I should have known the moment we found Maya struggling against her abductors outside the loft that it was all too good to be true.
But by the time we got her upstairs and cleaned up, it was painfully apparent to me how happy Blair was that she was back. I saw the light in his eyes as he watched her settle down on the couch and could only hope that I wouldn’t see it fade as it had the last time Maya left.
I've been lying awake ever since and when I hear him shuffling out of his room into the living room, I can picture the scene as clearly as if I were watching it. He's standing next to the sofa, just looking at her, trying to convince himself that the day he's waited for has finally come. The day Maya came back to him.
Then I hear the low murmur of their voices and, though I know it's wrong, I dial up my hearing and focus it on Blair's.
"I was just wondering if you still hated me," he says and his voice is so hesitant, so unsure that it's all I can do not to race downstairs and kick her out of my home so I can protect him from the pain I’m sure she's going to cause him again.
I close my eyes and bring my hearing back down to normal. I'm not sure what I want her to say. If she says yes, then I'll have to see the pain in his eyes again, the pain she left there before; if she says no, I've lost him. I know I should want that for him, want him to be happy with her… but I can't. Apart from the fact that I know, through some deep Sentinel-Guide instinct, that her presence in his life will only cause him to be hurt again, there's a deeper reason. A selfish reason. I need him in my life, as my guide. I’m still too far from getting a handle on these wayward senses of mine. I dread the thought of slipping back to what I was before I met him.
The low drone of their voices is gone now and I dial my hearing up again, searching for Blair's heartbeat. It's rapid and I can hear him breathing deeply in and out, the way he does when he's trying to calm himself. The futon creaks as he moves so I know he's back in his room. Rising stealthily to my feet, I peek over the railing of my bedroom and see Maya lying on the couch. I go back to bed, still no wiser as to what her answer had been.
Standing at the door of the safe house I watch as Blair says goodbye to Maya. She's smiling nervously, her hands trailing over his shoulders and his face. It's as much as I can do to just stand there and watch. But I do. I don’t trust her but I know it’s pointless telling Blair that right now.
He laughs a little, and shoots an embarrassed glance over his shoulder to where I'm standing. I can't help the smile that crosses my face in response. Then I head out the door and wait for him to catch up, giving them at least a modicum of privacy.
"You touch him and you're a dead man." I growl the words out harshly.
Blair's been pushed face-down across a table, a gun held to his head, one arm held tight against his side, the other held out as one of the goons holds a blowtorch dangerously close to his flesh.
We'd been walking through Chinatown, joking about fortune cookies when I'd become aware of a gun pressed against my side. By the time I realized Blair had a gun held on him as well, it was too late to do anything except follow our captors' instructions and climb into the car. It's times like these that I wonder what the hell use are these senses of mine. I hadn't heard or sensed any sign of danger and now my heart is thumping in my chest as I realize Blair might be the one to pay for that.
Then, minutes later, it's all over as Blair realizes the man who ordered us taken prisoner is Maya's Uncle Gustavo.
I check my partner out as they release their hold on him, relieved to see that, apart from being pale and shaky, he's no worse for wear. Lucky for Gustavo and his men. I'd meant every word I'd said. If Blair had been hurt, I would have taken them all on with my bare hands and damned the consequences.
"I know how you feel, Chief. But if you'd stayed with her, you'd have ended up dead, too."
Blair's leaning against the truck, staring down at the ground. Even without seeing his eyes, I can visualize the guilt in them.
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" he asks, his tone bitter.
I clench my jaw, fighting against the image in my mind, one even worse than what I'd already seen when I'd crashed through the front door of the safe house. It was bad enough that two good cops… two men I counted as friends, were dead. The thought that Blair could have been one of the bodies on the floor was more than I could bear thinking about.
I turn my attention away from that grim scenario as Simon and Gustavo walk over to us, Gustavo muttering sarcastically about the ability of the cops to protect his niece.
Before I can offer much explanation for how the safe house was discovered, Simon's cell phone rings and he answers it then with a frustrated growl of "Sandburg", he hands the phone to Blair.
"Maya!" Blair's voice is shocked and Simon whispers to him to keep her talking, even as I'm fumbling for my own cellphone and putting in a request for a trace. In the background, I hear Blair demanding answers. My hearing, so attuned to his heartbeat, notes a sudden acceleration and I swing round to see the fear on his face.
Then he closes the phone and I get the response on my own cell that Maya hadn't been on the line long enough for a trace.
Walking back to Blair, I can see how agitated he is. His eyes are wide with fear and his words push past his lips in staccato bursts.
Gustavo says he knows what the kidnappers want - the numbers and codes for Maya’s father’s Swiss bank accounts.
The kidnappers wants a meet, Blair tells us. If we don't do what they want, they'll kill Maya.
I can hear his heart still racing, smell the scent of his fear for Maya on his skin. I want nothing more than to tell him she'll be okay, ask him to trust me to get her back for him, if that's what he needs, but I can't. Not here, not now. All I can do is what I know best - my job. If I can get it right, I can bring her back to him. No matter how I feel about it, if that's what it takes to make Blair happy, then that's what I'll do.
We'd already lost Gustavo once and I was sure he knew more about Maya's kidnapping than he was letting on. When Blair suggested a place we might find him, I set off, determined to shake the truth out of the old goat once and for all. I had no way of knowing that the truth would hurt Blair so deeply or that it would put his life in danger yet again.
We catch up with Gustavo right where Blair had thought he would be and for once, the old man decides to finally come clean with us.
Maya had a boyfriend, he tells us. I keep my eyes off Blair as he digests that news, knowing it has to cut deep but the real shock is in what Gustavo says next - Maya's boyfriend is his stepson, Francisco Rivero Alcante. According to Gustavo, the kid's a loser and Gustavo believes he's suckered Maya into a sting. Apparently, the girl had been feeling guilty over what her father had done and wanted to get her hands on his money and turn it over to the poor people of Chile - like some sort of female Robin Hood, I guess. I almost snort at the idea of any of the Carasco family thinking about anyone but themselves but a quick sideways look at Blair's stricken face makes me keep my mouth shut.
There's more, of course. Gustavo thinks that Francisco has convinced Maya that if they pretended he'd kidnapped her, they could get their hands on Carasco's ill-gotten fortune and Francisco, being the decent guy Maya believes he is, will turn it over to the poor.
Blair is shaking his head before Gustavo even finishes speaking. "No. Maya wouldn't fall for that," he says, his voice sure, even as his eyes telegraph his distress. He gestures over his shoulder as he turns away. "I'm gonna go..."
I nod. I don't want him listening to any more of what Gustavo is saying either. I watch him walk away then turn my attention back to the old man.
But my senses are still trained subliminally on Blair and I find myself tracking him even while Gustavo goes on about Francisco wanting to get back at him by hurting Maya.
At first, all I can hear is Blair's racing heartbeat, his panting breaths as he strides away but then there's another voice, laced with a menacing undertone. Gustavo's words fade to the background and I tell him to be quiet as I focus my hearing completely on Blair.
"Where is the other cop? Where is Gustavo Alcante?"
I recognize the threat inherent in the voice and that's all it takes to get me moving. I tell Gustavo to stay where he is and I run towards the parking lot, pulling my gun from its holster as I go.
Rounding the corner of the lot, I see Blair, his arms held up by Francisco's goons.
"Let him go!" I bring my gun up and hold it steady.
"How good a shot are you?" Rivero sneers. "Good enough to drop me before I blow your friend away?"
Blair's nodding, his eyes desperately signaling me to take the shot.
"Give it up, Rivero. We all know about you and Maya," I tell him.
Francisco shrugs, smirking. "Really? Then it's lucky we have another hostage."
I clench my jaw, keeping my weapon aimed at Rivero's head, wanting nothing more than to take the shot and put the bastard out of everyone's misery but knowing it's too damned dangerous. Rivero's got three other goons backing him. Even if I hit him, there's nothing to stop one of them taking out Blair and I can't risk that.
He tells them to put Blair into the car and I lower my weapon, staring him down, my heart beating a furious tattoo in my chest.
Rivero walks over to me, pulling a slip of paper from his pocket. "Call me when you have the real codes," he snarls. "And make it within four hours or don't bother calling at all." He turns and saunters back to the car, his arms held out in a gesture of self-satisfaction.
Turning my head, I see Gustavo standing next to me, a look of disgust on his face.
All I can do is watch as the car is driven out of the lot, Blair's face staring despairingly out the window at me.
For some reason, I go along with Gustavo's idea of getting inside the prison and getting the real codes off Carasco. Simon doesn't trust the man and hell, I'm damned if I do either, but I need to do something… anything that will get Blair out of Rivero's clutches, and as far as I can tell, this is our best chance. Despite the fact that Gustavo's wilier than a fox, I sense that he really only wants to help Maya escape from Francisco. I want the same thing for Blair too, so I talk Simon into it and we head off to the prison and pull off one of the slickest con jobs it's ever been my privilege to be involved in.
Something had to go wrong of course.
And it does.
Gustavo pulls the old 'I'm having a heart attack' trick on me and I fall for it like a rookie.
Next thing I know I'm waking up with my face planted in the dirt and a serious 'migraine to the 'nth' degree' banging at my skull.
Fortunately, I have a hard head and I make it to my feet without losing my stomach contents. I touch the tender lump at the back of my head and find blood on my fingers. There's no time to worry about first aid so I send my vision out on a recce for the car keys and pick up a flash of light in the verge opposite. Stumbling across the road, I grab the keys then race for the car as quickly as my wobbly equilibrium allows me, my mind set on finding Blair before Gustavo blows the whole thing out of the water in his quest to rescue Maya and exact revenge on his stepson.
Gun in my hand, I race toward the boat, my heart feeling as if it's risen into my throat and is choking off my breath. Almost falling up the steps, I see Blair face down on the deck, obviously unconscious.
Bending down, I press my fingers to his throat, though my hearing tells me he's alive. I need to *feel* his heart beating. His pulse is slow but strong and he moves slightly against the roll of the boat as I touch him.
Looking up, I see Gustavo, one hand pressed to a bloody wound in his arm. I give Blair a final touch, reassuring myself that he's okay for now and then head up to the next deck to check out the old man.
Gustavo's almost incoherent with worry for Maya and the Sentinel in me takes over. Asking him to keep an eye on Blair, I take off after Francisco, more determined to make the bastard pay for what he's put my Guide through than out of any instinct to protect Maya.
Not much in my police career has given me more satisfaction than seeing Francisco Rivero Alcante face down on the wet ground at my feet. I almost wish the bastard would get up again just so I could have the pleasure of knocking him on his ass once more. But he doesn't. He just lays there, my cuffs on his wrists, as the uniformed cops reach us and take him into custody.
"Uncle Gustavo, I'm so sorry." Maya's moving past me and I turn and see Gustavo walking forward to hug her with one arm, the other hanging loose at his side. There's a sizeable patch of blood on the arm of his jacket but I'm relieved to see the old guy looks to be okay. He's whispering assurances to his niece and nods his thanks to me over her head.
"Where's Blair?" I ask.
Gustavo motions with his head back toward the boat. "He wanted me to come check on Maya. He was very insistent."
I nod. I know how that goes. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt. Lots of them.
I notice though that Maya hasn't asked if Blair's all right. Instead, she's turned to watch Francisco being led away. I push away my uncharitable thoughts about her and jog back to the boat, eager to get to Blair before he decides to come looking for us and falls down the gangway and breaks his goddamned neck.
Blair's sitting on the bottom step of the stairwell. He's bent forward, his arms resting on his knees, his head pillowed on his crossed arms.
"Hey, Chief, how you doing?" I sit down next to him and put an arm around his shoulders, pulling him close against my side.
"My head hurts a bit, and my ribs," he replies. "Is Maya okay?"
I feel a chill settle over my heart at his question. "Yeah," I reply, as casually as I can. "She's fine. Gustavo's with her. Backup's here and Francisco's being hauled off to the lockup as we speak. Everything's okay."
He lifts his head and looks into my eyes. "I'm sorry," he says quietly. "I did it again, didn't I?"
Blood is trickling down the side of his face from the cut on his forehead and I pull my handkerchief from my jacket pocket and press it against the wound.
"Ow!" He pulls away from me and I wrap my arm more firmly around him and bring him back to my side again.
"Sorry. You're bleeding," I say. "What are you sorry for?"
"I let her fool me," Blair replies. "I really thought she wasn't involved in this."
I shrug. "It happens, Chief. You couldn't have known. Let's get you checked out." I lever him carefully to his feet, both arms going out to grab him as he looks like he'll end up face-down on the deck the minute he stands up.
"Sorry," he mutters again.
"Enough with the apologies. I'm just glad you're okay," I respond as I hold him up and maneuver him down to the pier to the waiting ambulances.
Blair's too quiet by the time we finally clear up the mess at the docks and make it home. He'd shared a laugh with me, at Simon's expense, when we realized Gustavo had pulled another swift one on us and escaped, for now at least. I had a feeling we hadn't seen the last of the wily old coot though. But, just as I thought that maybe Blair would bounce back from having his heart broken by Maya once again, I saw him turn and watch as she was escorted to a squad car. He moved so his back was to me, away from my scrutiny, and wiped a hand across his eyes quickly, then he walked on ahead of me and climbed into the truck and didn't say more than one or two words the rest of the way home.
He's in bed now but he's not asleep. I'm listening to him again and I can hear the restless movements he's making with his feet as he tosses and turns on the futon, the impatient sighs whispering from between his lips as he tries to relax into sleep.
I think about going down and asking if he wants to talk but I'm not sure I want to see the pain in his eyes now he knows he’s probably lost Maya for good this time.
So I don't. I dial my hearing down and roll onto my side. I don't sleep for a long time either.
When morning comes, I turn over and check the clock. Five AM. As good a time to get up as any, I decide, knowing sleep is a lost cause for now. I climb out of bed, wrap my robe around me and head downstairs only to come to a stumbling halt on the top step.
Blair's sitting on the bottom step, leaning against the wall, his chin tucked down against his chest, a blanket wrapped loosely around his shoulders.
I take the rest of the stairs two at a time till I get to him, then bend and reach out tentatively to cup his cheek. He's cold, his skin icy to my Sentinel touch. I curse the fact that I'd fallen asleep and hadn’t heard him get out of bed. Moments later, as he stirs against my fingers, it finally occurs to me to wonder why the hell he did.
"Hey, what are you doing sitting here, Chief?" I ask as his eyes slide open and blink slowly before settling on my face. I grab the blanket and pull it up more firmly around his shoulders, then sit down next to him on the step and wait for an answer.
He shrugs, looking away from me and down at the floor, his fingers pinching the edge of the blanket nervously.
"You're almost frozen, buddy," I continue, placing an arm around the trembling shoulders and pulling him against me, wanting to share as much of my body heat with him as possible. I reach out with my other hand and tip his chin up and around so he's looking at me again. "What's going on? Is your head okay? Do you feel sick? Got a headache? What? Help me out here, Chief. You're starting to worry me more than you usually do."
That gets a faint smile out of him. "I feel like an idiot," he says finally.
"I already told you it wasn't your fault you didn't catch onto Maya's and Francisco's scheme, Blair," I say gently. "You couldn't have known -"
"No," he interjects, shaking his head. "That's not what I mean. I just feel I've missed something important here.”
I shake my head in confusion. "I'm sorry. I don't understand what you mean or what that has to do with why you're sitting on the stairs at oh-dark-o'clock, freezing your butt off." Finally I haul him up and herd him upstairs. He hesitates only momentarily and soon I've got him sitting on the side of my bed next to me.
"There was this one time I was talking to my mom about the people in her life, her lovers as well as her friends," Blair begins. I raise my eyebrows a little at that and he grins at me. "Naomi and I have always had a pretty open relationship," he adds.
I think about his beautiful free-spirited mother and can only say, "I hear that."
That makes him laugh then his eyes grow serious. “I asked her how she’d coped with not having someone permanent in her life, like my father maybe, or at least another partner or husband.”
"What did she tell you?" I ask, wondering where this is leading but wanting to let him tell it at his own pace.
"She said that most of the time friendship is more important than being in love, that the people she’d tried to never to lose track of were her friends, because they were the ones who’d be there for her when her lovers walked away. The men who were most important to her were friends, not lovers.” He grins ruefully at me. “You tried to warn me not to get involved with Maya before, remember?”
I nod and give his shoulder a pat. “Hey, you were head over heels for her at the time. You just weren’t ready to listen back then.”
“I should have listened. I mean, I barely knew her,” he says with a wince of obvious self-reproach. “I *know* you. I knew you were trying to do what was best for me.”
“Hey, it’s what friends do, Chief.” I give him a gentle noogie and stand up then point to my bed. “Get in and warm up. I’ll go down and make coffee and we’ll talk some more.”
He gives a mock-groan but climbs into the bed and snuggles under the covers. “I thought we just talked about it,” he says, his tone just a shade below whining.
“Ah, but we didn’t get to the part where you acknowledge I’m your all-knowing Sentinel best friend and you’ll always listen to me from now on,” I fire back, heading for the stairs.
“You know I could mention a few of your misadventures in love,” he calls after me.
I grin at that and continue on down the stairs. He’s right about that.