Note: Parts of this story are definitely NC-17; there is some heavy angst here, and some minor violence (delivered primarily but not exclusively to the bad guys).....and Blair seriously needs a hug throughout most of it. But I tend to like happy; There is also blantant and gratuitous misuse of various non-corporeal felines.

Without Love

by Josephine Darcy

Blair sighed in irritation. Jim and Simon were being unreasonable.


The story of his life. And all over something so minor.

It wasn't even something that could precisely be labeled "an undercover assignment". Rather it was more like a glorified excuse to crash a party. Jim had received word from an informant about a new pipeline of drugs into Cascade. The new dealer would be arriving soon to set up his operation--an operation that sounded more complicated and wide spread than anything the city had yet seen. Simon wanted to make certain it was shut down before it ever got a chance to start.

The informant in question had made contact with someone high up in the dealer's echelons--a young woman ready to turn traitor provided the police could protect her. Since she had yet to arrive in Cascade, she'd sent word on ahead to the informant to set up a meeting between her and the police. As a sign of her good faith, she'd written up a detailed description of the dealer's operation, stored it on a computer disk, and slipped the disk into the back of a painting on its way into the city. The painting was part of the furniture of a businessman who'd had contact with the dealer. The Cascade police had already made arrangements to arrest the businessman, seize his belongings, and recover the disk. A simple operation.

Of course, they didn't count on the shipping company screwing up the order. By the time the businessman in question had been arrested and his property seized, it was too late. The painting was no longer in the man's possession. Seemed a crate load of his furniture--including the painting--had been mislabeled and sent to an auction house. By the time they tracked down the crate, the painting had already been sold to a prominent Cascade citizen--a Mr. Jack Campell, an industrialist in heavy negotiations with the mayor to bring new business to the city. The last thing the mayor wanted to do was to alert Mr. Campell to the darker side of Cascade life. He might decide to take his business elsewhere.

As luck would have it, Mr. Campell had a young son attending the university. Through the campus grapevine, Blair learned of a huge party the Campells were throwing at their estate. There would be so many students from the university there that no one would likely notice one extra. Blair had assured Simon and Jim that he would blend right in. All he'd have to do would be look around, find the painting, recover the disk and slip out.

Jim and Simon had other ideas.

"You're not a cop, Sandburg!" Simon reminded Blair for at least the thousandth time that month.

Blair rolled his eyes heavenward. He was getting very sick of hearing that. He wondered if he'd spend the rest of his life hearing that statement over and over again. He could see it now--they'd be gray-haired men--okay, he'd be a gray-haired man; Jim and Simon would be bald--all living in the same old folks home plotting to make a raid on the nurse's kitchen to recover stolen treats meant for the patients. Blair would offer to act as decoy--and Simon would remind him that he wasn't a cop.

"See if I give you any Twinkies," Blair mumbled under his breath, picturing them all tooling around in wheelchairs.

"What was that, Sandburg?" Simon demanded irritably.

"Nothing, Simon," Blair sighed.

"I agree with Simon, Blair," Jim added for good measure. "I don't want you going in there alone. It might be dangerous."

"Dangerous? What's dangerous, man?" Blair asked incredulously. "It's a college party for God's sake. I've been to a hundred of them. Heck, I'll probably know half the people there."

"And if someone else happens to know about this disk, they might be there, too, looking for it," Jim reminded him. "You have a way of finding trouble even when there isn't any. I'm going with you."

"No offense, Jim, but you don't look like a college student," Blair pointed out. "They'll tag you as a crasher right away. The whole point is to make certain that Mr. Campbell hears nothing about disks, drug deals or police screw ups. They won't even notice me--or if they do, they won't question me."

"So, if anyone stops Jim, just tell them he's your date," Simon suggested.

It was dream that had been near and dear to Blair's heart for a long time. A date with Jim--not like that time they'd both gone out with Cassie and had ended up eating dinner together--though he had to admit that had been pretty darn nice. But rather a real date with Jim--where Jim knew and accepted the fact that his roommate was in love with him. It wasn't going to happen--Blair knew that, had accepted it years ago when he'd first realized that he was in love with his very straight roommate. Most of the time he pushed it far into the dark reaches of his mind and only dragged it out when he was feeling particularly sorry for himself. But there were moments, like these, when a word or a phrase or a sight would bring the dream back full force and make him ache with the realization that it was never going to happen.

"Come on, Simon!" Blair protested, not even bothering to look at Jim. He knew what expression he'd find on his friend's handsome face. One of amused tolerance--the one that said sarcastically 'yeah, right, there's a thought!'

"No one is going to believe that Jim is my date."

"Why not, Sandburg?" Simon demanded. "What's wrong with him?"

"Hey!" Jim protested.

"Nothing's wrong with him," Blair cut in quickly. "I just meant that. . ."

"That what?" Jim insisted. "I'm too old for you? Not cool enough? My hair's not long enough?"

"Maybe Sandburg's ashamed of you?" Simon teased.

"Yeah, ashamed or just worried one of his several dozen girlfriends might see us together," Jim scoffed.

"No doubt," Simon agreed. "Perhaps he's just a closet homophobe. I sort of figured you college kids would be more open-minded, Sandburg. I'm surprised at you. . . .what would your mother say?"

"Hey, hey!" Blair protested cutting in on their discussion. "I'm not a homophobe, and I couldn't care less who saw me. And what do you mean what would my mother say. . ." He saw the way both Simon and Jim were grinning at him, enjoying his discomfiture. He sighed and rolled his eyes again. "Alright, Jeez, man, I didn't mean anything by it. I just meant Jim was a bit too. . .straight looking."

Simon gave them both a disgusted look. "No one is too straight looking, Sandburg. Besides, with Jim's butch look he could practically be a poster child for gay America."

"Simon!" Jim exclaimed in shock, staring at his captain as if he'd lost his mind. Blair couldn't help it; he busted up laughing. "Blair!" Jim growled, his turn to glare now.

"I'm sorry!" Blair choked on his laugher. "It's just that. . .he's right! You could be. . .though come to think of it you could fit several different stereo-types rather easily."

"This coming from the stereo-typical nerd professor?" Jim asked sarcastically.

Simon chuckled. "He's got you there, Sandburg."

"Me. . .well what about you, Simon?" Blair insisted. "You could be. . ."

"Don't want to hear it, Sandburg!" Simon cut him off with a decisive wave of his hand. "Now get out of here, both of you. And don't come back without that disk. And Jim, what ever you do, don't let Mr. Campell catch you defacing his paintings. The last thing we want is for this to get back to the mayor."

"Yes, sir," Jim nodded and motioned for Blair to follow him.

"Too straight looking," Jim grumbled under his breath. He shot Blair an annoyed glare. "Very funny, Chief."

"Hey," Blair just shrugged. "I did a paper on it a few years ago. . .you know on how homophobia translates itself into body language and personal grooming. It was very informative--I even got an A on it."

"I'm not homophobic," Jim protested as he steered his partner out of the bull pen. "Where do you come up with these nutty ideas, professor?"

No one paid the two of them much attention as they argued their way to the elevator. For Ellison and Sandburg, it was par for the course. 

The party was in full swing as they arrived, people moving in and out of the huge mansion, music blaring from all the windows. Blair straightened his coat as he climbed out of the truck. Moving naturally to Jim's side, he stared in surprise at the huge mansion. The sheer size of it was daunting

"It's going to take awhile to find a painting in there," Blair murmured quietly to Jim, knowing that the Sentinel would hear him.

"That's assuming it's been hung on a wall already," Jim pointed out. "It might be in a storage room or a garage."

"Well, maybe we can narrow the search down some then," Blair suggested brightly, a thought suddenly occurring to him. It would make for a great experiment in the practical application of Jim's senses, and it had been awhile since Jim had permitted any new tests.

Jim was staring at him warily. "How do we do that, Chief? I can't smell a specific painting style, you know."

Blair laughed. "I know that. But the painting was packed away in cedar chips for God only knows how long. The scent of cedar must still be clinging to it. You should be able to track it fairly easily."

Jim looked doubtful, but like all things Blair said, he nonetheless accepted it as a distinct possibility. It amazed Blair sometimes the trust Jim put in him, the same way he had ever since that first day when Blair had pushed him out of the way of that truck. From that moment on, Jim seemed to accept him as the voice of authority on his senses. Gradually, he'd let him into other parts of his life as well. Now as best friends, it was the little things that Jim did that thrilled Blair the most--the little acts of trust, the teasing, the almost ever- present hand on his shoulder or back, or the way Jim just instinctually said 'stay behind me' whenever they went into a potentially dangerous situation. It always made his heart secretly thrill.

Of course there was a lot to be said for the big moments as well, Blair mused as they walked silently toward the crowded house entrance. Those moments when Jim would race in full Blessed Protector mode to rescue his Guide. But during those moments, overwhelmed by the adrenaline, fear, excitement, and sheer relief at seeing Jim, Blair would come so close to admitting his closely guarded secret. It was all he could do not to fling himself at Jim and kiss him senseless. And, boy, wouldn't that go over well? He sighed deeply with the thought.

"Something wrong, Chief?" Jim asked quickly.

Blair glanced wryly up at him and gave him one of his brilliant smiles. "Course not, Jim, what could possibly be wrong? I crash parties all the time."

Jim threw him a mock glare. "You'd better not, Chief."

As Blair had predicted, no one gave him so much as a second glance. He looked like any number of students there. But Jim drew many curious gazes and Blair murmured, "Told ya, Jim."

Rather than answer, Jim draped an arm across Blair's shoulders and moved marginally closer to him. Blair's heart nearly leapt from his chest at the contact, his skin flushing even as he focused on maintaining his relaxed demeanor. *Oh, God, * he thought, *kill me now, and I'll die happy!*

"Calm down, Chief," Jim told him with a smile, leaning toward him to speak directly in his ear. His warm breath brushed Blair's skin like a caress, and he shivered involuntarily. "We aren't going to get caught. There's no need to panic."

It took Blair a moment to figure out what Jim was referring to; then it hit him. Jim could hear his heart racing out of control. He'd correctly interpreted it as excitement caused by the situation. He just didn't realize that the situation was him, not the party.

"I'm fine," Blair murmured. "Just a bit nervous." Jim squeezed his shoulder lightly, and Blair nearly melted into the floor.

*No lusting allowed!* he chanted over and over again, trying to picture Simon or Taggart in Jim's place in effort to control his raging libido. It wasn't working. No one could possibly feel like Jim beside him. Jim was in a class all his own--he'd given Blair a level of care and compassion unrivaled by any human being alive. Even Naomi had never looked out for him the way Jim did. The pure, unconditional way Jim protected and watched over him just made Blair love him all the more fiercely.

"Damn," Jim muttered under his breath as they proceeded further into the crowd, heading toward the main entrance. "What is it about college kids and their uncontrollable lusts? The pheromones, Chief!"

*Uh oh!* Blair nearly panicked. Jim could smell his pheromones? He hadn't thought of that. . .so much for hiding his attraction for his partner. "What?" he managed to squeak out.

Jim threw him a disgusted look. "The pheromones in this crowd, Chief," he explained. "This is one huge mating ground. Between that and all the perfume and cologne, I doubt I'll be able to smell anything else."

Relief washed through Blair. Okay, so Jim wasn't singling him out of the crowd. "Well, what did you expect, Jim," he forced a smile onto his face as he talked. "Look at these women. They're absolutely. . ."

"Keep it professional, Sandburg," Jim growled at him. "We're here to do a job, not find you another dozen girlfriends."

"Right," Blair nodded. "Sorry."

They made it past the main entrance to the house where they were greeted by several half-drunk partygoers who smiled and hugged them as if they were old friends, before moving on to the next set of people entering the place. Jim, simply by virtue of his close proximity to Blair, became nearly as invisible as the young grad student in the sea of students. In no time at all the two of them were standing by themselves surveying the room. A quick glance through the main rooms primarily open for the party revealed no painting.

"Alright, Jim," Blair said quietly so that no one but the Sentinel might overhear. "Let's try focusing on the cedar chips."

"I don't know, Chief," Jim said doubtfully. "Everything else is pretty strong."

"Don't worry, Jim," Blair grinned at him. "Trust me. I'll talk you through it. You just need to dismiss everything else."

Jim nodded and took a deep breath. Softly, Blair talked him through the process of dialing up his sense of smell, blocking out the various scents of people, food, pheromones and the collection of chemical cosmetics adorning the crowd. After a few moments Jim nodded and lifted his head, breathing deeply

"Don't know if it's the painting, Chief, but I smell cedar. This way." As inconspicuously as possible they made their way out of the main room and headed deeper into the large house. Following the trail of cedar, Jim led him upstairs and down a long private hallway. They moved quickly, worried that they'd be seen. Jim stopped suddenly and opened a door, pulling Blair into the room beyond.

Jim shut the door firmly behind him while Blair looked nervously around. It was obviously a private office, one they weren't supposed to be in, he was certain. But hanging on the far wall was the painting in question.

"Man, great job, Jim," Blair grinned appreciatively. "Better than a blood hound."

"Well, let's just get the disk and get out of here before we get caught and have to explain to the mayor's friend why were sneaking around his house defacing his property."

Quickly, Jim removed the painting from the wall and ran his fingers over the back. "It's right here," he told Blair, holding out his hand for the Swiss army knife Blair was fishing out of his pocket.

He had only to make a small incision on the side to separate the backing from the wooden frame. Then Jim tilted the painting on its side and the small computer disk slid out into his hand.

"Got it," he said in satisfaction, handing the disk and the knife to his partner. Blair slipped them both into his pocket as Jim carefully returned the painting to the wall.

"Let's get out of here before we get caught," Blair urged, moving toward the door. Jim's firm grip on his shoulder stopped him, and he looked up in surprise. Jim had his head cocked to one side in a listening pose.

"Damn it, someone is coming," he hissed, and they both immediately looked around the room.

No window to escape through, and the only furniture was a desk, a few chairs and a bookcase--nothing to hide behind. There was a brief moment of indecision, and now Blair could hear the approaching people. Then, abruptly, Jim grabbed him and lifted him up, seating him on the edge of the desk. "Kiss me," he ordered.

For a few seconds, Blair's mind went blank as he tried to process the words he knew he couldn't have actually heard from Jim's mouth.

"What?" he stammered, unable to accept the fact that Jim was standing between his spread legs, hands on his waist in an intimate embrace. "I could have sworn you just said. . ."

"I did," Jim growled. "Now shut up and kiss me."

Blair shut up--his dysfunctioning mind shouting, "Well, okay then!" And he grabbed Jim's head and kissed him with all the pent-up passion of years of unrequited love.

There was a part of Blair's brain--way in the back--that was still functioning enough to realize why Jim had made so strange a request. It was giving them an excuse for being in the private office out of sight of everyone else. But the rest of his brain was screaming loudly to him that this was it---his one chance *ever* to kiss Jim Ellison senseless with full impunity and he had to take it for all it was worth.

He knew Jim too well, perhaps unfairly so, knew the scope and breadth of his senses in such a manner that it gave him a certain power over him. He knew instinctually that with Jim's senses dialed up on alert for any danger, Blair's kiss would overwhelm him at best. It was an assault on his senses, plain and simple.

The first touch of Jim's mouth against his own carried Blair so far beyond rational thought he might as well have been a completely different person; certainly he was no longer Blair Sandburg, best friend and Guide to the macho, butch cop who would beat the crap out of him for daring to cross a line friends weren't supposed to cross. He flicked his tongue out, licking hungrily at Jim's lips before forcing those lips apart and invading Jim's mouth with a desperate longing.

He heard faintly Jim's gasp of shock, the strangled whimper he gave as Blair's tongue stroked against his. Jim's hands tightened painfully at Blair's waist, but Blair didn't care. He slid his hands through Jim's short, silky hair and hungrily devoured the mouth of the man he'd been dreaming of for years. Jim tasted wonderful, like heaven and home and Blair lost himself in the sensation, taking all he could of taste and touch to store up for the long years ahead he'd spend bereft of both. He heard his own groan of passion and despair escape him. His heart raced in combined joy at the nearness of this man he loved so desperately and sorrow at the devastation he was wreaking upon their friendship.

Jim didn't so much respond to his kiss as he did react, unable to prevent the deepening intimacy of Blair's touch. There was no choice but to allow the exploration of his mouth, the soft stroking of his tongue with Blair's. Blair knew there were things Jim might have done to stop him--could have bitten down, could have hurt him--but perhaps the role of Blessed Protector carried over into even these situations for Jim made no attempt to stop his assault. There was no question of ending it prematurely, since they both distinctly heard the door to the office open and two people start to enter. The two strangers saw them, took in their passionate embrace, and backed out swiftly in embarrassment, muttering swift apologies. Drunken giggles followed as they shut the door and moved on to someplace else. But the instant that door was closed, Jim's hands on Blair's waist tightened considerably as he pushed himself roughly away from his Guide.

Stunned by the sudden though expected loss of his partner, Blair stared up into Jim's face in shock--only to see his shock thoroughly mirrored in Jim's features. "Jesus, Blair!" Jim cursed, his eyes flashing with a mixture of anger and bewilderment. "What the hell was that!"

The lie came so automatically to Blair's lips he amazed himself. "What do you mean? You told me to kiss you."

Jim shook his head violently. "I said kiss me, not. . . not ravish me!"

Their friendship stood in the balance here, and Blair knew if he didn't find a way to ease this back down into an event no more annoying than Blair's typical foolery, the damage might be irreparable. "Oh, come on now!" he scoffed. "I didn't ravish you! That's just how I kiss."

If anything Jim looked more stunned than before. "That's how you kiss!??" he demanded. "All the time? This wasn't supposed to be a. . ." He obviously didn't know what to call it, and Blair took the initiative.

"Well excuse me!" he huffed, and used a most hated phrase in his own defense now. "I'm not a cop, remember? I didn't go to the police academy. I never took the required course in 'platonic undercover kissing.' Is there a certain technique I was supposed to use. . .just tell me where to sign up and I'll take the class if it will make you happy."

Guilt was an amazing thing, and it usually worked like a charm on Jim Ellison. Blair's self-deprecating tone stifled Jim's anger almost immediately, and he tried to tone his outrage down while still getting across his message. "Blair, I just meant. . ."

"God, Jim," Blair just sighed as he climbed down from the desk. "Chill out, I'm sorry if I did something wrong. I was just trying to make it look realistic. I thought that was what you would want."

It defused the last of Jim's anger, and the Sentinel sighed. "Yeah, well, let's just forget it about, Chief. We need to get out of here anyway, before we get caught." The nickname *Chief* was like a caress to Blair's aching soul. If Jim could still call him that, then he couldn't be too mad, and their friendship couldn't be in any real danger. It seemed he was to be given a reprieve, a stay of execution, and the only price he had to pay was to spend the rest of his life haunted by the memory of what he could never have. He'd kissed Jim Ellison and gotten away with it, and now his fantasy life would be a thousand times richer and more tormenting for having that touch of realism added to it.

They left the office together, and moved swiftly through the house. The party was still in full swing, and they were able to slip away without being noticed at all. In no time, they were climbing back in the truck, and Jim drove them back toward the station. The silence was uncomfortable, and felt so unnatural to Blair that he couldn't stand it. He took the disk from his pocket and began pondering out loud what could be on it. Jim, grateful for the harmless subject, dove quickly into a discussion of the case they were working on. By the time they got back to the station, the entire incident seemed to be behind them.

"Did you two have any trouble finding the disk?" Simon demanded later that evening.

"No," Jim and Blair responded simultaneously. They glanced at each other--and under other circumstances might have busted up laughing if it weren't for the fact that Simon would demand to know what was so funny. Besides, deep down, Blair wasn't really all that amused, and he feared neither was Jim. The situation could have been potentially very damaging to both of them.

"No," Jim repeated. "It was simple enough. You won't be hearing from the mayor."

And that was good enough for Simon. By the time they got home to the loft that night and had both turned into their respective beds, the kiss was a thing of the past.

Or so they both thought. 

Three weeks later:

Jim tossed and turned in his sleep, the blankets of his bed wrapping around his naked body and making him uncomfortable. For easily the tenth time in the last three weeks he found himself back in that small office with his arms around his young Guide. Blair was kissing him, lightly at first, nothing beyond the demands of the situation. He could smell the warm, sweet scent of his Guide's body, feel his pulse vibrating through the form beneath his hands. He heard the soft sigh of Blair's breath mingling with the familiar music of his heartbeat. Easy, familiar, with a welcomed level of certain permanency that made Jim warm inside. This was his best friend and partner, more importantly his Guide and Shaman to his soul. And then Blair's tongue had touched his lips, and his world tilted off its steady axis. Everything spun out of control.

The unexpected stimuli had caused his senses to spike off the chart, and in one blinding moment he was tasting passion, fire, hunger and need where he had expected nothing. He moaned at the overload of sensations, and as his lips parted, Blair invaded his mouth, deepening the kiss and sending him back again into chaos.

*Oh, God, Blair's kissing me! He's. . . kissing. . . oh, God, like velvet. . .so sweet, so hot. . .I've got to stop this, got to stop, got to stop, stop, please don't stop. . .ah, God. . .* and then he was beyond thought, unable to reason or accept the flaring heat of arousal that sprang through his body and shot straight into his groin.

His hands tightened on Blair's waist, and the sound of his Guide's moan of need nearly undid him. He wanted to pull him against his body, ease the pain that was throbbing in his now rock hard cock; he wanted to push him away, shout at him for daring to make such a move. What was he thinking! What was he doing! He shuddered and fought for control, hearing vaguely with ears poised to listen to the tormenting music of Blair's soft moans, the sound of the intruders entering and then quickly leaving.

And then the dream took a swift detour away from reality---no longer replaying actual events. In real life he'd immediately pushed himself away from Blair--had demanded an explanation for the assault on his person. In real life his Guide had given him a quick response that had cooled his anger and given them both a chance to pretend it had never happened. In real life, he'd been able to slip quite easily back into his previously heterosexual world where he and Blair were nothing more than best friends.

Dreams were not nearly as forgiving as real life, and at that point in the re-occurring delusion, he crushed Blair against him, pressing his swollen cock against Blair's own, and had kissed him back for all he was worth. Blair's response was wild and willing, and they had strained against each other, seeking more contact than was perhaps humanly possibly. When he felt Blair lift his legs to wrap around Jim's waist, Jim pushed him down on the desk, devouring his mouth, and rubbing frantically against him, seeking a rhythm of thrust that would ease both their pain. There was a desperation in their gasps, a panic in the violent coupling, overwhelmed by a need Jim didn't fully understand to merge as one with his Guide. Toward the end, he found himself staring down into Blair's large blue eyes, gazing into the depths of a soul that was so precious, and seeing his own need reflected back at him. And then they would come so explosively against each other that even in the dreams Jim would pass out.

He'd wake then slowly, first in dreams and then in real life, only to find Blair gone in both. His body would be exhausted and aching, sweat covered, and stained with his own passion, but feeling somehow empty and incomplete. He'd reach out for his Guide, searching first the other side of the bed, and then upon not finding him, straining with his senses to catch the sound of his heartbeat down below in his own room. Slowly, he'd come back to himself, and remember that he did not live in a world where thoughts and dreams like this were permitted.

Tonight was no different. And when Jim's heart rate finally dropped back down to normal, and he lay there flat on his back staring up at the ceiling of his room in the darkness, he silently cursed the young man who'd done this to him. He could hear Blair's heartbeat echoing down below, hear the young man breathing slowly in and out in sleep. And when he breathed deeply, he could smell the sweet warm scent that was slowly beginning to drive him crazy in a manner he never would have before imagined. Was it possible, he wondered, to become addicted to a scent--to crave a taste of something you only sampled once? And was it possible to go quite mad at being denied it forever?

*What in hell were you thinking!* he screamed silently, no longer knowing if he was speaking to Blair or himself. It all boiled down to one thing; Blair shouldn't have kissed him like that.

"It's the way I kiss," his Guide had told him. And the very thought sent shivers down Jim's spine. Was that really the way he kissed? All the time? What about when he was just saying hello to a lover? Or how about at the height of passion? Or what about later, when he was sated and sleepy, and snuggling in his lover's arms? And did Jim truly want to think about Blair lying naked and satisfied in someone else's arms?

He groaned and pulled his pillow over his head, moaning quietly into the fabric to muffle the sound. This wasn't right. He was straight. Blair was straight--at least he thought he was. Maybe Blair had been trying to tell him something that day--maybe Blair preferred men. . .maybe it was none of his damned business, since it wasn't suppose to matter to him anyway. It was completely insane, totally fucked up, and driving Jim slowly off the deep end.

He didn't want to want Blair, didn't want to even be thinking about Blair in that manner. And if it weren't for those stupid dreams, this wouldn't even be a problem. At least, he didn't think it would. He would have put the kiss behind him, chalked it up to a strange aberration in their lives---a moment when his beautiful but troublesome young Guide had once again gone overboard on an assignment and done something in a very uncop-like manner. . .and when in hell did he start thinking about his Guide as beautiful?

He cursed and rolled over onto his stomach, punching his pillow in frustration. He had to stop thinking about this, had to stop dreaming like this. It was getting in the way, affecting his mood, making him difficult to be around. He knew he was beginning to take it out on Blair--and why not, since he felt this was all largely Blair's fault. Blair seemed to have had no problem at all putting this behind him--he slept like a baby night after night. No ill effects what so ever.

Okay, maybe not 'no' ill effects---he had to admit that lately his Guide had been looking a bit stressed. And if he was sleeping well, why were there dark circles under his eyes every morning? Could it be that like Jim he was sleeping, but not deriving much rest from the action? But Blair hadn't said anything--and it hadn't affected his behavior like Jim knew it was affecting his.

Most noticeably, Jim was finding things he'd taken for granted difficult at best any more--he couldn't touch Blair the way he used to. Couldn't place his hand on his shoulder, or against his back, couldn't cuff his head good-naturedly, or give him the casual hug that had seemed second nature to him before this. He wondered if Blair had noticed, and it worried him that Blair might have figured out why--that the act of touching Blair, putting himself in physical contact with the young man, sparked an awareness of passion within Jim that he just wasn't able to deal with. Was it making Blair uncomfortable--thinking that his friend and roommate might be 'checking him out'? The very thought made Jim burn with embarrassment. The embarrassment was always swiftly followed by a flare of deep resentment. After all it was all Blair's fault in the first place--he had started it all with that stupid kiss!

Which brought Jim back to his own behavior--and the fact that he had been taking this resentment out on Blair in subtle ways. He was snapping at him, grumbling and griping about stupid things. It was spilling over into his behavior around the bullpen, too, and he'd noticed a few days ago that the other guys were starting to avoid him. And why not. . .most of the other cops had seen him go on a tear a time or two, had seen what he could do to a person who truly pissed him off. Why wouldn't they avoid him with the angry vibes he'd been giving off? Sooner or later he'd have to get a handle on this. . .three weeks was long enough to be haunted by a moment that had lasted all of thirty seconds.

He rose early and dressed quietly, slipping out of the loft before Blair awakened. Never mind the fact that Blair was supposed to come with him into work today, and that he'd promised the young man that they'd drive in together. Jim just wasn't up to facing him that morning. Enough was enough. He had to figure this out--had to let this go, had to figure out a way to get past his confusion that was eating up his life. And to do that he needed to be far away from Blair.

He drove around for a while before going into work, but after several hours of driving he figured he was just wasting his time. He headed into the office, entering the bull pen and moving to his desk where a ton of paperwork was waiting for him. He dove into the paperwork, focusing his mind on the task at hand, and tried not to think about the fact that Blair was not there beside him.

By noon he'd pretty much come to the conclusion that Blair wasn't going to come in to the office on his own--he was probably mad at Jim for leaving him that morning. And Jim couldn't really blame him--he really had been quite awful to the kid these last few days. He was relieved that he wouldn't have to face Blair, wouldn't have to be haunted by his scent all day, or have to listen to the sound of that heart beating and have to remember what it had felt like pressed up against his own chest. And yet at the same time a terrible wave of loneliness gripped him--he was pushing Blair away. He was letting this come between them, and he was losing his best friend in the process. What was he going to do when he finally pushed too hard and drove the young man completely out of his life?

Could it happen, he wondered? Would Blair leave him? It was certainly in the young man's nature. He'd confessed more than once that he'd never stayed in one place longer than a few months before this. Somehow, after Blair had given up that trip to Borneo for him, Jim had gotten the idea into his head that Blair was never going to leave. But that was stupid---sooner or later the young man was bound to move on. God knew he hated the cold here in Cascade if nothing else. And with Jim pushing him farther and farther away, what reason would he have to stay?

"Jim? Come on man, wake up!"

The sound of Simon's voice snapped him out of his daze, and he realized he'd been on the verge of a zone out. Zoned on despair? That would be a new one for Blair--wonder if his Guide would want to do tests? "What's that, Simon?" Jim asked, gazing up at his Captain. Simon stood beside his desk staring down at him with a worried expression. "Guess I was lost in thought."

For a long moment Simon said nothing, just watched him with those dark, shrewd eyes. Finally, he glanced at the clock and then reached out to grab Jim's jacket from the coat rack near the door. He tossed the jacket to the detective. "Come on, Jim, I'm taking you out to lunch."

It wasn't an invitation--Jim heard that clearly enough. It was an order. He was going out to lunch with his Captain, and nothing he said was going to change that fact. Sighing, he pulled on his jacket and followed Simon out of the bull pen.

The two of them went down to the waterfront. It was a beautiful day; clear sky, brisk cold breeze blowing, sun beating down on the boards of the marina. Simon bought sandwiches at a stand, despite the fact that Jim told him he wasn't hungry. Then they went to sit on a bench overlooking a grassy hill and the bay beyond. Jim played around with the sandwich wrapper, but his stomach was churning and he couldn't bring himself to eat. He didn't really want to talk with Simon, didn't want to have to think that deeply. But he doubted there was any choice in the matter now. For a long while neither of them spoke.

It was Simon who finally broke the silence. "Alright Jim," he said conversationally. "You've been in a lousy mood for weeks. Something is bothering you. And I want to know what. You obviously won't talk to Sandburg about it, so you're going to have to talk to me."

Jim frowned and glared at the sandwich in his hand. He did need to talk--he just wasn't certain he could explain something quite so 'intimate' to his captain, even if Simon was a good friend. He wasn't certain Simon would understand---how did one straight man tell another straight man that lately his thoughts hadn't been nearly so straight?

"It's sort of hard to explain, Simon," he shrugged.

"Give it a try," Simon insisted. "Not talking about it is just turning you into a real bastard."

He thought about it for a moment, and then had a thought. "Simon, have you ever. . .I mean. . Okay, let's say all your life you have been a big fan of. . .say basketball. Or baseball, or football. . .you know, the stuff all your friends like. And you really love these games, right. . .would never turn down free tickets, liked playing them just like everyone else."

"Okay," Simon nodded with a certain resigned acceptance in his face when he realized that whatever the problem was Jim was going to explain it through allegory. "So you like football. What's the problem?"

"Okay, let's say that one day someone talks you into going to the ballet," Jim continued. "You never even thought about going to the ballet before, would have laughed at the notion, or openly fought the very concept of wasting even a second of your life at the ballet. But for one reason or another circumstances forced you to attend and you discovered that you liked it. I mean not only did you like it. . .but all you can think about is going back and seeing it again. What would you do?"

"What would I do?" Simon looked bewildered. "Well, shit, Jim, what the hell is wrong with the ballet? Lots of people like the ballet!"

"Yeah, sure lots of people *like* the ballet. . ." Jim cut in. "But there are only certain people who *attend* it. I mean think about it. The ballet doesn't really fit in with my life. What am I supposed to do? For the SuperBowl, you get all the guys together for a fun-filled afternoon of yelling at the TV set. . .it doesn't work that way with the ballet. The rest of the guys just wouldn't understand."

Simon sighed heavily. "So does this fondness for the ballet automatically rule out you ever watching another football game?"

"Well, no. . .yes. . .I don't know," Jim frowned, becoming a bit lost in his own allegory. "I mean yes, I think maybe it does. I mean ballet is a funny thing. . .I think that maybe if you become a true devotee of it, you don't ever go to another football game."

"You mean you'd rather sit around the rest of your life watching a bunch of ballet instead of a good season of football?" Simon demanded.

"No!" Jim broke in quickly. "Not a bunch. . .just one ballet in particular." He thought about that for a long moment trying to picture any other guy in Blair's place. He didn't like the image at all. He shuddered. "No, definitely not. In fact the thought of another ballet would definitely give me the heebie jeebies."

Simon chewed on his lower lip, his eyes filled with confusion. "Well, then, I guess when you want a little entertainment, you just pop this particular ballet back into the ol' VCR and enjoy--and who the hell cares whether or not the rest of the guys want to see it as well."

"But that's the problem, Simon," Jim sighed. "I don't know if I really want to be the kind of person who likes ballet. And I don't know if I even have a choice any more. . .or if it's already too late. Because it's driving me crazy just thinking about it. . . and I can't stop thinking about it. Plus, there's the added problem that even if I did decide that this was what I wanted, what if the ballet doesn't want me to see it?"

Simon nodded. "Well then, I guess. . . ." he shook his head violently. "I'm sorry, Jim. This whole ballet analogy isn't working for me any more."

"Blair kissed me." There, he'd said it. It was out in the open, and Simon could do what he wanted with it.

Simon choose to remain silent for a very long time, and when Jim finally chanced at glance in his direction, he saw that the Captain was staring thoughtfully out at the water. "So Sandburg kissed you," he finally said.

"Yeah," Jim nodded.

"Why?" There was no accusation in his voice, just genuine curiosity.

Jim sighed, not knowing if he should be relieved or angry that Simon didn't think this particularly surprising. "It was that stupid disk," he explained. "We were in a room we weren't supposed to be in and someone came in. . .we started kissing to have an excuse for being there. That's all. . .nothing big, just a kiss. . . to distract the intruders."

"And you liked it?" Simon pressed.

Jim nodded. "I mean I was angry at the way he kissed me. . .furious really---it was supposed to be just for show, but. . ."

"But Sandburg got carried away as usual," Simon finished dryly, figuring out what Jim wasn't saying.

"And now I can't get it out of my mind."

"What does Blair say about it?" Simon asked.

Jim gave him a startled frown. "We haven't talked about it. We haven't even mentioned it. I mean how could we. . .it's not the sort of thing two straight guys talk about."

"What makes you think you're both straight?"

Jim looked a bit alarmed, felt somewhat outraged. "I know I'm straight!" he growled. "And so is Blair. I'd know if he wasn't. He only ever dates women."

"How do you know?"

"Because I just know," Jim snapped, looking away. He could feel Simon's gaze burning a hole in the side of his head. He sighed. "I can smell it," he explained.

"Smell it?"

Jim shifted uncomfortably. "I can smell who's touched him," he shrugged. "Men smell different from women. When Blair comes home from a date, I can smell who he's been with and how . . .how intimate things got." He found his skin growing uncomfortably hot at the admission.

"Glad I don't live with a Sentinel. What if he showers afterwards?"

Jim gave Simon a dark glare. "We've been living together for three years. I think I would have figured it out by now. And Blair is just too careless. . .he would have slipped up. So he's straight--end of story."

"Well, as you said, you're straight, but that hasn't stopped you from becoming attracted to your very male roommate. What makes you think it's only one-sided?"

"Because this hasn't been bothering Blair at all!" Jim insisted in exasperation as he stood up and began pacing back and forth in a nervous manner. He tossed his sandwich into a nearby garbage can. "You know Blair. . .if something is bothering him, he has to talk it to death. And he hasn't even mentioned this! Doesn't even remember it, I'm guessing. Besides, what would it matter if it wasn't one-sided. At this stage in my life I am not about to switch my sexual orientation on the basis of one kiss!"

Simon watched him pace for a long while. "Jim," he said quietly. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe this has nothing to do with your sexual orientation?"

Jim stopped. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Did it ever occur to you that maybe you're just in love?"

That stopped Jim short, and he gazed at Simon as if he'd just hit him in the stomach. "In love?" he stammered. "What. . .how could I possibly. . .with Blair?"

Simon shrugged. "Why not? I've known you a long time. And I've never seen you like this with anyone else."

"Of course you've never seen me like this with anyone else!" Jim insisted in frustration. "Haven't you been listening to a thing I've said? I'm straight---and Blair is a male. There is a serious problem here!"

"No," Simon shook his head. "I didn't mean right now. I mean I've never seen you like this with anyone else. . .the way you've treated Blair ever since you first met him. This isn't a recent thing. Since the day you met Blair, he's changed you. In the years you've been friends, you've done more for and with Blair than you ever have for anyone else. You are closer to him than you ever were to your wife. You've always been willing to put your life on the line to rescue someone. . .but with Blair it goes way beyond that. Maybe it's the Sentinel thing, but you two are connected in way that's undeniable. I mean, even the guys in the bullpen all know that. From day one you've given off a vibe that let them all know that Blair was yours. . .your friend, your partner, and most definitely under your protection. Why do you think no one else has ever asked to be assigned as your partner?"

"What?" Jim asked bewildered.

"Jim, you have the highest arrest record in the department. Any cop on the force would love to be your partner--share in your Glory, so to speak. But no one who has seen you and Blair together even once---rookie or old timer--has made an attempt to usurp his position. They all just know instinctually that there's no coming between the two of you."

"What are you saying Simon?

"I'm saying, that it's not that far-fetched for me to believe that maybe you are in love with Sandburg. You two have always been intimate--you've had to be to deal with this whole Sentinel thing. Add a deep friendship and caring to that. . .how much farther a step would love be?" Simon explained. "And while no, I don't understand this, I'm also not all that surprised by it."

Jim slowly sat back down on the bench, feeling more stunned now than he had when Blair had kissed him. "And you think that maybe I've been in love with him all this time, and the kiss only brought it to the surface?"

"It's a possibility," Simon nodded. "But I think the person you should be talking to about this is Sandburg himself."

"I can't," Jim shook his head quickly. "I told you, Simon. Blair hasn't even given this another thought. And if I were to bring it up. . . to tell him the things I've been thinking. . .I mean, how would you react if a male friend told you something like that! It's not worth losing his friendship."

"Jim, don't you think you owe it to him. . ."

"No," Jim cut him off stubbornly. "It will just push him away."

"You're doing that already, just by the way you've been acting lately. You're pushing everyone away."

"I'll get a handle on it," Jim insisted. "I can't talk to him about this. It would just freak him out."

"Was he freaked out after the kiss?"

"No," Jim sighed. "No, not really."

Simon grumbled in frustration at his stubborn detective. "Look Jim, I can only assume from what you've told me that this wasn't a simple stage kiss that Sandburg gave you. If it was more intimate than that. . .put two and two together. He wouldn't have done it if he hadn't wanted to do it. He must feel something for you or he never would have kissed you that way in the first place. Go home and confront him. . .talk to him for God's sake. There's never been anything in the world you two can't talk about. Why should this be any different? Your friendship will survive. It has survived everything else that has been thrown at it."

Simon's words sank in, but Jim didn't really buy them. Tell Blair? Confront him? And then what? Rejection or acceptance. . .and Jim wasn't entirely certain which he was more afraid of.

It was late when Jim got home, and the loft was empty--no sound of Blair anywhere in the building. For one brief moment, Jim had a strange and terrifying thought that perhaps Blair was gone, driven away because he'd discovered Jim's fixation with that kiss. The thought was enough to make him open the door to Blair's room and peer inside. The relief that washed through him when he saw Blair's belongings all correctly in place startled him.

God, he had it bad, he thought. Maybe Simon was right? Maybe this was more than just a physical reaction to his best friend's unexpected kiss? Maybe he had fallen in love with him?

It was a heady and terrifying thought. First and foremost because he was straight. Always had been and had always assumed he would be. Sexual orientation wasn't something a person decided to change this late in life. It just wasn't done - wasn't normal.

And second, because Jim just didn't do the whole love thing well. He couldn't let people get that close to him. Not since he was a child. Everything in life had taught him that. The loss of his mother, his father's coldness, Bud's death, Stephen's alienation, the death of his men in Peru, Carolyn, Danny, Lila--he shuddered under the weight of memories. The list just went on and on. Everyone he'd ever gotten close to had either left him, betrayed him, or died. It was a wonder he was even capable of feeling anything at all. As it was, it went against his nature to trust in anything permanent. So the whole idea of being in love with anyone was ridiculous.

Which left what? Lust?---and he'd already negated that possibility with reason number one.

So if it wasn't lust and it wasn't love--what was left? Where did that leave him?

It left him sitting alone in his loft thinking about his absent roommate and wondering how he was ever going to erase the memory of that one brutal, perfect, soul-stealing kiss.

He was beginning to think he just needed to get out of Cascade. It truly was turning into the most dangerous city in America.

He cooked himself dinner, but found once again that he had no appetite. He tossed the meal in the garbage and then went to shower. Afterwards, he sat for several hours on the couch watching giant mutant bugs eat a small mid-western town on television. Around two in the morning, he realized that not only was he waiting up for Sandburg to come home---he was also avoiding going to sleep, afraid of dreaming again and waking up feeling more empty than ever.

Cursing, he climbed the stairs to his room and went to bed. He didn't feel good. His stomach was churning, his skin felt hot, and his mind just couldn't stop spinning. He needed sleep, he told himself. Needed sleep without being plagued by dreams. He forced himself to close his eyes, and he lay there in the darkness listening to the distinctive absence of his Guide's soothing heartbeat below him in his room.

The dreams came again, and he found himself back in that office with his Guide in his arms. Blair's kiss was soul-shattering, and he clung to him in desperation, moving his body against the younger man's in effort to find some release, some completion to the emotions overwhelming him. It wasn't enough. The transitory friction of the young man's body rubbing against his wasn't enough this time, and in the dream he stripped Blair and covered his body with kisses. The sharp scent of Blair's arousal drove him wild, and he devoured the hard shaft of Blair's cock with one desperate motion, sucking and tasting the musk that fueled his own desire. The sound of Blair crying out his name and the taste of him exploding in his mouth was enough to drive Jim over the edge. He came explosively, sobbing in relief and desperation.

He reached for Blair, aching to draw him into his arms, to hold him against his chest. But again the dream image of Blair vanished, fading away and leaving him alone. He cried out, searching for him, his senses spiking off the chart in an effort to find some sign of his Guide. It drove him awake and he sat up with a gasp, his body shaking with the strain of his loss.

It was just dawn, the sun peaking in through the windows. And far down in the spare bedroom, he could hear the sound of his Guide asleep in his bed. Every instinct in his body screamed at him to go to him, screamed at him to claim him, take him, and he grabbed his pillow to moan into its softness. His body shook and trembled, and he felt light-headed and weak. This was driving him crazy. This couldn't be happening. He'd just dreamed he'd gone down on his best friend and loved it so completely he'd come in his sleep. He found himself extending his senses, catching hold of Blair's elusive scent. He opened his mouth to taste the scent. And still, it wasn't enough.

He couldn't do this--couldn't stay here a moment longer with this between them. He couldn't face Blair, couldn't talk to him about this--not until he'd gotten it straight in his own mind. He wanted to love him--but Jim Ellison didn't do love. He wanted to fuck him--but Jim Ellison was straight. None of this made sense anymore. And he had to get out of the loft and away from that intoxicating scent before he went mad with desire.

He rose and dressed quickly, thankful that it was Saturday and that he wasn't expected anywhere that day. He grabbed his keys, thinking briefly that he should probably eat something before he went anywhere. He hadn't had much of an appetite lately--and he realized in some alarm that it had been several days since he'd eaten anything at all. But the sound of Blair stirring in his room distracted him, and he made his escape quickly.

He should have left a note. Blair would be worried. But he couldn't let that concern him now. He had to get away. Had to get out of Cascade. Had to clear his head. He climbed into the truck and started driving. Away from people, he told himself, away from the sounds and the scents of the city. He had to get back into nature, back to the woods where he could be alone with his own demons. Only then could he wrestle and conquer them. But he felt so empty inside and he was afraid to explore the reason behind that.

He left the city and headed toward a favorite fishing spot deep in the Cascade Forest. Reaching the dirt road turn-off, he stopped the truck and went the rest of the way on foot. The clean crisp air filled his lungs, the dark, moist scents of the forest embraced him, calling him home. Dizziness washed through him again, but he shook it off. For one brief moment he thought he was back in Peru. He dialed his senses all up to full, devouring the surroundings and taking the forest into himself. A thousand sensory images hit him all at once, and he let himself drift into them, let himself zone. It occurred to him then, as he welcomed himself home to the wild, that there was something missing. No Guide stood beside him, no voice steered him on his course, no gentle touch led him along the path he was destined to travel.

"Help me," he whispered, no longer even certain who he was speaking to. "Tell me what to do."

A soft growl caught his attention, and he saw the black panther perched on a rock nearby. The dizziness overcame him again, and he dropped to his knees. "Help me," he pleaded, somehow knowing he was lost in a zone-out the likes of which he had never experienced before.

The panther shifted and changed, becoming a man dressed in camouflaged army fatigues. Jim stared into his own soul.

"What do you ask?" his totem twin demanded.

"What do I do?" Jim asked, his mind spinning in confusion. He couldn't love, he couldn't lust. What was left? He felt lost, adrift, and so alone he hurt inside.

His spirit twin raised his arms indicating the forest around him. "You have come here, Sentinel. Is this not a choice?"

Pain stabbed at Jim's head and he clutched it tightly. "Don't!" he pleaded. "No cryptic mysticism. No riddles. Just tell me what to do. Make this go away!"

His twin's features hardened, his eyes flashing, and he nodded. "It seems you have made your choice already. So be it. But you and I must go our separate ways here, for I have chosen differently from you. We can no longer remain together when I already walk a different path."

Jim didn't understand what he was saying, and his heart felt like it was ripping in two. How could they go their separate ways? This was his soul, his spirit--he couldn't live without it. But his twin turned, shimmering back into the form of the black panther, and loped off into the woods, vanishing from sight.

"Wait!" Jim cried out, too weak to stand and pursue. He stretched out his senses instead, trying to track it by sight, scent and hearing alone. He pushed farther and farther, losing touch with the world around him, and let everything else just drift away. 

Jim was gone when Blair awoke. He stumbled out into the living room, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and trying to figure out what on earth he'd done these last few days to drive his roommate and best friend away from him. He knew Jim was avoiding him--he'd been in an odd mood for weeks. And lately it had just gotten worse. They needed to talk, needed to clear the air. Deep down, Blair feared this all had something to do with that kiss.

Could his friend have figured out, he wondered, that his Guide's feelings were more than just platonic? Could Jim have put two and two together and realized that everything Blair had said that day in the office had been one huge obfuscation to cover up the fact that all he wanted to do was jump his bones? Probably, he decided, and the realization was driving them apart.

It was what he had hoped to avoid. Loving Jim had never been in the plan--and loving him as he did, the last thing he wanted to do was drive him away. But if this was truly bothering Jim, and if they couldn't talk it out, then Blair suspected the only alternative would be for him to leave. But his heart cringed with the thought, knowing that if he left now it was over between them. It was stupid, he supposed, but deep down he had harbored some small hope that maybe one day, if he'd tried hard enough, Jim might have managed to return his feelings.

He went to make himself a pot of coffee as he thought about what he was going to do. But the sight of Jim's jacket hanging by the door distracted him. He frowned. Jim had left without his jacket? It was cold out--not winter, but cold enough that even the Sentinel wouldn't want to go out without some protection.

Curious, he touched the jacket and the weight he felt within it startled him. A quick search of the pockets confirmed his fear. Jim's wallet, badge and gun were in the jacket. Jim had left the house without them.

Maybe he'd just gone down to the bakery for some muffins, he reasoned, ignoring the fact that he'd need his wallet for that. A check, however, confirmed that the truck was gone. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong. Jim never would have left the loft without his badge and gun.

Panicking, he called Simon. The Captain was gruff at being woken up so early on a Saturday morning.

"I'm sorry, man," Blair apologized quickly. "I was worried about Jim. He took off this morning."

"He's a grown man, Sandburg. Isn't the Blessed Protector thing his gig--not yours?"

"Simon, he left the house without his jacket, wallet, badge or gun. Does that sound like Jim to you?"

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. "He left without his badge or gun?"

"Or his jacket, and Simon, it's cold out. He's been avoiding me for a few days now and I don't know why," Blair insisted, even though he was afraid he knew exactly why. "He was suppose to take me in to work with him yesterday, but he took off before I got up. How did he seem to you? Did he say anything?"

"Didn't Jim talk to you last night?' Simon asked somewhat hesitantly.

"About what?" Blair demanded. "I had a date last night. He was asleep when I got home. Why? What did he say to you? Is something wrong?"

"Blair," Simon interrupted this flow of words. "He had something on his mind. Talk to him when he gets home."

Blair's heart stuttered for a moment. It sounded to him as if Jim had talked to Simon. Or at least said something to him about what was bothering him. "Simon, did he talk to you? What's wrong? What did he say? Is he having trouble with his senses?"

"Calm down, Blair," Simon interrupted. "Just talk to him. I'm sure everything is fine."

Blair hung up, still no closer to knowing what was wrong with Jim or any nearer to finding him. Simon didn't seem too worried, but the longer Blair waited the more certain he was that something was terribly wrong. Jim was in some type of danger and he needed his Guide. What if he were having trouble with his senses? Or what if he were zoned? Or what if. . . .

The sound of a soft growl caught his attention and Blair turned. There was a large black panther sitting by the door watching him. Blair froze, caught in a moment of stunned disbelief. He blinked his eyes and the panther was gone, vanished as if it had never been there. It took Blair's stunned mind a moment to realize that he'd just glimpsed Jim's Spirit Guide--the panther that had appeared to Jim in Peru. He'd been right. There was something wrong with Jim, and without a second thought Blair grabbed his keys and raced from the apartment.

For once the car started without coaxing and Blair pulled out of the parking lot at top speed. "Hang on, Jim," he muttered. "Hang on, I'm coming." He whispered it over and over again like a mantra, willing the Sentinel to hear him, willing Jim to be alright when he found him.

He didn't know what led him to the old fishing spot Jim had shown him last year, but he drove without doubt or hesitation. From time to time he imagined he saw the panther, and when he pulled onto the old dirt road, and saw the truck, he knew something was leading him.

Stopping the car beside the truck he climbed out. A dark feline shape disappeared into the dense woodland, and Blair raced after it. He ran deep into the forest, calling out to the Sentinel, willing him to answer.

He found Jim about a half-mile from the truck. At first glance he seemed unharmed. He sat on a rock gazing into the woods, his features blank, his eyes unfocused and somewhat sleepy looking. Blair recognized a zone-out immediately and rushed to his side.

"Jim?" he called softly. He touched the man's shoulder and discovered to his alarm that he was shivering. He was wearing only a tee shirt and jeans and the temperature was quite cold. His skin felt chilled and clammy, and his skin color was unnaturally pale.

Quickly, Blair yanked off his own jacket and draped it over Jim's shoulders. "Jim, Jim, can you hear me? You have to come back to me, man. Listen to my voice. Follow it back." He kept up a steady dialogue as he rubbed Jim's arms briskly, hoping to rub some heat into them. The shivers that wracked Jim's body were violent and his unresponsiveness frightened Blair. He had no way of knowing how long Jim had been zoned, and he was seriously concerned about hypothermia. He wanted to get Jim back to the car but he had no illusions about being able to carry him if he couldn't get him walking.

"Please, Jim," he called, practically begging for some response from the Sentinel. He grasped Jim's hands between his own, breathing on them to warm them up. He touched Jim's face, cupping the beard-roughened jaw as he noted the blue tinge to his friend's lips.

"Jim, please, come back to me," he commanded, his warm breath fanning his friend's face. Jim blinked his eyes, finally reacting to some stimuli, and Blair called him again, grasping his shoulders now and squeezing tightly.

"That's it, Jim. Follow my voice. Come back to me. Focus on my touch, Jim. Bring yourself back. I need you to speak to me, Jim. I need you to say something. Try, Jim. Please. . . ."

"Blair?" Jim's voice, weak and confused, was music to Blair's ears, and he gasped in relief.

"Thank God! That's it, Big Guy, come on back," Blair encouraged, fighting the urge to pull his friend into his arms. He settled for rubbing his arms again. The violent shivers had not lessened at all.

"Blair, he left me," Jim whispered, sounding strangely lost and confused. "He's gone. I can't find him."

"Who's gone, Jim, What are you talking about?" Blair asked, growing alarmed once again. Jim didn't sound anything like himself. He was afraid his friend was running a fever--feared perhaps he was in some sort of zone-inspired delusion.

"The panther," Jim said weakly, turning away again to gaze into the woods. Blair could see him trying to focus, trying to extend his senses, and he feared another zone-out. He caught his face between his hands and forced him to look at him.

"No, Jim, he's not gone," he assured his confused Sentinel. "He led me here. He helped me find you. It's going to be okay. You're just sick and confused, but everything will be fine now." He needed to believe that himself, needed to believe that whatever the problem Jim was facing, somehow Blair could make things better.

"No," Jim said sadly, shaking his head. "He's gone. He told me so. Said he and I must go our separate ways now. I'm sorry Blair. . . ."

"Jim," Blair called, shivering with cold now himself. This sounded too specific to be just a delusion. Something had happened---for some reason, Jim's Spirit Guide had communicated with him. But Blair was positive Jim was misinterpreting something.

"Jim, why?" Blair pressed. "Why would he say that? Why would he leave you? He's your Spirit Guide, man. He's part of your soul. He wouldn't leave. Why would he leave?"

Jim's eyes were filled with grief as he gazed at Blair, regret and loss mingling with his confusion. "Because I don't love you," he whispered quietly, and his words carried so much weight behind them, Blair thought he would break under the load.

Blair drew back swiftly with a startled gasp, pain striking his heart like a knife of ice, piercing him clear to his soul. The words were out now, unretrievable, unforgettable, and so horribly unfair. Jim didn't love him. He felt that small spark of hope inside him shudder and die, snuffed out like a candle flame. He froze, afraid to move lest he shatter like glass.

He wanted to cry, he wanted to scream, but mostly he just wanted to run into the woods alone somewhere and curl up and die. But even as he stood there stunned, held immobile by his own grief, he saw Jim turned away to look toward the woods again and drift off into a zone-out. Instinctively he reached for his friend, pulling him back again from the brink. His heart might be broken into a million pieces, but Jim still needed him. He might not love him, but he still needed him.

"Jim, no, don't do that. Come back to me. It's all right, Jim. Everything is going to be all right." He blinked back his own tears as Jim turned toward him again.

"But he's gone, Blair. What do I do? How can I . . ."

"You know what to do, Jim," Blair insisted. "He's your Spirit Guide--part of your soul. He can't leave you. Call him back. It's as simple as that. You know what to do. Deep down you know how to bring him back."

Jim was staring intently at him now, as if listening to his every word. He nodded in agreement as Blair spoke, and Blair tried to remember exactly what he'd done the last time he'd led Jim through a meditation to communicate with his Spirit Guide.

But it seemed Jim had other ideas how to summon back his Spirit Guide. As Blair spoke, urging him to call the panther back, Jim nodded and reached for him, catching his face between his strong, ice cold hands. Before Blair could protest Jim closed his mouth over his own, kissing him for all he was worth.

Blair staggered under the onslaught, catching Jim's shoulders to keep himself from falling against his friend. Unlike their first kiss weeks ago, Jim led this one. Blair was too stunned to do more than submit to the hungry aggression of his friend's kiss. Jim's mouth was rough against his own, forcing his lips apart. Blair moaned in shock and growing need when Jim thrust his tongue into his mouth, greedily tasting him. That deep touch sent fire shooting through Blair's body, centering sharply in his groin, and he returned Jim's intimate stroking with a desperation all his own. He was unnerved, unsettled, and so confused. For a few brief, perfect moments his world narrowed and focused only on the strong hands holding him and the fevered taste of a kiss he never expected to feel again.

And then Jim's words came back to haunt him. "I don't love you." He sobbed against Jim's mouth, unable to contain his grief as he realized that this kiss wasn't at all what it seemed. Jim didn't want him, didn't love him--but somehow in his fevered state he believed this was the only way to bring back his Spirit Guide. He didn't know why Jim had gotten such a notion into his head, but it didn't matter. All that mattered right now was that he get Jim to the car; get him warm, get him home where he could sleep off whatever had a hold of him so he could think clearly again.

He pulled away from that kiss, breaking the contact as gently as possible. Jim's eyes were wild and confused, and he refused to release his grip on Blair's face. Gently, Blair touched his hands, prying them away from his face, but maintaining his grip on them. "It's okay, Jim," he said soothingly. "Everything is going to be alright. But we need to go home. You're sick Jim--you're running a fever. You need to come with me now. Do you understand?"

Jim nodded his head, and Blair tugged him to his feet. The taller man swayed and would have fallen if Blair hadn't caught him around the waist, steadying him. Jim draped an arm across his shoulders.

"That's it, Jim. Lean on me. I'll take care of you." He realized as he said it, how true that statement was. He would take care of him, no matter what. Jim had just broken his heart, killed the last vestige of hope inside him, and then proceed to torment him with a display of what he could never have, and still Blair wanted nothing more than to protect him.

Tears streamed silently down his face as he led Jim back to the car. A part of him still wanted to scream, horrified by the depth of his own self-destroying love for the man. He loved Jim so utterly, so completely that he'd do any thing for him if he thought Jim truly needed it. It frightened him; he'd never felt something so strong before. Always in the past, if pushed into a commitment, rather than make one, he'd pack his bags and run. He couldn't do that now; and realizing at last that he was committed to a man who didn't love him, a part of his soul died.

They reached the vehicles, and Blair carefully helped Jim into the car, buckling him in place. They'd have to come back for the truck another time. Right now Blair just wanted to get Jim home.

Shivering, he climbed into the driver's seat and started the car, cranking the heat up as high as it would go. "There you go, Big Guy, we'll be warm in no time." But Jim was leaning against the window, his eyes half closed, and Blair doubted he even heard him. 

Jim was drifting. His body felt numb, dead, his senses overloaded from the sensory input that had struck him as he zoned. But he was aware of the comforting presence of his Guide beside him, speaking softly to him all the way home, grounding him, holding him back from the brink of another zone. Every once in a while Blair would reach out a hand to touch him, and the heat of his Guide's flesh burned through his frozen body. He could still taste his Guide in his mouth, was vaguely aware that he had kissed Blair, but his mind was still too muddled to fathom what that could mean.

As the temperature in the car began to rise, his body began to ache. He groaned softly, and Blair touched him again. "It's alright, Jim, we're almost home." He wanted to grab Sandburg's hand, wanted to hold it in place, but he was too weak to move. Instead, he felt his mind drifting again, saw his Spirit Guide leaving once more, and he moaned in protest. He licked his lips, tasting Blair once again--but it wasn't enough. He needed more. Needed so much more.

He was vaguely aware of the car stopping and then Blair was helping him out of his seat. They stumbled together, but with his Guide's help, he made it into the loft. Blair deposited him on the couch, and quickly covered him with an afghan.

He felt Sandburg's hand against his forehead, testing his temperature. "Jim, are you hungry? When was the last time you ate?"

"Don't know," Jim muttered groggily. "Few days ago, I think."

"A few days. . .hell, Jim, no wonder you're sick. I'm going to go make you something hot to eat. Stay right there."

He didn't have the strength to tell Sandburg that he wasn't up to going anywhere. Any more than he had the strength to hold on to his hand and keep him from taking away the only heat that seemed to warm him. Blair kept talking the entire time he was in the kitchen as if knowing instinctively that without the stimuli of his voice, Jim was lost. And soon he was back again beside him with a cup of hot soup in his hands.

"Drink this, Jim. It will make you feel better."

He still had no appetite, but he didn't want to argue with Blair either. He took several sips when Blair held the cup to his lips, and his Guide was right--it did make him feel better. In no time at all, he had the strength to take the cup in his own hands and finish it off.

The food revived him somewhat, but it also brought his chill to the surface. He found himself shivering in earnest, unable to get warm. Again Blair touched his face, his brow wrinkling in concern. Jim found himself getting lost in the blue of his Guide's eyes, zoning on the concern reflected there.

"Man, you are still so cold," Blair exclaimed. "Come on, Jim, Let's get you into the shower and then you can go to bed."

Jim watched in some confusion as Blair removed his shoes and socks. Blair tugged him then to his feet and helped him into the bathroom. He leaned against the heat of his Guide's body, nearly zoned on the pleasure of that soothing presence.

"Come on, man, stay with me. Don't zone, Jim, listen to my voice. . ." Blair's concern was clear in his voice, the sound tinged with genuine fear. And Jim felt a need to answer the young man.

"I'm here, Chief," he murmured.

Blair smiled at him and Jim wondered at the sorrow that was in his Guide's eyes. This was new--something he'd never seen before, and he wondered what was wrong.

"Come on, Big Guy, let's get you into the shower." Quickly Blair began stripping him, removing his clothes from his shivering body. Everywhere his Guide touched him, he felt fire sear his skin. He gasped at the sensation and Blair murmured quietly to him, "I know you're cold, Big Guy. It's all right. The water will warm you right up."

Blair turned away for a moment to start the water running in the shower, adjusting it to the proper temperature. The loss of his Guide's heat was unbearable, and Jim reached for him when he returned to help him into the shower. He pulled the slender body into his arms, and buried his face in the tangled silk of Blair's curls, deeply inhaling the familiar scent. His cock, half hard already, pulsed with sudden life as Jim pressed himself against the hot body he seemed to crave.

Blair's startled gasp barely registered, but he did notice his Guide pushing him away. "Blair," he groaned in protest. "Don't leave. You always vanish." It was going to be like all the other times--his Guide would vanish leaving him more alone than ever. And with his Spirit Guide gone, he'd be left with nothing.

"Come on, Jim, let's get you into the shower. You've got to get warmed up. I promise I won't go anywhere." Blair spoke gently to him as he carefully pushed him into the stall. The hot water streaming down on his chilled skin was nice, but it was nothing compared to the heat of Blair's body. The water wasn't enough. He needed more---so much more.

When Blair tried to pull away from him, Jim grasped his arms, tugging him forward into the shower fully clothed. "Jim!" Blair gasped in protest. "Come on, man, you're getting me all wet!"

But Jim wasn't about to let him go this time, and he pinned Blair to the shower wall with the weight of his body. Then he silenced the protest with a kiss, claiming that seductive mouth with his own.

He tasted instantly that elusive flavor he'd been craving ever since that time three weeks ago when Blair had kissed him. He plundered Blair's mouth, moving his tongue across lips and teeth, and stroking the velvet softness of Blair's tongue. His Guide moaned in response and with his senses tuned into him so sharply, Jim could hear the young man's pounding heart, could smell the sharp scent of arousal. He ground his hips into Blair's, rubbing his throbbing cock against the roughness of Blair's jeans.

"Blair, Blair," he whispered against that perfect mouth, still desperate for more. And in his mind's eye he could see the angry face of his Spirit Guide glaring at him. "Go our separate ways." Because he couldn't have lust and he couldn't have love, and that meant there was nothing left. . .nothing left but need.

"I need you, Blair," Jim whispered, trying to make his Guide understand. Blair always gave him what he needed. Blair would know what to do. "I need you so badly."

He heard Blair sob at his words, felt the shudder that ripped through him. The scent of arousal was strong in the steam-filled air and when he ground his hips against his Guide's again, he felt the swollen hardness of Blair's erection. And it really was so simple to mistake heartbreak for passion.

He ripped open Blair's shirt, licking at the exposed skin as he trailed hungry kisses down his Guide's neck. Blair moaned and gasped, pulling his soggy shirt from his body as he writhed against Jim. Jim ran his hands feverishly over Blair's hair-dusted chest, his finger scraping lightly over dusky nipples that were hard with need. Jim closed his mouth over one nipple and sucked hard, hearing Blair cry out with pleasure, arching his back and straining against him.

Jim moved lower, sucking and kissing as he went, seeking out the stronger source of musk. He fumbled at Blair's waist, undoing the buttons of his jeans. Then, dropping to his knees before his friend, he gave the jeans a hard yank, tugging them down over those narrow hips. The boxers went next and Blair's cock sprang free, already swollen and weeping. His Guide's sharp scent drove him wild with need, and he licked at the cock, desperate to taste more of that illusive fragrance.

"Oh, God, Jim!" Blair cried out at the sensation. It was all the encouragement Jim needed. He sucked the head of Blair's cock into his mouth, teasing the slit with his tongue as he devoured the weeping musk there. Then he sucked harder, taking as much of the shaft as he could manage, spurred on by Blair's desperate cry and moans. It was everything Jim had been dreaming about and more; the taste, the scent, the heat of Blair's body, the sound of his cries, and the pounding of his heart. And when he dared to glance up and saw Blair with his head thrown back, eyes closed, his taut body streaming with water as his features contorted with desire, Jim's heart nearly stopped from the sheer beauty of the man.

"Come for me, Blair, I need to taste you," Jim whispered around the hard shaft of Blair's cock. The vibrations of the words sent Blair over the edge, and he came violently, crying out Jim's name as he spilled his seed into Jim's mouth.

The taste was the pure essence of musk, and Jim swallowed greedily, hungrily devouring all his Guide had to give him. And when it was over and Blair sagged exhaustedly against the wall of the shower, Jim realized it still wasn't enough. He wanted more--so much more from his Guide. And he was terrified that if he released Blair for even a second he'd vanish again like he had all the times before.

Desperate now, he stripped Blair of his remaining clothes. Tossing his soaking shoes and socks out of the shower, the jeans and boxers soon followed. Then he stood, pulling his naked Guide into his arms and kissed him fiercely. Dimly, in the back of his mind, he registered that he could taste the salt of tears on Blair's lips, but the realization did not track with Jim's desire. He ground his erection against Blair's body, frantic now for release.

"I need you so badly, Blair," he groaned, kissing his mouth hungrily. Blair held him tightly, his hands stroking the muscles of his back. Blair moved against Jim with a seductive rhythm that made Jim burn with fire. Every touch, every caress seared his body. Blair kissed the strong column of his throat, and he gasped in pleasure when Blair's hands brushed over his rock hard nipples, gently pinching and twisting them till they were so sensitive the soft caress of his breath sent waves of desire coursing through his veins. The touch of Blair's soft lips sucking gently at one nipple slammed need through Jim's body with such force that he nearly collapsed against the young man. He braced one hand against the wall, still refusing to release Blair completely and rode the shock wave of pleasure to a new height. His dreams had never been so good.

"Jim," Blair whispered against his skin as one hand moved down over his hip, reaching for the aching cock that still throbbed between them. "Tell me what you need. Tell me what you want."

Jim groaned as Blair's hand closed over his aching cock, and he bucked into his Guide's hand. "You, Blair," he rasped. "I need you." He tightened his grip around the young man, pulling their slick bodies tightly together, the friction so sweet he never wanted it to end. "I need to be inside you, Blair," Jim urged, needing desperately to join with his Guide, to make them one, to insure that no matter what, he'd never be alone again.

He felt Blair stiffen at the request and saw a look of fear in the young man's eyes. He kissed him deeply. "I won't hurt you, Blair," he assured the young man. "I could never hurt you. I don't need the panther if I have you." He was terrified that Blair would refuse, and Jim knew if he did, he'd vanish and Jim would never find him again. "Don't leave me," he whispered. "Don't vanish. I couldn't stand it if you vanished again."

"It's all right Jim. I'm not going anywhere," Blair promised, returning his desperate kiss. "Everything is going to be all right."

His Guide was frightened and upset, and Jim didn't know why. But Blair kissed him again and then turned around in his arms offering himself to Jim like a gift. Need and passion overcame whatever reason was left to his fevered mind.

Wet and slick from the hot water, Blair parted his legs for Jim, gasping when Jim's probing fingers found his entrance. Jim teased the tight hole as he kissed the side of Blair's exposed neck and shoulder. He wanted to take the sorrow and fear from his Guide, wanted to leave nothing but pleasure, wanted to hear Blair call out his name again as he came with total abandon. Let his Spirit Guide go his separate way; he had Blair and nothing else mattered. Blair would make him whole again. Blair would find whatever was left of his soul and make him strong again. But first they needed to be joined.

He slipped a finger past the tight ring of muscle, slipping it deep into his Guide's body. The heat was incredible, and the way Blair writhed against him sent flames of need straight to his cock. He stroked deeply, stretching Blair, caressing him deeply inside that velvet passage. And when he touched a certain spot, Blair cried out in pleasure and thrust back hard against Jim's hand. The response was exactly what Jim wanted, and he could feel a storm building inside him. He slipped a second finger in this time, whispering Blair's name as the young man rocked back against Jim's hand.

"Oh, God, Jim, please," Blair sobbed. "More. . . I need more."

"Soon, baby, soon," Jim promised, knowing the Blessed Protector inside him refused to allow anything to hurt Blair, even their own passion. He stretched the passage wider, and managed at last to slip a third finger inside him. Blair's breathy gasps and moans were music to Jim's ears, and finally the sounds were too much to bear. He removed his fingers and caught hold of Blair's bucking hips, positioned the younger man, aligning him with his cock. And then slowly he began pushing his way inside him.

Blair's heat was incredible, and he moaned against Blair's neck. The passage was tight and Blair was shaking in his arms, torn between gasps of pain and an unbearable need to thrust back against Jim. Jim held him still, his senses so far dialed up that he could feel the blood pumping through Blair's veins. When he sensed Blair's pain receding, he pushed in farther, moving steadily until he was buried to the balls in his Guide.

Blair rocked back against him, his gasps stirring Jim's blood to a frenzied beating. Unable to resist any longer, Jim began thrusting, slowly at first until the building storm inside him commanded so much more. The hunger demanded everything--that Jim take and give all there was, that he possess Blair so completely that they'd be joined forever in this perfect tactile memory. He felt as if he were fighting for his soul, fighting thoughts and ideas that in his fevered state had taken on epic proportions. No love, no lust--but there was this, this delicious all consuming heat, the storm that sent lighting through his blood and thunder through his pounding head.

He could hear Blair screaming with him now, driving back hard on Jim's shaft as Jim pounded into him with all his strength. And somewhere far in the distance, they both heard the roar of the panther--to Jim it sounded like the challenge of ownership to give up the precious perfect person in his arms, his life, his soul, his need. He held on so tightly he left bruises on Blair's flesh.

To Blair, the roar was the sound of heart break, of loss and grief, love he could never claim and the ultimate surrender of his own soul to memories he knew would haunt him forever. Regardless, both of them came together, exploding in unison, both blinded by the white hot perfection of total unity

When it was over and the storm at last had passed, Jim's strength left him. He moaned in protest and denial when he slipped from Blair's body, but he was barely able to stand anymore.

Blair turned quickly and caught him in his arms, holding him tightly and whispering words to him he could not understand. Didn't matter though; the tone of his Guide's musical voice was enough to soothe him. It had always been enough, he realized now. Blair gave everything of himself in everything he did--he always had, and Jim was only just now able to see that. He felt tears burn his eyes, and he wanted to tell his Guide that he understood that now, but he lacked the strength any longer.

Didn't matter, for like always, Blair took over. He rinsed them both off under the shower stream and then helped Jim from the stall. Carefully, lovingly, his Guide dried him off and then with one arm around his waist, led him naked upstairs to bed. Jim collapsed exhaustedly onto the bed, pulling his Guide in after him. Blair adjusted the blankets covering them both, then settled down into Jim's arms.

"Go to sleep, Jim," Blair whispered. "You'll be better tomorrow. Everything will be fine tomorrow."

Trusting the Guide with life and soul, the Sentinel closed his eyes and slept. 

Exhausted, Blair slept in Jim's arms most of the day. Evening was setting when he finally awoke, and for a moment he was completely disoriented at finding himself in Jim's bed. His Sentinel was curled up beside him, one arm thrown across Blair's chest, hand tangled in Blair's curls. And then the memory of that morning hit him full force and he found himself shaking.

His body hurt, not unbearably so, but it left no doubt in his mind that Jim had indeed fucked him and fucked him hard. Jim had told him to his face that he did not love him, and then had proceeded to show him everything they could have had between them if it had been different. For one brief moment he was overcome with the urge to hate Jim. . .but the love he'd harbored for so long in his soul wouldn't reconcile such an emotion. How could he possibly hate Jim when he loved him so much? He couldn't just stop loving him--no matter how much it hurt.

It made no sense, except to say that so much in their lives made no sense. It was crazy for Blair to have fallen in love with Jim in the first place--except that he had never in his life met anyone as wonderful as Jim Ellison, never been so instantly welcomed into a solitary life, never made to feel so safe, so perfectly at home. How could he not love him?

But why the rest, he asked himself. How could Jim care about him as a friend and fuck him the way he had, and still not love him? What had the panther said to him? Why had any of this happened?

He knew on some level why it had happened--Jim had said he needed him. The desperate, frightened look in Jim's eyes that morning had been unbearable to Blair. He would give Jim anything he needed no matter how much it hurt. Anything less was unimaginable.

But why had Jim needed it? That's what Blair didn't understand. He had thought Jim was horrified by the physical contact he had initiated three weeks ago with that kiss. He never imagined that not only would Jim one day kiss him again, he'd take it so much farther than Blair had ever dreamed possible. But it still didn't tell Blair why? Was it just the zone out factor--the need somehow to make a connection with the one person who could ground him? An attempt to appease the Spirit Guide who'd left Jim because he could not love him?

Could not love him--it seemed it all boiled down to that--and ultimately Blair supposed nothing else mattered. The Sentinel did not love him, would never love him and all of this, this *need* that Blair had no choice but to answer, was nothing more than the physical use of his body.

The point of that realization brought tears streaming from his eyes, and he bit his lip to keep from sobbing out loud and waking Jim. He didn't want to explain to him why he was crying, didn't want to hear Jim give him some flippant reply of "Sorry Chief, the sex was great and really got me out of my zone-out, but don't expect a ring or anything. I just don't swing that way."

Well, neither had he, Blair realized--he didn't swing that way either until he'd met Jim Ellison, Sentinel, friend, and one true love. And now he feared, having tasted that moment of paradise, he'd never return to the women he'd sublimated his sex life with before. The very thought of seeing anyone else ever again made him sick to his stomach, though at the moment the thought of staying here in Jim's arms made him feel ill, too. He couldn't do this--sex wasn't enough for him--not now--not anymore. He couldn't give himself to a man who just didn't love him, not ever again.

"And what if he needs it again?" a voice inside him whispered. "What if he's lost again and hurting and that's all that can bring him back? Would you deny him, turn your back on him and let him suffer?"

He knew the answer immediately, knew he would always give Jim whatever he needed, no matter what the cost. And that realization killed the last of his heart. All he had left was his love for Jim and there was nothing left over to nourish Blair's own soul.

He silently slipped from the bed, moving carefully so as not to rouse Jim. He made his way back to his own room where he dressed himself and then went to the bathroom to clean his soggy clothing from the floor. The sight of the clothes lying where Jim had tossed them nearly undid Blair and he found himself crying as he cleaned.

Later he called Simon, assuring the man that Jim was all right, and told him only that he was running a slight fever and had zoned because of it. Blair would take care of making him well.

Then Blair went to make some more soup for dinner. Like it or not, he had to wake Jim and make certain he ate. Much of Jim's delusion and fever he suspected was brought on by hunger and an exceedingly low blood sugar level.

Eventually, he carried a cup of soup upstairs to Jim's room and set it on the night stand. Then, steeling himself, he turned toward Jim to wake him up. His breath caught in his throat as he stared at him, taking in his beauty with a glance. Like Adonis, he thought, understanding perfectly how two goddesses could have fought over that ancient hero. Blair would fight for Jim if he only knew who he was supposed to battle.

He touched Jim's proud face, any lines in it soothed out in sleep. His skin was no longer cold, but was rather hot now to the touch as he burned in the last stages of his fever. He groaned when Blair lightly shook him.

"Come on, Jim, you need to wake up now. You need to eat."

Jim winced as he opened his eyes, his groggy gaze bloodshot and tired. "Blair? What's wrong? What time is it?" He tried to sit up, but gasped in pain. "God, my head! What happened?" He was back to himself now, Blair realized, but still somewhat feverish.

"You're sick, Jim," Blair told him gently. "You're running a temperature and you haven't eaten in a while. You need to get your strength back."

"Not really hungry," Jim grumbled, rubbing his eyes in pain. "Why is everything so bright, so loud?" He moaned in agony.

"You dialed all your senses up, Jim," Blair told him, dropping his voice much lower. "Dial them all back down. You'll be fine." He talked Jim slowly through the process of dialing his senses back down to a level he could handle. Then he managed to get Jim to sit up and drink his soup.

If Jim remembered anything of what had happened he did not mention it. He ate in silence, and when he finished he rolled over onto his side and fell deeply asleep again. Blair pulled the covers up over his shoulders tucking him in, and then went back down stairs.

He tried to do some work on his dissertation, but his heart just wasn't in it. He wondered briefly if his heart would ever find joy in anything ever again. At the moment it didn't seem so. Life stretched out bleakly ahead of him, empty, lonely, with only the moments of Jim's need to keep him company. It all seemed so gray without hope and he wondered how he'd manage to keep going, how he'd mange to endure.

In the end, he gave up thinking about it and climbed into his cold empty bed. He forced himself to sleep, refusing to give into his tears and only cried long after he'd drifted off into dreams and was no longer responsible for his actions. 

Jim woke to the sound of the telephone ringing. Grumbling, he reached for it, cursing whoever it was that had called him so early on a Saturday morning. "Ellison!" he barked into the receiver.

"Jim, we've had a break on the Santinni case. I need you at the station as soon as possible," Simon's tone was clipped.

Santinni case. . .a major drug runner who'd cost them the lives of several cops in the past year. Jim had been working on this case off and on with Narcotics for longer than he wanted to think about. A break was long overdue, and Jim wasn't about to miss out on it. "I'll be there as soon as possible," he assured the captain.

"You feeling better now?" Simon pressed.

Jim frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Sandburg called yesterday and said you were sick. Said you had a zone-out or something."

"I'm fine," Jim assured the captain. Yesterday? He glanced his watch lying on the night stand. The date and time on it said it was Sunday morning. "I'll be down soon, Simon," Jim hung up the phone and sat up. As he did so the memories of the previous day rushed back upon him and he gasped in astonishment.

He remembered leaving the house--though he couldn't for the life of him remember why he'd gone. And with some alarm he remembered the panther appearing to him and the words they'd spoken. His heart raced suddenly for he also remembered the panther leaving him because of Blair--because he couldn't possibly love Blair--couldn't bring himself to love anyone knowing he'd lose them, and he could not bear the thought of losing Blair.

He'd lost it then--he knew that much. Had sent himself into a full scale zone-out in the effort to find his Spirit Guide. And a voice had called him back, warm hands had heated his skin, soft words had taken away his pain and confusion, taken way his panic. Blair. . .Blair had come for him. . .somehow, his Guide had found him and brought him back from the abyss.

Instinctively he reached out with his senses, searching the loft for his Guide's presence. Amazingly he could smell Blair's scent here in his room, on his sheets, in his bed--could smell Blair's scent on his own flesh--and that did completely astonishing things to his body. He heard Blair's heartbeat then, outside on the balcony, and a quick glance revealed the young man standing fully clothed in the cold, staring out across the city.

And then it hit him, images of passionate embraces, slick naked bodies writhing against each other, the scent of arousal, his voice and Blair's crying out with release. The kaleidoscope of images scared the hell out of him even as it shot a new hunger through his veins. So much for not wanting his Guide, so much for not desiring him. Straight or not, Blair had the measure of his body and it sang to his tune.

And then last of all, he remembered distinctly the salty taste of tears on Blair's face, and a new wave of panic hit him.

My God, he thought in horror. Blair hadn't wanted it! Didn't matter what he felt, Blair hadn't wanted it!

Had he forced him? He tried to think, tried to remember the sequence of events. But no, he didn't think he'd forced him. He'd been too weak surely, and there was no recollection of Blair trying to struggle. At least he didn't think there had been. . .his memories were muddled somehow, confused. He thought perhaps Blair had been hesitant at first, but then he'd participated willingly enough. Jim hadn't mistaken Blair's arousal. That couldn't be faked.

But still there was something wrong, something he was missing, because he remembered now too clearly the look of grief in his Guide's eyes.

"Tell me what you need, Jim," he heard Blair's voice echo in his head, and his chest constricted in pain. Oh, God--surely Blair wouldn't have done this for his sake, because he thought Jim needed it? Surely yesterday couldn't have been nothing more than Blair giving of himself to help his Sentinel like a good little Guide? The very thought horrified him.

But he wasn't going to get any answers lying here in bed. And Simon still needed his help downtown.

He climbed out of bed, discovering that he was still somewhat weak. Not enough food, he guessed, even though he could remember Blair feeding him twice yesterday. But thinking back on it now, he realized it had been a least five days since he'd eaten anything of substance. No wonder he'd nearly collapsed.

He dressed quickly and warmly, not willing to catch a chill again, and realized as he did so that his truck was probably still out in the woods. God, poor Blair, what must he have thought? And just then another memory hit him--one clear and brilliant and utterly breathtaking; one grounded in his tactile sense so precisely he'd never forget it again. He felt Blair in his arms, his back pressed against Jim's chest. He felt himself sliding into his Guide's tight, hot body; felt himself sheathed so perfectly as he claimed possession of Blair completely, utterly, irrevocably.

He gasped at the sensation, his breath hitching in his throat, his blood pounding with renewed passion. His cock hardened, growing painful as he squeezed his eyes shut, losing himself in the memory. "Blair," he whispered. . .God, he hadn't just touched his Guide last night, hadn't just kissed him. . .he'd done so much more, crossed a line that could never again be uncrossed.

And before that. . .he remembered a look of panic on Blair's face, shock in his wide blue eyes. From a distance, he heard his own voice speaking, "I need you. I need to be inside you, Blair. Don't leave me."

Blair's voice echoed back at him. "It's alright, Jim. I'm not going anywhere. Everything's going to be alright." And Blair had done exactly as Jim had demanded; Blair had given himself to his Sentinel despite the fact that he'd been frightened and confused. And Jim had been too feverish, too desperate, and too blind to stop it.

The realization cooled his ardor, and he found himself trembling. He was terrified now of stepping out onto the balcony and seeing his Guide--terrified of what he might see in his eyes. Loathing, hatred, fear, disgust. . .how could he have let things get so far out of hand? He should have said something to Blair, should have told him about the dreams he'd been having. At least then Blair would have had a chance to make an informed choice before Jim all but forced the issue on him.

*And what would he have chosen?* a nagging voice whispered in the back of his head. Blair. . .the man who chased after every female he came in contact with. Would he really have chosen to become lovers with someone like Jim? Not likely. . .even if he had kissed him first.

"That's just how I kiss," Blair's words tormented him. Yeah, he knew exactly how Blair kissed now. . .and the thought of Blair kissing anyone else was unendurable. But the tears he could still taste on his tongue were a thousand times worse.

Nothing for it--he couldn't avoid Blair forever.

He headed downstairs and stepped out onto the balcony. Blair, it seemed, was caught in the middle of his own little zone-out, for he did not react when Jim approached. He couldn't recall ever seeing his normally animated Guide so still and unmoving.


His Guide jumped in alarm at the sound of his voice, but quickly recovered, turning questioningly toward Jim. "Was that Simon who called?"

Jim nodded, searching Blair's face--it was remarkably blank. "There's been a break in the Santinni case." Though his Guide's face was composed Jim could see the tell-tale signs of redness around his eyes, and the distinctive lack of the bright spark that normally animated his Guide's features.

"Then we'd better get going," Blair nodded and turned to enter the loft.

Jim caught his arm. "Blair.. . ."

"Don't," Blair whispered, freezing at his touch.

The word sent ice through Jim's veins. "Blair. I . . . I. . .. about yesterday. I'm sorry. . .I never meant. . ." he wasn't certain what to say. All he knew was that Blair was hurt and that he had done this to him. He had the horrible fear that if he released him, he'd vanish, as crazy as that idea sounded.

Blair turned toward him, blue eyes gazing openly into his own. And whatever he read there made him nod in understanding.

"I'm sorry," Jim repeated again, wondering how to fix things and make them better. He wanted to pull Blair into his arms and hold him, but he wasn't certain that was allowed anymore.

"Yes, you said that yesterday," Blair told him, even though Jim couldn't recall saying it. "It's alright. I'm still your Guide, Jim. Nothing will change that. You know I'll always be here for you." And even though his words relieved the panic, it confirmed the fear that Blair had done this for his sake alone. The realization made him want to scream in protest. Blair might indeed be here for him, might have proven with the ultimate sacrifice that he'd give Jim anything he asked for--but it put a barrier between them that not even touch could breach.

And then Blair was guiding him again, taking him out of the moment and focusing him on the task at hand. "Come on, Jim. Simon needs us."

He followed his Guide from the loft and down to the car. Side by side, he could never remember a time when they'd been so far apart.

The police station was buzzing, and when Blair and Jim arrived they were greeted by a veritable mad house. Santinni, normally so careful in his public dealings, had gone off the deep end when he'd discovered that his own brother had been screwing his wife. In a jealous rage he'd open fired with a hand gun at a family gathering. Neighbors had called the police, giving the cops a chance to enter the Santinni estate freely. . .something that had never happened before.

They'd arrested Santinni on charges of murdering both his wife and his brother. . .as well as arresting many of his business associates on drug trafficking charges. Santinni, foolishly, had stored enough cocaine in a secret basement of his house to finance a small country. All the evidence that had been alluding the police for a year, dropped neatly into their laps.

Jim spent the morning in interrogation, alternating with Simon, Rafe and Brown as they questioned Santinni and his associates. The evidence mounted, and the day passed in a blur. By noon, Jim was exhausted. . .bewildered as to why he felt so worn out and weak. It wasn't until Blair brought him in a large sandwich and a bottle of orange juice that he remembered he'd been sick for the last few days.

"Eat, Jim," Blair ordered, placing the meal in front of him on his desk.

"I'm fine, Chief, really," Jim assured him, touched that despite everything, Blair was still looking out for him.

He smiled tentatively up at his Guide, but Blair did not return the look. Instead he just shook his head. "If you're fine, then you can be fine on a full stomach. I'm not going to have you collapsing or zoning again because you forgot to eat. This isn't like you."

His words brought it all back to him--his distraction the last few weeks, coupled with his loss of appetite the past few days, had taken a toll--not on Jim so much as it had Blair. Blair had every right to be angry. His smile faded. "You're right," he told his Guide. "I'm sorry."

"Quit saying that, Jim," Blair sighed. He picked up the stack of paperwork on Jim's desk and moved away to find a quiet place to finish it.

Jim watched him leave in regret, wishing he knew what he could say to his Guide to make up for what had happened. He forced himself, instead, to eat his lunch.

"Ellison. . my office!" Simon's voice broke through his thoughts. Sighing, he picked up his sandwich and headed toward the Captain's office. Once there, he shut the door.

"Yeah, Simon?"

Simon, seated at his desk, was in the middle of his own meal. He motioned Jim toward a chair. "Sit down, Jim. I wanted to ask you. . .what's wrong with Sandburg?"

Jim frowned. "What do you mean?"

Simon just shrugged. "You mean you haven't noticed?"

"Noticed what?" Jim demanded.

"He hasn't spoken to hardly anyone all day long," Simon explained. "Normally you can't shut the kid up. . .but he's been quiet and withdrawn all day long. What happened? What did you say to him?"

Jim blanched. He hadn't been paying much attention, but now that he thought about it, he realized the Captain was right. Blair had been unusually quiet all day.

"And I'm not the only one who's noticed," Simon continued. "Lots of people have been asking what's wrong with him. What did you do. . .give him your flu or something?"

Jim's stomach churned at the thought. Not his flu. . .but he wondered now if maybe he'd hurt Blair physically. He wished he could remember more clearly what all had happened yesterday. . .he thought he remembered most of it, but maybe not. And passion aside, neither he nor Blair had ever been with another man before. Okay, he'd read about it, seen stuff in his days in Vice. . .he knew the mechanics. But what if he'd hurt Blair last night and didn't know it. . .what if . . . God, had Blair been screaming when he'd fucked him? He thought it was in passion, but what if. . .

"Jim!!! Jesus, man, don't do that to me!" Simon was shaking his shoulder. Jim stared at him in shock. "Where in hell did you go there? I hate it when you zone-out."

For some reason Jim's right cheek was stinging. "Did you just slap me?" he asked incredulous.

Simon glared at him. "Yes, I did," he growled. "You were completely out of it for several minutes, and contrary to Sandburg's popular opinion, talking to you doesn't work when you're zoned. Or rather, it doesn't work for me."

Jim rubbed his cheek. Seemed he'd been zoning a lot lately. He had to get a handle on this soon, before he did something more he'd regret. Hurting Blair again just wasn't an option.

"Well?" Simon demanded. "You going to tell me what's going on? And please don't start up with that ballet thing again."

Jim shook his head. "Nothing's going on, Simon. I just have. . .we have. . .Blair and I have some things we need to work out."

"Did you talk to him?"

Talk? No, they hadn't exactly talked. "I had a fever yesterday, Simon. I was hallucinating, and acting strange. . .and no, we didn't talk."

Simon stared at him for a long while and finally just sighed. "Well, if this latest little zone-out was anything like what you went through yesterday, I guess it's no wonder Sandburg is acting strange. But get this straightened out, Jim--no pun intended."

"Understood, sir," Jim nodded, but truth be told he didn't have a clue how to take care of things. Blair was the one with all the good ideas, and he wasn't certain how to approach him at the moment. He couldn't even pull his thoughts together enough to glare at Simon for the lousy pun.

Six hours later Jim had finally managed to get caught up on his paperwork concerning the Santinni case. It hadn't been easy, distracted as he was--but the case was too important to both him and Blair not to make the effort. They had both known the cops Santinni had killed--and putting that man away for life was high on their list of priorities.

Blair's strange behavior hadn't let up all day, and several other cops had asked Jim about it. Jim had just shrugged and used the flu as their excuse. But he was worried, too. It wasn't that Sandburg's energy level was any different--he was still hyperactive, continuously moving. It just that there was something decidedly manic about his movements now--and on top of all that he was eerily silent, speaking only when spoken to. Beyond that, it was as if his thoughts were all turned inward, and Jim felt the distance between them like never before.

Which was why when Samantha entered the bullpen at the end of the day, Jim nearly went ballistic. The young woman, who'd frequently played a strange courtship game with his Guide, approached the young man, and Jim felt his blood begin to boil in his veins. He gripped the edge of his desk, held momentarily immobile by the surge of possessiveness that swept through him as he watched her smile at Blair and touch his shoulder. Jim's sight zeroed in on that hand touching his Guide, his mind chanting over and over again, "Mineminemineminemine. . ." He shook off the daze angrily, turning up his hearing.

She was flirting with Blair, and Blair was showing the first signs of normalcy all day. He smiled at her, and the sight cut Jim to the quick--not once in all their time together yesterday, even wrapped in the most passionate of embraces, could Jim remember Blair smiling at him like that.

"Blair," Samantha was saying, batting her eye lashes at the young student. "I have tickets to tonight's Jag's game. I thought maybe. . ."

She was asking him out--despite the fact that Jim knew she was currently involved with one of the cops in the narcotics division. It was supposed to be a secret. . .but with Jim's hearing, few things were kept from him. Samantha and Bill Marlington had been dating for about two months---and three days ago the two of them had gotten into a big fight down in parking garage. Jim had overheard every word of their conversation. . .knew there was a great deal of heat between the two of them. He had no doubt in his mind that Samantha was coming on to Blair on the rebound.

Just as he had no doubt in his mind that Blair was going to accept her offer. Tonight, Blair would lie in Samantha's arms and kiss her in that intense way of his, and give her the smiles and the joy he had denied Jim. And without Blair, Jim knew the empty hole inside him would open up so wide it would swallow him completely. Without Blair. . .there was nothing.

"Sandburg!" Jim's angry shout, startled both Samantha and Blair. . .and it cut Blair off in mid-sentence before he could accept Samantha's offer. Jim grabbed his jacket and strode swiftly across the bullpen toward the desk Blair had been using all day. One or two other officers gave him curious looks, but nothing more. . .they were used to him flying off the handle--especially lately.

"J. .Jim?" Blair's voice was filled uncertainty, and he gazed up at Jim in surprise. For one brief moment, Jim pictured him as he'd looked yesterday; eyes dazed from passion, lips kiss-swollen, skin flushed with heat that Jim had put there. No way in hell he was going to let Samantha anywhere near his Guide.

"Time to get going," Jim informed him, and glanced coolly at Samantha, nodding his head to her. "Hi, Samantha. How's Bill doing? Hope you two were able to work your differences out. You make a real cute couple." It was a really shitty thing to do, and Jim knew it. He also didn't care.

Samantha paled. "How did you know. . ." she began and broke off. "I'm not. . .we're not. . ." She glanced down uncertainly at Blair who was frowning now.

"You're going out with Bill?" Blair asked in surprise.

"No. . ." Samantha shook her head. "I mean we were sort of. . .but not any more. Look do you want to go to the game or. . ."

"We need to get my truck, Sandburg," Jim cut in, interrupting her before she could finish her request once again.

Something flickered deep in his Blair's eyes, and he leaned back in his chair, eyeing them both warily. "Um, I guess not, Samantha," he said quietly. "Jim's right. . .we have stuff to do tonight. But thanks for the offer."

Relief flooded through Jim, but it was short-lived. Samantha threw Jim a dirty look, then just as quickly shot Blair a million dollar smile. "That's okay, Blair. We'll do this another night. I'll call you."

"Sure," Blair nodded, and Jim's heart clenched in his chest. He'd have Blair all to himself tonight, but not forever, and he gritted his teeth in frustration. Blair had slept with him yesterday because Jim had needed him. . .but the rules of that need were still completely undefined. And Jim wondered what Blair would say if he told him that he needed him to stop seeing other people. How far would this duty to his Sentinel carry him. . .and did Jim really imagine he could bring himself to do that to his friend? He'd hurt him badly enough already. . .how much farther could he take this?

Blair grabbed his jacket and the two of them headed toward the elevators. As they walked, Blair still wrapped up in his unnatural silence, Jim was overcome with a sense of longing. How were they going to get past what had happened between them? When was he going to be able to touch Blair again the way he had before all this started? And why in hell had Blair ever tried to kiss him?

They retrieved his truck from the forest, and drove home separately, Jim following closely behind Blair's car. He remembered now more clearly his trip into the woods yesterday. . ."We go our separate ways," his Spirit Guide had said to him. He felt empty and lost, and wished he could find a way to bridge the gap between him and Blair. But all he could think of was the way Blair had frozen when he'd tried to touch him that morning. "Don't." He heard Blair's voice echoing over and over in his mind.

Once back at the loft, Blair cooked them both dinner, and Jim ate somewhat mechanically. His appetite still wasn't what it should be, but he forced himself to finish every bite on his plate. The two of them watched television then for a while, sitting at opposite ends of the couch, not talking. The silence between them was deafening.

Time and time again, Jim caught himself looking at Blair, running his gaze over the young man's beautiful features. He wanted to reach out to him, wanted to pull him into his arms, bury his face in his scented hair. More than anything, he wanted to lead him upstairs to his bed and lay claim to his body and soul as he had yesterday. And what would Blair do, he wondered, if he tried? But every time he thought about that, he remembered the taste of Blair's tears. It ripped his heart open.

Finally Blair yawned and stretched, rising to his feet in one fluid motion. "I'm going to bed, Jim," he said quietly. "See you in the morning."

Jim turned and stared at him, his heart beating in sudden panic. He had to say something, had to do something. . . this couldn't continue. God, he wanted him!

But Blair caught the look in Jim's eyes and froze, his own gaze widening in alarm. He stood there, immobile, staring down at Jim, pain and uncertainty in his eyes. He seemed to be waiting for something. And Jim knew with sudden clarity exactly what it was Blair expected--it was as if Blair expected Jim to order him into his bed.

The realization took Jim's breath away, sending pain through his entire system. He hated that mistrustful look in Blair's eyes, almost as much as he hated the instinct within himself to do exactly what Blair expected.

With much effort, he forced his own gaze back to the television screen, forced himself to stay seated on the couch, body relaxed in appearance. "Good night, Blair," he replied curtly.

Blair hesitated for only a moment. Then he nodded and headed swiftly toward his room. "Night, Jim," he murmured, and shut the door behind him.

Jim's dreams were as haunted as ever that night.

It took nearly two weeks, but by throwing themselves into their work and avoiding every gesture or innuendo that might be construed as something else, Jim and Blair managed to regain some type of normalcy in their relationship. It took all of Jim's concentration to keep himself from reaching instinctively out for his Guide time and time again, but he managed, determined somehow to win back Blair's trust and easy confidence.

Blair, however, didn't make things easy on him--still withdrawn and somewhat silent, he was nevertheless as concerned as ever about Jim's well being. Time and time again he all but forced Jim to relax and eat a healthy meal, expressing his concern over Jim's strange lack of appetite. Jim just shrugged it off, telling Blair that it was probably still a hold-over from the flu. He didn't want to tell his Guide that it was depression and sheer emotional turmoil that had turned him inside out---that would lead to a discussion neither of them wished to have.

So he forced himself to eat, taking Blair's concern as a good sign that things could still be as they were. It would just take time. And patience. . .and the understanding that Jim would have to force himself to mind his own business when one of Blair's many female admirers came sniffing around his Guide. He couldn't stop Blair from dating. . .but he didn't want to hear about it. As a result, he didn't know if Samantha had ever contacted him again. Regardless, there wasn't a single night that Blair stayed out unusually late, and for that he was grateful.

Then late one Friday night, the old Ellison/Sandburg luck kicked into full gear, and the two of them were jumped.

They'd been in a downtown night club in a seedy section of town, meeting a contact who had news of a big gun shipment coming into town. The meeting was standard, went off without a hitch, the snitch someone Jim knew and trusted from years of experience. The incident outside the bar was just a total fluke. . .one of those things that could have happened to anyone.

They left the bar around midnight, making their way toward the truck parked across the street. A few seconds later, they were surrounded by street thugs, young men simply out to cause trouble, to make a fast buck regardless of who got hurt. In that neighborhood, they were pretty much assured that no one would interfere.

Jim, his senses turned down because of the noise and lights of the nightclub, had no forewarning of their attack. One minute he and Blair were alone on the street, the next they were surrounded by half a dozen young men. He took a glancing blow to the side of his head, and staggered back. But he wasted no time in retaliating. Spinning, he kicked the man who had hit him, catching him in the solar plexus and sending him flying back against a parked car.

Two more men jumped at him. Jim dodged their strikes, hitting one man twice in the chest before coming up to kick the second man, catching him low on the knee. The man went down with a shout of pain.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two others moving in on Blair. Blair caught several punches, but gave back as good as he got. He shoved one man away from him, catching him behind the back of the leg and tripping him. As the man went down, Blair swung back-handed at his second assailant, catching him across the side of the jaw with his fist.

Momentarily distracted, Jim caught the kick of another man hard against his ribs. But he captured the man's leg, trapping it as he brought his elbow down hard on the knee. The sickening sound of bones cracking reverberated through his body. The man screamed and dropped. Jim reached for his gun.

He never managed to pull it free of the holster. The remaining man on him tackled him, pulling him crashing to the ground. They rolled together for a moment, wrestling against each other's strength to gain the upper hand. A hand closed around Jim's throat, squeezing off his airway, and he shook his head to throw off the grip.

He hit his attacker, pounding his fist into his ribs as he tried to break his hold. Each blow made the man grunt in pain, but he gritted his teeth and kept squeezing. Finally Jim caught his face in his hand, and drove his fingers deep into the man's eyes. He screamed and released him immediately, cringing away. Jim rolled to his feet, and kicked the man hard, catching him across the jaw and knocking him out cold.

Then he turned in horror to look for Blair.

Somehow his small Guide had managed to take out one of his attackers. The man was lying unconscious on the ground, a growing purple bruise along the side of his face a testament to Blair's improved fighting skills. But the second man badly out-matched the young police observer. Twice Blair's size and far stronger, he'd managed to pin Blair to the ground.

There was blood on the attacker's face, signs that Blair had gotten in several blows before going down before superior skill. But now the assailant had Blair pinned and was pounding away on his ribs, each blow hitting with crushing force even as Blair squirmed and kicked beneath him, trying to free himself.

A roar of fury broke from Jim's mouth and he dove toward his Guide. He felt his hands close over the assailant's clothing, felt a strength he didn't know he possessed rage through his system. And then he saw only red. He could hear screaming, could taste the sharp copper tang of blood in the air, smell fear mixed with sweat.

And then he was vaguely aware of a familiar heartbeat pounding against his back. He felt strong arms wrapped tightly around his bruised torso, heard Blair's soft voice speaking directly in his ears. "Let go, Jim! It's alright, it's over. We're safe. Let it go. Dial it down!"

He was gasping for breath, his heart pounding out of control. But his sight was clearing. Six men lay unconscious on the sidewalk. Jim was kneeling over the body of the last man--the one who had hurt Blair. Blair was kneeling behind Jim, arms wrapped tightly around the Sentinel's body, pulling him away from the unconscious attacker. There was blood on his hands, and the bloody welt on the side of the attacker's head left Jim little illusion about what had just happened. He'd nearly killed this man. . .would have if Blair hadn't pulled him off of him. . .he'd pounded the man's head against the concrete.

"Jim? Jim? Are you alright, man? Say something?" Blair's voice was worried, but still somehow maintained that Guide tone that could reach Jim in the deepest of zone-outs.

"Yeah," he whispered. "Blair, are you hurt?" He turned toward his Guide, needing to touch him, to make certain that he was alive and well. He caught Blair's face between his hands, and for a long moment simply held him, their foreheads pressed together, as Jim breathed in his Guide's breath.

"I'm fine, Jim," Blair whispered. "Don't worry. Everything's alright."

They heard one of the men groan, regaining consciousness. . .and their instincts took over once again. Jim went to cuff the man, while Blair pulled out his cell phone and called swiftly for back-up. In a matter of moments, police cars arrived, and soon after several ambulances.

Simon arrived on the scene a short while later and watched in some amazement as they loaded all six of the attackers into ambulances. "Jesus! Ellison, Sandburg. . .what the hell did you do to them?"

Instantly, anger caught hold of Jim. "They jumped us, sir!" he growled, and Simon quickly held up his hands in surrender.

"Easy, Jim," he responded, surprised at Jim's explosive anger. "I'm kidding. Are you two alright?"

Jim's anger fled as quickly as it had come. He glanced at Blair, noting now the blood on the young man. He had a bruise along the side of his face, and his hands looked sore. Jim's heart contracted at the sight, his Blessed Protector instincts pushed to the limit. . .all he wanted to do was whisk his Guide away to safety, some place where nothing would harm him ever again.

"Let's get the EMTs to check you both out," Simon suggested.

"I'm fine," Jim assured him. But he did not protest when Simon led them both toward one of the ambulances. He kept his eyes on Blair's pale features, monitoring his heart rate, unwilling to leave his friend's side. This so easily could have gone the other way . . .it could be Blair that was being loaded into one of those ambulances.

Unable to bear the distance between them any longer, he dropped one hand onto Blair's shoulder and squeezed lightly. Blair glanced up at him, his blue eyes filled with understanding. He nodded at Jim, and moved closer to him. . .as if instinctively knowing that his Sentinel needed this contact.

Both of them had minor bruises and cuts, but the EMTs cleared them both to go home. Strung out on adrenaline, they were grateful for the reprieve. The thought of spending the night in the hospital was distasteful in the extreme.

"Alright, you two," Simon cut in. "Go home and take care of yourselves. I'll talk to you tomorrow about the paper work for this. Right now, you both look like you could use some sleep."

Grateful, they headed toward the truck, and climbed inside. They drove home in silence.

Once back at the loft, Jim headed for the shower while Blair went into the kitchen to make some much needed herbal tea. Worried still about his Guide, Jim kept his senses tuned to him the entire time. As he stood in the shower stall, he listened to Blair's heartbeat, taking comfort in the fact that he was alive and whole and relatively unhurt.

Memories returned---of him and Blair in the shower together, wrapped in each other's arms. Closing his eyes, he pictured Blair as he'd looked that morning two weeks ago, hot water streaming down his flushed skin, mouth open in a gasp of pleasure, eyes glazed with hunger. He could practically feel his Guide's skin beneath his fingers, remembered the scent of him, the taste of him as he'd knelt before him and took him into his mouth.

His cock grew hard and heavy, and he groaned softly in protest. God, he wanted him. . .needed him. . .needed to hold him and know he was safe. Blair had understood earlier, had understood when Jim had touched him on the shoulder. Would he refuse him tonight? Or would he too want comfort, want someone to hold him and make him grateful he was still alive? And what would Jim do if he rejected him?

Aching and filled with a hunger he couldn't answer, he turned off the water and climbed out of the shower. Drying himself roughly, he pulled on a pair of boxer shorts and his robe, and then headed back toward the living room.

Blair was just coming out of his room, his own robe in his hands. "Done with the bathroom, Big Guy?" he asked. "I *so* need a shower. I thought the cigarette smoke from the night club was bad. . .the blood is a thousand times worse!"

"Shower's all yours, Chief," Jim nodded, and if Blair noticed the hoarseness in his voice, he did not comment.

Jim prowled restlessly around the loft while Blair showered. He locked the doors and windows, checked them again, and then went around turning off all the lights. By the time Blair emerged from the bathroom to go to bed, the only illumination in the room was the lights from the city shining in through the balcony doors.

For a moment the two of them stood staring at each other, and then without being consciously aware of having moved, Jim found himself beside his Guide. He grabbed the young man by the shoulders before he could turn away, holding him fast before he could make his escape into his room.

"Jim?" Blair whispered uncertainly, his eyes wide in the darkness.

No words escaped Jim's lips. Instead he slid his grip down Blair's arms and caught his hands. Then backing up, he pulled Blair toward the stairs and his room above.

Blair took two steps, his gaze moving swiftly toward the bedroom and then back to Jim. He faltered, hesitated, tugged against Jim's grip. "Jim, no, I can't do . . ."

Jim placed his fingers gently against Blair's lips, silencing his words. "This isn't open for negotiation, Blair," he said quietly, shocked at the tone of finality in his own voice. "Nothing will happen, if that's what you want. But I need to hold you. . .I need to know you're safe."

He saw a muscle in Blair's jaw twitch, saw emotion flicker through Blair's eyes. He saw apprehension, confusion, uncertainty. . .but finally there was a flash of understanding followed by the sorrow that had haunted those beautiful eyes so much of late. Jim hated that sorrow. . .wanted nothing more than to drive it from Blair's eyes. But he didn't know how. All he could try to do was deal with the fear, to reassure his Guide somehow that he wasn't going to hurt him, wasn't going to force him to do something he didn't want.

Blair did not resist this time when he pulled him toward the stairs. Jim led him up into the darkness of the bedroom. Once there, Jim sat down on the edge of the bed, and pulled Blair toward him to stand between his spread legs. Slowly then, with single-minded determination, he untied the belt at Blair's waist, pulling open the bathrobe.

He heard Blair's breath catch in his throat, felt heat pouring off his Guide. Blair's heart rate accelerated as he opened the robe and slipped it from the young man's shoulders. Beneath, Blair wore only a thin pair of boxers, his slender body bare to Jim's enhanced sight. He supposed in the darkness, Blair saw only his shadow as he gazed up at him, admiring the beauty of the young man's graceful form. To Jim's eyes it was as bright as day, and he let his gaze roam hungrily over the sleek lines and muscles. He could see the bruises covering Blair's ribs, and he raised his hand, gently trailing his fingers over them.

He turned up his sense of touch as high as it would go, seeking out the damage the assault had caused. He could feel the broken blood vessels and capillaries, feel the weakened areas where Blair's ribs had almost cracked beneath the onslaught. But the EMTs had been correct. . .the damage was minor. He would heal. Jim hated the sight of the injuries nonetheless. . .hated the thought of anything hurting Blair.

He kept his touch light; even still he heard the soft gasp that escaped Blair's mouth. He glanced up at him. Blair's eyes were tightly shut, his beautiful mouth parted slightly, warm, moist breath fanning the air so that only a Sentinel could feel it. He looked beautiful, irresistible. The sharp, heady scent of arousal caught Jim off guard, and his cock hardened like steel. Sorrow or not, Blair was turned on by his touch.

Slowly, Jim leaned forward, placing his lips softly against Blair's bruised ribs. He flicked his tongue out, tasting the salty skin as he ran one hand down the hair-dusted abdomen, trailing his fingers over the flat planes of Blair's stomach. His fingers reached the waist band of Blair's boxers and lingered there, tracing the line of elastic that touched his skin.

"Oh, God," the soft breathy whisper that escaped Blair's mouth might have gone unnoticed by anyone else. Jim's ears picked it up perfectly, and he savored every passion roused syllable.

Smiling, Jim kissed his chest again, feeling the pounding of Blair's heartbeat against his mouth. He moved up his torso then and swiped his tongue across one peaked nipple. Blair gasped, louder this time, and his body began trembling.

"Does it hurt?" Jim whispered against his flesh.

"W. . .What?" Blair's voice was filled with confusion.

"The bruises?" Jim explained, licking again at the throbbing nipple.

"Yes. . .no. . .I don't. . ." Blair moaned as Jim caught his nipple gently between his teeth, worrying it carefully before sucking at it.

"Jim," Blair whispered, and his voice was filled again with uncertainty and tinged with sorrow. "Jim, you said. . .you said nothing would. . ."

Jim sighed and closed his eyes, resting his cheek against Blair's warm chest, arms sliding around Blair's narrow waist. "I know, Chief," he murmured. "I'll keep my promise. But I need to touch you. I need you to sleep beside me."

He felt Blair's hands tentatively touch his head, stroking his hair, and he shivered, savoring the caress. He wanted to pull his Guide tighter to him, wanted to force the issue. No matter what, Blair couldn't deny that he responded to Jim's touch--Jim could feel the heat pouring off his body, could smell his arousal. But for some reason he didn't want a repeat of what had happened before. Still, Jim knew he'd give in if pressed, but he wasn't willing to do that to Blair. Blair already gave him so much of himself. . .he couldn't ask for more. . .no matter how much he might want it.

"Just stay with me, Blair," he murmured again. "I won't ask for anything more. . .I just need. . ."

Blair gently stroked his face. "It's alright, Jim," he sighed. "I guess maybe we both need to feel connected to something. Both need to feel alive and safe."

Jim glanced up at Blair, seeing him clearly in the darkness. The sadness was still there in his eyes, and something more perhaps. . .though Jim could not read it. Was that what this was to Blair then, he wondered. A simple affirmation of life? Would it be enough for him. . .for both of them?

He had no answers, and at the moment he wasn't certain he cared. All he knew was that he was grateful that Blair was in his arms, alive, safe, whole. The rest. . .he could worry about that later.

He removed his own robe, tossing it along side Blair's so that they were both clad only in their boxer shorts. Then, pulling back the blankets of his bed, he climbed inside, tugging Blair in beside him. Blair came without hesitation into his arms, slipping perfectly into his embrace as if he'd been born to it. He rested his head upon Jim's shoulder, one arm thrown across Jim's chest. Jim could feel the soft music of both their hearts falling into sync, beating together.

He ran his hand across his Guide's head, letting his fingers tangle in the silken curls. Blair sighed, his breath warm on Jim's skin, and the sensation caused his oversensitive nipples to harden. He stroked Blair's spine, and felt the young man shiver and arch against him.

"Blair?" he asked softly, hesitantly, not certain he was ready for the answer. "Why did you kiss me?"

Blair lifted his head, his eyes confused for a moment. Then he seemed to remember what Jim was referring to, for he blushed and looked away. "I was being stupid," he shrugged. "I guess I just wanted to see what would happen."

"I liked it," Jim confessed.

Surprisingly, he felt his Guide chuckle softly. "Yeah, I sort of figured that part out on my own, Jim."

He thought about that for a moment. Guess that wasn't such a big secret after all. . .if he hadn't liked it, he wouldn't have fucked Blair that day in the shower. Still. . .it left so much unanswered. Why had Blair been curious in the first place. . .especially since he hadn't really wanted anything more? Why had he started this, if he hadn't wanted it to continue? Was it really nothing more than a game taken too far. . .one that got out of hand because of the whole Sentinel/Guide bond that had taken an unexpected turn?

"Things didn't work out the way you expected," he guessed.

Blair shivered again. "No, they didn't," he admitted, and his voice sounded so empty and sad.

Jim tightened his arms around the young man, holding him against him, trying to offer comfort and hating the thought that his own physical presence might in fact be causing Blair even more distress. "I'm sorry," he murmured, not knowing what else to say.

"Jim," he sighed, sounding tired and defeated. "It's not your fault. You can't help the way things turned out. You don't have to keep apologizing."

How could Blair be so forgiving, he wondered. If the situations were reversed, he doubted he could be. But that was so typical of his Guide--he was selfless when it came to taking care of him. And so many times in the past, Jim had taken him for granted.

"Did I hurt you?" Jim asked then, dreading the answer, but needing to know finally.

For a moment Blair said nothing, and Jim feared that was a bad sign. When he did finally speak, it was to ask a question, his voice sounding perplexed. "You mean physically?"


"No," Blair told him instantly. "I'm fine, Jim. . .I was fine. You should know better than that. . . you'd never harm me. And I'm stronger than you think."

"I know you're strong, Chief," Jim assured him. "You're stronger than I've ever been."

Blair laughed at that, and shook his head. "I seem to recall that you took out five men tonight; I only managed one."

"That's not the kind of strength I was talking about," Jim told him. "I was trained for that, trained to fight. . .to kill. . . I almost killed that man tonight, Blair."

Blair stroked his hand soothingly across Jim's chest. "I know," he said quietly. "You can't suppress that Blessed Protector instinct. Guess that's why I'm here."

He wanted to tell Blair that he was here for so much more, but the words became too tangled in his own mind to speak. . . he didn't know how to tell Blair what he felt. . .mostly because he didn't know himself. "I'm worried about us, Chief," he confessed, expressing the greatest fear in his heart. "You've been so distant lately. . .so quiet."

"I've had a lot of thing to work out in my head, Jim," Blair explained. "It's all right. . .you don't have to worry. I'm not going to go anywhere."

But that wasn't enough, and even as Blair spoke the words, Jim knew it would never be enough. He didn't just want his Guide to stay with him. . .he wanted Blair to be happy as well. And Jim felt so utterly powerless to change anything. It wasn't something he was used to feeling, and it ate him up inside.

"Blair, is there anything. .."

His words were cut off suddenly as Blair lightly kissed him. The touch of those warm, silky lips against his own sent Jim's mind into chaos, and he forgot to breathe. And then it was over. . .so quick, so fleeting, he couldn't even be certain it had happened.

"Never figured you for a talker, Jim," Blair said quietly, his voice filled with humor but his eyes shining with something else entirely. Longing, Jim realized. . .there was longing in Blair's eyes and the sight nearly ripped Jim's heart in two. Was he wishing he was with someone else, Jim wondered. Was he wishing that things were different between them, that none of this was even an issue? Either way it was obvious that Blair did not have what he wanted, and wasn't going to get it from Jim--and the realization that he'd let his Guide down in any way was sheer agony.


"Go to sleep, Jim," Blair urged softly, laying his head back down on Jim's chest. "Go to sleep and rest. Be thankful that we're both alive and whole. . .we'll be alright, Jim. I promise. I just need to work some stuff out in my head on my own. . .and then everything will be alright again. You'll see. Just go to sleep for now."

And it was obvious by the note of pleading in his tone that Blair couldn't talk any more about this tonight. He was trembling again, and this time Jim knew it was not from passion. He tightened his hold on the young man, wrapping him up in all the warmth he possessed, and obeyed his request. He could only hope that come morning, they'd both find the words they needed to put things right once again. 

Despite his exhaustion, Blair stayed awake long into the night. He could hear Jim's heart beating beneath his ear, and he savored the warmth of his Sentinel's strong body. They were both bruised and battered, but he'd never seen anything so magnificent as Jim. . .and earlier that night, when Blair had been caught in the grip of terror, certain that his assailant was going to kill him. . .Jim had charged like a wild animal to his rescue. An enraged Sentinel was not a sight one could easily forget.

That protective streak in Jim had been one of the first things Blair had come to love about this man. Unfortunately, it was also the thing that made dealing with their relationship the hardest. Jim knew he had hurt Blair with his words and deeds--and his own Blessed Protector instinct was at constant war with that realization. He didn't know precisely what to say, how to act. . .so instead he'd been apologizing for it over and over again. His apology was simply rubbing it in all the more, and twisting Blair's heart. How could Jim care so much about him, want to protect him so fiercely, be so concerned about his feelings, and touch him the way he had--and still not love him?

But then Blair supposed it shouldn't really surprise him that much. Wouldn't be the first time he'd been told he was not loved---seemed he was perfectly suited for almost every other aspect of a relationship. But not love. Why else would everyone he'd ever cared about have left him?

And then of course, there was Naomi. . .she loved him, she just wasn't willing to stay with him. Didn't so much matter now that he was an adult, but it had hurt as a child - never knowing precisely where his mother was on any given day or night. Good thing he'd been self-sufficient and independent early on.

So Naomi loved him, but wouldn't stay with him--Jim was willing to stay with him, he just couldn't love him. The two most important people in his life, and he couldn't find any sense of peace between them.

It wasn't their fault, he reasoned. Naomi could hardly be blamed for being a free spirit. It had been the way she'd been raised. And Jim could hardly be blamed for not loving him--after all, the man hadn't had the best luck in the love department in the past. That, too, had been the way he'd been raised.

Which left him where, he wondered. Lying in his Sentinel's arms, too afraid to go forward or back in case it all vanished before his eyes? Maybe Jim didn't love him, but he did want him. . .desired him, physically. There was no denying that. Couldn't it be enough, he asked himself. Sex without love. . .it was all he was going to get. . .and couldn't his own love be enough for both of them? Did he have to stand on his principles now of all times, when Jim so obviously wanted him?

He supposed sooner or later, it would have to be enough. Sooner or later his own physical need for Jim would override his sense of self-worth, and he'd give in to the passion. And his heart would shatter again. . .how long till there was nothing at all left to break inside him? And what would happen then?

He squeezed his eyes shut, holding back the tears he refused to cry. He was so tired of tears, so tired of hurting inside. He'd promised Jim that somehow things would be all right, and he knew to Jim that meant that Blair would have to start acting normal. He could act normal, he told himself. He could try at least, if that's what Jim needed him to do--and ultimately wasn't that what this was all about? Need. If his own needs could never be met, then the least he could do was try and meet Jim's. One of them at least should be happy. 

They were both awakened the following morning by the sound of the phone ringing shrilly in the air. Blair groaned and rolled over, turning away from the noise and pulling a pillow over his head. Jim grabbed the receiver and barked his name into it, irritated that whoever had called had cost him the warmth of his Guide's body. Blair was curled up now on the far side of the bed, hiding from the world.

"Jim?" Simon's voice was apologetic. "How are you two feeling?"

"Well, up until a few second ago. . .fine," Jim growled. "On top of getting beaten up last night. . .we got to bed late. . .and now you're calling us at . . ." He glanced at his watch on the nightstand. "Six o'clock! Surely the paperwork can wait a little longer, Simon?"

"It's nine o'clock, Jim," Simon corrected.

Jim frowned and glared at his watch. Yeah, it was upside down. Still, Simon should have guessed he and Blair would still be in bed. . .okay, in Simon's defense he probably didn't know Jim and Blair would be in the *same* bed, but that was hardly his fault. And Jim wasn't going to enlighten him either. . .the last thing he needed was a bunch of ballet jokes.

"Nine o'clock," he repeated. "Right. I knew that."

Simon chuckled. "Sorry about this. It has nothing to do with the paperwork, and I'm sorry for waking you up. We have a hostage situation downtown at the courthouse. I need your help."

Hostage situation. The words were enough to check Jim's anger. "Alright, Simon," he sighed. "We'll be right there."

He hung up the phone and turned toward Blair. The young man, still buried beneath a pillow, practically growled. "It had better be a matter of life and death," he warned.

"There's a hostage situation at the courthouse," Jim explained, taking in the dark purple bruises lining his Guide's ribs. He reached out and lightly touched them. Blair flinched--from pain, not contact. "Maybe you should stay here. Those look pretty painful."

"No," Blair sighed exaggeratedly. "If you've got to go. . .then so do I." He groaned and sat up, shaking his tangled curls out of his way. He shot Jim a dark frown. "Well, don't just lie there, Ellison. On your feet. The world needs saving once again. Let's go thwart someone's evil plans."

As Blair headed downstairs to get dressed, Jim grinned after him, thinking that no matter what, humor was a good sign from Blair. "Aye, aye, Batman," he called after him.

"That's Mr. Batman to you!" Blair insisted, before disappearing into his room.

Jim dressed quickly and then he and Blair headed out to meet Simon. The courthouse, when they reached it, was surrounded by police units and a full tactical SWAT team. The place was a veritable media circus and spectators abounded, held back by yellow tape and burly officers.

"Glad you're here, Jim," Simon greeted when Blair and Jim joined him behind the police barricade. "We've got at least two gunmen in there and several hostages, but we have no way of figuring out how many terrorists there are. We don't dare take a clear shot until we know for certain." He nodded expectantly to both of them. "Think you can do the whole Sentinel thing?"

Jim nodded and Blair dropped his hand reassuringly onto his shoulder. His Guide murmured softly to him, below the level that Simon or any of the other officers could hear, and Jim extended his senses under Blair's direction.

It took a moment to sort it all out, but by piggy-backing one sense on another he got a fairly clear picture of the situation.

"Five gunmen, twenty-three hostages," he announced. "Two gunmen in the front lobby, those are the ones you have sighted. Three more in the back with the hostages. And one of the hostages has been wounded. She's bleeding, but she's still alive. Her heart rate is weak, though. And there's something else--something familiar. . ." He inhaled deeply trying to sort out the scent. "Plastique, they've got explosives in there. I can't tell how much, but it must be a lot for me to smell it this clearly."

"Shit," Simon cursed, though he looked amazed at Jim's description. He patted both of them on the back. "Good work, you two. Let me go talk to the tactics team."

Jim relaxed, taking comfort from the heat of Blair's hand. Now would begin the long process of negotiation, the subtle dance of advance and retreat as they tried to manipulate the terrorists into whatever position possible. The presence of the explosives changed things dramatically--suggesting that regardless of what they might want, they intended to blow the building up. Further intel on Jim's part confirmed it.

Finally it was decided that if it were possible to talk the terrorists into position, they'd take them all out with sniper shots. They began negotiations, talking via cell phone to free the hostages or manipulate the terrorists into moving locations.

It took several hours, and all the time Jim focused on the inside of the building, listening to the weakened heartbeat of the injured woman. They would not release her, would not let paramedics inside to tend to her.

The realization that the police knew of the wounded woman's condition was the impetuous that tricked the terrorists into moving their location. Four shots were lined up immediately. The last, however, was troublesome.

"We've got a problem," Simon told Jim and Blair. "No one can make the last shot. He's just out of sight."

"Let me see," Jim offered, and then took a headset and headed toward the rooftop where the shot was lined up. Blair followed and Jim kept his hearing tuned in on his Guide's heartbeat, taking comfort from the sound.

He reached the rooftop and took the SWAT team's sniper's place. The shot was nearly impossible. The man was just blocked by a wall, only one arm visible. But there was a reflective surface across from him that clearly revealed him hiding behind the wall. He switched to armor piercing bullets and radioed to Simon. "I can make the shot."

"Alright, Jim, stand by for my mark."

The sniper was staring at Jim doubtfully. "You can't see him. How are you going to make the shot? If you miss. . ."

"I won't miss," Jim assured him as he removed the scope from the rifle, getting it out of his way.

The sniper was staring at him incredulously. "Shit, man, what do you intend to do? Use the Force?"

Jim ignored him, lining up his shot. Blair crouched beside him and gave the other officer a reassuring smile. "Trust him. He'll make the shot."

Blair's words calmed Jim even as he realized that save for the soft words used to Guide him earlier, Blair had still been subdued all day. That worried him; despite the humor this morning, things still weren't back to normal. He wasn't going to let this continue much longer, he decided. When this was over, he and Blair were going to sit down and have a long talk.

Jim focused on the shot, clearing his mind of everything else. He focused on the fact that he was saving the life of the bleeding woman and the other hostages rather than the realization that he was about to take a life. That would come later, and right now people were counting on him.

The word came over the headset, and at the command, Jim fired.

The bullet tore through the wall, striking the terrorist dead center in the chest, ending his life immediately. Simultaneously, Jim heard four other shots echo through the city, heard hearts stop permanently--three hearts. It took a moment to register that one shot did not strike its target.

"Someone missed," Jim cursed even as a volley of shots began splaying out in all direction as the panicked terrorist began running, firing his gun at anyone who moved. All the spectators and cops dove for cover. From his vantage on the rooftop, Jim saw the man emerge from the building, firing into the scattering crowd. He raised his riffle immediately, taking swift aim. He fired even as the terrorist turned and spotted him, raising his own gun to stop him.

Jim's bullet took the man directly in the chest, but the terrorist still managed to fire as he fell, aiming for the unprotected detective.

Jim heard Blair scream, felt a bone-jarring weight hit him, and then he was falling. He hit the ground roughly as the overpowering scent of blood filled his nostrils. The dead weight of his Guide on top of Jim registered with the realization that there was indeed an even more complete sacrifice Blair was willing to make for his sake.

"Blair! No!" Jim screamed, grabbing the young man, feeling hot blood spurting through a wound on Blair's back. The other officer grabbed them both, pulling Blair free of Jim even as he radioed for medical aid. Jim went crazy, screaming at Blair to answer him, begging him to speak, terrified that Blair was indeed vanishing right before his eyes. But his Guide was silent, only the sound of his weakened heart giving any indication he was alive at all.

The next moments passed in a kaleidoscope of terrifying images, the scent of blood over-powering, flashing lights, shouted commands, Blair's pale face unmoving, people pulling at Jim, trying to get him away from his Guide as he fought to reach him. And then he was riding in a squad car with Simon and Rafe, completely zoned since all his senses were focused on the ambulance speeding away from him.

He was out of the car and racing after the gurney wheeling away his Guide as they reached the emergency room. The gurney was surrounded by medical personnel, but walking beside it, Jim spied the black shape of the panther. The panther shimmered and shifted, becoming again his twin in army fatigues. The spirit reached out and took Blair's hand.

Jim screamed and dove after them. "No! He's going to take him!" Rafe and Simon both tackled him, holding him back. Jim fought them for all he was worth.

"Jim, let them take care of him!" Simon shouted trying to get his attention.

They didn't understand, they couldn't see the spirit twin walking beside Blair's unmoving form. "He's going to take him! I have to stop him. Can't you see him? Stop him! Blair!"

They fought him, holding him down. Jim felt the sharp prick of something in his arm. Then everything faded away and he was alone again.

He awoke in a hospital bed and spotted Simon immediately, sitting in a chair nearby. He sat up quickly, fighting a wave of dizziness. "Blair!" he called. Simon woke and came quickly to his side, restraining him with one hand.

"Calm down, Jim," he urged. "Blair's in recovery. He came through surgery fine. He's alive."

Alive. Blair was alive. He hadn't left him. The relief was so intense, it was painful. "What happened?"

Simon frowned. "He took a bullet in the ribs. Broke all the ribs he bruised last night and nicked several large arteries. But it missed his lungs. A second bullet grazed his head and gave him a concussion. He's still unconscious, but the doctors are hopeful."

Hopeful? That meant Blair was still in danger. He had to get to him! "Let me up!" he growled when Simon tried to restrain him.

"Alright, but calm down. You almost killed me and Rafe earlier. We had to sedate you. You went crazy! Started babbling about phantoms and panthers. Are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm fine, Simon. I just need to see Blair."

Simon frowned doubtfully but he backed away. Jim rose and, with his captain following, went searching for his Guide. He found him quickly, led by the sound of the familiar heartbeat calling to him. A large burly nurse tried to block his way, but Simon vouched for him. She glared at Jim, but let him pass.

Blair was lying in bed, looking pale and otherworldly. He was hooked up to several monitors and a white bandage was taped to the side of his head. Jim moved to his side and took Blair's hand in his own. The heat that had so warmed him time and again was gone, his hand cold to the touch. He stroked Blair's hair, the curls silk against his fingertips, and he dialed up his sense of touch to savor it.

"You alright, Jim?" Simon asked quietly, subdued.

"I will be when he wakes up." Jim told him, his heart constricting in his chest. "He threw himself in front of the bullets for me, Simon. How do I keep him safe if he keeps doing things like that for me?"

"He'd do anything for you Jim," Simon sighed.

And that hurt deep in Jim's soul, an ache that he had harmed his beautiful Guide with his need. "I know," he nodded. "I know."

"Have you told him how you feel?"

Jim shook his head and then shrugged. "I don't know."

"Don't know?" Simon demanded.

"I don't know what's going on between us any more, Simon. Everything is just so damned messed up!" He shrugged helplessly. He'd made love to Blair, but had no idea what it had meant to Blair or if Blair knew what it had meant to him. All he knew was that it hadn't been what Blair wanted, and perhaps it was only a sense of obligation and responsibility that kept Blair with him now.

"Tell him how you feel, Jim," Simon urged. "It's not often we get a second chance in life." Simon patted him on the shoulder in sympathy.

"I've to go take care of the paper work. I'll come by later and see how he's doing."

"How are the hostages?' Jim asked before the captain could leave.

"Fine. The injured woman is going to recover. No one else was harmed. That was a one in a million shot you made, Jim. But next time I want to see both of you in kevlar. I'm getting too old for this."

Simon left and Jim dragged a chair to Blair's bedside. He took Blair's hand in his again, warming it the way Blair had warmed him that day he'd found him zoned in the woods.

"Come back to me, Blair," he whispered, and he sat vigil over his friend, monitoring his vital signs more accurately than any machine.

A nurse came in periodically to check on Blair. She tried at first to get Jim to leave his side, to go home and get some sleep. But eventually she gave, up, realizing that nothing was going to get the detective to budge.

Several hours passed and when Blair showed no signs of waking, Jim began to get panic. Blair had been so quiet and withdrawn for so long, and he couldn't help but remember the sorrow in his eyes the night before. What if Blair didn't want to wake up? What if Blair wanted to be free of him?

"Blair, please, wake up," he pleaded. "I need you, Chief. I need you here with me. I can't do this without you."

His words had a reaction, and he saw Blair stir in his sleep. Heartened, he called to him again. "Blair, please come back to me. Wake up. That's it Chief, you can do it."

Slowly, those brilliant blue eyes opened. He looked so innocent and groggy, confused in his moment of waking.

"Jim, you okay?" he whispered, his voice hoarse from the tube that had been down it earlier.

Jim smiled at him, eyes nearly blinded by tears. "I am now, Chief." He raised Blair's hand to his lips and kissed the knuckles. "Thank God you're all right."

"You said you needed me," Blair said simply, as if that were all that was left of the world. There was still such sorrow in his eyes, and Jim wished he knew how to take it away.

And then Blair's gaze slid past his face toward the doorway. And whatever he saw there made him smile. Jim turned swiftly in alarm for he had heard no one enter.

He saw himself--or rather his phantom twin--standing there in army fatigues. The spirit was smiling down at Blair so lovingly. Jim's heart caught in his throat.

"He wants me to go with him," Blair murmured sleepily, that sweet smile filling his eyes.

"No! No, Blair!" Jim cried, clutching his hand. "Don't listen to him, Chief. You can't go with him. Please, Blair, I need you!"

Tears slipped from Blair's eyes as he looked again at Jim. "I know, Jim," he whispered tiredly. "You know I'd do anything for you. I just wish. . ." He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, and then gazed back at the phantom in the door way. There was such longing in his eyes that Jim thought his heart would break. He understood then that Blair would stay with him, but that deep down he wanted to leave, he wanted to go with the other Sentinel.

"Blair," Jim whispered touching his face, wiping away the tears from his Guide's pale, cold cheeks. He kissed his lips lightly. "Oh, God, Blair, tell me what to do. Tell me how to make you happy. I need you so much."

Blair's hand tightened weakly on his. "I know Jim. It's all right. You need me--I'm here. It's just that. . .He. . ." He broke off to stare again at the silent spirit.

"He what, Chief?" Jim asked, wondering what this figment of their imagination could offer Blair that he could not.

"He loves me," Blair sighed, his voice filled with pain.

Jim froze, staring down at his Guide's beautiful face and seeing such longing in it that it took his breath away. For one brief moment he saw a flash of everyone he'd ever lost - his father, brother, mother, Carolyn, Danny, Lila - so many hurts, but none that could compare to the loss of Blair Sandburg.

He turned toward his phantom twin, questions in his eyes. Was that what this was about?

"We go our separate ways, Sentinel," the figure stated calmly. "You turn your back on all that I am. You deny my very existence because you can no longer bear the pain."

In that instant Jim realized who and what he was looking at. And it didn't matter if he denied his existence, because the pain was with him regardless. He had tried to lie to himself and in so doing had driven out the better half of his own soul. He had driven away love in favor of need, because need was the one thing he knew his Guide was incapable of denying him--and so could never betray him.

But worst of all, he realized he had lied to his Guide. He could clearly remember now telling Blair out in the woods that he did not love him. He'd told him he did not love him and then proceeded to take everything Blair had to give.

"Oh, God, Blair," he protested taking the young man's face in his ands. "I love you too. I've always loved you. This goes so far beyond love I haven't words enough to describe it. You have to believe me, Blair. You have to believe me. Tell him.. . ." he pleaded, turning again to look at the phantom. But the figure just smiled and faded away as if he'd never been there.

Panicked, Jim turned to Blair. The look in his Guide's eyes robbed him of speech.

"I believe you, Jim," Blair whispered, joy shining in his face. "I love you, Jim. I've loved you for so long. I thought. . . I thought. . ."

"I know," Jim kissed him, silencing his words. He tasted the sweetness of Blair's lips, his soul shouting in joy when Blair kissed him back. He felt whole finally, body and soul reunited and his world widened out to include not just what Blair could give him, but what he could give Blair.

"I love you, Blair," he murmured against his Guide's mouth before drawing back to gaze into those brilliant eyes. The power of the love shining from Blair's eyes inflamed his soul and he cursed himself for his stupidity and callousness. How could he imagine someone like Blair could do the things he'd done for Jim and not love him? It wasn't in Blair's nature -- his Guide was the most giving person he'd ever met. Of course he would give his heart as well as his body and soul.

"Ah, Blair," Jim sighed. "I'll make you happy. I swear it. I'll never stop telling you I love you."

"That's all I ever wanted, Jim," Blair smiled.

Other words had to wait then, for the doctor and nurse, alerted by Blair's accelerated heart rate came to check on him. Jim, however, never released his hand, and seeing the look of such profound joy on the two men's faces, the hospital staff didn't have the heart to protest.

Some moments were not to be denied.