one of the groundskeepers had a way of communicating with animals like nothing I’ve ever seen. She was autistic, had the Guide gene. She was awkward around other people, you could tell how uncomfortable she was anytime one of us tried to talk to her, but animals just flocked to her like something out of a Disney princess movie.”

Jim glanced through the window into the booth where Sandburg was chattering away with the DJ. Could he really be a Guide? That would explain the pull Jim was feeling, the need to touch and be close, but only if Sandburg was uniquely suited to be Jim’s Guide.

He certainly never felt that way about Lorne, even though the man was admittedly well put together – the dimples alone had people fawning over him all the time – and they had so much in common.

For the first time in a long time, Jim wondered what it would be like to be bonded to a Guide, to share the closeness only bonded pairs could know.

“It doesn’t matter,” Jim said gruffly, maybe to himself or maybe to his partner. “Even if Sandburg was a Guide, look at the life he leads. We’d be ill-suited.”

How could Jim possibly do his job if his Guide was a famous ghost whisperer? No, he was better off sticking it out with Lorne. A Guide cop for a Sentinel cop. That’s what made the most sense.

“There’s a universal balance between opposite forces,” Lorne said solemnly. “And that’s the sweet spot of life.”

“Spare me,” Jim said, rolling his eyes.

“I wish I could,” Lorne replied, so softly Jim almost didn’t hear him.

*o*o*o*

Sandburg was on his way to Kolya’s shortly after five. As he’d explained, readings in the dead of night were more about creating atmosphere for the show; the dead could speak to him any time.

Jim and Lorne were maintaining surveillance nearby. They didn’t have eyes on Sandburg, but he’d been outfitted with a device that gave them a live video and audio feed and looked like just another charm on the necklace he wore. The live feed would be recorded on Lorne’s laptop, and hopefully there’d be the evidence they needed to get a full search warrant.

All their contact with Sandburg would be one way. Lorne agreed that fitting him with an earpiece would be too chancy. Instead, Sandburg was armed with a safe word in case something went wrong.

“He’ll be fine,” Lorne said. “You’ve seen how good he is with people.”

“Kolya isn’t people.”

Jim couldn’t deny he was on edge. Any number of things could go wrong, because Kolya was unpredictable. And he liked to inflict pain and suffering on his victims before they died. Jim drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, growing more anxious until the meet started and he had something to focus on.

Mr. Sandburg, thank you for coming.

Please. Call me Blair. You remember my associate, Chaz.

Of course. This is my associate, Ms. Tyrus. If you don’t mind, she’s going to make sure you don’t have any video or audio equipment on you.

Is that really necessary? Chaz asked.

I have business interests to protect. I’m sure you understand.

It’s fine, Sandburg said.

Jim scowled at the thought of Tyrus putting her hands on Sandburg. Her body filled the frame of the video camera as she stepped in close. Sandburg’s heart rate increased, but he otherwise kept his cool. Tyrus turned and patted down Chaz, who looked incredibly uneasy and uncomfortable, before turning back to Kolya and nodding.

Do you want to know why I asked you here? Kolya asked.

No. I prefer to go in cold.

Right this way.

Kolya’s business, at least the legal front of it, was a non-profit that helped Russian immigrants get settled in Cascade. He’d painted himself as a humanitarian, a paragon of Little Moscow, but Jim knew better. Kolya had his hands in the drug trade, sex trafficking, arms sales…pretty much anything illegal. The people he was supposed to be helping either considered him a saint or were too afraid to speak out against him.

He led Sandburg and Chaz from the main lobby through to the offices, past a conference room and down a hall papered in old propaganda prints from the Soviet Union. Kolya’s office was at the end of the hall, the only door with a digital numbered lock and thumbprint scanner.

“Pretty high tech for a non-profit,” Lorne remarked. “Nothing says ‘villain’s lair’ like a print scanner.”

I’m sorry, but I can only allow Blair inside. Kolya stood in front of the door, not yet unlocking it.

No can do, Sandburg replied. It’s not safe for me to do this alone. I need Chaz to pull me back if I get pulled in too deep.

“Sounds like a Sentinel move.”

Jim nodded. “I watched some of his show. It’s standard procedure.”

“Yeah, I know. I was a fan before you, remember?” Lorne flashed a grin at Jim.

I’m not comfortable with that, Kolya said.

Then we can call this off. This is a favor, man. You’re not paying me to put myself at risk.

“Ballsy,” Lorne remarked.

Jim agreed, and he didn’t like it. Either they were going to lose out on their chance to get into the office, or Kolya was going to get annoyed and get physical. He waited for the safe word.

On the video feed, Kolya pursed his lips and looked undecided for a long moment before nodding.

Of course. I’ll have to ask you not to touch anything.

I won’t need to, Sandburg assured him.

“Okay,” Lorne said. “Here we go.”

Kolya had his back to Sandburg as he input the door code, but Jim listened for the tones – there were seven. If he looked at the keypad, he’d be able to tell which numbers had been used, just not what order they’d been used in. Which wouldn’t be much use without Kolya’s thumb.

Sandburg’s hands moved slowly in front of the camera, palms up, and based on the episodes of the show Jim had watched, he likely had his eyes closed.

Wow. The air in here is heavy, like I’m under water. It’s hard to breathe.

Jim could hear it, the strain of Sandburg pulling air into his lungs. He had to clench his hand into a fist to keep from reaching for the door handle.

There’s a lot of anger. Rage. Frustration. It’s overwhelming.

“I wonder if that’s what Kolya was expecting,” Lorne said.

Sandburg moved around the room, giving them glimpses of Kolya’s oversized wooden desk and a line of fireproof filing cabinets. It was hard to see a lot of detail, even with Jim trying to use his heightened vision. And it wasn’t like Kolya had left incriminating documents on his desk. But there had to be something.

This isn’t a residual haunting, Sandburg said, and his voice was choked with emotion. This is an attachment. These souls are attached to you, Mr. Kolya.

How many? Kolya asked.

“He sounds spooked.”

“He should be,” Jim grumbled.

I can’t count them all.

Is this like the Philippines? Chaz asked in hushed tones.

Yes. No. They didn’t die here, there’s no shared trauma. They’re not tied to the building, man.

“I don’t like this,” Jim said. “He’s basically accusing Kolya of murder.”

The spirits of my enemies, Kolya said confidently. I’ve felt them myself, trying to reach out to me from beyond the grave.

No! Sandburg barked. He was still having trouble breathing, and Jim could hear that his heart rate had slowed. I sense…a young girl. Red hair, blue dress. A teenaged boy. His name starts with an R. These aren’t enemies, Mr. Kolya. These are people who were taken from their lives before their time.

That sounds like an accusation, Mr. Sandburg.

Sandburg turned, a bookshelf moving past the camera, until he was facing Kolya.

You asked me to get a read on your office. That’s what I’m doing. Don’t blame me if you don’t like what I hear, man. Chaz, I need to get out of here.

The camera feed showed Sandburg and Chaz pushing past Kolya and Tyrus and moving back into the hall. Sandburg bent over, sucking in deep breaths.

Jim glanced over at Lorne, who was studying the image on the laptop with a solemn expression. “This could go south real quick. Can you get a read?”

Lorne closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, and Jim could feel a small surge of power filling the car. It danced across his skin, raising the little hairs on his arms, and he tried to soak it in. Guide energy was like a battery charger for Sentinels. Most bonded pairings were able to make use of it through bond contact, but it wasn’t as easy for Jim and Lorne.

“We’re still good,” Lorne said after a long few seconds.

Can you convince these spirits to move on? Kolya asked.

I honestly don’t know, Sandburg replied. I need to do some research. A collection of souls this big isn’t something I deal with regularly.

I’ll double my original offer, Kolya said.

We’ll have to get back to you on that, Chaz replied. Blair needs to rest. That was a huge spiritual drain on him.

We can reconvene tomorrow. It wasn’t a question or a suggestion.

Tyrus escorted Chaz and Sandburg back to their car.

I hope you got what you needed, detectives, Sandburg said, bringing the tiny camera up to show his face. He looked pale and drained. Because that sucked. Consider me unavailable until tomorrow morning.

Jim couldn’t blame him. Whether or not ghosts were real, the ordeal of trying to contact them had serious physiological repercussions for Sandburg. Jim’s senses made that indisputable.

“We’ll have to go through this footage frame by frame,” Lorne said. “See if he got anything we can use.”

That kind of tedium could only be counteracted by a stop at the Wonderburger drive-thru. For once, Lorne didn’t argue in favor of a healthier option.

*o*o*o*

By the time Jim got back to the loft for the night, he had a pounding headache. He and Lorne had gone through the grainy video footage frame by frame, and even with heightened vision, there was only so much detail Jim could make out when the source material was underlit and over-pixelated.

The good news was they found enough in the footage to write up a request for a warrant, which Lorne would hand-deliver to Judge Ionesco in the morning. The brief panning shot of the bookshelves in Kolya’s office had shown at least two items that belonged to murder victims. Kolya was keeping trophies.

With Sandburg’s help they were closer than ever to putting a supposed criminal mastermind behind bars, which proved that justice came in many forms. Even ghost psychics.

Jim took a couple of pain pills for his headache, brushed his teeth, and dragged himself up to his bedroom. He was tired and wanted to be fresh for whatever the next day might bring. Which would hopefully be Kolya in handcuffs.

Almost as soon as he fell asleep, Jim woke in the jungle.

He was used to the blue tint, which seemed to be a hallmark of the spirit world Sentinels traveled to. Not for the first time he wondered what landscapes others of his kind visited. Was the jungle specific to him? Or did they all wander there?

“Enqueri. It is good to see you.”

Incacha, Jim’s former mentor in the mortal world and now spirit guide in the blue one, walked out of the dense jungle and onto the path where Jim was standing. He looked as he always did, adorned with red and black tribal paint, his long, dark hair in partial braids, and wearing only a loincloth.

“Incacha. Why did you bring me here?”

The jungle wasn’t an exotic getaway – there was always a reason to be there. A Sentinel doubting their path might be called, for example, to help them clarify things. But Jim wasn’t having doubts. He was very secure in his Sentinel path these days.

“You are at a crossroads, my friend,” Incacha said, speaking in Quechua. “And I fear you are about to let an important opportunity slip through your fingers.”

He held his hands up and wiggled his fingers.

“Is this about Sandburg?” Jim asked. Because what else could Incacha mean? Things in Jim’s life were settled and secure, except for how he’d been feeling around Sandburg. “I don’t need him.”

“How do you know?”

“Lorne is my Guide. I don’t need to change that. Besides, I don’t think Sandburg even knows what he is.”

“Walk with me, Sentinel.” Incacha started moving up the path, and Jim hurried to catch up. “Evan Lorne is a powerful Guide, but he is not yours in the way that Blair Sandburg could be. You know this, yet you resist.”

Jim sighed. “He says he talks to ghosts.”

Incacha laughed at that, one of his rare, full-body laughs. “And who are you speaking with in this moment?”

“This is different. It’s Sentinel stuff.”

“All this,” Incacha said, gesturing with one arm, “is but one of many spiritual planes. If you are able to access this one, why can someone not access another? Would it not be preferable, to have a Guide who could walk beside you here?”

Jim stopped walking. “What are you saying? Guides can’t come here.”

Now it was Incacha’s turn to sigh. “Enqueri, you know so much and so little. A bonded pair walks together on all planes.”

That was news to Jim, but there was no reason to doubt what Incacha was saying. The man never lied when he was alive, there was no reason to suspect he’d start now. But what difference did it make?

“I don’t need a bond.”

“You deprive yourself of much joy and spiritual understanding, my friend. But that is your decision. I am merely here to advise you against being a baboon’s ass.”

“Hey!” Jim protested.

“I must go,” Incacha said with a grin. “May your path be straight and unhindered.”

With that he vanished back into the jungle like the ghost he was. His place was soon taken by Jim’s spirit animal, a sleek black panther. It chuffed at him and showed its teeth.

“You’re supposed to be on my side.”

The panther butted its head against Jim’s leg and took off down the path with a great leap. Jim followed, running as fast as he could. He ran and ran, until he transitioned into normal sleep patterns and the blue jungle faded away.

*o*o*o*

The next morning, Sandburg contacted Lorne and arranged to come into the station. He looked like he’d barely slept – he was pale and the skin under his eyes looked bruised. Jim wordlessly handed over a bottle of cranberry juice he’d gotten out of the department vending machine.

Sandburg gave him a calculating look as he accepted it. “Thanks.”

“Blair, what you did last night gave us the warrant we needed,” Lorne said. “I can’t thank you enough for helping us out.”

“I didn’t do it for you,” Sandburg said. He took a long swallow of juice. “But you’re welcome. Mr. Kolya is expecting me at his office in an hour.”

“No,” Jim said before he could stop himself.

Sandburg and Lorne both stared at him.

“I mean, it’s unnecessary. We have the warrant. You can get back to filming.”

That sounded lame, even to Jim’s ears, and it was clear neither of the other two men were buying it either.

“I have a job to do,” Sandburg said. “I need to help those souls move on. You do your thing and I’ll do mine, how about that?”

“I don’t think –”

“Good. We’re all agreed.” Sandburg finished off the juice and set the empty bottle on Jim’s desk. “Make sure you recycle this.”

Since he insisted on coming along, Jim made sure Sandburg was fitted up with a Kevlar vest. When they got to Kolya’s, he told Sandburg to hang back until the building had been cleared.

“Believe me, man. I have no interest in getting shot.”

Jim, Lorne, and a full SWAT team walked into the lobby and started clearing out the wide-eyed civilians. The bodyguards were next, three large, burly Russians covered in prison tattoos. They opened fire and Jim dialed down hearing. He and Lorne used the lobby desk for cover, and the SWAT guys had their riot shields.

With hearing down, Jim dialed up on sight, trying to use reflections in the windows and glass picture frames to keep track of the bodyguards’ movements. SWAT took down two, and Jim popped another one in the hand; that guy ran for a secondary exit, but there’d be police waiting for him when he got there. The building was surrounded.

The gunfire stopped and Jim cautiously dialed hearing back up.

“There’s only one person left in the building,” he said.

“Guess who,” Lorne muttered.

Jim was fairly certain Kolya wouldn’t be armed. He’d claim his bodyguards acted on their own volition, trying to protect the organization from a perceived threat. He was usually able to weasel his way out of charges on that kind of technicality. Not this time.

Jim led the way down the hall to the office with the keypad. He knocked briskly on the door.

“Acastus Kolya! Cascade PD. We have a warrant to search your office.”

Jim was fully prepared to have one of the SWAT guys use the battering ram, but Kolya opened the door. To anyone else he might have looked unperturbed, but Jim could see the strain in his face, in his shoulders.

“Detective Ellison. You’ll forgive me if I don’t take you at your word.”

“Lorne.”

Lorne pulled out the warrant and handed it to Kolya, who made a big show of reading it.

“Your team can move back,” Jim told the SWAT commander. “Keep an eye on the front and side doors.”

It was just the three of them then, and Jim pushed past Kolya to step inside the office. Stall tactics weren’t going to work. Neither was clearing the bookshelves of every trinket that had been in Sandburg’s video, not when they were easily found in the duffel bag on Kolya’s office chair.

“Thanks for putting your prints all over these,” Jim said cheerily, looking inside the bag. “Forensics is going to love it.”

“If that’s all you have on me, Detective Ellison, you’re going to be very disappointed.”

Kolya looked entirely too pleased. Jim exchanged a look with Lorne, and then he heard it. Two more heartbeats in the building, one steady and regular and the other Sandburg’s, which was racing like a rabbit’s when it was caught in a snare.

Jim grabbed Kolya by his suit jacket and slammed him against the now-empty bookshelves. “What are you playing at?”

Lorne pulled his weapon, even though he didn’t know what the problem was until Sandburg was shoved into the office, eyes wide with fear. Sora Tyrus was right behind him, her Glock pressed against the back of Sandburg’s head. Lorne immediately swung his weapon so it was aimed at Tyrus.

They’d missed an entrance into the building somehow. Dammit! Everything had moved so fast once they had the warrant.

Kolya shoved Jim back with a snarl. His face quickly melted back into a pleased expression as he straightened his jacket.

“Ms. Tyrus, Mr. Sandburg, and I are going to leave. With the bag. And if you don’t want him missing half his head, you’ll let us go.”

“I don’t think so,” Lorne said.

His Guide power moved over Jim’s arm like a caress, quickly filling the room. Kolya’s grin faltered, and Tyrus took one shuffling step back, the Glock falling away just enough for Jim to make his move.

He grabbed the gun and twisted it out of Sora’s slackened grasp, immediately moving between her and Sandburg, and pushing her into Kolya. The two of them fetched up against the bookshelf and Tyrus crumpled to the ground, already unconscious.

There were no rules against Guides de-escalating volatile situations using their powers.

“Circumstantial evidence,” Kolya gasped, still clinging to consciousness.

“Not this time,” Jim said. He used his radio to call SWAT back in and watched with great satisfaction as Kolya was cuffed and led away. Tyrus needed to be carried.

When it was time to deal with Sandburg, Jim found him sitting on the floor with his head on his knees, taking deep breaths. His discarded Kevlar vest lay beside him.

“Are you okay?” he asked, squatting down next to Sandburg.

“That was intense.”

“I thought I told you stay in the truck,” Jim teased. He did a Sentinel scan to make sure Sandburg was really okay.

“You didn’t tell me not to get held at gunpoint,” Sandburg replied weakly.

“I guess I should’ve been more specific.”

When Sandburg was ready, Jim gave him a hand up. And then found he couldn’t let go. He and Sandburg stared at each other for a long moment, those big blue eyes threatening to swallow Jim whole. The air between them seemed to pulse with purpose, and Jim remembered what Incacha had implied – that Sandburg was his true Guide, the one he could bond with. He felt the truth of it in that moment and wondered if Sandburg did too.

Lorne cleared his throat and Jim hastily dropped Sandburg’s hand. “We need to get forensics in, Ellison. We’ll need every bit of evidence.”

Jim could do the job himself – with his senses he was uniquely suited to finding even microscopic pieces of evidence – but Cascade PD had a level two Sentinel in the forensics department. She only had sight and smell, but those were more than enough for the job she needed to do.

“I need to cleanse the space first,” Sandburg said. “It won’t take long.”

“You can’t burn any sage in here,” Lorne replied. “Or anything else that will contaminate the scene.”

“No sage. Just me. Could you two step out into the hall? You can leave the door open to make sure I don’t touch anything.”

The cleansing didn’t look like much. Sandburg moved around the room, hands up, murmuring under his breath.

“Find the doorway. It’s open for you. It’s time for all of you to go home. Set down your earthly burdens, your earthly emotions. Acastus Kolya will get the justice he deserves, I promise you. Find the doorway. Find peace.”

He said it over and over again, for almost five minutes. Jim could feel it now. Sandburg’s power flooding the room. It seeped into Jim’s skin, sending his nerve endings jangling. For a brief second, barely a blip, he could’ve sworn he saw the office full of people, all of them looking directly out at him in the hall. They were counting on him to make sure Kolya never hurt anyone else.

“I will,” he said.

“Will what?” Lorne asked.

Sandburg appeared in the doorway, leaning heavily against the door frame. “It’s all yours.”

“I’ll have an officer take you back to your hotel,” Lorne said.

“Thanks.” Sandburg looked up at Jim. “They’re gone. All of them.”

Jim nodded. “Great,” he replied, not sure what the added emphasis was supposed to mean.

Sandburg rolled his eyes and followed Lorne back up the hall.

*o*o*o*

Jim was tied up with work all the rest of that day and the next. Kolya was formally interrogated and held without bail. Forensics went over his office with a fine-toothed comb, bringing back countless evidence bags, the contents of which would be analyzed. Vice was doing the same with his laptop and every paper file that had been found.

He himself went through the items in the duffel bag. Every trinket was photographed, logged, and fingerprinted. Any trace evidence was carefully preserved and added to the pile to be tested. Items that could be matched with specific victims were noted as such, with corroborating proof like photographs or sworn statements given by family members. The whole process was digitally recorded so no-one could claim Jim was relying solely on his Sentinel senses.

By the end of the second day, Jim was tired but pleased. They had more than enough evidence to tie Kolya to nine homicides and two suspicious deaths, and they were still waiting on forensics results to come in. He may not have personally done the deeds, but Kolya definitely ordered them. It was very likely Vice would be able to add additional charges as well in regard to drug and prostitution activities.

Kolya’s reign in Cascade was over, and Jim felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

He and Lorne celebrated with beers at O’Neill’s, even though Lorne looked like he could fall asleep at the bar.

“We need some vacation time once this is all wrapped up,” Lorne said, elbow on the bar and head resting in his hand. “I feel like I’ve been typing up reports for a year.”

“Worth it,” Jim replied.

“And Sandburg?”

“What about him?”

“Ellison, I’m way too tired to do the song and dance with you.” Lorne pointed at Jim with his beer bottle. “Are you gonna let him slip away? Or man up and see what might be possible?”

“What if I like my life the way it is?” Jim countered.

“Then you’re an idiot, because we both know he’s your Guide. The one you could bond with. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”

Jim sighed. “Incacha called me a baboon’s ass.”

Lorne choked on his beer and hastily reached for some napkins. “Okay, well, if that’s not enough motivation for you, I don’t know what is.”

Jim still wasn’t sure. And there was always the possibility Sandburg would say no. Sure, he was physically attracted to Jim, that was obvious to any Sentinel. But being a bonded Guide wasn’t something a person could change their mind about mid-stream. It was a lifetime commitment, on both sides.

“I don’t even know him.”

“I’m not suggesting you bond today,” Lorne pointed out. “You can date like normal people. See if you like each other. But you will like each other, because he’s your Guide. Don’t make this any more complicated than it needs to be.”

“I hate this,” Jim grumbled.

“Change is growth,” Lorne said solemnly. “A seed that never changes won’t unfurl and feel the warmth of the sun on its face.”

“And I really hate you.”

*o*o*o*

Sandburg wasn’t at his hotel. Jim tracked him down through Chaz, because he still wasn’t sure he wanted to approach Sandburg about the Guide business. He needed more time to feel things out. So he went to Harborside, a neighborhood in Cascade’s historic district, to see if he could catch Sandburg doing his ghost hunting thing again.

The homes in Harborside were mostly rambling Queen Anne affairs, with turrets and wide porches and Victorian design elements. They were the mansions built by Cascade’s early elite – shipping magnates, lumber barons – and now inhabited by internet celebrities and dot com billionaires.

It was easy to find Sandburg. The house he was investigating had two Boo Crew vans parked in front of it, and a vintage black Impala parked in the driveway. It was almost eleven o’clock, which meant the sun was down and the ghost investigations could begin. The lights were off in the house, but Jim could see one glow moving from window to window, from either a flashlight or an infrared camera.

The real show was out on the lawn, though, where two guys were shoving each other.

“Take your dog and pony show and beat it!” the shorter of the two said. He looked like a scrapper, all hard angles and muscles.

The taller guy was wiry and unkempt and was wearing a black Boo Crew t-shirt. Jim thought his name was Cal or Carl or something. “We have permission to be here. You don’t.”

“And you don’t know what you’re up against!” Another shove by the little guy. “This isn’t a game!”

Two other Boo Crew guys were watching avidly from a few feet away, and Sandburg was up on the porch leaning against the rail with Chaz, barely seeming to follow the action at all.

Jim decided to intervene when it looked like punches might be thrown.

“Cascade PD,” he barked, flashing his badge. “There a problem here, gentlemen?”

“This guy is trespassing,” Cal or Carl said. “We have permits and permission from the homeowner.”

He snapped his fingers and one of his teammates produced the paperwork. Jim gave it a cursory once-over, but it all looked legit.

“And you?”

“I’m a concerned citizen,” Short Guy said. It was interesting, the way his eyes shifted, and his body language got more defensive. He was a man keeping a secret.

Sandburg came off the porch and joined them.

“Detective.”

“Mr. Sandburg.”

“Look,” Cal or Carl said. “We have a production schedule and he’s putting us behind. Can’t you arrest him or something?”

“Chill out, Carl,” Sandburg said. He turned to Short Guy. “You’re at the wrong house. You want 1125 Larkspur, not 1125 Bayside. There’s nothing here, trust me.”

Short Guy pulled out his cell phone, looked something up, and cursed. “Son of a bitch! Dammit, Sam!”

“What do you mean, there’s nothing here?” Carl asked Sandburg. “There are stories –”

Sandburg shook his head. “That’s all they are. I don’t feel a presence here, not even a faint residual.”

“What are you?” Short Guy asked. “A psychic or something?”

“He’s a spirit shaman,” Jim replied, earning him a surprised look from Sandburg.

“Oh, hey! I’ve seen you on TV! You’re better than these other chumps.”

“Hey!” Carl protested.

Short Guy gave him a dirty look. “Move your van. I’ve got places to be.”

“Do we need to talk about trespassing?” Jim asked him, warningly.

“Let him go, detective,” Sandburg said. “He’s doing important work.”

Short Guy gave him a narrow-eyed look of suspicion, but only said, “Thanks.”

“Be careful. 1125 Larkspur is heavy.”

“I know. I’m covered.”

There was a whole byplay going on that Jim didn’t understand, and he decided ignorance was bliss in this instance. Carl moved one of the vans so Short Guy could back his Impala out onto the street and drive away. Jim thought maybe he’d swing home by way of Larkspur, just to check on things.

The Boo Crew started their investigation, all of them disappearing into the house, and Chaz stayed up on the porch, so it was just Sandburg and Jim left on the lawn.

“What are you doing here?” Sandburg asked.

“I thought maybe we could talk.”

Although now that the moment was on him, Jim was pretty sure he didn’t want that at all. What he did want was something baser and physical, because Sandburg in the moonlight, the wind off the bay ruffling his curls, was unbelievably beautiful.

“My spirit guide told me you’d be coming.”

“You have a spirit guide?”

Sandburg nodded. “Anyone who travels to the plane of the dead needs one. It’s a level of protection.”

“Did they tell you why?”

“Yes.” The word was spoken breathlessly, and Jim knew Sandburg was feeling it too. That pull. The attraction. The desire to touch and taste. “I found out a few years ago what I am.”

“A Guide,” Jim clarified.

Your Guide. I’m not sure I believe it though.”

“I’m not sure I do either.”

“So what do we do?”

“You tell me,” Jim said. There was an edge of challenge to it.

“Let’s talk,” Sandburg replied. “But not here.”

He had a few words with Chaz, and then joined Jim by the truck.

“Let’s just get this out of the way,” Sandburg said, before crowding Jim against the passenger door and leaning up to kiss him.

Jim met him halfway. It was just a chaste kiss, no tongue involved, but he felt it down to his toes. And then Sandburg opened his mouth, and the top of Jim’s head nearly came off. He had no way of quantifying that kiss. It was more intense, more intimate, than any other kiss that had come before in his life.

When it was over his knees were weak and he was gasping for air, gratified to see that Sandburg was in a similar condition.

“Okay. Wow. I didn’t…We definitely need to talk, big guy,” Sandburg said. “Before I lose the ability to make good decisions.”

Jim opened the truck door. “After you, chief.”

*o*o*o*

Six Weeks Later

Jim stepped out of the courthouse, automatically dialing down vision against the brightness of the day. Blair was waiting at the bottom of the wide stone steps, having an animated conversation with one of the court stenographers. He kept a careful physical distance from other people, but he could talk the ears off a snake.

When he caught sight of Jim, Blair cut his conversation short and jogged up the steps.

“Hey. How’d it go?”

“Kolya’s case is crumbling. His people are starting to turn on him. The DA says it’s a slam dunk.”

“Good. I like being able to keep my promises.” Blair reached into his back pocket and pulled out a postcard. “This came in the mail today.”

The front of the card showed a view of Venice Beach, and Jim grinned. It was from Lorne. He flipped it over.

Settling in. My mom is glad to have me close to home for a change. My new Sentinel is former zoomie and likes to surf. I really lucked out this time! LOL! Let me know when you’re up for some ghost hunting in sunny California! EBL

Jim was glad things were going well for Lorne. As a Universal Guide he got moved around a lot, always to a law enforcement posting because he was a hell of a cop. Once, when he’d been extremely drunk, Lorne had admitted to still holding out hope that his next assignment would be his last.

“It’s not impossible,” Blair said, seemingly reading Jim’s mind. Or maybe he was just sensing it through their shared bond. “Rare, but not impossible. And if anyone deserves that kind of happiness, it’s Evan Lorne.”

Jim didn’t disagree. He handed the postcard back to Blair, slung an arm around his shoulders, and pressed a kiss to the side of his curly head. All of Jim’s rough edges smoothed out, the tensions of the day bleeding away just from the close proximity to his Guide.

He’d been wrong to dismiss bonding for so many years.

“We still on schedule?” Jim asked as he and Blair went down the steps and toward the parking lot.

“A little ahead, actually.” Blair reached down and pinched Jim’s ass. “Any idea how to fill the time?”

“I can think of a few things,” Jim replied with a grin.

He and Blair were heading out to Tacoma for a long weekend. Blair and Chaz were filming a couple episodes of Spirit Shaman and Jim was tagging along. Being part of a bonded pair gave Jim a lot of leeway with his schedule and, when his caseload allowed it, he traveled with Blair.

In return, Blair used his special ability to contact the spirits of the dead that attached themselves to Jim, usually at their crime scenes. Jim’s closure rate had shown a marked uptick.

Jim believed in a lot of things now. “Let’s go home,” he said.

He was keeping his frequency open these days, too.