A Guide for all Seasons by LilyK

A Guide for all Seasons - LilyK

“What the hell did you just say?” Blair Sandburg growled, rising from behind his desk and staring at his bodyguard, all round assistant and closest friend.

Simon Banks nervously cleared his throat. “Sir, I said they've captured a Sentinel.”

Blair skirted the desk and stalked toward Simon. “Captured a Sentinel?” Blair said angrily. “Who in this entire universe would be stupid enough to “capture” a Sentinel! And just how in the hell did they do it?” Blair's voice rose until he looked into his man's stricken face. His anger ebbed a bit and he sighed. Putting a hand on Simon's arm, he asked in a more calmer manner, “What happened?”

Simon shifted and looked directly over Blair's head, his eyes finding and focusing on the portrait of Blair Sandburg, looking quite handsome in a custom-made navy-blue suit, and his mother, Naomi Sandburg, equally resplendent in a designer gown of a complimenting blue color. It was the portrait that had been painted more than four years ago when Blair came into his full maturity as a Guide. Unfortunately in that time, he failed to complete the required bonding to a mature Sentinel, thereby putting himself in the position to abdicate his appointment on the Guide council by his thirtieth birthday, something that occurred in six month's time. His cousin, Bethel, and her bonded Sentinel, Gabriel, were next in line to rule the Northern United States, unless Blair, the most direct in line, bonded before his deadline, as law demanded.

“Sir, three -- pieces of scum showed up in the compound earlier this morning lugging a package. They demanded the reward money, sir.”

“Reward money?” Blair echoed, running a hand through his shoulder-length curls. “What reward money?” he demanded.

“Please, sir. If you'd allow me to explain without interrupting...”

“For God's sake, Simon. Stop with the stiff posturing and just tell me.”

“Your mother, sir...”

“Oh, good God. What's she done now?” Blair sighed deeply and crossed his arms.

Simon finally looked down into the troubled blue eyes of his charge -- the man to whom he had pledged his life and said, “She offered a reward.”

“That's illegal!”

“Yes, I know. I mean, I know that it's illegal and that she offered the reward.”

“You knew?” Blair asked, eyes blazing again.

“What? Oh, no, sir! Not with prior knowledge. I just found out this morning. If I had known, I would have informed you immediately. I mean I know that she did it, sir, because I asked her just five minutes ago, and she admitted it.”

“She did, did she? I'm really tired of her interfering with my life!” Blair paced restlessly, arms held tightly around his body. “And now this? She's asking to be brought before the Council for illegal activities! Does she think I can protect her from that?”

“Sir, she loves you. She's afraid you're going to die young!”

“Simon, we're all going to die sooner or later! She can't just subvert the laws because she's my mother! Besides, I am not bonding to a kidnapped Sentinel!”

“What should we do with -- it?”

“What?” Blair walked up to Simon and stood toe to toe. “It? You mean a living and breathing person? A Sentinel? And you ask me what do to with 'it' like he or she is so much debris?”

Simon's face fell. “Sorry, sir. The -- victim is male. It's just that...”

Blair's eyes locked onto Simon's. “What? It's just what?”

“It's... He's quite ah, damaged. I'm sorry I spoke out of line.”

“Damn it to hell! Where is he?”

“Sir, please don't. If you should -- connect, then you'll just regret it. Trust me on this. You know how your cousin and her Sentinel are. Their bonding was forced and they barely tolerate each other! I can't allow that to happen to you!”

“Simon,” Blair said, placing a hand on his friend's arm, “take me to him -- now. And call for the physician.”

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Blair walked quickly beside Simon. “You agree with what my mother did?”

“No, sir, but I understand her motivations. You will -- fade faster without bonding.” Simon glanced sideways at Blair. Already a grey streak had formed at his right temple, bleaching the color from the mahogany curls, and to Simon, it seemed to lengthen every day. He would have sworn that two weeks ago the streak was barely an inch long. Now it stretched almost two inches in length. More strands of grey peppered the Guide's full head.

“You know as well as I do that Guides are capable of living a good twenty years past their last possible bonding anniversary,” Blair said insistently.

“So you're willing to forgo bonding completely? If you don't bond, you could very well have ten years -- if you're lucky. I know you. I know how you think and feel. You'll be dead inside of that time. There is no way around it.” Simon glanced again at his companion. “I know how much your heart aches for a bond. I know.”

With an exasperated sigh, Blair shrugged. “What can I do?”

“Damned if I know. I'm almost tempted to see if this one would -- catch.”

“Five minutes ago you were begging me not to even go near the man, now you're acting like this is a last resort,” Blair groused before he shook his head and arched an eyebrow. “If this one would catch, Simon? You make him sound like a, a -- fish. Like if he doesn't catch, I can just release him back from whence he came. No harm, no foul.” He pursed his lips. “I can't do that. He's a human being. He has rights. I can't force a bond on him and live that way. I refuse to live unhappily like Bethel.” He strode for two more paces before he added forcefully, “I'd rather be dead.”

Simon stopped. “I know. But still...”

Blair held up a hand. “No buts. No forced bondings. No nothing! Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I want to be in love. Can you understand that?”

“Yes, Blair. Of course, I do. And I know you well enough to know that you need to be in love.”

Blair sighed. “You're a good man, Simon. Thank you.” He walked towards the room where the injured Sentinel was currently being held. He stopped outside the door and turned to his companion. “After we've seen to the Sentinel's condition and whatever else he needs, I want you to make sure Naomi is in my private office by sunset. She and I have a bit of discussing to do.”

“Yes, sir,” Simon said, grimacing. He was happy he wasn't going to be on the receiving end of Blair's ire.

“Knock off the formalities, Simon. We're not in public.”

“Sure, kid.”

Blair finally smiled.

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The guard in the hallway nodded to Blair and Simon, and opened the door to allow them to enter. The Sentinel had been placed on a pallet in the corner and covered with a blanket.

Blair quickly crossed the room and pulled the blanket from around the man's shoulders, settling it around his waist. He sucked in his breath as he scanned the abrasions and contusions that dotted the man's arms, shoulders and torso. His face was dirty and his left eye swollen. The lips were cracked and blood had dried on the tender skin.

“Where's that doctor?” Blair demanded.

“He's on his way, sir,” Simon answered.

“Why is he naked?”

“He was brought in that way, sir.”

“Get me some hot water and clean rags. Those idiots purposefully zoned this Sentinel! Look at the bottoms of his feet. He's been beaten! Damn it to hell! That's how they managed to capture him. I'd bet on it. They somehow got the drop on him then beat him. He zoned on the pain. I'd bet my life on it.” He leaned over and stared into the opened, unfocused blue eyes, and sighed. “Damn, but he's far gone. Where are the assholes that did this now, Simon?” His fingers ghosted over the warm forehead.

“In detention, sir.”

“Good. Call the Council attorney. Have him file any and all charges that the Council agrees upon against the perpetrators.” Returning to his perusal of the injured man, Blair's eyes became soft and dreamy. His breathing calmed and his respiration slowed.

“Yes, sir.” Simon stared at Blair. He noticed his charge's body relaxing and his face taking on an almost sleepy quality. Frightened, he clamped a hand on Blair's upper arm, distracting him. “Should we photograph the -- Sentinel?”

“Hmmm? What? Why?”

“Evidence. For any trial.”

Blair focused. “Oh, right. Yes. Good idea. Sorry. I'm upset, not thinking straight. Thanks, Simon.” He returned to his examination of man, making sure that the blanket covered his lower body. “I'll do it. He's been through enough. He deserves a modicum of dignity, and I don't want anybody else ogling him.”

The guard appeared with a servant bearing a container of hot water, a pile of towels, a jar of mild soap, along with a bottle of fresh drinking water.

Simon took the armload from the woman. “Thank you, Mary.”

“Anything else, sir?”

“Yes, please. Mary,” Blair said, “run up to my office and get my camera from the desk. It's in the right-hand side. Then stop by and ask Mr. Rafe to be sure that the blue room is clean and ready for use. After you speak with him, return directly here with the camera and then stay close in case the doctor needs anything.”

“Yes, sir. I'll just be a minute.”

Blair nodded distractedly, already turning back to the Sentinel. “Thank you.” He dipped a rag in the water and wrung it out before gently wiping the man's bruised face. Leaning down, his voice took on a softly demanding tone. “I don't know if you can hear me, but you're going to be all right. You're safe and it's okay to come back. Sentinel, you need to hear my words.”

“Blair...” Simon said quietly, putting a hand on Blair's arm to interrupt him.

“Yes?” Blair murmured, concentrating on his task.

“Don't do that, sir.”

“What?”

“Don't use your -- gifts on him. It might turn out poorly. If he responds, you'll have no choice but to start the bonding.”

“Oh, right. It's just hard to remain silent. And this angers me so much! No one deserves to be treated like this!”

“You're preaching to the choir, sir.”

Blair smiled. “I know. Thank you, Simon.” He continued to gently wash the dirt from the injured body.

“Do you want me to help?”

“No, just find that damned doctor, will you?” Blair had no sooner said the words when Doctor Brown entered and waited in the doorway. He waved the man over. “This man is a Sentinel. He was illegally captured and has been severely treated. Please, help him.”

“Of course, Mr. Sandburg.” Dr. Brown hurried about his duties while Blair stood and closely monitored the Sentinel's condition.

Simon stood close to Blair and asked, “I wonder if he has a Guide?”

“He'll have to be questioned, but gently. I'll talk to him,” Blair replied.

“Sir, I think I should question him. Remember?”

“Oh, yes. Right. The bond.” Blair stared into the man's face. The eyes drew his gaze and he felt a small tingling in his fingers. The longer he stared, the more intense the sensations became, traveling up his arm to his shoulders, neck and then into his mouth. His tongue felt thick and dry. His vision blurred and a faint buzzing noise zipped into his ears. His stomach churned and his knees started to shake. His respiration rose and his heart beat faster. Blair licked his lips and shivered. His mouth opened and he softly groaned.

“Blair?” Simon said firmly, turning the Guide on his heels and clamping his hands on his upper arms. “Are you okay?”

Blair swallowed hard and nodded. “Yeah, I'm okay. I just feel a bit -- queasy.”

“What?”

“Must be something I had for lunch. Or the excitement.”

“Yes, it must be,” Simon agreed uncertainly, his eyes carefully searching Blair's face. The light sheen of sweat on his brow and his elevated breathing made Simon apprehensive. “If you're sure you're okay...”

Dr. Brown raised his head. “I need to turn him over and examine him further. I don't like asking this, but since my assistant isn't...”

“Nonsense,” Blair said, “I'm here to help.”

“No, sir. Let me.” Simon took a step forward.

They stared at each other for a moment before Blair finally shook his head and said, “No, I'll do it.” His tone was quiet, but firm. Used to immediately following Blair's demands, Simon automatically deferred to him, a small action he would soon come to regret.

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The injured Sentinel slowly surfaced from his unconscious state. He shifted restlessly, his body a huge aching mass. His eyes were gritty and dry, and he blinked furiously in an attempt to lubricate them. He moaned softly and tried to lift a hand to rub his pounding temples, but something -- firmly held his right arm. He tensed immediately and would have tried to fight, but he had almost no strength. The Sentinel heard a voice and after a few moments, his brain turned them into coherent thoughts.

“Shhhh. You're okay. Just relax. You're being cared for. You're being fed intravenously because you're ill.”

The voice caressed his brain and he slowly relaxed against the mattress with a tired sigh. He licked his dry lips. When something wet touched them, he started. The voice spoke again, soothing his mind.

“It's just water. Clean and cool. Open your mouth and let me dribble a bit in. Okay?”

He parted his lips and was grateful for the cool liquid that bathed his dry membranes. One drip followed another. He eagerly swallowed, licking his lips to catch every drop.

“Relax. I'll give you more later.”

The Sentinel listened carefully. The soothing voice stopped. He slightly turned his head toward the source of the sound and moaned when the pain mounted.

“Don't try to move. Just rest. Can you hear me?”

He tried to speak but his throat, still dry and tight from his ordeal, refused to work.

“Hey, I understand! Wiggle your fingers.”

After a small struggle and much concentration, the Sentinel managed to move the digits.

“Good. Lift your index finger if the answer is yes. Stay still if it's no. Do you understand?”

He lifted the requested finger a scant half-inch.

“Great! Okay. You can't see right now because the doctor covered your eyes with patches to hold in the moisture. They were dry from being open for so long. He was afraid you might have damaged your corneas from the dehydration. When he comes to examine you, we'll ask if it's all right to remove the coverings. Okay? Did you understand what I just said?”

When the Sentinel raised his index finger, the voice said happily, “Cool. Good. Okay, now, can you smell me?”

Again, he concentrated on his sense of smell, but only faint fragrances touched his nasal passages. They were muddled together, and he couldn't separate one scent from another. Still, he raised the finger indicating yes. Some of a sense was better than none, he figured.

“Good. You can obviously hear me. How about touch?”

A light brush across the man's forehead had him shivering.

“I'll take that as a yes.”

The Sentinel raised his finger. He was rewarded with a low, deep chuckle that had him shivering yet again. He tried to raise his head, wanting desperately to see the face that went with the mesmerizing voice, but the little bit of strength he had regained was quickly failing. With a tired sigh, he willingly slipped into deep sleep, now knowing he was safe, but not understanding why he felt that way.

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“Blair!” Simon grabbed his charge about the shoulders. “I've been looking for you for an hour! Where were you?”

Blair shrugged, feeling like the small child he once was when Simon towered over him and sometimes scared the heck out of him with his deep, strong voice. He raised his head and straightened his shoulders. But he was no longer a child. He was the First Guide. “I was with the Sentinel.”

“Why? For God's sake! You haven't...”

“Too late,” Blair said, his voice low and shaky.

“What?” Simon glared at his charge. The quiet, emotionless man before him was a stranger. Blair's usual exuberance was gone, replaced by this pale figure.

“Nothing happened, but it's too late,” he repeated dully.

Simon's hands squeezed the firm biceps. “What do you mean?” he asked softly.

“He's the one -- but nothing happened. Nothing's going to happen. The man's barely coherent. He's a victim and he's hurt! I'm not going to force a bond on him, if that's what you're worried about.”

“I'm worried about you! You say he's the one with absolutely no -- emotion at all! It's not like you, after all this time.” Simon paused, but when Blair remained silent, he asked, “How can you tell?”

Blair snorted and raised an eyebrow. “Simon, how long have you been around Sentinels and Guides?”

Simon rolled his eyes. “Since I was a kid. More than thirty years.”

“And you need to ask that question?”

With a deep sigh, he said, “Maybe we can work this out.” Simon's hand went to Blair's head and he stroked the curls, stopping to finger the white streak. “I don't want anything to happen to you.”

Blair finally gave his friend a tired smile and his arms circled Simon's waist. He leaned against his friend. “I love you, too.”

Simon chuckled and after giving Blair a gentle pat on the back, he moved him back to hold him at arm's length. “Your mother's waiting. You sure you want to do this? You look exhausted.”

“I don't have a choice. I have to do this. I'll be okay.”

“I don't envy you. Your position in this is difficult. What will you do?”

Blair shook his head. “Whatever the Council decides. I don't have a choice.”

“You're a good man, sir.”

“Thank you, Simon. Look after the Sentinel.”

“I will.”

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“How could you do this to me, Naomi?” Blair asked firmly. “You had no right!”

Naomi Sandburg regally walked across the room and situated herself on the edge of the sofa. She fussed with her long dressing gown, arranging the blue satin into neat folds around her legs. Her hand smoothed her red locks before she folded both hands on her lap.

“I have every right,” Naomi said slowly, her eyes meeting her son's. “You are the First Guide. You need to bond unless you expect that silly child, Bethel, to take your rightful place. I did what I had to do.”

“But it's illegal! Not to mention immoral! You can't just kidnap Sentinels!” Blair threw his arms out wide and added, “Have you seen him?”

“Of course not.”

“Then maybe you should.”

Naomi tried to hide her irritation. “I will not. If he's a true Sentinel, then bond with the man and get it over with!”

Blair sighed. “Naomi, you know I can't do that. I refuse to force a bond. I want to be in love!”

Naomi rose. “Oh my God! I didn't raise my only son to be a stupid romantic! I raised him to be a leader!”

“You have no idea what I think or feel, do you? Do you even care?”

“Of course I care! Why do you think I did this? Because I care!”

“But you don't listen to me!”

“I listen, Blair,” Naomi said softly, moving closer to her son. “I'm listening -- with my heart. That's what mother's do. My heart says you need to bond, so I provided you with the means.”

“And I'm telling you that you're not to do anything else to -- help me! Do you understand?”

“But Blair...”

“No! Nothing! That's my final word. And furthermore, if the Council decides to charge you with a crime, there's nothing I can do about it! You'll have to take what comes.”

Naomi stood tall. “Of course, son. I know what I have to do.” With that, Naomi gave him a smile and swept from the room.

Blair watched his mother's retreat. She was still up to something, he was sure of it. He thought about having her confined to her quarters but before he could take further action, the intercom buzzed. He hit the button on his console. “Yes?”

“Sir, the doctor is here to give you a report.”

“Fine. Send him in.”

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Blair stood over the Sentinel's bed, watching the injured man sleep. The doctor had informed him that the man was in serious but stable condition. He was extremely dehydrated due to the fact that the zone he had been under was in its fourth day before Blair had brought him back to reality. Luckily, Blair's intervention more than likely saved the man's life. The doctor doubted that he would have survived another day in the deep zone.

For now, the patient was being fed intravenously until he recovered enough to be able to drink and eat. His bodily injuries also included contusions and abrasions from the beating, several cracked ribs and a slight concussion. Otherwise, the doctor hoped for a full recovery with proper rest and tender care.

With trembling fingers, Blair stroked the soft, short hair on the Sentinel's head. To Blair, each caress sent spikes of fire through his body. He was surprised that the sleeping man didn't feel the jolts, but he knew it was better that he didn't. With a soft sigh, Blair moved the blanket covering the Sentinel's healing body aside and studied the still form.

The man's body was magnificent. His shoulders were broad and muscled. His chest was likewise muscled and firm, each rise and fall of his breath made Blair's blood burn. He had a slim waist, strong thighs and long legs. Blair's gaze brushed over the lax, well-formed genitals. The Sentinel was nicely proportioned and healthy-looking. With a smile, he covered the man against the night's chill and leaning down, pressed a quick kiss to the warm forehead.

“Sleep well,” Blair whispered. Turning to the physician's assistant, who was charged with the night's watch over the patient, he said, “Let me know if his rest is uneasy. I'll be in my quarters.”

“I'll watch him carefully,” the woman said. “Good night, sir.”

With a nod, Blair bid the nurse a good night.

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

The Sentinel finally woke enough to understand that he was still alive, that he was in pain, and that he had to pee. With a small groan, he pried his eyes open and looked around. There was an old woman sleeping in a chair beside his bed. He studied her carefully for a few moments, but sensing no danger, he remained still and continued the scrutinizing of his surroundings.

The room was modestly appointed. There were thick window coverings of dark navy blue blocking most of the three windows in the room. Through one of the windows where the drapes were pushed back a bit, the Sentinel could see that the moon was shining in the heavens and that the stars dotted the dark blanket of the night sky. He also noticed that there were no bars on the window. So he wasn't a prisoner. At least not in the usual prison setting, he mused wryly.

The bed was comfortable, with a nicely carved headboard and soft cotton sheets. There was a wardrobe, a chest of drawers, several chairs and a small table. A door on the wall opposite the Sentinel's bed was open and he could see the faint outline of a toilet and sink. His body reminded him of its needs, so he turned his examination to himself.

His head ached slightly, but not painfully. His body is what ached painfully. His ribs were sore as well as his arms and legs. But the most painful part was the bottoms of his feet. He curled his toes, moaning softly at the spikes of pain that coursed up his legs. He tried to raise his right hand to clamp it to his mouth, but it was fastened to something. Peering down, he saw his arm was secured to something rigid that was covered with some sort of soft material. Gauze held his arm securely, tied at the wrist and the elbow. In his vein, he saw a needle attached to a thin tube. His eyes followed the tube up its length to the bag of fluid that hung on a small metal holder. Intravenous feeding. So whoever had possession of him at the present time was caring for him. He felt a small measure of comfort at this fact.

Unfortunately, he felt a large measure of discomfort at his need to relieve himself. Using his functioning left hand, he carefully tugged the needle from his arm. With shaking fingers, he untied the loose knots on the gauze and raised his arm, flexing the fingers. A small pool of blood gathered where he had removed the needle, but he ignored the spot for now.

Raising himself first to to his elbows and then to his hands, he slipped his feet from under the blankets and sat on the side of the bed. The old woman snuffled in her sleep, shifted once and snored softly. He realized he was naked. Studying his lower body, he didn't feel any discomfort in his genitals and backside, so he knew he hadn't been sexually assaulted. He thanked the heavens for small favors. Sniffing lightly, he realized he smelled relatively clean so his captors were definitely caring for him. He wondered what they wanted in return.

Looking around, he also wondered if there were clothes in the closet. He tried to remember what he had been wearing the last time he was aware of his surroundings, but his mind was a swirling mass of thoughts and visions. His head ached, so he gave up his musing with a tired sigh. The throbbing of his bladder made the next decision for him. Pee first, then clothing. He was so intent on rising to his feet with a minimum of pain that he didn't hear the gentle snick of the door knob turning nor did he feel the air shift as it was pushed slowly open.

“No! Wait!”

The voice startled the Sentinel. He started to pitch forward, his hands clamped over his ears at the shout, when study arms stopped his fall. Together, he and his savior slipped to the floor, his tumble cushioned by his rescuer's body. Startled, he went limp in the unknown arms.

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Blair held the slack body as gently as possible. Not even the sound of his call nor their fall to the floor awoke the slumbering nurse. Blair maneuvered himself up into a sitting position with the Sentinel's head in his lap. He put his palm against the man's forehead and said, “Hey, are you okay?”

The man's eyes flew open. “Wha -- what happened?” he whispered.

“You fell from the bed. You were trying to walk. That was a stupid thing to do! You're in no condition to walk!”

“Ss--ssorry,” he said softly. “I -- I need to use -- get up.”

“Why didn't you call for help?”

The man shrugged but remained silent.

“Can you sit up?”

Again, the Sentinel shrugged.

Blair smiled into the clear blue eyes that looked up at him with suspicion. “I'm Blair Sandburg. I won't hurt you. In fact, I'm here to help.” He gave the man a pleasant smile. “What's your name?”

“Why?”

“Isn't it considered polite to introduce yourself to strangers? Especially strangers who've saved your life?”

“Didn't ask for your help.”

Blair's smile widened. “Very true. But you're getting it whether you like it or not.”

The man's closed expression didn't change when he asked, “Am I a prisoner? I'm not worth anything in ransom and I'm pretty damned worthless otherwise.”

“That's not a very nice thing to say about yourself. And no, you're not a prisoner. You may leave whenever you wish.”

“I'll leave now. I need clothes.”

“Don't you think you should try and regain some of your strength before you leave? You haven't eaten for several days, and you're quite weak.”

“I'm fine,” the man growled, struggling to pull himself from the floor.

Blair put a hand under the Sentinel's shoulders and pushed. Between the two of them, it took a good long minute before he was sitting up. To Blair, the man was looking very shaky.

“You'd better lean on me,” Blair offered.

“I'm fine,” he said again, tersely.

“Sure you are,” Blair muttered. “Are you always this -- stubborn?” When the man again failed to respond, he sighed. “Let me find you some clothes.” He rose and shook the shoulder of the still-sleeping woman. She woke with a start and then blushed to see her employer standing over her. She then paled when she saw her patient sitting on the floor.

Rising, the woman cried out, “Oh good gracious. Is he well?”

“Fine, Mrs. O'Donnell. Fine. Please find Mr. -- the Sentinel some clothes. Sweat pants and a t-shirt, whatever else you can manage to rustle up until we have a chance to send for suitable clothing for him.”

Wringing her hands, Mrs. O'Donnell nodded. “Yes, sir. I'm very sorry, sir.”

Blair nodded and smiled, guiding the woman toward the door. “Now, please.”

“Yes, sir.” With another rather fearful glance at the stoic man stationed on the floor, she finally left on her errand.

“Come on. Let's get you back into bed,” Blair said, putting out his hands to help the man to his feet.

The Sentinel scowled but realized that he wasn't at his best at the present time. In fact, he felt horrible. His head ached, his bladder pounded, his legs tingled, and his stomach felt empty. Without a word, he finally slipped his hands into the outstretched ones and allowed Blair to help him to his feet. Shakily, he swayed.

Blair's arms wrapped around his waist. “Whoa. You'd better lie down before you fall over.”

“Bathroom,” he growled.

“Oh. Okay. Right. Come on, then.”

Together, they shuffled into the bathroom. The Sentinel leaned on the counter with both hands. His gaze met Blair's. “Out.”

“I don't know about that. If you take a header, you'll end up feeling a hell of a lot worse than you do now.”

The man took a deep breath, stood on shaky legs and pointed a finger toward the door. “Are you deaf as well as irritating?” he growled.

Blair crossed his arms. “Yes.”

They glared at each other. Even when the man's eyes narrowed, Blair stood his ground. Finally, after several moments, the Sentinel let out a small sigh. Shaking his head, he turned and opened the toilet lid. He sat down gingerly, his entire body screaming in protest at the movement. With a smirk, he glared at his companion.

Blair shrugged and backed out of the small room. “At least you aren't so stupid as to think you could stand and go. I'll find out what's keeping those clothes.” With a grin, he closed the door.

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Blair shut pulled the bathroom door and leaned back against it, head back with his eyes closed. His heart was racing and he thought he was going to be ill. His stomach churned and his eyes burned. “Damn, damn, damn,” he whispered. “What am I going to do?” Taking a deep breath in, he exhaled slowly before standing up. He straightened his shoulders and went to order food for the Sentinel.

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The Sentinel leaned his elbows on his knees and dropped his forehead to his hands, moaning softly. His entire body shouted its displeasure. Everything hurt, especially his feet. Now that he had actually walked a few steps, he realized that the bottoms of his feet had been beaten. When and by whom was another story, but he knew it was done to prevent his escape when he had been -- captured, taken, whatever. His legs were in agony and he could feel the tears coming to his eyes while his -- rescuer watched. Thankfully, the man -- what had he said his name was?-- had finally left him alone. With a small shudder, he managed to control a small portion of the pain.

All he wanted to do was pee and then sleep for a week. Maybe he could rest 'here' for a while. Wherever the hell here was. The guy who helped him didn't seem dangerous. He focused on the bedroom and heard the whispered words. 'What am I going to do?' The man sat up. About what? he thought. Me? Do what? Something good or something bad?

The Sentinel sighed again and brought his thoughts back to the task at hand. He relaxed and allowed his body to relieve itself. At least the plumbing's working, he thought wryly, rubbing his empty stomach. He tried to remember what had happened that put him in this predicament, but try as he might, the last few days were blank. He must have been unconscious since...

Chewing on his lower lip, the man thought about his last coherent thought. He had been tracking a runaway teenager for a well-paying client. He remembered following the trail into a deserted warehouse down at the waterfront. The trail had been clear. Now that he thought about it, too clear, but at the time, he had arrogantly figured he was just that good. He must have been stupid to follow that trail. It was obviously a set-up. Smirking, he thought, With hindsight, you know it was a trap. You are losing your touch, buddy boy. He remembered walking down a hallway; he remembered seeing a single thread of clothing stuck on a broken door frame. The string had matched the color of the kid's t-shirt as described by his parents. Thinking he was getting close, he had rushed ahead... After that, everything was a huge blank.

Carefully rising, he ran water into the basin, then splashed his face and the back of his neck. The pain in his feet almost overwhelmed him and twice he had to sit down on the closed toilet lid to retain his control. He broke the seal on a toothbrush he found in the cabinet over the sink and brushed his teeth. Finally, unable to stand any longer, he limped slowly out into the bedroom and over to the bed. Leaning down on the mattress, he dragged himself onto it and collapsed into a heap. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

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

Blair met Mrs. O'Donnell in the hallway as she returned from her journey.

“I found these clothes for the -- guest, Mr. Blair,” she said softly. “I'm really sorry about falling asleep.”

“Don't worry about it. He's all right. That's all that counts. Why don't you tell Dr. Brown that he's been awake, and then go to the kitchen and order something for him to eat? Something easy on his stomach. Ask the doctor what he thinks would be best.”

“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.”

“Thank you.” Blair made his way back to the Sentinel's room. He was surprised to see that the man had actually made it back to the bed in spite of his injured feet. He smiled. His guest looked young and innocent, and very peaceful when he slept. The man was so deeply asleep that he didn't even stir when Blair arranged his limbs into a more comfortable position. He then covered him with a sheet and a blanket before he stroked the soft hair and murmured, “Sleep well.” He pulled his hand away when the fiery spikes nipped at his hand. “Oh, God,” he murmured. “It's getting worse.”

Blair fled from the room.

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

The next time the Sentinel woke, the sun streamed through the partially-opened drapes. He turned and stretched, feeling the bruises dotting his body. His ribs still ached but his head felt much better. He gingerly sat up and an appetizing scent wafted to his nose. On the bedside table sat a bowl of fresh fruit -- bananas and apples. Two bottles of sealed spring water stood at attention next to the fruit, along with some crackers, also in sealed small packets.

He put two pillows behind his back and leaned against the headboard. Reaching for the food, the man ate slowly. He peeled and ate both bananas, the two apples, one red and one green, between sips of water. He ignored the crackers. The idea of dry food made his throat ache. A bowl of soup would be nice, he thought wistfully.

A small rap at the door had him quickly sitting up. “Yeah,” he called out.

The knob turned and in waltzed his -- host. Finally coherent enough to look at the man, the Sentinel was pleasantly surprised to gaze into an attractive face framed by long, curly locks that hung to his benefactor's shoulders. Inquisitive and intelligent blue eyes met his. A smile graced his host's face and involuntarily, the Sentinel felt his own lips start to curve in a returning smile. He immediately composed his face into an emotionless plane.

“May I come in?”

“It's your place.”

“Oh, yeah, right. But this is your room for as long as you need it. May I come in?”

The Sentinel's nostrils flared. He smelled food. Soup by the looks of it. A serving bowl with a covered lid sat in the middle of the tray that his visitor carried, along with a smaller bowl, a spoon and a napkin. He wondered how in hell soup managed to be served when he had just thought about the very thing only minutes before. Coincidence, he decided. Hungrily, he finally said, “Come in.”

“Thanks!” Walking over to the bedside table, his host put down the tray. “You ate the fruit. Good. Are you feeling better?”

“I'm fine.”

“Yeah, right. I brought soup. Do you like barley and vegetables?”

“Like I have a choice?”

The visitor laughed, a pleasant sound that caressed the Sentinel's brain and made his body feel -- good. He crossed his arms and stole a sidelong glance at his host. The nearness of the man also felt inviting, almost comforting. The Sentinel fiercely tamped down the ridiculous feelings and clenched his teeth.

“You always have a choice. I could have the kitchen make something...”

Afraid that the food would be taken away, the Sentinel lowered his arms and nodded curtly. “No. This is fine.”

Rolling his eyes with amusement, the visitor removed the larger bowl from the tray and placed it on the table. Then he put the tray with its remaining contents on the Sentinel's lap. Picking up the small bowl and after removing the lid from the serving container, he scooped a portion of the steaming contents into the smaller bowl. With a flourish and another smile, he sat the bowl down in front of the Sentinel.

“There you go. Eat up. Be careful; it's hot.”

The Sentinel's eyes almost watered from the tantalizing smell of the food. “Thanks,” he mumbled, picked up the spoon and ate like a starving man.

His visitor made no attempt to leave, rather he pulled a chair over to the side of the bed and sat down. His eyes watched everything, making the Sentinel feel uncomfortable under such careful scrutiny. Finally, after finishing the soup, he deliberately placed the spoon down and growled, “What?”

“Nothing.”

“You're staring.”

“You're very handsome.”

“Get lost.” The Sentinel crossed his arms yet again. His eyes started to water and he angrily wiped his fingers across them. The scent of the man sitting next to him touched his nostrils and he swallowed hard. While he couldn't place the name of the fragrance of his soap and shampoo, he could almost smell his benefactor's own scent underneath the overlying smells. He stared straight ahead, figuring he'd out wait the irritating man.

Instead, the stubborn man sat with his arms crossed and waited. It was many minutes before the Sentinel shifted minutely and finally looked at him from the corner of his eye.

“Could I have some more of that soup?”

Not moving, he sat in his chair and waited.

The Sentinel shifted again and then sighed. “Please.”

Jumping up, his visitor quickly refilled the bowl. “Here you go. It is good, isn't it?”

“Yes. Ah, thanks.”

“Sure, Mr....?”

“Ellison.”

“Oh, okay. Cool. What do your friends call you?”

“Mr. Ellison,” he answered grumpily. The only response from his companion was the sound of his laughter. He hated being laughed at. Ellison continued to eat while between spoonfuls, he cast quick peeks at the constantly smiling visitor. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, he blurted out, “Who are you?”

“I'm Blair. Remember? I already told you... Oh, right. You weren't feeling too good. Sorry. I'm Blair Sandburg.”

“Where am I?”

“Next to my private quarters. This is a guest suite.”

“That's helpful.”

Blair laughed. “Sorry. You're in Cascade. It's the capitol of the Free Guide State of Washington.”

“Shit.”

“What?”

“I was in the not so free Guide-sparse State of Utah.”

“Really? I've never been to Utah. What's it like? Is it cold? Does it rain as much as it does here? What kind work do you do?”

“Whoa there, Professor. I'm not here for twenty questions.” Ellison looked around before he sighed. “I'm not sure why I'm here.”

“I'm sorry. It's my fault, but you're free to go. You'll be provided transportation and supplies. You can leave whenever you feel ready.”

Ellison's hard gaze raked over Blair's face. “Is this a trick? What's your fault?”

Blair smiled. Ignoring the second question, he said, “No, no trick. Head out -- whenever. You'll find clothes in the dresser. I'll have my man make whatever arrangements you wish. He'll wait outside in the hall until your ready. Simon will take you to the lower level and there he'll arrange for whatever you need -- money, a car, or if you prefer, he'll take you to the airport or train station. Good luck.” Blair rose and without a backward glance, he left the room.

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

Fled was more like it, Blair thought angrily. The man was so -- exasperating! Ellison. His name was Ellison. No first name, apparently. He snorted. You are such a coward, Blair. Why didn't you stay? You know why, you jerk. You feel -- something for him already, but it's obvious he's not interested. He doesn't act like he feels a thing for you. Blair let out an unhappy sigh. That's not fair, because you certainly hid your feelings well enough, and you're not even that good at hiding anything! Maybe he's hiding his, also. After all, he's the injured party, not you. Blair broke into a trot and didn't stop until he was at the gym located in the basement level of the complex. He'd exercise all thoughts of the Sentinel right out of his body and his mind.

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

Ellison lay back against the headboard for a long while. The food had warmed his belly and he felt full and content. He tested his senses. Focusing on hearing, he was shocked when he heard Blair talking to himself. The door was closed and he was obviously heading away from Ellison's room as he walked. Usually his hearing was his strongest sense, but he had never been able to hear quite to clearly before, especially through walls. Something had definitely ratcheted up the power of his sense. He listened intently, hearing Blair's words quite plainly.

Rising, he ignored any pain from his body and gingerly walked to the door. When he pulled it open, he saw a large black man lounging against the wall opposite his door.

“Sir?” the man said, standing upright.

“Are you -- Simon?”

“Yes, sir. Simon Banks.”

“Where's Sandburg?”

Simon's eyes narrowed. “Why?”

Shrugging, Ellison said, “Just wondered.”

“Mr. Sandburg instructed me to take you to wherever you choose. Are you going to get dressed first?”

“Yeah. I'll be ready in a few minutes.”

“May I ask a personal question?” Simon asked, moving a step closer.

Ellison nodded and said, “Sure,” while carefully scrutinizing the large man. He stood at least three inches taller and weighed a good forty pounds more than Ellison. He had the immediate impression that this man would kill for his -- what? Friend? Companion? Lover?

Ellison turned and walked back into the room, albeit slowly on his tender feet. Simon stood in the doorway while Ellison dressed.

“Do you feel anything for -- Sandburg?”

Hearing the hesitation in Simon's words before he said “Sandburg” made Ellison wonder again what their relationship was. He felt a flash of jealousy that made his knees shake. Reaching out, he leaned on the dresser, breathing heavily.

“Hey, you okay?” Simon asked, taking a step forward. “You need a hand?”

“No,” Ellison replied curtly. “I'm fine.” He yanked the first shirt he laid a hand on over his head, his thoughts a swirling mess. What the fuck was that? Jealous? Good God, but you are royally screwed up from that beating. Run. Get away from this place. Hurry.

Ellison breathed in and out several times before he moved onto pants. Pulling jeans from the dresser, he was forced to sit in the chair to put them on when his feet ached from standing too long. He next pulled on thick, white socks, pleased with the cushioning on the bottom. Standing, he tested his ability to walk without looking like a ninety-year old man, limping and hunched over. Able to cross the room in a fairly graceful manner, he looked around. Tucked near the edge of the bed were a pair of brown leather slippers. Picking up the slippers, Ellison ran his fingers along the insides. The soft, lambs' wool felt good. The soles of the slippers were hard enough to serve as shoes so he slipped into the footwear, surprised that they fit perfectly. They even took into account that his feet were a bit swollen. With a sigh of relief, Ellison walked a few tentative steps.

“Feeling better?” Simon asked.

Ellison almost started. He'd forgotten the man was still there. “Yes. Thanks.”

“Don't sound so begrudging,” Simon said harshly before he turned aside. “Forgive me.”

“Hey, buddy. I didn't ask for any of this. Don't get all upset with me! Just show me the door and I'll be on my way.”

“Good idea,” Simon said from between clenched teeth. “Time you went. There's a coat in the closet. It's cold outside.”

Opening the closet door, Jim pulled the heavy, black leather coat from its hanger. He found gloves and a hat in the pockets. Putting the knit hat on his head and the gloves on his hands, he nodded to Simon, who nodded back and lead the way.

Ellison walked behind Simon down the long corridor. Without even thinking about it, he concentrated his hearing and searched the large compound. When he was rewarded with the sound of a faint heart beat, he stopped in his tracks. Locating that for which he searched, he automatically connected his smell along with his hearing. He heard Sandburg's heart beating rapidly and the unfamiliar sounds of metal clanging and ropes swishing. He smelled the tang of sweat from Sandburg's body and unable to discern what the sounds and smells indicated, he felt a stab of fear. What was wrong? Was Sandburg in trouble? He concentrated even harder; his eyes unfocused and unable to stop himself, he felt himself slipping away...

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

“What happened?” Blair asked, standing in front of the zoned Sentinel.

“Not a clue. We were walking along. He stopped. He cocked his head, so I figured he was listening to something, and when he was -- gone.” Simon shrugged. He didn't like the man as it was, and having to ask Blair to help the ungrateful Sentinel rubbed him the wrong way.

Nodding, Blair took in a deep breath before he slowly exhaled. “I guess I don't have a choice.”

“Yeah. Just leave him.”

“You know I can't do that!”

Simon blinked slowly before he admitted, “Yes, sir. I know. Unfortunately, I know.”

“Okay then.” Blair placed warm hands on Ellison's face and said firmly, “Ellison, you need to focus on my voice. That's it. Good job, man. Just focus and concentrate. Follow my voice back and you'll wake up. Do it now, Sentinel.”

Ellison shivered and blinked rapidly several times before he took in a shaky breath. Releasing it, he growled, “What the hell was that? What did you do to me?”

“Me? Why you stupid son-of-a bitch! What did I do to you? I brought you out of the zone, you idiot!”

“What in God's name are you talking about?” Ellison shouted.

“A zone! You're a damned Sentinel. You know what a zone is!”

“You're not making any sense! A zone? I've never -- zoned before in my entire life!”

“Guys, please,” Simon interfered. “Let's take this someplace other than the middle of the hallway.”

Blair glared at Ellison before he turned and regally strode away without even looking back. Simon automatically followed his charge. Ellison stood, hands clenched, for several long moments before he huffed out an angry breath and slowly followed.

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

Blair opened the door to his private quarters. Turning to Simon, he said, “Please excuse us, Simon.”

Simon carefully eyed Ellison. “Are you sure, sir?”

“Yes, Simon. I'll be fine. Thank you.” Blair waited until Simon gave a curt nod and left before he waved Ellison into his apartment. “Sit down, Mr. Ellison.”

Ellison stalked in as well as he could with two aching feet. It was very annoying that he couldn't stomp across the floor to let this -- person know how angry he truly was. All he could do was sit stiffly on the edge of a chair and crossed his arms, keeping what little dignity he had left intact.

“You want something? Water?”

“No.”

“So let's get this straight. I'm sorry you were taken by force from your home. I had nothing to do with that, but since you are here, it's my responsibility to care for you until you leave.”

“Which will be very shortly,” Ellison snapped.

“Fine. Okay by me, but before you go, I think you should understand about your senses and such. I can't believe you've lived this long and haven't had any problems. Do you have a Guide?”

“What? A Guide? Hell, no! I'm a low level Sentinel. My abilities aren't very strongly defined. I barely make a living as a tracker! Why the hell to I need a helper?”

“Wait a second. A low level Sentinel? So you're saying your abilities are minimal? In what universe?”

“I have a good sense of hearing. My sight is fairly strong, but the others aren't all that -- enhanced. I've been tested and rejected by the ESC.”

“ESC?”

“Enhanced Senses Coalition.”

“So you've never zoned before?”

“No! I don't have spells! Not like fully-developed Sentinels! They need somebody to watch their asses constantly! No thanks. Not for me. I work alone.”

“At what age to Sentinels in your -- area mature?”

“By twenty-five, most have their full abilities.”

“How old are you?”

“None of your business!”

“Fine. Forget it. Okay? If you don't want my help, then...” Blair stopped his frantic pacing and threw out his hands. “Go and have a happy life!”

“I can't! You've -- done something to me!” Ellison unhappily admitted.

“What are you talking about? I haven't done a thing to you!”

“Then why can I hear people talking all over the city? Why is every sound and smell making my head ache and my stomach churn? Why do I feel like ripping off my clothes and to run screaming until I collapse? You've done something to my senses and I want you to turn it off!” Ellison rose and in seconds, had grabbed Blair's shirt. Roughly shaking the man, he shouted, “Turn them off now!”

Blair didn't resist the rough treatment. Instead, he wrapped his hands around Ellison's wrists and patiently waited until Ellison looked directly at him before he said in an even tone, “Please stop. I didn't do anything to you on purpose. I swear to you I didn't.”

Looking into the wide blue eyes, Ellison glared. He scanned Blair's body and realized that the man was telling the truth. “On purpose?” he echoed. “What did you do to me -- accidentally?”

“I -- well, I didn't mean to! I initiated the bond. I'm sorry! I felt -- drawn to you! All I did was help you when you were hurt! I didn't mean for it to start. I just wanted to help you.” Blair finally twisted out of Ellison's grasp. “I had to help you! Don't you understand?”

“Why don't you explain it to me? In very small words so that there are no misunderstandings.”

Blair scrubbed at his face before he crossed his arms. “You deserve the truth, so here it is. My mother offered a reward for the capture of a Sentinel. She wanted me to bond before -- a certain age. I had no idea she'd done such a terrible thing! You have to believe me. It's illegal to interfere with Guides and their Sentinels. Trust me when I tell you she's going to be punished.” Blair spread his arms out wide. “I apologize for my mother's actions with all my heart.”

“Why didn't you just -- leave me alone when I was brought here?”

“Simon wanted me to. He said it was for the best, but I -- couldn't! I could feel you." He put one hand on his head an another over his heart. "I could feel your pain. I had to help you. I'm sorry, but I had to!”

Ellison scanned the man again. All he sensed was the truth. After a moment, he asked, “Why are my senses so much more sensitive now? What did you do?”

“Honestly, Mr. Ellison, I didn't “do” anything! I helped the physician take care of you. I only touched you! But to tell you the truth, I don't think it mattered.“

“What? What didn't matter?”

“I thought touching you started the bond, but now I realize I felt it the minute you were brought into the city. Before I even saw you, I -- felt you -- in here.” Blair's hand patted his chest. "And here," he explained as he touched his own forehead. “I knew you were the one.”

Ellison's gaze held Blair's for a long moment before he said, “This won't work.”

Blair dropped his head, afraid what would show in his eyes: the longing, the need, the pain that Ellison's words brought. “It doesn't have to work. You're free to go.”

“What haven't you told me?”

“I've told you everything. What about Sentinels and Guides in your country? Don't they bond?”

“High-level Sentinels need a, a Guide, as you call it. They're the only ones who can't function independently. They have some jerk following them around to make sure they don't get splattered on the street. I can't -- I won't live like that!”

“But aren't they a team? Don't they love and care for each other?”

“I don't know and I don't care. Never talked to one.”

“What?" Blair asked incredulously. "You never associated with other Sentinels?”

“No. They're a bunch of high-minded bastards.”

Blair felt a headache coming on. He closed his eyes before he slowly opened them. "You know, I'm really tired. I'll call Simon to show you out.”

“Why is your hair -- like that? When I saw you yesterday, the white was about yay long,” Ellison said, holding his thumb and forefinger apart about two inches. “Now it's almost twice that long. That's downright weird. Nobody's hair turns white that quickly.”

“Yeah, well, don't worry about it. It's this -- condition I have.” Blair turned and hit the button on the wall intercom. “It's called stupidity,” he muttered. “Simon? Could you please come and escort Mr. Ellison to... wherever he'd like to go?”

“Right away, sir.”

Blair turned back to Ellison and said, “I'm not feeling very well, so please see yourself out. Excuse me.” He waved a hand towards his guest, then he quickly disappeared into the next room, quietly closing the door behind him.

Ellison stood for a long minute staring at the closed door. He listened carefully and heard Blair's rapid heart beat and unsettled breathing. At least the guy wasn't crying his eyes out, he thought cruelly before he sighed. Who was he kidding? He felt drawn to the man. He liked the way Sandburg looked; he was a handsome guy. He felt -- God, was he such an idiot? -- safe and comfortable in Blair's presence. There, he admitted it to himself and that was the end of it. They had their own lives and as unfulfilled and lonely as his was, he didn't know if he was strong enough to try to change the familiar. He was a fucking coward. With a sad smile, Ellison said softly, “My name is James,” before he turned and left.

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

Ellison rented the most expensive car that the rental agency had to offer. He felt it was his due and when Simon heard him request the pricey sports car, all he did was raise an eyebrow and hand over Blair's credit card.

Down shifting from fifth to fourth on a tight curve, Ellison gassed the engine as he came out of the turn, fishtailing the vehicle. Expertly bringing the car under control, he gave a small bitter smile and a derisive snort. Acting like an ass when there wasn't an audience wasn't much fun, he realized. Slowing down, he drove more sedately while he thought about what had happened the past few days.

He definitely felt something for the man who had helped him. For Blair. When he thought about it, he figured that Sandburg might have very well saved his life. In exchange for his care and concern, he'd asked for nothing in return. He gave James his freedom immediately and he didn't stand in his way when James left. What about this Sentinel crap? James knew he had low-level hyperactive senses, but even now he could tell that something or someone -- Blair? -- had ratcheted up the levels. With a sigh, he wondered how much more vulnerable he was now.

Before his kidnapping, his senses weren't that much of a problem. Hell, most of the time they were just like everybody else's. Yeah, he was a good tracker. He used his brains to track lost little kids and senile old people, runaway husbands, wives or teenagers, and the usual amount of bail jumpers. Most of the time he caught them because they were too young, old or stupid to handle life on the loose. Some of the time, one of the people he was tracking actually had a few smarts and then he used his senses for that extra “oomph”. It wasn't a glamorous life but it paid the bills. He only had himself to clothe and feed, and his one room apartment was pretty cheap. He drove a ten-year old vehicle and stayed home weekends.

Things were different now. Looking around, Ellison noticed that the sky seemed bluer, the clouds whiter. The air in the mountains was clean and cool, and the scent of pine was spicy and strong. Had his senses improved or was he just paying more attention since he met Blair? Either way, what did it matter? Sandburg was responsible for his improvement. With a smile, James suddenly realized that he considered what had happened to him an improvement! What was wrong with him? Normally, he would have ripped Sandburg a new one and demanded a huge amount of money for his inconvenience. Now he was thinking about the guy with what? Affection?

“Get a grip, Ellison,” he groused aloud. “Have a drink. Go home and go back to work.”

James drove another half an hour before he pulled over near a deserted farmhouse. He turned off the engine and climbed out. Reaching into the back seat, he fished a bottle of cold water from a small cooler and popped the top. He leaned against the car, sipped the cool liquid, and argued with himself.

“What do you want?” Ellison asked.

“Fame and fortune?” James answered.

“Yeah, right. Get real. What do you really want?”

“Not a clue. Nobody's ever asked before.”

“You are an asshole.”

“Don't you know it.”

“Fuck you.”

“Chicken.”

“What?”

“Chicken. Chicken.”

“Get lost.”

“Hey, you started this conversation!”

“Oh, right. Yeah. Okay then. Get serious. What do you want?”

“You really want to hear this. It will make you barf.”

“Sure. Why not.”

“I want -- not to be alone. I want to have somebody look at me like I'm the most important thing in the world. I want to be held and caressed. I want to be kissed and treasured...”

“Stop! Good God, I am going to barf!”

“Hey, you asked.”

“Yeah, I know.” With a deep sigh, Ellison tossed the empty water bottle into the back seat. “Do you think he's -- it?”

“It?”

“Yes, 'the one'. Can he give us those things?”

“There are no guarantees.”

“Why not!?”

“Because life sucks?”

“You're no help at all.”

“Do you want him? Do you want to even bother trying -- with no guarantees?”

Ellison considered. He thought about life without Blair. Bleak and lonely. He thought about life with Blair and realized he had no idea what it would be like. He really didn't know the guy all that well, but he liked what he knew so far. He knew Sandburg was caring and giving. He was intelligent and had a ready smile. He felt that Sandburg would be an interesting and even exuberant companion if not for the sadness that seemed to circle around him that James had picked up on. Wondering if he was responsible for the melancholy or possibly the cure for it, he decided to head back to Cascade and see if he could wrangle an invitation for a few weeks. He'd hang out and see what happened. He could always take off if things went sour, now that he knew he wasn't a prisoner.

“What if he doesn't invite you to stay?”

“Go away! God, I hate a pessimist.”

“Have you looked in the mirror lately?”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“You're not exactly Mr. Happy.”

“You're exasperating and of absolutely no help!” Ellison put the car in gear, made a u-turn and headed back from whence he came.

“Hey, you made a decision, didn't you?”

“Yeah. So?”

“You didn't make it on your own, asshole. Just remember that.”

“So if this doesn't work out, you'll take half the blame?” Ellison waited but his conscience seemed to have had enough. He chuckled at his own idiocy. “I've been a coward for too long. Afraid to move forward. Afraid to look back. I'm ready now. Win or lose, I have to try.” Feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders, James Ellison whistled along to a tune on the radio.

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

At the knock on the door, Blair looked up from his paperwork and called out, “Come in.”

Simon entered and closed the door behind him. “Blair! He's back.”

“What?”

“He's outside in the hallway.”

“Why are you whispering?”

Simon grinned. “Oh, right. I forgot.” Using his normal tone, he said, “Ellison's here.”

“Okay,” Blair said slowly. “Did he say why?”

“No. Just asked to see you.”

Blair looked unsettled for a moment before he said, “Fine. Send him in.”

Simon nodded, seeing the emotions cross his charge's face. Expectation. Exasperation. Affection. Confusion. At first, he wasn't happy to see Ellison return, but after looking into Blair's face, he decided that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all. Ellison's return meant one of two things. One was that he came back to ream Blair out, which was highly unlikely, as Ellison didn't strike Simon as a man who went out of his way to hurt people. Or two, he was back because he hopefully was beginning to return Blair's affections and wanted to see if they had a future together. Either way, a definite final decision would help Blair move on with his life. This limbo was killing him. Pulling the door open, he said, “Mr. Sandburg will see you know.”

“Thanks,” Ellison said.

Blair heard the strong voice and actually shivered. He fiercely bit his lower lip and forced his body to remain calm. Clearing his throat, he rose and clasped his hands behind his back.

“Hello, Mr. Ellison.”

“Hey, Sandburg.” Ellison stood in front of Blair's desk and waited.

“Well?” Blair finally asked.

“Well... what?”

Blair rolled his eyes. “Why are you back?”

Ellison shrugged. “Figured I'd stick around for a while. If that's all right with you.”

“Why would you want to do that? Don't you have a job to return to? Your family must wonder where you are.”

“No family,” Ellison said. “I'm self-employed.”

“Oh. Okay. What exactly did you want to do while you -- stuck around for a while?”

“Work for you. Work with you. Whatever you need.”

“I don't know. I don't really need...” Blair looked into Ellison's face and was surprised to see expectation there. Feeling hopeful about his return, Blair cleared his throat and asked, “What are your qualifications, Mr. Ellison?”

“James.”

“What?” Blair's eyes met Ellison's and the man actually smiled.

“My first name is James. Use it if you like.”

“James. Nice name. Strong. I like it.”

James shrugged. “Thanks.”

Blair shifted. “What kind of work do you do?”

“I'm a tracker.”

“A tracker? You track down criminals?”

“Sometimes. I track down anybody that I'm paid to -- track down.”

Blair laughed. “Are you any good?”

“Not too bad.”

“What's your success rate?”

“Is this a job interview?”

Blair smiled. “No. I was just being nosy.”

“Right,” James drawled. “Now why doesn't that surprise me?”

“Hey! I'm not... Well, I guess I am. But hell, man, how do you learn stuff if you don't ask questions?”

“Beats me, Chief. Now, is it okay if I hang around?”

Blair smiled. “Cool with me, James.”

James returned the smile. “Good. So what do you need me to do?”

“How are you at inputting information into a database?”

“It's second nature to me.”

“Good. There's the computer,” Blair said, pointing toward the opposite wall, where a nice setup occupied a small table. “Here's the information. Go and -- input.”

James took the sheaf of papers. “Yes, sir.”

Blair rolled his eyes. “Call me Blair. Or Sandburg. Sir isn't necessary.”

Jim walked over to the desk and turned on the desktop. “Banks calls you sir.”

“It's a habit with him. He's been with me for twenty years.” Blair grinned. “Besides, he calls me Blair sometimes.”

“Okay, Chief. Let's get to work.”

Blair watched as the Sentinel sat down and started to work. He seemed to be a fair typist and was concentrating on his assigned duty so that Blair had an unobstructed view of the man. He liked what he saw, but he was still confused about why Ellison had returned after being so insistent about leaving. He also wondered how much the man knew about the Guide/Sentinel relationship and about Blair's own history regarding the Guide Council.

With a shake of his head, Blair returned to his paperwork, determined to leave the questions for another time. James was here. That had to count for something. Besides, from the little interaction he'd had with James, he knew the man was a serious, intense, private person. Blair wouldn't do anything to give James a reason to cut and run, so for now, he decided to let the relationship go where it would and leave any heartfelt declarations and long explanations about his life for later.

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

...About six months later...

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

“Gone?” Jim said harshly. “Gone where?”

Simon felt his throat close and his eyes prickle. “We don't know.”

“What do you mean, we don't know? Isn't it your job to watch him? Aren't you the damned body guard?”

“Yes,” Simon answered dejectedly, “but he was having a rough day. I thought he needed some private time. Blair hates to let me see him so -- emotional. I gave him some space.”

“Why was he having a rough day? What are his usual haunts? Have you checked?” Jim considered for a moment before he asked, “And why was he upset? He hasn't said anything to me.”

“Of course I've checked. I sent Bethel and Gabriel out when I realized that he was overdue for an important meeting. When they returned, they said he'd disappeared. Hadn't been to any of the usual places.”

“Disappeared?” James examined Simon's face closely. “How could he disappear?” He moved closer to Simon and asked again, “Why was he upset?”

Simon shifted uncomfortably. “It's personal. I don't have the right...”

James grabbed Simon's shirt and moved yet closer until their noses almost touched. “Tell me now.”

“His birthday's in a few days.”

“And?”

“And you know if he's to remain in his position, he needs to announce his bonding!”

James glared. “So I've heard. What aren't you telling me?”

“It's just that...”

“For God's sake, quit wasting time and spill it!”

“Bethel said that Gabriel felt something -- strange.”

“Strange?”

“Do you sense anything?”

“Like what? Weird vibes? Cosmic alignment of the planets out of sync? Don't start any of that strange Guide/Sentinel shit on me now.”

Simon glared in return and said, “You are an asshole.”

James sighed, rubbing his forehead. “Okay. Okay. What do you want me to -- sense?”

“Is there a chance there's a rogue Sentinel running loose in Cascade?”

“What? What in the hell does...? Oh my God. You don't think... We have to find him.”

“What do you think I'm trying to do? You're a tracker. You're a high-level Sentinel. You have a special connection to Blair. Can you do it?”

James squared his shoulders. “I'd better before...” His unspoken words hung between them. '… before it's too late.' However, he did say, “There's something... It's hard to describe. It feels -- uncomfortable and -- wrong. Plain wrong.” He started toward the parking garage, intent on procuring a vehicle and heading out immediately.

“I'm going with you,” Simon said firmly.

“I work alone.”

“You might zone.”

“Don't get in my way,” James growled.

“I love him, too, you know.”

James glared at Simon before he turned on his heels and walked away.

“Why me?” Simon muttered, raising his eyes to the heavens before closely following James.

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

Hours passed slowly by. Simon drove so that James could focus his senses on locating Blair by scent. James opened the needed sense as far as possible. Smells of every description assailed his nose. Sour, bitter, pleasant, musty, dirty, sweet, cloying and plain downright disgusting -- everything found its way into his nasal passages. Sifting through the scents as Blair had taught him, he frantically searched for the singular fragrance of his friend.

Rubbing his head, James groaned.

“Switch to sound.”

“What?” James asked through the haze of smells assailing his body.

“Give the old nose a rest. Switch to sound. Listen for Blair's voice, his heart beat.”

“Okay,” James agreed tiredly. “Good idea.”

“Let's take a five minute break.”

“No.”

“You might be superman, but I need a cup of coffee.”

James swallowed around a dry throat and nodded. “All right. Yeah. Black for me.”

“We'll drive through and then park for a minute.”

At James' hand wave of agreement, Simon made a trip through the nearest fast-food joint and ordered two cups of black coffee. Sitting at the edge of the parking lot, they quietly sipped the bitter brew until Simon broke the silence.

“He loves you.” At James' silence, Simon continued. “I've known Blair for more than twenty years. He's a good man and he would never do anything to hurt you, but he does have duties. I know that's hard for you to understand.” Still, James sat stoically. Simon sighed and added, “Do you really think you could have handled this Sentinel thing without him? Do you have any special feelings for the kid?”

James remained silent, sipping his coffee. Simon started the engine and returned to the search, and he remained silent also.

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

When Simon's cell phone rang, James started. He clamped his hands over his ears and shivered.

“Sorry!” Simon said, grabbing the offending item. “Banks!” He listened for a minute before he growled, “Thanks,” and broke the connection. “That was Bethel. We know who took Blair.”

“Who?”

“About ten years ago, one of the young Sentinels hoping for a bond took a fancy to Blair. When Blair didn't return the man's affections, he became obsessive. Finally, it got to the point he was stalking Blair and becoming dangerous. He was arrested and the court psychiatrists recommended incarceration at Conover, a facility for the criminally insane.”

“He's loose? What the hell happened?” Jim shouted.

“He escaped! He is a Sentinel after all, although it's a wonder how he was able to function with the drugs that they use on their patients.”

“So you're telling me that an obsessive, stalking, insane Sentinel has Sandburg?” Jim demanded.

Simon spared a sideways glance at Ellison. “Yes. That's what I'm saying.”

“Stop!”

“Why?”

“Stop the fucking car!” James leapt from the still moving vehicle. He stumbled and fell onto the pavement. Stunned for a moment, he finally rose to his feet and stood with his head cocked before taking off at a run. He skirted the nearest building and disappeared from sight.

Swearing soundly, Simon threw the car in park, grabbed the high-powered flashlight from the glove box and chased after James. Thankful that he could hear James' feet pounding in the distance, he slowed to a trot, pulled his cell and hit the emergency call button.

“This is Simon Banks. Send a helicopter equipped for night search in the vicinity of Alfred's Pond... and send an ambulance. Hurry!”

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

James focused on the unknown voice. The words made his blood run cold.

“you shouldn't..... you made me! ... your fault... stupid motherfucker!... why did you make me doooo iiiiitttt!... damn it to.... blair?... please... fuck fuck fuck you!... you made me hurt you!... blaiiiirrrrrrr....

The frantic, incoherent words that were interspersed with the sounds of water and splashing and struggling spurred James' legs on faster. Blair... Oh God, he was drowning Blair! James never faltered. He came around the corner and covered the last fifty yards in a dead run. The man who paced frantically at the edge of the pond, pulling at his hair and raking his nails down his face never heard James' approach until the last second when James let out a blood-curdling growl and tackled the man.

They tumbled to the ground. James pushed himself up and straddled the downed man. With clenched fists, he relentlessly pounded the kidnapper's face, neck and shoulders, demanding to know where Blair Sandburg was. He didn't stop until Simon burst onto the scene and physically hauled him from the unconscious, bleeding figure. He effortlessly held James up by the lapels of his jacket.

“Ellison!” Simon screamed directly into James' face. “Where is Blair?”

Abruptly dropping James, Simon raced to the shore and waded out into the cold water, frantically calling Blair's name. James followed. He abruptly grabbed Simon's shoulder and shouted, “Quiet!” Simon instantly fell silent. James cocked his head for a long moment before he surged forward and dove into the cold, black water.

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

The helicopter circled overhead, its powerful light illuminating the water where Simon's frantically waving arms pointed. Simon waded deeper, looking for any sign of Blair, and of James. After at least a minute, he began to fear that both men were gone. Suddenly, about twenty yards to his left, Ellison broke the surface, gasping for breath. In his arms, he held Blair.

Simon raced to the pair while Ellison struggled the last few feet until he could stand. Simon took Blair from his arms and waded to the bank, where he gently lowered the limp body. Immediately he started chest compressions. James stumbled and half-crawled to Blair's side, still breathing heavily.

“Do you hear anything? Ellison! Is his heart beating?”

“No,” James whispered. “God, no.”

“CPR! Now, damn you!”

James woodenly nodded. Gently, he tipped Blair's head back and opened his mouth. Holding Blair's nose closed and clamping his lips over the cold mouth, he breathed out. He waited while Simon compressed the still chest before he breathed into Blair's lungs again. The taste of the cold, dirty water in his friend's mouth almost made him gag. He panted heavily while Simon did the chest compressions yet again. They worked silently, each man taking turns: Simon doing the compressions and James doing the breathing. James felt the tears mingle on his face with the water from the lake. Silently, he called to his Guide over and over, and he prayed like he'd never prayed before.

“Ellison!” Simon grabbed James' arm and tried to pull him away from Blair. “He's gone!”

“No,” James whispered. “No, please God. No.” Unable to give up on his friend, James breathed into Blair's mouth again and again until Simon dragged him away from the unresponsive body. “Nooo!” James screamed. “He's not gone!”

“He's gone. Let him go. James, let him go.”

Falling back to his knees beside Blair, James cried, “No!” He gathered the still form into his arms and cradled Blair's head in the crook of his arm. Closing his eyes, he pressed his lips to his Guide's in a tender kiss. “Please, Chief. Please... Don't leave me. I love you!” Again James touched his lips to Blair's. He reached deep in himself and with his hand pressed over Blair's heart and his mouth pressed over Blair's, he gave himself, body and soul, to his Guide. James felt a white-hot heat quickly build in his body before it surrounded both of them completely.

James felt the small shiver in his Guide's body. Then he heard the much-loved heart beat once, then twice. James held Blair close while his entire body jerked in his grasp and when he felt his Guide's body react, he tipped Blair's head to the side while he threw up a stomach full of dirty lake water.

“He's alive!” James yelled. “Where are those damned EMTs? Get them down here now!”

Simon turned and shouted toward the emergency personnel, “He's breathing! Hurry up!”

The EMTs immediately took over Blair's care with a very irritated, wet Sentinel standing guard watching their every move. James refused to leave his friend's side and followed the EMTs into the ambulance, into the emergency treatment room, and then into Blair's private room in the intensive care wing of the hospital. While he didn't interfere with the doctors and nurses, he did stand guard, arms crossed and face emotionless, and watched everything that was done to his Guide.

When Simon appeared in the hallway outside Blair's room and stood looking through the window at his charge, James tore his eyes away from his Guide's face and looked up to acknowledge Simon's presence. James waved him in.

“How's he doing?” Simon asked.

“The doctors say his lungs are in rough shape. The water was pretty contaminated, so they have him on heavy-duty antibiotics to try to stave off infection and pneumonia.” James sighed and rubbed his eyes. “They're keeping him on the ventilator for a while to give his body a chance to rest and start to heal.”

“How are you doing? You look pretty rough.”

“I'm good.”

“You want anything? Coffee? Dry clothes?”

“No.”

“There's a cot. Why don't you try to rest?”

“No.” James shifted before he said, “It's my fault.”

“What? That some psycho idiot did this? How is that your fault?”

“He needs something from me that I haven't been able to give. That I'm afraid to give.”

“Oh?”

“I hurt him.”

“So make it up to him.”

“I will... If he'll let me.”

Simon said quietly, “Blair loves you. He'll let you.”

James finally looked up at Simon. “Thanks,” he said softly. Swiping his hand across his eyes, he nodded. “I mean that.”

With a nod, Simon said, “I'll get you come coffee. And dry clothes. You look like shit.”

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

“Welcome back, Chief.”

Blair opened heavy lids and weakly smiled. “Hey.”

“Hey, yourself. How you feeling?”

“Tired.”

“I'll bet.”

“How long have I been sleeping?”

“Three days.”

“Hmmm. I feel -- like I'm all doped up. My throat hurts like hell.”

“You are doped up. They took you off the ventilator last evening. Doctor says you're going to live.”

“Cool.”

James smiled. “I'm glad you're okay.” He held Blair's cool hand between his and lightly squeezed.

Blair smiled weakly. “Thanks. You saved my life. Thank you.”

“Now how did you know it wasn't Simon?”

Blair looked at James through smoky lashes. “I just know.”

“Glad to help.”

Blair waited and hoped, but when no other statements or revelations were forthcoming from James, he sighed tiredly and fell asleep.

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

“Go home, James. Get some sleep. Come back tomorrow,” Blair ordered. “I'm going to read for a bit then sleep. The doctor says I can leave by early afternoon.”

“Why can't I sleep here tonight?” James said petulantly. “I've been on the cot for six nights now. One more isn't going to hurt.”

“In case you haven't noticed, you need a shower and a shave. You look worse than I do.”

“Thanks, Chief.”

Blair grinned. “Any time.”

“Smart ass.”

“Dick.”

“So I'll come and get you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Come about noon, and bring me some clothes, too. And shoes.”

“And a coat. It's cold outside.”

“I'll be waiting with bells on.”

James smiled. “Nice visual.”

Blair laughed. “You're a good friend.”

“Back at you, Chief.”

Blair rolled his eyes. “Get lost.”

“I like when you talk sweet to me.” James laughed, his eyes crinkling.

Blair grinned, loving when James laughed. “Go home.”

James nodded, then paused before he asked, “Are we okay?”

Blair answered resignedly, “Yes, we're okay. Maybe when I'm better, we can talk.”

“When you're better, we need to do a lot of things.”

“Really? That might be interesting,” Blair said, trying to keep the hopeful tone from his voice, but failing miserably.

Hearing the hint of expectancy in Blair's words, James raised an eyebrow. “It's something we'll talk about later. You need to rest.” James knew Blair wanted -- more from their relationship. He also knew that they worked well together, liked each other and seemed to have a mutual attraction. While he knew he was generally distrustful of people, he felt Blair was the one person that he had come to trust more than anybody else in his life. After his friend recovered, maybe then it would be the time to think about moving their relationship into the next level. The idea of Blair as a lover appealed to James. He would wait for the best opportunity and then he would make a proposal to his Guide. With a smile, he straightened out the bed sheet. “Sleep. Tomorrow will be a tiring day.”

“I'm tired of resting.”

James chuckled and ruffled Blair's hair. “You're restless. That means your recovering. I'll be here by at noon.”

“'Night.”

“Good night, Chief.”

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

It was a warm, sunny day when James pushed Blair's wheelchair out the front automatic doors of the hospital toward the waiting car. The doors had no sooner slid shut behind them when a small hoard of news reporters descended on the pair. The intense light of the cameras' flashes made James pull the wheelchair to an abrupt stop and throw an arm across his eyes. Microphones were shoved into their faces and questions were tossed out quickly.

“Guide Sandburg, when did you decide to make this important announcement?”

“What announce-.” Blair sputtered before the next reporter called,

“When did you and Sentinel Ellison first meet?”

Blair rose. “I don't-”

“Will the commitment ceremony be public?”

“Commitment ceremony?” James snapped.

“No!” Blair shouted. "There isn't any-"

“What role will your cousin and her Sentinel play in your administration?”

“Why have you waited so long to make the announcement?”

“Did the Council agree to an extension? Your birthday was yesterday, wasn't it?”

“Stop!” Blair held up both hands. “Give me a chance to speak!”

The throng of reporters settled down, one by one, until the group stood huddled around the Guide and the Sentinel, waiting expectantly.

“Nobody's announced anything,” Blair said firmly. “I don't know where you've gotten this information, but let me assure you-”

“Guide Sandburg, your mother, Naomi Sandburg, provided the news services with copies of your reports to the Guide/Sentinel Council regarding your observations of Sentinel Ellison. She said-”

“What?” Blair said from between clenched teeth. “She what?” He put a hand under James' elbow and tugged the stunned Sentinel through the crowd. “Excuse me. Let us by.” Practically dragging James to the car, he opened the passenger door and started to push him into the seat.

Recovering some of his wits, James grabbed Blair's arm. “I'm -- all right. I'll drive. Get in.”

Blair nodded and slipped into the seat, slamming his door shut. He turned his face away from the flashing cameras and focused on his Sentinel as James opened the driver's door and climbed in, face a blank slate.

“James, I'm sor-”

“Not now, Chief.” James held up a warning hand, cranked the engine and pulled into traffic.

“Please. I didn't know...” At James' closed expression, Blair's words dried up and he huddled down into his coat, miserable and upset. Naomi was in major trouble with him now. And after he had asked her months ago not to interfere again. With a sigh, he closed his eyes until the car stopped. Sitting up, Blair bit his lip at the silent Sentinel, who ignored his concerned glances. “I'm sorry.” He opened his own door and went through the private entrance to his apartment. He let himself in and stood in the center of the room, tired and alone. After a long while, he shrugged off his coat and lay down on the bed. Fully clothed, he drifted into a trouble sleep.

When Blair woke several hours later, he rolled over and sat up. His head ached and his stomach churned. He started when he heard the quiet, angry voice speak from a dark corner.

“Why did you do it?” James asked coldly, rising from his seat hidden in the shadows.

“Do what?” Blair asked, slipping from the bed to stand in front of James. He could feel the anger radiating from the Sentinel's body and he blanched at the cold, hard face that stared at him. “Why did I make the reports?”

“How could you?”

“But it's my -- duty to make reports.”

“Personal reports on me? The hell it is!” James clenched his fists, his voice low and deadly. “You had no right!”

“James, please!”

“I've read them! Fear-based responses? Fear of intimacy? You make me sound like a damned coward! I thought we were friends!”

“We are friends! Come on, man, give me a break! It's perfectly normal for me to make reports. All Guides make reports about their Sentinels.”

“And what the fuck does 'territorially threatened to the point of paranoia' mean?” James growled, pointing a finger at Blair. “How could you? You got me a job here. You let me stay at your place for months now! Yet you have to go digging around in my personal life. You reveal personal, intimate things about me that you've “observed?”

“I think your over-reacting. I didn't realize it would -- threaten you so much! You don't have to feel threatened.”

“Threatened? By you? I don't think so,” James said derisively.

“What else do you call it? You're going ballistic over absolutely nothing!”

“Nothing? You call a violation of trust and friendship nothing?”

“I'm not sure where this is coming from, man. You know my position. I'm trusted with a lot of important information. It's my duty to follow the rules and regulations set down by the Council. It's for your safety and mine.”

“And you decided your damned Council was more important than our friendship?”

“I didn't know it was a contest! I didn't mean to hurt you. Please, James...” Blair put a hand on James' upper arm.

Shaking off Blair's hand, James turned away. “I don't know if I can get past this, Sandburg. I wasn't brought up to spill my guts to a Council or to somebody who wants to control my life! I'm different than the other Sentinels around here who don't mind being poked and prodded and examined under a damned microscope. I don't think I can live that way.”

Blair tightly crossed his arms and walked around James' still figure. He looked at the man he'd grown to love more than life itself and said quietly, “I'm sorry I've hurt you, but it was truly unintentional. I admit I made a mistake. I should have realized that you aren't like the Sentinels who've been raised here.” Sincerely, Blair added, “I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get past this, but if you can't see your way around it... Well, you know where to find me.” With a hand over his mouth, he fled the room.

The next few days were terrible. James was cold and distant. Blair was hurt, angry and upset. He'd talked to his mother, but her usual defense that she was trying to help fell on deaf ears. He couldn't forgive her for this transgression; not this time.

James was packing his bag when Simon pounded on his door and shouted, “Ellison! Blair's on television!”

“What?” James said, yanking the door open.

“He's giving a press conference. Did you know about this?” Simon demanded.

“No,” James said, finding the remote control and turning on the television. Tossing the remote onto the bed, he stood in front of the small screen.

The camera panned to Blair, dressed casually in an khakis and the blue shirt with the tiny white and yellow checks that James had bought him “just because”. It made Blair's sapphire eyes a warm blue. James had loved that color on his friend. Focusing on Blair, James saw that he held a single sheet of paper in his hands. He could also see the slight trembling in them. James' mouth pursed. Blair still wasn't fully recovered. He should be resting instead of holding a press conference. Still, in spite of his anger and his feelings of betrayal, he was intensely curious about the reasons for the press conference. He stepped closer to the television and listened to Blair speak.

“Hello. Thank you all for coming. I want to take this time to announce that I'm stepping down from the position of First Guide, effective immediately. As you had probably heard, I was in the hospital recovering from an accident when I celebrated my thirtieth birthday. According to our laws, since I have failed to bond to a Sentinel by that date, I am no longer eligible to remain on the Guide/Sentinel Council. I realize that because of extenuating circumstances, I could have asked for a continuance and been given the opportunity to provide the needed proof of a bonding in the designated time that the Council would have indicated. However, I've decided not to pursue that avenue. My decision is final.

“I have prepared my resignation in writing and it is being delivered to the appropriate parties as I speak. I hope everyone will give their cooperation to my successor, Bethel and her Sentinel, Gabriel, as you have given to me. I am not taking questions at this time. Thank you.”

The camera cut away and the newscaster started to analyze Blair's announcement, but James stood speechless and didn't hear another word.

“Did you know about this?” Simon demanded.

James shook his head.

Simon huffed out an angry breath. He wished he had something -- intelligent and philosophical to say. Something that would fix all of this, but all he could think of was, “Blair loves you.” With those words, he left the Sentinel to his own thoughts.

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

A soft knock at the door woke Blair from a restless sleep. In the last three days since James had left, he had spent most of his time sleeping poorly or pacing the halls, pale and silent. Simon's efforts to rouse Blair from his depression fell on deaf ears. Naomi's heartfelt pleas of forgiveness were met with sorrowful sighs and soft words of conciliation. He never could stay angry at Naomi for long. She was, after all, his mother and he loved her dearly.

Rising, Blair turned the handle and looked into the darkened hallway, surprised to see James standing there with his hands behind his back.

“Hey, Chief.”

“James?” Blair whispered.

“May I come in?” James asked. He hoped he kept the shock from his face when he noticed that the white streak in Blair's hair now spanned from root to tip.

“Yeah, sure.” Stepping back, Blair allowed James to brush past him. He saw James' eyes flick to his hair and he had the urge to cover the streak, but James' touch distracted him almost immediately. That light touch sent shivers down Blair's body. He bit his lower lip and dug his fingernails into his palms.

“Don't,” James said quietly, taking one of the clenched hands and gently unfolding the fingers. “Don't hurt yourself.” He raised the reddened palm to his lips and kissed the small marks.

“James?” Blair's gaze met James' and knew he couldn't keep the confusion from his eyes.

“I'm sorry.”

“For what?” Blair asked, trembling slightly at the warmth from James' breath on his hand.

“For hurting you. You didn't have to do that.” When Blair remained silent, James said, “I saw your press conference, Chief.”

“Oh, yeah. You saw that?”

“It was your life.”

Blair shrugged and gently removed his hand from James' clasp. “Yeah, it was.”

“You gave it up for me.”

Again, Blair shrugged and his eyes fell. “What was I thinking anyway? I had no claims on you. I had no right to treat you as my...” He stepped back and turned away.

James' hands touched Blair's shoulders. “As your what? In spite of everything that happened, I am your Sentinel. You know that.”

“Do I?” Blair whispered. Shaking his head, he let out a sorrowful sigh. “I don't think so.”

“What you did... nobody's ever loved me that much. Nobody. I didn't know what to do or what to say to you. It was such a huge sacrifice and I have nothing to give you in return.”

“Have I asked for anything? You're free to go. You did go. Without a word to anybody. Did anybody try to stop you?”

“No, you haven't asked for anything. And no, you didn't try to stop me. I had to think. I had to make a decision.”

“And what did you decide?” Blair asked breathlessly.

“Ask me for something.” James turned Blair around to face him. He put a finger under Blair's chin and raised his head until their eyes met. “Ask me for something,” he repeated.

Blair's throat closed and his eyes filled. Impatiently, he fiercely rubbed them. James reached out and took both of Blair's hands in his.

“Ask me,” James repeated.

Blair swallowed hard. He looked into James' eyes. “I want you. I want to make love with you. May I?”

“Yes.”

“Oh,” Blair whispered. “Really?”

James smiled. “Yes.”

“When?”

“Now.”

“You don't have to do this. Even though I'm no longer First Guide, it will still mean we're bonded for life. You know this, don't you?”

“Yes, now be quiet and kiss me.”

“Oh God,” Blair said softly, stepping forward to wrap his hands around the back of James' neck. He brought their lips together slowly and when their skin touched, he held James lightly, allowing him time to taste, to scent. When James' eyelids fluttered and closed, and when he sighed softly against Blair's mouth, he smiled against James' lips. Moving back a fraction, he whispered, “I love you.”

“Make me yours, Guide. Tonight. Now.” James pleaded quietly, forcefully, his eyes dark with passion.

“Yes.” Blair took James' hand and led him to the large bed. “You are mine.” He slowly unbuttoned his lover's shirt, his eyes never leaving James' face, his instincts centered on the Sentinel, keeping him safe, keeping him focused. “Look at me. Smell me. Hear me. Taste me. And most of all, touch me, and let me touch you.”

James moaned softly and leaned down, kissing the soft lips once again. He deepened the kiss, swiping his tongue across Blair's mouth and cataloguing the taste of his Guide. “You taste wonderful.”

Blair smiled as he removed James' shirt and dropped it to the floor. He then knelt before his lover and removed his shoes and socks. Still kneeling, with a sideways glance and a teasing smile on his face, he reached up and unbuckled James' belt, unbuttoned his pants, unzipped the zipper and slowly slipped the pants to his ankles. Rising, he cupped his lover's testicles in his hand through the light weight cotton of his boxers, pleased when James sucked in his breath and trembled at the gentle touch.

“I love you,” Blair murmured, kissing the firm expanse of James' chest. “You're beautiful,” he added, running his free hand over James' torso, exploring the chiseled planes. “So strong, yet so soft under my fingers.”

“God, Chief!” James hissed, nipples hardening rapidly under those probing fingers. “Please!”

“So sensitive,” Blair said softly, kissing the hard nubs before stepping back. “Sit down.” Gently, Blair guided James to the mattress. “Watch me.”

James nodded and licked his lips. Blair watched James' reactions to his precise undressing. His eyes followed Blair's fingers as they unfastened each shirt button, and the shirt was quickly tossed onto the growing pile of clothing. When Blair unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans, James sucked in his breath, seeing the triangle of hair peeking from the open pants. Blair's hands enticingly rubbed his chest.

“Do you like me? I'm not like you at all. I'm hairy all over.”

James mutely nodded, licking his lips yet again.

“Are you okay, my love? My Jim.”

“What?” James blinked and shook his head.

“I asked if you were okay.”

“No, you called me -- Jim.”

“You don't like it?”

James nodded. “It's just that nobody's ever given me a nickname before. Even my father. He said a real man uses...” James' voice trailed off and he looked away, embarrassed to be revealing childhood secrets. “Nobody cared that much.”

Blair moved close to his lover and slipped his arms around James' neck. “My Jim. Only I will call you Jim. It's for us, for our private moments. Is that all right with you?”

James' eyes were just a bit bluer when he looked up and smiled. “Yes. Only for you, Chief.”

“Good.” Blair leaned down and pressed his lips against James'. Wrapping an arm around his neck, Blair deepened the kiss, demanding entrance to his lover's mouth. When the lips parted, Blair plunged in, fully exploring the wet depths until James was shaking and leaning against Blair.

“Love you, Jim,” Blair said, petting the short hair. “Going to make love to you.”

“Please,” James begged softly.

Smiling, Blair stepped back and shucked his jeans. His erection rose from his curly hair, full and proud. James eyes widened and he tentatively reached out a hand to touch the hard flesh.

Blair moved forward so that James' hand surrounded him. “Such nice hands,” he murmured. “I love when you touch me.”

James glanced into Blair's face and gave him a shaky smile. “You feel -- hard underneath, but the skin is so silky.” He stroked once, then twice before using his other hand to hold the warm balls. “Soft and warm. Hairy,” he added, chuckling.

Blair trembled. “God, Jim. Stop before I come all over your hand!”

Laughing, James stroked Blair once again before dropping his hands. Blair put his own hands on either side of James' face and kissed him hard. “Don't zone,” he said between deep, passionate kisses. “Focus on me.”

James trembled and nodded. “Blair, please...”

“You need me.”

“Yes, please. Please, I need...” James' hand found his own penis, dripping and full, hidden behind the thin cotton of his boxers. “Blair...” he whispered, stroking himself.

“Scoot up,” Blair said.

James nodded as he pushed off his shoes and kicked off the pants that hugged his ankles. Then he moved across the bed until he was lying on his back in the center of the mattress. Blair crawled up beside him and slipped his fingers under the waistband of James' shorts. “Lift up.” He gently removed the clothing, exposing James to his gaze.

“Jim. God, Jim,” Blair whispered. When James looked away, blushing slightly, Blair smiled. He touched James' face, encouraging his lover to meet his gaze. With a sweet smile, Blair said lovingly, “You are so beautiful.”

James shrugged, pleased. “Thanks.”

“I'm going to taste you.”

“Blair?”

“Like this.” Blair leaned down and with one hand wrapped around the base of James' erection, he licked the leaking crown, making him gasp. “You taste wonderful.”

“Blair!”

“Like that, huh?”

“Oh, God!”

Blair licked the crown and with the tip of his tongue, he tickled the tiny slit until James was writhing under his hands. “So sensitive,” he murmured, gently taking the crown into his mouth and sucking lightly.

“Jeezus! Blair!” James' hands clenched the sheets and his hips involuntarily started to thrust.

“Shhh. I'll take care of you.”

“Please...”

“I won't tease you, Jim. Not tonight. Tonight is too important.”

Blair crawled up James' body, kissing the skin under his mouth on his way to his lover's lips. More deep kisses were bestowed. Long, slow kisses while Blair's hand explored the body under him. Slipping to lay alongside James, Blair's mouth worked constantly. He kissed James' face, not missing a single inch. He explored James' ear, nibbling on the soft lobe and examining the shell with his tongue, leaving wet skin behind. When he blew on the damp skin, he laughed when his lover shivered and goose bumps ran down his arm.

“Blair, please...” Their gazes held, love spilling over.

“What do you want?” Blair asked, his hands cupping James' face. “Tell me.”

“Want to be yours.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Very sure. Please, Chief,” James said, spreading his legs and roughly stroking himself. “Please. Let me come. Make me come. Please love me. Please...”

“Oh, Jim,” Blair cried out at the plaintive tone. “Don't... I do love you. I will love you. Always.”

“Even when I'm an asshole? Even when I'm too stupid to talk to you?”

“Yes. Even then.” Blair smiled and once again ravaged the kiss-swollen lips for a long while before he said, “Always.”

James smiled. “I -- I love you.”

Blair grinned. “I know.” Crawling to the edge of the bed, Blair pulled a tube of lubricant from the nightstand. “You are mine.”

“Yes,” Jim cried, hooking his hands behind his knees and rolling his hips up, giving his lover access. “I am yours.”

Blair popped the top and thoroughly lubed his fingers. “Look at me,” Blair ordered. When James' eyes met his, he smiled. “Relax.” He rubbed the tight hole with a single lubed finger, watching James' face. At first he seemed uncomfortable but after Blair caressed the spot for a while, his face relaxed and soon he was twitching and moaning. “I love you,” Blair said, slipping the finger deep into his lover's body.

James' mouth fell open and he made a funny sound.

“Hurt?”

“Nooo. Feels -- Blair!” James jerked.

“That's your prostate. Like that, huh?”

“Chief!” James shouted when Blair rubbed the nub again. “Oh God!” Spreading his legs even further, he begged for more.

Blair hit the nub again, making his lover tremble. He used the opportunity to slip a second finger into James and gently started a thrusting motion. When James bore down on the fingers and his hand searched for his own erection, Blair knew he was past any discomfort and starting to enjoy the sensations. Working his fingers into the tight passage, Blair added the third. He thrust in and out until James was mindlessly tossing his head, his hand falling away from his own cock. .

“Blair blair blair...” James chanted, his hips thrusting constantly and his eyes glazing over.

“Stay with me, lover,” Blair crooned, working the tight passage, hitting James' prostrate on each stroke. With his free hand, Blair found the lube and awkwardly squirted a large amount on his own erection. He slathered the cool gel on his skin and moved closer to James' body. His fingers continuously massaged the hot tunnel and his other hand found James' erection.

When Blair's hand closed on the throbbing penis, James let out a yell. Over and over, James thrust upward into the tight tunnel of his lover's hand, then bore down on the fingers in his ass. Blair watched carefully and when his lover's balls tightened and the flesh in his hand seemed to swell, Blair gently removed his fingers and roughly stroked the needy cock.

James came in a hard geyser, spurting long, thick strings of semen through the air and onto his own chest. Blair took the opportunity of James' orgasm to press the head of his erection against James' hole and slip into the spasming tunnel while James orgasm raced through his body. Knowing that James would be deep into the pleasure zone and that any discomfort he might feel from this first time would be minimal if he were distracted, Blair caressed James until he was buried deep into his lover and James' cock was spent, limp in his hand.

“So beautiful,” Blair crooned, petting James' chest and belly. “That's it. Let go. Feels so good. You feel so good. I love making you come. I love watching your face,” Blair said softly, gently pressing James' knees to his chest.

James blinked and shivered. “Oh, God. Oh, God,” he whispered. “Blair?”

“Shhh. I'm here, my love. Can you feel me in you?”

“Yes,” James said softly. “God, yes. You're in me.”

“Are you -- uncomfortable?”

“No. It's -- full. It's -- You're in me!”

“Yes. I love you.”

“You love me?”

“Yes. I love James Ellison.”

James' eyes were bright. “I don't -- You can't love me!”

“Look at me!” Blair's hands clasped James' face and he waited until their gazes were locked. “Why can't I love you? You, Jim. My Jim. I love you for who are you. Fuck the Sentinel shit. I love you!”

James closed his eyes. His body was on fire. His senses were alive and alert. He was loved. With a sob, he opened his eyes and said, “Come in me. Mark me as yours.”

“Jim!” Blair cried, his body reacting. His connection to James hummed with life. His hips moved slowly, carefully. He pulled out until just the head of his cock was held by James' body, before thrusting back in fully until his balls were slapping against the firm buttocks. Over and over, he made love to his Sentinel until his body screamed for release. Still, he held back, waiting for James. Waiting for his Sentinel.

“I am yours, Blair,” James said forcefully, his own body reviving under the gentle onslaught of Blair's lovemaking. His cock was again hard and when he looked into Blair's eyes, he knew his lover was ready to finally accept that James did love him, that the bond could be, would be forever sealed. “Mark me,” he said simply.

Blair howled his release, shooting his seed deep into his lover's body in an orgasm that he thought would never end. He filled his lover's passage until semen was seeping down James' crack to pool on the sheets below. James reacted to Blair's forceful orgasm with a second, smaller one of his own.

Finally, both men collapsed onto the damp sheets and oblivious to the mess, immediately dropped into a deep sleep.

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

Blair awoke first, a huge grin on his face. James felt his lover wake and followed, also smiling. When they looked at each other, they began to laugh.

“Good God, Jim. We're a mess.”

“I think I'm stuck to the sheets.”

“And I'm stuck to you!”

Laughing even more, the two men rose and, amid passionate kisses and much groping, finally made it into the large bathroom. Blair turned on the shower and grabbed a stack of clean, fluffy towels while James discreetly tried to use the toilet. Blair saw James from the corner of his eye and grinned.

“I'll go and find a couple of robes,” Blair offered.

“Thanks, Chief,” Jim said, blushing when Blair's eyes raked his body.

“You look good enough to eat,” Blair said softly.

“You are insatiable.”

“Yup.” Blair giggled and left, closing the door behind him. He busied himself with yanking the sheets from the bed and remaking it with clean ones until he heard the toilet flush. Knocking, he yelled, “I'm coming in!” He poked his head inside and watched appreciatively while his lover started his shower.

Blair used the facilities himself before he knocked on the shower door. “Want company?”

Jim slid the stall door open and grabbed Blair's hand. “Get in here.”

Laughing, Blair joined his lover, immediately wrapping his arms around Jim's neck and kissing him voraciously. They kissed loudly and passionately, hands slipping over wet skin. Bodies reacted quickly, and James' hard-on pushed against Blair's stomach, while Blair's slipped between James' legs.

“Jim...” Blair said, voice low and husky. “Please...” Turning, he leaned against the wall and spread his legs.

James pressed his length against his lover's body, rubbing his cock between the soft cheeks. “Blair...” James nuzzled the warm neck, nipping the skin under his ear, making him shiver. His fingers trailed down the bony spine and rested lightly just above the cleft of Blair's ass.

Blair spread his legs even wider, making James chuckle as he kissed the side of his neck. When Blair swept his hair away and bent his head, James let out a low growl and bit down, marking his mate. Blair shivered under James as his hand found his own hard penis.

James' hand over his stilled him. “Wait,” he said, putting Blair's roaming hand back on the wall.

Nodding Blair groaned and pressed back against his lover's body. James pulled away and grabbed both cheeks in his large hands. He spread them and rubbed his thumbs over the tight opening, making Blair tremble.

“Jim, do it. Now. Need you. God, need you so much!” Blair turned his neck so that James could kiss him.

James took that sinful mouth in a deep kiss while his thumbs continued to tease and torment his lover's trembling body. “Lube...” he muttered after he broke away from the kiss. Yet when he thought to move, Blair's mouth again beckoned. James captured his mouth yet again and kissed him deeply, tongue-fucking Blair until Blair's legs began to collapse. James pulled away and paused until Blair found the strength to stay upright. Blinking the water out of his eyes, James growled, "Don't move." Then he leaned around the shower curtain and spied a tube of lubricant resting on the counter within arm's reach. “You little... You planned this!”

Blair grinned. “Of course. Now shut up and get to it.”

James laughed, squirting a large dollop on lube into his palm. “You're asking for it,” he said, slathering his fingers with the lube.

“I know,” Blair said sexily, shaking his hips.

“You are such a tease.”

“If you don't hurry up and put that beautiful prick in me in about two seconds, I swear...”

Still laughing, James drank in the sight of his lover: his body glistening from the water running down it; his ass quivering in anticipation; his eyes, heavy lidded and dark with passion.

With his hair plastered to his head and water dripping from his eyelashes, Blair deliberately and slowly licked the water from his lips. James breathed heavily and moved behind him. He rubbed a lubed finger against Blair's body and when Blair took in a deep breath and exhaled, he slipped the finger easily in.

Blair's breathing escalated rapidly and he hung his head, panting, while James wiggled the digit and pushed it in slowly but deeply. Blair shuddered and moved his feet even farther apart. James chuckled. In spite of this being Blair's first time, he knew his lover was more than ready. He kissed the wet, bare shoulder closest to his lips before he bit down. As Blair shouted, James fucked his ass with the finger, then pushed in another.

Blair moaned deeply and his hips thrust in time to James' movements. James' free hand found Blair's mouth and he slipped two fingers into the wet depths. Blair sucked on the fingers while James plundered the tight ass. He added a third finger to both mouth and ass, and his own cock throbbed needfully.

Blair's mouth sucked constantly while James hit Blair's prostate every second or third stroke. Senses attuned to his lover's body, James sensed Blair's impending orgasm. He pulled his fingers free and reached under Blair's ass to cup the drawn balls. He tugged down sharply to forestall his coming.

Blair let out a small cry and his knees shook. James wrapped his free arm around Blair to keep him from collapsing onto the shower floor. Blair shuddered and begged, “Pleasepleaseplease. Jimmmmm. God... want to... come....”

James kissed his lover's shaking body, running his lips across the shoulder blades and nibbled along his neck before he clamped firm hands on Blair's hips. Leaning in again, he kissed the back of Blair's neck before he nipped an earlobe. Blair panted, trembling, when James put his lips to Blair's ear and said, “Breathe, Chief.” Then he pressed his cock head into the willing body and looked down, amazed as he watched Blair's body open for him and saw his cock disappear completely as they joined together.

“Jim!”

“Chief? Relax. Did I hurt you?”

“Tight... Oh, God... Wait... Give me a second...”

“Shhh.” James petted Blair's shoulders and back, reaching around to rub circles on his stomach before stroking the flagging penis. “Shhh. Relax. Feel good, Chief. Just feel...” James kept his hips very still and slowly caressed Blair's cock until he began respond, once again growing hard. When Blair finally began to thrust into the tunnel of James' hand, James knew he was ready.

“Jimjimmmmmm... Oh, jeezus, Jim...”

“Come for me, Chief. God, but you're beautiful when you come.”

Blair felt something wonderful start to happen. When he thrust forward, James' hand stroked his cock. When he pushed back, James' cock stroked his channel, hitting his prostate. With a low moan, he finally really let go. His hips drove forward and back, his entire being centered on his cock and ass. It felt so good that he cried out his pleasure, calling his lover's name, “Jimmmm....” as he came in a creamy shower over James' hand and the wall tiles.

James had been worried that he was too large for his lover, but when Blair started to mindlessly fuck his hand while he practically sucked James' dick into his channel, that was when James knew he had taken Blair into a place where only one lover can take another. It wasn't just a mindless fuck; it was deep, passionate desire and love. It was sex with the one he cared about more than anybody in the universe. It was his Guide. His Blair.

Blair was deep in the zone. His eyes were glazed and his body was on autopilot, seeking release. James complied, fucking Blair's ass while still retaining control. He would not hurt his lover, no matter how much Blair wanted, needed, begged to be taken.

When Blair came, screaming James' name, James' control dropped. Two more full thrusts and he came also, biting into the soft skin of Blair's shoulder, marking him for his own. With a sigh, James licked the mark, tasting blood. He blinked, his stomach lurching, but when he look at the spot, he saw only a surface breakage. There would be no scar. With a deep sigh of relief, he rested his cheek against Blair's shoulder. He had worried about control for a brief moment when Blair's needs spurred him on, but know he knew. Even when he was taking his lover, he had the control he needed to keep Blair safe.

Blair's knees gave out and together, they sank to the floor of the shower. James cradled Blair's body against his. Tipping Blair's head, James kissed the kiss-ravaged lips tenderly, sucking on the full lower lip and running his tongue along the inside, making Blair shiver yet again.

Blair's hand snaked behind James' hand and he returned James kisses intently. Their mouths fused together for many long minutes, softly then deeply, before returning to small kisses on any available skin.

“The water's still hot,” Jim murmured, kissing the tip of Blair's nose.

“Make love to me again.”

“No way, Chief. That was your first time. Besides, I don't think I could.”

Blair turned in James' arms. “Want to bet?”

“You're going to kill me.”

“It felt so -- wonderful! Please, Jim.” Blair's fingers found his lover's cock. He stroked the spent organ.

James was surprised when he felt a faint twitch, then when the organ actually responded, he was shocked. “Guess it's been a while since I had to use it.”

Blair laughed. “Not any more.”

James laughed with his lover, but stilled his hand. “Turn around.”

“You want to do me doggie style? Should I get on my hands and knees?”

“No. I want to make sure you're okay.”

“No way, man. You're not giving me some -- cold exam. Use your senses, but no way you're prodding me like some, some physician! That is so not exciting or romantic.”

James laughed even louder, shaking his head in fond exasperation. “No exam, no more lovemaking.”

“No fair!”

James shrugged, crossing his arms. “The hot water's going to run out. We'd better wash up.”

Blair crossed his arms also and pouted. James almost fucked him again right then and there, but reason prevailed, in spite of the sexy pout.

“Let me wash you, lover,” James said silkily.

Blair answered with an equally sexy voice, “I'm all yours.”

James rose and pulled Blair with him. He dribbled aloe-scented body wash into his hands and started rubbing the hairy body. Blair practically purred under James' hands, making the Sentinel chuckle. He thoroughly washed every inch of his lover's body before lathering up his long hair and giving Blair the head massage of his life.

Blair sighed contentedly under James' skillful fingers and tipped his head back even farther.

“God, I love when you touch me,” Blair murmured. “You can't wash it out.”

James stopped. “What?”

“The white. You can't wash it out.”

“Will it stop -- spreading now?”

Blair shrugged. “I think so.”

“It's a reminder for me. That I almost didn't find you.”

Blair turned to James and smiled. “But you did.” He then insisted on returning the favor and thoroughly washed his lover's body. He savored his hands running over the hard planes and soft angles of the silky, almost hairless skin. He even managed to dip his fingers into the cleft of James' ass and giggled when the muscled cheeks quivered at his touch. Finally clean, they toweled each other, laughing and teasing, before donning thick terry robes.

“I'm starving!” Blair said.

“I could eat,” James agreed.

Blair called down to the kitchen for food. While they waited, they sat together on the bed, talking and touching. Even the Sentinel didn't hear the knock at the door, or the door slowly opening. Simon stood, grinning, at the two men sitting closely on the bed, heads bent together, speaking softly to each other. He finally cleared his throat, startling both of them.

“I brought food,” he said with the wide grin plastered to his face.

“Cool,” Blair said. “I'm famished! All that exercise...” he added suggestively, giving Simon a knowing smile.

Simon tried to look shocked, but failed miserably. “Glad to see that you two worked it out,” he said grumpily before he finally conceded his pleasure at the events that had obviously transpired and grinned once again.

Blair smiled and James blushed.

“We did,” Blair said.

“Good,” Simon responded. “Now eat.”

“Yes, sir,” James said smartly, giving a small salute.

“What have you done to him?” Simon demanded, pointing a finger at James but looking at Blair. “Now he's a smart ass too? God help us all.” Simon rolled his eyes. “So does this mean...”

Blair held up a hand. “This means that James and I are together. And no, it doesn't mean I'm reconsidering my resignation.” When Simon raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth to protest, Blair put his hands on his hips. “Stop. Simon, I love you, man, but this isn't up for discussion. I'm a grown man and my decision is final.” Giving James a loving smile, he added, “I'm with James forever. We'll find something to do with our lives. James will guard the tribe and I will guard him. Things will work out.”

James smiled and took Blair's hand. “Whatever you want, my love,” he said, kissing the warm knuckles. “We'll figure it out as we go.”

“And Simon? I hope you'll be with us all the way. You're a good friend.”

Simon grinned and helped himself to a piece of bacon from the breakfast tray. “Thank you. And it will be my pleasure to be a friend to both of you. Besides, I wouldn't have it any other way.”

James grinned as well and rose, slipping an arm around Simon's shoulder.

Simon glared suspiciously at James. “What are you doing?”

“Expressing a little brotherly love,” James said teasingly.

“Do I look like your brother?”

James shrugged. “From a different mother...”

“Get off me...” Simon growled.

James grin only widened and attempted to hug Simon once more.

Simon gave James his best glare yet again and said, “I'm warning you...”

Blair laughed until his sides ached. James trying to hug Simon and Simon trying to run was just plain hilarious. Finally James gave Simon a playful punch in the arm. Simon rolled his eyes and muttered, “Sandburg's rubbing off on you already. Next you'll be telling me you're thinking of becoming a cop and the kid's going to go to school to study anthropology. ”

Blair and James looked at each other and burst out laughing. They laughed until their sides ached and finally both men collapsed on the bed. “Oh, God. That's so funny,” Blair quipped, rubbing his watering eyes and hiccuping before he smartly added, “Not a bad idea, really, although not in this universe, mon capitaine.”

Simon laughed along with his two friends, and the three men sat down to share the food.

The End.

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Author's Notes: Thanks to my betas and editors. I appreciate your help. A big hug and a thank you to Ankaree for her art and her friendship.