Jim Ellison was destroyed. There was no other word for it, and Simon wasn't certain anything was ever going to put him back together again. Only hours ago he'd been the strongest man Simon had ever had the privilege of knowing, a great cop, a incomparable detective, a warrior in the truest sense of the word. Now he was nothing but an empty shell of a man, closed off from the world, lost, alone, and drifting farther and farther away by the minute.
The entire afternoon had been a nightmare--one the whole Major Crimes Division had shared. In the three years Blair Sandburg had worked in their department, he'd won the respect and admiration of everyone present. And all of them were feeling his loss. Blair might not have been a cop, but he was one of their own, and such losses were hard to stomach.
Simon had lost men before, but with Blair the hurt went deeper. . .maybe because the kid had seemed so much more alive than anyone else he'd ever met. His bouncy, over-whelming, puppyish friendliness, child-like enthusiasm and innocence was pretty much everything Simon avoided in a person. . .and yet he counted Blair as one of his closest friend. The kid for all his annoyance had given so much of himself to the department that Simon couldn't help how he felt about him.
He wanted to mourn Blair Sandburg like all the rest. . .wished he had the luxury of going off and crying the way Megan had. But he couldn't. . .he was left to take up the role Blair had left him. As Jim's Guide. And he knew from the first instant it had happened that no one could ever take that role in Jim's life.
He and Brown had had to pry Jim off Blair's body by the fountain. He'd been screaming that Blair was alive, that he could hear a heart beat. . .and for one brief moment Simon had felt the most bitter of hopes. He'd made the paramedics check again, made them hook up their instruments to his heart, take his pulse, prove that somehow the great Sentinel himself had been utterly, miserable, and so agonizingly wrong. There was no pulse, no heart beat, no breath. . .no matter what Jim imagined he had heard.
Simon and Brown had driven Jim to the hospital, both of them listening in gut wrenching silence to Jim's chanting moans of denial: "this can't be happening, this can't be happening," over and over again. Blair had been wheeled in to the emergency room, the doctors had checked him over, applied the same techniques the paramedics had. . .cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Just like the paramedics they'd taken out those paddles and shocked his body. . . and, God, it had been so horrible to watch that pale, lifeless body jerk and twitch so violently with the electricity coursing through it. But it had all been utterly pointless. They'd pronounced him dead, and moved on to someone more in need of their services.
But by then Jim had completely shut down. No more chanting, no more moans, no more tears. . .no more nothing. He'd just stood there, staring at his dead Guide, and his face had gone utterly, terrifyingly blank. They'd all seen it. . .Megan, Brown, Rafe, even the duty nurses. . .he'd shut himself off from the world as easily as if he'd thrown a light switch. It was over, it was done, and to Jim Ellison, nothing in the world seemed to matter at all.
Which had left Simon in charge of not only the search to find Alex, but also of Jim's very life. And Simon had been at a complete loss of what to do with him. He didn't want to take Jim back to the loft. . .not to that empty horrible place that would remind Jim of his last moments with his Guide. He'd kicked the kid out of the loft, and then out of his life. . . had packed his belongings up, moved them out and sent him to live in the very office that Alex had killed him in. He thought about taking him to his place, but Simon needed to be in the office, needed to run the hunt for Alex--that bitch wasn't getting away with what she'd done! But Simon couldn't leave Jim alone--suicide aside, he suspected Jim was in some sort of zone-out. . .and Blair had once warned him that a zone-out could potentially kill a Sentinel.
So Simon had taken him to the precinct. He'd walked Jim through the silent bullpen, mindful of the sad, haunted eyes of the other cops watching, and took him into his office. He'd been sitting in a chair by the window ever since, his Sentinel eyes staring at something so far away Simon doubted even Jim could determine what it was. That had been four hours ago, and Jim had yet to move.
Megan had tried to talk to him, but Jim hadn't responded. Simon had tried himself, tried to use the techniques Blair had pain-stakingly taught him to lead Jim out of a zone-out. . .but if anything that had done more damage than good. Jim had seemed to withdraw even farther, confirming Simon's belief that no one else would be able to Guide him. Jim didn't want another Guide. For better or worse, his thoughts had gone with Blair when he'd died.
"What's wrong with him, Simon?" Megan had asked, her red-rimed eyes filled with confusion. Simon had understood what she was asking; everyone in the department could see that this was something beyond grief over the loss of a partner. This was so much deeper than that. Simon had always laughed at the notion of someone dying of a broken heart. . .. didn't happen. . .only in fairy tales. But he suspected he was seeing that very thing unfolding now right before his very eyes. It wasn't romantic, or noble or bittersweet--it was hideously gut-wrenching, and he wanted to shake Jim and scream at him to come back from wherever it was he'd gone. But somehow he doubted even that would have any effect on the Sentinel.
Instead of answering Megan he'd just looked at her and shrugged helplessly. He didn't know how to answer her, didn't know how to explain the bond between the two men. . .Guide and Sentinel. . .it was something out of another age. . .and it was beyond Simon's understanding.
Megan had just nodded and sighed. "He loved him," she said simply. And simple or not, it was an explanation that might explain some of this. . . .but only some. Regardless, it was the explanation that would have to suffice. Everyone who saw Jim knew he'd loved the kid. . . even if Jim himself had been clueless enough to tell the young man he didn't need him. And that above all else, hurt Simon the most. Simon--who'd been privilege and secretly awed to see this friendship develop and blossom, who'd watched in amazement Blair had pulled the angry, cold detective back into the land of the living---had been witness to the very last, and very cruel words Jim Ellison would ever speak to Blair Sandburg. The memory hurt him unbearably. He could only imagine what it was doing to Jim himself. It was enough to make a man want to curl up and die.
There was a quiet knock on the door of his office, and Simon got up from his desk to answer it. He glanced uncertainly at Jim, but Jim hadn't responded to the noise. Sighing, he opened the door. Rafe was standing there, his face pale, his eyes haunted. Rafe's gaze contained some inexpressible emotion that made Simon shiver.
"Sir?" he said quietly, and Simon wondered at the strange quiver in his voice. "I need to talk to you. . .I have some. . ." He glanced past Simon to the still unmoving form of Jim. He motioned Simon out of the office. "You need to hear this, Sir," he said again.
Simon understood and left the office, shutting the door behind him. He followed Rafe across the bullpen to where Brown was waiting. Strangely enough Brown had the same indescribable expression on his face, and Simon felt his heart stutter momentarily.
"Tell me you have good news," he growled. "Tell me you found Alex Barnes. Better yet. . .tell me she's dead." He was as a rule a law and order man. . .but, God, he wanted that bitch dead!
Rafe and Brown glanced at each other momentarily. "Ah, no, Sir," Rafe began. "I'm sorry. . .look there's no easy way to say this. . . .Blair has disappeared from the morgue."
Blair has disappeared from the morgue.
Those were not the words he ever expected to hear. And his stomach gave a strange lurch. "What?" From the sickened sound of his own voice, he knew he had done a poor job of hiding the sheer horror he felt at this revelation.
"There's more," Brown continued. He held up a small plastic evidence bag and Simon saw something resembling a dart inside it. "We searched Alex Barnes' home, and found a number of odd items. We had some of them tested and . . . ." He glanced again at Rafe; both men looked uncertain and almost frightened.
"Tell me!" Simon hissed. "What the hell did you find?"
Rafe jumped at the sound of Simon's voice. "There was a gun case," he began swiftly. "For a dart gun. . .the gun was missing. . .we have to assume she had it with her. And the darts. . . they had an unusual toxin in them."
He quickly fished out a folded piece of paper from his pocket. "The lab said it is a mixture of several different types of drugs. Among them is a drug derived from the gland secretions of a bouga toad, as well the chemicals found in certain types of insects and spiders, and a tetrodotoxin from a puffer fish."
"What in hell!" Simon glared at the two of them, trying to figure out where this was leading. What did this have to do with Blair's body being taken from the morgue? "Puffer fish. . .what does this have to do with. . ."
"Simon," Brown cut in. "They've seen similar drugs like this down in the lab. . mostly associated with certain Voodoo cultures. It's used in some sort of zombie making ceremony."
"Zombie?" Simon did not want to hear this. . .not in light of a missing body.
"Forget the zombie thing," Rafe cut in quickly. "That's not the point. The point is that this drug paralyzes the victim. . .it slows down their heart rate and breathing to almost nothing. . .to the point that a person appears clinically dead. The only way you could really tell a person was alive would be by his brain wave activity. . .and why would a doctor bothering hooking a dead man up to EEG monitor?"
It began dawning on Simon. . . the realization the two detectives must have come to. . .but he wasn't ready to go there himself. He wanted to hear it from them.
"Simon," Brown began in an agonizing tone. "There was no wound on Blair. . .no gun shot, no bruise to his head, no signs of struggle. . . .if she shot him with one of these darts, and then dumped him in that fountain. . . Simon, he could still be alive!"
They all heard the agonizing cry from the office, and turned in alarm as a second later the door slammed open. Jim Ellison, eyes wild and blazing, came stalking toward them like a mad man. "What!" he roared, rounding on Brown as if he was going to tear him apart. He caught the large man by the front of his shirt. "What did you say!"
"He could still be alive," Brown repeated, his eyes wide with shock. "How could you hear. . ."
"He drowned!" Jim growled.
"No, Jim, he wouldn't have drowned," Rafe broke in quickly. "The drug puts him a state of suspended animation. . . his heart rate and breath would have been so slowed that he would have need to be in the water a long time before he would actually drown. Megan said you were right behind Alex. . .not enough time would have passed."
Simon pealed Jim away from Brown, forcing the detective to release his grip. "Jim, calm down, we don't know if this is true. . .we don't know if she shot him or not. . .we don't know. . ."
"I heard his heart beat," Jim said in a voice like ice. He shuddered and closed his eyes, pressing the palms of his hands tightly against his closed lids. "I heard his heart beat. I knew he was still alive. I knew it! I knew it! Oh, God, Simon, I left him there . . .in that morgue. . .I left him! And now she's taken him! She didn't have time to take him before, so she drugged him so she could come back for him later. . ." He looked up suddenly, eyes burning with the realization. "Don't you see Simon. She needs him, and she knew I wouldn't let him out of my sight again. . .not if there was a chance that he was in danger. She knew that! She needs a Guide and she took him from me!"
"A Guide?" Rafe asked in confusion. "What are you. . . ."
Simon turned toward the two bewildered men. "We need to find Blair. If there is the slightest chance that he's still alive and that Alex has him. . .we need to find him. Get back to the hospital and see if you can find anything out. . ."
"I'm going too," Jim interrupted.
Simon glanced at him uncertainly. A moment ago he was a zoned-out basket-case. Now he reminded Simon of a hunting animal. His eyes burned, and the anger and rage in his face was primal. Much as he hated Alex for what she had done, he wasn't certain letting Jim get involved was a good idea.
*How are you going to stop him?* a quiet voice asked him with mocking humor. If there was the slightest chance that Blair was alive and needed Jim's aid, nothing was going to stop him. Far better that Simon just focus his efforts on getting everyone else out of Jim's way.
"Alright, Jim," he agreed quietly. "We'll find him. One way or another, we'll all find him."
There was pain and darkness, and all around him there were sounds he couldn't quite grasp. He was in a terrible place, a place he knew he should be utterly alone and lost in. But somehow he was not. Not alone. . .and because of that, not truly lost. The wolf was with him. Silvered and shaggy, with eyes as blue as the sky, the wolf brushed against his cold body. He clutched at the animal, holding on to him for comfort, and the two of them howled as one at the darkness. Somehow that defiant act made the pain more bearable. He wouldn't go down, would give up, and wouldn't let go.
*Jim, Jim, oh, God, Jim. . .help me! Find me! Save me!* And far in the darkness he and the wolf heard the sounds of wild cats screaming in rage. One black, one spotted, and the scent of blood was strong in the void.
Wolf and man howled for a long time, drifting through the inky blackness in a timeless dream. But eventually the noises beyond the wall of darkness grew louder. Eventually he felt the bonds of the physical world pulling at him, tugging him even farther into the reality of pain. Eventually he felt individual sensations again. Something touched his lips. . .something soft and smooth and horrible.
He shuddered and turned his head away from that kiss. A soft laugh filled his ears.
"So sleeping beauty has awoken," Alex's mocking voice grated.
Blair tried to sit up, tried to lash out. The wolf inside him tried to go for the throat. He was slammed back down onto a soft surface not by Alex, but by agonizing, blinding pain.
"I wouldn't move if I were you," Alex mused. "Your ribs are cracked. CPR will do that to a person." He felt something sharp pierce his arm, and he forced his eyes open. The flaring light in the room made him gasp in horror, and he tried to jerk his arm away from the needle Alex had stuck into him. His muscles didn't seem to want to work.
"Don't worry," Alex said softly. "I'm not trying to poison you. Already did that. This will help counter the effects of the drug I gave you. You'll be weak for a long time. The toxins in your system won't be gone for some time. Between that and the electric shocks you were given, your heart rhythm will probably be screwed up for a while. But don't worry. In time you should probably make a full recovery."
It took all his effort to get his mouth working--and even then he wasn't certain what he would say. His thoughts were chaotic, filled with images he didn't want to process. His voice sounded odd to himself. "Let me go."
Alex gave him a bright smile. "Let you go? You're my Guide. You're not going anywhere, love."
"No," Blair whispered. "Never your Guide. Never. . ."
She just shrugged. "Yes, I thought you'd say that. But you're wrong you know. That's why I didn't kill you. I need you too much." She tapped her head. "You're already in here, Blair, inside my head. I can hear your voice even when you're not with me. . .when Ellison was hunting me, I heard your voice here in my head guiding me even then. We're linked, you and I. Guide and Sentinel. And you're going to go on guiding me."
"No," Blair whispered. She was insane. There was nothing on God's green earth that could ever make Blair help her again. He'd die first.
Alex stood then, and Blair became aware that he was in a small, dark bedroom. The window was covered with a heavy curtains, and save for the narrow bed he was lying on, there was no other furniture. Alex motioned toward someone in the hallway beyond, and a dark haired man entered the room. He had a young child with him. . . a little boy perhaps eight or nine years old. From the looks of the child he was a street kid, dressed in filthy rags, his blond hair tangled and dirty, his face thin from hunger, his eyes empty and sad.
"See this child," Alex asked Blair. "His name is Martin. Martin doesn't have any family. He lives on the street, eats out of garbage cans, begs for money. Martin is prey to every predator that comes along. . .aren't you, Martin?" She smiled sweetly at the child. Martin just gazed blankly at her, too far beyond fear to respond.
Alex nodded in encouragement to him and then continued. "We're going to take care of Martin. . .Tony and I. We're going to feed him, clothe him, get rid of the lice that crawl in his hair. And while we're doing that. . .you, Blair, are going to be my Guide."
Blair glared at her, hating her more fiercely than anyone else in his entire life. He knew what was coming, felt the horror of it rising up inside of him.
"Because if you don't guide me, Blair," Alex continued. "We're going to do this to Martin." She struck swiftly, her fist connecting solidly with Martin's face. The child fell back several feet, hitting the ground with a sickening thud. He cried out in pain, curling up into a tight ball. Blood spilled from his split lip, and he sobbed. "And then we'll do this," Alex continued, catching hold of Martin's arm and pulling her fist back to begin pummeling him.
"No!" Blair cried out, understanding perfectly what was happening here. Alex paused and glanced at him. He'd die first before guiding her. . .but he wouldn't let a child die. . .wouldn't let Martin suffer. "You win," he said softly, defeated. "I'll be your Guide." He knew he might just as well have substituted 'slave' for 'Guide'.
Alex released Martin and straightened up. She smiled at him. "Good boy," she nodded. "I knew you'd see it my way. Now, why don't you have a nice little nap, Blair. We'll talk more tomorrow."
She left the room, taking Martin and the man with her. Blair closed his eyes and sought the darkness again. This time, however, when the wolf howled, the sound was one of heartbreak.
Voices and images came then with dreams. He heard Alex and Tony speaking together, heard words like 'nerve gas'. . .phrases describing acts of terror, profit, greed. None of it made much sense to him. He thought a time or two he heard a child crying.
And then the dreams swallowed him, and he found himself in a cold frightening place. He was naked and alone, lying on a smooth and icy surface, and something seemed to be covering him. He tried to move, tried to throw off the light material covering his face, but his muscles were frozen. He thought he remembered hands upon him, someone yelling his name. Was he dead then, he wondered, lying perhaps on a table covered with a sheet? Were there other bodies beside him, frozen and immobile. . .and were they still able to think the way he was? How horrible! He screamed in silence. Was he to lie here day after day, dead, unmoving, unable to cry out, but still so aware?
*Why am I in the morgue? Jim! Jim, please help me!*
And the wolf was there again, warming him, comforting him, and still the wild cats were screaming.
It didn't take the Feds long to figure out that Alex had slipped their clutches. Then they were swarming again in the Cascade PD bullpen, doubling their efforts to pick up her trail. The news that she'd returned to kidnap Blair Sandburg--that the young teaching fellow might not in fact be dead but held prisoner--caused a great deal of confusion among them. Jim listened in quiet agony while they questioned Simon, asking why Sandburg would be so important to Alex Barnes. What was his connection to her? Could he be involved in the theft of the nerve gas? Did he have any ties to certain questionable organizations?
Twice now Jim had become so enraged he'd attacked the agent in charge of the investigation. Twice Simon and Brown had pulled him away from the man, calmed him down, and made peace with the man in charge. Jim was close now to a third attack, and rather than give in to it, he got up and went into the hallway, forcing himself to pace rather than fight.
"I shouldn't have left him," he whispered to himself, fighting to erase the image of Blair in his mind. . .the image of him lying unmoving on the ground by that fountain. Didn't matter if Jim's eyes were opened or closed--the image was there in his thoughts. He couldn't drive it out, couldn't remove it. It twisted his heart in so many ways he wasn't certain how he could go on.
*He's not dead, take comfort in that,* he reminded himself. And he prayed with a fervor he hadn't known he possessed that that was true. That Brown's and Rafe's conclusions were accurate. Blair's heartbeat. . .for one brief instant by that fountain he'd thought he heard Blair's heart beat. Wishful thinking, he'd concluded. But Blair had told him to trust his senses, and he had to go with that now. He had heard his heartbeat. . .because Blair had been alive. His pulse had just been so slow that no one else had measured it.
Blair was alive, and somehow Jim was going to find him. *I won't lose him, not him, not another one. . . .Blair, I'm so sorry! I should have been there. . .I should have protected you.* He couldn't bear it, not the realization that he might lose the young man forever. . .without Blair there was nothing left. It was only the hope that Blair was still alive that was keeping him going now. Before when he'd thought him dead and gone, he'd shut down. He remembered it now, finding himself lost and alone in total blackness. It was as if he'd been robbed of an internal voice that had kept him going all these years. Three years to be precise. . .a voice that had slipped inside him the day Blair Sandburg had entered his life and brought him out of his first zone-out. His Guide. "My Guide," he whispered. And he wasn't going to let Alex Barnes keep him!
New house rule, he decided. Or maybe it was an ancient Sentinel rule. . . Guides were not shared. Blair would say it was because he was so territorial. But then perhaps that too was more than just a personality quirk. . . Alex apparently was as territorial as he was. Alex had taken Blair for herself. . .and he. . .
"Oh, God," he shuddered, squeezing his eyes shut as he caught a flash of the wolf again. He had killed Blair. . .shot the wolf. Told his Guide and his friend that he didn't need him any more. Kicked him out of his life and his home. . .and for what? Just to find out that he couldn't live without him?
He thought he'd been protecting him; the vision had terrified him. He couldn't conceive of a scenario in which he'd willingly hurt Blair. So he'd driven him away instead of keeping him close, and Alex had taken him from him. He supposed that was what the vision had warned him about. . .that he would somehow fail to protect Blair when the time came. That was the injury he'd dealt the young man, and he wondered if Blair would ever feel safe with him again.
"Jim?" Megan's soft, accented voice broke through his agony, and he opened his eyes. "You all right, Jim?"
He nodded, his jaw aching from clenching it so hard. "I just can't stand those idiots in there talking about Blair as if he were an accomplice or something. They don't know him. . .they don't know. . ."
"None of us think that, Jim," Megan assured him. "Anyone who knows Sandy knows he would never help someone like that."
He wanted to pound on something, and his body shook with frustration. "We can't just sit here!" he growled, pacing again. "We have to find him."
"We have no leads yet," Megan reminded him. "We're pursuing every avenue. If Alex Barnes appears anywhere in public, she will be spotted sooner or later. We'll find them."
Before or after she hurt Blair? Before or after Blair gave up all hope of being rescued? Surely that wouldn't happen. . .Blair would know Jim would be coming for him. Blair would know that his Blessed Protector wouldn't let anything happen to him.
He froze, pain slicing through his heart, and he barely registered Megan's hand on his shoulder. "Jim, what is it?"
"I kicked him out," he whispered. "I told him I didn't need him. I wasn't there when he needed me."
"He'll forgive you, you know he will," Megan promises gently.
"If he's dead. . ." Jim murmured in horror, shaking his head in denial. If Blair was dead, he couldn't bear it. . .the pain would be so intense, spiking his senses so far off the chart that he'd find himself zoned again, floating in that blackness. And the only way out of a zone was through his Guide. . . if his Guide was gone. . .. oh, God, he felt the pain swelling again, the images over-whelming him.
"He's not dead," Megan reminded him quickly. "You have to believe that. You have to hold on. Believe in you friendship, hold on to it, hold on to the love. It will get you through this."
Hold on to the love. . .yeah, he loved Blair. It had been a quiet gentle presence in his heart for a long time. . he just hadn't realized until Blair was gone how deep that love went. Even now he still wasn't certain where it would take him. Would Blair even forgive him for pushing him away?
It was seven days later before any word came through. During that time, Jim had bent his entire will on tracking down his lost Guide. Crime didn't stop in Cascade and the majority of the department had to return their attention to the every day problems that plagued them. But the nerve gas threat had made Alex Barnes a priority with the Feds, and Jim was able to drop everything else with Simon's blessing. It wouldn't have matter anyway, and Jim suspected that Simon and everyone else knew that. . .nothing would have gotten Jim to focus on anything else.
He'd spent the first two days working non-stop on the case, forgoing sleep in his effort to find Blair. Eventually Simon had forced him to go home. He'd lasted nearly an hour in his empty loft, wandering around aimlessly, searching for something that wasn't there. Inside he felt as empty as the loft was. . .his soul aching, his heart hurting with a pain he feared would never go away. He'd stared for a long while into the empty bedroom Blair had occupied for the last three years, and tried to picture the way it had looked only a short while ago. . ..filled with his Guide's personal belongings. He needed to return them, he realized, needed to put everything back the way they belonged. That way Blair would know he wanted him back, wanted him to return to him. But somehow he couldn't find the impetus to drag everything out of storage.
Instead he'd left the loft and began prowling the streets. Furniture, clothes, personal belongings. . .none of that mattered while his Guide was still lost. That was his first priority, the only thing he could focus on. And he wandered through the night, sending out his senses in the widest rage possible, searching for some sign of his lost Guide.
Was he gone for good? Was he so far away that Jim would never be able to track him down? The thought of living in that horrible state of questioning drove Jim wild with anxiety. At times it hurt so bad he found himself doubling up, nausea overwhelming him. He fought to control it, to focus, Blair needed him. . .he had to be strong.
His wanderings took him to strange parts of town, dangerous, dark and dirty places. But the denizens of these holes left him strictly alone. Truth was, people took one look at his face, gazed briefly into his eyes, and then backed swiftly away from him. It was regrettable, he decided. . .he was so desperately in need of hurting someone. He felt like a wounded animal, and a wounded animal would strike out without the slightest provocation. . .as if inflicting pain on someone else would take away his own pain.
He found himself replaying the last three years over and over in his head, analyzing each conversation he'd had with his Guide, focusing on each touch, each moment of bonding. He remembered the words Gabe had said to him not long ago. . .about how he could not hear the whispering of his own heart. . .and he came to the conclusion that the man had been quite right. How could he, after all Blair had done for him, have told the kid that he didn't need him? Truth be told, he hadn't realized just what a challenge Blair had faced when he'd first set out to help him with his senses. If even after three years of Blair's friendship he was still such a bastard, how much worse must it have been in the beginning?
Dawn left him no closer to answers for all his wandering, and he returned to the painstaking task of searching for his Guide through normal police channels. But night found him again wandering the streets. His friends at the station worried over him, and he overheard their muttered conversations when they thought he was too far away to notice. It didn't matter, he didn't care. . .all he wanted was his Guide back safe and sound beside him. . . where he belonged.
. Seven days after Blair had supposedly died by the fountain at the university, he and Alex Barnes were spotted together in public halfway across the country. Hours later, Jim, Simon and Megan were grouped with several FBI agents at a train station in Chicago. They had the entrances staked out discretely, and were keeping Alex Barnes under strict surveillance. But all were under explicit orders to make no move to detain her. Until the Feds found both her partner and the canisters of toxin, they couldn't risk tipping her off to their presence. They maintained their distance, and watched her through binoculars, intent on following her in hopes that she'd lead them to the canisters herself.
It was all Jim could do not rush through the station to his Guide's side. But with Simon and Megan watching over him, he moved dutifully to the location assigned him and stretched out his senses instead, desperate for a first glimpse of Blair since he'd held his unmoving body in his arms at the hospital.
His breath caught in his throat when he spotted them at last. Too far away for anyone else to see without aid, Blair and Alex were clear to Jim's eyes. Alex was seated rather indolently on one of the orange plastic chairs on one of the train platforms, and Blair. . .beautiful Blair was pacing slowly back and forth before her.
Blair looked pale, his body somehow fragile looking as if he'd lost weight he could ill afford to drop. He was dressed in jeans and a thin tee shirt, along with a scruffy dark leather jacket so unlike anything he normal wore. Far from making him look tough, it lent him an even more youthful appearance than he normally sported. He wore his hair down, the curls somewhat riotous. His features were pinched in pain, and despite the pacing he moved stiffly, his arms wrapped protectively around his chest as if he were injured.
Alex watched him, looking at once irritated and amused by his actions, and jealousy twisted through Jim at the sight of the two of them together. Blair was obviously mobile, but he was making no move to leave her, making no move to escape, despite the fact that she seemed to be using no method of restraint on him. There was no gun, no knife, and while Alex was an excellent fighter, Blair was no slouch in that department either. And yet he never strayed far from her chair. All Jim's protective and territorial instincts reared up in protest.
Blair was alive, he never though to see the young man again. . .and now here he was alive, mobile, and so far out of his reach. Jim wanted to run to him, hold him, bury his face in those silken curls and breath in his essence. . . never let go. He had to force himself to stay where he was, relying on his sight and his hearing to get closer to his Guide. It was a stretch, but he caught the sound of Blair's heartbeat. . .it was rapid. . .but so definitely strong. Sweet music to his ears. . .he nearly zoned on the sound. He ached to touch him, tell him he was sorry, beg his forgiveness, shake him for daring to scare him so horrible.
"Would you sit down!" he heard Alex say at last.
Blair glared at her. "I can't sit down!" he snapped. "I'm tired, and I hurt! Everything hurts, and it's driving me crazy!"
Alarm flared through Jim, and he started to rise. Simon grabbed his arm. "He's hurt," he began, wanting to go to him. Megan grabbed his other arm; Jim struggled against both of them.
"No, Jim!" Simon urged. "We have to wait. He doesn't look hurt. He's moving, there's no wound."
It was agony not to move, but Jim focused his hearing sharper, trying to catch more sounds. Blair's breathing sounded somewhat labored.
"Fine, sit down and I'll give you another injection," Alex told him.
"I don't want any of your damned drugs!" Blair hissed, soft enough not to attract anyone else's attention, but still Jim could hear the vehemence in his voice.
*Oh, God, Blair, what has she done to you! Hold on, my friend, hold on! I'll get you out of this. . . I won't leave you again. . .not ever. . .I swear!* Jim wished he could say the words to Blair, wished he could reassure the young man.
Alex sighed. "It will take the edge off the pain. Your ribs haven't healed, and you still haven't thrown off the effects of the cocktail I knocked you out with. It's making you act strangely. . . I don't think I like it."
"You want to get me addicted to your pain killers," Blair growled. "Well, no thanks. Pacing takes the edge off just as well."
Alex shook her head in mock concern. "You're just tiring yourself out. You're going to make yourself sick if you're not careful."
"You make me sick," he muttered.
Alex rolled her eyes. "You're not very polite, love. And besides a couple of pain killers aren't going to hurt you . . ."
"I said no!" Blair snapped. "I don't want your drugs."
"Well, then, what the hell do you want?" Alex asked in exasperation.
Blair stopped at that, and Jim could see the pain etched into his fragile, beautiful features. "I want you to die. Think you can arrange that for me?"
They were words Jim never expected to hear from his gentle Guide and he hated Alex all the more fiercely for pushing him to that extreme. Alex, however, rather than getting angry, laughed, shaking her blond head in amusement.
"Oh, come now, love," she teased. "I'm not so bad."
Blair's eyes widened. "You think I'm kidding, don't you? I've never wanted to hurt anyone in my life, but if it weren't for the fear of what your partner would do with that kid you're holding hostage, I'd gladly put a bullet in your head myself."
Alex's eyes narrowed slightly. "Blair," she began warningly.
"You killed five people right in front of me," he continued, not bothering to heed her warning. Every word Jim heard filled him with horror. God, he thought, what had she done to him. He quietly relayed to Simon what he'd overheard. "You did it without remorse, for no reason. I think you enjoyed it. You're an animal."
Alex's hand snaked out, and she grabbed hold of one of Blair's wrists. "I'm your Sentinel, and you're my Guide."
Blair stopped pacing, making no move to twist free of her grip. But his face was filled with disgust. "You're no Sentinel. You never will be."
Alex's eyes flashed in anger. "My senses are just as powerful as Ellison's. Never forget that!"
"Don't compare yourself to Jim Ellison," Blair hissed. "You'll never compare to him."
Angrily Alex released his wrist. "Why do you still defend him?" she demanded. "He threw you out, threw you away. He didn't want you any more."
Jim shuddered with horror at her words, silently begging Blair not to listen to her, not to listen to such lies. Blair's gaze became lost and lifeless. "I betrayed him," he said simply, and the words sliced through Jim's heart like a knife.
Exhausted now, Blair sank down into a chair beside Alex, wincing in pain as he jarred his ribs. "I never should have helped you," Blair sighed. "I should have known better."
"Well, now you're my Guide, and there's no use crying about it," Alex huffed. "Besides, I don't see what your problem is. You were born to be a Guide just as surely as I was born to be a Sentinel. Ellison didn't want you. . .I do. You should be glad you have someone willing to work with you. And I'm willing to give you the partnership and commitment he never would." She smiled suddenly at Blair, touching his hand possessively. "We can be good together, Blair. I know more about primitive cultures than Ellison ever did. . .I know what sort of partnerships traditionally formed between a Sentinel and the Guide. Ellison could barely call you his friend. . .let alone anything more."
"You're wrong," Blair told her. "Jim cared about me." But even Jim could hear that Blair's voice lacked much conviction.
Alex laughed at that. "Yeah, he cared so much he kicked you out of your home. You were living in your office. Great friend there. Didn't even want you working with him any more. Tell me, Blair, what were you planning on doing with your life? What would you have done if I hadn't taken you with me?"
Blair shrugged, and it was a testament to how lost and alone he must have felt that he answered her. "I don't know. Handed in my dissertation, I guess. Gotten my degree."
"And then what?" she pressed. "What does a Guide do who has no Sentinel?"
"Life goes on," Blair answered softly.
Blair shrugged, staring darkly down at the floor. "Guess it would have to. What choice would I have? I'd have found something to do. There are plenty of people who'd asked me to join them on expeditions. I'd have left Cascade, started over. . ."
"You'd have hated living without a Sentinel," Alex scoffed. "You've devoted your entire life to their study. You couldn't just turn your back on it."
Blair smiled bitterly. "And you think I need a Sentinel so badly that I'll accept you in place of anyone else?"
She glared at him. "As I said Blair. . .I know more about tribal cultures than Ellison did. Don't presume to think otherwise. Once you've set foot on this path you can't go back. You'd be incomplete without a Sentinel to guide. . .just as surely as I would be without my senses. You need me as much as I need you."
"You don't need me," Blair shook his head in denial. "You just think you do. I was wrong about a Sentinel needing a partner. Jim obviously didn't need me. He said so." The emptiness in his voice squeezed Jim's heart tighter and tighter.
Alex laughed. "You're wrong. Ellison was just an idiot. You're the one who doesn't understand. You don't realize what a Guide is to a Sentinel. I can hear your voice in my head, Blair, even when you're not around. It anchors me, gives me control. It must have been the same for Ellison too. But I know the Sentinel/Guide bond can be even more than that . . .can be even stronger. Why would you feel loyalty for Ellison when he just used you to gain control of his senses and then tossed you aside? I'm willing to offer you more than that. I know your Shaman abilities have awoken. The things we could accomplish together would be nothing short of miraculous."
Blair laughed at that. "Miraculous. . .what? Killing people? Ripping others off? Supreme acts of terrorism? Yeah, there's something to be proud of." He shook his head. "My loyalty to Jim has nothing to do with me or what he may or may not have gotten from me. It's because Jim is a good man. . .he protects and helps people. He's devoted his life to justice. That's what a Sentinel is. And maybe I can't live my life with that in it any more. But I'd rather die than live as a slave to a madwoman who just thinks she's a Sentinel."
Rage flared through Alex's eyes, and Jim's hand strayed to his gun. He wouldn't let her hurt him, nerve gas or not. But strangely enough Alex made no move to touch Blair. She seemed to rein in her emotions and calm herself down. "Then I guess it's a good thing I gave you plenty of incentive not to die. You're my Guide and you're going to stay my Guide."
Blair shook his head. "You don't need a Guide. You have control enough to suffice."
"It's more than just control," she snapped. "God, Ellison must have had control of his senses after the first few months of working with you. Why the hell do you think he kept you around as long as he did? We're aliens among our own species, Blair. We live in a different world from everyone else. And without you, there is no bridge back to the real world. And maybe Ellison found someone else to help him, or maybe he doesn't mind living apart from the rest of society, or maybe he's really kicking himself right now for sending you away. Regardless you're mine now, and you're going to make my life worth living again."
Blair sighed and stood up, resuming his pacing with a resigned weariness. "Alex, you'd live in a different world even without your senses. Anyone who goes around killing people for pleasure is an alien among humans."
Alex's eyes followed Blair's moves intently, and she smiled mockingly up at him. "You think Ellison has never killed?" she taunted. "You think he's never enjoyed hurting people?"
Blair closed his eyes as if trying to block out her words. "Don't even go there."
She laughed. "Why not? Because you think it too likely I'll hit on a truth? Tell me something, Blair, how many times did he physically over power you in the years you've known him? How many times did he threaten to beat you or hurt you if you didn't do exactly what he said? How many times did he get angry at you and slam you up against a wall?"
Blair paled at her words, refusing to look at her, and Jim held his breath as he waited to hear his reply. "He never hurt me," he defended.
Alex shook her head. "I'm not talking about pain here, Blair. I'm talking about domination. The stronger man overpowering someone smaller than him. You honestly think he didn't get off on it? When your senses are spiking off the chart, violence is a hell of lot easier to handle than gentleness. We sort of have to use it as a form of sexual sublimation. And considering the bond between a Sentinel and a Guide, it must have taken every ounce of Ellison's will power not to beat the crap out of you daily especially since he wouldn't have been able to accept the strength of the connection." She laughed suddenly gleefully, seeing the pained look on Blair's face. "Or maybe he did, and maybe that was why you were so anxious to help the first female Sentinel you came across. . ..figured that maybe I'd be easier on you."
Jim's face felt flushed, his skin aching from the heat, his heart pounding angrily in his chest. How could she say these things to Blair? How could Blair listen to her? And how come some of it sounded so borderline truthful? Even now he could still remember what it felt like to slam Blair's body up against the wall in his office that first day they had met. . .and she was right. .. there had been other occasions. But, God, he could never hurt Blair! He loved him---and that had nothing to do with domination or sublimation or some twisted sexual aberration that might make him hurt the young man.
"I told you," Blair growled. "Burton was wrong about the bond between Sentinel and Guide. Jim doesn't even need me, let alone want me. He never felt anything sexual for me, and I certain don't feel anything like that for you!"
"Oh, come now," Alex scoffed in disbelief. "You expect me to believe that you don't feel the attraction between us? Or you expect me to believe that the jealous way Ellison hovered over you that day in my apartment wasn't sexual? You have quite a reputation as a ladies man on campus. . .must have driven Ellison literally insane watching your parade of women."
"I don't even know why we're discussing this. It *so* has nothing to do with my life. . .or reality."
Alex smiled then, her eyes lighting up. "I'm just discussing it because I care about you, Blair. I want you to accept your position in my life, understand how good it can be between us."
Blair stopped pacing again, and stared down at her, his eyes empty and sad. "If you really care about me, let me go, turn yourself in, hand over the nerve gas."
She shook her head. "Not an option, love."
"Then kill me, and get it over with."
She frowned at that, and Jim's heart convulsed with the fatalism in Blair's voice. His Guide had always been so full of life, so joyful, so happy. How could he be asking this now, how could he be wishing this, and didn't he know he was putting his life in jeopardy by suggesting it?
"You thought I was going to kill you in the office when I shot you with that dart, didn't you?" Alex asked. "And you didn't care. You didn't fight, didn't struggle. Do you really have a death wish?"
"I thought Jim was dead," Blair admitted, and Jim felt tears pierce his eyes at the admission. "I knew you two were fighting. When I saw you instead of him, I thought you'd killed him."
"And you don't any more?"
He shook his head. "No, I've seen his spirit guide, I know he's still live. Still out there somewhere."
"But you still want to die?"
"Why does that surprise you?" Blair shrugged. "I've lost my home, my best friend, and now thanks to you, my freedom. And if you really are a Sentinel then the research I've devoted my entire life to has turned into a nightmare. My body aches, my mind hurts, and I think I'm going crazy. . .every time I close my eyes I think I'm lying frozen in a morgue. . .either that or see the face of that old man you shot two days ago, or those kids you and Meyers tested the nerve gas on. I think right now I'd find death a pleasant surprise."
It was too much for Jim, he couldn't stand Blair's words, couldn't stand what had been done to him. . .both at Alex's hand and his own. *You haven't lost your home, Blair, or me if you still want me as your friend. And I'll give you back your freedom, I swear it. You just have to live, stay alive until I can end this!* He felt Simon's hand on his shoulder and he turned toward his captain. "She's hurt him, Simon," he whispered. "We've got to get to him. We've got stop this!"
"We can't move until we find the toxin and her partner, Jim," Simon whispered. "I'm sorry. . .you know we can't do anything. . .Sandburg will make it. Have faith."
"He said she tested the toxin on some kids," he told him. "Maybe that means she has it on her. Or maybe she tested it to sell."
"The Feds are already going through all the luggage on the train. If it's there we'll find it."
But Alex was talking again and Jim turned his attention back to the scene unfolding on the platform. "You worry too much, Blair. The nightmares are just from the drugs. As soon as they're out of your system, you'll be fine. And your ribs will heal soon enough. We'll find you a new home, and Ellison's not much of a loss anyway. And as for your research, well you just need to expand your parameters a bit. You expected Sentinels to be knights in shining armor, dutifully protecting the tribe. It never occurred to you that the tribe could consisted of a single entity. . .me. . .a tribe of one. And if you seriously need some sort of Blessed Protector to feel good about your life, then I'm willing to expand my tribal concept to contain you too."
"Please don't," he told her tiredly. "I'm afraid that would be more hypocrisy than even I could stand. You want to call us Sentinel and Guide, that's fine. But I'll stick with madwoman and slave if it's all the same to you."
She smirked and shrugged. "Suit yourself. But I have to warn you. It sounds a lot more kinky the way you describe it."
Blair just groaned and fell silent.
A moment later the loudspeakers announced their boarding call. "Simon!" Jim hissed as Alex got to her feet and took hold of Blair's arm. "We can't let them get on that train!"
Simon was all ready radioing ahead to the Feds checking the baggage.
"Let them get on the train," one of the agent's radioed back. "The toxin isn't in the baggage compartment. We already have our men in place on board, they won't get out of our sight. If she's meeting her partner at the destination, we'll grabbed them both then."
But there was no way in hell Jim was letting Blair get on that train without him. He grabbed a baseball cap off the head of one of the other officers, and put it on, turning up the collar of his coat to hide his features. And then he slipped past them all and boarded the train several cars down from Alex and Blair. He listened intently as they found their compartment and locked themselves inside, then he found a seat for himself and settled down to monitor them from a distance. When Simon radioed him to back off, he turned off his head set and phone.
The train ride seemed to take forever, and during the long hours Blair and Alex only ventured out of their car once or twice. Most of the time, Blair slept, moaning softly, trapped in nightmares Jim desperately wanted to wake him from. He was sick for part of the trip, and he groaned in pain each time his convulsions jarred his broken ribs.
When Blair was awake and cognizant Alex insisted that he help her with his senses. Jim listened in twisting jealousy as Blair talked her through several of the exercises he'd taught Jim early on in their friendship. Alex seemed to catch on quickly, or perhaps she was just more receptive to Blair's suggestions than Jim had been. But still Jim could hear a note of frustration entering her voice as their discussions progressed.
It took Jim a while to figure out the cause of the frustration. Her sensory spikes seemed to cause her intense headaches. . .and for some reason Blair had done nothing to alleviate them. . .or rather nothing he suggest seemed to work. Jim remembered similar headaches early on in his lessons, but a simple touch of Blair's hand or a caress to his head had done the trick. . . and that's when he realized the difference in his technique with Alex. Blair was not touching her. . .though Jim could not see them, he could hear them clearly enough. Their voices remained apart as if they sat on opposite sides of the train compartment.
Blair had never hesitated to touch him during their lessons and tests. And Jim felt a deep sense of satisfaction in the realization that Blair had meant it when he said he'd felt nothing sexually for Alex. Alex had been right when she'd mention his jealousy. . .though at the time Jim had not been fully aware of what it was. All he knew know was that the longer he was apart from Blair, the more he ached to touch him. The ache had always been there, he realized; he just had never bothered exploring how deep that particular itch went. It terrified him to think Alex might have been right about the sexual sublimation. . .maybe he'd never hurt Blair physically, but he'd certainly hurt him emotionally. . .to the point that Blair felt their friendship was over. Why was violence so much easier for him than gentleness. . .was it simply a fear-based response as Blair had once called it? And would Blair ever give him the chance to get past this pain between them?
"Why are you trying to have me dial everything down?" Alex complained a while later. "Why don't we work on extending my senses? See how far they'll go?"
"Because you have to learn control first," Blair snapped. "If you think your headaches are bad now, you can't imagine what they'd be like if you got them with your senses dialed up. Besides, a train is the last place you want to try something like that. There are too many people, too many noises, too many things for you to zone on. And if you zone out here. . .what happens if I can't bring you out of it? I'm in no shape to carry you. And besides, I don't know where we're going. I don't know how to meet your partner . . .and I don't want to take the risk. I don't want him to get worried and hurt Martin."
For the first time in this ordeal, Jim heard a very distinctive familiar flutter to his Guide's heart beat, and he realized that Blair was lying to Alex. It occurred to him suddenly that Blair was purposely getting Alex to tone down her senses. . .as if he was trying to prevent her from sensing something. . .or someone. Jim stiffened. . .. Blair knew he was here. . ..somehow, Blair knew he was on the train, and even now he was trying to protect him.
"I won't zone," Alex complained in irritation.
"You don't know that," Blair argued. "Either I'm your Guide or I'm not. Trust me when I say you shouldn't open up here. It's too much of a risk. What am I suppose to do if you do zone? I'm barely strong enough to walk myself. And that last drug you slipped me in dinner last night made my eyes all blurry. I might not even notice if you did zone."
She was still giving him drugs. Jim wanted to strangle her. . .how badly had she messed Blair up? How long was he supposed to let this continue?
"Alright," Alex sighed. "But as soon as we get to Peru you're going to show me how to extend my senses as far as they can go."
"Peru?" Blair asked in surprise. "I thought you were selling the nerve gas to someone in Albany."
Alex laughed softly. "Sorry to disappoint you, love. We sold the nerve gas three days ago. That stuff isn't safe to hold on to. No, we're all catching a private plane to Peru in Albany."
*Good boy, Blair,* Jim thought fiercely, praying they had enough information now to end this once and for all. He pulled out his cell phone and quickly dialed Simon.
"Damn it, Jim," Simon cursed. "We've been trying to radio you for hours."
"I turned the radio off," Jim explained. "Listen Simon, she claims she already sold the nerve gas. They're getting off the train in Albany . ..that's where she's meeting her partner. Then she's heading to Peru on a private plane."
"Good work, Jim," Simon replied. "I'll see what we can come up with. I'll get back to you."
"I want to move in now! Get him away from her."
"No, Jim, wait. . .let us confirm what you told us first. Don't worry. . .she won't leave there with Blair. I promise."
Two hours later Simon phoned Jim back with good news. They'd found the private plane Alex had been planning on taking to Peru at the Albany airport, and had managed to track down the pilot. Under duress the pilot had given them all the paperwork Alex had filled out to book the plane. On it was an address. The address had led them right to Tony Meyers and the child Martin--Meyers cut a deal with the Feds and told them who he and Alex had sold the nerve gas to. Alex, he explained, had tested it on several people days ago, and having proved its lethalness they'd sold the entire supply to a high placed terrorist. Alex was no longer important to the investigation. . .she was free-game as far as the Feds were concerned. All that remained was to bring in Alex and rescue Blair.
"Move in, Jim," Simon told him over the phone. "The Feds on board the train are ready to back you up."
Even as Simon spoke, Jim spotted several agents moving in closer to the compartment containing Alex and Blair. One of the agents got there first and kicked the door in like some commando, gun raised to fire. He took a bullet in the chest, the impact knocking him back. A second later Alex emerged from the compartment, Blair held before her like a shield, a gun pressed to his temple. Jim aimed his gun directly at her head. She glanced wildly about her. "Ellison, I should have known!" she hissed.
"Drop the gun, Barnes," one of the agents yelled. She was surrounded--one agent at one end of the hallway. . .Jim and the other agents at the other. "There's no where to go."
"Back away," she ordered. "Or I'll kill him!"
"She won't kill me, Jim," Blair insisted, his eyes wide with fright and pain.
"Shut up!" Alex snapped, her finger tightening on the trigger. "I will kill you. Call it a territorial imperative. I'd rather see you dead than with Ellison!"
"No!" Jim shouted, holding up one hand to appease her. "Let him go, Barnes. No one has to die here." He wouldn't let Blair die, not now, not after all this.
"Drop your weapons," she ordered, inching her way with her back against the wall toward the lone agent at the far end of the hallway. "Drop your weapons or Blair dies!"
No one budged, the Feds all trained not to negotiated with hostage takers. Jim knew he could make the shot, shoot Alex in the head while she was distracted by another agent. If it had been any one but another Sentinel he would have done it. But he knew in her position, she'd have her senses dialed up. . .she'd hear or see the moment his finger began tightening on the trigger of the gun. She'd move Blair into the path of the bullet.
And then suddenly the entire world tilted.
The train suddenly lurched on the tracks, emergency breaks squealing and sending everyone off balance. Alex recovered quickly, but Blair did not. Too weak to fight Alex, he simply let his legs give out. . .he dropped to the ground, and Alex lacked the strength to hold him up. Jim wasted no time. He took the shot. . .she returned fire instantly, but Jim's bullet caught her directly in the chest, piercing her heart. She fell to the ground as her bullet went astray and only winged Jim in the arm. . .a grazing wound he barely noticed as he ran toward his fallen Guide.
The agents swarmed over Alex like crows to carrion, while Jim gathered Blair in his arms. He lifted him up and carried him swiftly away from the crowd, and took him into an empty compartment.
Blair was groaning in pain, his ribs taking more abuse than they could stand. Gently, Jim set him down on a cushioned bench, his own heart hammering in his chest. Blair was alive, and here in his arms. He could hear his heartbeat, feel the heat of his skin, scent the perfume of his flesh. . .all things Jim had believed he'd never again be able to do.
"Blair. . ."he whispered, brushing the young man's tangled hair back from his face as he watched him trying desperately to control the pain shooting through his body. . .that single word. . .a simple name. . .seemed to sum up all the hopes and dreams of Jim's future.
Blair opened his eyes, and the toll of the last week was evident in their haunted depths. "Is she dead?" he asked, fear and loathing in his tone.
"Yes," Jim nodded. He knelt beside his Guide, one hand resting light on Blair's arm, the other still brushing at Blair's hair, his sensitive fingers soaking up the heat of Blair's body. "She's gone. She won't hurt you again. I'm so sorry. . .so. . .oh God, Blair." He squeezed his eyes shut, a thousand thoughts flooding him at once. . .he wanted to say it all. . .wanted to tell Blair everything that would put things right between them now, immediately, but there was just too much to say. He couldn't get any of it out.
"You're bleeding," Blair told him.
Bleeding? He didn't matter. . .couldn't Blair understand that. . .he'd thought Blair was dead. . thought he'd lost him. Didn't he understand? "I don't care," he said with a shake of his head, wanting to get to other things.
"I do," Blair said simply.
He opened his eyes, gazing down at his Guide. Blair's face was so pale, his blue eyes shadowed, hurt. He looked frail, weak, lost. . .and Jim had the sudden urge to kiss him. It caught him off guard, the sexual energy so out of place here, now, at this moment with his Guide hurting the way he was. He choked back a sob of momentary hysteria, wondering if maybe Alex had been right all along about his violent tendencies and sexual sublimation.
"I'm sorry about what I said," he told Blair. . .wondering if Blair would be able to fathom out anything in that simple admission. . .he'd said so much! And he was sorry for all of it!
But Blair was shaking his head. "It's all right, Jim. I had a lot of time to think about everything. I wanted to be a Guide. . .I wanted it so desperately. . . wanted to be part of what you are. . .the whole Sentinel thing. When I figured out you didn't need me any more, I turned to Alex. I betrayed you. . .you were right about that. I should have told you. . .should never have helped her. I almost got you killed. You had every right to say those things to me. . .you were right. You were better off. . .."
"No!" Jim said in horror, covering Blair's lips with his hand to silence the words he was hearing. He didn't want this. . .didn't want Blair taking the blame, didn't want to hear him repeat back the words Jim had used to drive him away. He wanted to erase them. . .Jim didn't know if he could survive without Blair's belief in their partnership. Blair's belief is what had given it life right from the start. . .and he couldn't witness its death any more than he could witness Blair's death. "You're wrong. . .you're so wrong. . .I'll never be better off without you. I thought I was protecting you. . .don't you understand? I thought I was protecting you. . .keeping you safe. . ." He wasn't saying this right. . .he needed to tell Blair about the vision, about the wolf. . .Blair would understand that. . .he always understood that sort of mystic garbage.
But real life intruded on them, and Simon and Megan arrived. . .along with EMT's who'd been alerted ahead of time of possible injuries. Simon and Megan greeted Blair with joy, and the EMT's crowded around the young man, pushing Jim aside as they attempted to ascertain his injuries. Jim protested loudly, but one of them noticed the blood on his arms, and he was swarmed by another team a second later. The noise and confusion was overwhelming. . .and he realized he had his senses all dialed up. He refocused them, tuning them all into Blair. . .and let the real world pass by him with each beat of his Guide's heart.
Blair and Jim were rushed to a hospital, and there both their injuries were tended to. Through out the entire ordeal, Jim could hear Blair's heart beat drumming with fear. . . he could only imagine the memories that must be haunting the young man. . .nightmarish images of the morgue. He insisted on staying at Blair's side, holding the young man's hand whenever possible. Simon and Megan hovered in the back ground, and when the doctors tried to get Jim to leave, all three of them ganged up on them and said differently. In the end Blair fell asleep, watched over by three guardians. . .one of whom swore silently to never again give up his post.
They took Blair back to Cascade the next day. He slept through most of the trip, the drugs the doctors had given him to counteract the toxins in his veins making him sleepy. Once back in Cascade, he was checked over again by other doctors. They wanted to keep him over night for observation, wanted to run more tests on him even though they pretty much agreed that healing was simply a matter of time. But Cascade General horrified Blair even more than the other hospital had.
"I don't want to stay here," Blair insisted, panic in his voice. He gazed wildly around, looking imploringly at Jim. "Jim tell them. . .I don't need to stay here. I'm fine! I just want to go h. . . ." He broke off, not finishing his sentence. He turned instead toward Simon. "Simon, I can stay with you right? I don't need to stay in the hospital any longer. . .you won't mind. . .or I could go to. . . .maybe you can find Naomi. . ."
It took a moment for Blair's words to register in Jim's mind, and when they did his heart nearly broke. "Blair," he moved swiftly to his friend's side. "I'll take you home. To the loft. . .*Our* home!"
Blair's eyes were wide with uncertainty. "Jim, you don't need. . .I mean I can. . ."
"No arguments, Chief," Jim said quickly. He turned toward the doctor. "There's no reason for him to stay here right? He won't get any rest here."
The doctor frowned but shrugged. "No, I guess there's no real reason. If he objects that strongly. But at the first sign of anything odd, any allergic reaction to the mediations we've given him, or any unusual symptoms. . .you bring him right back in. We don't really know what all the things he was given can do to a person. Taken in the right doses most of the things in that dart he was shot with are deadly."
"I'll take care of him," Jim nodded. He signed Blair out, and he and Simon drove him back to the loft.
Blair was still weak, having trouble walking, so both Jim and Simon helped him upstairs. Once inside, all three of them stood for a moment staring at the completely empty room. Jim regretted suddenly not returning the furniture. . . Blair shouldn't see the place like this. . .not again. . .not after all he'd been through.
"Ah, Jim?" Simon began, glancing uncertainly around the place. "Maybe we should take him back to my place. At least I have a bed he can sleep in."
"No," Jim insisted. "My bed is still upstairs. This is his home."
"It's alright, Jim," Blair said tiredly, nearly asleep on his feet. "I can go with Simon. . .you don't need. . ." But he sagged wearily against Jim, too tired to finish.
"No," Jim said again, scooping Blair up in his arms. "It's not alright. Come on, Chief, you need to rest." Swiftly he carried Blair up the stairs. For once his talkative Guide was too tired to protest. He was asleep before Jim even laid him down on his bed.
He returned down stairs briefly to say good night to Simon. His captain was gazing worriedly up at the darkened bedroom. "Think he'll be alright?" he asked.
Jim intended to see that Blair recovered. . .physically, mentally and emotionally. None of this ever should have happened and he intended to set it right. "He'll be okay, Simon," he assured the man. "I won't let anything happen to him again."
Simon gazed searchingly at him. "What about you, Jim? Will you be alright?"
Jim could hear Blair's heart beating steadily above them. "He's alive, Simon. That's all I need. He's alive." The relief at being able to say those words quite took Jim's breath away.
Simon patted him lightly on the shoulder. "Take care of him, Jim. You can have the next few days off. . .let me know when he's up for visitors. . .I sure everyone will want to come see him themselves." He patted Jim again on the shoulder, and then bid him goodnight, letting himself out of the loft.
Jim locked the door behind him, and then headed back upstairs to his bedroom. He gazed for along silent moment down at his sleeping Guide.
"Mine," he whispered, feeling territorial instincts rearing inside him that startled him. The urge to touch and taste rose up again. He heard a wolf howling, heard the soft growls of a wild cat. Blair's heartbeat lured him like a siren's call. He lay down beside the young man, slid one arm around his stomach and pressed his face into Blair's heated neck, scenting his skin and the soft curls of his still tangled hair.
"Mine," he whispered again, his lips brushing against Blair's throat. The temptation was too much, and his tongue snaked out, licking swiftly at the silken skin. The taste exploded through his body, dragging him down into images so sensual he wondered how he could have ever lived without them.
"Oh, God, Blair," he murmured against his sleeping Guide's neck. He could never hurt this man, never willingly cause him pain ever again. . .which took away the last escape into sublimation available. He could feel the bond tying him to Blair, demanding expression. Violence was not an option. . .that left only the opposite end of the spectrum. He wanted Blair, and one way or another, his own territorial imperative demanded he claim him.
Soon, he promised himself, tears welling in his eyes as he trembled with a whole week's worth of grief. He hadn't slept since Blair had 'died', and his body was demanding payment for that torture. Wrapped tightly around his Guide's heated body, he fell asleep to his own silent prayers that somehow, after all this, Blair would find it in his heart not to reject a soul that could no longer endure without him.
He woke to feel Blair struggling to rise from the bed. Early morning light was filtering in through the loft windows, attesting to an entire night's sleep. But Jim wasn't ready to lose the warmth of the body he was wrapped so intimately around. He tightened his arms, only belated remembering Blair's injured ribs. He heard his Guide hiss, and instantly he released him.
"Blair? I'm sorry, are you alright?" Jim sat up quickly staring down at the young man in concern.
"Yeah, Jim," Blair nodded tiredly as he rolled to his side, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. "Just a little tender."
Jim touched his shoulder. "Where are you going?"
"Bathroom," Blair explained, sitting carefully up. Jim immediately started rising from the bed.
"I'll help you. . . " he began, but Blair shook his head.
"No, I said I was fine. I don't need any help."
"It's alright, Chief. . .I want to. . ."
"No," Blair insisted a bit more forcefully this time. "I'm not an invalid. I can manage on my own." And as if to prove his point, he rose stiffly and headed down the stairs.
Jim watched his progress nervously, but seeing that Blair seemed fairly steady on his feet, he remained where he was. He listened as his Guide made his way across the empty living room floor, and went into the bathroom, shutting the door firmly behind him. With a sigh Jim laid back down on the bed. Time to talk, he decided. Time to clear the air. . .time to explain to Blair why he'd done the things he'd done, said the things he'd said. But faced now with the task, he didn't know where to begin. Talking was Blair's specialty, not his. Jim was only grateful he had the opportunity to try. . .Blair was alive. . .it was more than he had a week ago.
He heard Blair leave the bathroom, and he waited for his Guide to return to his bed. Instead, Blair wandered around the loft, and Jim heard him go into his own bedroom. The sad sigh and muffled curse he heard next was enough to propel Jim out of bed and down the stairs.
"Blair?" he called as he hurried toward the open French doors of Blair's room. "Blair. . .I'll get all your stuff moved back in today. I'm sorry about. . ."
"No, Jim," Blair sighed, shaking his head. "There's no point really. I've had a lot of time to think about stuff, and I realized that I've been ignoring my own research notes. What's the point in being an anthropologist if you don't pay attention to your own discoveries?"
"Blair? What are you talking about?" Jim asked worriedly. Didn't Blair want to move back in with him? That had never occurred to him, and the thought filled him with panic. He couldn't let Blair move out. . .he just couldn't! He needed Blair, needed him close to him, as close as Blair would let him get.
"The whole Sentinel/Guide thing. . .I had it wrong. . .Alex proved that to me," Blair explained. "A Sentinel needs a Guide to learn how to use his or her abilities. . .because the territorial imperative demands he knows how to protect the tribe to the best of his abilities. But I never should have moved in here in the first place. . .this is your place. . .your territory. . .you are genetically predisposed to hating the idea of anyone invading it. That's why you freaked out so much the moment Alex entered Cascade. The city is yours too. . .you couldn't let another Sentinel within your public boundaries. And the very idea of you allowing anyone into your private boundaries is unthinkable. . .that's why when one territory was invaded you reacted so extremely with the other. . .moved all your stuff out the loft, asked me to leave. . .you did what you needed to protect your territory. . ."
"Blair!" Jim cut off the young man's lecture, coming swiftly forward to take hold of his arms. "No, Chief, you're wrong."
"I'm not wrong, Jim," Blair insisted, shaking his head. "Look at this place. . .can you deny that you. . ."
"Wait, Blair," Jim cut him off again. "Let me clarify. You are right about the whole territorial thing. . .about me wanting to protect what is mine. But you've misinterpreted my actions. I didn't send you away to get you out of my personal territory. . .I sent you away to protect you."
Blair grew still, staring up at him in confusion. "To protect me. . ..what do you mean?"
Jim sighed, gently rubbing his hands down Blair's arms before releasing him. He turned away and began prowling slowly around the empty loft. "I had a dream, Blair. . .I suppose it was right after Alex arrived in Cascade. In it I was hunting in the jungle. . .I saw a wolf. . .and I shot it. As it lay on the ground dying, it changed into you."
"You shot the wolf?" Blair asked in amazement.
Jim glanced sharply at him. "*THE* wolf, Chief? You've seen this wolf?"
Blair nodded. "In my own dreams. He kept me company when I was alone."
"Well, I thought the dream meant that I was going to hurt you. . .so I sent you away. I thought if I could keep you away from me for a while, you'd be safe. Seems it was a self fulfilling prophecy however. . .sending you away was the reason I endangered you."
It was at last the perfect opportunity to tell Blair he was sorry for what had happened, and he wasn't going to pass up the chance. "Blair, I am so sorry. I never wanted you to leave. I never meant to hurt you. I was just so confused. . . I kept having this dream and I was afraid something was going to happen to you. I didn't know what else to do. . .I didn't know. . ."
"You could have told me," Blair replied quietly. "You could have told me about your dream. Alex told me about hers."
"Alex didn't care about you!" Jim exploded, his jealousy rising up within him at the mention of that woman's name. . .again! "I do! She didn't care if you were hurt by her visions, didn't care what they might mean. . .I thought I was a danger to you. I thought you'd get hurt if I. . ." He groaned and shook his head. "I should know better than to try and interpret my visions. You're the Shaman. . .I always make the same mistake. Last time I killed a spirit guide it was my own. . .and because of it I lost my Sentinel abilities, and Incacha and your friend died. . ."
"Jim," Blair cut in, breaking off Jim's guilt trip. "It's all right. I understand."
Jim looked up hopefully. Could it really be as simple as that. "You do, Chief?" he whispered.
Blair nodded. "But Jim, the fact remains that I still shouldn't be here. You still need your space. . .you need to. . ."
"No!" Jim protested. "You don't get it, Chief! Yes, I am territorial. But what you don't know is that I consider you part of that territory!"
The stunned look on Blair's face wasn't particularly encouraging, and Jim felt his heart drop. "What?" he heard the young man whisper in shock.
How to explain. . .he didn't want to sound like some jealous Neanderthal. . .didn't want Blair to think he saw him as a possession. . .that wasn't what was going on here. He just didn't know if he had the words to explain it. "You're my Guide," he said simply, wishing Blair could truly understand just what exactly that really meant to him.
But Blair paled at his words and turned away. Inside, Jim cringed. . .he could so distinctly remember hearing Alex say those exact same words to the young man. "Blair. . .I'm sorry. . .I didn't mean to remind you. . .I didn't think that. . ."
"No," Blair shook his head. "It's not that. Not Alex. . .I just don't know what I'm doing here. I've never known what I was doing here. I had this crazy idea in my head about living out some heroic epic, and that was crazy. . .that's not life. . .and real people don't fit into neat little categories. You don't really need. . ."
Jim closed his hands over Blair's shoulders, catching him off guard. "Don't," he cut in, stopping Blair before he could finish his sentence. "Don't say I don't need you. You have no idea how badly I need you."
"Jim," Blair protested.
"No, let me finish," Jim pressed on, turning Blair to face him. He held tight to his Guide's arms, preventing him from stepping away from him. "I heard the things Alex said to you on the train platform. . .and yes, she may have been insane, but she was also right about a lot of things. A Sentinel does need a Guide. You anchor me in place. . .you keep me on the steady path. I'm lost in a world of visions and overblown senses. . .you're my bridge back to the real world. Without you I'm alone. . .Blair. . .I can't even sleep without hearing your heartbeat. All that time you were gone. . .when I thought you were dead. . .everything just stopped, Chief. If you leave me, if you move out. . .I'll find myself camped out on your doorstep. . .I'll. . ."
Even as he spoke the words he realized how they must sound. . .how possessive, how controlling. He saw his own hands--the way they were gripping Blair's arms so tightly, bruising him he was certain, as he stood over the smaller man, invading his personal space, holding him in place. He remembered other things Alex had said about domination, and more horribly the words Blair had said about slavery.
Quickly he released the young man and stepped away. He felt lost without the physical connection, set adrift, and his heart raced in horrified panic. He realized in that second that he didn't have any control here. . .he never had. Control had always belonged to Blair. Jim was the one who needed Blair. . .it wasn't the other way around. And if he really had screwed things up so badly that Blair had lost all faith in all things Sentinel, then there was nothing in the world Jim could do to keep him from leaving.
His body began shaking, and he stumbled back, his legs suddenly too weak to hold him. It was all hitting him at once. . .an entire week's worth of horror, and he dropped quickly to his knees to keep from falling. His breath caught in his throat, and he felt things fading away, his vision narrowing, his hearing too confused over the sound of his own hitching lungs.
And then the connection was back. Warm hands on his shoulders, a soft voice whispering in his ears, a steady heartbeat thundering a familiar rhythm.
"That's it, Jim, come on back, listen to my voice and follow it back," Blair was murmuring quietly.
Jim looked up in confusion. He was sitting on the floor now, his back resting against the wall. Blair was kneeling beside him, gently kneading his shoulders, guiding him back from a zone out. "Blair? What happened?"
"You zoned," Blair replied. "Any idea why?"
He thought for a moment, and the same horror filled him, but with Blair there beside him it was somehow more manageable. "Lack of control," he said simply.
"Lack of control over which sense?" Blair pressed.
Jim shook his head. "Not a sense. . .life. I have no control here. . .I can't make you stay with me. . .I can't make you understand. . .I can't stop you from leaving. Alex could, but I can't."
Blair's hands stilled on his shoulders but he didn't remove them. His blue eyes were filled with confusion. "What do you mean, Jim? Alex could make me what?"
"Stay with her," Jim explained. "You don't know, Blair, what a Guide means to a Sentinel. You can't. . .I didn't even realize until I thought you were gone. Alex was right about me getting territorial about you when she and I first met. Wouldn't surprise me if that was the way it always happened. . .two Sentinel's fighting over a Guide. But she could force you, Blair. . .she didn't care if she hurt you. I can't hurt you. . .I can't force you." The terror was welling inside him again, the fear that Blair was going to leave, and he started trembling once more.
"Jim!" Blair called to him urgently, his own voice filled with alarm. He shook Jim, pulling him back before he could slip again into a zone-out.
"I'm sorry, Chief," he told him quietly, turning his head away so that he wouldn't have to look into those beautiful blue eyes. There was a voice inside him that was urging him to take Blair, claim him, mark him, bind him so firmly to his side that he could never leave. And he realized just as clearly that he could never do that. . .it was what Alex had tried to do, and she'd lost both the Guide and her life because of it.
"Jim, listen to me," Blair said softly, gently touching his face, turning it toward him. "Jim, I won't leave."
Those simple words struck Jim's heart. He looked up at Blair, fighting the urge to reach for him, to grab him, holding him closer. "Blair?"
Blair looked upset and worried, his beautiful face still so pale from his ordeal. "I don't fully understand this, Jim. But if you need me that badly I'll stay. I'll still be your Guide if you want me."
There were sounds all around him. Light flooded the room. He knew the panther was nearby, and now joined with it was the wolf. . .they could so easily fight. . .leap at each other's throat. . .or more likely the wolf could turn and leave alone as it had been when it had first arrived. . .the eternal wanderer. Something clicked in place, and need overcame Jim. . .the need for words, promises, oaths. . .the need for ritual.
He grabbed Blair's hand, stopping him from rising when he would have drawn away. He held Blair there beside him, the young man still on his knees before him. "Swear it, Blair," he ordered softly, his voice almost a growl.
"What?" Blair's eyes were wide, uncertain. Jim felt his warm breath brushing his skin. He shivered.
"Swear it," he pressed. "Say you'll be my Guide. Swear to stay with me."
The world seemed to stop all around them, and the soft noises of the jungle pressed around them closer than memory. The wolf moved closer, and Blair seemed to sense it. . .started to turn away from Jim to stare. Jim caught his chin between his fingers, forcing his gaze back. "Swear it, Shaman," he urged, and his voice was suddenly the voice of the ages. . .of a thousand Sentinels back through the history of mankind speaking the words he needed for life.
Blair's eyes were as blue as the sky as they gazed up at Jim. Jim's gaze narrowed and focused; he saw the silken lips he longed suddenly to taste move even before he heard the words.
"I swear," Blair whispered softly, and the power of the ritual seemed to catch hold of him then. "I am your Guide, Enqueri."
The sound of Jim's Chopec name shivered through his entire body. The ritual was nearly complete. He remembered the moment when he, too, had first accepted his position, and had spoken a similar promise in the silence of his heart to his spirit guide. And before that. . .he remembered when he'd promised the Chopec that he would be their Sentinel while living in their home. They'd given him the name Enqueri to mark that moment forever in time.
Still lost in the deep blue of Blair's eyes, Jim finished the ritual, speaking so softly Blair had to strain to hear him. "I name you Enqueritacu." A name for Blair. . .a name that was part of his own. . .and so much more than that.
And then time and ritual released them both, and Jim felt Blair trembling in shock. He'd been frightened, too, the first time he'd realized what he was. And Blair, the man who'd had no concept of permanence, had just bound himself for life to a position he'd all but lost faith in this last week.
"Jim?" Blair whispered, his voice small and uncertain. Jim slipped his arms tightly around his young Guide's shoulders, holding him finally the way he'd wanted to earlier. It was permitted now. . .he'd won. . .or at least won the Guide. The rest--the more passionate instincts inside him--they could wait for now.
"It's all right, Blair," he murmured, stroking the young man's hair. He stood, and pulled Blair with him. "Come on, Chief. You're still weak. You need to rest. Let's get you back to bed. I'll take care of the loft. . .put your stuff back. Everything will be fine now. You'll see. You just need to sleep."
Blair said nothing, but allowed Jim to lead him back upstairs. Jim helped him undress in silence, and when he was stripped down to nothing more than a pair of boxers, Jim slid him gently into bed. A moment later, the deep even sounds of Blair's breathing told Jim he was already asleep.
He stood for a moment beside the bed, gazing down at him. Gently, he touched the young man's hair, fingering a silken lock. Blair's scent clung to him--he'd been wrapped around him all night. They'd sleep the same way tonight if Jim had anything to say about it.
He glanced down at his empty loft and smiled, realizing at last that he did have some measure of control. Blair, after all, was too weak still to move any furniture.
Grinning, Jim got to work retrieving his stuff from storage while his Guide slept blissfully unaware. By late afternoon when Blair awoke, Jim had returned most of the living room furniture. He'd also succeeded in getting Blair's room partially back in order. . .all his clothing and books back in place. But company arrived before he could do any more, and as Blair was making his way downstairs from his nap, Jim opened to door to admit the gang from Major Crimes.
Seeing Blair, the dozen or so cops burst into loud cheers and swarmed forward to greet the young man. Jim grinned as he watch Blair blush under the attention, enduring the expected Lazarus jokes good-naturedly.
"Sorry, Jim," Simon apologized as he too strode through the door. "No one wanted to wait to see Sandburg." The police Captain was grinning himself and didn't look in the slightest bit sorry for barging in like this.
Jim just smiled and shook his head. "It's alright," he assured his Captain. They all knew this could so easily have turned out different. . .they might have been gathering today instead for Blair's funeral. If Blair had taught Jim one thing, it was to never turn his back on such good fortune and joy.
The visit turned into an impromptu party, and Jim ordered pizza for everyone. Jim hovered near Blair most of the evening, keeping a close watch to make certain he didn't tire himself out too much. And while Blair wasn't as mobile or as animated as he normally was, he was smiling. The rest seemed to have done him a world of good. Life was returning to those deep blue eyes.
"You alright, Jimmy?" Megan asked him during a brief moment alone in the kitchen.
"Yeah, Megan, I'm fine," Jim assured her. "Now that he's alright."
"You love him," she replied, and Jim glanced uncertainly at her. But Megan was grinning happily, and there was nothing in her eyes to indicate that this might be a problem for him. "We all love him," Megan explained. "He's a very easy person to love."
Jim smiled. Enqueritacu. . .she had no idea. "Yeah," he agreed. "He is at that."
They all left a little while later, and while Jim cleaned up, Blair wandered around the loft looking at things. He sat after awhile on the couch, a large book in his hands, and read briefly. The sight of it. . .Blair doing something so normal, so familiar. . .it sent a surge of warmth through Jim's heart. Blair was home. Miracles did happen after all.
But he could see that his Guide was growing tired again, and he finished up in the kitchen quickly. "Time for bed, Chief," he announced. "I told the doctors that you would rest. You're not recovered yet."
Blair glanced up, and then shot an uncertain look toward his bedroom. "Um, Jim?" he began hesitantly. "You haven't moved my bed back into my room yet," he pointed out.
Jim tried not to smile. "Yeah, I know, Chief. That's all right. You can stay in mine again tonight."
He saw color rising in Blair's cheeks, and for a moment his entire body went still. If he turned up his sense of touch, he could feel the heat radiating off the young man's body. "I could sleep on the couch. . ." Blair offered.
"No," Jim shook his head. "Not with broken ribs. Come on." He took Blair's hand and pulled him to his feet. Blair set his book down on the coffee table, and Jim shot it a quick glance. A language book. . .Dialects of Peru. He suspected he now knew the meaning behind that deep blush in Blair's face.
He led Blair to the stairs and then let him go up alone while Jim wandered around the loft locking up and turning out the lights. He kept his hearing tuned on Blair however. . ..heard him undress slowly and then climb into bed. When he was settled, Jim climbed the stairs and undressed himself. Then flicking off the lights, Jim climbed into bed beside Blair.
In the darkness, he reached out for the young man, felt him shiver when he touched his bare skin. Like he had last night, he slid one arm around him, and pressed their bodies together, his face buried in the nape of Blair's neck. He breathed in his Guide's scent, and felt Blair shiver again.
"Are you cold?" he asked softly, letting his lips brush lightly against Blair's neck as he spoke. He heard Blair's breath catch in his throat, heard his steady heartbeat speed up.
"N. . .not cold," Blair whispered, shifting his body slightly. The movement of flesh against flesh was almost more than Jim could bear. Fire leaped in his veins. He brushed his lips across Blair's skin once more. . .so soft. . .so smooth. . .he felt like he'd wanted this forever.
"Jim?" Blair's voice was soft and uncertain.
"Yes?" Jim murmured. He trailed his hand across Blair's chest, toying briefly with hair, lightly teasing a nipple that was growing hard from the attention. "Jim, that name you gave me," Blair whispered again, a certain sense of urgency in his voice.
Jim smiled in the darkness. "Enqueritacu."
"I looked it up," Blair continued. "It means. . . .It means. . ."
"Beloved of Enqueri," Jim finished for him. Blair gasped as Jim gently kissed the soft flesh just below his ear. He softly ran his fingers over one of Blair's nipples again and was rewarded with a soft moan.
"What did you mean?" Blair gasped. "Exactly?"
"I meant I love you," Jim explained. He hesitated a brief moment. Blair's heart was racing, his breathing growing hard, and there was the unmistakable scent of arousal in the air. But still. . .Blair had never once given Jim any indication that he had ever wanted this. . .had ever wanted him.
"Blair?" he asked uncertainly.
"Oh, God," he heard Blair whisper, and concerned, he rose up on one elbow to look down at his Guide. Blair's eyes were tightly closed, and he saw tears streaming from them. Fear suddenly gripped Jim's heart as a thousand different thoughts raced through his head. . .he'd hurt him, frightened him, disgusted him, upset him. . .
"Blair?" he whispered urgently, gently wiping away the tear tracks. "Oh, please, Blair. . .don't cry. . .I won't do. . ."
"I love you too, Jim," Blair whispered opening those incredible eyes of his. Even in the darkness Jim could still see the clear blue. It pierced his soul. He wasn't certain he'd heard right.
"Say it again!" he commanded, and he wondered briefly if he was going to spend the rest of his life commanding Blair to speak words of binding to him. Yeah, he decided, probably. "Say it!"
"I love you," Blair repeated. "Alex said that you wouldn't want this. . .wouldn't want me. She wanted me and said. . ."
"She can't have you!" Jim growled, his jealousy rising again even though Alex was long dead now. "You're mine!" It felt good to finally say those words out loud. "My friend, my love, my Guide."
"If you really love me, Jim, I'd be your slave and glad of it," Blair whispered.
Jim tightened his arms around the young man, pulling him closer to him. "Not that, Blair," he murmured. "Never that. You've always had all the power." He gently brushed his lips against Blair's closed mouth. . .a very tentative first kiss. "Let me love you, Blair," he begged softly, his body on fire with need.
"I've never been with a man before," Blair told him uncertainly.
"Me neither," Jim admitted. That simple fact didn't seem to matter any more. But then again it was funny how unimportant certain things seemed when surrounded by miracles.
"You sure this is what you really want?"
Jim heard the hope and fear in Blair's voice as he asked that question. His love for the young man swelled to a point uncontainable. "Oh, yes," he swore, and he lowered his mouth once more to Blair's.
Their lips met, and this time there was nothing tentative in their kiss. Blair's mouth opened for him, and Jim greedily tasted him as he had wanted to last night. Fire exploded between them, and need overcame uncertainty and reason. He shuddered in ecstasy when Blair's arms came up around him to hold him firmly in place.
"Love you," he whispered against Blair's mouth, and his Guide moaned in response. He didn't think he could ever get enough of this taste, this perfect taste that he'd lived so long without. Never again, he promised himself. Never again would this be denied. . .and that realization was almost enough to make him come right there. "Munaway wiñaypaq," he whispered softly in Chopec. "Love me, forever."
"Yes," Blair murmured, arching against him. It was all the encouragement Jim needed.
He touched and stroked Blair's heated body, his own hyper senses spiking off the chart at each caress, each movement of Blair against him. Cautious of Blair's injured ribs, he kept his touch gentle, loving, knowing there would be a time later in their relationship for the more powerful urge to mate. . .tonight was about loving, about giving thanks that this brightness existed at all. Tonight was about worshiping Blair with his hands and mouth and body. Tasting, scenting, touching, hearing, seeing. . .cataloguing all the sensations that burned so brilliantly between them.
He stripped them both of their shorts, and then proceeded to arouse Blair to heights they obtained together. And when at last they both came, shuddering against one another, Jim found himself weeping from the sheer release of emotion. Blair held him, and whispered to him, and loved him in return. And much later, they lay twined in each other's arms, the world forgotten beyond them in the darkness, they whispered all their promises all over again to one another.
"Jim?" Blair asked softly as they were both beginning to drift off to sleep.
Jim smiled, and nuzzled Blair's sweetly scented curls. He'd never tire of hearing his Guide's voice. "Yeah?" he asked.
"Are we going to move my bed back into my room tomorrow?"
So he'd guessed that that little omission had not been accidental. Sometimes his Guide's brilliance astonished him. "No, we're not," Jim replied.
There was silence for a moment, and even without opening his eyes, Jim felt Blair smile. He looked anyway. . .just because Blair truly was his most beautiful when he smiled. "Good," he heard the contented response, and he grinned as Blair snuggled in closer to him. "Ulysses will be happy to hear that."
"Ulysses?" Jim frowned. . .who the heck was Blair talking about? He wondered if he should feel jealousy. . .
"The wolf, Jim," Blair explained.
For a moment Jim said nothing, mulling that over in his head. "You named your spirit guide, Chief?"
"Yeah. Didn't you?"
"No," Jim admitted. Never occurred to him.
Blair chuckled softly. "No wonder he growls all the time."
"You can hear him growling?"
"I'm a Shaman, remember," Blair reminded him. He moved, if possible, closer to Jim, his head resting comfortably on Jim's wide shoulder. The young, hard body felt so perfect beside him. Jim wondered that he'd ever been able to sleep alone before this.
"Right," Jim replied. "A Shaman." He thought about that for a while. "You named your spirit guide after a Civil War General?"
Blair gave him an exaggerated sigh. "Greek Mythology, Jim. Ulysses. . .hero of the Odyssey. . .also called Odysseus."
"Oh, right," Jim nodded sagely. "I knew that."
"No, you didn't, Jim."
"Sure I did," Jim protested. "I read it high school. Something about boats, right? And didn't John Denver sing a song about one of the women Odysseus met? Calisto or something?"
"Calypso, Jim," Blair groaned. "Calisto is that blond chick on Xena. And Denver was singing about Jacques Cousteau's ship."
"Oh, right, Cousteau," Jim agreed. "He was marooned on an island with someone named Friday, right? Or was he that Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom guy?"
"Yeah?" Jim asked.
"Wayllusaq Enqueri winai," Blair's voice was somewhat hesitant and shy as he spoke, but his words warmed Jim clear through his soul. Blair's Chopec accent might need some work, but his message came across loud and clear. "I will love Enqueri forever."
Jim grinned in the darkness and kissed his Guide gently on the forehead. "I love you too, Blair," he whispered around the emotion choking his throat. "Thank you for staying with me."
"Thank you for wanting me."
"Always," Jim told him fiercely.
"Then I'll always stay."
Jim slept with those simple words in his heart. As long as they were together, he knew everything would be okay.