Paradise Lost - Monica & VampyrAlex

"Les vrais paradis sont les paradis qu'on a perdus"
--Marcel Proust
The true paradises are the lost paradises.

It was really dark, one of those nights where the full moon makes everything look tinted in blue.

Jim was walking silently through a dense forest, dressed in his camouflage gear, looking carefully around him, watching for any signs of danger. He heard something coming in his direction and turned to see a wolf running towards a strange-looking statue. Sensing the danger surrounding him, he tensed his body in preparation for an attack, just before the statue suddenly came to life.

He couldn't tell if it was man or woman, but it definitely took a human shape, and was armed with a crossbow. Just as the wolf neared it, the shadow brought up the bow, nocking an arrow and aiming at the beautiful creature. It released the arrow and the wolf was hit.

The wolf whimpered and, as the shadow turned back into the statue, Jim slowly approached the dying animal. He stood above the wolf, watching as it morphed into a beautiful young man, the light of the moon caressing the naked body lying on the ground. Long curly hair framed the handsome face; wide blue eyes were open but no longer seeing.

Jim woke up startled and sat up in bed, breathing hard. This was the third night in a row he'd had that same dream. But what did it mean? Why was he having it? And who was the young man?

He sighed wearily and looked around. It was morning already. He could hear Simon and Henri arguing above decks about who'd prepare the fish they might catch that morning. It was hard to believe they were actually on vacation and doing something he and Simon had been talking about for years. Renting a small yacht in Fort Lauderdale and just sailing to the Bahamas. Have a nice, quiet vacation, do a little fishing, just relax for a while.

And after the Switchman case, he could sure use the rest. The stress of that case had nearly finished him off. There was something wrong with him -- ever since those four days on stakeout in the woods, his senses had been going crazy. He'd smelled gas in the old lumber mill when he shouldn't have been able to, and he'd thought he could hear Saris' motorcycle long before she escaped. There were other things as well, like wonky vision and normal food tasting fine one minute, but awful the next. He hoped he was just a little burned out, because the alternative was too scary to think about.

After seeing how worse-for-wear Jim really was, Simon had agreed with his request for a leave of absence but had made it a vacation instead. The captain had presented this trip to him and informed him that he would have company for some much-deserved rest, namely him and Henri. Jim suspected that Simon planned to keep an eye on him at the same time. And so there they were.

Deciding that it was time to get up, Jim got dressed and went to join the others on deck. He watched the calm sea and the clear blue sky and shuddered. There was something strange in the air, an electric or static feeling of some kind, like a storm brewing. And once again, his senses were feeling out of control. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath; things seemed to go back to normal, at least for the moment. He was never sure when another weird episode would occur. He sighed and Simon turned at the sound.

"There you are! Good morning! Ready for some fishing?" Simon greeted with a grin.

"Why not? But I'm not preparing the fish! I did it yesterday, so it's between the two of you today."

Henri snorted, then grinned. "You mean it's up to me! Okay, fine. Just make sure you actually catch something!"

They spent most of the morning fishing, the easy banter between them making the time go by faster. Henri did the honors with the fish they caught, making a delicious lunch that left them in high spirits. They spent the afternoon just enjoying themselves and relaxing under the warm sun.

However, as the night drew closer the weather began to change. Threatening gray clouds replaced the clear sky, and the static Jim had felt that morning seemed to increase, to the point of giving him a terrible headache.

The storm didn't hit until the early hours of the morning -- catching the three men in their sleep. The first splattering drops of rain rapidly turned into heavy rain. The wind picked up and the waves began to swell, rocking the yacht violently.

"Jesus!" Henri yelled, as they met outside of their cabins. "Where the hell did this storm come from?"

"I don't know!" Simon yelled back, trying to make himself heard over the roar of the storm.

"I'm going to secure the helm," Jim told them, trying to stay on his feet, but the growing waves were threatening to turn the yacht at any minute.

"Be careful!" Simon replied, as he began searching for life jackets and the first aid kit.

Jim went to the bridge to secure the helm, the thunder and lightning booming around him, terrifying. The sudden blinding light and loud noise drove Jim to his knees with a moan, his hands trying ineffectively to block the painful noise.

In the cabin below decks, Simon and H shared a concerned look. "Jim's taking too long, Brown. I'm going to join him and see what I can do," Simon told his companion.

"Okay."

Simon left the security of the cabin and fought to get to the bridge through the fierce wind and rain sweeping over the yacht. Lightning slashed through the sky, illuminating his way; thunder rumbled overhead, and the small boat seemed to vibrate in its wake, making walking a difficult task. When he saw his friend curled into a fetal position on the floor of the bridge, he ran to him.

"Jim! What the hell? Jim!"

The younger man didn't respond. All Simon could hear over the violence of the storm were a few painful whimpers -- there was no other sign that Jim was even aware of what was going on around him. Simon noticed that the compass was going crazy, spinning wildly, and shook his head. The motor seemed to have stopped as well. He reached for the key to start it again when suddenly lightning hit the navigational system, short-circuiting it and throwing him hard against a railing. He hit his head on the metal bars and fell to the floor unconscious.

Down in the cabin, Henri was starting to get worried. Both of his friends had been on deck for a long time now, and the storm was getting worse. Just as he got up to find them, a big wave nearly capsized the boat. He lost his balance and hit a cabinet, bruising his torso painfully in the process. He collapsed to the floor, panting to catch his breath.

"Oh, shit!" he moaned. Just before he closed his eyes and surrendered to his pain, he muttered, "this is not the way I figured I'd die!"

*"*"*"*"*

Simon woke to the sound of seagulls and the warmth of the sun on his skin. Seagulls? Sun? he thought to himself. That means two things. First, that I'm alive, second, that we're close to land.

He opened his eyes and saw Jim's still-unconscious form next to him. He crawled to his friend and carefully shook him. "Jim! Jim, wake up!" The other man moaned and moved slightly. "That's it! Come on, Jim!"

Finally the clear blue eyes opened, blinking against the morning light, and settled on him. "What happened?" Jim rasped out.

"I don't know exactly, I was knocked out during the storm. I have no idea what happened to you -- when I got here you were on the floor moaning, hands over your ears."

"Oh, God!" Jim moaned softly. "It happened again, Simon. It felt like my senses were going crazy. The noise was just so loud, and the lightning..." He took a shuddering breath. "Where's H?"

"Haven't checked on him yet. I just woke up myself. Can you get up?"

"Yeah, I think so." With a little effort, both men got to their feet. "Let's go see what's up with H," Jim prodded.

They went down to the cabin, finding their friend trying to get up from the floor.

"Henri!" Simon exclaimed as they rushed over to him.

They carefully helped him to his feet and Jim checked if Henri was okay. "Nothing broken, H. Just a few painful bruises," he quipped.

Henri chuckled. "I could've told you that myself, Ellison. So, where are we? We obviously aren't moving, so what's the deal?"

"Let's find out," Simon replied, and the three men made their way to the upper deck.

The first thing they noticed was they were anchored offshore of an island; the yacht having drifted into a natural cove. By some miracle the anchor had caught on something, preventing the boat from being beached.

"Well, at least it's land! I'll go get the maps so we can figure out exactly where we are," Henri said, matching words to action.

Once he returned with the maps, Jim tried to find their location. "I don't get it," he said. "If I'm looking at this damn map right, we should be out in open sea, not this close to land. I can't find any reference to an island remotely close to where we were."

"Maybe the storm set us off course," H suggested.

"Ummm, maybe, but I don't think so. Not with the prevailing currents in this area. And even taking that in consideration, there still shouldn't be any land for miles."

Simon frowned. "So what are you saying? That we found an uncharted island of some kind?"

"Could be," Jim nodded.

"Hey, we were in the Bermuda Triangle when the storm hit us," H said with a smirk. "Maybe it took us to a parallel dimension of some kind."

Jim scowled at his friend. "You have to stop watching the Sci-Fi Channel, H. Come on, let's get our guns and go search the island. Maybe we can find someone who can tell us where we are."

The water surrounding the yacht was barely fifteen feet deep, and quickly shallowed out. As Henri was too bruised swim and hold his gun out of the water at the same time, Simon carried both of their guns until they were close enough to wade the rest of the way in.

Once there they got a good look around. They came ashore on a beautiful beach, surrounded by a dense forest that reached beyond their vision. A few softly rolling mountains were barely visible above the trees. They could hear a multitude of birds singing, as well as the calls of other animals they didn't recognize. Jim felt suddenly like he was in a dream. He took a long, deep breath and closed his eyes. The storm's end had brought with it the tangy fragrance of the tropics -- coconuts, sweetly-scented flowers, and salt.

"White sandy beaches with exotic shells, a cool breeze from the ocean at your skin, and water so blue and green that you think you're in paradise... I could get used to this!" Simon grinned at the others.

H nodded. "So could I. Maybe we can stay here for a while. I mean, we're suppose to be on vacation, right?"

"Maybe later," Simon said. "Right now, we need to find out where the hell we are. I have no intention of being the next Robinson Crusoe with you as Friday. Come on!"

Jim and Henri shrugged and followed Simon, soon leaving the beach behind and getting deeper into the forest. They had been climbing steadily for several hours when Jim started to hear a strange kind of roar. He tilted his head, trying to decipher the sound. It was still some distance away, but it sounded constant, unmoving. It reminded him of...

"A waterfall!" he exclaimed.

The other two stopped dead in their tracks.

"What?" Henri frowned in confusion.

"I can hear a waterfall."

Simon stayed silent for a moment. "I don't hear anything, Jim. Maybe --"

"I am not crazy!" Jim interrupted, annoyance coloring his voice. "Come on, it's this way."

He lengthened his stride and increased his speed, forcing the others to do the same. Not long after that, they too could hear the roar. Soon, the roar was close to deafening, especially to Jim. The waterfall was hidden behind thick forest and rock ledges, and was such a breathtaking sight that the three men remained silent in awe, just enjoying one of nature's gifts to mankind.

Henri was about to say something when Simon whispered, "Oh, my God! Look at that!"

He was pointing to a young man standing on a rock close to the falls, the spraying waters bathing him gently. Even from their hidden place in the trees, they could see he was an exquisite creature, with long, curly hair and wide blue eyes. Jim felt a painful pang in his heart as he recognized the beautiful face that had been haunting his dreams for the last few nights.

His 'dream' was dressed all in white, with simple tight pants and a long-sleeved, buttonless shirt. The fabric of his clothes was light enough for a shadow of dark chest hair to be seen beneath it. In its currently water-soaked condition, it was all but transparent. It clung to the young man's body like a second skin, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Jim felt like he was under a magic spell; it was impossible to move, to look away from that amazing vision. His breath caught in his throat as the young man pulled the shirt loose in a careless move, water running in rivulets from his long hair and down his naked chest. He threw his head back, arching, tossing the dripping hair from his face and his eyes, and Jim moaned hungrily. God, what the hell was wrong with him?!

Just as he thought it couldn't get any worse, the young man dropped his pants, showing he had nothing on underneath. Their eyes were able to roam freely over his sturdy, compact body until he jumped gracefully into the deep pool created by the waterfall.

"My God!" Simon breathed. "Who was that?!"

Henri turned huge, dazed eyes to his captain. "I didn't imagine him, then? Thought I was having a vision there for a minute."

"Well, if you did, it's contagious, because I saw him too," Simon told him.

Ignoring the others' babbling, Jim took several steps forward without even realizing it. He was stopped when Simon grabbed his arm.

"Jim! What the hell are you doing?" he hissed.

"It's... okay," Jim answered vacantly, his eyes not leaving the person below. "He... needs me," he said, and shook off Simon's grip.

"What?" Henri asked perplexed, staring after Jim.

Jim made his way down to the pool, still partially hidden by the trees. Simon and Henri followed cautiously, uncertain of what was happening with their friend. Jim paused again when he was closer and took a better look. The young man was swimming happily, splashing like a child in the water. He dove a few times, coming up with rocks that he seemed to be studying. Some were tossed onto the shore, others dropped back into the water.

He was breathtaking. There was no other word for it. The water made his hair look even darker and it curled riotously over his shoulders. He pushed it back impatiently when he came up from another dive, and afforded Jim a good look at the muscular chest. The 'vision' was shorter than he was, but far from frail. Long, smooth muscles, like a swimmer's, formed a perfect body.

Jim was unaware of moving, but suddenly he was out from the cover of the trees, standing beside the pool. The young man had his back turned and didn't notice him for a few minutes. Then, as if sensing he was being watched, he slowly turned, and their gazes locked.

God, his eyes are so blue, Jim thought absurdly. It was an odd thought, but confirmed beyond a doubt that this was the man he had dreamed about. Eyes that intense were not easily forgotten.

For a long moment they simply stared at each other. Jim became aware that he was hearing a heartbeat. Somehow, he was sure it belonged to the young man. His breathing was also audible, and he began cataloguing the signs, the sounds. He knew he'd be able to pick this man out from any crowd.

The man finally made the first move. He stepped out of the pool unselfconsciously, apparently uncaring of the fact that he was naked. Jim could hear the heartbeat increase slightly though, and realized he was nervous. Calm, but uncertain. The young man approached Jim carefully, pushing his hair back again in an apparent gesture of habit. He stopped a few steps away from Jim and took a deep breath.

"Welcome to Atlantis," he said quietly. "I've been waiting for you."

"Atlantis? And what the hell do you mean, you've been waiting for him?" Simon asked roughly, he and Henri coming to stand behind Jim.

The young man looked at them and smiled. "I'm sorry, maybe I should've explained where you are first. Let me get my clothes back, and then we'll talk."

Without another word, the strange young man dove back into the water and swam until he reached the rocks where he'd discarded his garments earlier. He dressed quickly and walked back to them, this time by crossing a narrow pathway around the small pool.

"Please, sit down." The four of them sat down on the luscious green grass, and the young man looked at the three Americans. "Where should I start?"

"How about your name?" Jim suggested, his strange daze gone now. He wasn't exactly sure about what had happened, but his senses were still focused on the stranger, and thankfully seemed under control.

"My name's Blair."

"I'm Simon, this is Jim, and that's Henri. Now, where are we?"

"You are in Atlantis."

Henri shook his head. "How is that possible? Don't get me wrong, but Atlantis is a legend, a myth, a lost civilization if you will. It doesn't exist anymore."

Blair smiled softly. "It's okay, I understand your reaction. Let me try to explain. I was told from others stranded here that story of Atlantis is well known; how natural disasters caused our continent to sink into the sea. Well, not all Atlanteans died during those disasters -- some migrated to other continents like Africa, founding what is known nowadays as ancient Egypt. Others preferred to stay close to our original homeland and found a small island to build a new Atlantis on."

"How come we've never heard of it?" Simon asked suspiciously.

"Simple. An energy crystal powers this island. The crystal is also responsible for a magnetic shield that makes us invisible to the outside world. Sounds like magic to you, but to our ancestors it was the proverbial 'piece of cake'. The technology back then would make even today's scientists cry with delight. Unfortunately, most of that information and technology has been lost to us over time. The crystal is a little unstable, and we don't know how to correct it. Sometimes it becomes too unstable and it causes a storm like the one last night."

"The one that caught us," Henri nodded, not knowing exactly why he believed this strange man, but drinking in every word. "And that's why we couldn't find this island on any map?"

"Exactly! We're also responsible for what the outside world calls the Bermuda Triangle or, if you prefer, Limbo of the Lost, The Twilight Zone, Hoodoo Sea, or The Devil's Triangle."

"Are you saying that all of the disappearances over the years have been caused by your shield?" Jim asked, incredulous.

"Yes, they were all caught by the storms. All the survivors are among us, most of them are prominent members of our community."

"And the ones that chose not to stay? Why didn't they mention this place to anyone?" Jim wanted to know.

Blair's expression turned somewhat sad. "We don't have many rules here, but there is one that is law. Whoever stumbles upon Atlantis can never leave. You're free to stay and do as you please, find work that pleases you, a mate, discover our ways... But you are never to leave here. If you try it and get caught, you'll be imprisoned. Anyway, it's impossible to escape. The magnetic shield acts as a barrier between the island and the outside world. I wish I could explain it better, but if you tried to cross it, you'd hit something resembling a brick wall."

"But we got through, and so did all those other people," Simon remarked, confused.

"Yes. Sometimes when the crystal gets too unbalanced and causes a big storm, the shield weakens in places and allows solid forms to cross through, but it's a rare thing. And it's been happening less over the centuries; the last breakthrough was fifteen years ago," Blair explained ruefully.

"But it is possible to escape the island during one of those storms?" Simon asked, his mind already trying to find a way out of a situation that promised to be heartbreaking. If he were to be stuck there, he'd never see his son again, or any of his family and friends.

Blair sighed. "First, you'd have to find the weakness in the shield, and usually those storms are tremendous, which in itself is risky enough. Plus, you'd have to steal a boat, and our harbor is heavily guarded. If you're thinking about escaping, forget it. Life in the dungeons isn't exactly a breeze."

"I take it you don't approve of this rule?" Henri remarked, as he watched the young man grimace.

"Not really. I think people should be free to decide, plus the younger generation isn't too fond of staying in one place forever, especially one that has nothing new to offer them. Only a chosen few are allowed to see the outside world, to bring back news of what's happening out there. It's always the way it has been with our rulers, although not everyone agrees with that. It doesn't help that our queen is so strict."

"Has anyone ever tried to revolt?" Jim questioned curiously.

Blair shrugged. "A few have, but nothing really serious. Those who have tried to oppose the current queen are either dead or imprisoned. This is a small island, not that heavily populated. All efforts were easily crushed. And people are afraid of Maya; she's rather ruthless."

"Maya?" Jim echoed.

"Yes, she's our queen, and my stepmother."

"So, your father is the king -- you're a prince?" Henri asked, startled.

Blair laughed at the surprise on H's face. "That is my title, yes. My father was the king, but he died a few years ago. As his wife, Maya took his place. I am the natural successor, but by law, a monarch can only rule after reaching thirty."

"And you aren't yet?"

"Not yet," Blair answered Simon with a grin. "But I will be in a few weeks!"

"You know, I always read that the people of Atlantis were into peace and mystic stuff," H remarked.

Blair grinned. "I thought you didn't believe Atlantis existed."

Brown shrugged. "Doesn't mean I didn't read about it."

The young prince nodded. "It used to be that way. There's always been peace here, and although people have never been allowed to leave before, they weren't sent to the dungeons, or made to suffer like they do now. Maya changed all that. Fifteen years ago, she was the only survivor of a shipwreck from some country in South America, I think. My father fell in love with her and they got married. After that things began to change. My father changed as well, but it wasn't until he died that things became the way they are now. I guess you could say we now live in a dictatorship. Once I'm King though, a lot of things will change around here. Unfortunately, until then I owe obedience to Queen Maya. As I said, the ones that spoke against her are either dead or imprisoned, and I wish no such fate for myself. I'd rather wait and bide my time."

"What did you mean when you said you've been waiting for Jim?" Simon asked, feeling a huge headache coming on. The entire ludicrous story was making him ill. What was worse, somehow he believed it.

"Well, to answer that I will have to ask you to keep an open mind. But from your reactions to what I've been telling you so far, that shouldn't be too hard," the young man stated, his grin widening.

Simon groaned mentally, his headache getting worse. He almost feared what was coming.

"Okay, so what did you mean?" Henri asked curiously.

"Incacha came to me in a dream a few nights ago. In that dream he told me a sentinel was coming to Atlantis and that I was suppose to guide him, to help him understand what was happening to him. After he told me what I had to do, I saw Jim's face smiling at me."

"Who's Incacha?"

"Incacha was my grandfather. He was the last guide Atlantis had. Together with my grandmother, a sentinel, they helped protect the island. Since they died a few years ago, we've been without a sentinel/guide pair."

"So, you're saying that Jim is a sentinel?" Henri tried to understand what the young man was telling them.

"Yes, that's right."

"And what is that, exactly?" Simon asked.

"Someone with heightened senses, a kind of watchman if you will. In the old days, a sentinel was used to watch for approaching enemies, changes in the weather, the movement of game. That sort of thing."

"So -- I'm not going crazy? These episodes I've been having..." Jim began hopefully.

"Your senses are coming awake, in a way. I can help you control them."

"Oh, man! This is --" Simon took a deep breath, "too much at once!"

Blair smiled. "It's okay. How about you think about all I've told you on the way to the city?"

The three dazed men nodded and slowly rose to follow Blair through the forest.

"There's one thing I still don't understand though," H stated as they began to move.

"What?"

"Well, when Jim saw you he said you needed him. What did he mean by that?"

Jim cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Uh... Well, I think I can answer that. I've been dreaming about Blair for a while now. In the dreams, he's killed right in front of me."

"What, are sentinels psychic too? Are you in any kind of danger, Blair?" H asked.

The young man seemed to hesitate, then nodded. "Maybe not psychic, but they seem to have a sixth sense, especially when it comes to protecting guides. And I think I am in danger, yes. I've been having a lot of strange accidents lately. A large rock fell from a building and nearly crushed me, a runaway wagon passed just as I was crossing a street, that sort of thing. Separate incidents, but too many to be a coincidence. And someone tried to kidnap me two days ago, only Rafe stopped it from happening."

"Rafe?" Jim echoed.

"Yes. He's the Captain of the Royal Guard, and my best friend. You'll meet him soon enough. Since we don't know who's behind my 'accidents', we decided to keep it between us. No one else knows about it. And, of course, we want to keep it that way. We have our suspicions, though," Blair responded, then stopped abruptly. "And here it is, the city of Atlantis!"

They were on top of a mountain looking down on the whole island. In a valley before them lay a magnificent city. From where they were standing, they could see wide curving boulevards with smaller avenues branching out like spokes in a wheel. Shining domes and rectangular buildings fronted by large columns could be seeing throughout the city. Then there were the gigantic statues, majestic temples and pyramids. To the far south was a small harbor with colorful boats moored at the docks. Surrounding the city to the north were mountains that seemed to soar to the sky. Lakes, rivers, and meadows dotted the mountains, finishing the heavenly scenery.

"My God..." Simon whispered in awe. "This place is -- is --"

Blair laughed. "Most people get lost for words when they see Atlantis from here. Quite a sight, isn't it? Let's go down."

They descended the mountain slowly, taking their time, watching as the fabulous city grew closer to them.

"What's that big building in the center of the city?" Simon asked.

"It's a temple. It was built to honor Poseidon and houses a giant gold statue of him riding a chariot pulled by winged horses. It's where our rulers come to discuss laws, pass judgments, and make any important decisions concerning the island. The main room is where the crystal I told you about is kept. It controls our climate and surrounds the island with the force field. With the exception of the disturbances I mentioned earlier, nobody can get off of the island unless the crystal is disabled. Only Megan can do that, and then only by Royal decree."

"Megan?" Simon echoed.

"Our High Priestess. She protects and works with the crystal," Blair responded. "She's also Rafe's sister. She's away right now, visiting another temple on the outside world. She'll be back in time for my coronation, though."

They were walking along the beautiful city streets now, and were greeted with smiles and waves by most of the Atlanteans that happened to cross their path. Their way of dressing was very uniform; nearly everyone was wearing the same style, only differing in the color. The women wore long, see-through dresses, crossed at the front and tied at the waist with gold leaf belts. Most of them had long hair, interwoven with gold braiding, much like what the Americans had seen in movies or books about the Greek times. The men were dressed as Blair was, with the same see-through material. All in all, they looked beautiful and contributed to the unearthly atmosphere of the whole island.

Blair turned to them and smiled slightly. "It's time for you to meet Queen Maya. All foreigners must be presented to her. One word of advice -- if you're planning on trying to escape from here, keep it to yourselves. Go along with whatever she tells you. If she likes you and thinks you're honest, she'll welcome you to Atlantis. But if she suspects anything, she'll have someone breathing down your necks twenty-four hours a day."

*"*"*"*"*

Jim sighed as he looked around the rooms they had been given. Each had a spacious bedroom and bath in their suite. The windows overlooked a courtyard and they could see the temple. They were surrounded by pale colors, and the furniture was scarce, but comfortable. Like everything they'd seen so far, the rooms seemed to have been designed to give their inhabitants a sense of peace and well-being. It wasn't working. The meeting with Queen Maya had been somewhat unnerving, to say the least. He thanked God that Blair had warned them; they had been able to pass the 'interview' with her.

She was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, and clearly very shrewd. She had looked Jim, Simon and Henri over thoroughly as Blair gave her a shortened version of their meeting. He had carefully omitted any references to Jim being a sentinel. It was clear that he didn't trust his queen very much.

As Blair had thought, Maya let them go, apparently satisfied with their story and believing that they were willing to stay freely. It was Rafe who actually seemed to doubt them more.

The Captain of the Royal Guard had looked relieved when they had entered the temple and he had spotted Blair with them. He had given Blair a thorough scolding for evading his guard and taking off into the jungle by himself. Blair just rolled his eyes, having obviously heard the lecture before. Rafe had also examined the new arrivals far more carefully than the queen had, and had seemed immediately suspicious of them.

Despite his irritation at Rafe's mistrust, Jim admitted that he could understand it. He couldn't help the thought that if Blair was his responsibility, he would certainly not want him to wander away either. He was just too trusting -- and too beautiful -- to be on his own, especially if someone was trying to kidnap him.

The only problem had occurred when they were forced to leave their weapons in Rafe's care. Apparently, it was against the law to carry any kind of weapon. Even most of the native residents didn't have any weapons; only the guards and a few higher Ministers or members of the Council were allowed to use them. Losing their weapons didn't sit well with the police officers, and they'd tried to protest, but it had been in vain. Afraid to create any complications during their forced stay, they had decided to relent. For the moment.

Jim was brought back to the present by Simon's voice as he came back into the main room after enjoying a leisurely bath. "I have to admit that that bathroom is about the nicest I've ever seen."

"And the food isn't bad, either," H agreed.

"A gilded cage, but still a cage," Simon observed darkly.

Jim nodded, his gaze going back to the tall windows. He finally loaded a plate with a selection of fruits from the table and joined the others on the couch in the main room. After Maya had welcomed them, they had been shown to a large suite of rooms in what looked to be a huge palace. Blair had explained that all newcomers were housed there until they'd had a chance to settle in. No doubt it also made it easier to keep an eye on suspicious individuals.

Simon looked over at Jim as he finally seemed to relax a bit. He was worried about his friend. Blair had been ordered by Maya to stay with her while they were shown to their rooms, claiming she needed to talk with him. Simon had noticed the clenching of Jim's jaw as he was separated from the young man. In only a few hours, the prince seemed to have broken through Jim's walls in a way no one had before.

Maybe it was the 'sentinel' thing. He hadn't been sure what to think about it at all. He had known that Jim was having problems but had never attributed them to something as vital as his senses going haywire. He had thought them due to stress and tension that Jim seemed to draw to him. But if Blair was correct, the cause was something entirely different.

Jim suddenly lifted his head sharply, his eyes darting to the door. He rose and quickly moved to open it. Standing in the hall were Blair and Rafe. Rafe looked even more suspicious at having the door swung open before they could knock but Blair seemed unfazed. They entered and Jim shut the door firmly behind them.

"Are you getting settled in?" Blair asked them.

"Pretty well," Simon answered. H nodded agreement. "How did things go with Maya?"

Blair grinned. "She doesn't suspect anything that I can tell. It's normal procedure for you to be watched for a while, so expect that, but otherwise I think no one will doubt you. You're the first new foreigners in several years, so you'll probably get a lot of questions about the state of the outside world, but other than that, things should be fine."

"Must be hard for people, having to leave everything behind and be expected to just start a new life," Henri commented.

A sad look crossed Blair's face. "Yes, it is. That's one reason new people are watched for a time. So many at first think they can handle it, but then want to return home after they realize how much they miss it."

"It's our law," Rafe interjected. He cast a suspicious look over at Jim, who returned the glare.

Jim and Rafe had not hit it off. Both were intent on protecting Blair and both felt that they had the right; Rafe, by years of growing up with Blair and being his guard, and Jim, by the dreams and the immediate connection he had felt to Blair. They were bound to clash sooner or later.

Simon preferred to make it later. Things were happening far too rapidly and the lack of control was getting harder to take. "Why don't we sit down and plan what we are going to do now," he suggested, his eyes turning to Blair. "Will you help us?"

"Yes. Like I said, I don't agree with what Maya is doing. Maybe it's time to start fighting and the three of you are just the ones to give us a hand."

"Great! What can we do, then?" Henri grinned.

"There's nothing you can do!" Rafe nearly growled. "You are here and here you must stay."

"Rafe!" Blair hissed angrily.

Henri watched the handsome young man turn to his Prince. "What? What are you going to do? Help them escape? Haven't you got enough problems without joining these outsiders' schemes? Do you have any idea what will happen if the queen finds out?"

"She's not going to find out unless you tell her."

Rafe turned a deep shade of red, his anger clear to everyone in the room. "I'm trying to protect you, damnit! I'd never betray you like that, you know that!"

"Then help us out," Blair interjected.

The Captain of the Royal Guard looked at him for a long time, the silence stretching heavily between them. "I can't. I must do my duty," he finally said softly, turning and leaving without another word.

"Damn," Blair whispered sadly.

Henri rose and patted the young man's shoulder slightly. "I'll talk to him," he offered. Without waiting for an answer, he went after Rafe.

*"*"*"*"*

"Rafe! Rafe, wait up!"

The young captain stopped abruptly and turned with an annoyed expression. "What?!" he asked sharply, glaring at the outsider he knew was called Henri.

"I want to talk to you," Henri replied.

"We have nothing to talk about." He turned and began to move away, but a hand on his arm stopped him.

"Wait! Please..."

Something in the other man's voice made him look up. Henri was looking at him somewhat sadly. "Why?"

"We don't want to cause you or Blair any problems, Rafe, I swear to God. Put yourself in our place, man. We land on this island, miles away from home, and we're told that we have to settle down and enjoy it; that going home is not an option. How would you feel?"

Rafe sighed. "Look, I understand, really I do. But things are very tense here. Atlantis is not the paradise it used to be. We're sitting on a barrel of powder and the slightest thing will make it go off. Maya is dangerous. If she finds out..."

"She won't, I promise. We'll be careful. Please, help us out."

The young man looked deep into the beautiful warm eyes of the handsome black man in front of him and felt his resolve slipping. "You will, though, you know?" he said, softly.

Henri shook his head and frowned, confused. "Will what?"

"Causes us problems. I told you, Maya is dangerous. She... Strange things have been happening to Blair. I --"

"The 'accidents' and the kidnapping?" Henri interrupted. "Yes, he told us. What about it?"

"We think she's the one behind it all. That's why we've kept it to ourselves."

"Why would she do that? Isn't she his stepmother?"

"Yes. But she's also the Queen, and she wants to keep it that way. She enjoys the power she has over her 'subjects'." Rafe's voice was dripping with sarcasm. "Blair will be thirty in a few weeks and she will have to step down and give him the throne. If something were to happen to him before that..."

"She would get to keep her place as ruler," H understood. "Damn! We have to keep an eye on him then."

The younger man looked at him in surprise. "You'd do that?"

H grinned. "Of course! I like Blair. He helped us when we got here and wants to helps us get back home. The least we can do is stick around until he becomes king. I'll talk with the others, but I'm sure they won't mind. Jim seems head over heels with your young Prince," he smirked. "It's quite a sight, let me tell you."

They shared a knowing smile, Rafe finally relaxing his guard a little. He was startled when Henri extended a hand to him.

"Help us?"

Something made Rafe accept the offered hand. "I don't have much choice," he said ruefully, shaking H's hand. "Blair is my Prince and I swore to protect him. If he's on your side. Then so am I."

"Thank you, man."

Rafe smiled, and Henri caught his breath. "Wow..." he finally exhaled.

"What?" Rafe asked, confused.

"You're gorgeous, especially when you smile!" H said, grinning as he saw Rafe blush slightly.

"Thanks, I think..." Rafe said, somewhat shyly.

Henri felt his smile widening. Rafe was a very good-looking man, and he was looking forward to getting to know him better. As they'd been walking through the streets earlier, he'd noticed several same-sex couples walking hand in hand, so he knew Rafe would probably not be offended by his advances. Time would tell, but maybe his stay in Atlantis wasn't going to be so bad after all.

Still holding Rafe's hand, H pulled him slightly. "Come on, let's go back to the others. I need to talk to my friends about staying here until Blair is crowned King."

*"*"*"*"*

Over two weeks later, Jim found himself following Blair as they made their way deep into the forest around the palace. The stay in Atlantis had been going surprisingly well. Blair had stayed clear of any further 'accidents', and the detectives were actually enjoying the deceptive peace surrounding them. Jim knew it wouldn't last, but for the moment he was determined to just relax and enjoy it.

Behind him, Henri and Rafe followed at a discrete distance. Although there had been no further threats to the prince's life, Rafe had refused to leave Blair's side, even when he was with others. He obviously still didn't completely trust them, taking his guard duties very seriously. He had vowed that his childhood friend would take his rightful place as king -- no matter what it took to do it.

Henri subtly managed to increase the distance between the two pairs of men, happy that Simon had decided to stay behind and search for possible escape routes. Even with Blair's and Rafe's help, they would need to know the area well.

Having Simon around would have made his plans more difficult. Although he knew his friend and superior was bisexual, he wouldn't feel comfortable trying to seduce Rafe under Simon's ever-seeing eyes. It would have definitely ruined the mood.

He made sure they were close enough to keep the others in clear sight -- but far enough to allow some privacy. He was still getting to know the handsome guard captain and was eager for some time at least partially alone. And, he reflected with a grin, he was certain that Jim would welcome some time alone with the beautiful Blair.

After a long walk, they came to a clearing by a stream. Henri took Rafe's hand and tugged him down to sit on the ground, allowing the other pair to move a bit away. Blair threw the outsider a grateful look and a grin. He'd had a feeling about his friend and the newcomer. The feeling was confirmed when Rafe actually turned his attention away from him and focused on Henri.

Blair and Jim settled down under a shady tree near the stream. The older man glanced at his companion as he leaned against the tree. A sigh reached his ears.

"Tired?"

"A little," Blair admitted. He reached up to push back a few locks of his long curly hair that the wind had blown free of the tie. "Preparing for the ceremony is getting kind of exhausting."

Blair had been spending nearly every morning and afternoon with the Ministers and Council, preparing for his coronation. In turn, Jim, Simon and Henri were staying close to the palace with Rafe, keeping watch on him. So far they had only the evenings to be alone and plan for the escape. The enforced separation was beginning to bother Jim, for reasons that he knew were not logical. He had no claim to Blair, but he *felt* as if he did, and he nearly growled every time Blair had to leave his side.

Unbidden, his hand reached out and gently took hold of the tie keeping Blair's hair back. The young prince looked at him uncertainly, but didn't move away from his touch. Jim carefully released the tie and finger-combed the hair free.

"It looks good this way," he said quietly.

"I usually keep it loose," Blair admitted. "But for formal state occasions I pull it back. I should try to look like a king, even though I don't feel like one." There was a note of sadness in his voice.

"What's wrong?" Jim asked.

"I don't know. I suppose... just frustration with everything. There's so much I want to do as King, but there are also so many duties and obligations. I remember how well my father handled it all and it just amazes me."

"You miss him." It was not a question.

"Yeah. I mean, I didn't know him all that well, he wasn't the friendliest person, but I did love him. It was really my grandfather that I spent most of my time with."

A soft sound from the other pair in the clearing drew Jim's attention for a moment. Rafe was actually smiling and he and Henri were deep in conversation.

"What are they saying?"

The question surprised Jim. "How would I know?" he asked mildly.

Blair was grinning now and he sat up more. "You could hear them, if you tried. You're a sentinel."

Jim shook his head. "I know what you told me about that, about enhanced senses and all, but it seems pretty unreal."

"Try it. Then you'll believe."

The older man frowned a bit, but he had never been one to turn down a challenge. He looked at Rafe and Henri as if just seeing them would miraculously allow him to hear them. After a moment, he shook his head. "Nothing."

"Come on, try harder. Concentrate on them, like you would concentrate on a conversation in a crowded room. Just let it happen."

Blair's soft voice drew Jim in and he turned his attention to his friend and the guard. Blair was continuing to talk and Jim let his tone guide him as his hearing suddenly extended.

"... and what about you? Anyone special?" It was Henri's voice.

"No. There's never been time, really."

"I understand. But sometimes, you have to *make* the time."

"Well... "

Jim's concentration broke off when Blair touched his arm. "Anything?" the young man asked eagerly.

"Um, yeah." He looked back at Blair. "Henri is making his move."

"His move?" Blair frowned. "What's that?"

Jim shook his head. It was times like this, when Blair didn't understand some expression, that it was brought home to him that he was in a foreign land.

"Er -- He likes Rafe. A lot. 'Making a move' means he's trying to date him."

"Oh!" Blair's face brightened. "That would be great! Rafe has always been devoted to his job -- that's me, basically. I keep telling him to find someone, that I can take care of myself, but he says he doesn't have time. And that's really sort of true." He looked over at his best friend, a proud expression on his face. "Rafe is the youngest Captain of the Royal Guard in history. He's pretty ambitious, but he forgets that he needs people too." He looked back at Jim, and saw an odd expression on his face. "What?"

"What about you, Blair? Don't you need someone?"

Blair stood up and moved slightly away from Jim, his back to the other man, arms folded defensively across his chest. Finally, he sighed and turned around, his dark ocean eyes locking on Jim's clear sky ones.

"Sometimes. Sometimes the weight of what I'm about to become gets too heavy, and I wish I had someone I trusted besides Rafe to talk to, to be with me, to share the load."

"That's not exactly what I meant," Jim remarked.

The younger man nodded. "I know, but that's out of my hands. Once I'm King, the Council will choose someone for me to marry. I'll have no choice in the matter."

Jim looked shocked. "But that's -- that's --"

"Old-fashioned where you come from? Wrong? Stupid? Maybe, that and more. But it's the way it's done in Atlantis. We have to keep going, make new life to continue where we left off. It's the way of our world."

"And you'll go along with that?!"

"Like I said, I have no choice."

Jim shook his head, his heart beating painfully in his chest. "But I thought we..."

Blair looked deep into his eyes, somehow understanding what he was trying to say. "I feel it too, Jim. But maybe it's not meant to be. I'll help you get control of your senses, show you what an amazing gift they are. And you know I'll be happy to have you here for as long as you want to stay. But this isn't the kind of life for a man like you. You want action, an active life, and this place is too quiet, too calm. You'd want to leave after only a short time. And of course, there's the matter of your friends. They don't want to stay. That's why you're planning to escape after all, isn't it?"

"Damn!" Jim whispered softly, his gaze missing the beauty of the haven surrounding them. "It's not fair."

Blair shrugged. "Life's not fair."

Jim saw the resignation in the expressive face in front of him, and made his decision. He would convince Blair to escape with them somehow. It would take time, but maybe there was a way. He didn't know what kind of relationship they were creating, or would have in the future, but he knew he couldn't leave Atlantis without the younger man. It would be like leaving a part of himself behind.

He would stay for as long as possible, using his senses to keep Blair close. There was no denying that he needed the help, so it wouldn't exactly be a lie. It was a relief to know he wasn't going crazy, that he was perfectly normal, even if he didn't understand why he'd been chosen for such a gift, as Blair had called it.

"Okay," he finally nodded. "Help me with this sentinel thing then. The rest will work itself out."

Blair didn't look convinced, but smiled slightly. "Very well, Sentinel. In that case, and while your friend is still 'making his move' on Rafe, why don't we start with a few exercises to help you control those enhanced senses of yours?"

"Sure. What do I have to do?"

For the next three hours, the two worked hard, doing exercises and tests, anything that would help Jim. After a while, Jim was able to focus his senses with much more control. He had been able to extend them farther than ever before and Blair had shown him how to numb them to a normal human's level. It was impressive and Jim couldn't help beaming.

"Once they're under control it becomes a totally different story. I wish I'd known about this before!"

"There's a time for everything, Jim," Blair said enigmatically. "And right know, it's time to head back. Your friend must be worried about the two of you."

Jim chuckled. "Yeah. Hey, H! Rafe! Let's head back. Simon must be climbing the walls by now."

Both H and Rafe started at the shout, guilty expressions crossing their faces. They'd been so lost in each other that they had forgotten all about the other two. Rafe flushed deeply and got up, muttering angrily. That was not the way to guard the future king. Next time he would have to be more careful, instead of falling for the foreigner's charms so quickly.

Everyone stood up and got ready to leave. Blair was about to tease Rafe mercilessly about having a new boyfriend, when beside him Jim suddenly stopped moving and looked around. His head was tilted slightly and the young man instinctively knew he was listening for something. Without any conscious thought, his hand moved to the sentinel's shoulder, grounding him and keeping him from zoning.

Later, everyone would say it all happened too fast to explain in detail. With an unexpected warning shout, Jim jumped in front of Blair, shielding him, and getting shot with an arrow clearly meant for the young prince.

"Jim!" Blair felt the impact of the arrow into the body against his own, but was unable to hold the bigger man. The both fell to the ground, Jim unmoving on top of the prince. "Jim! Jim, are you okay?! Jim!"

"Blair, shut up! You'll just draw attention to your position!" Rafe hissed from a few feet away. They were sitting ducks in the clearing, unable to do more than to try to protect themselves. Both he and Henri were also on the ground, waiting for the killer to make another try.

"God, I wish I had my gun," Henri whispered, shooting Rafe a glare he usually reserved for the worst of criminals.

"Hey, don't look at me," the young captain scowled back. "It's not my fault no one is allowed to carry guns. I didn't make the rules."

H snorted, but refrained from answering. The last thing he wanted was to blow his chances with the hazel-eyed Atlantean, but he was scared shitless for his friend. Jim was clearly unconscious, the arrow visible in his shoulder. God, it was too close to the heart! What if Jim was dead?

As if understanding what the detective was feeling, Blair turned his head towards them, and whispered for their ears only, "He's alive! I can feel his heartbeat. Please..." he begged Rafe, his eyes beginning to mist.

Rafe nodded in understanding. He stood up swiftly, hoping that whoever it was had gone, and sighed in relief when no arrow came flying in his direction. Feeling Henri stand up and follow him, Rafe quickly searched the surrounding woods and found no one, only footprints showing where the bastard had been.

"When we find who did this..." H growled angrily beside him.

Rafe nodded and turned back to Henri. "Come on, let's see how your friend is doing and get him back to the city. Our medicine people will take good care of him."

"Rafe..." Henri whispered, a forlorn expression crossing his face.

"I know, H, I know. He's going to be okay, you'll see. Everything's going to be okay. Come on, I don't want to leave them alone for too long."

They made their way back to their friends and carefully removed Blair from under Jim. Keeping their movements as slow and gentle as possible, they secured the injured man safely between them and returned to the city.

*"*"*"*"*

Two hours later, the Atlantean's medicine people were taking care of Jim. Blair was in the room with him, while outside, Rafe and Henri sat side by side, anxiously waiting to hear something about Jim's condition.

"God, this is all my fault!" Rafe whispered softly, his eyes never leaving his hands.

"Why is it your fault? There was no way you could've stopped that arrow."

"No, but I should be the one in that room. It was my duty to protect my Prince, and I failed."

"Man! I love Jim; he's one of my best friends. We've been through thick and thin and if he dies..." He nearly choked on that thought. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he waited until his emotions were under control before turning his attention back to his new friend. "Rafe, your taking that arrow wouldn't have been the solution either. Whoever did this got away. If you were dead or hurt, who would've protected Blair? Whoever did this is going to keep trying. You need to be alert and able to do your job. And... I'll help you."

"You will?"

Henri smiled slightly. "Don't look so surprised. Like I said before, I like Blair a lot, and, well... I want to catch the bastard that did this to Jim. Will you let me help you, Rafe?"

"Yes. Thank you, Henri. For everything."

"Everything?" Henri echoed, his head tilted in confusion.

Rafe nodded. "For being here, for helping out, for... caring."

Nearing footsteps silenced whatever answer Brown might have given.

"Hey, Brown!" Simon nearly ran to them. "I was just told. What happened? Is Jim all right? What's going on?"

"He was shot by an arrow meant for Blair. We didn't catch who did it, and we're still waiting to know his condition."

"Damn!" Simon huffed. "I guess the person that doesn't want Blair as king has changed their mind about kidnapping him. This is serious business, Rafe. What will happen if we find out who's behind this?"

"He or she will be killed. The manner of death will depend on the Ministers and the Council. But it will be difficult."

"Why?" Simon asked.

Rafe looked around to make sure they were alone. "I still think Queen Maya is responsible. She's the one who stands to lose the most if Blair becomes King. But to make sure she's convicted, we need to catch whoever she paid to hurt Blair. Without that there's no way of proving my suspicion."

The other two remained silent, but the determination on their faces was clear. Their jurisdiction or not, they were not about to let something like this go unpunished. Nobody messed with the Major Crime unit, or their loved ones. The sound of an opening door caught their attention and the three men turned to see Blair walking wearily towards them.

"Well?" Simon questioned apprehensively.

"He's going to be okay. He was very lucky. The arrow missed the vital organs and didn't chip any bone, so... A few days rest and he'll be able to move around again. Tomorrow morning they'll take him back to your suite and you guys will have to make sure he stays put."

H grimaced. "That will be like a trip to the dentist. He's the worst patient I've ever seen in my life!"

"You okay?" Rafe asked, not liking the sad look on Blair's face.

"Yeah..." Blair exhaled softly. "It's just that -- I guess I finally realized that someone really wants me dead."

"Hey, it's okay," Rafe soothed, hugging his childhood friend tightly. "Nothing like this will ever happen again. We'll be watching now, I'll be more careful. I promise."

"All of us will be protecting you, Blair," Simon interjected. "You'll be safe."

The young prince smiled weakly. "Thanks. And I'm sorry for Jim."

H shook his head. "There's nothing to feel sorry about. And I have a feeling he'd do it again in a heartbeat."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Blair muttered. "That's what I'm afraid of..."

*"*"*"*"*

Jim grumbled under his breath as he fidgeted with the blankets. The bandages itched, and he moved one hand up a bit, preparing to scratch.

"Don't." The word, mild and calm, came from the figure in the chair at the side of his bed.

"Don't what?" Jim asked, acting innocent.

Blair sighed as he looked up from his book. "Don't mess with the bandages. You know they need to stay undisturbed." He reached over and moved Jim's hand away from the wrappings in question. "Try to leave them alone for more than five minutes, all right?"

Jim glared. "I'll try," he answered. Blair smiled, and it lit up the entire room. It gave Jim something to look at and think about other than his wound. The prince had been at his side every minute since the assassination attempt, three days earlier. He actually felt guilty about Jim being injured.

"Jim? I want to say thank you again. You saved my life out there. And it's my fault that you were hurt."

Now it was Jim's turn to sigh. "Blair, someone tried to kill you. That's hardly your fault."

"You know what I mean." Blair stood up and began to pace a bit, nervous energy practically crackling off him. "It's just unbelievable that this happened. It's hard to have to accept that someone hates you so much that they want you dead."

Jim nodded. As a cop, he knew that the intended victims always had difficulty accepting such a harsh reality. Unfortunately, as a cop he saw far too many harsh realities.

"It's never easy to accept that, Blair, and it takes time to face it. But you're not alone." He reached out with his good arm and lightly grasped the prince's hand as he walked past. "You know that I'm not leaving you by yourself. And neither are Simon, Henri, or Rafe."

Blair managed a smile at that. He had stayed beside Jim since his release from the hospital and Rafe had practically glued himself to his best friend. Rafe was the only one who felt more guilt than Blair about the shooting. He was convinced that he had let Blair down and was now insisting on protective measures that made even Jim wince.

Blair was allowed only in rooms that met Rafe's security approval, and that was apparently restricted to their new suite. When Jim had been released from the hospital, he had expected to go back to the rooms he, Simon, and Henri had been in. However, after realizing that Blair intended to stay with him, Rafe had arranged to move Jim to a new set of rooms. The story he gave others was that they were closer to the hospital. In reality, they were very secure indeed.

The windows were very small and had gilded bars over the larger ones. There were no outside doors others than the main one to the corridor. Rafe had personally inspected each room to ensure that there were no hidden passageways. No less lavish than the rest of the palace, they were nonetheless similar to a prison. A perfect place to keep the prince safe.

Guards handpicked by Rafe stood outside the door, and Rafe himself stayed in the suite. Blair was not allowed outside at all. Things from his rooms were brought to him, but he could not go past the main door. Everyone was concerned about the attempted assassination and, thus far, no one had tried to interfere with Rafe's security measures. No one other than Blair, that is.

"It's necessary, Blair," Rafe had argued when Blair complained, "and it's not just me who's concerned." He paused, recalling the looks that had passed between Jim and the prince. He hadn't been completely distracted by Henri in the clearing and was sure that he had noticed some attraction between the other men. Maybe playing on that would help keep Blair where he was safe.

"You want to be with Jim, don't you?" At Blair's nod, he continued. "Whoever was trying to kill you will probably come after him as well since he prevented their plans. You're both safer here. The healers won't let Jim move around much now anyway."

That ploy had worked, and Blair had accepted the security without further argument. Now he sat down again beside Jim's bed.

"I'm sorry. You're right, and so is Rafe. I just don't like to admit it because then it makes it all so real that someone wants me dead."

"That's understandable. It's a lot to have to accept. But just know that you're safe here."

"I know." Blair played with one of the books again. "I feel like I should study this some more, but I think I have it nearly all memorized."

"What is it?"

Blair held up the large book. "My homework," he said ruefully. "Information on the coronation, things I have to say, the order of the ceremony." He restlessly flipped a few pages. "This doesn't seem real, either, and I've prepared for this my whole life."

Jim studied the young man beside him. It was hard to believe that he would soon be King. The depth of the responsibility was beginning to weigh on him. And knowing that someone was willing to kill him to prevent his coronation was a harsh addition to the stress.

"Sometimes, things don't seem real until they're actually happening. You picture it, think about it, but it doesn't click until it's right in front of you. It's normal for it to seem like a dream."

The younger man looked at him. "You sound like you're speaking from experience," he ventured.

Jim smiled. "Yeah, I guess I am." He shifted a bit to get more comfortable on the pillows. "Blair, everyone goes through things that they think won't really ever happen. You think you know what your reaction will be, but then when it actually happens, you feel like you're not ready for it. You'll get through this fine."

"I suppose," Blair toyed with the book for a minute, then put it aside. "But I still can't stop shaking at times. I feel weak. How am I supposed to lead Atlantis if I'm this worried about just the coronation?"

Ellison shook his head. "It's not *just* the coronation, Blair, and you know that. There's also the fact that someone wants you dead." He saw Blair wince a bit at that, but he had to be frank. "Don't kid yourself. That's hard to take. Add in the little fact that you're about to become the King, and well, let's just say that nerves are perfectly acceptable. I certainly don't think less of you."

Blair blushed a little and looked down. "Thank you. Again. I guess I needed to hear that from someone I trust. Rafe has always said that, but it's nice to hear it again from someone else."

"I'm glad you trust me, Blair," Jim said simply. For a long minute, there was a comfortable silence between the two men, both lost in private thoughts.

Blair seemed about to speak when angry voices rose from outside. Before either man could move, the door burst open and men swarmed into the room.

"What going on?" Blair demanded, as he watched Rafe arguing with the captain of Maya's personal guard.

"You are NOT taking him, you understand? I am the Captain of the Royal Guard. You have no authority over me."

The other man ignored the young captain and turned to Blair. "Your Highness," he began, bowing respectfully. "Queen Maya has ordered that you be placed under the protection of her personal guard and taken to rooms elsewhere."

"What?" Jim shouted, trying to get up. Simon and Henri had joined them and were arguing as well.

Blair finally managed to speak over the din. "I prefer the protection of my own guard, Captain," he said carefully.

The man shook his head. "Queen Maya has ordered this, Your Highness. I must insist that you come with me."

"No!" Rafe pushed his way between Blair and the other man. "I am the prince's offical guard. The queen's personal guard has no business protecting him. I'm the one responsible for him and I have the final say."

"You are certainly free to plead your case to the queen, Captain," the other man shrugged. "But only *after* the prince has been taken to safety."

"Safety?" Simon repeated. "He is safe here. There's no need to move him now."

Whatever the man would have answered went unsaid when one of the officers began to pull out his sword, apparently unwilling to put up with arguments from the newcomers. Rafe instantly drew his own weapon, still standing protectively in front of Blair.

"Not even you are allowed to draw your weapon around the prince unless he is in immediate danger, Captain! Have your man put his weapon away!" he said angrily.

"We are his guard now," the other Captain answered smoothly. "And we have authority to use force, if necessary."

"That won't be necessary." It was Blair, speaking quietly. Everyone quieted to hear him. "I will come with you, Captain, of course, since my Queen has ordered it." He waved off potential arguments from Jim, Rafe, Simon, and Henri. "However, I need a moment to say goodbye to my friends."

He turned to shake Jim's hand, as if he had just been visiting a casual friend. "I wish you well, Jim," he said calmly. "I'm sure that I will see you at the coronation. And again, I must thank you for your help to me earlier." He then turned to Simon and Henri and said much the same.

Jim was stunned. What was happening? Why was Blair so meekly going with them? Then he noticed Blair casually touch his ear and pull it slightly. He did it again while he spoke with Simon. Then realization hit him -- hearing! Blair was telling him to turn up his hearing and listen for something. He focused on Blair's voice, filtering to hear what Blair was mumbling under his breath.

Jim, I have to go with them. It will look too suspicious if I don't. And I really don't have any grounds not to go. Listen for me. You can hear me anywhere. Listen for my voice and you can hear everything that is happening. I'll keep talking to you.

Blair looked at Jim, hoping that he had picked up on the cue, and Jim nodded. Relief flooded the younger man's body. At least Jim would be listening to anything that happened to him. He would not be completely alone.

"Your Highness, I must insist we leave now," the Captain was saying.

"Yes, of course." He turned to leave and the strange guards surrounded him, looking menacing, rather than protecting. Without another word, he was gone.

Rafe nearly growled as he watched his Prince and best friend walk out the door. "No, no, no!" he muttered, his boots making loud grating noises on the marble floor as he paced frantically.

"Rafe, calm down," Henri tried soothingly.

"Calm down?! Calm down?! How can I calm down?! If Queen Maya is behind the kidnapping and the murder attempts, then Blair is a sitting duck right now. There's no way that Chapel will let me get close enough to protect him."

"Chapel?" Simon echoed.

"Warren Chapel, the bastard that took Blair away just now. I've never liked the man. His devotion to Queen Maya borders on obsession. Most people think they're sleeping together. I wouldn't put it past him to be the one responsible for the attempts. He's a dangerous man."

Something about the young captain's frantic expression made Jim relent a little. Things hadn't been good between the two of them since his arrival on Atlantis. He knew most of it was his own fault, due to his almost immediate need to protect Blair. He could hardly blame Rafe for being in the position he hungered for.

"Rafe," he began gently. "How much did Blair tell you about me?"

The young captain whirled around and faced him. "What do you mean?" he asked impatiently.

"Did he tell you anything at all about me?"

Rafe just shook his head, his confusion plain to see.

"I'm a sentinel," Jim stated firmly. Blair had told him about how highly the Atlanteans regarded their watchers and protectors, about how having heightened senses was not such an unusual thing on the island.

Rafe blinked, and then a slow, wide smile began to light up his handsome face. "You're listening to him!" he exclaimed.

"Yes. If he's in any kind of danger, I'll know. Nothing will happen to Blair," Jim vowed fiercely.

"Um. Can I stay here with you guys, then?" Rafe asked, almost shyly. "I want to join whatever action might take place."

"You're more than welcome," Jim smiled. "The four of us are Blair's only hope of becoming the king; it's up to us to stick together and pull him through." He extended his hand towards Rafe. "We got off to a bad start, Rafe. It's time to change that. I'm sorry about the way I've been acting."

Rafe shook his hand and nodded. "I'm sorry too, Jim. It's kind of late, but welcome to Atlantis."

The four men smiled ruefully at each other.

"Geez, why do I suddenly feel like one of the three musketeers?" Henri chuckled.

"There are four of us, Henri," Rafe said, looking at H in confusion.

"Actually, that's the title of a book by Alexandre Dumas. You know, now that you mention it, it should've been called the 'Four musketeers.' I never quite got that," Simon started to explain. Realizing he was confusing the other man further, he shook his head and chuckled. "Never mind, Rafe. We'll tell you all about it later."

"Amazing how you can become so attached to someone in so little time," Henri muttered suddenly, not really knowing if he meant Blair, the hazel-eyed captain in front of him, or both.

But, either way, he knew that he would do anything to keep them both safe, or die trying. He'd never planned for something so unbelievable as ending up on the time-forgotten island of Atlantis, but now that they were there, he'd make sure that everything was fine before trying to leave. He saw the same determination on his friends' faces.

*"*"*"*"*

Blair sighed wearily as he gazed up at the starred sky. The day had been surprisingly quiet; Captain Chapel had taken him to some rooms close to the queen's and left him alone there after placing two of his own men at the door.

The queen herself had come to visit, explaining that she'd heard rumors about an assassination plot on the prince's life; that was why he had been moved. It was for his own safety. Blair didn't believe a word, but refrained from saying so, not wanting her to suspect that he thought she was behind what had been happening to him lately.

The only good thing about the long day was his 'conversations' with Jim. Blair knew in his heart that the other man had understood his message and was listening to him, so he kept talking and talking, taking comfort in knowing that the sentinel would come running should Blair ever need him. The young prince watched as a shooting star crossed the dark sky and sighed again.

You know, Jim, it feels good to know that you're close, listening to me. I can almost feel your presence around me... He paused to gather his troubled thoughts. There's something going on between us, isn't there? God, this is so wrong, but I can't seem to help it. This island is my home, where I belong. You can't wait to leave here. We're as different as the sun and the moon. And yet... I feel drawn to you, like I've known you all of my life. How is that possible? How do I fight it?

Some distance away, in his own room, Jim took a deep breath. He'd spent the whole day in bed recuperating from his injury and listening to the young prince, watching over him in a way, making sure he was safe. Blair's last words had struck deep because they spoke of every emotion he was feeling inside. Everything around them pointed to the fact that a relationship between them was doomed to failure. But still, they seemed to grow closer and closer together, unable to prevent what was coming their way.

"God, what a mess," he whispered brokenly.

He continued to listen until Blair finally settled down to sleep. He was starting to drift off himself when voices from outside of Blair's room caught his attention and brought him wide awake. After listening for a few seconds, Jim got up as fast as his wounded body allowed and woke up the others.

"What's up?" Henri asked sleepily.

"There's going to be trouble. I just heard the guards outside Blair's room say that it was time to leave so Chapel could do it. I'm assuming that the 'it' they're referring to is trying to kill Blair."

"Shit!" Simon growled, as he rose swiftly from his bed.

The four men had been waiting for something like this to happen, and had decided to sleep with their clothes on to save time. With grim nods to each other, they left the safety of their own rooms and went to the prince's rescue.

*"*"*"*"*

Blair wasn't sure what brought his consciousness to full alert, only that one minute he was fast asleep and the next he was wide awake. Heart beating wildly, but trying to look as if he were still in deep slumber, he listened carefully to his surroundings, trying to pinpoint what had disturbed him.

At first, he thought his imagination was playing tricks on him but when the little hairs on the back of his neck stood up, he jumped up from the bed, just in time to miss the sharp knife coming in his direction.

"Who are you?" he demanded, staring at black-clad figure standing before him.

The man simply smirked from behind the dark hood covering his face and began to advance on the prince, knife held high, watching with cold, laughing eyes as the young man backed away from the deadly threat.

Blair watched his attacker carefully, desperately trying to remember the fighting techniques that Rafe had taught him. The captain had insisted that Blair learn some basic self-defense, although both had certainly hoped that it would never become necessary to use. Now, it seemed that Rafe's overprotection was going to be Blair's only chance.

The man lunged again and Blair managed to side step, narrowly missing the knife. He scrambled over the bed to get out of the corner the man was backing him into. He would have a better chance out in the open.

Frantically, he scanned the room for any type of weapon he could use to defend himself. Nothing. It seemed that all had been arranged to make sure he was helpless. There was nothing sturdier than the pillows for protection. He seized the only thing nearby -- his shoe -- and threw it. The attacker dodged it easily and laughed again, a low, purely evil sound. "It's no use, little Prince," he mocked, advancing on his prey. "Time to be done with this game."

Blair felt anger boil up inside him. "Who sent you?" he shouted. "Who are you working for?"

The man just chuckled. "Someone who needs you out of the way," he answered.

"Maya," Blair breathed. "She was behind it all, wasn't she?"

"Time to quit stalling," was his only answer. The attacker moved quickly, trapping his prey against a wall.

Blair almost made it away, but the man anticipated his move and met him with the knife, sinking it into his side. He staggered away, still trying desperately to get free. "Jim!" he gasped, praying that the sentinel would hear him.

The attacker hesitated at the name of the outsider, puzzled that the prince would cry out for him. How could he help? The man mentally shrugged, not concerned that anyone would hear the outcry. The guards outside the door had been conveniently removed and the outsiders were far on the other side of the castle. He raised the knife, and prepared to move in for the kill. However, his momentary distraction had just saved Blair's life.

A force like a wild animal hit him.

Jim had thrown himself at the attacker with a shout. They slammed to the floor, the knife flying away. Rafe was immediately on top of both of them, helping the sentinel punch and kick at the man until he was unconscious. Jim was enraged beyond all thought, completely ignoring the pain in his shoulder. His mate was in danger from this man -- he had hurt Blair. His hands moved to the attacker's throat and tightened.

Rafe was not inclined to prevent Jim from killing the man, and was still throwing in his own punches. Finally, it was Simon who pulled him away. "Jim!" Simon bellowed, trying to also pull his friend off the stranger. "Don't kill him! We need to find out who hired him!"

The words sank into Rafe's mind, and he knew the American captain was right. He joined in the effort to loosen Jim's hands. "It's true, Jim," he said reluctantly. He wanted to kill the attacker himself, but they needed him alive, at least for the time being.

Their only answer was a snarl. Jim didn't blink, didn't lose his focus on squeezing the life out of the man beneath him. Then a faint sound cut into his mind. "J-Jim?" Jim's head shot up. It sounded like Blair. "P-please."

Jim gave the man one last snarl, then looked at his captain and at Rafe. "We've got him," Simon assured his friend. "Go to Blair, he needs you."

Jim scrambled over to where Blair was sprawled on the floor. Henri was kneeling over him, holding a blanket to his side. "Jim, hold this," Henri said. "I'm going to go get help." He ran out of the room as Jim took over beside the prince.

"Blair?" Jim fought back tears. They had run as fast as they could, but they had still arrived too late. Blair was hurt and, judging from the blood that was soaking through the blanket, it was bad.

"Jim," Blair breathed. "You... you alright?"

"Hey, don't worry about me," Jim said thickly. "I've got you. You're safe now." Blair managed a faint smile, then slipped into unconsciousness. Jim looked up as Henri returned with several guards.

"Healers are on their way," Henri said.

"Tell them to hurry!" Jim urged.

"They are, Jim, they are." Henri knelt beside him again, helping to staunch the flow of blood.

Jim risked looking away from Blair long enough to see Rafe pull the hood off the attacker's face. "My Gods!" Rafe gasped.

"You know him?" Simon asked. The young captain nodded.

"Officer of Chapel's. No doubt now, Chapel himself was behind this, and that means Maya was behind it." He gave into rage and gave the unconscious man another punch. "Bastard!"

"We'll get her," Henri vowed, and Simon nodded. Just then, the healers arrived and rushed to Blair's side.

"How is Blair?" Rafe asked, as men he trusted began to tie up the attacker.

"I don't know," Henri answered, moving away to let the healers work. "Just one cut, I think, but it looks pretty deep."

Simon touched Rafe's shoulder and gestured to the corner where Blair lay. "He has to live. Because if he doesn't, I doubt that Jim will either."

Jim had moved only slightly out of the way, holding Blair's head in his lap, giving the healers access to the wound. Unshed tears were visible in his eyes as he watched over his mate. When it was time to move Blair, he was the one to lift the limp body and lay it on the stretcher. He then walked out beside it, still holding Blair's hand.

*"*"*"*"*

Jim paced nervously outside the room where the healers were working on Blair. His hearing was fully tuned to the sounds coming from the treatment room, ignoring the conversations in the room he was in. And that was a considerable effort.

Maya had arrived soon after Blair had been sequestered, making all the proper noises of concern. Jim knew from her heartbeat that it was an act. Rafe had left briefly to arrange the arrests, taking Simon and Henri with him. He had returned just as Maya made her entrance. Now they were arguing loudly. Rafe was all but accusing her of murder, and Maya was threatening to relieve him of his duties as Captain of the Royal Guard. They stopped only when the elder healer emerged.

Jim had heard the comments from inside the room, and looked relieved. Rafe, knowing that Jim was monitoring the healing, took this as a good sign. "Is Blair alright?" he asked the healer.

"He will recover," the man assured them. "The wound will take some weeks to heal properly, but there will be no lasting damage."

"Oh, I'm so glad," Maya said, a fake smile gracing her face.

It was all Rafe could take. "You tried to kill him," he snapped.

Maya drew herself up. "Captain, you have just overstepped your bounds," she replied. "You are relieved of your duties."

"My duty is to protect the prince," Rafe answered angrily. "There is no question that Chapel attempted to kill Blair and no doubt that it was on your orders."

"I cannot argue that Chapel, for whatever reason, did try to harm Blair," Maya said smoothly. "And I am as appalled as anyone. But you have no right to blame me for his sick actions." It was obvious that she was willing to throw her lover to the wolves to protect herself.

"I have every right," Rafe said. "As Captain of the Royal Guard, I can arrest people who have tried to harm the prince."

"You cannot arrest me," Maya snapped, obvious smugness in her voice.

"No, but I can." A new voice interrupted the din.

Jim turned to see a lovely woman in the doorway. She was tall and slim, dressed in an elegant green gown that highlighted her reddish-brown hair. Behind her stood a number of guards, their uniforms also in green, as well as several other men and women. Rafe sighed in relief and quickly went to her.

"Megan," he breathed, hugging her.

"I'm sorry it took me so long to get here, brother," Megan smiled, returning the hug. "It's horrible what happened to Blair, but now I can finally act."

Jim looked at her curiously. He remembered Blair saying that Megan was the High Priestess, and that she was visiting another temple on the outside world. Now that she had returned, he wondered what she could do. He didn't need to wait long.

The priestess walked up to the queen. "Maya," she said icily. "The Temple Court has found you guilty of attempting to murder our Prince. You are to be taken into custody immediately. Your punishment will be carried out at the first opportunity."

"What?" Maya practically shrieked. "You have no right!"

"I have every right," Megan answered. "The High Priestess is the only one who can pass judgment upon the ruler and I have found you guilty."

"Even you cannot overrule the process," Maya said. "There has been no trial and you have no proof."

One of the men behind Megan answered. "Actually, we have proof in the form of several confessions. Including Chapel's. He confessed to his attempts to murder Prince Blair by your orders, and to all that he knew of your plans. And it did not take long to hold the trial."

Maya visibly paled. "No," she breathed. "Chapel would not --"

"He did indeed confess all, and he was supported by the confessions of others that he named." Megan looked at Maya scornfully. "You showed poor judgment in selecting your accomplices."

"Squealed like pigs," Simon confirmed. Jim saw his captain appear from behind the temple guards, Henri beside him. "I've never seen a bunch so eager to confess."

"They would say anything to save themselves," Maya tried to argue.

"Enough!" Megan ended the discussion. "We have decided there is enough proof and that is all that is necessary in such a case." The priestess gestured to the temple guards. "Get her out of here."

The former queen's dignity fled. Shrieking, Maya had to be practically dragged away.

Jim was almost afraid to hope. "What just happened?" he asked.

Megan smiled at him. "You must be Jim," she said. There was no trace of the angry and powerful High Priestess now, just a friendly young woman. "One of the advantages of my position," she grinned.

"The High Priestess is the only person who can pass judgment on royalty," Simon explained. "When she heard what Chapel and the others had to say, it was a pretty easy decision."

"Yes, Captain Simon and Henri were most helpful with the..." Megan paused, turning to Simon. "Interrogation, I believe you called it?"

"Good cop, bad cop," Henri answered with a grin. "Works like a charm here."

"That, and a truth spell," Megan added.

Jim frowned. "Spell?"

The priestess smiled. "I'm sorry, I cannot reveal much. Just know that the Council members and I are convinced of Maya's guilt. She will pay for her crimes." Then she changed the subject, turning to the healers. "How is Prince Blair?"

"He was seriously wounded, Madam," the healer answered respectfully. "If not for the intervention of the Sentinel, he would have died."

"Sentinel?" Megan looked at Jim in unconcealed delight. "You are a sentinel?" At Jim's nod, her smiled widened. "Marvelous! And interesting," she mused aloud.

Jim was about to ask what she meant when a sound reached his ears. "Blair is waking up," he said. He immediately went into the next room; no one tried to block his way.

The prince was indeed stirring, moving uneasily. The healer beside him smiled at Jim. "Talk to him, please," she urged. "It may help him wake up." Jim nodded and took Blair's hand.

"Blair," he said quietly. "Time to wake up, Love. You're safe now, it's okay."

"J-Jim?" Blair murmured.

"Yeah, it's me. Come on, open your eyes for me."

The blue eyes opened weakly, and focused with difficulty. "What... happened?"

"We caught him, baby," Jim said, not noticing the endearment that slipped past his lips. And if he had noticed, he wouldn't have cared. "It's all over. Maya has been arrested -- she's not going to be able to hurt you again."

Blair frowned. "The man with the knife... He was working for Maya."

"Yeah. He confessed everything."

The Prince smiled sleepily. "Good. About time," he added with a teasing tone.

"Don't waste your energy talking, Chief. You must rest."

"Uh-huh," Blair yawned. "Tired."

Strong fingers pushed his hair away from his face. "Go back to sleep for a while. You're going to be fine. I'll be here when you wake up again." He leaned close to whisper in his ear. "And you have a coronation to get ready for, remember?" Blair smiled, and slipped back into a healing sleep, feeling truly safe for the first time in months.

*"*"*"*"*

Rafe sighed in exasperation, wondering why his mind refused to shut down and allow him some much-needed rest. He should've been asleep hours ago, but he kept thinking about Atlantis' very uncertain future.

Three weeks had gone by since Queen Maya had been caught red-handed, so to speak, trying to get rid of Blair in a desperate, final attempt to keep the throne. During those weeks, the prince had slowly regained his health under his sentinel's ever-watchful and loving eye. The two men had spent most of each day together, even after Blair felt strong enough to continue preparations for his coronation.

Peace had settled back on the island, everyone waiting anxiously for what Blair's first rulings would be. For the moment, and until the coronation, Megan was acting as Blair's Regent.

With his charge fiercely guarded by the sentinel, and with no more plots to overthrow the existing rulers, Captain Rafe found himself with nothing much to do all day. That is, until Henri had begun to almost stalk him. He had finally agreed to spend his time with the American cop.

And the three weeks had flown by with amazing speed. Rafe found that he could no longer deny how he felt about Henri. He'd fallen in love with the charismatic black man.

"What a hopeless situation," he whispered to himself, gazing up at the ceiling.

A soft chime from the door told him he had a visitor. Frowning at the hour, Rafe rose from the bed and, after donning a robe, went to answer the door.

"Hi," his visitor greeted him, somewhat awkwardly.

"Henri! What are you doing here at this hour?"

"I needed to talk to you," H replied. "Can I come in?"

"Uh, sure."

They moved to the living room and sat down. After a prolonged silence, Rafe finally cleared his throat. "Well? What did you want to talk about?"

"Us."

"Us?" he echoed, raising an eyebrow in puzzlement.

"Yes. Look, I think -- No, I know there's something going on between us. We've been attracted to each other since day one. If that was all it was, I wouldn't push it, but... Over the time we've been here, the attraction has changed into something else, something deeper. At least for me." H hesitated for a moment, then asked, "Am I alone in this?"

Rafe gazed down at his hands, "No," he admitted with a small shake of his head. "But..."

"But what?"

"I talked with Blair yesterday. One of the first things he'll do is change our law to allow anyone who so chooses to leave the island."

"Is that wise?" H asked with a frown. "I mean, I understand the why. I don't want to stay here forever either, but what will happen when the people who leave begin to talk about Atlantis to the outside world?"

"I think most will respect our wish to remain secret. And I believe that, even if they were to talk, few people would be ready to accept that a civilization thought lost for thousands of years still exists; its descendents occupying a small island concealed from the world by a 'magic' shield."

"I see your point. But someone will believe."

Rafe nodded. "No doubt about it. But the shield does protect us from view and radar. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, as you say. The point is that you'll be free to go and, as you said yourself, you don't want to stay here."

"I said I didn't want to stay forever. Doesn't mean I have to go now."

Rafe shook his head. "It doesn't work that way, Henri. I can't allow myself to surrender to this feeling, just to soon have you decide you've had enough and want to leave. I don't need a broken heart." He refrained from mentioning that it was already too late, that his heart would indeed break when Henri left Atlantis.

"The only people that get their hearts broken are people in love. Are you saying you love me?"

Their eyes locked, hazel on brown, their so-far unspoken emotions shinning through. "Yes," came the whispered reply, and Henri felt his heart miss a beat. He knelt down in front of the young captain.

"I love you, too. Take a chance on us, Rafe. Trust me not to hurt you."

Later, neither would be able to remember who made the first move, only that they suddenly found themselves locked in a fiercely passionate kiss, trying to be as close as humanly possible as they made their way to Rafe's large bed.

Clothes quickly pushed out of the way, they tumbled into the soft white bedding. Henri landed on top and leaned down slowly to brush his lips gently against Rafe's. They kissed hungrily, devouring each other with their mouths, tongues battling wantonly in discovery. Only when the need for air became too strong did they break apart, both flushed and panting hard.

Henri's hands began to explore the strong body beneath him, fingers brushing over Rafe's flanks, feather-like touches moving across the strong, muscled chest, meant to arouse beyond thought. A naughty digit stopped the downward journey to rub a pebbled nipple before sliding down the firm stomach on the way to Rafe's hard shaft. Henri started when his wrists were caught up in a light grip.

"Have you ever done this before, Henri?"

The black man grinned and nodded. "Yes, Rafe, don't worry. You?"

"Yes."

"Good," he purred in delight.

He returned to his former activity, using his lips, fingers, and tongue to drive the beautiful man underneath him wild with need. He sucked an earlobe between his lips, licked hard cinnamon nipples, nibbled and caressed pecs, abs, the taut stomach, every part of his lover he could reach.

When Rafe was nearly out of his mind with want, Henri suddenly grinned wickedly. In one swift move, he engulfed his lover's thick cock with his mouth. He began a gentle sucking motion, his tongue probing the tiny slit while one of his hands pumped the base. As Rafe began to moan continuously on his way to climax, Henri increased the rhythm of his movements, sucking harder and holding the young man's hips firmly to keep him from moving.

Finally having mercy on his lover, Henri deep-throated the hard erection and watched as Rafe threw his head back and groaned loudly, his body bucking before coming with a shouted "Henri!" into the warm, moist mouth pleasuring him.

A few minutes later, still breathless from his orgasm, Rafe looked up at him lovingly. "Your turn..." he whispered softly with a smile. He handed Henri a small jar of some kind of oily lotion.

Henri slid between Rafe's parted legs, then brushed a moist digit across the puckered opening of his ass. The finger slid in easily and he moved it gently around, stretching the passage for what was to come. Another finger joined the first, then a third, as Rafe groaned and writhed under his ministrations. Coating his rock-hard erection, H finally lifted his lover's legs over his shoulders and placed the tip of his shaft at the entrance to the tight ring of muscle. He pushed forward gently, Rafe thrusting back against him until he was fully inside his lover.

Capturing the delicious mouth anew, Henri kissed Rafe as he began to thrust into the willing body -- deep, slow strokes that increased in speed as the kiss got more intense. He felt his orgasm slowly building, his balls tightening up against his body, and began thrusting harder, faster, feeling Rafe rise up to meet him stroke for stroke.

He grasped his lover's thickening shaft, beginning to pump in time to their now frantic rhythm. With a wordless shout, Rafe climaxed, his seed coating their chests and Henri's hand. Feeling his lover's body contracting around his cock broke his control, and Henri thrust one last time before coming deeply inside Rafe's body. He collapsed exhaustedly on top of the other man, happy and sated. When he finally had the strength to move, he rolled them both until they were side-by-side and snuggled together. And thus they fell asleep.

*"*"*"*"*

"Stop that."

Blair looked up, eyes innocent. "Stop what?" he asked.

"Stop fidgeting with the bandages," Jim answered, a smile crossing his face as he remembered the same conversation taking place weeks earlier. Only back then their roles had been reversed -- he'd been the one injured. His large hand closed over Blair's and drew it away from the area in question. "I know it itches, but scratching won't let it heal."

"Have you been talking to the healers again?"

The older man shook his head. "Common sense. Something that you seem to lack," he added teasingly.

Blair returned the smile and the teasing. "I should have you thrown in the dungeons for insulting me like that," he countered, mock indignation on his face. "Fine thing when the ruler doesn't get any respect."

"Yeah, yeah. Just stop fidgeting."

Blair sighed as he settled back on the pillows of his bed, secretly loving the attention he was receiving from his sentinel. It had certainly gotten him through the past weeks. Realizing just how close he had come to being killed had been very traumatic. He remembered the pain, collapsing under the attack, certain that he was going to die.

Then, Jim had been with him, and he had known, somehow, that everything was going to be alright. Jim had scarcely left his side during his recovery, clearly protective. Blair chuckled to himself, thinking that poor Rafe felt almost unnecessary. But it had given him time to be with Henri, so no doubt Rafe felt some advantage.

Jim had proved to be equally protective after Blair recovered enough to spend some time each day on 'work' -- preparing for his coronation. With Megan as Regent, Blair had already issued some new laws, the most important of which was that people would be allowed to leave. The older members of the Council had been shocked, but everyone else had cheered the pronouncement.

So far, no one had formally requested permission to leave. Most people seemed to be thinking it over carefully, weighing the consequences of leaving their peaceful life behind. It was a decision that no one would make lightly or quickly.

Except maybe the man beside him.

Blair knew that Jim, Simon, and Henri all wanted to leave, and he understood, he really did. They hadn't formed deep ties to Atlantis. Well, maybe Henri had, with Rafe, and Blair knew it would be difficult for his friend when Henri left. But he was still happy that his friend had found someone, even if it was just for a short time.

But Jim... Blair knew his heart would break when Jim left.

"What are you thinking?" The question drew him out of his thoughts.

"Oh, just -- Worrying about the coronation," Blair lied. "You know, the whole ceremony, and nerves."

A warm hand covered his. "I think it's more than that."

He looked at the hand covering his for a long moment, feeling a myriad of such different emotions clashing inside him. He didn't know which was stronger -- love, fear, desperation, loss, hope. Each battled for control, but only one seemed to be winning. Loss. Because he knew he would lose Jim soon. Trying to tie the other man to him would surely kill the sentinel.

"Blair?" came the soft whisper, a whole question left unspoken but understood in that one word.

"I... No, you're right. It's more than just the coronation. You'll be leaving soon."

Jim seemed startled by the sudden honesty. "Uh, yes. I..."

Blair gave him a weak smile. "It's okay, Jim, I understand. You don't belong here any more than I would belong in your world. I knew that from the start, but --"

"It's hard to resist," Jim finished, his clear blue eyes reflecting the same pain Blair was feeling. "I know. I wish I could sta --"

The prince hushed him by placing gentle fingers upon his lips. "Don't. We both know the time will come for you to go. Let's enjoy the time we have together... Please? Stay for the coronation. It's only a week from now anyway."

Jim nodded, brushing his lips against Blair's fingers in a gentle caress. "We'll stay, I promise."

"Thank you. I --" Before Blair could add another word, Jim captured his lips in a long, slow kiss that left them both gasping for breath when they finally broke apart.

"Shit!" Jim cursed softly. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that. It's not fair to you. This is hard enough as it is."

Blair looked out the window, staring down at his future subjects and wishing he could be down there with them, carefree and happy, without the pressure of having to become the king, or of having to rule over them, or having to stay and do what he'd been born to do. But his heart wouldn't allow him to leave, no matter how much he might wish it at the moment. He belonged to Atlantis and to his people, just as Jim belonged to his world.

And just as he couldn't force himself to go, he couldn't force Jim to stay, to stop being what he had been born to be -- a sentinel and a cop, the guardian of his city. Cascade. So he would let Jim go. Because he knew that even if Jim agreed to stay, as the king he'd be expected to marry and have heirs and it wouldn't be right to allow Jim to stand back and watch while he was with someone else.

"Sometimes love isn't enough," Blair whispered brokenly.

"What?" Jim asked, a frown marring his chiseled features.

"Something I heard once. I love this island, Jim, it's my heart and soul, my life. I can never leave, I don't want to. You... You love being a cop, all that action, being able to help people. Protecting others. You'd wither and die in Atlantis and I cannot allow that to happen. I love you. No matter how hard it will be when you leave, I'm not sorry we met, or that I fell in love with you."

Jim smiled sadly, understanding shinning in his eyes. "I feel the same, Love," he said, then wrapped his arms around the smaller man's shoulders in a tight embrace, both feeling caught up in a situation they had no control over. "It'll be okay, Blair, it'll be okay." He didn't know who he was trying to convince, Blair or himself.

*"*"*"*"*

A week later, Jim stood beside Simon and Henri as Blair was crowned King of Atlantis.

The ceremony lasted all day, with a procession to the temple for the coronation, then a parade back to the palace. Even with sentinel sight, Jim caught only glimpses of Blair in the crowd as the people pressed in around him, cheering and throwing flowers. Blair smiled steadily and seemed to have become years older the moment the crown was placed on his head. Jim felt a fierce sense of pride in the young man, but at the same time his heart twisted in pain and confusion.

As the coronation had come closer, he and Blair had kept their relationship, such as it was, all to themselves, trying to keep the physical contact to a minimum. It wasn't easy; both men used touch as a sign of affection. They knew they loved each other, but there were too many unanswered questions and seemingly insurmountable odds to allow them to take the relationship any further. The closer they were, the harder it was for both.

Then there were other concerns -- Blair, especially, was worried about his new responsibilities as a ruler, and Jim still didn't know whether he was going to stay or leave.

Blair assumed that Jim would want to return to Cascade, and Jim had thought so too, until recently. More and more, he had thoughts of staying in Atlantis. His mind was telling him to go, but his heart was telling him to stay, and he had no idea which would rule in the end. Blair had said something about Jim's sentinel instincts demanding that he return to protect his 'tribe' in Cascade, but oddly, Jim felt little, if any, pull for that.

Instead, his instincts seemed to tell him to stay with Blair. When Jim dreamed at night, it was of walking with Blair along the forests and beaches of Atlantis, not of chasing the bad guys down the streets of Cascade. It was as if some strong urge was telling him that Atlantis was the place to stay.

But how could he stay? As the king, Blair was expected to marry and have children. They'd talked about it before; it was expected of him. Jim didn't know if he could stand by and watch his love marry some woman and have a family. And it wouldn't be fair to the chosen wife to learn that she was really only a womb for the required heirs. Either way, there seemed to be only hurt in the future if he remained on the island.

He broke out of his musings as they arrived at the huge banquet hall in the palace. The last scheduled event for the day was a banquet and dance celebrating the coronation. Jim saw Henri and Rafe slip off together outside on to the balcony, and he envied them that freedom. He didn't know if Henri had decided to stay or not, but at least he was free to love while they were still in Atlantis.

Jim watched Blair smile as he stood in the reception line, people paying their respects to him, men bowing and the women curtsying. He saw Blair glance in his direction, and immediately turned his hearing to the younger man, relishing the sound of the steady heartbeat. If it was all he would have, he would be content with it.

As the evening wore on, Blair danced with a number of the women. Even Jim allowed himself to be led onto the dance floor for several dances. News of him being a sentinel had spread among the palace insiders, and all were curious to know if he planned to stay or leave. Trying to hide his growing annoyance, Jim would only smile politely and say that he did not know.

He watched Henri and Rafe dance, and again felt his heart twist a little in envy at their open display of love. There were a number of same-sex couples dancing, a reflection of Atlantis' open feelings about such things. In that respect, Atlanteans were far more open-minded than the rest of the world. He envied all the couples he saw, wishing that he were free to show his love for Blair. It was ironic -- in a place where he could show his love for a man, where it would be freely accepted, the man he loved was the King, with other obligations to fulfill.

The night wore on and while many people eventually left, tired by the day-long celebration, there were still a number remaining. Jim was focusing so hard on Blair that he nearly jumped when he felt a light touch on his shoulder.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you, Jim," Megan said with a smile. She looked almost as tired as Blair, having had a long day herself. As the High Priestess, it had been her duty to crown Blair and to see that all protocol was followed. Still, she looked beautiful in her long, elaborate green gown. "I wish to speak with you," she told him softly.

"Certainly." Jim stood until she had seated herself beside him on the couch. He had retreated to a corner of the ballroom where he was partially hidden by flowers and plants, but could still see the dancers. With a glance back to ensure that Blair was still in sight, he sat back down beside her.

Megan smiled at him. "You love Blair," she stated simply.

Jim was startled, but only for a moment. In the short time that he had known Megan, he had learned that she was unusually perceptive, perhaps in a way a sentinel herself. She had been intensely curious about Jim, and more than once, had cornered him and questioned him about his life. She had never quite come out and asked if he was planning to stay, but she had certainly hinted that she wanted him to.

"Yes, I do," Jim said heavily. "For all the good it does."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because it make things too complicated, Megan, and you know that. I don't know if I can stay and watch him get married and be with someone else, yet I don't know if I can stand to be away from him."

"You need him, Jim," Megan said seriously. In the past week Jim had 'zoned out', as Blair and Megan called it, quite a few times. Each time, Blair had been the only one able to bring him out of his daze.

"But he doesn't need me," Jim replied. His tone was not pitying or bitter, just matter-of-fact.

"Yes, he does." Megan gestured to the crowd that remained in the ballroom. "Do you think that Blair really knows how to handle all his responsibilities yet? He's young, Jim. He has spent most of his life alone, the burden of eventually becoming a king heavy, even at an early age. He needs to find his way as ruler, and he needs the people who love him to help him succeed."

Jim sighed, running a hand down his face. "I know that," he said. "I don't want to leave, but --"

"You don't?" Megan immediately pounced on his words, her eyes gleaming as her smile grew wider.

The sentinel paused, realizing what he had just said. It was the first time he had said that aloud, or even really allowed himself to think it. But it was true, he reflected; his heart was speaking and overruling his mind once and for all.

"Yes, I want to stay. I love Blair," he finally said slowly. "But how can it work out between us?"

"Answer me this, Jim." Megan had taken hold of his hands and was looking at him intently. "If you could be with Blair, would you stay here?"

Jim didn't need to think about his answer. "Yes."

"You would be willing to stay as Atlantis' Sentinel? Do you not feel a pull toward your home and family?"

"I haven't thought of myself as having a family for a long time," Jim confessed. "I haven't seen my father or my brother in years. They probably believe me dead by now, lost at sea, and who knows if they even care. And as for being Atlantis' Sentinel, I don't really understand what you mean by that."

Megan nodded. "Sentinels have an instinct to protect their... tribe, I guess you could call it," she said. "Their territory. Do you feel that pull towards Cascade?"

Jim thought hard for a moment. "No," he said finally, truthfully. "Cascade is not really... home. It was just somewhere to live, somewhere to work." He shook his head in puzzlement. "Megan, why all the questions? You've been pestering me for weeks now and I still haven't got a clue." He smiled to take the sting out of the words.

"Because until tonight you never came out and directly told me that you would stay with Blair if you could. Blair is convinced you're leaving," Megan answered gently. "We could not force you to stay, or even to admit that you wished to remain with us, with Blair. You had to decide for yourself." She caressed the larger hands holding hers. "It's about time you allowed your heart to speak. I was beginning to lose hope."

"Hope for what? Megan, yes, I would stay with Blair, God knows I love him. But I don't know if -- if I can stand by and watch him marry and --" he was silenced as Megan stood and pulled on his hands to make him rise as well. "What?"

"Just be quiet and follow me," Megan said. She was smiling brightly, practically jumping in excitement. "Come on, there's no sense in wasting any more time!"

She pulled Jim out onto the dance floor, where they found Blair speaking with an older woman from the Council. Megan used all her influence and command as High Priestess; before Jim quite knew what had happened, he was in a small side room with Blair and Megan.

Blair looked as startled as Jim. "Megan?" he said, taking the opportunity to sit on a chair and rest after his long day. "What's going on?" He glanced nervously over at Jim, and the older man couldn't resist the urge to stand beside him, his hand caressing Blair lightly on the shoulder. Megan knew they loved each other; there was no need to hide from her. This might be one of the few stolen moments they had left.

"Wonderful news, that's what," Megan said happily. She pulled a chair up and sat in front of them. She shook her head at them. "Men!" she huffed ruefully. "If either one of you had just spoken to me plainly, all this mess would have ended long ago."

"Ended how? Spoken what exactly?" Jim was confused and more than a bit irritated by now. Megan seemed to be just as hyper as Blair could be at times and he was sick of all the mystery.

"Listen to me, you two." Megan was beaming as she reached out and took hold of their hands and linked them together. "Blair, Jim told me that he loves you. Do you love him?"

Blair glanced nervously at her, but lifted his chin defiantly. "Yes," he said firmly.

"And Jim," Megan turned her attention to him. "You are willing to stay here in Atlantis, with Blair?"

"Yes."

The new king looked started at that. "You -- you are?" he stammered, looking at Jim.

Jim reached out a hand and cupped Blair's face. "Yes, " he answered sincerely. "I just realized that. Cascade is not home to me, not really. Home is where... you are." He looked back to Megan. "But I still don't understand --"

"Hush." Megan chided, although her eyes were lit with amusement. "If you love each other, and Jim is willing to stay and be the Sentinel for Atlantis, then there is no obstacle to your being together. If only you'd spoken to me instead of creating all this drama!" She saw the confused looks on both men's faces. "Blair, I know you probably didn't have time to study or memorize all our laws because of Maya's interference. One of them states that the ruler can choose whoever they want as their consort, and can choose whoever they want as their heir. The successor does not have to be the child of the ruler."

Blair blinked in shock. "I didn't know that," he whispered.

"Obviously!" Megan grinned. "It hasn't happened in many, many years, but often our rulers and their consort were of the same sex. They were allowed to reign together just as long as the king -- or queen -- named a successor. Since there hasn't been such a couple on the throne for so long, this rule has been largely forgotten... but it does exist."

It took a moment for her words to register with the two men. "You mean --" Jim began hesitantly.

"We can be together," Blair finished. "Not just because it's accepted in Atlantis society, but because I don't have to have an heir of my blood?"

"Right." Megan smiled at them. "Blair, you have some distant cousins from your mother's family, you can pick any one of them to be named as your successor. Jim can be crowned as your consort with no problem whatsoever." She squeezed their hands tightly. "In other words, you can be together as a couple, completely and totally, married, everything. The only question is whether Jim will stay as Atlantis' Sentinel. Now see all the angst you could have saved yourselves from if you'd only talked to me?"

Blair looked over to Jim, hardly able to believe the turn of events. It was more than he had dared to dream of. But... "Jim, your home --"

"Is with you," Jim said firmly. "Blair, I've been having dreams, visions I guess, about staying here with you. There is no pull for me to return to Cascade. In fact, all my instincts are telling me to stay here, with you."

"It's the connection between the sentinel and the guide," Megan said softly. "Blair, you are Jim's guide. The sentinel stays with the guide. There is nothing now standing between the two of you. You can stay together, Jim can be the new Sentinel for Atlantis, and we will see to the matter of your successor. You do need to name one soon," the priestess said. "But when you announce Jim as your consort, it will only be expected that one of your cousins will be named heir. There is really no problem other than you two being too stubborn to admit your love until now."

"I didn't know about naming an heir," Blair told Jim almost apologetically. "I thought I had to marry a woman and have children and it wouldn't be fair to expect you to stand by and watch that. Plus, I thought you had to return to Cascade."

Jim pulled him in for a tight hug. "I know, it's alright," he whispered, rocking Blair against him. They were really going to be fine. A moment later, he heard the soft click of the door, and realized that Megan had left them in privacy. "I love you, Blair."

"And I love you, Jim," Blair whispered back. "Are you sure about staying in Atlantis? I thought --"

"My place is with you," Jim said firmly. "I've known that in my heart for weeks, but I couldn't make myself admit it. I want to stay; I need to stay with you, Blair."

Blair reached up to touch his face tenderly. "It's like a dream," he whispered. "Everything... Everything will work out."

Jim nodded. "It will," he vowed. "I guess it was meant to be," he grinned, then claimed Blair's lips for a long, passionate kiss, finally allowing himself to show Blair just how much he loved him.

Long minutes later, Jim finally forced himself away. Blair's eyes were bright with unshed tears, and Jim wiped at them with the edge of his sleeve. "There," he whispered with a rueful smile. "I don't think the king is supposed to cry on the day of his coronation, Chief."

Blair chuckled. "Sorry. It's just I'm finally getting my heart's desire. I feel like I could burst from joy," he smiled. "Jim, if you're willing, I think I'd like to make my first announcement as king. That I have a consort, and that Atlantis finally has a new Sentinel."

Jim thought about going out into the ballroom, surrounded by people, and having them all know that he was going to stay with Blair and become his consort. It was unimaginable in the outer world, but here in Atlantis, it would be greeted with joy. "I think most people may already have an idea," he said, remembering all the looks and whispers he had overheard. Most of the palace knew that the young king was in love with him and they were merely waiting for an announcement. "Let's go tell them," he said.

Blair smiled and wrapped his arm around Jim as together they walked out into the ballroom.

*"*"*"*"*

Jim and Blair sat wearily at the table where Henri, Rafe, and Simon were still talking about the day's events. They were the only ones left in the ballroom; everyone else had long since gone.

Blair's first announcement as king had gone extremely well, with the crowd cheering the new union and their new sentinel. Even the Ministers and members of the Council had seemed happy with the news.

"Gods, I'm exhausted!" Blair moaned. "I can hardly stand anymore."

Henri grinned wickedly. "I'm sure Jim won't mind giving you a hand back to your room."

The others chuckled, and Blair leered at Jim. "I'm sure he won't!"

"So. You're really staying?" Simon asked Jim, his expression suddenly serious.

"Yes. I belong here, Simon," Jim replied, unable to prevent the happiness from showing in his smile. "I found my way home. And you?"

Simon shook his head. "I'm leaving, I have to. I have Daryl to think about. Not to mention my soon to be ex-wife," he said ruefully, making the others chuckle. "But I will miss this place. And all of you."

"You may return any time you wish, Simon," Blair assured him. "Megan and I spent this whole week trying to come up with a solution to our residents' problem."

"What problem?" Jim asked, curiously.

"Well, now that the fruit isn't forbidden anymore, most people have lost interest in the apple," the new king chuckled.

"Meaning?" Simon frowned at the strange answer.

"Meaning that now that I'm allowing people to leave, they don't want to. Most of my subjects have suddenly realized what a great life they have here and how hard it would be to start anew somewhere else. So, some of them asked if they could go, maybe see the world for a while, then return. So... I decided that once a week, always at the same hour, Megan will disable a portion of the shield for a few hours. Those who want to return will be able to do so."

"Won't that be dangerous? Other boats or planes might see you then," Simon remarked.

Blair shrugged. "We'll have to take the risk. It's the only way to allow people to return. If they tried with the shield on, they might die in a storm or just be unable to find the island."

Simon nodded. "In that case, remember to give me the day and hour the shield will be down and I'll be sure to come and visit sometime. Can I bring Daryl?"

"Of course you can!" Blair smiled. "He'd be more than welcome."

Simon turned his attention to his other detective. "Henri, what are about you? Are you staying or going?" he asked, although he thought he already knew the answer by the way Brown was looking at the Atlantean captain.

"Staying," H replied with a smile. "I've found my home as well. It's here with Rafe. He's already got me a place in the guards, so a job won't be a problem, and I'll be living with him. And we've already decided to go to Cascade on vacation, so you'll be seeing us in no time."

"Okay. Since that's settled, you gentlemen will have to excuse me, but I'm going to bed. This is way past my bedtime," Simon remarked as he rose.

"I think I'll join you," Rafe agreed, then flushed when he noticed everyone looking at him. When he realized what he'd said, he stammered. "I didn't mean it that way, dammit! I meant I'm going to bed as well. You people have such dirty minds! You coming?" he mock-glared at Henri.

Henri leered. "Not yet, but I will soon."

Rafe rolled his eyes. "Please! Grow up, Henri! Goodnight, guys."

"Goodnight." Jim chuckled as he watched the three men leave the ballroom. Then he turned his attention to his guide. "My King, what is it that you wish me to do?"

"Escort me to my room, my Sentinel," Blair grinned.

"With pleasure, your Majesty," Jim smiled back.

They made their way to the royal rooms at a leisurely pace, walking hand in hand through the palace corridors and enjoying the pre-dawn silence surrounding them. They were finally together and free to fully enjoy what was to come. Be it good or bad, they would face it as one, and that knowledge gave them a sense of peace that had been missing from their lives for a long time.

"What now?" Jim asked, once they were inside Blair's room.

"Hmmm..." Blair purred, finger tapping on his lower lip as he regarded the man standing in front of him. "I wish you to take your clothes off. And then mine as well."

Jim gave him a mock bow. "Your wish is my command, my Lord."

Deciding to tease the younger man a little, he began to sway gently to an internal beat only he could hear. His hands moved to his shirt buttons, undoing each one slowly, caressing his chest as more skin became visible. He toed off his shoes, then moved to his pants, flipping open the button and unzipping them slowly, enjoying Blair's moan as he realized that Jim was not wearing underwear.

He began to slide his pants off, bending forward to remove them, taking advantage of being close to Blair's body to blow a breath of warm air into the young man's cloth-covered groin. Chuckling at the gulp he heard, Jim straightened and tossed the pants aside, standing completely naked in front of his guide.

"Your turn, my King," he whispered, brushing his aroused body over Blair's as he freed the young man from his royal garments. "Much better!" he purred, as he gazed hungrily at the beautiful naked body before him. He couldn't resist running his fingers through Blair's chest hair, his senses allowing him to feel each individual hair.

Blair smiled up at him and, taking him by the hand, moved them to the bed. "My last wish for the night. Make love with me," he ordered in a soft voice, as he lay down on the bed. His smile widened as Jim began crawling languidly over him, blanketing him with his larger body.

"Definitely my pleasure, my Lord," Jim whispered, smiling down at the smoky blue eyes watching him with such open affection, then slowly leaned down to capture Blair's lips in a gentle kiss.

They rapidly grew more passionate and kissed avidly, tongues dancing sensually together, each taking everything the other had to offer. When the need to breathe finally registered, Jim broke the kiss with a final brush of lips as a promise of more to come.

"First time?" Jim asked suddenly.

Realizing what Jim was talking about, Blair shook his head. "No. This is Atlantis, Jim. We have no taboos regarding sex," he explained with a grin. "You?"

"No," Jim agreed, diving for his lover's mouth and nibbling on the full lower lip, his tongue caressing it tenderly.

Deciding to pay homage to the amazing young man rubbing so wantonly against him, Jim began leaving a trail of light kisses down Blair's throat, stopping only to nibble on an earlobe. Proceeding with his journey south, he used his tongue to tease twin nipples until they stood firm, then nipped every bit of creamy skin available to him.

He caressed the hairy chest and the firm stomach, enjoying the feel of muscles quivering under his touch, the whimpers he wrought from his helpless victim. He suckled at the insides of Blair's thighs while his hands kneaded his ass gently, then skimmed a finger between the clenched cheeks to tease the puckered opening of the young man's ass.

"Jim, please..."

"I need something --"

"Nightstand, top drawer. It's an oily lotion, especially for this. We make it from several plants that grow in the valley," Blair explained with an impish grin.

Jim rolled his eyes at his lover's mini-lecture and reached for the small jar. He nearly growled as Blair drew his knees up, allowing him better access to the hidden passage. He opened the jar, coating his fingers with the ointment, and began to prepare his partner. His first finger slid in easily, and he moved it gently to stretch the tight channel. Soon, two more digits joined the first and Blair began to tremble and moan continuously.

Finally certain that Blair was ready to welcome him, Jim coated his straining erection and placed the tip at Blair's entrance. Locking his eyes with his lover's, he thrust forward gently until he was completely engulfed, both men moaning as they became one.

Jim remained frozen, enjoying the connection between them for a moment, before beginning to thrust in slowly. Deep, long thrusts that had Blair moaning with every stroke.

"Harder!" Blair groaned as he pushed back against Jim frantically.

Jim obeyed, thrusting faster and harder as he gripped Blair's cock and began stroking him in time with their lovemaking. He kept pumping into the younger man until suddenly Blair cried out his name, his orgasm taking them both by surprise as he spilled his seed into Jim's hand. Blair's inner muscles contracted around Jim's cock and he was helpless to stop his own release, thrusting one last time into his lover before coming deep inside Blair's body.

He collapsed heavily against Blair, trying to catch his breath, happy for the strong arms that caught him and held on. Eventually, his cock slipped out of his lover's body and he moved to lie on his back. He gathered the smaller man against his side, and they stayed silent in each other's arms, enjoying the post-coital laziness that always came after mind-blowing sex.

"Love you, Chief," Jim whispered.

He felt Blair's smile as the younger man nuzzled his chest. "Love you too, Jim."

"Anything important you have to do today?" Jim asked, remembering that it would soon be morning.

"No. We can stay in bed for the whole day," Blair replied, snuggling closer to his warm body.

"Good," Jim breathed, cuddling his lover to him and allowing tiredness and sleep to overtake him.

*"*"*"*"*

Three days after Blair's coronation, Simon was preparing to leave the Atlantis. There were only two other people leaving with him, Atlantean natives who wished to see something of the outside world. They had promised to see Simon safely to the mainland. From there, he would head back to Cascade. He had stories prepared to explain their disappearance, along with Jim and Henri's temporary absence. He was looking forward to getting back to his son, but he knew that he would soon return to Atlantis.

He hugged Jim tightly. "Six months," he promised. "I'll try to be back in about six months."

"Sounds great." Jim returned the hug. "You know when and where the shield will be down. We'll be looking for you."

"Are you sure about what you want me to tell your family?" Simon's voice was quiet.

"Yeah," Jim nodded. "I don't want them to think I'm dead, because I would like to come back to Cascade someday and show Blair the city. Just say something about a top-secret government mission, I'll be touch, etc. They won't think anything of it."

Henri grinned. "In a way, you are on a government mission," he observed. "Protecting the king sounds like a government job to me."

The sentinel snorted. "But with far less paperwork!" he retorted.

"And better benefits," Henri leered a little. He accepted the slap to his shoulder with good humor and enjoyed seeing the light blush on Blair's face. The young king took the ribbing with good humor.

"We'll see," he said. "Jim still has a lot of work to do learning to control his senses. I have all sorts of experiments planned. Being Atlantis' Sentinel will be a lot of work."

Jim wrapped an arm around his new lover. "I wouldn't have it any other way," he said firmly.

"I think it's time to go," Rafe said. "Megan will disable the shield when your boat has left the harbor."

"Okay." Another round of fierce hugs and Simon finally made himself pull away and step into the boat. "Jim, you take care of Blair. Henri, take care of Rafe. And all of you, take care of this place. I want to come back and hear nothing but good news."

"We'll do our best," Blair promised.

They stood on the dock and waved until the boat was out of sight for everyone except Jim. He continued to follow them until he saw a flicker and then the boat disappeared. They had gone through the shield and were now back in the outside world.

"They're gone," he said, a bit quietly.

The four men were silent for a few moments, each thinking about how much they would miss Simon, but knowing that they had each made the right choices. Henri was the first to break the quiet by slipping an arm around Rafe.

"Well, come on," he said. "It's time the Captain of the Royal Guard put me to work!" Rafe laughed and they walked back up the path to the palace.

Blair took one of Jim's hands in his own. "Are you alright?" he asked softly, seeing Jim still staring at the place where Simon's boat had vanished.

Jim turned to face his lover. "I'm fine," he assured him, pulling him in for a hug. "Lots of changes, but all good ones."

"Jim, I don't know how to say this. But I'm so glad that you decided to stay. I just can't believe it!"

The older man held him tightly. "Believe it. Now come on," he said brightly. "You have an island to run and I suppose I have to put up with another crazy experiment for my senses."

"It's the only way," Blair started to argue. "You have to learn control, and we need to know how strong your senses are, and --" His words were stifled by a kiss to his lips.

"Looking forward to it," Jim said as he moved back. He smiled down at the young king; his heart suddenly freer and happier than he could ever remember it being, perhaps, in his entire life. "Looking forward to all of it with you."

Another kiss, and the two men began walking back to their new lives in the lost civilization of Atlantis.

The End

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Acknowledgements: We would like to thank each other for actually writing and finishing this story. Also thanks to Bine -- muse extraordinaire, Draconea, DarkCherry and Mary for the amazing beta-ing (especially Draconea who went above and beyond on this one), and the amazing artwork gals for the gorgeous pics. :-)