Blair Sandburg rolled down the window of his Volvo and inhaled the fresh air. He was valiantly trying to ignore his fellow passenger, Mike Dougan. He did feel slightly bad about it, since the man was only there to protect Blair. Mike Dougan, police officer. Blair had fought it. Not that he didn't want the protection; he'd just rather have Mike be in plainclothes to blend in more. It was a little disconcerting to walk around the campus trailed by a fully-uniformed police officer. He'd argued with Jim for over an hour before finally relenting. He realized his sentinel was scared and, not knowing how to deal with it, Jim was obviously operating in full mother-hen mode.

The past few days, Jim had been driving Blair slowly insane. He called the anthropologist almost every hour and, if Blair was in class or unavailable, he would call Officer Dougan to ensure that Sandburg was indeed safe.  

Mike found Ellisonís over-protectiveness to be rather funny, but he knew how important Blair was to Jim, and so he took his job very seriously. He would answer Jim's call and reply to his questions. After hanging up he would make a comment about Jim now being Sandburg's mother.  

If the truth were known, Blair was quite scared himself and had no intention of ever running into Alex again. He understood the rationale that if Alex could see Blair was being protected, she might not try anything. It was just hard to ignore a six-foot tall, fully armed man always standing no more than six feet away. He should be used to it after all these years with Jim, but this was different. He felt like a prisoner, when he should be the one who was free, not Alex. 

Heíd even gone so far as to call Alexís clinical psychiatrist in Oregon, Dr. Feinberg. The man had been surprisingly talkative after Blair had introduced himself. Heíd told Blair that, with her mental breakdown, Alex had been unable to control her senses, such as they were. Of course, at the time, the doctor hadnít realized all of her senses were heightened. He had thought she could use two or three senses at a heightened level, but was doubtful she could control all five.  

After promising to send the doctor a copy of his dissertation, Blair had hung up.  

They arrived at Rainier and made their way into Blair's office. Blair had found an old couch that he had stuck in the corner of his office, so at least Mike had somewhere comfortable to sit. Blair had been trying to get his protector interested in anthropology, but had met with little success. It seemed Mike was very interested in sports and little else. So, after running out of "Jags" talk the first day, there were quite a few stretches of silence between the two.  

The routine they had begun to follow continued that day. Mike had followed Sandburg to his first lecture, where he positioned himself in the seat nearest the door. From there, he could check over all the entrants. After all the students were seated, Mike would divide his time between keeping his eye on the door and windows and his ear on Sandburg's lecture. Anthropology was not his cup of tea, but Blair was an amazing teacher; maybe if there had more instructors like him, Mike would've stayed in college. Sandburg really got his students involved in the discussions and made it known that their opinions were important.  

On the way back from class, Blair was digging into his notes as Mike kept his eyes tracking around the area. Not watching where he was going, Blair rounded a corner and slammed into another person, sending them both to the ground.  

Mike reacted instantly, rushing past a fallen Blair and placing himself in the center of the mess. Blair, realizing what had happened, was quick to assure the cop that he was fine, and climbed quickly to his feet. He walked around the officer to assist the victim of his clumsiness: a young woman, around 22 or 23 years old, with short, spiky red hair. Her slacks and shirt were black, accented by a bright scarf. She wore the chunky, thick-soled shoes that were so popular, and held the strap of a black leather backpack, which lay next to her on the floor.  

"I'm so sorry, it's my fault completely," Blair apologized. "I should have been watching where I was going." He reached his hand out to help her up. She smiled up at him as she extended her hand and Blair pulled her up.  

"That's okay, I was hoping to have an excuse to do my laundry," she said lightly while dusting off her pants.

Mike snickered in the background, and Sandburg shot him a look of mock disgust. Turning back to the woman, Blair told her, "I'm such a klutz; I'll pay for any cleaning bill."  

"Hey, listen, if I ever had any 'dry clean only' clothes, I killed them long ago. I'm strictly a 'wash and wear' kind of girl," she laughed.  

Sandburg listened to her laugh and thought of how attractive she was. Maybe she'd be open for a cup of coffee or something. "So do you have anything going on now?"  

"Actually I'm looking for Blair Sandburg's office. Do you have any idea where that could be?" She hefted the backpack over one shoulder.  

"I should, I'm Blair Sandburg," he introduced himself, gracing the young woman with one of his more dazzling smiles.  

"Oh, I should have recognized you! I'm Denise Breton; we've been corresponding through e-mail. I'm your new TA." She held out her hand, and Blair shook it enthusiastically.

They exchanged pleasantries and headed towards Blair's office with a bemused Mike Dougan in tow. Denise glanced at Mike a couple of times before asking, "What exactly is he doing with you?"  

"You mean you haven't heard about it through the very fast and highly efficient grad student grapevine?" Blair asked, rolling his eyes, as he slipped his key in the lock and opened the door.  

"I don't listen to gossip; if I want to know what happened, I ask," she stated, following Blair into his office.  

"That's very refreshing," Blair commented, a hint of humor in his tone. He smiled his thanks at Mike as the officer grabbed a chair from the office and placed it right outside the door to give the two some privacy.  

"So what's going on?"

Blair's smile faltered, and he gave into a quiet sigh. "You don't mess around, do you?"  

"Life's too short to play it safe. See what you want and go for it. If you fail, at least you tried." She laughed at herself. "Man, I'm starting to sound like a sneaker commercial. Seriously, if you need to tell me something, it'll stay between us." She looked her new boss directly in the eye. "Is this about Alex Barnes?"  

Blair paled at the mention of her name and gave a small shudder. "What do you know about her?" he whispered.  

"I saw your press conference talking about her being a sentinel, and of course I've seen the news reports of her escape." She paused, walking around to the front of the desk to sit in a chair. "I've always been intrigued by sentinel lore, and when I discovered you'd actually found one, well, I was floored. I knew that you were the professor to work for. You believed that they existed and you kept at it until you'd found one." Taking in Blair's stricken appearance she reined herself in. "I realize it was a terrible situation, but just experiencing your dream should be able to wipe some negative karma away."  

"You're right, it should, but it's still too fresh in my mind, I guess." Blair looked away quickly, suddenly engrossed in looking for something, anything, to keep Denise from asking too much more about Alex.  

Looking at Sandburg with honest concern, she spoke, her voice soft, "She's after you, isn't she?"  

Blair nodded bleakly. This was all more than he wanted to deal with. He swallowed and busied himself with digging out some test booklets from his backpack.  

"So he --" she jerked her head toward the officer sitting in the hall, "-- is here to protect you from her?"  

"Yeah. Look, I'd rather not talk about this, okay?" Blair stood awkwardly, his face pained as he lifted a stack of the booklets.  

She smiled apologetically, noticing his discomfort with the personal turn the conversation had taken. "I promise not to ask again. I'll wait until you tell me. So, what have you got for me?"  

With a look of relief flashing briefly across his face, Blair quickly smiled, handing her the test booklets while explaining what she needed to do. 

~~~~&~~~~  

With Mike or Jim always around, Blair found he didn't like to go as many places as he usually did, so for the next few weeks he spent most of his time either at the loft or the university.  

Working with his TA, who was a new grad student in the Anthro department at Rainier and still learning her way around, Blair was getting to know Denise quite well. She was an exceptional student, very intelligent, with a tremendous drive to succeed. Any romantic inclinations he might have had toward her had dissolved after that first day; the two seemed to make better friends than potential romantic companions. Besides, Blair felt uncomfortable with the idea of becoming involved with a student under his supervision. The feelings were reciprocated: apparently, Denise felt friendly toward him, but nothing more.  

Jim, however, was another story.  

The sentinel had come to see Blair, arriving while Denise was helping the teaching fellow grade some papers. Denise had momentarily stepped down the hall, and Blair was alone when Jim got there. Ellison had greeted Mike, offering to keep an eye on Blair for a while so Mike could catch some lunch, then walked into the office. Jim plopped down on the office couch, angled so he could keep an eye on the hallway. "Hey, Darwin, how's academia?"  

"Hey, Jim. It's a challenge, as usual," Blair glanced up to see his roommate intently watching someone walking toward the office.  Denise. He recognized the look on his friend's face and knew what was running through Jim's mind. Oh man, she's a redhead!  Jim's gonna be trouble. Blair couldn't help the smirk that spread across his face. Or a lot of fun!

Jim stood, wary at the approach of a stranger, but obviously interested in getting to know her better -- assuming she wasn't a threat to Sandburg -- when the woman approached and entered Blair's office.  

"Jim? Jim!" Blair called to get his friend's attention. The sentinel glanced at his partner, then back to the woman who stood comfortably in front of him.  

Blair smiled at the woman. "Denise, this is Detective Jim Ellison, the guy I told you about, who I work with at the police department. Jim, this is Denise Breton, my new TA."  

The redhead smiled at Jim, and he returned it, his features lighting up. They shook hands.  

"Nice to meet you, I've heard so much about you," said Denise. "Blair can't stop talking about his adventures with the Cascade Police."  

"A pleasure to meet you, too, although you have me at a bit of a disadvantage since Blair's failed to mention you." He shot Blair a look of reprimand at Blair, which his friend responded to by shrugging innocently.  

"Sorry, Jim. I guess I was so wrapped up in my classes, I forgot all about my brand new assistant. I apologize to you, Denise, because you are far too important to neglect, and I should be spreading your name far and wide," Blair finished by flinging his arms open to indicate the entire room.  

As Denise started giggling, Jim murmured, "Well, you're spreading something, Chief, but I don't think it's her name."  

"Humph." Blair glared at his friend, arms akimbo.  

Denise laughed again, then grabbed some of the papers and sat on the other end of the couch, red pen in hand, to resume grading.  

For the next half hour, Jim talked with Blair, throwing occasional comments in Denise's direction, hoping to distract her from her task. But the woman was intent on grading and, other than polite responses, seemed oblivious to Jim's attempted advances.  

Blair chatted with his friend as he filed some papers and cleaned off the top of his desk. Jim seemed to get a bit disheartened at Denise's apparent lack of interest, looking forlornly at his friend. Blair attempted to appear sympathetic, but couldn't quite hide his grin.  

~~~~&~~~~  

She had seen the cop following Blair around and cringed. There'd be no way to reach him without hurting someone or getting hurt herself. Neither was something she wanted at this point.  

There had to be some way to get her hands on Sandburg. No matter where she went in this city, she couldn't escape his pull, his power. Her hearing kept spiking and centering in on his voice. She heard him once when he was at the loft, and had "tuned into" three of his lectures so far. She kept focusing in on the guide. This cemented her certainty that he belonged to her. She needed him.  

She'd wait them out.  

~~~~&~~~~  

It had been over three weeks with no sign of Alex. Blair was sick and tired of having a 'babysitter,' and Jim seemed to grow more irritable each day that passed with no news of Barnes. He wasn't able to sense her like he had the last time and therefore had no way of knowing if she was still around or had really left the city.

Blair had a theory that Barnes had lost full "Sentinel Status," as it were, when she returned to the temple's pool and fried her senses. Based on that idea, he thought that Jim's inability to feel her presence was because she was no longer a sentinel. This theory did nothing to curb Jim's anger or relax his worry. The only thing that seemed to do that was to have control over Blair.  

Jim was on an all-night stakeout with Simon, and he had barricaded his best friend in the loft with threats and guilt. Blair was resigned to a night of grading tests, since he had given a special assignment to Denise earlier in the day. He sat at the table, the laptop in front of him and a stack of bluebooks to his right. Moving the cursor using the touchpad, he tried to access the ' fact and issue' checklist he'd copied from his office computer, but an error message popped on the screen, informing him that the file was unreadable. 

Damn! He needed that information to grade the exams. Slapping a palm on the table, he berated himself for not printing the sheets out. He'd thought he'd save a few trees and just work with the electronic version, but he should have known better than to put faith in a machine. 

He'd promised the grades would be posted the following morning, and hated to disappoint his students. Knowing Jim would kill him, he dialed his friendís cell to tell him of his dilemma, but he only got a busy signal. After two more tries with the same result, he decided that a quick trip to his office was safe enough. And besides, he rationalized, he would be back long before Jim returned, none the wiser.  


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