Blind Justice by Ankaree

Blind Justice - Ankaree

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In this story Sentinel and Guides are known and respected.

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Used to feel like rain fell down
Even in the sun
Every dream I ever had
Always came undone

So, how is it possible I'm in your arms tonight?

I'm amazed how you found your way to my heart
Broke through the door
It's so strange how life changes
And suddenly you're loving me
I'm amazed

~I'm amazed – by Lila McCann~

***

Jim shifted in the seat of his truck, attempting to stretch out his long legs to find a more comfortable position. He transferred his gaze from the warehouse he was watching to his partner seated next to him in the passenger seat. Detective Brian Rafe looked as uncomfortable as Jim did. They had been sitting in his truck, on a stake-out, for more than four hours, hoping to nab JD Salinger, a drug dealer that Major Crime had been searching for during the past month. Jim's snitch, who went by the street name, Sneaks, had told him earlier in the morning the location of a major drug lab that had set up shop in the city's warehouse district. Rumor was that the lab was run by Salinger, and that the man was supposed to show up tonight to check on his merchandise. Right now the only thing Jim, his partner and the other Major Crime detectives, who were placed in strategic locations around the building, could do was wait and hope the guy would turn up.

"Man, I hope this guy shows soon. I hate stake-outs," Rafe grumbled. He moved around in his seat again, pulling his jacket tighter around his chest. "It's freezing in here."

"Sorry, partner." Jim smirked. It was a fall evening and the temperature in Cascade at this time of year dropped quickly with the setting of the sun. Knowing how much his partner hated the cold, Jim reached out to give a sympathetic pat to his shoulder. "But you know we can't take a chance of giving our position away by starting the truck."

"Yeah, yeah. I know." Rafe picked up the thermos that had been placed between them and twisted off the lid. "Want some coffee?"

"Sure." Jim nodded, his eyes still locked on the warehouse. "Thanks," he said when Rafe handed him a small Styrofoam cup filled with the hot liquid.

"See anything yet?" Rafe gestured toward the building with a nod of his head before taking a sip from his own cup.

"Besides those three guys who went in earlier, there's been no other activity."

"Brown and Taggart haven't spoken up. Guess everything's quiet on their end as well."

"Must be – Hold on a sec." Jim's hearing picked up on the sound of a car coming down the alley a few blocks away. When the black, shiny sports car came into view, he dialed up his sight and could see Salinger, along with two other men, inside the expensive vehicle. Quickly, he picked up the mic to his radio and spoke into it. "All teams be advised, the main player has just arrived. Let him and his buddies enter the building first, then we'll go in." He listened as the other teams acknowledged his command before reaching for the door handle. "Ready, partner?" he asked Rafe.

"You bet."

As they moved to exit the truck, a movement at the opposite end of the warehouse caught Jim's attention. "What the…?" he muttered. "Who the hell is that?" Quickly dialing up his sight, he peered down the darkened street. A young man, Jim figured in his early twenties, with long curly brown hair was walking with a dog along the street toward the warehouse adjacent to the one they were watching. On closer inspection, Jim noticed the dog wore a harness with a long handle, which the man held in his right hand. With sudden realization, it hit Jim that it was a Seeing Eye dog, the man was blind. "Damn," he quietly swore, watching the young man as he unlocked a metal door and went inside. "Rafe, we might have a problem."

"Yeah, I can see that. Didn't the surveillance team from this morning say that no one else lived around here?" Rafe quickly asked.

"That's what they said." Jim thought for a second. "Okay. Change of plans. You go talk to that guy," he pointed at the warehouse the man and dog had entered, "and explain to him what's going on and that under no circumstances is he to open his door until he hears back from you. I'm going to…" Jim's words trailed off at the sound of a small explosion coming from inside the warehouse in the area of the drug lab. It was soon followed by a loud, more violent blast. The ground shook beneath his feet and Jim watched as the windows of the building exploded outward, showering the street with glass. "Shit! We need to get him out of there!" Jim yelled and started running down the street, his partner only a few steps behind. As they approached the door that the young man had entered, Jim turned to Rafe. "Wait here."

"But, Jim –"

"No." Jim shook his head. "I'll be able to see through the smoke better than you, and I can dial down my sense of smell so it won't affect me as much. If you get hurt in there, I might not have time to get both of you out." He could tell by the look on Rafe's face that his partner wasn't happy about his plan, but with a quick nod, he agreed.

When Jim opened the heavy door, dark black smoke billowed out, causing him to cough. He knew he should wait for the fire department, but the young man could be dead by the time they arrived and he wasn't about to let that happen. Taking a deep breath, he prepared his senses for the onslaught of sensory input he was about to be bombarded with and quickly entered the darkened building.

Dialing up his hearing to scan only the immediate area, Jim detected the sound of two heartbeats. One sounded a little too slow and the other was too fast. The slower beat Jim knew was human and the faster belonged to the dog. From what he could tell, both dog and master were stationary, whether that was a good sign or not, Jim wasn't entirely sure.

Glancing through the grey smoke, he could see a slightly open door at the end of the hallway. Rushing forward, he reached the door, pulled it all the way open and peered inside. Flames were spreading fast from a gaping hole in the far wall, and from what Jim could make out, the room was littered with debris thrown about by the explosion. With his hearing still dialed up, he easily located the young man and hurried over to him. Kneeling down next to the prone figure, he pushed aside the wall plaster and other rubble that covered the man's body. When Jim reached out to carefully touch his back, a warm tingle ran up his arm and in that instant, Jim knew this man was a Guide. Knowing he didn't have much time, he turned the unconscious man over onto his back and with a grunt, lifted him into his arms. As he made his way out of the room, the man began to stir. He groaned a few times before becoming agitated.

"Easy. It's okay," Jim assured him. "I'm going to get you out of here."

"No." The young man coughed and attempted to grasp Jim's shirt. "Tikal… Please. Don't leave her."

"Shh. Don't worry. I'll get her," Jim said comfortingly. Feeling a wave of protectiveness wash over him, he held the Guide a little closer.

The second Jim made it outside, Rafe was there, waiting anxiously. "Jim! Thank God you're all right," he said and rushed over. "The fire department is on its way."

"Watch him." Jim carefully lowered the young man to the ground. "I need to go back in and get the dog." Ignoring Rafe's shout of protest, Jim ran back inside.

This time when he entered the building, the smoke was denser, making it hard for Jim to see even with his vision dialed up. By the time he made it back into the room, the fire had spread further and he could feel its heat on his skin. It didn't take him long to find the dog trapped under a small pile of rubble. Luckily for the animal, the debris had fallen around her, forming a small cocoon instead of crushing her. The dog gave out a little whimper and Jim reached out to stroke the soft fur. "Easy, girl. I'm here to help you." Seeing the flames getting closer to them, Jim quickly picked the dog up.

As he was about to reach the doorway that led outside, another explosion rocked the building, causing Jim to go down on one knee. Rising back to his feet, he clutched the dog tighter and sprinted toward the opening. Jim's senses alerted him to a loud cracking noise coming from above him, but before he could decipher the sound, ceiling debris rained down on him. He was instantly knocked off his feet and excruciating pain exploded across his back. The dog began to bark incessantly. She squirmed in his arms, wiggled free and ran for the open door. Feeling slightly dazed, Jim tried to get up, but a heavy weight held him face down and pain ripped through his left arm. He choked on the smoke that began to fill his lungs, and as his vision grayed out, Jim was grateful that the Guide and his dog were safe.

***

A small groan escaped Jim's lips as he slowly slipped into awareness. The sounds and scents began to register into his fuzzy brain. He knew he was in a hospital, and by the faint blurring at the edges of his mind, he had been given a strong painkiller. Carefully, he pried opened his eyelids, blinked a few times to clear his vision before gazing around the room. A young man, whom Jim recognized as the Guide he had rescued from the fire, sat in a chair next to his bed. An elbow rested on the armrest and his hand propped up his head. The long curly hair hung loosely, and Jim had a sudden impulse to reach out and touch the silky looking strands. Holding back the urge, he turned his attention to the face instead. The features were pleasing to him and he felt a primal stirring as his gaze noted the long forehead that sported a butterfly bandage, the soft brow, perked-up nose, and the most full, sensual lips Jim had ever seen. The Guide's eyes were closed, making Jim wonder what color they were, but he would bet a hundred bucks that they were a dark shade of blue.

For some reason, he wanted to know the answer, so he carefully reached out a hand to wake the other man. His arm felt like a lead weight as he slowly lifted it to rest on the Guide's knee. Instantly, the young man sat up straight, his eyes flying open. Yup. Definitely blue, Jim noted, mentally giving himself a high-five. He owed himself a C-note. Hearing the young man's heart beating wildly, Jim quickly said in a voice rough from smoke inhalation, "It's okay. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."

"That's okay." The young man smiled, showing perfectly white teeth. "I'm glad you're finally awake. The doctor said you're going to be fine," he assured, "but you'll probably be sore for a few weeks. Your arm was cut up pretty bad. Your back is severely bruised and you have a few cracked ribs. Are you in any pain?"

Judging from the throbbing in his back and arm, Jim knew he'd be out of commission for a while. He attempted to answer, but his throat suddenly felt scratchy, causing him to cough. He cleared it a few times before trying again. "I'm okay right now. It does hurt, but the painkillers are taking away most of the pain."

"That's good." The young man nodded. "If you guide me in the direction of the water pitcher, I can get you a glass of water." As he stood, Jim's hand slid off his leg and he tried to ignore the sudden feeling of loss.

"Oh. Sure. Okay. That'd be great. At the end of the bed, there's a small table. The pitcher is in the middle and the glass is on the left side. If you take about six steps straight ahead, the table is on your right."

"Great. Thanks." With a confidence Jim didn't expect, the man quickly made his way to table, picked up the pitcher and poured the water, somehow knowing when to stop before the water spilled over the rim of the glass. "Is there a straw here, too?"

"Yes…" Before Jim could tell him where the straw was located, the young man had it in his fingers. He pulled off the paper covering, placing the straw inside the glass. Slowly, he turned around and made his way back to Jim's side. Feeling for Jim's shoulder, he slipped an arm behind his neck and held the glass close enough for Jim to reach.

"Sip slowly," he cautioned.

Holding the straw between his thumb and index finger, Jim carefully took a few sips, grateful for the cool liquid as it soothed his sore throat. When he finished half the cup, he nodded to indicate he was done then remembered that the other man wasn't able see him. "Thanks. That's enough for now." After returning the glass to the bedside table, the young man sat back down in his chair. Once he was settled, Jim asked. "What's your name?"

"Oh. Sorry. I should have introduced myself earlier. My name is Blair Sandburg." He held out his hand which Jim shook, feeling a slight tingle race through his body at the contact. Blair must have felt it also, because he quickly pulled his hand away.

"I'm Jim Ellison."

"Yes, I know. I met your brother earlier. He told me who you were."

"Steven was here?" Jim asked with a pleased smile.

"Yeah. He went to the cafeteria to get some coffee."

There was a brief silence before Blair spoke again. "I want to thank you for saving my life, and Tikal's life as well. Your partner told me what you did. You didn't have to go back inside for my dog."

"I was just doing my job –”

"No," Blair interrupted with a quick shake of his head. "You went above and beyond your job. You could have been killed trying to rescue us. I just hope you understand how grateful I really am."

Not able to hold back, Jim reached out to gently squeeze Blair's arm. "I'm glad you're both okay. How is your dog? Was she hurt?"

"She has a few scratches, but she's fine. She's sitting next to the door." Blair pointed in the direction of the hospital room door.

Jim was surprised that he hadn't seen her lying there, nor had he picked up on the dog's heartbeat or scent. He tried dialing up his hearing, but it only moved up about half a notch and no more. That was when he realized he must have been given a dampening drug to help keep his dials at a normal setting. He didn't have a Guide to help him manage his senses once he woke up. Under circumstances such as his, the hospital administered the drug so he wouldn't become overwhelmed on the pain, which could result in a zone out. He wasn't worried though because the drug would wear off within the next few hours and his senses would once again be under his control. Or as much control that he could manage without a Guide.

The door suddenly opened and his brother, his cousin, Andrew, and Rafe strode in, their faces lighting up the instant they saw that Jim was awake.

"Well, look who finally decided to wake up." Steven grinned.

"Heard you were trying to play hero again," Andrew said with a smirk. He walked to the other side of the bed and gently patted Jim on the shoulder.

"We're going to have to hide his cape," teased Rafe, stepping closer to shake Jim's hand. "Glad you're going to be okay, partner."

"Me too," Jim replied. "What the hell happened at the warehouse? Did we get Salinger?"

"From what we could tell, the 'meth' that they were cooking up exploded, causing a series of other secondary explosions. Salinger was killed along with eight other guys. The rest of the gang was arrested as they ran out of the building."

Jim nodded, glad that they had caught some of the members of the drug gang and that their operation was shut down. He turned to ask Blair if he had known what was going on in the warehouse next to his when he noticed that the young Guide had left the room. A glance at the door confirmed that the dog was gone as well. He tried to ignore the tinge of loss that flowed through him. Why he felt such a sensation, he wasn't quite sure, since he'd only just met Blair and didn't really know him that well. His senses must have approved, though, for him to be feeling the absence of the Guide's presence so strongly.

Looking up at the three men surrounding his bed, Jim listened as they argued over who was going to have him stay with them until he was healed. He smiled and closed his eyes, letting their conversation wash over him. He knew theses people cared for him, just as he cared about them, but as much as he loved them, he never totally felt a part of them. That was probably his own fault, due to the fact that he never let anyone in. Jim let them argue, not saying a word, because in the end, he knew he'd win. He would go home to his loft, to the silence and be alone, because that was exactly the way he liked it.

***

The cab came to a stop and the driver let Blair know that he had arrived at his destination. Reaching into his wallet, Blair fingered through the various folded bills until he found the proper fold that let him know it was a twenty dollar bill. After paying the man and receiving his change, Blair opened the door and asked the driver if he would lead him into the building. Hearing the cabbie get out of the car, Blair instructed Tikal to guide him to the curb.

Once the cab driver had escorted him inside, Blair thanked the man before turning to his dog. "Tikal. Elevator." She moved forward a few feet then stopped and sat down next to Blair's right leg. "Good girl," he praised, rubbing between her ears.

Running his fingers over the wall, Blair located the button, pushed it, then waited for the doors to open. Once inside the elevator car, he felt the Braille bumps on the panel, pushing the button that indicated number three. Arriving at the third floor, Tikal led him out into the hall and stopped, awaiting new instructions. "Tikal. Forward." As they walked down the hall, Blair held his left hand out from his side, sliding it along the wall until he felt the frame of a door. "This must be it." He hesitated a moment before knocking. He wasn't sure why he was here. The last thing he wanted was to be around another Sentinel again, but he knew he needed to thank the detective once more for saving his and Tikal's lives. Blair owed him big time, so he figured he'd at least visit a few times to make sure Jim was doing okay. Once the detective was back on his own two feet, Blair would no longer feel indebted to him and would never have to see the man again. And if there happened to be another reason why he came to see Jim… well… he really didn't want to think about it.

Raising his hand, Blair knocked on the door and waited. A few seconds later, he heard the sound of the door opening and he recognized Steven's voice.

"Mr. Sandburg, it's nice to see you again," Steven said and from his tone, Blair could tell he was smiling.

"You, too." Blair grinned.

"Please. Come in."

"Do you mind if Tikal comes inside?"

"No. Of course not."

"Tikal. Inside," Blair instructed and the dog instantly obeyed. "I hope it's okay that I dropped by today. I wanted to see how Jim was doing."

"Well, if his foul temper is anything to go by, then he's feeling better by the hour. He overdid it today so he's sore… and grumpy," Steven added.

"I am not!" Blair heard Jim yell from somewhere else in the apartment.

"See what I mean," Steven said. "He doesn't make a very good patient."

"Does anyone?" Blair chuckled.

"Yeah, well, he's ten times worse and he's the most stubborn person I know. And he hates everything I cook for him. Actually, I'm glad you're here. Maybe a fresh face will lighten his mood."

"You know, I can hear you," Jim called grumpily.

Steven shook his head and chuckled. "Why don't you go on in and see him."

Hearing Steven begin to walk away, Blair said, "Umm… Steven. Since I don't know the layout of the apartment, I'll need to take your arm and have you bring me to him."

"Oh shit," Steven exclaimed. "I'm sorry."

"That's okay." Blair smiled and sensed the other man presence at his side. After instructing Tikal to lie down, he placed a hand on Steven's arm and followed the man across the room.

"Jim's bedroom is upstairs in the loft area but we figured it'd be easier for him to stay in downstairs guest room until he's strong enough to tackle the stairs," Steven explained as he guided Blair across what felt to be a large room. From the reverberation of the echoes, it sounded like a big open area with high ceilings. The sounds suddenly changed, becoming more muted, telling Blair that he'd entered a room small in size. "Here we are. There's a chair directly on your left if you'd like to sit down."

"Great. Thanks." Sliding his backpack from his shoulders to the floor, Blair located the chair and sat.

"Jim," Steven said from the doorway, "seeing as you have company, I'm going to head home. Andrew will be by in a few hours to make you're dinner."

"I can cook for myself," Jim said tersely.

"See what I mean, Blair? He's cranky."

"Am not," Jim retorted.

"Are to," replied Steven.

"Uh, guys, time-out." Blair snickered, moving his hands in a 'time-out' gesture.

"I think we'd better listen to him, Jim, or he might sic his dog on us. Did you see the size of that thing? What kind of dog is she, Blair?"

"She's part Husky and part wolf," Blair explained. When he heard nothing but silence, he knew the mention of a wolf had the two men concerned. "It's okay, man. She's harmless. I found her half starved in an alley when she was a pup. When I lost my sight, we trained together so she could be my Seeing Eye dog. She's extremely intelligent – and very gentle," Blair added. "You don't need to be afraid of her."

"Okay. If you say so," Steven said, his tone light and teasing. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jim. Take it easy and don't overdo it while I'm gone."

"Yes, mother," muttered Jim, but Blair couldn't miss the affection in his voice.

"Bye, Blair."

"See you later," Blair answered with a wave. As Steven's retreating footsteps echoed through the loft, Blair heard a soft groan and quickly turned his attention to Jim. "Are you in pain?"

"Yeah, a bit. I stopped taking my painkillers this morning. Maybe it was a bad idea. At least my back didn't throb as much when I was on them, and my senses seemed more manageable"

"Where are your dials?" Blair asked without thinking.

"All over the place," Jim replied, sounding irritated. "I can't seem to get them to stay where I put them."

"Shouldn't your Guide be here to help you?"

"I don't have one," Jim stated a bit stiffly.

Blair ignored the little rush of excitement that made his heart flutter at hearing Jim's reply and leaned forward. He reached out his hand until he touched Jim's bare arm and once again it tingled at the contact. "I want you to concentrate on each dial and set them until you feel a little more comfortable. I don't want you to go too low, though. A little pain is okay." Blair waited, the silence in the room a comfortable presence.

"Yeah. That's better. Thanks, Chief."

"You're welcome." Blair grinned and pulled his hand away.

There was a few more seconds of silence and in that time, Blair felt like he was being keenly observed. It was almost as though he could feel the other man's eyes sliding over his body, studying him.

"What happened to your hair?" Jim suddenly asked.

"My hair?" Self-consciously, Blair slid a hand over his head until he touched the ponytail at the nape of his neck. "Nothing. I'm wearing it tied back. Why?"

"I was just wondering." Jim's voice suddenly turned husky. "I like it loose. You've got beautiful hair."

"Oh." Blair blinked and felt his face flush. "Uh… Thanks." Had Jim just paid him a compliment? Blair was sure he had, but why? Was it possible that the detective was flirting with him? No. He couldn't be. Not with someone like himself. He wasn't even Jim's type. Well, actually, he didn't really know what Jim's type was, but Blair was pretty sure that he was the furthest person from it. Besides, he had no idea how to flirt back with another man, or if he even wanted to. When he'd had his sight, sure, he admired a well-built masculine body, but that was as far as it went. He'd always dated women, although even those had been few and far between since he'd lost his sight.

Suddenly feeling a little awkward, Blair cleared his throat before saying, "I… um… I brought you some muffins." Bending forward, he picked up his backpack, reached inside and pulled out a paper bag. "I picked them up near the university. There's a bakery there called Sweet Fragrance that specializes in baked goods for Sentinels."

"I know the place. Their stuff is great," Jim replied enthusiastically.

"I bought four apple-cinnamon muffins."

"I knew I smelled apples."

"They're still warm," Blair said, feeling the temperature of the muffins through the bag. "Would you like to try one now?"

"I thought you'd never ask," Jim said with a chuckle. "I think some milk would go great with them. If you help me up, I'll get us some."

"Stay where you are." Blair moved to stand up. "If you explain the layout of your kitchen, I can get the drinks."

"Are you sure?"

"You bet." Blair grinned. "Trust me, I'm used to doing this."

"Okay. Great." While Jim explained the kitchen's layout, Blair created a mental image in his mind of where everything was situated.

"I'll be right back." Blair stood, and with the muffin bag in hand, made his way to the fridge. Placing the milk on the counter, he located the cupboard, which held the glasses and small plates. He found the tray where Jim said it would be and put all the items, along with two apple muffins, onto it before carefully making his way back into the guest room.

***

Jim watched as Blair carried the tray into the room. He couldn't stop his gaze from roaming appreciatively up the small, compact body until his eyes rested on Blair's face. The wide blue eyes shone brightly and Jim felt himself being drawn into them. With a little shake of his head, to stop himself from zoning on the sea of blue, Jim said, "Bring the tray over to me, Chief," When Blair shuffled his way closer to the bed, Jim used his good hand to carefully lift the tray from Blair's hands and placed it onto his own lap.

"Thanks, man." Blair felt behind himself for the chair and once again sat down. "I left the rest of the muffins in the bag on the counter."

"Thanks. It was very thoughtful of you to bring them. Apple muffins just happen to be my favorite." Breathing in the sweet aroma of the warm muffin, Jim felt his mouth begin to water before taking a big bite.

"You're welcome," Blair said, accepting the muffin and glass that Jim placed in each of his hands.

"There's a small table to the left of the chair if you want to put your glass down," Jim explained, watching as Blair nodded then reached out to feel for the table. After taking a few sips of milk, Jim said, "Thanks for coming to visit. It's nice to have someone to talk to besides my brother or my cousin."

"What about the guys from the station? There were quite a few of them at the hospital, anxious to hear how you were doing. Don't they come to visit?"

"Sure. Some do, especially Rafe and Simon, my captain. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's nice to have someone new to talk with." Even though people did drop by to see him, it wasn't enough to fill the hours and he was getting damn tired of staring at the same four walls all the time. The only change of scenery he got was when he made the slow and sometimes painful trip to the bathroom and back, so he was very grateful to have Blair's company.

"I'm glad I could help. I owe you big time." Blair bounced slightly in his seat.

"You don't owe me anything, Blair."

"Sure I do. You saved my life." Instead of smiling, Blair's face grew solemn. "I really am sorry you got hurt."

"It's not your fault."

Blair leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, head tilting down. "I really shouldn't have asked you to go back inside. When I think about it now…" Blair swallowed hard and looked up. His blue eyes darkened and filled with an emotion that Jim couldn't read. "You could have been killed," he said quietly.

"It's okay, Chief," Jim assured, placing a hand on Blair's knee. "I'm okay."

"You'll never know how grateful I am that you saved Tikal. She's all I have left," Blair said, his voice husky. Seemingly unaware, Blair had shifted closer to the bed, his fingers lightly touching Jim on his arm. A single strand of long curly hair had made its way loose from the ponytail and was brushing against the side of Blair's cheek. Jim had to squelch the sudden urge to reach out to tuck the hair behind his ear.

Wanting to get his mind off of touching the young Guide, Jim asked, "So, Blair Sandburg, what is it that you do?"

Blair seemed to brighten at the question. "I'm an anthropology student and teaching assistant at Rainier University."

"What field of anthropology are you studying?"

"Cultural anthropology. More specifically, I'm specializing in patterns of subsistence."

"You'll have to elaborate a little more on that one, Chief," Jim said with a smile.

Blair chuckled and Jim enjoyed watching the man's face light up as he grinned. "Basically it's about patterns of survival. I'm writing my doctorate on the Teheulche tribe of Southern Argentina. Just before I lost my sight, I was lucky enough to go there to study the tribe and observe the different techniques they used to acquire food and other necessities. After I became blind, I managed to get all my notes transferred to Braille so I could begin writing my dissertation. It's taken me a while, but I'm hoping by the end of the school year, I'll finally have those three little letters after my name."

Jim watched Blair's face while he talked excitedly about his education. The enthusiasm made his eyes sparkle and Jim could tell that Blair loved what he was doing. His arms and hands gestured as he spoke, and along with them, his whole body moved. He knew that becoming blind hadn't held this man back and Jim was more than impressed by what Blair had achieved.

"That's very impressive," Jim said. "Your family must be very proud of your accomplishments." The light suddenly faded from Blair's face and his body became still. His eyes darkened with an emotion Jim could only describe as a deep sadness.

Blair leaned back, resting his hands in his lap. "I don't have any family." He paused for a moment then continued, "My mom died of breast cancer when I was eighteen."

"Oh. I'm sorry," Jim said earnestly. There were many questions he wanted to ask, but he didn't like questions himself so he wasn't about to force Blair to answer his.

"Thanks," Blair replied quietly. He cleared his throat and asked, "Do you have any other brothers or sisters?"

"Steven is my only sibling. There's also Andrew, who's my cousin. I have two other cousins, but they live out of state, so I don't get to see them very often."

"What about your parents?"

"My mom left when I was fourteen," Jim said quietly. "We never saw her again."

"Oh, man, that's rough." Blair's voice was filled with compassion. "What about your dad?"

Jim hesitated before answering. It was an innocent question. Blair had no idea how Jim felt about his father. He especially hated talking about him because it brought back the hurt he tried so hard to keep buried. He blamed his father for his mother leaving. Growing up, Jim had watched his old man hurt his mother, both physically and mentally, over and over again until one day, she'd had enough and left without a word.

Things had gotten worse for Jim and his brother after that. William took his frustrations out on them. He'd hit them for no apparent reason, stating that they should consider themselves punished in advance for their next mistake. Somehow, over time, Steven was able to put the past behind them, but not Jim. There was no way he could forgive that easily and he could never, ever forget. He felt his anger beginning to build. Even after all this time, his father still got to him.

"Jim?" Blair's voice called to him. "You okay?"

Rubbing a hand over his face, Jim replied tiredly, "Yeah."

"Are you sure? Do you need to take a painkiller or something?" Blair asked, sounding worried.

"I'm fine, Chief," Jim assured. He was in a small amount of pain, but had gotten used to the dull throbbing ache in his body. Actually, Jim noticed that the pain had become much more bearable since Blair had arrived. It was that first touch that had done it and he knew the reason was because Blair was a Guide.

"I guess I'd better get going so you can get some rest." Grabbing his backpack, Blair rose from the chair. Before Jim could protest Blair's leaving, he heard the sound of the front door closing. Even though he was injured, his senses were now working well enough for him to pick up on the scent of his cousin. Footsteps drew closer and Andrew peeked his head around the doorframe.

"Hi guys," Andrew greeted.

"Hey, Andy. Have you met Blair Sandburg?" Jim asked.

"Yes, we met at the hospital. Nice to see you again, Blair."

"You too." Blair held out his hand and the two men shook. "I came by to see how Jim was doing."

"That's great. Beats having to look at my ugly mug all the time, huh, Jim?" Andrew grinned.

"You better believe it." Jim chuckled.

"I really should get going," Blair said.

As Blair moved to walk away, Jim quickly reached out to clasp his hand. Hot sparks suddenly arched between their joined fingers to travel up Jim's arm. He had never felt anything like this before and he suddenly didn't want to let go. Glancing up, he knew from the look on Blair's face that he felt it as well. But there was something else lurking in the expressive blue eyes – fear, panic, and a hurt, which Jim didn't understand. He had a feeling that if he let go now, Blair would bolt and he would never see him again.

"It's okay, Blair," Jim said quietly, trying to reassure his new friend. When he felt the hand in his trying to pull away, Jim reluctantly let it go. "Will you come back tomorrow?" he asked hopefully

Blair seemed to think about it for a moment, and Jim was sure his invitation was going to be declined, but the full lips turned up at the corners and Blair nodded. "Sure. Okay."

"Great." Jim returned the smile. "Could you come around five and have dinner with me?"

"Yeah, I'd like that," Blair replied, his eyes once again bright and happy.

"How are you getting home?" Jim asked.

"Oh. Right. I need you to call me a taxi."

"I can drive you home," Andrew volunteered.

Blair shook his head and insisted, "That won't be necessary."

"Okay, have it your way, kid." Andrew patted Blair on the shoulder.

"Bye, Jim," Blair said.

"See you later, Chief." Blair gave him a quick wave before allowing Andrew to lead him out of the bedroom. As he watched Blair leave, Jim realized that he would have to be careful. Despite his preoccupation with Blair's good looks, he liked the young anthropologist and would be very grateful for his friendship, but that was all. He didn't want anything more. He knew the truth about becoming romantically involved with someone. He had learned it from watching his father and despite what all the love songs, poems and movies told about the pleasures and joys of falling in love, the hard truth was that love hurt, and Jim didn't want any part of it. A roll in the sack with someone was fine. But love?

No way.

It just wasn't for him.

***

It had been five days since the first time Blair had set foot inside the loft. Each of those days, he had returned to share dinner with Jim. And today wasn't any different. During his time with the Sentinel, Blair had made himself familiar with the loft apartment. He now knew it almost as well as he knew the back of his hand. He was able to move around easily without tripping over anything, and even Steven and Andrew had gotten into the habit of not leaving any unforeseen objects on the floor.

While Jim was definitely on his way to healing, Blair knew that he still felt quite sore. Jim also admitted that he was having a hard time controlling his senses, the dials often spinning out of control. The reason being the Sentinel didn't have a full time Guide to help him. Blair suddenly felt a wave of jealously wash over him at the thought of another Guide guiding or touching Jim. He had become quite protective of the detective and knew, if he let himself, he could fall hard for the other man, but he was afraid to take it any further than the close friendship they seemed to be creating. He was afraid of allowing himself to trust another Sentinel again. Afraid to surrender to the call of the bond and become one with another person.

Releasing a deep sigh, Blair knocked on the door. It was answered almost immediately by Andrew. "Hi, Blair. Come on in," he greeted happily, making Blair grin. Not only had Blair become friends with Jim, he had found a friendship with Andrew, and Steven as well.

"Hi, Andy. How's it going?" Bending down, Blair released the harness from around Tikal's chest. The second day that Blair had come for dinner, Jim had insisted the dog be allowed to roam around the loft at will.

"Pretty good," Andrew replied. "How about you?"

"I'm good. Thanks." Blair wandered into the kitchen, stopping near the stove. "Mmmm. Something smells great."

"I made ham and cheese casserole. It should be done in an hour."

Blair flipped open the glass covering on his watch so he could feel the small hands. "That would make it 6:15."

"Yep, that's about right. I also bought some fresh bread from the bakery downstairs. I put it on the counter, left of the sink."

"Cool." Blair bounced on the balls of his feet. "I can't wait. I'm starved."

"Would you like a beer?"

"Sure. Love one."

Blair heard the sound of the refrigerator being opened, followed by a quick hiss as Andrew twisted off the bottle cap. Footsteps approached him and the cold glass was pressed into his hand. "Here you go."

"Thanks, man." Blair took a nice long sip of beer. "How's Jim feeling today?"

"Not that great." Andrew sighed. "The knucklehead tried to tackle the stairs up to his bedroom today and ended up hurting himself. I finally convinced him to take a painkiller. The last time I checked, he was asleep. He probably won't wake up for another hour."

"I thought the doctor told him not to try any stairs for another week?"

"He did and of course Jim, being the stubborn, macho man that he is, tried to prove the doctor wrong. I tried to talk him out of it but he wouldn't listen. He usually listens to you, though, so maybe if you said something, he'd stop pushing himself so hard."

"I'll try talking to him when he wakes up."

"Great. Thanks, kid." Andrew ruffled Blair's hair.

"Hey. Cut that out." Blair laughed, swatting at Andrew's hands. "I've got a favor to ask."

"Sure. Anything."

Blair took another sip of his beer before placing the bottle on the counter. "Would it be all right if I used the shower? I've… uh… been living out of my office at the university, and I normally use the showers in the gym, but they were working on the plumbing today, so they were out of order."

"Of course you can." Andrew placed a hand on Blair's back, guiding him in the direction of the bathroom. "Why didn't you say something about your living conditions? You're more than welcome to come stay with me until you find a place. I have an extra room."

"That's not necessary but thanks, man. I'm hoping to have enough cash for a deposit on an apartment by the end of next month."

"Well, the invitation is open. If you ever need a place to stay, my door is always open."

"Thanks," Blair said again, truly touched by the man's generosity and reached out to lightly pat Andrew on the arm. "I really appreciate the offer."

"You're welcome. I owe you for keeping Jim in a good mood." Andrew chuckled. "Okay. I've placed two clean towels on the toilet seat. Jim's robe is hanging on the back of the door in case you need to use it. The soap and shampoo are on a little shower caddy hanging from the shower head. Oh, and the hair dryer is under the sink in the cabinet, on the right hand side. Anything else you need?"

"Nope. That's about covers it."

"I've got to get going or else I'll be late. I'll probably be gone for most of the evening."

"Ah, right. The hot date." Blair grinned and wiggled his eyebrows.

"Wish me luck."

"Good luck getting lucky," Blair teased, listening to the other man's deep laughter as he moved away from the bathroom.

***

Jim woke to the sound of the water running in the shower. Dialing up his hearing, he immediately zeroed in on Blair's heartbeat coming from the bathroom. There were no other sounds in the loft, so Jim figured Andrew must have already left for his date.

Glancing at the clock, it read 6:00 p.m. From the aromas coming from the kitchen, it smelled like dinner was almost ready. Jim suddenly got an idea. He could get up, have the table set and dinner ready for when Blair got out of the shower. The other man had been such a great help these last five days that Jim wanted to do something nice for him for a change.

He tried to sit up in bed, groaning when pain rippled through his back muscles. He should have listened to Andrew and the doctor, and never tried to climb the damn stairs. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the sheets away, attempting to rise to his feet. He used the corner of the bedside table for balance, then slowly pushed himself until he was standing upright. Suddenly the floor shifted, or maybe it was him, he wasn't quite sure. He tried to take a step, but his legs gave out and he tumbled to the floor, knocking the ceramic lamp off the table. As he fell, he tried to soften the blow by putting his good hand out in front of him but it gave way, and he ended up falling on his bad arm. He cried out in pain, shutting his eyes and frantically searching for his dial for touch, but was unable to locate it. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, cradling his hurting arm against his chest.

There was a sudden bang of a door flying open and the sound of Blair's voice. "Jim! Are you okay? Where are you?"

"Bedroom." Jim groaned. "On the floor." He heard Blair approaching and quickly warned, "Be careful. There's glass on the floor, on your left." Skirting the room to stay away from where Jim indicated the glass lay, Blair was kneeling by his side in less than a heartbeat, hands gently running over Jim's body until they found his face.

"What happened?"

"Tried to get up and fell."

"Are you hurt?" Blair asked worriedly.

Hurt? God, yes, he hurt. He hurt like a son-of-a-bitch and knew he'd be paying for this little stunt over the next few days. Blair slid his hands under Jim's head and carefully raised it to rest in his lap, lightly stroking his face, the fingers gentle and comforting. "Just rest there for a minute." Blair's tone suddenly softened into what Jim now recognized as his Guiding voice. "Find the dial for touch. You got it?"

"Yesss," Jim hissed as more pain shot through his arm.

"Easy," Blair soothed. "Where is it?"

"Eight."

"That's too high, Jim. You need to get it down to four. I want you to slowly start to lower it. Don't go too fast, we don't want it spinning out of control."

Jim listened to the soothing tones of Blair's voice and within a few seconds, he had the pain dialed down to a manageable level. "That's better." Jim sighed in relief. "Thanks, Chief.

He opened his eyes and for a moment, stared up into Blair's face. His hair was wet, the curls tumbling around his shoulders and his eyes were dark with concern. Jim's gaze traveled lower and he noticed that Blair was wearing only a towel wrapped around his waist. His tanned skin glowed in the low light and the wet droplets that clung to his chest hair seemed to sparkle. Jim inhaled deeply. Blair smelled of shampoo and soap – of Jim's shampoo and soap – and for some reason that turned him on. Heat suddenly coiled low in his belly and he couldn't remember ever being this instantly aroused. The ache in his groin set up a low-frequency hum that had him holding in a moan. He had to stop this right now because if he didn't, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from running his fingers over the wonderful hair-covered chest.

Not wanting to do anything to scare Blair away, Jim reluctantly moved away with a groan and rolled to his side. They had become fast friends over the past five days and he could sense that Blair was beginning to trust him. He wouldn't do anything to sever that fragile trust.

Using his good arm, he started to push himself up to his knees. Blair scrambled to his own feet and taking hold of Jim's arm, helped him back onto the bed. As Jim dragged himself onto the mattress, Blair lifted his legs at the knees and slid them into place. He felt around for the sheets and grasping the edges, covered Jim's body.

"Is that better?" Blair asked. "Do you need a painkiller?"

Jim carefully shook his head. "No. I'm fine."

Blair sat down on the bed next to him, their hips lightly bumping against one another. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Jim murmured, doing his best to not stare at the little silver ring that was threaded through Blair's nipple.

"Why were you trying to get up? You know you're supposed to stay in bed."

"I wanted to do something nice for you, so I thought I could have dinner ready on the table before you finished your shower."

A pleased smile spread across Blair's face. "Aw, man, you didn't have to do that."

"I know, but you've been helping me a lot lately, especially with the senses."

"How about once you're feeling better, I come over and you can cook dinner for me."

"Really?" Jim smiled warmly, liking the idea of cooking for Blair.

"Sure." Blair shrugged. "Why not?"

Jim studied the other man for a minute before reaching out to slowly finger a wet curly strand. "So, Chief, what have you been up to while I was asleep?"

Blair seemed to flush slightly at the question and he lowered his head. "I was sort of using your shower. I hope you don't mind."

Jim wanted to tell him he could use his shower anytime he wanted, on one condition, that he be allowed to join him. He didn't voice his thoughts out loud because he wasn't sure that Blair would think he was just joking around. But then Jim suddenly realized that he wasn't joking. That he would definitely enjoy having sex with Blair in the shower, the compact body, all wet and soap slicked… Shit! Stop that line of thought right now, Ellison, Jim chastised himself.

"I don't mind," Jim finally replied, lightly rubbing his sore arm. "Is there something wrong with the shower at your new place?"

"Well…" Blair hesitated. "I don't have a place yet."

Jim frowned. "Where are you living?"

"I've been using my office at the university."

"What?" Jim replied, unable to keep the tension from his tone.

"It's not that bad, really," Blair replied quickly. "I've done it before when I was in between places. There's a fairly comfortable sofa in my office and I use the gym showers to clean up. Except today they were being fixed, so I wasn't able to use them."

Something protective flashed through Jim at the thought of Blair living out of his office and being there alone after everyone had gone home for the night. "You can't stay there," he stated. "It's not safe."

"I appreciate the concern, but I have no choice. I don't have home insurance, and at the moment, I can't even afford to replace everything I lost in the fire, let alone come up with enough cash for first and last months' rent. I'm waiting for a grant to go through and once I have the money, I can start looking for a place. It'll probably only be for another month, two months tops."

Jim still didn't like the idea and he tried to protest, "Blair –”

"It's okay, Jim. Like I said, I'm used to it." Blair stood up, holding the towel at his waist. "I'm going to go get dressed then I'll clean up the mess from the lamp. After that we can eat."

"Stay close to the bed, Chief. That way you'll avoid any glass shards.

"Thanks, man." Using the bed to guide him, Blair carefully made his way out of the room.

***

Blair sat in the large chair next to Jim's bed, with his legs tucked under him. They had finished dinner and were now sipping coffee and munching on a few homemade peanut butter cookies that Blair had brought with him.

"How do you feel?" Blair asked.

"Chief, that's about the fifth time you've asked me that in the last hour. I'm fine."

"Sorry," Blair apologized with a little smirk. "It's just that you took quite a fall. I want to be sure that you're okay."

"I know," Jim said softly. "I appreciate your concern." Blair felt Jim's hand rest on his knee, and a shiver rushed through him at the contact. The hand was warm through his jeans, and large, as it covered his entire kneecap. He liked the feel of Jim's hand on his body, and the circle of heat that emanated from that welcome touch. "Please trust me when I say I'm fine."

"Okay." Blair smiled and nodded. "I used to do the same thing to my mom. It would drive her nuts." He chuckled at the memory.

"How long was your mom sick?" Jim asked tentatively.

"I was fourteen when she first found a lump in her breast. The doctors removed it and she was fine for about a year and a half, but then the cancer came back." Blair closed his eyes as he recalled the absolute terror he felt at that time. "It had always been just the two of us, so we had a very close relationship. I tried to be strong for her, but sometimes… when I was alone, all I could think about was what it was going to be like when she died."

"I can imagine it was a lot for you to handle at that age," Jim said, a hint of sympathy in his voice.

Pleased at the comforting timbre of the soft, yet steady voice, Blair explained, "It wasn't easy, but I did what I could for her. She had the usual treatments, but they made her so sick."

"It must have been very hard for you."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you were a teenager. It's hard enough for most kids at that age to have to deal with school and growing up. On top of that, you had your mother to care for and worry about. You must have missed out on a lot of stuff."

For a brief second, Blair's eyes burned and he sat up straighter, blinking several times to push away the moisture.

"I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't mean to dredge up painful memories," Jim said.

Moving to the edge of the seat, Blair reached out a hand. It landed on Jim's body, and from the feel of the firmness under his palm, he knew he was touching Jim's chest. "No. It's fine. Really, Jim. It's good to talk about my mom." After a pause, Blair said softly, "Thank you."

"For what?" Jim asked.

Hearing the confusion coloring Jim's voice, he explained, "For what you just said. You're the first person to ever say that to me. You're right, I was just a kid, but I had no choice. I had to behave like an adult. There was no one else to take charge. My mom had a few friends, but she never wanted them to know how sick she really was, and the few friends I had were the same age as me." Blair took a deep breath, held it for a second before releasing it in a long, slow exhale. "God, Jim, I was so scared. I didn't want her to die." His voice wavered, and he quickly cleared his throat.

"Of course you didn't." Jim took his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.

Blair let out a soft sigh at the touch. "Just before she got sick, I had started dating this girl. I really like her, you know? But she ended up dumping me because I had to spend so much time looking after my mom, especially once she got home from the hospital."

"I'm sorry, Blair."

"Don't be." Blair smiled. "It was a long time ago. It doesn't matter anymore."

"Sure it does. Some hurts never go away."

Blair could hear the hurt leach through Jim's voice and wondered what pains his newfound friend had suffered in his own life. He almost asked Jim about what he heard and felt from him, but right now, this man was in enough physical pain. Blair didn't want to add emotional pain to his plate as well, so he shelved the questions he had for now. After a moment, he swallowed to clear his throat. "Yeah," Blair agreed and closed his eyes while slowly nodding. "Mom tried to be so strong through it all. She hung on for four years, going through two remissions. Then one day I came home from school and I found her curled up on her bed crying. That's when I knew the cancer had spread and she wouldn't be getting better. It was hard on her, but she was very brave."

"So were you."

Blair shook his head. "I didn't do anything."

"What?" Jim asked in disbelief. "Of course you did. You took care of her."

"I was her only child. What else was I going to do? I was all she had." His voice broke on the last word. "Dammit," he murmured and quickly rubbed at his wet eyes with the palms of his hands.

"It's okay, Chief," Jim said soothingly, his thumb lightly caressing the top of Blair's hand.

It was at times like these, when his emotions were up, that Blair felt so very vulnerable, and so very alone. And, for a brief second, he wished more than anything that he could be wrapped up in Jim's embrace. As though the Sentinel were reading his mind, Blair felt a tug on his arm.

"Come here," Jim said.

The gentle tugging on his arm continued until Blair started to move closer to Jim. Concerned, he asked, "What about your arm?"

"My right side is fine."

Carefully, Blair sat on the bed and was instantly pulled down against a muscular chest and engulfed by a strong arm. They both remained silent while Jim slowly brushed his hand up and down Blair's back in a comforting gesture. Blair released a long sigh. The sound of the Sentinel's heartbeat along with the feel Jim's hand on his back began to ease the tension that had been running rampant throughout his body. Suddenly, he had this overwhelming urge to kiss Jim, and be kissed in return. He had never been with another man before. Had always considered himself heterosexual, but there was something about the Sentinel that had Blair wondering what it would be like to be made love to by him. To have the larger body covering him, and to feel Jim's weight as he pinned him down to the mattress.

He knew Jim was gay. He hadn't learned that from Jim himself, but from Steven when he'd innocently let it slip during a conversation one evening while Jim was sleeping and Blair had joined Steven on the sofa to watch a Jags game on the television. But the knowledge that Jim was gay didn't make a difference to Blair. He truly like the man and he now cherished their friendship. And even though he'd sworn to himself to never get involved with another Sentinel, Blair couldn't stay away. He loved having dinner with Jim and enjoyed spending his evenings with him.

But now it seemed that the more time Blair spent with Jim, the more his attraction toward the other man built – and the more the tug of the bond pulled at him. He felt it every time they touched and he knew Jim felt it, too. The funny thing was he realized that he wasn't afraid like he had been in the past when he thought of a Sentinel bonding with him. He felt safe with Jim and somehow knew the man would never force a bond on him. Not like Alex had tried to do.

"What about your father?" Jim's question cut through his thoughts. "You never mentioned him."

"He had an affair with my mom. When she became pregnant, he abandoned her." Blair paused for a second, slipping an arm across Jim's waist, snuggling a little closer. "I did have a very brief conversation with him many years ago when mom first got sick. The bills kept coming in, and I was having a hard time keeping up with the payments. When I was a kid, she had told me who my father was, so I knew he had a lot of money. I thought maybe," he swallowed hard, "he could help me with the medical bills. One day I built up enough courage to see him and ask if he would help me, but he said no. Told me that he never wanted me to bother him again."

"I'm sorry, Chief."

Jim's quiet understanding of Blair's life made him feel like he had an ally, and he liked the feeling – a lot. "It's okay. I only went to him because I was worried about my mom. I never told her that I went to see him, or that he turned me down." Blair took a deep breath before slowly releasing it. "You know, he never once said anything about being my father. I thought maybe he would. That he'd be happy to meet me. And I guess I kind of wanted him to acknowledge me, but he didn't say a word. That's when I realized he was a first class shmuck."

"First class bastard, if you ask me," Jim growled, holding Blair close.

Blair happily shifted against Jim's warm body, his fingers skimming over Jim's arm. "He didn't care about me or Naomi." Blair's voice trembled slightly as he felt the emotions of that day wash over him. He snuggled impossibly closer to Jim, finding it to be oddly comforting. "Aren't parents supposed to care about their children?"

"They are, but not all of them do. My mother took off when I was fourteen, so we were left with my father, but I can't begin to tell you how many times I wished he had been the one to leave." Jim cupped the back of Blair's head, gently running his fingers through Blair's hair.

Blair almost purred at the welcoming caresses. His scalp tingled where Jim's fingers brushed against it, and he heard the tiny crackles of static electricity his hair made when the fingers stroked through the strands. He forced his brain back to the conversation, almost belatedly realizing that Jim had opened a door into his private life. "Why?"

"Because of the way he treated me and Steven. He was always pitting us against one another. Was really into the competition thing. One year he bought season tickets to the Jags. I mean, he only bought two. So whoever was in favor that week would get to go with him. I know it's a little thing..."

Blair didn't miss the naked pain in Jim's voice. He was instantly angry at the uncaring father who would force his own children into competition for his favors or approval. His arm tightened around Jim's shoulders and he said irritatedly, "That doesn't sound little to me, Jim. That sounds pretty harsh, man."

He felt Jim's shoulder's shrug, but his tone didn't match the indifference he was trying to convey. "I guess he figured the competition would toughen us up for the real world, but in reality, it just drove us further apart. My dad had this car. A '65 Cobra. If he was in a good mood, he'd let me drive it every now and again, but only when he was with me. Once I backed it out of the garage myself. Out of nowhere pops up my old man. I thought he would split a gasket. He wanted to rip my head off. It was so crazy. He forbid me to even go near the car again –”

"Jim?" Blair interrupted. He tentatively asked the next question, almost afraid to hear what the answer would be, "Did your dad beat you?" The shudder that Blair felt run through Jim's body was answer enough. "Oh, man. I am so sorry." He moved the hand, which had been at Jim's shoulder, up to lightly caress his cheek. Jim grabbed hold of it and placed a gentle kiss on his palm. Blair sucked in a breath at the warm feel of the soft lips. A protectiveness that Blair had never felt for another person flowed through his body at the thought of anyone hurting this man.

Jim brought Blair's hand down to rest against the smooth chest but instead of taking his hand away, Jim laid it on top of Blair's. He felt Jim huff out a shaky breath but Blair remained still, hoping to convey that Jim was safe talking to him. After a few moments pause, he was rewarded when his friend said, "He was going to go on this business trip. Japan, Australia – I don't remember where it was – but he had promised Steven that he was going to take him on this trip if he kept his grades up. One day Steven comes home with a 'B'. A 'B', Chief." Jim's voice sounded incredulous. "The old man says, Steven, sorry, the deal's off. Jimmy, pack your bags. "

"So he punishes him by rewarding you," Blair stated, anger still tingeing his voice.

"Yeah. Steven was pretty pissed off. He was jealous and really hurt. I guess he wanted to get back at the old man or maybe he was trying to get me back, but he took a crowbar to the Cobra. The old man assumed that I'd taken it out for a joyride and dinged it up. I told him I had nothing to do with it, but he wouldn't believe me. Man, did I get a beating that night." Jim paused for a second before continuing, "Anyway, Steven got to go on the trip, and I got to go on one of my own."

"Right," Blair said. He knew the next part; Jim had told him about his military career. "Join the army. See the world." Hearing Jim's gentle snort, Blair smiled.

"The bottom line was that I realized that I couldn't change the relationship I had with my old man. It was what it was. I couldn't make him trust me. We just couldn't communicate."

The men lay quietly together for a few minutes before Blair finally asked, "What about Steven?"

"What about him?

"You're such good friends now. I don't need my sight to know that you both really care about one another."

"When I came home on leave one weekend, he showed up at my place and apologized. Said his actions were unforgivable. And that one day he woke up and realized that I was gone for good and part of that was his fault. I knew he was being sincere and he really wanted to make amends, so I forgave him, and we've been good friends ever since."

"You never made amends with your dad?"

"No. The less I see of him, the better," Jim replied gruffly. "Steven was able to move past what the old man did, but I can't forgive that easily."

Blair heard Jim's words falter before the Sentinel suddenly became silent. "I'm sorry," Blair softly said. "I didn't mean to bring up painful memories for you." Twisting his hand around, Blair locked their fingers together and instantly sparks arced between them. Heat rushed up Blair's arm and he could feel the bond pulling at him stronger than ever before. He stiffened and sat up, trying to tug his hand free but Jim wouldn't let go.

"Blair," Jim whispered, running his thumb against the inside of Blair's wrist.

Blair felt his own pulse beating rapidly and breathing suddenly became difficult. The lure of the bond sang sweetly in his veins. God, it would be so easy so give in, to let Jim claim him, but he couldn't let that happen. Never again, a voice whispered in his mind.

"Jim… I… uh…" Blair swallowed hard. "It's really getting late. I'd better get going."

There was a long pause before Jim finally let him go. "Okay, Chief." Blair could hear the regret in his voice. "Will you come see me tomorrow?"

Blair knew he should say no. Knew that the more time he spent with Jim, the harder it would be to hold back his feelings, but he couldn't walk away and never see this man again. "Yeah," he answered with a small smile. "I'll be here."

"Good," Jim said, sounding relieved.

Blair sent Jim another smile, this one bright and reassuring. "See ya," he said, turned and quickly left the room.

***

Jim lay in bed looking up through the skylight at the stars above. He'd heard Blair call for a taxi and listened to both man and dog as they left the building and got into the cab that carried them away. Something had definitely happened tonight. They had connected and shared in a way that only Guide and Sentinel could. Somehow, Blair had slipped through all the walls he'd built up around himself, making him want things he could never have. He knew he shouldn't get involved with Blair. Knew what happened when you fell in love – It would destroy you. He'd learned through his own experiences and seen first hand the people he cared about pay a high, ugly price for the privilege of love. With that knowledge, he always kept himself at arm's length when it came to committed relationships.

Jim drew in a deep breath, rubbing a hand over his face.

But things were different with Blair. For the first time in his life, he found himself wanting more. He wanted to be with Blair. Wanted to hold him. Wanted to make love to him. God, he was so tempted to just let go and believe it was possible to fall in love. But he'd learned his lesson too well and he wasn't going to risk his heart. And being a Sentinel, it could mean even more than his heart; it could mean his life.

However, the more time he spent with Blair, the more he found himself opening up. In the past, he'd always held back. Never told people about his past, especially about his parents, yet he had definitely opened himself up to the other man this evening.

There was also something else. The urge to claim Blair was getting stronger the more time they spent together. He wondered how long he could hold off before the bond's call became so powerful that he wouldn't be able to stop himself from taking his Guide.

His Guide?

Yes, that's how the Sentinel in Jim thought of Blair now. Blair was his. He considered that for a moment. He liked the idea that if they bonded, Blair would be his for the rest of their lives. Just like he would belong to Blair. He had grown to truly like Blair. So what if he could never actually be in love with him? They could remain friends, have a great active sex life and enjoy being together. But would Blair agree to something like that? Jim could sense a hesitancy in Blair whenever they became more intimate. Like what just happened before Blair left. He seemed to enjoy the closeness when Jim was holding him, and his pheromones had shot through the roof when Jim had kissed his hand. So what was it? What had made Blair bolt? Jim pondered for another minute before it hit him. It wasn't until the bond had begun to flow between them that Blair became skittish. Yes, Jim was now positive that was it. Blair was afraid of bonding. But why was he scared? Was it the act itself? Or had something happened to make him afraid. Almost all Guides and Sentinels wanted – needed to bond. Jim's reason for not bonding yet was that he'd never found anyone that he liked enough to want to spend the rest of his life with – until Blair. What were Blair's reasons for not having bonded? Was it because of his sight? Or did it go much deeper than that?

"Shit," Jim groaned out loud, rubbing a hand over his face. "This isn't getting me anywhere." For now, he'd do his best to keep the bond under control until he found out the truth behind Blair's fears.

The sound of the front door closing brought Jim out of his thoughts, and the scent of his cousin reached his nose before the man himself stepped into the room. Whenever Andrew went out for the evening, he always returned to check on Jim before heading home.

"Blair gone already?" Andrew asked, moving to sit in the chair.

"Yeah. About twenty minutes ago," Jim replied. "How was the date?"

Andrew gave a lopsided grin, his green eyes shining happily. "It was fantastic. We had a great time. I'm taking her out again Saturday night."

"That's great." Jim grinned, slapping his cousin on the knee.

"You need anything before I head out?"

"No. I'm good." Andrew rose and was about to walk away when Jim stopped him by saying, "Hold on a sec."

Andrew sat down again, lounging back in the chair. "Something on your mind, Jim?"

"Did you know that Blair is living out of his office at the university?"

With a nod, Andrew replied, "Yes." He held up a hand, having seen the anger flash across Jim's face, stopping his retort. "He only told me today. I told him he could come and stay with me."

"You did?" Jim frowned. He wasn't exactly sure why, but he didn't like that idea. It wasn't that he had anything against his cousin. Jim loved and trusted him like a brother.

"He declined," Andrew said with an amused grin.

"Oh." Lifting his good arm, Jim scratched the top of his head. "I don't like that he's sleeping in his office alone. It's not safe."

"He has nowhere else to go. Said that he couldn't afford an apartment right now."

"Maybe I can help him out by lending –”

"Jim," Andrew cut him off. "Your heart is in the right place, but I really doubt that Blair is going to accept money from you. I doubt he'd even accept a loan."

"Yeah. You're probably right." Jim rubbed at his jaw, thinking. "The cab money he keeps using to get here and back again must be draining his funds. I wonder if he'd let me pay him for keeping me company. "

"God knows I'd take money for putting up with you." Andrew chuckled and Jim sent him an unamused glare. "Honestly, Jim, Blair really seems to like you and he seems to enjoy keeping you company. I don't think he'd take money for that." Standing, Andrew smiled down at Jim, giving his shoulder a light squeeze. "I'm sure you'll come up with another idea. See you tomorrow." With that, Andrew turned and left Jim to his thoughts.

***

When Blair arrived at the loft the following evening, Steven was the one who let him in.

"I'm just cleaning up the dishes," Steven explained.

"Sorry I didn't make it for dinner. The meeting ran longer than I expected."

"That's okay." Blair felt a hand rest briefly on his shoulder. "Jim insisted I make you a plate. He figured you'd be hungry by the time you got here."

"Oh, man, that's great. I haven't eaten since this morning." With a hand signal, Blair released Tikal from her duties, and he listened as she made a beeline for Steven.

"Hi, girl," Steven said to Tikal. From the proximity of Steven's voice, Blair knew that the other man was kneeling down to give his dog a scratch on the head. "Don't tell your master," he said conspiratorially, "I saved you some bits of leftover chicken."

Blair laughed. From the sounds of Tikal's nails hitting the floor, he could tell she was happily cavorting around Steven as he knelt close to her. "You do know she's in love with you, don't you? She can't wait to get here to see you. I'm afraid one morning I'll wake up to find her gone, and she'll have moved in with you."

Using a cooing voice, Steven spoke to Tikal again. "You can come visit me anytime you want. You're a good girl." There was the sound of a wet lick, Steven's chuckle then the creak of his knees as he stood. "You know," Steven said to Blair. "You don't have to come here every night if you have other plans."

"I don't mind. I like coming to visit with Jim – with you and Andrew, too. As long as you guys don't mind me being here."

"Of course we don't. We like having you around." There was a loud bark and Steven laughed, "Yes, and you too, Tikal. It's unbelievable how that dog understands everything we say."

"She's always been like that." Blair grinned.

"Jim was sleeping the last time I checked. Why don't you have a seat and I'll get your dinner. I've kept it warming in the oven."

"Okay." Making his way to the kitchen table, Blair pulled out a chair and sat down, waiting while Steven prepared his meal.

"Okay, all set," Steven said. "The knife and fork are placed on either side of the plate and there's a glass of water at… two o'clock."

"Thanks, man." Blair felt for his fork and dug into his food. "This is really good."

He heard the chair opposite him slide across the hardwood floor as Steven sat down. "You know, Blair," he said earnestly, "You've been really good for Jim. I can't get over how much he's changed this past week."

"How so?" Blair asked before taking a drink of his water.

"He's happy."

"He wasn't before?" Blair frowned.

"No, not like he is now."

"Geez, I mean… I haven't really done anything except spend some time with him. Talking and eating together. While I'm glad Jim's been happy for the company, I doubt it's because of me."

"Jim has always been a loner. Has always held a lot of himself inside. He doesn't open up easily, or share what he's thinking or feeling."

"It's funny, but that's not the man I see. He's friendly and open and has a wicked sense of humor."

Blair heard Steven move his chair and when he spoke again, he was closer to Blair, and his voice was quiet and serious. "Until you came along, he'd never been this open with anyone. You've been seeing a side of him that he keeps hidden from everyone. But all that's been changing since you came along. He's opened up a bit more with Andrew and me. He smiles a lot more and like I said, he's happy. I'm so glad that he found you."

Blair swallowed his mouthful of food before he managed to say, "Steven… We're just friends. I think you're reading too much into our… friendship. I mean, I really like Jim. He's… special, but I really don't think I'm the reason for such a… change."

Steven's voice was sad when he said, "I don't know what Jim told you about our childhood. We didn't grow up in a very happy home, and I think because Jim was older than me, it affected him even more. I believe he has always wanted a loving relationship, in Jim's case, with a man, but it seemed beyond him. He saw how love destroyed our parents and it terrified him. In the past, he has tried relationships but they've always failed and I know he finally gave up, resigned to live his life alone." Steven paused. "It's not that Jim doesn't know how to love – it's just that he hasn't met the right person."

Setting his fork aside, Blair sat up straighter in his chair and felt his heart start to race. "I'm not that person."

"That's too bad, because I doubt you'll ever find another man like Jim. He's a good, honest and trustworthy man, and he's fiercely protective of the people he cares about. I think, given the chance, he could love you," Steven said gently. "I thought that maybe… you might want something special with Jim. That you might be falling in love with him. It's okay that you aren't… but just do me one favor?"

Blair could hear the hesitation in Steven's voice and his own voice was hesitant when he asked, "What's that?"

"Don't break his heart."

Blair dropped his head and briefly closed his eyes. "You've got it all wrong. Jim's not interested in me that way. I'm not falling in love with him. Besides, I'm not even his type."

"Yes, Blair, you are exactly his type. But that's not the issue here. As for falling in love… well… sometimes we don't always get a choice. It just happens." Steven paused briefly. "I'm going to finish cleaning up. Why don't you go wake Jim? He's slept long enough."

As Steven walked away from the table, Blair remained sitting, nibbling on his lower lip.

Love?

He wasn't falling in love with Jim… was he?

The concept startled him. Yes, there was a sexual tension between them, but that didn't classify as love. One day he wanted to love someone and have that person love him back, but love required trust and Blair had been let down too many times in the past to trust anyone he'd just met. He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. This was all too confusing. He decided to bury the thought of being in love with Jim in the dark recesses of his mind. Pushing away from the table, Blair made his way toward the small bedroom.

"Jim?" Blair softly called.

"Right here, Chief."

Blair turned toward the direction of Jim's voice. "What are you doing up?"

"I needed to stretch my legs."

Walking toward the sound of his friend's voice, he asked, "How are you feeling today?"

"Pretty good actually. The pain in my back and ribs is not as bad, and my arm isn't throbbing anymore."

Pleased that Jim's voice sounded much stronger today than yesterday, Blair bounced on his toes. "That's great! Before you know it, you'll be running around playing hero again."

"Don't count on it." Jim laughed. "I do not plan on having any more buildings land on top of me."

"I'd say that's a pretty smart plan." Blair chuckled. Hearing Jim's laughter sent a shiver of pleasure flowing through him that touched him deep in his soul. He liked being with Jim. The Sentinel made him laugh and made him feel like he finally fit in somewhere. Another thought entered his mind. The effects Jim was having on him and the way Blair felt about him, could it really be – love? Was it possible?

"Yo, Chief?"

Blair felt himself being gently shaken out of his thoughts. "Yeah?" he asked. The feel of warm hands being wrapped around his biceps was slightly distracting. He savored the strong grip and tried to listen to what Jim was saying.

"You okay?"

"Oh, definitely," Blair said with a laugh, his own hand moving to hold onto Jim's arms.

"Why don't you have a seat?" Jim asked, a touch of amusement in his voice. "I want to talk to you about something."

"You need help getting into bed?" Blair asked, surprised at the suggestive tone in his voice.

"I've got it covered, Chief."

Jim's hands fell away before ruffling Blair's hair playfully. Blair removed his own hands from Jim's arms and ducked, laughing. "Hey, man. Not the hair." He grinned at Jim's answering laugh, and skirted the bed to sit in his usual chair. "What's up?"

"You know I don't have a Guide. And you've been helping a lot with my senses. I don't think I've told you before, but I want you to know that I really appreciate it."

"No problem. I really don't mind helping you."

"I have an idea. What I'd like to do is have you move in here and pay you to help me keep my senses under control."

"What?" Blair's head snapped up and he stared in Jim's direction. "Wait a second. Let me get this straight. You want to pay me to be a Guide?"

"It's a win-win situation. I get the help with my senses and you get to have a place to stay."

"I can't believe what you're asking. I thought we were friends," Blair said angrily and quickly rose to his feet. "I don't need your money, man." He tried to walk away but before he could move, Jim grabbed his arm.

"Whoa. Hold on a second, Chief."

When Jim tugged, Blair had no choice, but to sink onto the mattress beside him.

"Please don't be angry," Jim said softly.

"I don't need money to be your friend, Jim," Blair said, unable to keep the hurt from his voice. "Or to help you with your senses. If you want my help, all you have to do is ask. I don't need bribe money or charity."

"It's not like that. I was trying to find a way that would work for both of us. Guess it didn't come out the way I wanted. Will you let me try to explain it better?"

Blair thought for a moment then answered, "Okay."

Jim took Blair's hand, his thumb stroking across Blair's palm. "Since you started coming here, my senses have never been more manageable. You're the first one – the first Guide – to ever have this type of effect on my senses. They've never been clearer, or sharper. I haven't had one zone-out, and before you, they were a regular occurrence." Jim let out a huff of breath before he said, "Blair, I'd be honored if you'd consider being my Guide." Jim's hand slid up his arm, then his fingers gently caressed Blair's cheek, causing him to shiver. "Also, I don't think it's safe for you to stay at the university. It's deserted at night and if something were to happen, you'd be there all alone."

Blair thought about what Jim was saying and admitted the offer was tempting. Very tempting. Not just because of Jim – although he was the biggest temptation of all – but also because it would be nice to live in a real home again. Since his mom had died, Blair never considered the places he lived as home. They were just too empty and lonely. But he felt those feelings changing every time he stepped inside the loft. He had been welcomed with open arms by Jim and his family, and he absorbed their caring like a sponge to water.

But what would it be like to live with Jim on a permanent basis? Would they be able to control the sexual tension that always seemed to be present? Would he be able to keep his barriers up if the temptation to bond became too great? He should turn around right now, walk away and never look back, but the thought of leaving Jim and never seeing him again was just too inconceivable. He loved the friendship they had formed and Blair knew he'd do anything to help him.

Blair hesitated a moment and when he replied, his words held a tone of sadness, "I can't be your Guide."

"Why not?" Jim asked, sounding confused and a little hurt.

"It's pretty obvious," Blair said, pointing at his eyes.

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Jim, I'm a broken Guide. How can I guide you out on the streets when I can't see where you are? It would be too dangerous – for both of us."

Jim gave a little tug on Blair's arm, causing him to fall forward. Blair brought up his other hand and it landed on Jim's chest. He could feel the other man's heat through the cotton of the T-shirt he wore. He knew their faces must be close because he could feel Jim's warm breath as it caressed his face – his lips. Deep inside, heat flared to life and he could feel the air around them sizzle with a sensual tension.

"You're not broken," Jim whispered just before he brushed his lips against Blair's.

Blair stiffened slightly. Jim must have felt it because he slid his good arm around Blair's back, holding him in place and drawing him closer. Warm lips brushed his mouth once again, caressing back and forth, exploring. Jim slid his mouth away, kissing across Blair's cheek to his ear where he nibbled on the lobe, tugging at the earrings. An electric jolt rippled through Blair and he released a small moan of pleasure. Jim licked at the sensitive spot just under his ear before moving down to suck gently on the side of his neck. This time the heat centered in his stomach then shot straight to his groin and Blair felt himself become instantly hard.

Jim returned to his mouth. This time when his lips were claimed, Blair relaxed and kissed him back, moving his lips against Jim's. The Sentinel groaned low in his throat and through the tips of his fingers, Blair could feel him shudder. He flattened his palm against the muscular chest and felt the heat radiating off Jim. Blair could sense his strength and power and when Jim moved to pull Blair even closer, the powerful muscles shifted beneath his hand. He leaned his body against Jim's and the Sentinel's hand came up to stroke his hair then slipped down his back, hesitated at the waist of his jeans before moving lower to cup and knead Blair's ass.

The tip of Jim's tongue ran along Blair's lower lip and he understood what the Sentinel wanted. He immediately parted his lips and Jim slipped inside, his tongue circling Blair's, stroking and teasing. It felt wonderful but Blair wanted more. He needed to taste the inside of Jim's mouth. He ran the tip of his tongue along Jim's bottom lip before slowly slipping inside. Immediately, Blair was almost overwhelmed as sensation after sensation filled his being. The feel of Jim, his sweet taste and textures, the heat and the closeness were intoxicating.

"Jim," Blair sighed into Jim's mouth, his voice filled with desire.

The bond sang through Blair and he could feel it tugging at his protective barriers. It was so tempting to give in to the call. In a sudden moment of weakness, he let his barrier slip slightly. Instantly, a blinding flash of light brightened Blair's dark world and an electric charge raced through his body, making his skin burn and his blood heat.

With a gasp, Blair slammed his barrier closed and jumped out of Jim's embrace. The second they lost contact, the light faded and he was surrounded by darkness once again. "Oh, man," he said in a shaky voice. Rubbing at his temples, he wondered what the hell had just happened.

"Chief?" Blair felt Jim shift on the mattress and a hand gently stroked along the back of his head. "What's wrong?"

"That was really weird." Blair lightly shook his head to clear it. "For a second there, I saw…"

"Saw what?" Jim prodded, his voice both worried and curious.

"I saw light."

"Light? How's that possible."

"I don't know. We were kissing and… it felt amazing." Blair smiled. "And then I felt the bond. And… I don't know… I guess I let my barriers slip. Next thing I know I'm seeing this bright, white light."

"What about now?" Jim moved Blair's hands away from his temples and took over by gently massaging the area.

"It's gone. As soon as I broke away from you, it disappeared."

"Has this ever happened before?"

Blair let out a small sigh of pleasure when Jim's hands slid up into his hair to rub his scalp. "No, never. The last time I saw light was just before I lost my sight."

The back of Jim's hand slowly stroked across Blair's cheek and he couldn't stop himself from leaning into the touch. "How did it happen?" When Blair didn't answer right away, Jim said, "You don't have to answer that if you don't want to."

"I'd like to tell you." Taking Jim's hand, Blair lowered it to his lap, locking their fingers together. "I usually just tell people that I lost my sight in an accident."

"But that's not what happened, is it?"

"No." Blair shook his head and briefly closed his eyes, remembering all too clearly what happened that day. "About six and a half years ago I met another Sentinel. Her name was Alex Barnes. She was having trouble with her senses and I agreed to help her under one condition – we don't bond." Blair paused, breathed in and released a deep breath. "I liked her, but she wasn't someone I wanted to be connected to for the rest of my life. At the time, she agreed, but as the months passed, she became agitated and started talking about us bonding, becoming one." A low growl suddenly came from Jim and the grip on his hand tightened. "Jim? What's wrong?"

"Nothing, Chief," Jim said calmly but his voice held a note of protectiveness. "Please. Continue."

"I always said no to her. Then one day I was working late in my office. Alex showed up, saying she'd come to apologize for a fight we'd had earlier that day. We talked for a little while and she made some tea. I drank about half my cup when I started feeling strange. I tried to stand up but felt dizzy. Alex helped me to the sofa but instead of sitting, she pushed me down onto my back. She started kissing me, pulling at my clothes and I could feel her mind pushing against my barriers. I fought her off as hard as I could but whatever she put in my drink made it hard for me to keep my barriers up and they began to slip. When I felt her push past them, I fought back even harder." Blair paused, the imagery still fresh enough that in his mind's eye, he could remember each and every detail. After a moment, he was able to continue, "Suddenly, it was as though something snapped in my mind and pain exploded through my head. There was this blinding flash then everything went dark. I was yelling at her to stop, that something had happened, that I couldn't see. It gets a little fuzzy after that. I vaguely remember her getting up and pulling me with her. We ended up outside near the fountain in front of the Anthro building. I felt pain shoot through the back of my head and the next thing I knew, I was face down in the fountain, my head being held under water."

"My God, Blair." Jim tugged Blair to him, wrapping a strong arm around his back. Blair went willingly, snuggling against the warm body. He felt safe and protected in Jim's embrace and the tone of Jim's voice – angry, protective, sad – only further strengthened the feeling. Blair reveled in the feelings for a moment before he finished his story.

"I passed out and woke up in the hospital. I was told that campus security happened to be patrolling the area and they saw Alex holding me under water. They were able to stop her before – well, before I drowned."

Blair felt Jim tighten his hold. "Please tell me she was arrested," he said tensely.

"Actually, she got away but three days after she attacked me, she tried to rob a bank and was shot and killed trying to get away. God, Jim, I was so naïve. She was a criminal and I never even knew."

"You're not naïve, Chief. You trust people and accept them at face value."

Blair shook his head and said quietly, "I don't trust people any more." He heard Jim suck in a startled breath before he released it. Blair froze and waited, knowing he'd just as much admitted that he couldn't trust anybody, and for a moment, he was terrified that Jim would take his admission as a personal affront. He sighed in relief when he felt Jim relaxed and embrace Blair in a gentle hug.

Jim's voice was incredibly gentle when he next spoke. "I know you don't. Now I understand why you were scared that first day you came to see me. You were afraid because I was a Sentinel."

"I wasn't afraid," Blair stated a little defensively.

Jim snorted softly. "Remember who you're talking to here, Chief."

Blair let out a light laugh. "Right. What was I thinking?" he answered jokingly. "Okay, I admit I was nervous, and, yes, a little bit afraid. But there was something about you that made me want to trust you."

Jim caressed Blair's back, rubbing his hand in small circles. "And here I am asking you for the same thing she did. I'm sorry."

"It's not the same, Jim. You are nothing like Alex."

"I would never force a bond with you."

"I know that." Blair reached up until he touched Jim's face and lightly ran his fingers along the stubbled jaw. "I know you would never hurt me like that."

"I'm glad," Jim said, placing a kiss to the top of Blair's head.

They were silent for a few minutes until Blair whispered, "Yes."

"Yes?"

"Yes, I'll move in here and help you with your senses, but I can't become your Guide. Also," Blair said, his voice stern, "I will not accept any money from you. I'm doing this because you're my friend and you need help."

A finger slid under Blair's chin and his head was raised. "Agreed." His lips were claimed in a soft kiss as though Jim were sealing their deal. "But don't decline becoming my Guide just yet. I think we'd make a good Sentinel and Guide team. We like one another and enjoy each other's company." Jim paused for a second. "And there's a definite attraction between us. Just think about it for a little while. Okay?"

Everything Jim said was right. They were very compatible, but Blair knew his blindness would be a big issue when it came to Jim and his work at the PD. Most Guides accompanied their Sentinels on the job. There was no way that he could do that. Was there a way they could work around it? Blair wasn't sure, but he decided that he would do as Jim asked and think about it for a little while. There was another issue that had crossed Blair's mind. If he was going to spend the rest of his life with someone, they'd have to love one another. Would Jim be capable of loving him? If so, would he be able to return that love? He wasn't sure what the answers were but in the meantime, he'd move in with Jim, help him with his senses while his friend healed and see where things led.

"Okay, Jim. I'll think about it."

"That's great," Jim said, sounding extremely pleased. "Thank you."

"Jim?" Andrew called from the living room, interrupting their conversation. "You've got company."

"Oh, geez. I forgot about Andrew," Blair muttered, making Jim chuckle. "Do you think he heard? Or saw us… you know, kissing?"

Jim gave Blair a quick rub on his arm. "Andy wouldn't say anything. Well, actually, he'd probably tease the shit out of both of us, but it's all in the family. Okay, Andrew," he called out, "send them in." Jim's lips touched Blair's ear when he whispered, "Prepare yourself, Chief."

"Why?" Blair asked, sitting up.

"The gang from the station is here."

"Maybe I should leave." When Blair tried to stand, the touch of Jim's hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"Please stay." Jim slid his hand down to take Blair's hand. "Since you'll be living here, you're going to have to meet them all eventually. Trust me, it's better to get it over with in one shot."

Unsure about Jim's words, Blair had no choice but to trust his judgment because there was barely a pause before an unknown male voice said, "He's in here, guys!" Blair heard the shuffle of many feet as people entered into the room. Even though they were all chattering at the same time, he could distinguish at least four or five voices.

"So, you going to introduce us, Jim?" the same male voice asked.

"If you'd all be quiet for a second, Brown, I will," Jim said teasingly. When there was silence, he started the introductions. "Some of you have already met Blair, so for the rest of you, this is Blair Sandburg. And I'm sure, thanks to my partner, you already know how we met." Once again everyone started talking at once. "Guys. Guys. Come on. You don't want to scare him off within the first minute. Give him a chance to get to know you before he decides to run screaming from the room."

"Ha, ha, Ellison. Very funny." Blair catalogued the female voice with an Australian accent as the second of Jim's friends. He knew she'd moved closer to him when he smelled her perfume. "Don't worry, Sandy, we're perfectly safe. These blokes can be a little overwhelming at first, but they grow on you after a while. By the way, I'm Megan Conner."

Blair stood and with a warm smile, held his hand out and it was quickly shaken. "Hi, Megan. Nice to meet you."

"Okay, Chief, let's get the rest of introductions out of the way in an orderly fashion. The guy who came into the room first is Henri Brown."

Blair's hand was firmly shaken. "Hello, Henri."

"Next is Joel Taggart."

"Joel," Blair repeated, holding out his hand.

"Blair, it's very nice to meet you," Joel said. Blair immediately liked the man's voice. It sounded friendly and caring.

"Thanks," Blair answered. "Same here."

"Rafe you already know," Jim said.

"Hey, Rafe." They shook hands. "Nice seeing you again," Blair said, earning him a moment of awkward silence. "It's cool. Just a turn of phrase," he explained. He grinned when he felt the moment of tension dissolve.

"And this is my captain, Simon Banks."

Blair held out his hand yet again and almost shifted back a little closer to Jim when the presence he felt before him seemed to displace his air space. "Captain," he replied somewhat tentatively. His hand was grasped in two very large ones, and the deep voice was friendly when he spoke.

"Sandburg. It's nice to finally meet the guy who's keeping Ellison here from becoming a statistic. Been telling him for years to find a Guide. He's finally taken my advice. I see."

"Does that mean you're going to be Jim's Guide?" Megan cut in, sounding hopeful.

Blair hesitated, not sure how he should answer. He promised Jim he'd think it over and he would. He hadn't said no, but he hadn't exactly said yes either. Before he could say anything, Jim came to his rescue.

"I only just mentioned it to him. Blair's going to think about it first before he makes a decision."

"I don't blame you, Blair," Rafe said with a chuckle. "I don't know if I'd want to be stuck with this guy for the rest of my life."

"You'd better watch it, Rafe, or you'll be looking for a new partner," Jim jabbed back.

Everyone laughed, but before another word could be uttered, Andrew called to them saying that there was coffee and brownies in the kitchen. There were cheers of delight and in almost an instant, the room emptied leaving Jim and Blair alone.

"You doing okay, Chief?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, man, I'm good. They seem like a great bunch of people. And they sure do like to tease you." Blair laughed. "You're lucky to have such wonderful friends and family," he said wistfully. "I can tell they all care for you very much."

"I care for them, too. But if you tell them I said that, I'll have to kill you," Jim joked, making Blair chuckle.

"When I was growing up, I always used to wish I had a brother or a sister, or even a good friend that I could depend on."

"Well, you can borrow one of mine any time you want."

Before they could say anything more to one another, Henri called from the living room. "Come on, Ellison! Get your ass in here!"

"You ready for the next assault?" Jim asked.

"You bet," Blair replied, grinning. He carefully helped Jim to his feet. Together they slowly moved into the living room. As he assisted Jim into a comfortable spot on the sofa, Blair wondered what it would be like to have someone to rely on – someone like Jim. He wasn't sure if he was comfortable with that idea or not because ever since he was a teenager, life had taught him that relying on someone wasn't safe.

***

Blair sat at his desk, typing on his laptop, which had been modified with a Braille keypad. There was a knock on his door and he called for the person to enter.

"Hey, Professor."

Instantly, Blair recognized who it was and replied in a pleased voice, "Andy! Hi. What are you doing here?"

"I thought Jim called you… to let you know I'd be coming by to pick up your stuff and take you to the loft."

"Is it seven already?"

"Seven fifteen, actually."

"Oh, man. Sorry I wasn't ready for you. I got working on my computer and totally lost track of time. Just let me shut the laptop down, grab a few files, then I'll be ready to go."

"Take your time, kid. There's no rush."

"You know," Blair chuckled, sliding some papers into his backpack, "that I'm twenty-six years old. I'm hardly a kid."

"Yeah, well, I'm forty-one, so you're a kid to me," Andrew replied in jest. "Hi, Tikal. You're a good girl. You like me the best, don't you? Yes, you do."

"It's funny," Blair said. "Jim's the one who saved her, yet she seems to like you and Steven better."

"It's probably a personality thing. Jim doesn't have one," Andrew joked.

"Sure he does," Blair said defending his friend. "Jim's very nice, funny, caring, charming…" He trailed off as he realized what he was saying.

"I think Blair likes Jim. Don't you agree, Tikal?" The dog barked once as if answering Andrew.

"I like him as a friend, that's all," Blair stated defensively.

Blair sensed Andrew come closer and a hand came to rest on his shoulder. "It's okay, Blair. You don't have to explain anything to me. And for what it's worth, Jim likes you, too." Blair was about to protest, but Andrew interrupted him. "Is all your stuff packed?"

"Yeah, it's next to the door." Blair pointed to two bags of clothes and a small box containing a few personal items.

"That's it?"

"Everything else was lost in the fire."

"I'm sorry about that," Andrew said sincerely.

"It's okay, man. It was only stuff. Tikal was the most important thing to me in that warehouse. I'll be forever grateful to Jim for getting her out alive. I'm just sorry that he was injured."

"Jim's a pretty tough guy. He's healing really well and I know with you being permanently at the loft, he'll heal even faster. You're good for him, Blair."

Blair was pleased at Andrew's praise even though he knew he was blushing at the man's words. "Thanks, man. But like I said, we're just friends who enjoy one another's company. Besides, I owe Jim for what he did for me. If being there helps him heal faster then I'm there for as long as he needs me."

"I have a feeling that'll be for a very long time," Andrew replied softly before quickly changing the subject. "Okay, kid, let's get your stuff out to the car."

"Sounds like a plan," Blair replied. As he stood up, a sudden bright light flashed across his eyes before plunging him back into darkness. He stumbled, reaching out for his desk. Andrew's hands instantly steadied him.

"Blair? You all right?" Andrew asked with concern.

"Yeah. Thanks." He held onto Andrew's arm until he felt steady on his feet once again.

"What the hell just happened?"

"Over the past few days, I've been getting these weird flashes of light in my eyes." Blair didn't mention that it had started when he and Jim had shared that amazing kiss.

"Oh, right. Jim mentioned something about that. He seemed worried. Weren't you supposed to go the doctor?"

"I did this morning. Had a whole bunch of tests done, but my doctor didn't find anything wrong. He wants to wait and see if it gets any worse before doing more invasive tests. He didn't seem to be too worried, though. Said that it's happened with other blind people where they see flashes of light. So for now it's a wait-and-see situation." Something else Blair didn't mention was that the doctor had told him because his sight had been taken due to a forced bonding, chances were high that a reciprocal bonding would reverse it.

"I hope it works out okay." Andrew gave Blair's shoulder a light squeeze.

"Thanks, man," Blair replied with a smile.

Blair's things were loaded into the back of Andrew's pick-up. While they drove across town to the loft, Blair once again contemplated his feelings for Jim. The kisses they had shared had been amazing, but could he bond for life to a Sentinel just to find out if the doctor's theory was correct? He instantly knew the answer to that. No, he couldn't. He had to love the Sentinel and be loved in return. It had happened slowly but Blair trusted Jim now, cared about him and enjoyed being with him. When, exactly, had he started to trust Jim and let him inside? Blair wasn't sure. But he had never trusted anyone the way he trusted Jim. The man was everything he'd ever wanted and he loved him.

"Oh, God. I love him," Blair whispered to himself, stunned at his realization.

Blair closed his eyes as emotions overwhelmed him. He was in love with Jim Ellison. He was in love with a man who was terrified of that same love. A combination of both joy and sadness filled Blair. Finally, after so many years of distrust, he was ready to trust someone enough to love them, yet that person would probably never love him back. For now, he'd have to keep his feelings hidden until he knew what Jim's feelings were toward him. Rubbing his hands over his face, Blair wondered if his life could get any more complicated than it was already.

***

Jim had been resting in bed when he heard Blair enter the loft, but so far, the other man hadn't come into the room to see him. That was not like Blair. Yes, sometimes the anthropologist would take a few minutes to talk with either Andrew or Steven but even then he'd seek Jim out almost immediately. He'd never before waited for over thirty minutes. Dialing up his hearing, Jim took a few seconds to listen to Blair and Andrew's conversation then zeroed in solely on Blair. His friend's heartbeat and respiration were slightly elevated and Jim could detect the scent of anxiety. Something was definitely wrong. He waited until Andrew left the loft for the evening before carefully moving out of the bed.

Holding his sore arm against his side, Jim slowly shuffled into the living area, keeping his gaze on his Guide. Blair was in the kitchen, stirring a pot of bubbling liquid, still not making any move to come to Jim's room. He wore a deep-red shirt and black jeans that hugged his thighs and ass rather nicely. For a moment, all Jim could think about was holding Blair against him again. His hands ached to trace the curves of the nicely molded backside. He wanted to touch Blair, taste him, be with him and, God, how he wanted to be in him. Lately that's all he'd been thinking about. Wondering what it'd be like to be sliding in and out of that wonderful body.

Although Jim hadn't dated in a while, when he did, he hadn't favored one specific type of guy and he'd never found anyone, Guide or not, who intrigued him as much as Blair. When he was with Blair, he forgot all about being on the outside looking in. With Blair, he belonged. And just looking at him caused a stirring deep within Jim's soul, arousing him on a more primal level. He swallowed hard, trying to ignore the pressure he felt between his legs and moved closer to Blair.

"Hey, Chief," Jim said.

Startled, Blair jumped, his blue eyes going wide and the spoon he'd held in his hand went clattering to the floor. As quickly as his aching body allowed, Jim moved to Blair's side, placing a hand on his back.

"I didn't hear you," Blair answered a little breathlessly.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I should have let you know I was coming into the room." Jim picked up the fallen spoon, placing it in the sink before retrieving a clean one. "Here's another spoon," Jim said, placing it in Blair's hand.

"Thanks." Jim waited for Blair to say more, but he remained silent. He shifted a little away from Jim, stirring the pot's ingredients with a little more force than was necessary.

"What's going on?"

"Nothing," Blair tried to say calmly, but his accelerated heartbeat gave him away. "I'm just making some dinner for us."

Quickly plucking the spoon out of Blair's hand, Jim shifted him away from the stove. "I'd like to know why you're avoiding me. Did I do something to upset you?"

"No. Of course not."

Suddenly, Jim remembered Blair's morning appointment with his doctor. Fearing that something may be terribly wrong, he tentatively asked, "Did something happen at the doctor's today?"

"No," Blair answered way too quickly, causing Jim's concern to intensify.

Without another word, Jim took Blair's hand and led him to the sofa where he pushed him down onto the cushions before seating himself next to his friend.

"You're not acting like yourself, Chief, and I'm getting worried. Please, tell me what's wrong."

Blair must have heard the fear in Jim's voice because he felt for Jim's face and lightly stroked his fingers along his cheek. "Honestly, Jim, nothing is wrong," Blair assured. "Doctor Mallery didn't find anything wrong with my eyes."

"He said something else to you, though. Didn't he? Something you don't want to tell me."

Blair's hand dropped away from Jim's face. Briefly, he closed his eyes and nodded. "I don't want to talk about it right now, but I assure you, it's nothing bad. I just need some time to think over what he told me. When I'm ready, I'll talk to you about it. Okay?"

"Promise?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, I promise," Blair said with a smile.

Leaning back into the cushions, Jim draped his arm around Blair's shoulders. At first Blair stiffened, then he slowly relaxed against Jim's side, resting his head on Jim's shoulder. "You would tell me right away if it was something bad, wouldn't you?"

"I told you, Jim, it's not bad, but if it was, then yes, I'd tell you."

"Okay." Jim released a sigh of relief. He was still concerned about what was going on with Blair, but at least his fear that something was terribly wrong had been alleviated.

They sat in comfortable silence for a few more minutes, Jim soaking up the feel of the man he held. His stomach suddenly growled, sounding loud in the quiet loft, and both men laughed.

"How about I help you fix the rest of dinner?"

"You sure you're up to it?"

"I feel fine, Chief," Jim replied, but when he stood up, the muscles in his back complained heavily, causing him to groan.

"I heard that, Jim," Blair said as he walked into the kitchen.

"I said I'm fine."

"Liar," Blair retorted. "You know, now that I'm living here, if you have a relapse, your family will blame me."

"Naw," Jim said, moving passed Blair to retrieve the fresh loaf of bread. "They're too indebted to you for keeping me busy and in a relatively good mood."

"I've heard your family and friends say that you’re the moody, brooding type, but I just don't see it," Blair said, carefully chopping a tomato to put in the spaghetti sauce. "With me, you've always been friendly, funny and kind, so it's hard for me to believe that there's this other side of you."

"It's true, Chief. Sometimes I can be… I'll call it 'grumpy'." Coming up behind Blair, Jim slid his hands around the younger man's waist, nuzzling his nose into the long curly hair. "But you've definitely helped change that since you've come into my life." Turning Blair around to face him, Jim quickly covered the sensual lips with his own, kissing him long and hard. Understanding that his relationship with Blair might only be temporary, Jim was willing to risk taking these intimate moments. When Blair could finally afford a place of his own, he would probably move out and disappear from Jim's life. He figured it was safe to enjoy the short time they had together.

"Mmmm, you taste good," Jim said, licking his lips after releasing Blair's mouth.

Blair's hands had moved to Jim's hips, where he held on tightly. His breathing was coming out in short gasps, his eyes were closed, and his lips were red and kiss-swollen. He looked simply edible to Jim and for a second, he wished he could lead Blair up the stairs to his bedroom and make long, passionate love to the man, but he wouldn't go that far unless he had Blair's consent.

When Blair's lids slid open, Jim could see the conflicting emotions as they raced across his face. Fear was mixed in with the pleasure, so Jim decided to back down and placed one last kiss on the tip of Blair's nose. "Sauce is burning, Emeril," Jim chuckled and playfully slapped Blair on his ass to get him moving.

"Shit!" Blair quickly spun around, dedicating his full attention back on the sauce once again.

***

It had been three days since Blair had moved in with Jim. Even though the detective still felt a bit sore, he told Blair that he did feel strong enough to tackle the stairs. As of last night, he had moved back upstairs to the loft bedroom. Blair now took up residence in the small room Jim had been using. The problem was that the scent of the Sentinel's aftershave hung strongly in the air. The spicy aroma was causing some pretty wild fantasies to flash across Blair's mind. Add to that the thought of bonding and being in love with Jim, made it impossible for him to fall asleep. With a sigh of frustration, Blair pulled back the covers and got up. He had heard Jim go to bed a few hours ago, so he quietly made his way into the deserted living room.

Once there, he flopped down onto the sofa, leaned his head back on the cushions and closed his eyes. He was still unsure what to do about the bonding situation, but he did know that he needed to talk to Jim about it. He wondered if maybe Jim's feelings for him were changing. The Sentinel certainly touched him a lot more and seemed to like stealing kisses from him – not that Blair was complaining. He relished their closeness and the intimacy they had formed. But if they were to bond, it would be for a lifetime, and he understood that the prodigious act would irrevocably change things between them forever. And he still wasn't sure if he could go through with it if Jim didn't love him with his whole heart. With a sigh of frustration, Blair raised his hands and dragged his palms down over his face.

"Chief? You okay?" Jim's low, soft voice caused a sensual shiver to run down Blair's spine.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I just couldn't sleep. What are you doing up?"

"My back is bothering me and I left the Tylenol down here."

Blair listened as Jim made his way into the bathroom. There was the sound of running water then a few seconds later, Jim returned to the living room.

"If you want, I can give you a back massage." Blair snapped his mouth shut, stunned by his suggestion. Right now, the last thing he should do was to get that close to Jim.

"Oh, man, that would be great." Jim grinned. "I've got some massage oil in the bathroom. Why don't you head upstairs and I'll get the oil."

"Yeah, okay," Blair did his best to keep the hesitancy out of his voice as he rose to his feet. Reaching the staircase, he held onto the railing and carefully made his way up the stairs. When he got to the top landing, he moved to where he knew the chair was and sat down, waiting for Jim to return. Seconds later, he heard Jim's footsteps as they brought him closer and as much as Blair tried, he couldn't stop his heart from racing.

Blair sensed Jim's close presence just before a hand was gently placed on his shoulder. "Chief, I promise you that nothing will happen between us unless you want it to. If you feel uncomfortable, you can go right back downstairs. However, I've got to tell you that I was really looking forward to your massage," he said with a little chuckle, relieving some of Blair's anxiety. "And my back really is bothering me."

Taking a calming breath, Blair nodded with a small smile. "Lie facedown on the bed." He barely held back a gasp at the insinuation in that request, but he managed to tamp down the urge to giggle hysterically. Hearing Jim move onto the bed, Blair stood up, and slowly approached, sitting down on the edge of the mattress. "Where's the oil?" he asked.

"Right here." Jim placed the bottle in his hand. "It's got a flip top."

"Okay," Blair answered, flipping open the cap. He shifted so he was closer to Jim's back and poured some liquid into his palm. Rubbing his hands together, he warmed the oil before touching Jim's skin. Blair began to work at the knotted muscles, feeling their lean strength beneath his fingertips. Knowing he could get better pressure if he straddled Jim's thighs, he positioned himself so that he had a leg on either side of Jim's torso and tried to ignore the curve of Jim's firm ass as it pressed intimately against his cock. Using his body weight, he pushed against the tight back muscles. He moved his hands in slow, steady strokes, starting at the small of Jim's back. The skin under his hands was warm and soft, but the underlying muscles were firm and well toned, telling him that Jim exercised regularly and kept his body in trim condition. Using the balls of his hands, he pressed firmly and pushed at the same time, moving up Jim's broad back inch by inch. Blair let his hands guide him to the tense spots, and he kneaded the tight muscles until he felt them start to relax under his ministrations.

Stretching up a little, Blair reached for Jim's shoulders and curled his fingers around them. His hands moved on the slick skin, massaging the well-muscled neck. After giving each muscle a firm workout, he gently began squeezing and rubbing them. With a grin, Blair felt Jim's skin ripple, and he heard the small moans of pleasure that escaped his friend's lips.

"Like that?" he asked huskily, his own body taking notice of the heat under his butt.

"God, Chief," Jim murmured in pleasure, his voice husky yet almost breathless to Blair's sensitive hearing. "You're good at this. I haven't felt this good in weeks."

"I aim to please." Blair smiled. Rubbing his hands over the Sentinel's back again, he found that the muscles were much more pliable now and noted that the tension had seeped from the large body. His smile grew wider at the thought that Jim was like so much putty under his hands.

"That's much better." Jim sighed.

"Great," Blair replied happily. With a final glide of his fingers over the smooth back, he climbed off Jim to sit on the edge of the mattress. He hesitated for a moment, unsure what he should do. Should he stay, or should he leave? Leaning with his backside against the mattress, he let out a quick huff of breath and started to rise, "Ah, Jim… Listen… I should…" He barely had time to take a step away when a firm hand grabbed his wrist.

"Don't go."

The low, throaty sound of Jim's voice vibrated in Blair's ears, making him immobile. It wasn't what he said but the tone he used that caused an answering call deep in Blair's soul. He felt Jim's thumb as it slowly circled his palm, the touch making tingling sensations rush up his arm to center in his chest before refocusing in his groin.

"Blair," Jim whispered huskily, saying his name as though it were the most precious thing to him.

The thought of leaving quickly left Blair's mind as he suddenly remembered the last kiss they'd shared. It had made his heart race and his blood heat, and he wanted to experience it again. Even though he felt a mild fear, Blair trusted Jim not to hurt him, or do anything that would make him feel uncomfortable.

"May I kiss you?" Blair asked.

A hand lightly ran across Blair's cheek, stopping to tuck a lock of hair behind his ear. "You don't have to ask, Chief. You can kiss me anytime you want."

Leaning forward, Blair touched his lips to Jim's and instantly, every inch of him began to tingle. Jim kissed him back, brushing a tongue against Blair's bottom lip. Moving his hands up, Blair cupped Jim's face, urging him closer. He opened his mouth, inviting Jim to slip inside to taste him. The anticipation of waiting for the hot, wet tongue to touch his own nearly drove him crazy. He released a small groan when Jim finally slipped inside his mouth, touching, tasting, stroking and leaving wonderful sensations in his path. This amazing man simply stole his breath away and left him wanting so much more.

"Jim," Blair groaned. "Make love to me."

"Have you ever been with a man, Blair?" Jim asked softly, placing a light kiss at Blair's temple.

Blair felt his heart skip a beat at the question and he whispered, "No, but I want to be with you."

Without another word, Jim slipped a hand to the back of Blair's neck, pulling him closer so they could share a long, deep kiss. Blair felt himself drowning in wonderful sensations that started in his chest and coiled all the way into his groin. He felt Jim's tongue begin to slip from his mouth so he followed its retreat. He invaded Jim's mouth just as Jim had done to him minutes ago. Blair felt his lover's body tremble under his hands. It made Blair even more aroused when he realized that he was having the same effect on Jim as Jim was having on him.

Large hands stroked up and down Blair's back then gave a little pull and he went willingly, lying half on top of Jim.

"What about your back?" Blair asked, his voice breathless.

"It's fine," Jim replied, kissing Blair's cheek and jaw.

Arms embraced him then one hand moved up to caress his hair, while the other slid lower to slip just beneath the elastic of Blair's boxers. They didn't go any lower, just caressed that place over and over again. His heart raced and once again the feeling of heat rushed through his body.

He felt Jim take hold of the hem of his T-shirt and when it was tugged up, Blair shifted so it could be pulled over his head. As soon as it was removed, Jim maneuvered him to lie directly on top of him, and they both groaned when their cocks brushed against each other through the fabric of their boxers. Fingers danced over his bare skin, tracing up Blair's spine to the base of his neck. When they moved back down again, they took a different path, this time caressing down his sides and over the small of his back before coming to rest near the top of his ass.

His own hands roamed over Jim and Blair reveled in the feel of the body below him. From what his fingers discovered, Jim was in awesome shape, all hard and muscular. That turned Blair on even more. Never in his life had he been this aroused by a lover, and he wasn't sure if he'd ever get enough of Jim.

With a deep growl, Jim flipped Blair over onto his back. Hands explored up and down his chest, stroking his nipples. When Jim's thumbs brushed across the taut peaks, he felt a jolt shoot clear down to his toes. His mouth was claimed again, a hot tongue sweeping deep inside, taunting and teasing him until all Blair could do was cling to Jim and groan in pleasure.

Jim shifted to Blair's side and took his ringed nipple into his mouth, sucking gently. The sensation was almost overwhelming and he loudly moaned Jim's name, sliding his fingers into his hair to hold his head in place. His nipple was sucked and licked a few more times before attention was turned to the opposite one. Blair felt fingers trail to the waistband of his boxers. "Lift up," Jim whispered and Blair obeyed, breathing shallowly as the material was slipped from his body. He felt Jim shift around on the bed and his heart skipped a beat when he realized, from the sound of material against skin, that Jim was removing his own underwear as well.

For a brief second, Blair allowed himself to wonder what the hell he was doing. He shouldn't be doing this with Jim. Shouldn't be putting his heart on the line like this. Shouldn't be taking this chance without knowing exactly how Jim felt about him. All thoughts suddenly ceased when his lips were once again claimed by his Sentinel and the large, hard body covered him, pushing him into the mattress just the way he had dreamed. Blair arched up with his hips, feeling Jim's hard cock slide against his own. He moaned loudly at the intensity of the contact and tightened his arms around Jim's waist.

They continued to kiss as Jim slid a hand around Blair's back and slowly shifted them onto their sides. Jim's hand began to move, the fingers blazing a trail on Blair's skin as they caressed down the length of his back, coming to rest on his ass. Fingers squeezed and fondled each butt-cheek before Blair felt a fingertip slowly dip down into his cleft where it rubbed gently against his opening. He couldn't hold back his cry of pleasure and he quickly pushed back against the digit. His whole body throbbed as wonderful sensations flowed through him, making him want to experience more.

"Jim… Please," Blair moaned.

"Easy, my Guide," Jim breathed against his ear and shifted on the mattress.

"Please, don't stop," Blair pleaded when he felt Jim move away.

Jim's deep, throaty chuckle filled the air. "Don't worry. I won't. I'm going to make you feel so good. Going to move you to your stomach, Chief."

"Okay," Blair replied breathlessly. Hands gently maneuvered him onto his stomach and a pillow was placed under his hips. He couldn't help feeling a little vulnerable in this position and Jim must have picked up on his nervousness.

"Easy. Just relax," Jim soothed, gently stroking Blair's back.

It didn't take long for the light touch and warm, silky voice to calm Blair. "More," he demanded.

"Anything you want, babe." Jim chuckled softly. "I'm going to get you ready now."

"Yes." Blair groaned, moving his legs farther apart in invitation.

"One finger first."

When Jim's finger teased across his pucker a few times, it caused his body to shiver in anticipation. He gasped slightly as the slick warm finger pressed against him, breached his tight ring for the very first time and slowly pushed all the way inside.

Jim took his time preparing Blair, his gentle handling causing only minimal discomfort in Blair. Three fingers were now inside him and every cell, every fiber in his body, focused on the fingers and what they were doing to him. Jim used those digits to pleasure Blair for a few more minutes before slowly withdrawing. As he felt his ass cheeks being parted, Blair briefly wondered if he should be nervous or scared because of what was about to happen, but he realized that he wasn't feeling either of those sensations. He was thrilled at every touch, every caress, every kiss his Sentinel bestowed on him. Jim was making him feel and experience things that no other lover had ever done before.

"Ready, Chief?" Jim asked huskily.

"God, yes," Blair answered.

His breath caught in his chest when he felt Jim's cock brush against him before carefully pushing inside. Although the first few seconds of penetration were painful, it soon gave way to the most exquisite pleasure he'd ever felt and it pierced him to his core. The entry was maddeningly gradual but when Jim was finally fully sheathed, he leaned over Blair and nuzzled the hair away from his neck so he could gently suck and nip at the skin.

"You are so damn beautiful," Jim whispered before he began to move his hips.

At first, the thrusts were slow but as their passion grew higher, his lover built up a quicker rhythm. Blair shifted his hips to meet Jim's next thrust and the motion caused Jim's cock to push against Blair's prostate. An incredible sensation filled him and he cried out, the passion that rushed through him almost too intense to endure.

"God, Jim," Blair panted breathlessly.

"I know." Jim placed a gentle kiss on Blair's cheek. "Just let go. I've got you."

Blair did as Jim requested and for the first time in a very long time, he let himself feel and experience everything without thinking beyond the moment. Suddenly, the bond flared to life and quickly surged between them, the enticingly sweet song calling to Blair and he was totally helpless against its power. His barriers dropped and the instant they did, Blair felt Jim's mind touch his own. It was like nothing he'd ever experienced before. His heart burst with a joy so intense that it threatened to overpower him. The bond raced through his veins, the pleasure of it burning in its force, merging Guide and Sentinel together. Making them one being, forever linked, heart and soul. They climaxed together at the same instant that the bond was forged. Unexpectedly, a brilliant light ripped across Blair's vision and pain seared through his mind. He cried out, hands flying to clutch at his head. He heard Jim call his name before everything went black once again and he had no power over the darkness that enveloped him.

***

As Blair gradually slipped back to consciousness, he became aware of his surroundings. He was in bed, lying on his back, and his right hand was being held while, at the same time, fingers combed through his hair in a gentle caress. He slowly opened his eyes and his breath caught in his throat when his vision wasn't greeted by the usual total blackness. What he saw could only be described as a gray fog. He blinked a few times and the gray slowly gave way to light. Another blink and suddenly his vision cleared completely. As the world around him came into view, the first thing he saw was the worried face of a man watching him intently.

"Jim?" Blair asked, his voice trembling.

"I'm right here, Blair," the familiar voice replied and a hand reached up to gently brush his cheek.

Speechless, he simply stared into the most incredible blue eyes he'd ever seen. As the realization of what was happening finally hit him, his heart began to race.

He could see!

He could see Jim!

He could also feel the hum of the bond as it flowed through him.

Suddenly, his breathing began to quicken as his heartbeat accelerated rapidly and his skin broke out in a cold sweat. Gasping for breath, Blair quickly sat up, reaching out for Jim. He tried to calm himself down so a panic attack wouldn't overtake him but the breathing techniques he normally used seemed to be useless.

"Easy. Easy," Jim said comfortingly. He took Blair into his arms and slowly rocked back and forth in a soothing motion.

The instant the Sentinel touched him, Blair felt calming emotions being sent through the link they had established. His body relaxed immediately and his breathing became easier once again. He held onto his lover for a few more seconds, soaking up the comfort, before he looked up into Jim's face. Not able to sit still as excitement again raced through him, Blair hopped off the bed and quickly paced back and forth. "Oh my, God! Oh my, God!" he repeated over and over again, his hands waving animatedly.

Within a heartbeat, Jim was standing in front of him, stopping his movements by placing his hands on Blair's shoulders. "What is it? What's wrong?" Jim asked, the concern clearly evident in his voice. "You're scaring me! Are you okay?"

Reaching out his trembling hand, Blair let his fingers slowly trace along Jim's strong cheekbone. "Jim," he blurted out, grinning broadly. "I – Jim, I can see! I can see!" He laughed joyously, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"What?" Jim asked, staring at Blair in shock.

"Jim, this morning… I didn't believe him! Well, I did, but I didn't want to just… try it!"

"Hold on a second, Chief. Who didn't you believe and what didn't you want to try?"

"My doctor! He told me this morning that if I were to bond, I might regain my sight. God, I can't believe this! It's true! I can see. I can see you." Blair threw his arms around Jim, his tears smearing on the sculpted chest under his cheek."

"My, God, Chief! This is incredible! It's a miracle!" Jim held Blair tight and his joyous laughter joined in with Blair's.

"I can't believe it, Jim! I can see! After six fucking years! I can see!" Blair pulled back and stared into Jim's face, grinning widely. "I see you, Jim. God, you're so damned gorgeous! Oh, man, look at your eyes. What an incredible color of blue! This is a really nice place," Blair rambled on, taking in his surroundings. "I like the lamp. Love the color of the sheets. Hey! They match your eyes!" Blair grabbed Jim's arm, running his fingers over the firm skin. "Jim, you're so beautiful," he whispered, his hands mapping Jim's chest and neck, moving up to his face, across his chin and down his nose. "Stick out your tongue." At Jim's incredulous look, Blair laughed. "Come on, Jim, I want to see it! I want to see everything! Hey, where's my dog? Tikal!" He turned toward the stairs before a strong arm wrapped around his waist.

"Whoa. Blair, slow down! You've just… miraculously regained your sight and I think we need to get you checked out. Now."

"Tikal!" Blair fell to his knees when he saw his dog and with a big smile, opened his arms. She must have sensed Blair's excitement because she hurried over to him, her tail wagging happily. "Look at you!" Blair laughed, running his hands over the soft grey and white fur. She barked and butted Blair's shoulder with her large head, knocking him onto his ass. He laughed hysterically when she leapt onto his chest to quickly lick at his face.

"Okay, you two. Break it up." Jim laughed. "We really should get to the hospital."

"All right. I'm coming." Blair grinned up at Jim, noticing the dark red shirt he wore with black jeans. "Oh, man, you look amazing!" He quickly moved Tikal off him and got to his feet. "This color looks great on you," he said running his hands over the soft material. "Feels great on you, too." He wiggled his eyes suggestively.

Jim smiled brightly at him, happiness mixed with worry shining in his amazing blue eyes. "Come on, Chief. Let's get you dressed." With a light kiss to Blair's nose, Jim took his hand and led him down the stairs.

Once they hit the bottom step, Blair quickly looked around, trying to take in everything he was seeing. "This room is fantastic. Tons of space. Needs a little color though. I can take care of that for you. Oh, wow! Look at that view!" Blair changed directions, heading for the balcony doors, tugging Jim along with him. "God, it's beautiful. Look at all the lights, Jim. And the way they glitter off the water."

Jim slid an arm around Blair's shoulders. "You're going to love it in the daytime, Chief. All the sailboats are out in the bay."

"I can't wait to see it in the sunlight!" He bounced happily on his feet.

"Will it… stay?" Jim asked, worry evident in his voice.

Blair glanced sideways at his lover. "What? My eyesight? Hell, Jim, I think so. But the doctor didn't say, so I guess we could ask him. Really, man, I'm good. But because you're so wonderful, I'm willing to humor you. Let's go to the hospital."

"All right. Let's get going then!" Jim chuckled and once again, taking Blair by the hand, led the way to Blair's room.

As he was ushered into his room, it suddenly hit Blair that the place deep in his heart that had been cold and empty for so long, was now overflowing with warmth and a joy so astounding that his whole body was vibrating from the emotion. And this amazing feeling was all because of Jim. He closed his eyes, and held onto the happiness that flooded through him. God, he wanted this feeling to last forever. Wanted to always be a part of Jim and his life. But more than anything he wanted Jim to truly be in love him.

***

After undergoing numerous tests at the hospital, all of which came back negative, Blair's doctor came to the same conclusion he had the morning before. That if Blair were to bond, it was entirely possible that his vision would return. Since that was exactly what had happened, Blair was given a clean bill of health and was told to contact his doctor if he developed any problems.

He was coming down from the adrenaline high caused from his excitement and he could feel his body was beginning to tire. "Man, I'm beat," Blair said as he flopped down onto the sofa. "Hi, girl," he greeted Tikal when she came over to nuzzled his hand.

"You want some coffee, Chief?" Jim asked, walking into the kitchen.

"Love some. Thanks."

Leaning his head against the back of the sofa, Blair closed his eyes. He was still having a hard time accepting the fact that his vision had returned. It felt like a dream. A pretty amazing dream, but he was terrified that he'd wake up at any moment and everything would be back to the way it had been.

"Here you go." Jim's soft voice pulled Blair out of his thoughts. Slowly, he opened his eyes and his heart pounded in his ears when he saw his Sentinel standing before him. After handing Blair his coffee cup, Jim sat down beside him. "You okay?"

"I'm great!" Blair grinned. He stared down into his cup and dipped a fingertip into the liquid. "It's dark and looks… wet." At Jim's chuckle, Blair shrugged and smiled brightly. "You try not seeing anything for six years! Even coffee looks cool!"

"Chief, this is the most wonderful thing I've ever seen. I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like for you." Jim placed a hand on Blair's leg and gave it a playful squeeze. "I don't want to rain on your parade, but you need to take it slow and easy. This is all very new for you. Just remember… I'm here for you if you need me." Jim gave Blair a dazzling smile, causing his stomach to do a little flip. "Knowing I was a part of this for you makes me incredibly happy. I'm so thrilled for you, Blair!"

With a warm smile, Blair nodded, his throat too tight to speak. He swallowed several times before he could manage to blurt out, "Thanks. I owe it all to you."

They were quiet for a minute and in that time, Blair allowed his gaze to wander over Jim's body. The thought of the intimacy they had shared earlier caused heat to curl low in his stomach. He closed his eyes and remembered the way Jim had touched him and the wonderful pleasure those touches had brought him. When he opened his eyes again, they came to rest on Jim's handsome face. Excitement raced through him at the thought that he could actually see Jim. When their eyes met, Blair saw desire shining in those ice-blue eyes. He could feel, through the bond, that Jim, too, was remembering the passion that they'd shared.

"We're bonded now, Jim," Blair quietly said, keeping the trepidation he still felt from his tone.

"I know," Jim replied, his voice husky.

"What does it mean?"

"It means that you're my Guide – and I'm your Sentinel." Jim smiled and gently caressed Blair's cheek with the tips of his fingers. "That we're now committed to one another. And being a bonded Sentinel and Guide means that we'll spend the rest of our lives together. I think we're a good match. We get along well, and we like and respect each other."

"Like each other," Blair repeated quietly. Placing his cup on the coffee table, he slowly stood up. "Is that all?"

Jim looked at him and frowned. "What else is there?" When Blair didn't answer, Jim got to his feet, standing to face him. "Blair?"

"You're right. We are a good match. Mutual affection, respect, and all that." Blair waved his hand around in the air. "Heck, many relationships have survived on less than that."

"Chief, I don't understand. You seem upset. What's wrong?"

Blair moved away to look out the balcony doors, his back to Jim. "How do you feel about me, Jim?"

"I told you. I like and respect you… I care about you."

"I care about you, too." Blair closed his eyes briefly and shook his head.

"Okay. We're both in agreement. What's the problem?"

The problem? The problem was that Jim was offering him everything he'd ever wanted – ever needed. Everything except the most important thing. Love. Jim would never love him and at that thought, Blair sucked in a breath, all happiness leaving him when he felt something in his heart break.

"What about love?" Blair didn't have to see Jim to know that the Sentinel's whole body had tensed up at the word. And through their link, Blair could feel Jim's anger, and it caused a coldness to sweep over him.

"What about it?" Jim asked flatly.

"How do you feel about it?" Blair quietly asked.

"You want to know what I think about love?" Jim laughed harshly. "Love destroys everything it touches."

"How can you say that?"

"Because I've seen what love can do. Love destroyed my mother. It destroyed my family. Every time I allowed myself to love someone, I got screwed. I don't want any part of it ever again."

"But love doesn't always have to hurt, Jim. You love Steven and Andy and they love you… I love you." Blair gasped, his heart racing as he realized what he'd just revealed.

There was a very tense moment of silence before Jim asked, "What did you just say?" Blair jumped slightly when hands suddenly grasped his arms and spun him around. "Look at me, dammit."

Sliding his eyes up to meet Jim's, Blair swallowed hard before he said, "I'm in love with you."

Jim stared intently at Blair for a few seconds then slowly shook his head. "I don't believe this," he muttered a curse and turned away, quickly making his way toward the front door.

"Come on, Jim. Don't go. Please," Blair pleaded, rushing after him.

"I need to take a walk. Get some air."

"No!" Blair cried when he felt Jim block their link. "Don't shut me out!"

"I can't deal with this right now." Jim yanked the door open, but before he stepped through, he whispered, "I'm sorry," and then was gone, the sound of the door closing hard echoing throughout the loft.

A sob broke from between Blair's lips and he shut his eyes tightly, desperately holding back the tears that threatened to fall. He wrapped his arms around his chest as pain seared through his heart, shattering it into a million pieces.

***

Jim didn't return to the loft until much later that evening. As soon as he opened the door, he knew immediately that something was wrong. Slowly, he stepped inside, dialing up his hearing, to listen for any sound or movement coming from within, but he was met with only silence.

Rushing into the small guest room, Jim's heart beat faster when he noticed the closet door was partially closed. He yanked it open and stared. Where shirts had once hung, now only empty hangers took up the space. He didn't have to look any further to know that Blair was gone. Backing out of the room, Jim slowly moved into the living room and sank down onto the sofa. He rested his elbows on his knees and dropped his head into his hands. Opening their link, Jim searched for Blair's presence, but his mind was blocked from his Guide.

Blair was gone.

Without any warning.

Without even saying good-bye.

Blair was gone and it was all his fault, because he couldn't find it in himself to love Blair.

"Dammit!" Jim jumped up from the sofa. "See, Blair!" he cried out. "Love destroys everything!"

Angrily, Jim stalked over to the fridge, wrenched open the door and snatched out a bottle of beer. Twisting off the cap, he downed the entire bottle then reached for another one. He was just about to take a large gulp when his hand started to tremble, spilling drops onto his shirt. Suddenly his entire body began to shake and he stumbled over to the sofa, half falling as he sat down. He sucked in a deep breath, trying desperately to breathe and focus on anything but the pain ripping a hole in his chest. Blair was gone and there wasn't a fucking thing he could do about it.

***

Jim opened his eyes and groaned when bright sunlight blinded his vision. He'd been awake for most of the night, but at some point he'd fallen asleep on the sofa. Slowly, he sat up and released another groan when the muscles in his back protested.

A hand suddenly came into his field of vision and presented a coffee cup.

He didn't have to look up to know that is was his brother standing next to him. "Thanks," he said, and took a grateful sip of the warm liquid. He watched his brother move across the room to sit down on the chair opposite him. When Steven didn't say anything, Jim waited a few moments before he glared at him and asked in an irritated voice, "What?" He wasn't in the mood for idle chit-chat. Right now all he wanted to do was take a long hot shower and try to forget that he'd ever met a man named Blair Sandburg.

Leaning forward, Steven rested his arms on his knees and laced his fingers together. "I know you don't want to hear this, but I'm going to say it anyway. You're a fucking idiot if you let him go."

Jim tightened his hold around his coffee cup. "It's none of your business," he growled.

"Yeah, well, I'm making it my business. Blair is the best damn thing that's ever happened to you, and I'm not going to sit by and let you destroy it because you're afraid."

Jim laughed harshly. "That's a load of bull."

"You can deny it all you want but it's true. You're afraid to let anyone in, but it's time to let the past go. You deserve to be happy – I want you to be happy – and you can find that with Blair."

"No." Jim shook his head sadly, "I can't."

"Why not?"

Jim got to his feet. He paced around, finally stopping in front the balcony doors where he stood gazing out into the bay. He watched the sailboats that he had told Blair about, gliding across the water for a few seconds before he answered, "Because he needs me to love him."

"You already do, Jim."

"No, I don't."

Steven walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I know how terrifying loving someone can be. Dad screwed us up so badly that we never knew how to have a relationship – how to love someone. When I met Amanda, I took a chance and I'm so damn happy that I did, because I can't imagine my life without her. When you find someone special, you have to be willing to take risks. If you let Blair go, you'll spend the rest of your life regretting it." Steven didn't say anything more until Jim looked at him. "God, Jim, can't you see that you fell in love with Blair the moment you first saw him."

"I…" The protest died on Jim's lips. He closed his eyes, remembering Blair's voice, his laughter, his smile, his caring and understanding. He remembered all those things and more but the most astonishing thing of all was he remembered the way Blair had warmed his heart and made him feel whole. He needed Blair – needed to hold him, to touch him, to kiss him. And it suddenly hit him how incredibly empty and lonely his life would be without him.

Good God, Steven was right!

He loved Blair.

And Blair loved him. Had offered his heart to Jim – and what did he do? He threw that love back in his face and turned him down. What in the hell was wrong with him?

His eyes flew open and he grabbed hold of Steven's arms. "Where is he?"

"At Andrew's place," Steven replied, his face lighting up with hope.

Without another word, Jim rushed for the door, pausing long enough to grab his jacket and keys, then hurried down the stairs to his truck. Twenty minutes later, he stood at the front door of his cousin's townhouse. He knocked twice and while he waited, he wondered what he was going to say to Blair and prayed that he could convince his Guide to give him another chance.

The second that the door opened, Jim hurried to go inside, but his path was blocked by Andrew. "What do you want, Jim?" his cousin asked, his voice tight.

"I'm here to see Blair."

"Now's not a good time. With everything that's happened between the two of you and his eyesight returning, he's feeling very confused."

Jim stood tall and met Andrew's gaze. "I need to see him."

Andrew shook his head. "He's hurting, Jim. You really did a number on him."

Jim flinched and his heart ached from the pain he knew he'd caused Blair. "I know. I'm an idiot. But I want to make things right between us." When his cousin didn't move, Jim quietly declared, "I love him, Andy."

Surprise broke out across Andrew's face. He paused for a moment, then with a nod, stepped aside to allow Jim entrance. Just as Jim brushed passed him, Andrew placed a hand on his chest. "Hurt him again, and you'll have to answer to me."

Their eyes met and an understanding passed between them. "Thanks for watching out for him." Jim gave Andrew's shoulder a light squeeze.

"He's a good man, Jim."

"I know," Jim replied with a smile.

He turned away and following Blair's heartbeat, started down the hallway toward the guest bedroom. He knocked lightly on the closed door and waited. When there was no response, Jim dialed up his hearing. Inside the room he could hear the sound of muffled music and figured that Blair must have on a set of headphones. He slowly pushed the door open to reveal Blair sitting on the bed, legs crossed, hands on his knees and eyes closed.

It was the look on Blair's face that made Jim freeze in his tracks. He couldn't stop the gasp of shock when he saw the unequivocal pain and heartache etched across his Guide's face. And it broke his heart knowing that he was the cause of it. In that instant, he wanted nothing more than to race to Blair's side, wrap his arms around him and never let go.

Jim wasn't sure what to do next. He was hesitant to go any further into the room and disturb Blair, yet there was no way in hell he was going to turn around and walk away. So he simply stood there, watching over his Guide until Tikal's deep bark alerted Blair that Jim was there.

Slowly, Blair's eyes opened and the instant they came to rest on Jim, he could see Blair's whole body tense up. Reaching up, Blair pulled the headphones off his head, slid from the bed and stood with his hands wrapped around his chest.

"Blair," Jim said and started to move forward, but stopped when he saw Blair take a tentative step back. "I just want to talk with you. Please."

Blair's mouth opened as if to speak but no words came out. He motioned Jim to sit down and he did as requested, shrugging out of his jacket before he sat in the large, overstuffed chair. Blue eyes regarded him warily, and Jim knew that he had to choose his words carefully or he would lose Blair forever.

Taking a deep breath, he began, "I'm so sorry, Blair. I never meant to hurt you. It was the last thing I ever wanted to do. I pushed away the best thing that's ever happened to me because I was afraid."

"Afraid?" Blair asked quietly from the position he taken up on the bed.

"Yes," Jim nodded, glad that he seemed to have Blair's attention. "I let fear stand in the way of my feelings for you. You are the best part of my life, Chief. I need you more than… well, more than anything, because without you, my soul is a very cold and dark place." Jim paused and swallowed hard, "I finally get it now, Blair. I finally understand that love doesn't have to be feared. That it doesn’t have to hurt." Looking up, Jim met Blair's eyes. "I love you."

A single tear slid down Blair's cheek, but he quickly brushed it away impatiently. "You – You love me? Are you sure?"

No longer able to keep his distance, Jim got up and moved to his Guide's side. Taking Blair's hands in his, he gripped them tightly. "I'm positive. Open the link and you'll know."

Jim closed his eyes, and rejoiced in the feel of his Guide's mind touching his own. When his eyes opened again to search Blair's face, it glowed with such happiness that it made Jim want to weep with joy. Pulling Blair to him, Jim wrapped his arms around him and nuzzled his face into the soft, curly hair. "I want to spend the rest of my life loving you." The sound of Blair's laughter warmed Jim's heart, and he moved back slightly to gaze at the absolute delight radiating off his Guide's face.

"God, Jim, I love you so damn much." Blair grinned. He raised his arms, and taking Jim's face between his hands, tenderly kissed him.

As their lips touched, Jim knew he'd finally found the place that he belonged. Somehow, this gentle, kind, amazing man had seen past all of his protective barriers. He'd taken up residence in the darkest recesses of Jim's soul and stubbornly insisted that Jim let him chase away all the hurt and loneliness.

When Blair's mouth parted, Jim slipped his tongue inside, reveling in the taste of him. He was about to deepen the kiss when he felt something snuffle against his leg. Breaking the kiss, he glanced down to see Tikal watching them. She gave a little 'yip' when both Jim and Blair's attention was on her, and Jim could have sworn there was a smile on her face.

"I think she approves." Jim chuckled, reaching out to scratch Tikal behind the ears.

"She does." Blair grinned. "And she's happy that we're together." Tikal gave another bark as though in answer before trotting out of the room.

They laughed then turned to look at one another and when their eyes met, Jim was hit with the most profound emotion he'd ever felt – love. He finally knew what love felt like and it was all due to Blair.

"What?" Blair smiled, seeing Jim watching him intently. Running his hands across Jim's chest, he undid two buttons on his shirt, leaned forward and placed a kiss on his bare skin.

"I love you," Jim replied happily and felt his heart skip a beat at the look of utter love that shone back at him from Blair's face. "I love you," he repeated, this time laughing joyously. He grabbed Blair around the waist, flipped him onto his back and straddled his hips. Grinning down, Jim was overcome with warmth and contentment and he gladly welcomed it. With his eyes never leaving Blair's, he declared, "I promise to love you for the rest of our lives."

Lowering his head, Jim sealed his vow with a kiss. His heart burst with the love he felt for this beautiful man. He wasn't sure he deserved this much happiness, but he wasn't about to refuse it, for he now knew that with Blair by his side, their love would last a lifetime.

***

THE END

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Author's Acknowledgements: Many thanks to my beta's for their great work! This story was originally published in the zine Angel On My Mind 7.