To Hell and Back by Katef

To Hell and Back - Katef

Part 1. Hell:

Blair ran. Despairing, he knew he could go no faster as he raced through the gathering gloom, knowing that the shapeless horrors dogging his footsteps were growing inexorably closer despite his best efforts.

The silence was absolute, even though he knew that his gasping breaths and thundering heartbeats ought to be loud in his ears, so he understood how pointless it would be to scream out his terror.

As it always did, the fathomless gaping maw opened before him, and, as always, now he found he was completely unable to slow his frantic footsteps as the pursuing nightmare beings herded him towards his doom.

Teetering on the brink, arms flailing in a futile attempt to regain his balance, he could see nothing in the thick, pitch black depths, even though he knew with absolute certainty that the fires of Hell awaited him at the very bottom of the abyss.

Powerless now to deny his instincts, with one last despairing and utterly soundless scream, he finally overbalanced and hurtled headfirst into the pit........

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Conover Psychiatric Hospital Infirmary:

Nurse Candy Crowther slapped her fresh cup of coffee down on the desk at the nurses’ station, mindless of the liquid that sloshed over the rim onto the pitted surface, as she hurried towards the locked door of one of the ward’s tiny secure rooms, summoned once again by the screams and sobbing cries coming from within.

She supposed that she ought to be irritated by this regular nightly occurrence, but instead could feel only sympathy for the poor young man who suffered so terribly from nameless fears.

Swiftly unlocking the door, she hurried over to the bed where her patient thrashed about, tangled in his thin bedclothes and keening in terror as his wide-open eyes stared at something only he could see.

Although regulations stated that she should summon one of the orderlies to help her in case an inmate should turn violent, she knew that this young man posed no threat to her, but only to himself whilst in this half-awake state, so she went with her instinct and wrapped her arms around the thin body, using her considerable bulk to both restrain and comfort the tearful youngster until he shuddered and buried his face against her shoulder, sobbing more naturally now as he woke fully and took stock of his situation.

As Candy rubbed his bony back soothingly but carefully, mindful of the newly healed skin beneath the backless hospital gown, he gradually relaxed enough to pull back a little, and peeked up at her from under thick but tear-damp lashes; eyes full of gratitude, but also fear and shame.

Reaching into her pocket for a tissue, Candy dabbed at his tears before giving him the tissue to blow his nose, all the time stroking his short dark auburn curls almost as if she was calming a wild young colt or fractious puppy, and she smiled to herself at the fanciful notion.

Knowing he wouldn’t reply, because he never did, she still talked to him, sure that he appreciated her efforts even if he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – respond vocally.

“You OK now, honey?” she said softly, raising his face with a finger beneath his chin so she could look directly into his eyes.

When he tried to look away, she tapped his cheek gently but insistently, saying, “Look at me, honey. No looking away now. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, having bad dreams. We all get them, sweetie, but I just wish you could tell someone about yours. Talking about things often makes them better. And if you could talk about yourself, little one, perhaps you could get out of here. Wouldn’t you like that?”

But even as she spoke, she knew there would be no answer. The boy had been brought in two weeks ago now, transferred from Cascade General by their psychologist’s recommendation, and he had yet to speak a word.

Sighing deeply, she patted his shoulder and said, “Look, honey, I’m going to make you some cocoa. It’ll help you sleep. Would you like that?”

The shy smile she received tugged at her heart, and she couldn’t but return it, taking in once again the sweet features and huge blue eyes, and wondering as always how such a beautiful and gentle boy could have ended up here, with apparently no family or friends to look out for him.

Pulling herself together, she said, “I won’t be long, honey.”

As she made for the door, she thought to herself that she would put a drop or two of sleeping draught into his drink so that at least he could get some proper rest before he had to face the resident psychiatrist again.

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CEO’s office, Ellison Enterprises, Cascade WA

William Ellison, founder of, and now Chairman of the Board of Ellison Enterprises, sat in one of the comfortable leather armchairs in his son’s plush office, and looked appraisingly at that man over his steepled fingertips.

Having worked hard all his life to build his business empire, and to enjoy the rewards of being one of Cascade’s most successful entrepreneurs, he remained a shrewd and ruthless driving force within the company, even though he had finally managed to recruit his eldest son back in to the fold to take over as CEO.

James Ellison was a handsome man, around six feet two inches tall and physically impressive with broad shoulders, narrow waist and long, shapely legs. At 32 years of age, toned and fit, he looked every inch the military Captain he had once been, although at present his patrician and classically handsome face wore a scowl and his lips were thinned in irritation.

“So, what are you telling me, Dad? After all this time, you’ve finally managed to track down my Guide? Is there any good reason why it’s taken so long, or didn’t Director Simpson enlighten you?”

Knowing how his son must feel, since he had had the same initial reaction at the news from the Sentinel Department only yesterday, yet he knew he would have to give Jimmy a full explanation as much as he himself understood anyhow.

Taking a while to marshal his thoughts, William thought back to yesterday’s interview with Director Simpson when that man brought news that could radically affect his son’s life.

Although the matching up and bonding of Sentinels and Guides had always been a combination of natural selection and instinct right from pre-industrialised societies up until fairly recently, a few decades ago automatic DNA testing at birth enabled modern Sentinels and Guides to be matched as soon as their compatible partner was discovered, hence removing any chance of an unsuitable pairing, in theory, at least.

Over the centuries, society’s attitudes towards Sentinel and Guide pairs had had a tendency to vary immensely according to the current mores. Sometimes heroes, sometimes freaks, they were treated accordingly, and occasionally matches had been forced upon unfortunate individuals whether they were compatible or not.

In the present day, however, Sentinels and Guides were generally appreciated as the valuable commodities they undoubtedly were, such that every opportunity was taken to ensure each and every one could find their perfect match, and make their contributions to society.

However, human nature being as it was, there still existed the potential for snobbery, as many Sentinels and Guides – or at least, their families – still cherished a certain undeniable wish that their partners come from a similar, suitable background, not some undesirable ‘other-class’ whatever it may be.

And therein lay William’s – and now Jim’s – dilemma.

When Director Simpson, an old and trusted friend of the Ellison family, had called to say he had good news, William had quickly ensured that he was free to receive his friend, certain that Jimmy’s wait must now be over at long last.

On hearing that it actually was, yet as he learned more of the Guide-to-be, William knew they were in for a lot of trouble.

According to Simpson, the Guide had been discovered after routine blood testing when he was admitted to Cascade General Hospital following an accident, but the reason for his not having already been on the Guide database had only just come to light after serious digging by both the Sentinel Department and Cascade PD.

Blair Sandburg, bastard offspring of a free-spirited neo-hippy, had lived an itinerant lifestyle for the majority of his nineteen years, travelling from country to country and community to community as his ever-enthusiastic young mother sought love and enlightenment outside of ‘accepted’ society.

A born rebel, and latent Guide herself, Naomi Sandburg had ensured that her beloved child had been kept under the radar and off medical databases, so sure was she that such personal information belonged to each individual alone, and shouldn’t be at the mercy of some government body to dictate as to what a person’s future should be.

When Blair had finally decided to cease travelling in order to follow his dream of studying anthropology at Rainier University in Cascade, (as it’s Department Head just happened to be his hero, Dr Eli Stoddard), she was persuaded, albeit unwillingly, to let him test for early entry at age sixteen, and, when her brilliant son was accepted, she bid him good luck, and left to follow her own path once again.

Thus it was that, at age nineteen, and already having received his Bachelor’s Degree, Blair had managed to secure the lease of an old but very cheap warehouse in which he could hole up rather than face the extortionate rents for student housing, and had moved in mere weeks ago, looking forward to beginning his Master’s course the next semester.

Unfortunately for Blair, he wasn’t the only one with eyes on that particular warehouse, and, one night, the meth lab which had been set up next door, of which existence he had had no clue whatsoever, blew up, taking most of its users with it, and blasting through Blair’s shabby living space, seriously injuring the young man who suffered from a serious head injury and burns to his back, buttocks and thighs.

At first assumed to be one of the criminals, he had been taken under guard to Cascade General, and when he regained consciousness, it was found that he had suffered possible brain damage and amnesia, and was totally unable or unwilling to speak.

Whilst being treated for his burns and head injury, routine blood tests and screening had thrown up his DNA profile, and the automatic computer match was made with one Sentinel Jim Ellison of Ellison Enterprises.

However, before the information was passed along, a mutual friend, Captain Simon Banks of Cascade PD’s Major Crimes Department, had taken it upon himself to find out as much as he could about this potential disaster of a Guide, and had come up with most of the information that Director Simpson now related to William.

On the plus side, one of the surviving gang members had confirmed that Blair was an innocent victim, and had nothing to do with the lab or its users. Indeed, they hadn’t even been aware that the student had moved in!

His mentor at Rainier, none other than Dr Stoddard himself, had also vouched for the young man, describing him as a genuine wunderkind, of whom he had had great hopes for the future in the field of anthropology, and who was genuinely sorry to learn of his favourite student’s accident.

On the downside, his mother was nowhere to be found, and he was completely without financial resources or the insurance needed to cover his medical and psychiatric fees.

Possible Guide status notwithstanding, Cascade General’s resident psychologist decreed him mentally compromised and had him removed to Conover as soon as his injuries healed enough for him to travel, and that was where he had been ever since.

As William’s explanation wound down, he contemplated his son’s grim countenance, and was not surprised when the younger man finally responded.

Listening with growing anger, teeth grinding so hard that William could foresee major dental work in his son’s future, Jim paced around the office, his movements as sinuous and predatory as a hunting cat, before stopping in front of his father’s chair, eyes cold, hard and lethal, so that the older man couldn’t help but swallow nervously even though he was sure –well, mostly – that his son wouldn’t attack his own father.

“So that’s it then?” Jim ground out. “Some hippy woman keeps my Guide out of my reach because she doesn’t like government intervention, turns him into some sort of tramp academic and now he’s locked up in the local nut house! Wonderful! So what am I supposed to do about it? God knows my senses have been giving me more and more trouble lately, and I’m sick of taking meds all the time, but what am I supposed to do with some brain-damaged kid? Huh? You tell me, Dad!”

And he returned to his pacing, only to stop at his office door and turned to pound at it in frustration with a hard fist.

Sympathising greatly with his son, because, after all, hadn’t Jim’s military career, and a potential career in the police force been cut short because of his growing lack of sense control, yet he couldn’t in all good conscience deny that he had been secretly pleased to be able to lure Jim back into the family business, where his fierce determination and uncanny ability to read and manipulate the opposition had already greatly increased Ellison finances and expanded business opportunities even beyond William’s wildest dreams.

As his furious son swung around to face him again, Jim recognised the expression of concentration and determination on William’s face, so he controlled his anger with an effort, knowing that his father was thinking things through, and would undoubtedly have something of value to offer in the way of advice.

“Well now, Jimmy....” William began slowly, plainly deep in thought and using his sharp mind to come up with a workable plan of action. “My suggestion would be this. We go and see this boy at Conover, and you will, I assume, be able to tell immediately if the match is indeed a true one. If it is, and the boy is at least manageable, I suggest that we bring him home and take care of his medical bills and future treatment as we are expected to do under Sentinel and Guide law. If necessary, we can always keep him stashed at your old loft, under guard, so you can just use him as necessary, and forget about him otherwise. Hubert Simpson assures me that he should still be able to function enough to ground you, even if he isn’t ‘all there’, so to speak. When it comes to business or social functions, if you need him, then we can surely come up with some workable system of keeping him available but out of plain sight so he can’t embarrass us. What do you think?”

Staring long and hard at his father, Jim took his time before replying, realising, whether he liked it or not, that the older man had the right of it.

Finally, after taking a deep and calming breath, he said, voice dripping with sarcasm, “OK, Dad. I guess it’s about as good as we can get under the circumstances. When shall we go to see this ‘Guide’?”

“Whenever you want to, Jimmy! I’ve brought along a file of what information we have if you want to study it first for a while, then all you need do is let me know, and we’ll get on over to Conover and check out your Guide.”

Nodding, Jim held out his hand for the slim folder his father took out of the briefcase at his side, then said, “OK, Dad. Give me half an hour and I’ll be good to go. Just let me get Megan to hold my calls and clear my calendar for the afternoon.”

Rising to his feet, William nodded agreeably and replied, “Good, son. I’ll see you in the foyer in half an hour then.” He patted Jim’s firmly muscled bicep as he left the room, vastly relieved to have gotten through the first part of what would undoubtedly turn out to be a very trying afternoon.

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Forty minutes later saw both Ellisons comfortably settled in one of the company limos, bowling along out of Cascade towards Conover.

Sitting in contemplative silence, both men were wrapped up in their own thoughts as the miles sped by, taking them closer to one who could provide at least a partial answer to Jim’s failing sense control.

Jim stared out of the side window, thinking on what he had read in the slim file of information about his Guide.

Firstly, he couldn’t help but remember his reactions at seeing the young man’s student photo, which was the only one available at the time.

Drinking in the beautiful blue eyes, neat features and lush lips stretched in a happy smile, he had felt an undeniable stirring in his groin, especially when he considered the shoulder-length chestnut curls which begged for Sentinel fingers to touch and ruffle.

At least the boy was a real looker he thought grimly, whatever mental problems he had now.

Having said that, as he read on, he became more and more angry, knowing that the boy in the picture was a far cry from the damaged creature he was about to meet.

According to the brief medical report, Blair had been struck by a piece of flying masonry which had clipped the side of his head above the right temple.

His hair had been cut short, and shaved in the immediate area of the wound to allow for the surgery needed to remove the blood clot that had formed, and there was a clinical description of the many burns to his back, buttocks and thighs, some of which had required skin grafts, but which were all now apparently healing well, if not without some scarring.

More worrying still was the psychiatrist’s evaluation which was necessarily inconclusive due to the patient’s refusal or genuine inability to speak.

It was only the reports of the young man’s nightmares which suggested that the vocal chords were not only intact, but definitely working, since apparently he screamed the place down during his terrifying dreams.

Cynically deciding that he would simply do what was necessary to ensure his own continued health and sanity, Jim sat back and watched the scenery fly by.

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Conover, that afternoon:

Sitting alone on the edge of his bed in his small room, Blair rocked back and forth slowly, hands clasped and staring fixedly at the door, somehow sure that he was about to have a visitor.

Trying so hard to get his tumbling thoughts into some sort of order, he fought against the inevitable headache such an exercise brought on, but also knowing that, if he persisted too long, the nightmare would follow and he would return to the Hell where he undoubtedly deserved to be.

He knew that his name was Blair – he had been told that much – and he had also been told that he was a student, but he couldn’t remember what, if anything he had actually studied, or indeed anything about his life but disconnected and incomprehensible fragments of incidents before the demons began to hunt him, and he realized that he had been damned.

Whatever lurked in his past was undoubtedly the reason why his future was so terrifying, and he knew without a doubt that he was only marking time until Hell and it’s roaring, exploding flames took him again for their own, and this time there he would remain in torment for ever more.

As the desperate thought brought tears to his eyes, which overflowed and dripped unheeded down his cheeks and off his chin onto his clenched fists, he tried to recall at least something good he might have done to mitigate the punishment awaiting him.

Distracted from his morbid thoughts by the opening of his door, he looked up worriedly to see two figures approaching.

One he recognised as the lady who came to see him during the day, who said her name was Susan, and that she was the Day Nurse. He liked Susan, because she smiled at him, and was nice to him, but not as nice as Candy, the Night Nurse, who comforted him when he had bad dreams, and gave him cocoa even though he knew he didn’t deserve it.

The other person frightened him, though.

Carl was one of the day shift orderlies who occasionally came to take Blair to see the other man – the one in white, with the dark-rimmed spectacles, who kept on and on asking him things he couldn’t answer.

Carl despised him, he could tell, and gripped his arms so hard that he left bruises which Candy inevitably tutted over, and rubbed with soothing ointment, but believed that Blair had inflicted on himself.

“Hey, Blair,” greeted Susan in a professionally cheerful voice. “You’ve got some visitors, so we’re going to take you to the interview rooms, OK? Don’t worry, dear, I’m sure you’ll be OK.”

This last was added in more soothing tones as the young man blanched and withdrew into himself, shrinking away from the rough hands Carl reached out towards him.

Hissing something angrily at her companion, Susan interjected herself between Blair and the orderly, holding out a thin robe for Blair to wear.

“Here you go, dear. This’ll give you a bit of cover over that gown, won’t it?”

She smiled as she helped him thread his arms somewhat stiffly through the sleeves.

Blair was astounded at the kindness, since Carl never gave him such a garment when he dragged the young man down to the Man in White’s office, and Blair felt the cold draught swirling around his sore back and buttocks, not daring to think what any passersby could see of him.

Gently steering him towards the door, and giving her companion a hard stare, Susan held his hand as she led him down the cold and sombre corridor towards the interview room where, did he but know it, his future awaited.

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Prowling around the pale green and grey painted interview room, Jim felt a strange but not altogether unwelcome prickling in his skin, especially the back of his neck, which he had to forcibly restrain himself from scratching until it was red raw.

Certain now that the forbidding walls of the hospital held his true Guide, whether he liked it or not, his senses sang more sweetly than he could ever remember in his life before, and he desperately needed to touch and bond with the man, whatever the Guide’s condition.

Leaving William to settle the official negotiations with the hospital’s Director, he concentrated instead on the wonderful feeling of rightness and comfort such as he had never felt and he knew without a doubt that his future was looking better and better at each passing moment.

Easily extending his hearing, he homed in on his Guide, hearing the barely-controlled panicked breaths as the young man was led towards his destiny, and listening in unconcernedly to the one-sided conversation that accompanied the progress through the corridors and electronically controlled gates.

He could hear a woman’s voice chatting inconsequentially, obviously trying to put her charge at ease, and was surprised to find a gentler, barely recognised part of his personality grateful for her efforts, whilst also wishing they would get a move on and be here already!

Finally, the door opened to reveal his father and the Director, whose lugubrious and disgruntled expression was evidence enough that William had prevailed, and that the Guide was theirs for the taking, whatever his condition.

Barely five minutes later, the door opened again to reveal three individuals, only one of whom held any interest for the Sentinel.

A short, thin and terrified looking young man was flanked by a kindly-looking middle-aged Nurse, whose ID tag named her as Susan, and a hulking and sulky younger man who glared at his charge with obvious distain.

As Jim strode forward, primal Sentinel beginning to take charge, the boy’s eyes widened in terror, and he spun around, trying to flee the room, only to be grabbed and held easily by the muscled orderly, despite his panicked struggles.

At Jim’s furious growl of “Let him go, now!” Carl released his hold, gulping audibly as the Sentinel approached, to reach out and seize the boy’s robe himself in an unbreakable grip, tugging the struggling body towards him with consummate ease.

With an anguished look, but knowing that to stay would be inviting disaster, Susan stepped quickly out of the room, dragging an unresisting Carl behind her, only to break down in tears as the door shut loudly behind her.

Totally ignoring Carl and his thick-skulled and insensitive curiosity, she wept for the young man she had grown to care for, and could only pray that someone, somewhere was looking out for him, because she was pretty sure that the Sentinel and his family weren’t about to!

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Inside the room, William nodded to himself in relieved acceptance as his son convinced him by his very behaviour that this was indeed Jim’s true Guide, however unprepossessing the waif appeared at first sight.

Gesturing autocratically at the Director that they should leave the room to Sentinel and Guide, he followed the vexed and grumbling man out of the door, and hastened to the adjoining observation room where they could witness the proceedings from a safe distance through the two-way mirror.

Back in the room, Jim gave his Guide a firm shake, growling out, “Stand still Guide!”

He was gratified when the boy complied, freezing in terror at the feral expression on the big man’s face.

However, the Sentinel was less than happy when the strong smell of fresh urine proclaimed that the boy had wet himself in horror and was fast approaching a full blown panic attack as his gasping breaths grew more urgent.

Suddenly knowing instinctively what he should do to remedy the situation, Jim hugged the rigid body close, nuzzling the elegant neck as he sniffed deeply, taking in the Guide’s scent even as he growled at the taint of fear overriding the boy’s otherwise intoxicating fragrance which even the harsh chemical tang of institution soap and medication failed to cover.

Licking up the neck to the sensitive spot beneath a delicate earlobe, Jim catalogued the Guide’s taste also, even as his hearing logged the rapid heartbeats, knowing that the sound, even if too fast at the present, would ground him from hereafter.

Pushing the slight figure away from him, he held the face firmly between large hands, and looked his fill, gazing intently into the young face, pleased to note the beauty of the features, but not at all happy with the expression on them.

Blair’s deep blue eyes were huge in his pale face, filled with abject fear and a deer-in the-headlights look of helplessness.

The lush lips were partially open as he laboured for breath, and the small, neat nose sounded clogged with unshed tears and mucus as the boy continued to shake wildly under his hands.

Moving his hands upwards, Jim ran his fingers gently over the young man’s scalp, immediately aware of the damaged area where the surgery took place even without the tell-tale shaved hair which was just beginning to grow back in to cover the livid scars.

The rest of the hair was almost as short, but evidence of the curls which were so temptingly portrayed on Blair’s student photo could already be seen, so Jim knew that it wouldn’t be so very long until he could enjoy running his hands through the Guide’s hair at his pleasure.

Knowing that he needed to see more, Jim quickly tugged the thin robe down over the boy’s skinny arms, and moving round behind the Guide, he pulled the backless gown open and off to reveal the new pink skin and scars peppering the young man’s back from thin shoulders to mid-thigh.

However, before he could take stock of the injuries, Blair finally reached his limit, and, eyes rolling up in his head, he gave in to his panic, and collapsed in a dead faint, to be caught by the Sentinel just before he could hit the ground, thanks to Jim’s swift reactions.

Growling in part concern and part irritation, Jim glared at the lax face resting now against his chest as he cradled the skinny body to him, momentarily undecided about what to do next.

Just then, the door opened slightly, and William peered warily round, clearly assessing the risk before approaching his son.

“Is he OK, Jimmy?” the older man almost whispered, looking concernedly at the unconscious, naked figure clutched to his son’s chest.

“Yeah, I think so,” replied Jim after a long pause, during which he struggled to regain some semblance of sanity. “I think I almost scared him to death though. What the heck do I do now? What use is a Guide who passes out every time I get near him?” he added in consternation.

Carefully stepping around the door to enter fully, William gazed shrewdly at the pair before saying, “I don’t think it’ll be that bad, Jimmy. Remember, he’s been badly hurt, so everything must be pretty frightening for him. I’m sure he’ll get better as he gets used to you, and, if not, we can always keep him sedated! We can, after all, afford the best medical care for him, and that goes for accommodations and handling also,” he finished, sounding every bit the pragmatic businessman he had always been.

Worriedly studying the almost too pretty face, Jim paused, deep in thought, and was startled to feel a completely alien pang of sympathy for the young man, allied to an even more unexpected desire to protect the frail figure resting in his arms, which seemed to naturally wrap around the Guide as if accustomed to the action.

Looking back up at his father, frown still settled between his brows, he answered, “OK Dad, let’s do it. We’ll get him home and cleaned up, and go from there. If he’s too much trouble, I’ll get the loft refurbished, and he can stay there until I need him. He should be comfortable enough.”

As he spoke, he was unaware that to the hospital Director who was waiting outside the door listening in, that he sounded as if he was discussing the Guide as if he were no more than a valued pet or an expensive commodity.

The Director was a fundamentally decent man, who actually wanted the best for his patients, and he was deeply concerned for Blair, thinking to himself that he had assumed that such a cavalier attitude towards Guides had ceased decades ago, before he came to the reluctant conclusion that as far as the Ellisons were concerned, it wasn’t so much a Sentinel and Guide problem as a sort of business transaction, to be dealt with in a prosaic and convenient fashion.

Knowing he had no alternative but to hand his patient over to the Ellisons, since they had produced the appropriate paperwork, and also a substantial payment which more than covered Blair’s treatment and accommodations to date, he fought down his urge to stand up against their corporate solidarity and stepped back, plainly dismissed from their thoughts as the two men emerged, purposefully striding down the corridor, having covered the Guide once again in the robe so he could be carried out to the waiting car, held firmly in the Sentinel’s strong arms.

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As the party climbed into the limo, William was surprised to see that Jim refused to relinquish hold of the Guide, and settled him comfortably in his lap for the journey home.

Since Jim actually growled a little at his quizzical glance, William merely shrugged internally, and left the pair to their own devices for the short trip back.

For Jim, the trip was an eye-opener in more ways than one.

Holding the slight figure in his arms, he was more than a little perturbed to find that the frisson of sympathy he had felt for Blair had begun to grow, as indeed, had the feeling of possessiveness and the desire to protect this fragile person so recently but unwillingly pushed into his personal space.

After his mother had died when he was little more than six or seven years old, he and his younger brother Steven had been brought up by his father and their live-in housekeeper.

Although William’s idea of child-rearing was tough but fair, and determined by his desire to make his boys capable and focussed on success above all else in whatever field they chose, for the most part it was devoid of the softer influences his deceased wife could have provided to counterbalance such an otherwise hard and single-minded outlook.

Thus it was that Jim found himself assailed by completely unfamiliar emotions regarding his Guide, and he wasn’t at all sure he liked the feeling, as it seemed to him to smack of an out-of-character softness which he was certain he couldn’t afford.

Yet there was no denying the fact that he knew to the depths of his being that this young man was now his responsibility, and he was duty-bound to do right by his Guide.

Pushing the troubling train of thought aside for now, he simply concentrated on monitoring his Guide’s condition, and cuddled the warm body close for the rest of the short trip to the Ellison mansion in one of the upper class suburbs of Cascade.

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Ellison Mansion, Cascade, WA:

On arrival, William swiftly got out of the car, indicating that their driver should take over carrying the young Guide, who had still to regain consciousness. However, Jim spurned the offer, choosing instead to maintain his grasp on Blair, and he strode up to the front door where Sally, their petite Asian housekeeper awaited.

Casting a concerned glance at the pair as they entered, she immediately bustled ahead, directing Jim to the guest suite she had prepared as soon as William had apprised her of their intentions.

Throwing open the door, she stepped aside to let Jim enter, and, with a nod of appreciation, he marched over to the large bed and gently lowered the Guide onto the luxurious comforter.

Straightening up, he turned his attention to Sally, who had approached the bed, and was peering worriedly at the small, pale figure before looking up at Jim saying, “I’m going to run a warm bath, Mr Jim. That poor boy needs cleaning up and getting comfortable. He also needs a good meal, so after the bath is ready, I’m going to put on some soup and make some sandwiches to tide you all over until dinner time.”

Nodding decisively, she moved to the bathroom to start running the water, knowing that her Jimmy would do as she said.

Obeying unquestioningly, so fond was he of the small, devoted dynamo who had done her best to act as their stand-in mother, Jim carefully removed the soiled robe from around the slender body, and lifted the limp figure to carry him to the bathroom.

Seeing as Sally had automatically assumed that he would be doing the bathing, and had already left the room to return to the kitchen, Jim gently lowered Blair into the warm, soapy water, unsurprised when the young man roused a little, and slowly awoke, only to jerk in fear as he felt the water cover him.

As his eyes shot open to dart frantically around the room, and his breathing and heart rate began to climb dramatically again, Jim held him firmly, expression stern as he said, “No, Blair! Be still! I’m not going to hurt you, but you need to get clean and warm. Do you understand?”

He waited until the wandering gaze locked onto his, and the young man pulled himself together with obvious effort, biting his lip before nodding nervously in submission.

“Good. That’s good,” said Jim approvingly.

“Now, I’m going to help you clean up, and then we’re going to get something to eat. Once you’re comfortable, you can get some rest, and I won’t hurt you if you behave, OK? We can talk later when you’ve had a chance to relax.”

So saying, he reached for the soap, trying hard not to make too much of the fact that he was washing and handling Blair intimately, even though his instinct was to pull the beautiful body up and make passionate love to him, needing to complete the bond which was calling to him with ever-increasing heat.

A short while later, despite the conflicting emotions felt by both men, Blair was clean and dry, and dressed in the warm flannel pyjamas Sally had thoughtfully put out for him.

Trembling visibly with nerves, he shuffled down to the kitchen behind the large and rather frightening man who seemed to have taken control of his life, trying to make himself as unobtrusive as possible in the hope that no one would start demanding he answer questions like the Man in White had done.

Once in the comforting warmth of the large and luxurious kitchen, a kindly older lady showed him to a seat at the big breakfast island, where he sat, head lowered and looking pointedly down at his clasped hands rather than at the two other men who seated themselves, the older one opposite and his bath-time companion beside him almost as if they were on guard.

Although no one spoke for long minutes, he was relieved when the lady placed a bowl of wonderfully tempting soup in front of him, saying kindly, “There you go, young man. Eat up. My soup is good for many things, not just because it tastes great!”

And she laughed merrily at her own joke.

Smiling shyly up at her, grateful for her care, Blair ducked his head and carefully picked up his spoon, hoping he was doing the right thing by starting immediately.

When no one told him off, he began to eat, savouring the thick, tasty broth laden with vegetables and chicken pieces even though he couldn’t remember eating chicken like this before.

Completely lost in the delicious meal, he forgot everything until the last morsel was gone, and he looked up, feeling more full and contented than for many weeks.

Seeing the other diners studying him appraisingly, he gulped, and ducked his head again, unwilling to see their undoubtedly disdainful expressions, and was overwhelmingly grateful when the lady returned to remove his empty bowl to replace it with a plate holding half of a thick cheese and tomato sandwich made with obviously fresh, home-made bread and a glass of milk.

Although Blair didn’t see it, she glared reprovingly at William and Jim as she patted his shoulder, exhorting him to eat and enjoy, and adding pointedly that there was nothing to worry about, and that he was doing just fine!

Duly reprimanded, William and Jim turned their attention to their own meals, and let Sally get on with what she did best – looking after her men-folk with capable and comforting ease.

When the meal was done, Jim stood, and, coughing a little self-consciously, he said, “Thanks Sally. I think we all needed that. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to take Blair back to his room and get him settled, because I think he needs to catch up on his sleep. I’ll see you down in the den later, OK Dad?”

On receiving William’s nod of agreement, he took Blair’s elbow gently and helped him stand, trying hard not to make anything of the young man’s instant nervous reaction as he steered his Guide from the room and towards the stairs leading to the guest suite.

--------------------------

Once back in the large bedroom, and behind closed doors, Jim turned his Guide around to face him.

Looking down into the worried young face, his own expression one of concern and slight puzzlement, Jim reached up to carefully stroke the soft hair, sentinel-sensitive touch skimming over the scar on Blair’s head.

Struck by an unaccustomed feeling of compassion, Jim said, “I’m truly sorry about your injury, little one. Although I doubt if you understand what I need you for, I can’t let you go now. One day soon, when you’re well enough, we’ll bond fully, and I promise I’ll try not to hurt you, but in the meantime, we’ll have to try to work together and maybe you’ll even get some of your memories back. If you behave as well as you are now, you can stay here with me, and Sally will look after you, OK? But for now, you need to rest, because you’ve had a rough day.”

He patted Blair’s cheek, surprising himself with the fond gesture.

As Blair gazed up in awe at the big man, he fervently wished he could speak, because he really needed to tell him that he, Blair, couldn’t stay here. His eyes filled with tears as he knew that the demons would soon find him again, and would chase him away back towards the hell that awaited him.

Not understanding why his Guide suddenly looked as if he was going to burst into tears, Jim sighed in irritation and pushed the young man towards the bed.

“In you get, Chief!” he said with faked joviality. “Sleep well!”

He turned quickly and left the room feeling uncharacteristically disturbed by his unwilling pity for the boy tucked up in the big bed.

As he walked downstairs, he heard a car approaching, and, recognising the sound of the engine, knew that his younger brother Steven was on his way, and he hoped that the other man would be alone.

Although fond of his brother in his own way, Jim had little time for the younger man’s new wife Melinda, who, to Jim’s mind, was a beautiful but ambitious air-head who had undoubtedly married Steven for his money and position as Financial Director of Ellison Enterprises. Not that Steven minded, though, because they made a handsome couple in the society pages of the local papers.

Joining William in the den, Jim took the snifter of brandy that his father held out for him and took an appreciative sniff at the expensive contents.

“Thanks, Dad,” he said. “You know what? I’ve only had Blair with me for a few hours, but my senses are better already. It seems like I only have to touch him and my control improves one hundred per cent. I can’t wait to see how I’ll feel once we bond fully.”

Nodding in approval, William replied, “Very good, Son! It’s a shame about the boy’s health, and his somewhat dubious background, but as long as he makes you feel better, I’m sure we can manage. And Sally has taken to him already, so he’ll not want for care.”

Although not really happy with his father’s somewhat clinical attitude towards his Guide, Jim still smiled at the older man, knowing that his father only had Jim’s well-being at heart.

Just then the door opened to reveal Steven – thankfully alone – who immediately walked over to join them.

“Hey, bro! Congratulations, my man! Dad told me about your finally finding your Guide. Pity he’s some sort of retard, though,” he added, voice heavy with sympathy and distaste even as he clapped Jim boisterously on the shoulder.

Surprising himself with the strength of his automatic reaction, Jim hissed, “You don’t ever call my Guide a retard, Steven! His name’s Blair Sandburg, and don’t you forget it! And he’s brilliant – at least, he was. He’s just nineteen, and got his first degree already! He was about to start his Masters before he got hurt, and I’m betting his mind’ll improve as he heals in body.”

Throwing up his hands in apology, Steven backed off with a look of mild consternation on his handsome face as he said, “Whoa, there, Jimbo! No offense meant, my man! If he works for you, then that’s all I need to know, OK? Now, when will you be back in the office? If you’re going to be working from home for a while, I’ll get Megan to drop by tomorrow with some of your files.”

Happy to steer clear of the controversial topic of his Guide’s suitability, Jim replied, “Sorry, Steven. Yeah, I’ll be at home for the next few days I guess, until we complete the bond anyhow. I’ll call Megs myself and talk her through which deals need my attention most urgently”

With that the three men settled down comfortably to talk business for a while until they got on to more general topics, carefully avoiding the subject of the small Guide upstairs, although Jim automatically tuned his hearing into his new partner’s every breath and movement.

-------------------

Meanwhile, up in the large bed, Blair was far from settled.

Although the big man who looked after him now had told him to get some sleep, his bladder was telling him he needed to go to the bathroom pretty soon if he wasn’t to have an accident.

Worrying about what was the best thing to do, he reluctantly decided that he would have to get out of bed, as the risk of being told off for moving seemed preferable to what would happen if he wet the bed.

Carefully climbing out, he tiptoed across to the bathroom as quietly as he could, and relieved himself before washing his hands and flushing the commode, sure that the noise would give him away.

As he crept back into bed, if he did but know it, Jim had actually heard everything, but, far from being annoyed, was pleased to know that Blair was able to make decisions on his own, even over something as simple as a bathroom break.

Some while later, Steven got up to go, knowing that Melinda would be expecting him home at a reasonable hour, because she had plans for the next three evenings out, and he knew he would need to conserve his energy!

Wishing his father and brother good night, he climbed into his top-of-the-range BMW sports car and roared off into the night.

Stifling a yawn, William excused himself and made his way up to his own bed, leaving Jim alone to finish a last nightcap before going up himself.

As he climbed the stairs and headed towards his own room, which was just down the hallway from the guest suite, he carefully cracked open the door to check on his Guide, who he knew was sleeping.

Approaching the bed, he watched the young man, struck yet again by his beauty despite the short, uneven hair and still visible scar on his scalp. Asleep, he looked younger than ever; face smooth and innocent until suddenly he began to whimper a little, an anxious frown appearing between his brows.

Knowing the beginnings of a nightmare when he saw it, Jim didn’t even pause, and, swiftly stripping off his outer clothes to leave himself in undershirt and boxers, he slipped between the covers and eased the small body into his arms, cuddling and stroking until the restless movements ceased, and Blair sank back into peaceful slumber, demons banished for once by his Sentinel’s presence.

------------------------------

The following morning found the pair comfortably entwined, with Blair lying half on top of Jim, face snuggled into the bigger man’s neck.

Having woken some time earlier, Jim used the opportunity to study his new Guide, monitoring his every breath and physical function, and practicing grounding his senses on the warm bundle in his arms.

As the gradual change in the already familiar heartbeat signalled Blair’s return to wakefulness, Jim gently tightened his grip, suspecting that the young man may well panic on discovering his unexpected bedmate, and he didn’t want his Guide to either hurt himself or catch Jim with a random blow.

Sure enough, when the big blue eyes opened, they widened almost comically in surprise as Blair realised where he was, and on whom he was lying, almost as if Jim were a large and very impressive body pillow.

As expected, he immediately tried to pull away, only to find himself cuddled closer, and Jim actually stroked his head and back comfortingly as he murmured, “It’s OK, Chief. You looked like you were starting a nightmare, so I got in to hold you and get you settled. You’ve done nothing wrong, so don’t panic, alright?”

Gradually calming, Blair gazed wide-eyed at the big man, and realised that it was true – the man wasn’t angry with him, and actually seemed kinder this morning. Perhaps he would be alright after all, and would take care of Blair for as long as he was allowed to stay. The thought comforted Blair, and with a small sigh, he let his head sink back down onto his unconventional pillow.

Glad to have averted a possible panic attack, and feeling surprisingly pleased with himself at his own caring behaviour, Jim decided to take a few more minutes to enjoy the peace that holding his Guide brought him, while firmly tamping down on his body’s natural physical reaction to being in such close contact with the tempting little bundle.

Eventually, however, the call of nature became too insistent for Jim to ignore, so, gently disentangling himself from the still sleepy young man, he took himself off to the bathroom to take care of business before returning to wake the small Guide and get him to the bathroom so he could get cleaned up in time for breakfast.

---------------------

In a remarkably short time, the two men were up and on their way down to breakfast.

Since Blair had slept through dinner the previous evening, Jim not having the heart to wake him, knowing that the young man desperately needed a night of relatively untroubled sleep, he had to be really hungry, even though he made no indication other than a gently rumbling tummy.

Since the guest bathroom had a large walk-in shower as well as a tub, Jim had decided he may as well shower along with Blair, so after quickly fetching fresh clothes from his own room, he had spent a short but satisfying time carefully soaping up and rinsing the smaller man, mindful of the newly healed skin and taking the opportunity to scent and catalogue every part of the slender body, although he still managed to control his physical responses with no little difficulty, keeping his actions non-sexual for the time being so as not to frighten Blair again.

Blair was noticeably much less skittish this time, more relaxed through spending a peaceful night in Jim’s arms, unthreatened for once by nightmare demons.

When they exited the bathroom, with Blair wrapped up in a large, fluffy towel, Jim was pleased to see that Sally had sorted out a small wardrobe of clothes for his Guide, since he understood that Blair had lost virtually everything he possessed in the explosion and ensuing fire.

On the bed was a selection of jeans, tees and sweaters, left over from Jim and Steven’s youth and carefully stored away, which would more or less fit the smaller man, and, Jim hoped, make him feel more at home and not so institutionalised.

As Blair allowed himself to be helped to dress in the outfit Jim selected for him without complaint, or, indeed, any other reaction apart from a small, shy smile of gratitude, Jim couldn’t help but pause just before they left the room to tip Blair’s face up to look at him with a gentle finger under his chin.

Gazing down at the upturned face, and looking deeply into the wide and expressive eyes, Jim murmured somewhat wistfully, “I wish you would talk, Chief. Even if you were to just try and say ‘Hi, Jim’ or something. I’d really like to hear your speaking voice, Junior, and I’m sure that talking would help you heal also.”

At his words, Blair’s eyes had grown a little teary, as he so didn’t want to disappoint this man – Jim – who was being so nice to him, and seemed somehow, well, special, although Blair didn’t understand why he knew that.

It was just that, he knew that if he spoke, the demons would find him even sooner, and he didn’t want to go yet. He hoped so much to have a bit longer to enjoy this new life....

With a sigh, Jim had patted him gently on the shoulder, and turned him towards the door, guiding him down the wide staircase towards the kitchen with a comforting hand lightly resting in the small of Blair’s back.

-----------------------

In the warm and welcoming kitchen, Sally bustled around, getting Jim and Blair seated before placing a bowl of oatmeal in front of Blair. Smiling, she said cheerfully, “Good morning Blair. This is my special oatmeal, so I hope you like it. There’s honey here to pour on if you want it, and I’ll make you some fresh toast also. Is that OK for you?”

Smiling in response, Blair nodded happily, and picked up his spoon, carefully stirring in a sizable dollop of the honey from the jar placed close beside him.

Grinning in pleasure to see his Guide so at ease with Sally, Jim said quietly, “I’m just going to call Megan at the office to ask her to bring some work over for me. I won’t be long, Sally, and I’d love some of your eggs when I get back!”

“Certainly, Mr Jim!” the smiling housekeeper replied fondly.

“But I won’t start them until you’re back, just in case you’re longer than you expect.” She turned back to the stove to prepare the eggs for cooking, and put fresh toast on for Blair who was tucking in to the oatmeal with obvious enjoyment.

Quickly crossing to the den, Jim called the office and spoke to his PA, explaining which files he would need her to bring over, and he was just finishing the call when there was a commotion from the kitchen which sent him flying back to see what was going on.

Having finished most of the delicious oatmeal, Blair had just picked up his glass of fresh OJ, when William had burst in to the kitchen.

Having overslept, which was something he really hated to do and which happened very rarely, William was now running late for the early morning Board meeting he had himself arranged, and he wasn’t at all happy.

Not immediately registering Blair’s presence, he snapped peremptorily at Sally for fresh coffee, and was surprised and then angered at what happened next.

Frightened by the loud intrusion, Blair jerked in surprise, and had managed to drop his glass of OJ, which shattered into a million pieces on the unforgiving tiled floor.

Horrified at what he had done, he cried out wordlessly in distress, and dropped to the floor, trying to hide under the kitchen counter away from the angry man, and cutting his hand on some of the broken glass in the process.

Just then Jim rushed in, quickly taking in the scene before him, and growling in irritation at his father as he ducked down to check on his trembling Guide.

Sobbing with fear and mortification, Blair cringed away for a moment before allowing himself to be pulled out from under the counter and into Jim’s arms, where he was cuddled close before finding himself seated in Jim’s lap on one of the kitchen chairs.

As Sally fetched a clean cloth to wrap around the freely-bleeding cuts, clucking in worry and annoyance on Blair’s behalf, before getting down to cleaning up the mess on the floor, Jim rocked the crying boy for a few minutes until his tears slowed and he sniffled into the tissue Jim held for him.

“It’s OK, little one,” murmured Jim, controlling his temper with difficulty. “It was an accident. I know you didn’t mean to do it. Now let me see your hands, baby.”

Instinctively knowing that Jim wasn’t angry at him, Blair shyly held out his hands, and Jim was pleased to see the cuts were already bleeding much less now.

Using his enhanced vision to check for glass splinters, he could see only one, which wasn’t too deep. When Sally held a small pair of tweezers out for him, he smiled up at her in gratitude, and then addressed Blair saying, “I’m just going to get this out for you, baby, so try not to move, OK?”

Teary eyes gazing trustingly at him, Blair nodded, biting his lip and looking about six years old.

Harrumphing in distaste, William stomped out of the kitchen, forgoing the chance of fresh coffee and deciding instead to retreat to the sanity of the office and the morning’s meeting.

------------------------

A short while later, with Blair comforted, bandaged and fed, and the kitchen cleaned up, Jim pushed his empty plate away and stood, thanking Sally as she quickly came over to clear the table.

“It’s no problem, Mr Jim,” she said. “Young Blair just got a bit of a fright, is all, and things get broken all the time in here” – which wasn’t completely true, but meant to make Blair feel better.

Patting her shoulder in appreciation, Jim helped Blair to his feet, and they left the kitchen to go to the library, where Jim intended to meet with his PA, Megan, and then get on with some paperwork and internet business that he could carry out quite satisfactorily on his home PC, which was, naturally, the most advanced model currently available!

Before moving over to his large and opulent desk, he paused for a moment, wondering what on earth Blair was going to do to keep himself occupied, when he was suddenly struck by the look of rapture that dawned on the youthful face as Blair gazed in wonder at the many volumes arranged around the library walls.

Although all the Ellisons were well-educated and enjoyed reading, Jim in particular, many of the tomes were old, either passed down from previous generations of Ellisons, or collector’s items, hardly ever touched let alone read.

Eyes wide with something akin to worship, Blair moved slowly towards the nearest shelf, reaching out a slightly shaking hand to stroke the old leather spines with gentle fingers.

Aware that the ex-student would have been well at home in such an environment, Jim slowly approached his Guide, moving close until he stood behind him.

Speaking quietly so as not to startle the young man; he said, “You can get one down if you want, Chief. As long as you look after them, you’re welcome to help yourself. Is there one in particular you’d like to start with?”

Turning to look up at the Sentinel with unadulterated joy, Blair nodded enthusiastically, and pointed to a large, battered monograph on a shelf just out of his reach.

Following the pointing finger, Jim was both surprised and pleased to see that Blair was indicating the rare book by Sir Richard Burton, the 19th century British explorer who studied Sentinels in pre-industrialised South American tribes; once dismissed as fanciful by his peers, but who was now recognised as having paved the way for modern Sentinel studies and understanding.

Smiling, Jim reached up and took the old book down from the shelf, carefully brushing off a slight film of dust, and handing it to his Guide, who handled it as if it were made of the finest bone china, and with a totally focussed expression such as Jim had never yet seen on his face.

With a smile so bright for his Sentinel that Jim thought dark glasses might be in order, Blair carefully carried his prize over to a small, low lectern which stood beside a comfortable leather easy chair, and with a final inquisitive glance at Jim to make sure all really was well, he set down the book, and made himself comfortable.

Settling himself at his own desk, and booting up his PC, Jim couldn’t resist casting frequent glances over at the young man, who was turning the pages with exaggerated care, and obviously enthralled by what he was seeing.

Of course, Jim had no way of knowing right then as to whether Blair was actually reading as opposed to looking at the black and white plates and illustrations, but he certainly seemed to be taking it in, and the look on his face was pure concentration.

Just then, he heard a cab approaching, and recognised Megan’s still strong Aussie accent as she paid off the driver, so he quietly rose to his feet and went to let her in.

“Hey Jimbo! You’re looking good!”

His friend greeted him with a wide grin. Employee she might be now, but neither of them stood on ceremony, because they knew each other far too well for that.

As he helped her out of her smart suit coat, he noticed that she was moving her left shoulder a little more stiffly than usual, but she merely shrugged at his concerned look, saying, “It’s the crap weather, love. The rain makes it ache more than usual, but it’s OK. No worries.”

She was referring to the bullet wound she had taken a while back during an attack on the Central Precinct, and which had seen her invalided out of the PD and the Australian force, both.

“If you say so, Megs,” replied Jim, with a faintly disbelieving expression on his handsome face.

“Come on into the library. There’s someone I want you to meet......”

---------------------

As they walked companionably across the expanse of hallway, Jim took a moment to check up on his friend and associate, remembering how they came to work together at Ellison Enterprises.

During Jim’s brief career in the Major Crimes Unit of Cascade PD, where he had worked after his release from the Army Rangers, his initial phenomenal success rate began to drop off as he had more and more trouble with controlling his senses, there being no one who would partner him with any regularity, and no suitable Guide available.

However, one day Inspector Megan Conner arrived on an officer exchange programme from New South Wales, Australia, and they immediately hated each other on sight!

Although both very attractive physical specimens, they struck sparks off each other, sniping almost constantly to their Captain, Simon Banks’ growing irritation.

However, as a low-level Guide herself, Megan was the only one who could offer Jim any practical help and support, so more often than not they ended up working the same cases.

Eventually, they found that they actually admired and respected each other’s work, and gradually got more comfortable with each other until the day when Jim zoned so deeply during a take-down that he decided that enough was enough and he resigned before he could get anyone killed.

Thoroughly fed up, he was finally persuaded to return to the family firm, where his undoubtedly inherited business acumen ensured that he was soon made up to CEO by the Board and his well-satisfied father.

Shortly after, Megan was shot and seriously injured, and when he heard that she was to be invalided out of the force, Jim approached her and offered her a job as his assistant, knowing how gutsy and capable she was under virtually any circumstances.

Surprised but pleased, she agreed to give it a go, and now they worked so well together that most of Jim’s business contacts assumed that she was a full partner rather than PA, as indeed she did far more for him than anyone else with that somewhat ambiguous title.

The only thing they didn’t do together was share a romantic or sexual relationship, which actually was a good thing as there was nothing to upset their easy-going camaraderie.

------------------------

Quietly opening the library door, Jim indicated that she look inside, and her grin widened appreciably as she took in the slight figure in the corner, deep in concentration as he continued to look through the old volume with an expression of wonderment on his lovely young face.

“Aw, Jimbo, he’s gorgeous! ,” Megan whispered, not wanting to startle the young man.

“How’d you get so lucky, mate? Hey, thank god he survived the blast, love.”

As she continued, her grin changed abruptly to a worried frown before she almost visibly shook herself out of the fleeting moment of concern and turned to smirk at her friend before nudging him none-too-gently in the side.

“Going to introduce me, then?” she added, eyebrow rising comically in a look of anticipation.

Laughing at his friend’s antics, he took her hand and led her over towards the small Guide.

Using a gentle tone that caused Megan to do a rapid double-take in surprise, Jim pointedly ignored her quizzical expression as he said, “Hey, Chief. This is Megan. She works with me, and you’ll be seeing a lot of each other. Come and say ‘Hi’.”

As Blair raised his head, Megan was saddened to see his immediate nervousness, so she graced him with her best and friendliest smile before holding out her hand for him to shake.

Swallowing hard, but understanding instinctively that Megan was good people, Blair fought down his desire to run, and bravely stood up to take her hand in a quick clasp, although he made sure to keep the lectern partly between them!

When she stretched her other hand forward, saying gently, “May I?” before carefully cupping his cheek, he gave her such a sweet smile that she almost burst into tears, and had to mentally kick herself for reacting like a mush-ball.

Watching the interaction, Jim found that, far from being jealous, as he had half expected, he was simply pleased and relieved that one of his best friends was clearly impressed and captivated by his little Guide.

After the introductions, the day passed comfortably with Megan and Jim animatedly discussing various deals and ventures, and Blair smiling like a kid in a candy store as he looked at book after book.

Grabbing a snack lunch provided by the estimable Sally, Blair’s lack of speech posed no problem as Megan chatted enough for the both of them, and Jim either listened indulgently or joined in where appropriate, and Blair looked from one to the other in obvious interest as he appeared to take everything in.

By mid-afternoon, with most of their business taken care of, Megan packed up the files in her briefcase and made ready to go, Jim having called a cab to take her back to the office.

Having said a cheerful thank you and goodbye to Sally, Megan walked over to where Blair was curled up on one of the comfortable library sofas, indulging in a short nap.

Touching his shoulder very gently, she said, “See you soon Sandy!” And she gave him a quick peck on the cheek almost before he had really woken properly.

Blushing delightfully, he peeked up at her from under his lashes in a completely uncontrived manner, which made her fall in love with him even more, and she winked at Jim as she left the room, saying, “You lucky dog, Jimbo!”

She patted him on the shoulder as she passed, laughing delightedly at his attempt at growling at her.

“Later, Conner!”

His tone was coloured by a totally unconvincing show of irritation, and she climbed into the waiting cab, laughing even harder as she waved goodbye.

Returning to the library, where Blair waited patiently for him to find out what he had to do next, Jim couldn’t prevent a smile from spreading across his face as he considered how lucky he was that Megs had agreed to stay and work with him.

Holding his arm out to Blair, he was pleased when the smaller man quickly came over to him to be tucked against his side in a one-armed hug, and they returned to the kitchen to see if Sally needed any help with preparing the dinner.

When the housekeeper shooed them out good-naturedly, Jim took Blair’s hand and said, “Come on, Chief. The rain’s stopped for once, so I’ll show you around the grounds....” And he led the amenable young man outside, unaware that Sally was watching the pair, eyes slightly moist as she happily contemplated her beloved Mr Jim finally having the chance to live happily ever after with that sweet young Guide.

--------------------------

Unfortunately, Blair’s surprisingly pleasant day was doomed to be spoiled again at the return of William from a very bad day at the office!

Without Jim’s support, the Board meeting hadn’t gone as well as William anticipated on several fronts, so that, on top of the fact that he was five minutes late – a shocking occurrence for him – the day was already set to go from bad to worse.

Having been approached by his ‘friend’ the Mayor during lunch at his club about the possibility of making a substantial contribution to Rainier University’s new sports complex, he found himself unexpectedly backed into a corner as his lunch companions gleefully added their exhortations until he had no choice but to surrender gracefully to their persuasion in order to prevent a severe loss of face.

Arriving back home in a foul temper, he was in no mood to be sympathetic towards his son’s idiot Guide.

Hanging his own coat up rather than wait for Sally to take it, he stalked over to the den where Jim and Blair were sitting companionably waiting for the call to dinner.

Stomping straight over to the drinks cabinet, William poured himself a healthy slug of expensive whisky and took a large swallow before turning to face the pair.

“I take it you had a bad day, Dad,” commented Jim dryly, but not unsympathetically. “Anything I can help with, or do you want to discuss what I did with the Canadian contracts?”

Frowning, William replied saying, “I’m sure you achieved more than I was able to do, so I’d prefer to hear about your deals. But you,” he continued, pointing autocratically at Blair, “Can make yourself scarce and clear out. I don’t need your wounded puppy dog eyes following my every move!”

Frowning in disgust he took another swallow of his drink as he turned back to get himself a refill, unheeding of the reaction taking place behind his back.

Eyes wide with hurt and fright, Blair looked frantically between William and Jim, not knowing what to do or who – how - to appeal to, needing only to obey and not get into trouble.

Suddenly, fear won out, and he shot to his feet and bolted out of the room like a scared rabbit.

“Good going Dad!” Jim growled sarcastically as he tracked the running footsteps, relaxing only slightly as they made their way back to the guest room. Although he desperately needed to go to comfort his Guide, he stayed just long enough to grind out, “You know Dad, if my Guide’s not welcome here, he doesn’t have to stay. He can always go to the loft.”

“Probably the best place for him.....!” William muttered unrepentantly, only to be severely taken aback when Jim snapped over his shoulder as he left the room.

“Maybe so, Dad. And I’ll go with him!” And he strode out of the den and hurried up the stairs, hating the desolate sound of his Guide’s near-silent sobs as he cried out his loneliness and fear.

Despite Jim’s best efforts, he was unable to really get through to the young man who had relapsed into his previous bewildered and nervous state, so he simply did the only thing he could, and cuddled Blair close, soothing and gentling him with his touch and murmured nonsense words until the Guide fell into an exhausted sleep.

Later that night, Jim was awakened by the sounds of Blair’s screaming nightmare, which returned in full force despite his Sentinel’s presence, only this time the demons had faces – and they all looked like William Ellison.

----------------------

The following morning it was a pale and wrung out Blair, with red-rimmed and puffy eyes who quietly entered the kitchen, almost glued to Jim’s back as he tried to remain unobtrusively out of sight.

With a low exclamation of dismay, Sally ignored his attempt to shrink away from her, and gently but firmly took hold of his hand to lead him to the table as Jim looked on, half –exasperated that she seemed to be able to get through to the hurting youngster better than he could, but admitting to himself that it was what Blair needed right now if he was to get back some sort of equilibrium.

He was bitterly angry and disappointed at his father’s uncalled-for cruelty the previous evening, which had completely undone all the progress he and Blair had made during the day.

Offering Sally a smile of encouragement, not that the feisty housekeeper really needed it, he watched as she sat his Guide down, rubbing his shoulder for a moment before placing a glass of milk and a bowl of oatmeal in front of him, honey already dolloped generously over it.

“Eat up, young Blair,” she said kindly, but in a tone which brooked no argument.

“You missed dinner again last night, little one, and you’re too skinny to keep doing that. Now, make me very happy and proud and eat up, OK?”

Of course, despite his lack of appetite, Blair could do nothing but obey, and found that, after the first two or three bites, he actually felt hungry, and the oatmeal was every bit as good as it had been yesterday.

Knowing that Sally was smiling happily at him the more he ate, he managed to finish up the bowl, and glanced shyly around to see a similar smile on Jim’s face too.

Hugely relieved that Jim wasn’t mad with him, he relaxed a little more, and drank his milk also, which made Sally clap her hands in glee.

“Better, young Blair! Much, much better!”

She laughed delightedly, and carefully ruffled his hair even as Jim gave him a quick, one-armed hug before tucking in to his own plate of eggs and toast.

“Tomorrow, if you’d like a change, you can have eggs like Mr Jim.” Sally continued speaking, maintaining her gentle chatter to keep the boy at ease. “Do you think you would like that?” She tilted his face up to hers.

She was more than pleased when the tiniest smile appeared on the solemn little face, accompanied by a slight nod, and she patted his cheek kindly before clearing away the dirty plates and taking them over to the sink.

“Then I shall do my special eggs for you both!” she said, nodding happily.

“Now, if you’ve done, go away and leave me in peace!”

Her words were jokingly said, but she did check to make sure Blair hadn’t taken them the wrong way and gotten upset again!

As Jim thanked her, and Blair’s expressive face silently concurred, she shooed them away with a flap of her hand and started the preparations for baking cookies – something she had been in the habit of doing when the boys were little, and in need of some comfort food.

-------------------------

That day, Jim was firmly decided that he wasn’t doing any work per se, only what couldn’t be avoided, such as emails and a few telephone calls. Instead, he was going to spend what he hoped would be quality time with Blair, showing him how his touch helped ground his Sentinel, secretly hoping that perhaps Blair’s previously brilliant mind was less impaired than his doctors believed.

Jim knew that Blair had to continue with his medical and psychiatric care, and, in fact, had a follow-up appointment with the Ellison’s private physician scheduled for two days’ time to check on the progress of his skin grafts. However, he was strongly of the opinion that, if only he could get Blair to talk, they could effectively work out a lot more between them as a partnership than an outsider could.

Glad that William was making himself scarce today, not wishing to anger Jim any more than he had already, Jim steered Blair back into the library, where he reached up and pulled out the old monograph again.

Pulling Blair down to sit beside him on the sofa, he opened the book on his knee, and said, “You liked this book yesterday, Chief. Can you show me what you liked best?”

And he waited patiently (and how amazing was that! he chided himself) for Blair to react.

Gazing worriedly at the book and back to Jim, Blair chewed his lip, knowing that he was expected to respond, but sure that, if he did so verbally, the game would be up and he was doomed.

But how could he not answer when this man, who had been so good to him, demanded a reply?

Suddenly he knew what to do, and, with a flash of inspiration, he leaned forward and, after glancing up at Jim to check that it was OK, he pulled the book onto his own lap and began to turn the pages, desperately seeking the picture that would express what he would dearly love to say out loud.

And then there it was – a black and white plate of a warrior, standing proud and tall, spear in hand, next to a smaller man dressed in skins and with beads and feathers braided into his wild locks.

Daringly reaching over to grasp Jim’s wrist, he pointed first to the tall figure in the picture, and then at Jim’s chest, repeating the action a couple of times to make sure Jim understood. Then he blushed, and pointed to the small, shaman-like man, before patting his own chest, looking up at Jim to see if he had done right.

He was almost undone when he saw the expression on the Sentinel’s face.

Jim was utterly amazed at what he had just witnessed. If this meant what he fervently hoped it did, Blair actually did understand the basics of what their roles were as Sentinel and Guide. He may not have had any formal training before the accident, but it appeared that there was nothing wrong with his observational skills and reasoning power even if he could no longer remember anything about his past life and, without words to express himself, even that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Face finally breaking into the widest smile he could ever remember wearing, Jim spoke, almost breathless with unaccustomed emotion.

“I get you, baby! I understand – and so do you! Thank the gods we can make this work, little one! I’m sure of it now, and I want you to know that you’ll be safe with me always, sweetheart!”

Pulling the smaller body close he hugged Blair for long minutes while they gratefully took comfort from each other according to their individual needs.

----------------------------------

The next few days saw some remarkable progress, if somewhat patchy.

As far as Sally was concerned, everything was positive, and the future looked bright.

She was immensely taken with her newly adopted ‘son’, coddling him unremittingly and loving his sweet nature and gentle disposition. But that wasn’t the only reason she was so taken with him.

No, she was also grateful in the extreme that he had been instrumental in bringing out the softer, more selfless part of Mr Jim’s personality, which she had always known to have existed, but which had been gradually submerged beneath the weight of William’s strict parenting and Jim’s subsequent career disappointments, mostly due to problems concerning his unguided senses.

Now, however, caring for and interacting with the fragile young man under his protection was resurrecting the side to her beloved Mr Jim that she now realised she had missed very much.

As far as William was concerned, he very much resented having to tiptoe around his son’s pathetic little Guide in his own domain, but he had been so shaken by Jim’s very real threat to leave the family home that he decided to avoid further confrontation by simply ignoring the young man wherever possible; something which suited Blair completely.

Physically, Blair continued to improve by leaps and bounds, thanks to the ongoing care he received from Sally and Jim, and the good food he was enjoying.

A visit to the Ellison’s family physician to check out his healing back confirmed that the grafts had taken very well, and the tender areas of new skin were much better, although still painful under pressure, not that sentinel-sensitive touch would ever be the cause of that!

Further tests and a CAT scan also showed that, although there were obvious areas of damage in certain specific regions of Blair’s brain, the actual brain activity was significantly better than the original prognosis had suggested, very possibly due to the stimulation he was receiving on a regular basis through continued interaction with Jim.

This information pleased Jim no end, but also left him irritated and frustrated on occasion, mainly on account of Blair’s continued adamant refusal to attempt to speak.

Jim knew to his cost that Blair’s vocal chords were intact, having been subjected to his Guide’s screams and wordless cries at night, so there was obviously a deeper psychological barrier preventing him from even trying.

Although they were now sleeping together, albeit still platonically, as Jim needed to be on hand to hold and comfort Blair in the painful aftermath, the nightmares persisted, refusing to be banished completely, even if they could be tempered by the Sentinel’s mere presence and touch.

During the day, although Jim had to do a certain amount of work, he tried to keep it to the bare minimum for the present even though he knew he would be playing big-time catch-up once his Guide was well enough for Jim to return to his senior position.

The bonus for both of them was that working from home meant that Megan was a frequent visitor, bringing with her the latest issues of magazines for Blair, such as National Geographic, Archaeology and Anthropology Today. She absolutely doted on him, much to Jim’s satisfaction, and both of them hoped that the extra stimulus provided would aid Blair’s recovery.

Even if it didn’t, he was plainly thrilled with the gifts, and after bestowing beaming smiles of gratitude on her, he would settle down with his treasures in the library, and be totally absorbed in moments leaving Megan and Jim free to get on with their more mundane tasks.

----------------------

A week or so after Blair’s arrival, Jim’s former boss and personal friend, Captain Simon Banks of Cascade PD’s Major Crimes Unit dropped by to see how things were progressing.

After being ushered through to the library by Sally, he was slightly taken aback to see the tough ex-Ranger and ex-detective settled on one of the sofas with an open book on his lap, and an armful of Guide cuddled close, plainly focussed on the page’s contents.

Already well aware of his visitor’s arrival, and grinning up somewhat wryly at the tall African American, Jim said teasingly, “Hey, Simon! Good to see you! Are you here to check on my progress?”

Disconcerted, Simon coughed a little to cover his slight embarrassment as Blair, alerted to his presence, quickly turned his head to gaze at the big man, eyes huge and questioning, and a rather uneasy expression spreading over his pale face as he gripped the front of Jim’s sweater, seeking reassurance.

Before Simon could reply, Jim instantly turned his attention back to his Guide, patting the white-knuckled hand clinging to his clothing, and whispering something into Blair’s ear.

Whatever he said did the trick, and Blair relaxed infinitesimally as Jim spoke up again, saying, “Sorry, Simon. Blair has had very little social interaction recently, and gets a bit worried when he sees a new face. Come on, babe,” he continued, addressing Blair, “Let’s get up and say hello to Simon, OK? Simon’s one of the policemen who helped you when you were hurt. He’s a good friend.”

Chewing his lip a little, but doing his best to do as Jim said, Blair stood, still holding on to the handful of sweater for moral support, and, along with Jim, moved towards the visitor despite his perceptible nervousness.

As Simon looked at the small hand held shyly out to him to shake, he was deeply moved by the young man’s courage, especially since the last time he had seen Blair was shortly before he was moved from Cascade General to Conover, battered, shocked and virtually catatonic.

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Blair.”

Simon spoke softly, carefully taking the small hand in his much larger one.

“It’s good to see you looking so well. This guy’s obviously looking after you OK!”

Offering a small smile and nod of agreement, Blair squeezed the other man’s hand slightly, and then let go to back up once again to lean against Jim, back to chest as the Sentinel wrapped one arm comfortably around the Guide’s waist, holding out the other hand to shake Simon’s.

“Yep, he’s doing really well, and I need to thank you once again for all the detective work you did for me on his behalf. My senses have never been so good, Simon, and once we’ve bonded fully, I’m certain they’ll be even better – but I’m not coming back to the PD!” he said with a laugh. “Come on and take a seat for a bit. I know Sally’s on her way with fresh coffee and cookies, and she’ll be very disappointed in you if you turn her down.”

Grinning at his friend, and knowing only too well how good Sally’s cookies were, Simon took a seat opposite Jim and Blair, saying, “Well, how could I resist? No one but a fool would turn down the best cookies in Cascade, and Mrs Banks’ son is no fool!”

As he spoke, the diminutive housekeeper arrived pushing a small trolley bearing the appropriate china, sugar and cream; a pot of fresh coffee, a tall glass of milk for Blair, and a plate piled with a variety of delicious-smelling cookies, obviously still warm from the oven.

Smiling graciously at Simon and Jim’s words of thanks, and winking in response to Blair’s happy grin, she left them to visit for a while.

Having enjoyed the coffee and cookies, Jim and Simon chatted companionably for some time, catching up on the progress of mutual friends in the department, while Blair curled up unobtrusively at Jim’s side and looked on with interest until he dozed off, head falling to rest comfortably on Jim’s shoulder.

Smiling fondly at the sleeping Guide, Jim settled his arm a bit more securely around the thin shoulders before looking up at his friend.

“Sorry, Simon. He has a tendency to drop off sometimes without warning. I’m afraid he’s not very strong yet, and he doesn’t always sleep very well, as he still has really bad nightmares. Trouble is,” he continued sadly, “I can’t help him that much without knowing what’s troubling him, and that’s not possible as long as he can’t – or won’t – speak.”

“Um, yes, about that...”

Simon began slowly, not wanting to upset the man he counted as one of his best friends.

“I gather that you two need to bond physically, but how will that work when he’s still not really ready? I mean, don’t get me wrong, Jim – I’m really pleased that you found him, but how will you manage if he’s never well enough to understand, or even tolerate the sexual side? Is what you share already going to be enough to last you both for a lifetime?”

Although Jim’s instinctive reaction was to snap at his friend and tell him to mind his own business, the sensible part of him recognised Simon’s genuine concern, so he did his best to offer a reasonable answer.

Pausing for a moment to compose his response, Jim finally said quietly, “You’re right Simon, insofar as it’s true he’s not ready yet. Physically he’s still frail, and mentally, I have no idea how he will respond to my advances. Having said that, he always does his best to do what I ask, and is devoted to both me and Sally – and Conner also!” he added with a grin, “She spoils him rotten! But, to answer your question, yes, I can manage. I have to, because the alternative would be to force him to my will, and I’ll never do that, however much I desire him. It would be tantamount to rape, Simon! The instinctive guiding he provides me with even now is so much better than I’ve ever had, so if I have to, I’ll live with this level of control for as long as I have to.”

Gazing long and hard at Jim, Simon knew the man was totally sincere in his declaration, and he knew he would have to be content with that.

Smiling in return he said, “Well, I’m pleased to hear it, Jim. But now, I must take my leave. Crime waits for no man in Cascade as you well know, and I have yet another waste-of-time meeting with the Commissioner in two hours, so I‘ll say goodbye for now. Don’t get up. I wouldn’t want you to wake Blair!”

He spoke gently as Jim made to move, and when his friend settled back down with a nod and smile of appreciation, he turned to leave.

However, despite his encouraging words, as Simon drove away he sighed disconsolately and shook his head sadly as he allowed himself to contemplate what he truly believed – that the partial Sentinel and Guide bond they shared would never be sound enough to allow his friends to work together to any really satisfactory degree, and that Jim’s words were merely optimistic rather than prophetic.

------------------------

Despite Simon’s pessimism however, progress continued to be made in the Ellison Mansion.

Little by little Blair blossomed under Jim’s constant attention, trying so hard to do as Jim asked; unconscious of how deeply moved his Sentinel became when he beheld his Guide’s almost childlike trust in and devotion to the man who was now the centre of his admittedly restricted universe.

Listening carefully to Jim’s instructions and explanations, he seemed to know instinctively how to apply the practical techniques, grounding Jim with touch and scent and apparently having no problems with being held and scented as needed.

The one thing he couldn’t bring himself to do, however, was to attempt to speak, even though he knew Jim desperately wanted to hear his voice. He remained utterly convinced that his silence was the only means by which he could temporarily hold back the demons who continued to hound him at night, wanting only to give his new friend as much time as he possibly could. If he understood anything, it was that he was growing to love this special person who seemed to care so much about him, hurt or not, and he was in no hurry to be driven away to the abyss where there was nothing but pain despair.

As far as Jim was concerned, he couldn’t help but feel protective towards the fragile young man, knowing that, even though possessiveness and the urge to protect the Guide were a prerequisite for Sentinels in general, the extent of his need to do so seemed to be greater than he would ever have envisaged.

Although he was well aware that his father considered Blair to be little more than a particularly useful pet, and valued accordingly, he knew that he was growing more and more fond of the young man’s mind and soul as it was revealed bit by bit, as his physical attraction to Blair’s beauty increased as Blair healed, looking healthier and a little less pale and drawn every day.

The downside, of course, remained the lack of real verbal communication, since, although Blair plainly understood much of what Jim had to say, he still refused to try to vocalise his responses. However, a breakthrough on this front improved the situation dramatically, and progress sped up accordingly.

During one of their one-sided interactions, a frustrated Jim couldn’t help but compare it to the old party game of ‘Charades’ with all the frantic hand movements and gestures they exchanged. That train of thought led to him recalling a drawing game he had played as a child, something involving word pictures. In that game, one player in a team had to take and read some sort of secret question or phrase from a pack of cards placed face-down, then had a limited time to ‘draw’ the answer in such a way that the other team members could guess it without the use of letters or numbers.

Although Blair seemed unable to ‘write’ now, his hand seemingly uncoordinated when he tried to put pen to paper to form letters, he found that he could often ‘draw’ what he wanted to imply, at least well enough for Jim to get a better idea of just how much his Guide actually comprehended, and Blair began to carry a small drawing pad and pencil around with him, immensely proud to be able to please Jim, and beaming happily when he was praised for getting something correct.

---------------------------------

Unfortunately for the Sentinel and his Guide in particular, an unforeseen and completely unexpected incident served to halt this progress temporarily, denting Blair’s hard-won confidence and setting him back until Jim helped him recover the lost ground.

One morning, a couple of days after Blair had started to ‘draw’ his responses for Jim, and they were ensconced in the library light-heartedly practicing this new achievement, an unexpected visitor arrived in the shape of Blair’s mentor from Rainier, none other than Dr Eli Stoddard himself.

Genuinely fond of his favourite student, the older academic had been upset at Blair’s accident, and, once he had found out what had become of his brilliant young friend, he decided to see for himself what progress was being made.

Unfortunately as it transpired, he found himself totally unprepared and emotionally incapable of coping with what turned out to be a very uncomfortable experience.

When the professor was shown into the library by Sally, he was greeted affably by Jim, who had monitored his arrival and was secretly hoping that the visit might do Blair a lot of good.

Shaking the older man’s hand, he said, “I’m very pleased to meet you, Dr Stoddard. I understand that you were Blair’s mentor at Rainier and helped him both academically and socially. I think – hope – he’ll be very pleased to see you.”

“As I shall be to see him!” Stoddard replied with a slightly forced joviality.

“Now, where is that young rascal?” He peered around Jim’s impressive bulk to get his first glimpse of Blair for many weeks. To say that he was shocked at the sight would have been an understatement.

The bouncing, self-confident and garrulous student had been effectively replaced by a pale, sombre and still too-slender young man, who’s mournful and anxious eyes seemed too large in his thin face. His long curls had been shorn, and an uneven patch barely covered the area where Eli was certain the injury and subsequent surgery had occurred.

Although he came forward obediently as Jim beckoned to him, and shyly offered his hand to his erstwhile teacher, there was no initial spark of recognition in the wide blue eyes.

However, when Eli spoke directly to him, something definitely stirred in the blue depths, and he cocked his head slightly to one side, a perplexed expression on his face as he contemplated the man who stood before him wearing a somewhat fixed smile on his face.

Although both Jim and Stoddard instantly recognised this moment of awareness, unfortunately it eventually came to nothing as Blair couldn’t seem to make any further connections to lost memories and only grew more and more upset as the older man attempted to converse with him, mentioning mutual friends, papers they had worked on and expeditions they had been on together.

Eli realised unhappily that, although he had been mightily fond of his star pupil, he now found himself completely incapable of dealing with this broken shadow of Blair’s former self, and he could see that he was simply upsetting the young man unnecessarily as the boy shut down and withdrew into himself, apparently ashamed of his inability to converse with or otherwise make contact with this man who he understood had been very important to him before the demons arrived.

It was to everyone’s relief therefore, when Eli sensibly cut the visit short and made his excuses to leave, with Jim showing him to his car after squeezing Blair’s nape gently and telling the anxious Guide to wait inside for him.

Shaking the older man’s hand in farewell, Jim said, “I’m truly sorry, Dr Stoddard. I had hoped that seeing you might bring back some good memories for Blair, but it wasn’t to be. It must be hard for you to see him like this, but I appreciate you taking the time to come see him for yourself. I just want you to know that I’ll continue to look after him, and he’ll always have a home with me whatever happens.”

With a deep sigh, the older man responded, “I’m sorry too, Mr Ellison. I’ve always been very fond of that boy, and he was so brilliant, so bright! I had great hopes for his future and I’m ashamed to say I find myself completely unable to deal with him as he is now. It’s my problem, I know, but I have to be honest and admit that it is too hard for me to see him like this. However, I should truly appreciate the occasional update on his progress if you have the time, as I don’t want to lose touch completely. Would that be acceptable to you?”

Deeply disappointed, but understanding and accepting the older man’s point of view, Jim pursed his lips before nodding his agreement.

“Yeah, I’ll do that, Dr Stoddard. I just hope that it won’t be so very long until I’ll have some real progress to report! You never know,” he continued with a wry grin, “He just might get back to a point where he can continue with some type of further education, but right now I’d have to say that it’s a remote chance. But I’ll keep in touch, and thanks again for making the effort to see him.”

With that, he handed the older man into his car, and watched as it drove off, standing for a long moment deep in thought before returning to the house where a worried Guide awaited him.

---------------------------

It was a couple more days until they made up the lost ground, but Blair soon recovered most of his lost confidence with Jim’s support and the constant repetition by both his Sentinel and Sally of the fact that they believed that Blair was improving noticeably, and he shouldn’t expect an instant cure.

Nevertheless, it was almost three weeks now since Jim had first brought his Guide home, and, despite how fond he had grown of the young man, he was beginning to get a little ‘stir crazy’, cooped up in the Mansion with his small ‘family’, and only the occasional unexpected visitor, plus Megan, of course, to break the monotony.

Added to which, William remained remote, and only spoke to Jim with anything like cordiality when his son’s Guide wasn’t present. When he appeared, William would become icily polite, and excuse himself with a mere nod in Blair’s general direction.

Suffice it to say that Jim was more than a little disturbed by his father’s obstinate insistence on shunning his Guide, but he hadn’t the energy or will to work at remedying the situation at present.

He was also getting a little antsy about being away from the office, as, even though he had initially accepted his father’s offer of employment with somewhat bad grace, he had found that the CEO’s role was actually quite stimulating and challenging in it’s own way, and that he was good at his work.

He was therefore loath to stay away from the centre of the action for any longer than necessary, despite Megan’s inestimable contribution to his ability to achieve a reasonable amount from home.

He therefore decided to start taking Blair out on short trips to get him used to leaving the security of the Mansion, and to seeing the outside world and its inhabitants again, although he was careful to limit their social interaction as Blair was too fragile yet to be subjected to unsympathetic scrutiny.

It was inevitable, however, that he would occasionally run into business associates and acquaintances, but he swiftly nipped any implied or overt criticism of his Guide in the bud, and his reputation and demeanour ensured that no one repeated their mistake, at least in his hearing, which, for a Sentinel, was over a very great distance!

He also made a point of driving around Rainier’s campus, but, although Blair seemed to perk up at the sight of landmarks such as the ornamental fountain, the library, and Hargrove Hall, which housed the Anthropology Department, the reaction was fleeting and made no obvious impact on him, much to Jim’s disappointment.

As he drove, he contemplated the small figure beside him, apparently lost in his own world, and he was led to think of a science fiction programme he had seen several years back. In it, some scientist was shifted from one place and time to another, apparently quite randomly, to right wrongs and reset history, but every time he landed he only had partial memories of the place. On the programme his brain was likened to a Swiss cheese – full of holes and gaps – and Jim had a fanciful notion that maybe Blair’s brain was like that at the moment.

But he prayed to whatever powers existed that the gaps in Blair’s memory be eventually filled, or replaced by better ones as he healed, even if he would never be quite the same ever again.

----------------------

Events came to a head very soon after that.

As Jim’s senses were so much better now, as long as Blair was close enough to ground them, he decided that he would return to the office, for at least a short period every day with his Guide in tow, certain that Megan would keep a careful eye on the boy when necessary so he wouldn’t get too upset when Jim inevitably had to leave him alone for meetings and such.

However, on the morning they were due to make their first visit to Ellison Enterprises’ Head Office, Jim was exceptionally tired, due to Blair’s prolonged nightmares, possibly exacerbated by anxiety over the coming trip.

Deciding to take a stroll around the grounds after breakfast before setting out, to hopefully blow away some of the cobwebs which seemed to clog his mind, Jim tucked Blair under his arm and they wandered out towards the large ornamental pool which Blair particularly loved on account of the many fish that occupied it.

With a delighted grin, Blair broke away from Jim to run the last few steps to the pool, where he knelt down to stir the water with his finger, giggling happily as the fish swam up to investigate the intruder.

Smiling indulgently, Jim gazed at his Guide, automatically monitoring his physical condition, and finding himself contemplating the dark auburn curls, which were finally gaining enough length to begin to develop golden highlights which glinted in the weak early morning Cascade sunshine.

Too tired to divide his concentration by employing another sense, Jim gradually lost himself in the iridescent colours and textures of Blair’s hair, dropping quickly into a deep zone the like of which he hadn’t suffered since he resigned from the PD.

After long minutes, Blair suddenly became aware that all was not well with his Sentinel.

Turning to gaze fearfully at the motionless figure whose unblinking stare seemed to look right through him, Blair managed to curb his desire to run only with great difficulty, while he somehow knew instinctively what was wrong.

Although he had never witnessed a zone before, in Jim or any other Sentinel, he seemed to recognise the symptoms as he also realised what he had to do, although the actions required frightened him greatly.

Very distressed, but knowing that there was no way he could leave his special friend in this condition, he hurried towards the ‘human statue’ and began to gently rub Jim’s chest and biceps with urgent hands, trying to stimulate Jim’s sense of touch.

He even reached up on tiptoe to blow carefully into his Sentinel’s nostrils, hoping that scent would be enough to bring him out of his stupor.

However, when even that failed to do more than stimulate the tiniest of reactions, he knew without a doubt that he would have to make the ultimate choice – to break his silence and let Jim hear his speaking voice, even though he was fully aware that he was damning himself in the doing.

Tears streaming down his pale cheeks, more because he didn’t want to leave his Sentinel alone rather than on his own behalf, he swallowed hard, trying to work his long disused throat as he formed the words in his mind and on his lips.

Breathing heavily, he croaked out the first words he had spoken since the explosion, finally saying what Jim wanted to hear.

“Hi, Jim.”

When the world didn’t end immediately he repeated the words with a little more bravado, even though he just knew the demons were rubbing their hands in glee waiting for him.

“Hi Jim, Hi Jim, Hi Jim!”

And suddenly Jim was back, openly amazed at what his Guide had done to bring him out of the zone, but utterly undone by Blair’s deep distress as the young man cringed in expectation of his immediate consignment to Hell.

As he pulled the distraught young man to him, Blair threw his arms around Jim’s waist, sobbing loudly and stammering, “Mmmmmmm...mmmm..ssssorry! Mmm...s s sorry! Gggggot to gggg go now! S sssorrryyyy!”

“Jeez, baby! What do you mean, go? You’ve been incredible – pulled me out of one of the deepest zones I think I’ve ever had! Why should you go anywhere?”

But Blair seemed to be inconsolable, obviously expecting the world to end then and there, and burying his face into Jim’s chest so he wouldn’t see it coming.

Thinking he could do nothing else, Jim half led, half carried the trembling Guide to the relative safety of the library, where he sat them both down on the sofa, Blair cuddled on his lap.

Lifting the troubled face to meet his gaze, Jim asked, “What is it, baby? Why do you think you’ve got to go? What’s wrong?”

Gulping loudly, and gazing furtively from side to side, then back to Jim’s face Blair whispered, “Ddddddemons! Cccccoming ffffor me now! DDemmmmonnnssss!”

“I’m sorry, little one, but I don’t understand,” said Jim gently, cupping the tearful face in his hands.

“Can you explain to me why you’re so afraid? What demons? Why would you think they’re coming for you?”

“Going to Hell!” whispered Blair. “I have to go now. T T taking me to Hell. Beeennn badddd! Going ttttto Hell. So sorry! Didn’t wwwwant to llleave you!”

Suddenly Jim had an epiphany, and gripping the small face more firmly now he said, “Is this about your nightmares, Chief? Is this what you dream about?”

Unable to look away or deny his beloved Sentinel, Blair flushed deep red with shame, and nodded.

“Yyyesss, Jimmmm. Hell ffffire! Ccomming to ggget me ‘cos I tttalked. Bbut I couldn’t hhhelp it! Yyou nneeded me! I ccouldn’t hhhelp it!!!”

And he burst into floods of tears, clinging hopelessly to Jim’s suit coat collar, expecting to be dragged away at any moment.

Deliberately pausing to think things through, because he knew that, for both their sakes, he couldn’t blow this; Jim finally pulled Blair upright again and looked him straight in the eye.

“Do you trust me, baby? Do you believe that I love you, and will do everything I can to protect you?”

He waited with bated breath for the response he so needed to hear.

For a long moment, during which Jim imagined he’d died a hundred deaths, Blair was ominously silent, plainly confused by the apparent non sequitur.

Finally he nodded, and whispered, “Yyess, Jim. I know yyyou llove me. And I’m so ssorry to let you ddown."

Smiling softly, Jim held his Guide’s gaze as he said deliberately, “You are NOT going to Hell, baby. I can guarantee it. When the warehouse blew up and hurt you so badly, the last thing you remembered was the fiery explosion, am I right?”

At Blair’s tentative nod, he continued.

“What I believe, little one, is that when you woke up, you somehow thought that the explosion was your fault. Maybe you thought you had done something wrong, although, knowing you, I doubt that very much. Thing is, I can and will say that you’re mistaken, baby. The blast was entirely down to the stupidity of the bad guys, and you were the innocent victim. I need you to believe that sweetheart, because not only is it the truth, but your very sanity – and mine – depends upon it. Can you do that, baby?”

Giving his Guide the time he needed to analyse his statement, even though he was almost twitching with impatience and nerves, he sagged with relief at Blair’s answer.

“I I I do believe you, Jim. And I’ll really ttttry ttto sssstayy with yyyou. But ppplease, I I need yyou to hhelp mme. I donn’t thththink I can dooo it alone.”

Hugging his Guide close and tucking the beloved face into his neck, Jim said, “You got it, baby! My Guide! I’ll protect and care for you until the day I die! I swear it, sweetheart!”

And they clung to each other, shedding tears of relief as well as of love, committing themselves to each other as long as they both should live.

---------------------

Sometime later, having informed Sally of their change of plan as regards going to the office, they retired to their bedroom where their routine changed significantly.

Believing that the moment had arrived for them to take the final step and complete the bond, Jim needed to settle and prepare his Guide with great care, as he was certain that Blair had never had any type of male sex before, and possibly not even gone the whole distance with a girl. The last thing he wanted to do was frighten or hurt the younger man, even though Blair seemed so anxious to please him.

Turning Blair to face him, he was almost undone by the trust and love he could see shining from the gorgeous blue eyes, as, despite the drying tear-tracks streaking his Guide’s cheeks, he doubted he’d ever seen anything so beautiful, and the realisation was more than a little disturbing on account that he so didn’t want to do anything to spoil that expression or damage the emotion behind it.

“Let me undress you, baby,” he whispered.

“I want to pamper you a bit, and we didn’t have much time to enjoy our shower this morning, so let’s have a better one now, shall we?”

And when Blair nodded and whispered, “Yyyes ppleease, J J Jim.”

He began to carefully remove the smaller man’s clothing piece by piece, but slowly, because there was no way he was going to rush any part of this final consummation.

When Blair finally stood naked before him, eyes still full of trust, although beginning to shiver very slightly in the cool air of the bedroom, Jim quickly stripped off his own clothing and guided his soon-to-be lover into the bathroom, where he wrapped the slender figure in a warm, fluffy towel until he was satisfied with the temperature of the water in the large shower cubicle.

As Blair dropped the towel, and took his hand, Jim led him under the warm spray, and began to wash him as he had become accustomed to; so gently, careful not to let any soap get into his eyes or put too much pressure on still-tender skin.

However, this time, the touch of the large, gentle hands was more insistent and stimulating over his sensitive areas, handling and stroking his bottom and genitals with confidence, sentinel-sensitivity discerning exactly how much or how little pressure to use until Blair found himself trembling with an arousal the like of which he was sure he had never had before.

Not knowing what exactly he was asking for, he reached up and threw his arms around Jim’s neck, murmuring, “P p please, Jim, Please!”

And his Sentinel nodded, seeming to understand completely as he said, “Yes, baby! Yes...!”

Jim shut off the water, grabbing a towel to dry off the beloved little body without completely letting go of Blair, until he was forced to quickly dry himself off.

Scooping the slender figure into his arms, he marched back to the bed, and, after leaning down to pull back the comforter, he placed his precious bundle in the centre of the bed, taking a few moments simply to drink in the sight of the delight awaiting him before climbing onto the bed himself to take Blair into his arms once again.

Carefully running a hand through the short curls, Jim encouraged his Guide to raise his face to meet his ardent gaze, and whispered, “Can I kiss you, baby?”

When Blair nodded shyly and lifted his face a little more, Jim lowered his own face, touching his lips to the lush mouth below, and finding himself instantly addicted to the flavour and texture of the soft skin.

Although he had tasted his Guide before, with gentle licks and kisses to the boy’s throat and shoulders when they cuddled at night, as his tongue asked for, and was granted entry into the warm cavern of Blair’s mouth, he was treated to a whole new experience in heat, piquancy and the true essence of his lover, such that he wanted never to stop kissing and exploring the freely offered treat.

Eventually breaking away simply through the necessity of them both having to breathe, Jim smiled into the somewhat stunned eyes looking up into his and said, “Wow, baby! You taste wonderful! Are you OK so far?”

When Blair nodded and grinned a little, reassuring his Sentinel that yes, all was well, Jim kissed his brow lovingly, then gave himself leave to explore the small body properly, licking, kissing and tasting until there wasn’t an inch of skin untouched, and Blair was writhing in passion, whimpering for, “Mmmmore! MMmmmooore, Ppplease!”

At that point, Jim paused, speaking softly as he unobtrusively reached for the tube of lube he had stashed in the nightstand drawer.

“Can I get you ready, baby? I need to be inside you. The bond is calling to me, and, I hope, to you also. We’ve waited long enough, sweetheart....”

And he was vastly relieved when Blair nodded enthusiastically, because he wasn’t sure that he could have controlled himself any longer if his Guide had refused.

Parting Blair’s legs so he could reach his most private place, he rubbed the tiny pucker with a well-lubed finger, carefully monitoring each tiny movement and hitching breath, to be reassured when Blair, face radiant with love, nodded eagerly, granting him permission to explore and stretch the tiny hole until his lover thrashed in desperate arousal, keening and pleading for Jim to just get in there!

Never one to turn down an invitation like that, Jim lubed himself up thoroughly, and began to push gently against the stretched and slippery hole. Although Blair stilled, and his own erection flagged a little at the pressure from the large intruder, Jim was able to control his urge to push – though with a mighty effort – and, taking his Guide’s softening cock in his large hand, began to stroke and stimulate until Blair was once more hard and moaning, and Jim knew it was time to move.

Gradually increasing his thrusts in speed and depth, he and Blair rose higher and higher in growing passion and ecstasy until they came within seconds of each other, and the bright flash of mutual enlightenment filled their minds as they instantly learned and understood everything they needed to know about each other to complete the full Sentinel and Guide life-bond, and their pact of love was sealed for eternity.

------------------------------

In the drowsy aftermath of the bond, they cuddled together in their usual sleeping positions, with a dozing Blair lying half on top of his bigger lover, curly head tucked under Jim’s chin, and one hand resting on the broad chest while he pinned Jim’s thighs with a leg thrown carelessly across, almost as if he was trying to prevent any attempt by his Sentinel to escape.

Dropping a kiss on the crown of his new lover’s head, Jim smiled fondly before slipping into sleep himself, arms wrapped comfortably around his Guide, and feeling more at peace than he would ever have imagined.

Not that he thought that everything would be miraculously perfect from now on, but he was certain that they were on the way now to creating for themselves a good and loving working partnership.

However, after an hour or so, Blair began to twitch and whimper in his sleep, and Jim, instantly on the alert, knew that his lover was once again trapped in his horrific dream.

This time though, and afterwards Jim would never be able to explain plausibly how it could have happened, suddenly he was there, inside Blair’s nightmare, and witnessing firsthand the terrified youngster’s desperate attempts to escape the pursuing horrors and avoid the pitch black abyss.

And he was able to help.

At the very brink of the gaping chasm, he caught his Guide, and together, bolstered by the strength of their bond and their mutual trust, they turned as one to face the oncoming shapes, who halted uncertainly, still threatening, but now fading like smoke dispersing in the breeze, until with despairing howls, they were suddenly no more, and the hell-mouth slammed shut to leave the pair of them gasping and trembling, but whole and unharmed back in their bed.

Turning to gaze incredulously into the wide, shocked eyes of his lover, Jim breathed, “Are you OK, little one? Did you see what I saw?”

At Blair’s nod, he took a deep breath, and said, half to himself, “Wow! Major weirdness,” before turning back to the figure in his arms; which was still shivering in reaction.

As he cuddled Blair tighter, and rubbed his back soothingly, Blair whispered into his neck, “Hhhow, Jim? How did you d d do it?”

Pausing to gather his thoughts, Jim finally replied, saying, “Beats me, little one. It’s pretty much beyond my experience or comprehension, and I’m as sure as I can be that I’ve never heard the like at the Sentinel Department. Perhaps it’s the bond, or just some sort of ‘Outer Limits’ thing, or a combination of the two I honestly don’t know, but what I truly believe is that you’re free now, and there’s nothing to hold you back from healing and making the most of the partnership we have. It only needs you to be convinced of the same thing, baby.”

And Blair suddenly smiled, and for Jim it was like the sun coming out after the storm.

“Yes, Jim. You’re r right – and I I am!”

-----------------------------

Part 2. The Journey Back:

A short while later, after indulging in some more cuddling, and a very pleasurable shower, the two went downstairs, arms wrapped around each other, and made their way to the kitchen, smiling into each other’s eyes, and with Blair almost bouncing alongside his tolerant and quietly amused Sentinel.

To say that Sally was astounded to see them behaving like that would be an understatement.

When Jim had first dropped by to tell her that their plans had changed, and that they wouldn’t be going in to the office, he had looked so pale and shaken, and Blair even more so, that she had immediately feared the worst, that the pair had some sort of major emotional catastrophe, and she had been almost beside herself with worry ever since.

She had certainly been right about the ‘major’ part, but she could see now that, far from catastrophic, they had patently attained some truly significant stage in their relationship, and she so hoped that it meant that they had now bonded fully.

Crossing quickly over to the pair, she gasped, “Oh Mr Jim! Blair! Are you really alright? I was so worried when you went back upstairs. I knew something must have happened, but didn’t know what to do, or if I should call someone!”

Grinning fondly but rather ruefully at the small housekeeper, Jim said, “No, Sally. Nothing’s wrong. And we’re really sorry to have frightened you like that. In fact, everything’s fine! When we went out into the garden after breakfast, I was so tired I zoned big-time, but this young rascal pulled me out. And he used his voice to do it! We were both shaken, but yes, we’ve taken the final step at last, and I should like to introduce you to my courageous partner and bonded Guide, Blair Sandburg!”

And he dropped a gentle kiss on the older woman’s cheek.

As her expression lightened to one of open joy and amazement, a blushing Blair shyly held out his hand and said quietly but resolutely, “P p pleased to m m meet you, Sally”.

Taking the outstretched hand in both of hers, she gazed at him for a moment, pleasure evident on her face before she answered, “And I am so pleased to meet you, Blair! You have a lovely voice child!”

She leaned forward to kiss his cheek before holding out her arms to both of them so they could enjoy a hearty group hug, with Jim actually lifting the tiny woman from the floor for a few seconds before spinning her around as she shrieked with laughter like a young girl.

It was into this light-hearted scene that William walked, closely followed by Steven.

“Just what the Hell is going on here? I thought you were sick, Jimmy! When Sally called to tell me you weren’t coming in after all, I assumed something was wrong with you – or HIM.”

He growled, indicating Blair, who had fallen silent and had withdrawn into the wide-eyed and nervous behaviour William’s presence always brought on.

“Now I find that you’re having a party or something! Why aren’t you at the office, working like the rest of us have to!?”

“Now just a second, Dad!” snapped Jim angrily in response, at the same moment as Sally began in a placating tone, “It’s nothing like that, Mr Ellison......”

Steven, swiftly sizing up the situation, stepped in to try head off the potential confrontation by saying, “Come on, Dad! Give Jimmy a chance to explain before you fly off the handle. You know he never takes advantage, and he works as hard, if not harder than the rest of us. Let him tell us what’s up, hey?”

He took a firm grip on his father’s arm as he attempted to lead him over to one of the seats around the huge kitchen island, gesturing that everyone else should do the same.

Arm once again protectively wrapped around Blair’s shoulders, Jim took a deep, calming breath before nodding brusquely at his brother and taking a seat himself, pulling Blair’s chair up close so he could maintain a comforting hold on the smaller man’s hand.

Sally was about to leave the room to the men, when William said gruffly, “I think you should stay also, Sally. This concerns you as much as anyone else in the household. Please take a seat.”

She pulled up a chair slightly away from the group, but near the tea kettle and coffee maker in case drinks would be required.

Almost at once, an uncomfortable silence fell over the group, with everyone at something of a loss as to who should start.

William sat at the head of the island, hands clasped before him, and a frown on his face, almost as if he was chairing a Board Meeting.

Looking sternly from one to another, he paused as he attempted to analyse his thoughts and feelings logically before he could make a possible bad situation worse by over-reacting and alienating his eldest son yet again.

In all fairness, William cared deeply for his sons. Yes, he was indeed an astute, ruthless and successful businessman, but he had always wanted to do the best by his boys, even if he had a strict and heavy-handed approach to showing it.

For William, widowed far too early, his automatic reaction to his responsibility as a single parent was to try to make his sons as hard and successful as he, and as invulnerable as possible to the pain inflicted all too often by close, and particularly doomed romantic relationships.

To that end, he was perfectly amenable to taking on a damaged boy if indeed he was genetically proven to be Jim’s true Guide, believing that adequate medical care, accommodation and capable nursing would suffice, much as keeping a horse at livery – to be taken out when needed, and handed back to one’s groom once the ride was over for the day.

He simply had not foreseen his level-headed and pragmatic son apparently falling for the simpleton, and was at a loss as to how to accept this unwanted occurrence.

He was about to speak, addressing his comments to Jim, when his son jumped in ahead of him, needing to clear the air, and unhappy with the mounting tension in the room.

“Look, Dad,” he began. “I’m sorry we didn’t make it today after all, but it wasn’t for want of trying. Fact is, we had another really bad night, and I was too tired to stop myself falling into a very deep zone in the garden. Thing is...” he continued quickly, holding up his hand to stay his father from butting is as he appeared to want to do, “Blair pulled me out of it. And he used his voice to do so, in spite of the fact that he was scared shitless, and thought he had damned himself doing so – and that is a story for another time, if ever he wants to tell it. Anyhow, one thing led to another, and I am immensely pleased to tell you that we have now bonded fully, and are committed to each other for life. Having frightened Sally earlier on, we’d literally just come down to give her the good news when you two came in. So. There it is. There was no ‘party’ as you seem to think, only the three of us celebrating what is, for me, and, I hope for my Guide also, a truly momentous and happy achievement.”

He fell silent, glancing fondly into Blair’s pale face, before staring back defiantly at his father, daring him to contradict him.

While his father took a moment to digest his information and its implications, Steven, on the other hand, reacted spontaneously.

“Hey, way to go, bro!” he cried out excitedly, jumping to his feet to give Jim a quick but genuine hug. “So, now you can get on with your life properly without meds or problems with your senses getting out of control! Seriously, Jim, I’m very pleased for you. And.....” he continued with a grin, “I finally get to meet the young man responsible. Hey, Blair, good to meet you at last, kid!”

And he held out his hand unaffectedly, wanting only to congratulate the small Guide.

Since he had kept his distance over the intervening period after almost putting his foot in it with Jim, sympathising with his being saddled with a ‘retard’, he was curious to see who Jim had finally settled down with, and he was pleasantly surprised.

Far from being the dim-witted simpleton of his imagination, Blair was astonishingly beautiful, blushing fetchingly from the attention, and plainly unaware of his effect on others.

As Blair chewed his lip for a moment, Jim was incredibly proud when his Guide visibly straightened up, and held his – admittedly shaking – hand out to quickly grip Steven’s as he coughed slightly before saying, “I I I’m v very pleased t to mmeet you, Mr Ellison.”

Then he turned his beet-red face quickly into Jim’s shoulder, courage spent for the time being.

Smiling hugely, Steven said, “And I’m more than pleased to meet you, kiddo! But call me Steven, OK? Mr Ellison’s our Dad!”

And he returned to his seat, grinning like the Cheshire Cat in genuine pleasure at their good fortune.

Grinning at his brother from over Blair’s curly head, Jim said, “Thanks, Stevie. I really appreciate your support, little bro. It means a lot to me – to both of us!”

He dropped a kiss on Blair’s crown, completely unaffectedly and at ease.

Looking on bemusedly at the interaction, and definitely not at ease, William knew it was up to him now to address the situation, and either accept it or not.

One the one hand, Jim was happy; Steven and Sally supportive, and the boy not, apparently, as dumb as William had assumed.

On the other, William realised with a pang, was him and his sense of propriety.

He knew himself to be intrinsically uncomfortable with the notion of male sex, even if it had long been accepted in most social circles, particularly appertaining to Sentinel and Guide bonding.

To one of his generation, it was still something of an anathema, and he had nursed the hope that when Jimmy’s Guide was tracked down, she would turn out to be a pretty and socially acceptable young lady who would hopefully have Jim’s babies, and ensure that the Ellison line continued.

Having said that, Steven was already married, even if his Melinda was an attractive but shallow social climber and a snob to boot. William was well aware that she desperately wanted Steven’s children, both to prove her worth as a society mother, and to cement her standing within the Ellison clan.

Heaving a deep sigh, he looked up and met Jim’s eyes squarely, doing the only thing he knew he could.

“Alright, Jimmy. I understand. I realise that this is what you want – need, even – so there’s no point in me making things so difficult between us that you feel the need to move out. Believe me, son, I don’t want that! As for Blair, I think now you have fully committed to each other, and he has obviously already made progress, I think it’s time to start discussing his future therapy. Do you agree?”

Meeting his father’s gaze head on, and unbending enough to give the older man credit where it was due, Jim replied, “Thanks, Dad. I know that was a hard statement for you to make, and I appreciate your honesty. It was never my – our – intention to make you uncomfortable in your own home, but you have to understand that we are together for life now, and I’m committed to doing the best for Blair that I can, as he will do for me. I assure you that I’ll keep working in the firm, even though Simon Banks would like me to return to the PD,” he said with a grin. "But I also want Blair to have more of a life than just following me around grounding me when I need him.”

He paused to stroke the youngster’s pale cheek when his Guide raised his face to peer questioningly up into his Sentinel’s eyes.

Rubbing his thumb gently over the full lips, momentarily shutting out their audience, he murmured for Blair’s ears only, “Yes, baby. There are things you’ll be able to do, no doubt of it. Even if you never manage to study anthropology again at Rainier, I’m betting that we’ll find other things you can do. Just trust me, OK?”

He smiled down fondly as his Guide studied him for a long moment before matching his smile, and whispering, “Yyes Jimmm I I ttrust you!” He received a quick but loving kiss in grateful response.

Still uncomfortable, but doing his best to control it, William harrumphed and rubbed his hands together before saying, “Well, then, if Sally would be so kind as to make us some fresh coffee, I think we should adjourn to the den to talk things over in a bit more comfort!”

-------------------------------

Once the four men were settled comfortably in the den, with Jim and Blair sitting close together on one of the soft leather sofas, Sally brought a tray with fresh coffee for them, and, excusing herself, returned to the kitchen to prepare what she considered to be a celebratory dinner.

Taking their time over their coffee and making inconsequential small-talk whilst doing so, William finally put his cup down and effectively ‘called the meeting to order!’

“Right, Jimmy; and Blair, of course. Since it appears that Blair is now talking, and is happy to do so, it seems to me that he would benefit from speech therapy, and I’m sure that Hubert Simpson at the Sentinel Department can come up with some good recommendations. What do you think? I can get the ball rolling tomorrow if it’s what you want.”

He looked expectantly at the pair, hoping that he was taking the first steps in the right direction to repair the awkwardness between him and his eldest son.

Looking into Blair’s eyes, Jim said, “What do you think, baby? If we can find someone you’d like to work with, I’m thinking it won’t be long before your speech improves dramatically. After all, you’ve only just started to talk again today, and already you’re attempting to form short sentences. If a therapist can help with your stammer, you’ll be more comfortable with trying more. Am I right? Because if you’re not comfortable with any of our suggestions, little one, I want to know. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

Gazing at his Sentinel, eyes so full of love and trust that Jim had to swallow hard around the lump of emotion threatening to choke him, Blair nodded and said, “Yyyes, please, Jim. I I I would like to ttry. I wwant tto ggget better. B b but they wwon’t laugh at mmee?” he added, worry clouding his features.

“No, baby! A good therapist would never do that, and I can assure you we’d only use the best!”

“O O OK then” replied Blair with a determined nod, and he turned to face William, visibly psyching himself up, but saying, “Th thank y y you, M Mr Ellison. I I sh should like t t to t talk bbbetter.”

He blushed again, but didn’t look away, forcing himself to hold the older man’s gaze, and unwittingly earning the respect of everyone in the room.

Startled by his own reaction, William blinked against sudden and unexpected moisture that threatened to fill his eyes and he harrumphed again before replying, “Well, that’s good, Blair. I’m very pleased to hear it, and I’ll make sure that we get a competent and sympathetic therapist as Jimmy says. I should also ask you if you would be happy to have a few sessions at the Sentinel Department, since you’ve never had any formal training. Now...” he continued, holding up his hand when it seemed that Jim would interrupt, “I promise that there would be no classes or group sessions involved where Blair might feel uncomfortable. Just some basic one-to-one talks with Hubert, the Director. He’s a good friend of ours, and he won’t push you if you are at all uncomfortable. But I feel that you may be more confident with a bit more training. What do you say?”

Once again, Blair glanced at his Sentinel to make sure he was in agreement, then he said, “I’I’I’ll ttry, Mr Ellison. I I should l l like to l learn more a a about h how to h help Jim.”

Nodding in encouragement and actually smiling kindly at the young man now, William said, “Thank you, Blair. You are a braver young man than I gave you credit for, and I apologise for that. I hope that we can all put aside our – well, my – misconceptions and start to work together so you can get the help you need. Is there anything I’ve missed, or do you have more suggestions?”

He looked questioningly around at the others.

Although he didn’t want to push it, since Blair was making such a courageous effort to cooperate, Steven still felt he had to ask, “Just one thing, Blair, if you don’t mind me asking. Are you still able to read OK? I mean, I don’t want to insult you or anything, but I heard that you have a bit of trouble now writing things down. Do you want any other sort of help with any of that?”

Plainly somewhat overwhelmed, but trying very hard to respond satisfactorily, Blair frowned as he tried to form the right words.

“Y y yes, I c c can r read still, b but I c can’t seem to r r remember a lot. A a and I c can’t m m make m m my hand do w what I w w ant it to, ssssooo t the w words l l look all wrong. I I don’t know i i if anyone c c an h help m m me with th that....” and he dropped his head, unable to keep up his brave face.

However, rather than feeling any sort of disgust or distain from the others, not that his Sentinel would have allowed it anyway, Blair raised his head sheepishly again to see smiles of understanding and even respect on William and Steven’s faces.

As Jim cuddled him close, he said, “I think we’re all in awe of your courage, sweetheart. I think it’s probably too soon to worry about that yet. Let’s get you started with the speech therapist and with Hubert first, and go on from there OK?”

He looked over at the others to see their nods of agreement while Blair, noticeably relieved smiled up at him.

Just then, Sally announced that dinner would be ready shortly, so Steven got up to leave, knowing that Melinda was expecting him as she had arranged – again – for them to attend some boring wine and cheese type ‘do’, which, quite frankly he could ‘do’ without!

“Sorry Dad, guys, but duty calls,” he said, with not a little irony.

“Oh, yeah, nearly forgot.”

“Melinda wanted to know if you’d all be prepared to come to one of her charity bashes. It’s actually in aid of Cascade’s homeless, so it’s genuinely worthwhile. If Blair is up for it, it’ll be a week Saturday, and we’ll be hiring a marquee, of course, because I very much doubt if Cascade’ll do us the honour of granting a fine day. You don’t have to tell me right now,” he continued, as Jim looked a little concernedly at his Guide.

“Just think about it, and let me know next week huh?”

Then, picking up his briefcase, he added, “You know, I forgot all about this too!”

Opening the case he pulled out a well-read older copy of ‘Anthropology Today’, which sharp Sentinel eyes noted as being dated from the previous Fall.

Flipping through the pages, he quickly found the article he wanted as he said, “Megs gave me this to give to you, Blair. She had intended to give it to you when you arrived at the office, but as you guys couldn’t make it, she gave it to me instead to pass on, and what with all the excitement, I nearly forgot! Here it is....”

So saying, he showed them the article, resplendent with pictures, one showing a party of students, with a young and happy Blair in the foreground, at some exotic-looking location. More importantly, the piece was credited to ‘Blair Sandburg, B.A’ and clearly held pride of place in the edition.

As the others studied the pages, Jim with a mixture of enormous pride in his youthful Guide’s achievements tempered with the conviction that it would never happen again; and William with grudging respect and a similar sadness that Blair’s brilliance was so tragically dimmed at least in the field of anthropology, Blair stared wide-eyed as he reached out a finger to trace the by-line.

“I I I did th this? I I did this!!” He beamed at the others, face alight with joy.

Suddenly it was all too much after a day of drama, and his face crumpled as he gave in to tears of exhaustion mixed with happiness and uncertainty, to be reeled in by Jim and held close, soaking up the comfort freely offered by his Sentinel.

Completely understanding, Steven merely patted his shoulder, saying, “Don’t sweat it, Blair! It’s a great article – even read it myself, so it must be good to hold my interest! Anyhow, Blair, Jimmy, I’ll see you in the office tomorrow?”

At Jim’s sad smile and nod of acquiescence, he waved to them all and retreated to his car, leaving the magazine for Blair to look at later when he had regained a little equilibrium.

As for William, although he was decidedly more uncomfortable with the emotional Guide than either of his sons, he said, “Well done, young man! It’s not everyone who gets published in a respected magazine like this. You should be proud!”

He turned away then to make his way to the dining room, giving the pair a little space to get their unruly emotions under some sort of control.

--------------------------------

Dinner that night was a little bizarre, although not unpleasant for all concerned.

As expected, Sally was ecstatically pleased by the tangible proof of Blair’s previous achievements, especially as her beloved Mr Jim was equally and obviously impressed.

William couldn’t help but thaw out somewhat at his dining companions’ palpable but restrained delight as he glanced repeatedly at his son’s small Guide who had the periodical open beside his plate, smiling happily every time he peeked at the article bearing his name.

Once dinner was done, and the three men had retired once again to the den while Sally cleared up before retreating to her own suite to relax, they settled comfortably with William seated in his favourite recliner, and Jim and Blair together on their usual sofa.

Jim made a point of settling Blair into the corner, supported by the plump pillows and with his magazine to hand so that the young man could relax quietly and enjoy himself without feeling constrained to join in with the others’ conversation.

Mutually grounded and comforted by the warm clasp of Jim’s hand on his leg, Blair smiled lovingly at his Sentinel and sank into the comfy warmth, eyes gradually closing sleepily despite his efforts to keep awake, but not letting go of his precious magazine.

Once certain that Blair was fully asleep, William stood, and pouring two respectable measures of brandy into cut glass snifters, he brought them over, handing one to Jim before retaking his seat.

After both men had taken an appreciative sip, he said, “You know, Jimmy, I freely admit that I would never have expected to feel anything more than grudging tolerance for that young man. I am well aware that it must be considered to be a character flaw, but it’s the way I am. I know I was hard on you boys when you were growing up, and, in retrospect, perhaps a bit more empathy on my part wouldn’t have gone amiss, but I’m still proud of how you both turned out, and I am truly grateful to that young man for providing the specific support you needed for your senses. And you certainly seem to be much happier and more relaxed. Sally is greatly impressed with the pair of you, and she’s a pretty good judge of character.” He chuckled a little shamefacedly. “Beats me why she stayed with me, although I suspect it was on account of you boys more than anything. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I realise that boy’s worth far more to us than I thought, and he deserves the best we can provide to give him some sort of fulfilment. Despite his horrible injuries, I’m now convinced that there are more avenues he can explore to employ that brilliant mind, and I’m prepared to help him find them.”

He nodded emphatically before pausing to take another sip from his brandy glass.

To say that Jim was taken aback by his father’s open admission of what he himself recognised as ruthless and uncompromising character traits was an understatement, and was only augmented by the older man’s undertaking to provide for Blair in whatever way necessary.

Face breaking into a slow but very pleased and appreciative smile, Jim raised his glass to his father, saying, “You know, Dad, when we were growing up, I never truly understood why you treated us as harshly as you did. I mean, my friends always seemed to get it so easy at home, you know? But I think I do understand now, and the fact that you’re OK with Blair means a hell of a lot to me. Thanks, Dad!”

And he toasted his father with a large sip from his glass.

Uncomfortable with the praise, but grateful all the same, William smiled a little bashfully before resuming his usual stern expression, and drained the last of his drink as he stood up to retire to his room.

“Thank you, son. Now, I’m going to get off early to the office tomorrow to get the ball rolling on the speech therapy and Guide training. However, I think Blair – and you – have both had a fairly traumatic day today, so I won’t expect you until a bit later. But not too much later!” he added with a joking attempt at re-establishing his normal forbidding demeanour.

“Good night, son.”

“Good night, Dad. And thanks again – from both of us!”

----------------------

That night, cuddled together in their big bed, Jim was woken briefly once again by Blair’s dreams, but this time because his Guide was smiling as he mumbled quietly, a happy expression on his sleep-soft young face.

“Hey baby, you OK?”

Jim asked, smiling gently himself at his angelic-looking armful.

“Yes Jim. I dreamed about my Mom. I remember her! Her name’s Naomi! Isn’t that great?”

The young man beamed at his Sentinel even as his eyes closed again and he sank back into calm and relaxing sleep.

Before dropping off again himself, however, Jim pondered a couple of things. Firstly, he was grateful that Blair was now apparently having normal and pleasant dreams, which could possibly mean that more memories now had the opportunity to surface subconsciously; perhaps to remain during his Guide’s waking hours.

Secondly, he realised that Blair hadn’t stammered once in his sleepy reply.

Thirdly, however, he wondered at the notion of a mother who hadn’t been in contact with her only son in such a long time that she obviously didn’t even know about his tragic accident, despite the fact that it occurred months ago.

Deciding that it was something he would rather consider at a later date, he relaxed again into a much-needed and dreamless sleep of his own.

---------------------

The following morning, it was a somewhat tousled pair who made their way down to the kitchen for breakfast, each still rather heavy-eyed, and wrapped in their robes.

As promised, William had already left to start calling up his various contacts on Blair’s behalf, and Sally was waiting, having already prepared her boys’ eggs and toast, to offer her services to Blair before they left for the office themselves.

Although she made no claims to being professional, Sally was a more than competent barber, and she was quite willing to tidy up Blair’s uneven curls if he was agreeable.

Not having actually given his appearance any thought, Blair was touched by her offer, as was Jim, and he nodded happily, saying.

“Yyyes P Please, Sally. Th that would b be great!”

As soon as he and Jim had finished eating, she brought out her hair dressing scissors and combs and began.

A few minutes later, Blair’s somewhat unruly curls had been trimmed so that the shorter section where his head had been shaved no longer looked as obvious, although she hadn’t taken any more off the top of his head than she needed to, so he still had plenty of curl left.

The overall effect was highly satisfactory, and both Jim and Blair thanked her profusely.

Returning upstairs to shower and change, they had more reason to be grateful to the tiny housekeeper, when they saw what clothes she had left out for Blair.

Since they had had little opportunity or inclination to go shopping yet, Blair had been relying on the clothes Sally had provided for him, very glad that she had carefully laid away many of the younger Ellison boys’ outgrown items.

Even before his accident, Blair had never had much interest in clothes, and, truth be told, would never had had the means to purchase items anything like as expensive or good quality as the teenage Ellisons’ hand-me-downs, mostly forced to frequent thrift shops when he needed to replenish his shabby wardrobe.

However, resplendent in a dark blue collarless shirt, charcoal slacks and sporting his new haircut, Blair looked amazing, and, to Jim’s eyes, good enough to eat!

Smugly pleased with the results of her efforts, a smiling Sally waved them off to drive to the office, hoping against hope that Blair would have a good day there, and settle quickly and comfortably into his new role as Guide to a high-powered businessman, but sure that her Mr Jim would help make the transition as painless as possible.

-------------------

During the drive to Cascade’s most exclusive business park, Jim was at pains to reassure his Guide that he looked perfect, and that he had no need to worry about his reception at Ellison Enterprises, although he knew that Blair’s nervousness was only to be expected.

Easily reading the elevated heart rate and the tang of anxiety in his Guide’s scent, he reached over and squeezed Blair’s knee, saying, “I know you’re scared, baby, and it’s quite understandable, but I need you to know that I’ll be there for you and won’t leave you unprotected. If I do have to go into meetings without you, little one, Megs is there to keep an eye on you and make sure you’re comfortable, OK? And it’ll get better as you get used to it, and they get used to you, I promise!”

Smiling a little tremulously, Blair nodded and did his best to assume an air of serenity he didn’t really feel, and Jim was touched once again by the boy’s quiet courage, so he patted the knee again and said bracingly, “Atta boy, Chief! And here we are!” He pulled in to his designated parking bay.

As the Executive Offices of Ellison Enterprises were on the upper floors of a secluded and secure wing, and reached via a private elevator, Blair and Jim encountered very few other employees on their way in, and it was obvious that all those they did meet had been well briefed on their CEO’s new Guide, and responded accordingly.

No one made any untoward comments, or approached the young man unnecessarily, so the few greetings he did have to make were kept to a minimum, and carried out with a deceptive composure that made Jim very proud, especially as his senses told him what a heavy toll the act was taking on Blair’s self-control.

However, once they reached Jim’s own office suite, Blair broke into a huge and genuinely happy smile to see Megan seated at her desk in the beautifully furnished and comfortable anteroom, and he hurried into her waiting arms as she stood up to greet them.

Giving him a big hug as Jim looked on with an indulgent grin, she said, “Hey Sandy! You look wonderful! It’s great to see you here, kiddo! I’ve had a desk set up for you in Jim’s office, but there’s also one in here you can use when he’s doing those boring meetings,” she continued, winking cheekily at her boss and friend over the curly head.

“Let me show you where everything is.”

She released him, but took his hand instead to lead him around the suite, showing him the main office with Jim’s enormous desk, crowded bookshelves and well-stocked liquor cabinet; the small but very comfortable informal meeting room which also adjoined a kitchen which housed the top-of-the-range coffee machine and other requisites for drinks and snacks, and the large walk-in closet for theirs and their visitor’s overcoats and personal items.

Down the thickly carpeted hallway, she pointed out the restrooms, the large formal meeting room, and the storeroom where the stationery was kept, along with the photocopier and the heavier office appliances.

All the walls seemed to sport tasteful paintings or portraits, and there were plenty of expensive-looking ornaments and artefacts dotted around on occasional tables and shelves so that visitors were made well aware of the company’s claims to success and consistent expansion despite the current economic downturn.

Coming to the end of her whistle-stop tour, she settled Blair at the small desk next to hers, knowing that Jim had an upcoming meeting with William, Steven and the HR Director amongst others, and wanting him to feel comfortable while Jim was being apprised of the various developments that had occurred during his absence.

Having produced a handful of his favourite magazines and periodicals to keep him occupied, much to his enormous pleasure, she grinned at Jim, who was studying a couple of files on his own desk before saying

“Looks like we’re good to go, ‘Boss’! I’ve had a call confirming that the other board members are on their way over here, and Blair seems OK to be in here with me, so we’ll see you once the meeting’s over.”

Smiling over at where his PA and Guide were making themselves comfortable, Jim settled his senses on his Guide, using him as a baseline for control and thrilled once again at the way the action had become so natural and easy for him now.

“Thanks, Megs. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I suspect that these meetings will go on way longer than planned, but I know Blair’s in good hands. You OK, Chief?” he continued, addressing Blair directly.

Receiving an uncomplicated smile and a soft but clear, “Yyes, thank you, J Jim,” he returned to studying the file so he could be as prepared as possible for the upcoming meeting.

When the other board members arrived a few minutes later, William and Steven both greeted Blair cordially as Megan stood to show them into the small meeting room, but none of the visitors lingered to make the young man uncomfortable or to prolong the introductions unnecessarily, a show of consideration for which Blair was very grateful.

A few minutes later there was another arrival in the form of Jim’s Secretary-cum-Receptionist; a smartly dressed middle aged lady called Marion Bartlett.

Although rather aloof by nature, she greeted Blair pleasantly enough, neither overly-friendly nor condescending, so Blair wasn’t distressed at all in her presence, and she was clearly very capable at her job.

As the day wore on, Blair found himself fully occupied, as Megan involved him in several routine tasks helping her and Marion, such as preparing drinks and snacks for the meeting room, and fetching and carrying files and stationery.

Although she had absolutely no intention of turning him into some sort of gofer, and had, in fact, arranged for his own work station to be set up in a few days’ time, she wanted him to feel at home with the office layout and its day-to-day running before he progressed to something approaching real work.

As expected, he didn’t offer to speak much without prompting, even though he answered politely when addressed directly, but he was cheerful and inquisitive, so she judged her approach to have been successful so far.

One thing she did notice, however, was destined to become a major factor in Blair’s future development.

--------------------------

Even after the breakthrough of Blair’s speaking again, and his full bonding with Jim, he had continued to carry around the small pad and pencil he had used to ‘draw’ his responses to Jim’s questions.

At the time, he had only needed to do quick, simple sketches and stick figures to illustrate his thoughts, so no one, least of all Jim, was aware that he actually had any real artistic talent, other than an uncanny ability to match appropriate figures and shapes to corresponding words and actions with impressive speed.

However, if he could have referred to his university coursework and field notebooks, or even thought to do so, he could have seen for himself, and showed others, that he was demonstrably a more than capable artist and illustrator, and the ability hadn’t declined in the same way as his ability to write had.

In actual fact, it seemed to have actively improved, almost as if taking the place of the written word in his need to communicate his thoughts and interpretation of the information he continuously read and assimilated to the best of his ability, although he was totally unaware of the phenomenon.

As the day passed, in between reading his magazines, and helping Megan and Marion, Blair had taken the opportunity to sketch his new surroundings, and had done several quick pencil portraits of his fellow office workers, as well as ones of Jim and the other directors, so that his small pad was almost full.

Peeking surreptitiously over at him with growing interest, but not wanting to embarrass or inhibit him by drawing attention to his actions, Megan simply pulled out a larger pad of good quality plain paper and placed it in front of him with a smile before returning to her own work.

Thrilled with this new gift, and wanting to thank Megan properly for the thoughtful gesture, Blair immediately began a new and bigger portrait of his friend, working at it avidly for some time until he was satisfied with the result.

When he shyly presented her with the picture, she was completely overwhelmed for a moment, not just because of his genuine act of appreciation, but because the portrait itself was magnificent!

He had caught her perfectly as she worked on a presentation she needed to prepare for another set of upcoming negotiations, small frown of concentration on her face, and eyes totally absorbed in the task while she ran an impatient hand through her hair.

Looking up from the portrait to the beautiful young face before her, which wore an expression of real pleasure touched by a slight tinge of nervous anticipation, she had to swallow hard around the lump in her throat before saying, “Oh Sandy, thank you! It’s wonderful, love! You’re really good at this aren’t you? I’m going to treasure this, I promise!”

She hugged him hard before carefully sliding the paper into a plastic folder to keep it clean until she could get a frame for it.

Happy to have pleased his friend, Blair returned to his desk and continued to draw on and off until it was time to go home.

-----------------------

At the close of a much longer working day than anticipated, Jim finally saw the last of his visitors out, which just happened to be Steven.

Wanting only to gather up his Guide and get on home to make up some much needed touching and cuddling time, Jim waited somewhat impatiently while Blair helped Megan and Marion gather up the last of the cups and glasses before visiting the restroom.

He was a little bemused when Megan took advantage of his Guide’s short absence to pull him over to Blair’s desk, saying, “Look, Jim, I don’t want to interfere, and I certainly don’t want to cause Blair to be uncomfortable in any way, but you really should be aware of this.....” and she pulled out her plastic-covered portrait, and showed it to him.

“It’s really good, Jim,” she continued, “And you should see the other ones in his pad! I’m thinking that, if you can draw attention to it without making him self-conscious, he could really make something of this talent. I mean, I’m definitely not trying to dictate to you, but to my mind he’s already way better than some of those courtroom sketch artists I’ve seen, so there must be some way he can utilise his talent for some personal gratification, maybe even financial gain, don’t you think?”

Then, as Blair was approaching down the hallway, she said, “I’ll leave it with you, love. See you tomorrow!”

And she was gone before Jim could form a reply, leaving him to collect up his Guide and his paperwork for the trip back home.

-------------------------

Later that night, having enjoyed one of Sally’s signature entrees of roast chicken followed by peach cobbler, Jim, Blair and William were sitting comfortably in the den, Jim discussing a few points from the day’s meeting with his father, and Blair cuddled comfortably beside him, nose buried in yet another book he’d liberated from the library.

Knowing that Blair had picked up on his somewhat distracted air on the drive home, Jim had been at pains to act normally during the meal and the rest of the evening to reassure his lover that all was well.

However, during a lull in their conversation, making sure that he kept voice and demeanour natural and matter-of-fact, he said

“Oh, by the way Chief, that was very good of you to give Megs that picture. She was thrilled. I don’t suppose you have any more I could look at do you?”

Reacting as he had hoped, Blair looked up from his book and said, “I Im glad she l l liked it. She g g gave me a l lovely new d d drawing book, s s so I w w anted to th thank her properly. D do you want to see it?”

He reached down to where he had put his pad on the floor beside the sofa, and held it out for Jim to take, thinking that it was the pad itself that Jim wanted to admire.

However, he became a little perplexed when Jim turned the pages, looking carefully at each of his sketches with a look of concentrated interest on his face.

“Are th they OK?” he asked worriedly. “Did I I d do something w w wrong?”

“No, baby, no! Far from it!” Jim was quick to reassure him.

“I really like these pictures, love. They’re very good. This one of me has me dead to rights. How could anything this good be wrong? Can Dad have a look?”

Nodding uncertainly, Blair took the book back and passed it over to William, who had watched the interaction with interest.

As the older man studied the drawings, with Blair chewing his lip nervously, Jim watched his father’s face take on an expression of wonderment similar to what his own must have been when he first saw his Guide’s portrait of Megan.

After turning the final page, William looked appraisingly at Blair for a few moments until he realised that the young man was growing uncomfortable under his scrutiny, so he smiled as he said, “These are very, very good, young man. Do you enjoy drawing like this?” he asked in genuine interest.

When Blair nodded and replied, “Y yes, Mr Ellison. I s s sseem to b be able t t to d d draw what I I can’t say per per properly.”

“Good, that’s very good, Blair. Which makes me want to ask if you would do one of me? I’d be very pleased if you could!”

He handed the book back with a hopeful look on his face.

Grinning happily, Blair immediately set to with his pencil on a clean page, while Jim smiled conspiratorially at his father, truly appreciating the older man’s tact in dealing with his skittish little Guide.

Seeing as Blair didn’t seem the least bit perturbed that they talk while he worked, they carried on with their general conversation until he finally looked up with an expression of shy anticipation on his face as he handed the pad back to William.

To say that William was touched and amazed would be an understatement. Gazing at the portrait, he was lost for words for a long moment until he made himself speak, knowing that Blair might take his silence to be one born of displeasure.

Smiling warmly at the worried-looking young man, he addressed him in a tone that was both affectionate and direct.

“This is truly excellent, son. You’ve portrayed me exactly as I am – as I see myself – and I am honestly impressed. You’re a very talented young man, and I hope you will continue to practice. Maybe you would like to try water colours or oil painting eventually? Whatever medium you’d like, and I mean that, Blair! Meanwhile, I’m going to show this to Sally, and ask her if she can get it framed for me.”

He stood up and hurried out of the room, aware that Blair’s lip was trembling a little with emotion, and unable as yet to bring himself to deal with any tears, knowing that his son would be only too happy to do so in his place!

“H He l liked it! He r really liked it!” whispered Blair, a few tears of happiness beginning to overflow from wondering and misty eyes.

“Yep, he really did, babe! And he’s right, you know. If you really enjoy art as you seem to, he will be very glad for you to practice it in any form you want. He – we – all want what will make you happy and fulfilled, sweetheart.”

And he found himself with an armful of loving and happy Guide who he was more than glad to cuddle close in mutual pleasure and comfort.

------------------------

Epilogue – Six months later:

“It’s here! It’s really here!” a happy and excited young voice echoed in the large hallway of Ellison Mansion.

As a bouncing Blair Sandburg opened the front door to admit the courier who was climbing the steps, arms laden with a good-sized and obviously heavy cardboard box, he was joined by his lover and Sentinel, James Ellison, who was wearing an equally delighted smile.

Taking the carton in his own powerful arms after tipping the courier generously, they moved as one to the kitchen where the box was placed reverently on the counter where Sally and William Ellison waited with barely contained patience for the young Guide to do the honours and open it.

Bright-eyed, but biting his lip in concentration, Blair took a sharp kitchen knife and carefully sliced through the packing tape until he could lift the lid and reveal the much-anticipated contents.

Underneath the protective layer of bubble wrap, a quantity of substantial but soft covered books was revealed, and Blair, visibly trembling with nerves, took out several copies and handed one to each of his watchers, before picking up one for himself.

The book’s title announced it to be the published report of Dr Eli Stoddard’s most recent expedition to Borneo, and the colourful front cover was illustrated with a beautifully executed image of a village scene, vibrant and eye-catching, and Blair touched his finger to it, almost overcome with emotion.

Although the actual academic content and prose of the written report might not be to everyone’s taste, particularly if anthropology wasn’t a chosen field of interest, the whole document was lavishly illustrated by similar pictures to the one on the front cover, each carefully and obviously meticulously reproduced to capture the essence of the indigenous people and artefacts portrayed, and interspersed by more conventional photographs and the diagrams and data necessarily included in a formal academic work.

And best of all, to all the admirers in the kitchen, was the part of the author’s own grateful acknowledgement which attributed the many beautiful illustrations to the talent of none other than Blair Sandburg, B.A, former student of Rainier University, and now bonded Guide and acknowledged artist and illustrator.

As expected, Sally was the first to speak, eyes brimming with pride and joy in her youngest adopted ‘son’.

“Oh Blair, it’s beautiful! Even if the readers don’t know anything about Borneo, how could they not look and learn with a book like this? You are so clever, my dear!”

She put her book down carefully before hugging the young man tightly and kissing his cheek.

“Thank you, Sally,” came the rather deliberate, but genuinely appreciative response.

“I’m glad y you like it!”

Next up was William, almost beside himself with pride at his newly – and legally – adopted son-in-law.

“Blair, my boy, I am so very proud of you! Despite everything you’ve been through, you have proved yourself to be a truly remarkable young man, and I am proud that you consented to become a real part of this family! Thank you, son, for making this old man finally appreciate and be grateful for all three of his boys!”

He hugged Blair in his turn, if still rather stiffly. Years of rigid self-control needed a long time to relax!

Last up was Jim himself, his smile fond and content, eyes full of love and pride for his beloved Guide, who had overcome so much in so short a time to enrich his adopted family’s existence and reclaim for himself a true sense of self-worth and fulfilment.

“Congratulations, baby. You did it. And having done it once, you can do it again, over and over! And I don’t care if it is still morning! I’m going to spring that bottle of champagne Sally’s been keeping in the fridge, and toast to my Guide’s success!”

Clapping her hands with glee, Sally rushed to gather champagne flutes while Jim did the honours with the bottle, acknowledging William’s whole-hearted agreement as he poured the bubbling liquid into the glasses.

Raising his glass he proposed his toast, not giving a damn as to whether it sounded sappy or not.

“To Blair, my Guide. For being lover, friend and guiding light to me, and for his courage in facing – and defeating – all obstacles thrown in his path from whatever source. To a remarkable, loving and talented young man. And here’s to the next publication!”

He clinked his glass with the others’ as they echoed his sentiments with whole-hearted cries of “Hear, hear!”

Blair blushed with pleasure, eyes rather moist, but his smile was bright if a little wobbly.

“Thank you so much, everyone! Th thank you for taking me in, caring for me, and loving me enough to help me get my life back. I I’d like to toast you all!”

And he raised his own glass in a spontaneous gesture of love and affection.

However, once the toast was done, he moved quickly over to Jim’s side, knowing that they both needed a hug and no longer worried that Sally and William would mind as they both understood only too well the necessity for Sentinel and Guide to enjoy a mutually grounding touch every so often, especially when intense emotions were involved!

After a few minutes of snuggling, during which Sally and William busied themselves in looking through their books, Blair broke away with a grateful grin, and, patting Jim on the bicep, moved back to the others to talk them through some of the more interesting sections (which for them all seemed to involve Blair’s illustrations!).

Settling himself on one of the kitchen chairs to relax and enjoy the rest of his champagne and observe his family’s cheerful interaction, Jim let himself think back over the past few months and contemplate how much had happened, and how rapidly his beloved Guide had developed once convinced of his own value, and of his Sentinel’s – and his Sentinel’s family’s - genuine love for him.

------------------------

Admiring his Guide’s lovely face, now alight with enthusiasm and affection as he discussed his work with Sally and his father, Jim smiled to himself as he thought about bonding and lovemaking with his Guide, which, for them, was one and the same.

He could – and did - grow almost sentimental as he pictured how Blair, now completely trusting and focussed on his Sentinel, freely gave of himself in bed, happy to let Jim enjoy the beautiful body, and in the lazy aftermath, never failed to say something like, “I love you, my Sentinel. My life, forever”

And Jim was only too happy to respond in a similar vein, sappiness be blowed!

Even better was that there had been no recurrence of his Guide’s worst nightmares, so Jim hadn’t had to do his ‘Outer Limits’-type of visiting Blair’s mind since, even though he would be prepared to do so again if necessary to protect his beloved.

Blair was also comfortable now with the hugs and touches from others in the family, or close friends, such as Megan and, on occasion, Eli, but he remained shy and reticent with strangers unless reassured by Jim that they could be trusted.

Once William had set the ball rolling in terms of getting a speech therapist, Blair had thrown himself into practicing and studying with her, wanting to demonstrate through actions and results just how much he appreciated the older man’s support, and wanting to show him that his belief in Blair was justified.

Therefore, finding that Dr Marietta Kowolski was a kind, dedicated and thoroughly likeable teacher who was immediately taken by Blair, and had helped him enormously in regaining his confidence; in a remarkably short time, he was able to speak without much of a stammer, unless over-excited or nervous, although his delivery was rather deliberate and he would never again be the motor-mouthed young student Eli had once known.

On the other hand, for new acquaintances who had not known the ‘old Blair’, he simply came over as diffident and self-effacing, but not ‘damaged’ in any way, for which Jim was enormously grateful on Blair’s behalf, and so proud of his young lover.

It was noticeable to Jim, however, that Blair’s speech during and after love-making and bonding was now invariably easy and impediment-free, not that Jim would ever call him on it, though, not wanting to make his lover self-conscious, and simply enjoying their softly-spoken conversations, believing that it was probably a ‘Sentinel and Guide’ thing, if not a ‘Jim and Blair’ thing!

And as for the ‘Sentinel and Guide’ thing, after just a few friendly sessions with Hubert Simpson, the man declared himself very satisfied with Blair, happily confiding to William and Jim that, lack of formal training notwithstanding, Blair was a ‘natural’, for whom guiding was instinctive, and Dr Simpson saw no need for him to attend training classes unless in the unlikely event that he and Jim felt that there may be some benefit at a later date.

As far as Jim was concerned, that was never going to happen, since he considered himself as the living embodiment of a well-guided and contented Sentinel!

Although still a focussed and occasionally ruthless businessman when circumstances demanded, Jim’s successes continued to please and impress William and the Board of Ellison Enterprises, and he personally benefitted greatly from the lack of stress that his now effortless control over his senses allowed him.

Not only that, but, as Megan was only too quick to point out, the good influence arising from having a sweet natured Blair as his Guide had also made him a much nicer person, who now interacted much more comfortably with those who worked with – or for – him.

One disappointment as far as they were all concerned was that, despite constant practice, Blair failed to make much progress with writing, either physically or in composition.

As far as hand writing as concerned, although with great concentration, he could form letters well enough to sign his name, or spell out simple sentences, for some reason he could not put more complex concepts down physically on paper, the letters often refusing to go down in the right order, or even form recognisably; the frustration and effort of concentration on the physical automatically disrupting the flow of his train of thought.

Typing did little to help in this respect for similar reasons, although the new voice-activated software installed on his PC and workstation allowed him to compose simple letters and documents now his speech was clearer.

However, it was increasingly obvious that writing the kind of brilliant articles and incisive essays he had been wont to do was now a thing of the past, so there was little likelihood now of his returning to further education in that respect.

It was a great disappointment for him that, although he read voraciously, and obviously absorbed information, his ‘Swiss cheese’ memory even beginning to recall facts and knowledge learned previously during his study of anthropology in particular, it refused to be expressed in any other way than through speech and illustration, but in that latter aspect, his achievements were remarkable.

Jim recalled fondly how, during the early days of Blair’s speech therapy and ‘Guiding’ sessions, although he had continued to draw and sketch at every opportunity, he had had neither the time nor the confidence to explore William’s suggestions about classes more thoroughly.

However, while waiting to collect Blair from one of his therapy sessions, Jim decided to take the opportunity to visit Eli Stoddard on campus, to bring the professor up to speed with the improvements in his favourite student as Jim had promised.

Eli had been predictably delighted to hear about Blair’s progress, and was particularly impressed by the sketches Jim had brought along to show him.

Since Eli had also gone to the trouble of digging out some samples of Blair’s past work for Jim’s interest, the two compared the artwork, and both opined that Blair may well have a future in some form of creative art, even if the brilliant written work was no longer an option.

At that point Eli had had something of an ‘ah ha’! moment, and had come up with the idea that perhaps Blair would like to get together informally with a friend of his from Rainier’s Art School who owed him a few favours to see if he could build up his confidence and improve his fledgling techniques.

As it turned out, although initially nervous, within a few sessions Blair had blossomed in both confidence and expertise just as he had done in his speech therapy, such that when he and Jim met with Eli again, the older man proposed that he would like to work with Blair on a few illustrations for his upcoming report which was even now being prepared for editing and publishing.

The experiment had proved to be a resounding success, and Eli was thrilled to experience firsthand the resurgence of productive talent in his brilliant ex-student, and was only too pleased to incorporate some of Blair’s beautiful illustrations in the publication as well as promising to spread the word to his colleagues about this up and coming young artist.

The weeks and months that followed had become a whirlwind of activity, with Blair almost constantly in action either attending therapy sessions, working with Eli on the art project, or, not least in his busy lifestyle, guiding and loving his Sentinel such that Jim was amazed at his lover’s energy, particularly in the light of how physically and mentally fragile he had been when they first met.

Now that the book was actually in print, Blair had a little more time for relaxation, although he was still busy doing portraits on request as his reputation in that field had blossomed mostly thanks to William’s taking every opportunity to expound and spread the word about his talented son-in-law.

As Jim continued to ponder on the past months, he was profoundly relieved and grateful that his Guide had managed to achieve so much in such a remarkably short time, freely admitting that the benefits to himself were immense, but was also saddened by the one really major upset that had occurred a few weeks’ into their relationship.

--------------------

One evening, as the family were awaiting Sally’s call to dinner, Jim having just picked Blair up from his latest speech therapy session, an unexpected visitor arrived.

Extending his senses with confidence, Jim was surprised to find that, although he didn’t recognise the individual approaching the front door, the scent had a certain familiarity, the reason for which was soon to become obvious to them all.

As Sally opened the door to admit their caller, Blair turned ashen and swayed alarmingly until Jim quickly caught and braced him, cuddling the now shaking body close with a supportive arm around the slim shoulders as he followed his Guide’s wide-eyed stare to take in the shocked and very angry woman standing in the hall.

So quietly that even the Sentinel’s hearing had difficulty in making out the words, Blair whispered, “M M Mom? Is it really y y you?”

Tears of deep shock and confusion began to run down his cheeks as he struggled to deal with conflicting emotions which told him he should embrace his long-absent parent, but also an inexplicable instinct to run away and hide in his Sentinel’s care until she had gone again.

When Naomi had returned from her latest retreat in Tibet, as usual she had been more than a little surprised at how long she had been ‘off the map’ so to speak, so she decided that it might not be a bad idea to check up on her son at long last.

Although she undoubtedly loved him in her own way, she hadn’t been altogether sorry when at age sixteen he had announced that he wanted to settle and study in Cascade, realising that it left her completely free once more to pursue her itinerant and unfettered lifestyle, confidant that they could always catch up on her infrequent visits.

However, this time, she had been first surprised, and then horrified at what had happened in her prolonged absence, firstly to learn that her beautiful son had been so badly hurt in an explosion that he was no longer studying at Rainier, and then to find that he had been claimed as Guide by the son of one of the most ruthless and successful entrepreneurs in Cascade.

Once she had gathered the relevant information, she had immediately made the decision to ride to his rescue, to pry him away, by force or threat of legal action if necessary, from the influence of these hated members of the despised money-orientated establishment.

As Jim looked on, he maintained his comforting hold on his Guide, while giving the intruder a thorough ‘once-over’ with his sensory scan.

Blair’s mother was taller than her son by several inches, slender and athletic-looking in a willowy, graceful way which spoke of long years of practice at yoga and meditation, and she was dressed in the sort of colourful flowing clothing and ethnic jewellery which proclaimed her chosen lifestyle.

Her rich, red hair bore no trace of grey, or the tell-tale signs of touching up, and she was undeniably very attractive.

However, she was also absolutely beside herself with seething anger, such that Jim had a fleeting, if facetious, notion that she was probably doing herself no favours in respect of her karma!

Even as William approached her to introduce himself and his family as good manners dictated, she beat him to the punch crying, “Blair! How could you? How could you let them kidnap you like this? You have to come with me, now! And...” she continued, glaring from William to Jim and back, “if you dare to stand in my way, I’ll be back with a court order or the pigs, or whatever I need to get to take my son out from under your materialistic influence!”

Jim growled in rising anger at the threat to his Guide, and William bridled at the insult, responding with, “Now see here, Ms Sandburg......!”

However, Blair silenced them all with his cry of deep distress, followed by a heart-felt plea to his mother.

“N n noooooooo! No, M Mom! P p p please d d don’t! I I’m happy here. I I l l ove yyyou, but I I ddon’t want to l leave Jim. H he’s m my bonded Sentinel, a a nd I c can’t, I I won’t leave him!”

Saddened to hear his Guide’s speech relapse into stammering uncertainty with the emotional upset of the encounter, Jim was quick to whisper words of comfort and love into Blair’s ear, before turning the young man in his arms to allow him to bury his face in Jim’s neck while he rubbed soothing circles on the shaking back with a large and gentle hand.

Taken aback by her son’s plea, Naomi paused and really looked at the small figure cuddled in the tall Sentinel’s arms.

Gone was the scruffy, bouncing and incessantly chattering student, who had talked so enthusiastically about everything and nothing, punctuating his words with waving arms, and pushing a restless hand through his flowing locks.

Instead she saw a still beautiful but slender and reserved young man, neatly dressed and sporting a head of stylishly-trimmed short curls.

Obviously suffering from some sort of speech impediment and probable brain damage, he could barely bring himself to look at her, and she knew herself to be devastated by the way he defended the powerful man in whose arms he was so apparently comfortable.

For once undecided in her responses, unsure of her ground in the light of her son’s distress, she bit down on any further comment at this time, vowing to herself that she would go and ‘process’ the situation, and take advice from some of her many anti-establishment friends before coming to any decisions about how best to extract her son from the Ellison’s clutches.

Nodding decisively, a grimace of distain on her face, she spun around and exited the house without another word, climbing into her small car and driving off as quickly as possible without a backward glance.

As Jim recalled with sadness, it had taken quite some time to calm and comfort his Guide, who had been desperately upset by the incident, torn between guilt that he hadn’t responded well to his mother in his shock and surprise at her unforeseen visit, and deep hurt from the way that she had reacted towards him and his beloved Sentinel.

On the other hand, committing himself to taking a unilateral decision, and worrying about facing up to the consequences as and when; a coldly angry William stalked to the den and called his lawyer.

Within a very short time, the appropriate papers had been drawn up for William Ellison to formally adopt his son’s Guide: a law passed a few years back which enabled a Sentinel or his family to adopt and care for either underage, orphaned or otherwise potentially threatened compatible Guides to ensure their protection and rights under Sentinel and Guide Law.

After some early and unfortunate cases of misuse had occurred, the legal requirements were now rigorously policed and regulated by the Sentinel Department such that any Guide taken ‘into care’ in this way was assured of the best security any government body could provide.

Since in Blair’s case, the majority of the paperwork had already been dealt with when William had gained permission to remove him from Conover, the final completion of the agreement was swiftly but precisely processed.

Thus it was that, by the time Naomi had called in her friends’ support and opinions, the legal requirements had already been met, and Blair was officially the formally adopted son (or, to be more accurate, son-in-law) of William Ellison.

Thwarted in her desire to ‘liberate’ her son, Naomi had left Cascade in high dudgeon, vowing revenge on the evil establishment, but never considering the hurt she inflicted on Blair in her refusal to even approach him again in love and understanding.

-----------------------

Lost for a while in his unhappy thoughts, Jim was brought back to the present by the gentle touch of his lover’s small hand rubbing his neck and the quiet words, “Hey, Big Guy, you’re not zoning on me now, are you?”

When the hand moved to stroke his cheek, he leaned into the touch before replying, “No, baby! Just lost in my memories for a moment.”

He smiled reassuringly into the quizzical blue gaze before rising to his feet, and, linking arms with his beloved Guide, they wandered back over to join Sally and William, who was gleefully and busily making plans as to whom he would be sending copies of the report in order both to widen the potential readership for Dr Stoddard beyond his normal narrow academic field, and also to maximise Blair’s exposure to the literary and art-loving public.

Although Blair was truly appreciative of William’s efforts on his behalf, as far as he was concerned, this tangible proof of his ability was simply the icing on the cake.

For him, until the end of their mortal time together, and hopefully even beyond, Jim would always be the centre of his universe, the one to whom he owed his life and his very sanity.

Although deeply grateful to William and to all his new friends and family, it was Jim who had literally stood with him at the gates of his own personal Hell and helped him defeat the nightmare once and for all so that he was freed to believe once again in good dreams, and to realise without a doubt that good dreams really can come true.

The End

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