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Honest Words

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Honest Words

by Virg Vaughn

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Author's disclaimer: Yes indeed, as if I didn't know it... PetFly and Paramount, etc. own everything. No gain, no profit, I'm just a lowly fanfic writer borrowing their toys.

Honest Words,
by Virginia 'Virg' Vaughn

Through this world I've stumbled,
so many times betrayed,
Trying to find an honest word,
to find the truth enslaved.
Oh, you speak to me in riddles;
you speak to me in rhyme.
My body aches to breathe your breath,
your words keep me alive.

Sarah McLachlan

Silvery moonlight gently illuminated the room, revealing a semi-smile on Blair's sensual lips. Jim memorized each curve and plane of his lover's face and the sweep of impossibly thick lashes against his cheek. He took careful measure of each feature and tucked them away for the future.

They'd loved long and hard into the early morning hours and he knew he had exhausted the younger man. He'd done his best; hiding the razor-edge of his fear behind loving touches and fevered demands. With a tired sigh and a stretch that popped the joints and tendons of his long back, Jim carefully slipped out from under the covers. He ignored his bathrobe, enjoying the cool touch of the night air on his overheated flesh.

Moving with a feline grace that echoed the panther within, he padded quietly down the stairs to stand at his favorite spot by the balcony windows. He was too keyed up to sleep had not really slept well in weeks. Blair hadn't noticed. Thank God.

He ached with fatigue, every muscle and joint reminding him pointedly of his age, but it was worth it to know that he was keeping his younger lover satiated; submerged so far into a haze of sensual euphoria that Blair dropped into an exhausted slumber every night. It was a brutal pace, but one that he would gladly continue if that was all it took to keep Blair by his side. Jim grimaced, wondering if his almost middle-aged body would last until it didn't matter any more.

There was a time when he would never have questioned his ability to attract or satisfy a lover. A time before the passing years made it increasingly hard to maintain his trademark physique, before he noticed the extra hair in his brush every morning. This was long before he married a woman he thought adored him, only to watch with bewilderment as she grew unheeding of his affection and indifferent to his touch.

He had never needed Carolyn or anyone as much as he needed Blair. At a point in his life when he had begun to doubt if he would ever experience the depth of feeling others came by so easily, he'd fallen hard for his best friend and partner. As his love and need for Blair reverberated though him, an equally overpowering fear grew apace.

How long? How long would it be until someone younger, smarter, more of everything Blair needed came between them? Someone who could give him the home and little Sandburgs he deserved. It was only a matter of time. Blair cared for him. He had even closed the revolving door of his love life for the time being. For now, but not forever and not with Jim.

Watching the drizzle stream down the window panes, Jim wondered how long it had taken Carolyn to discover he was incapable of giving her what she wanted. The rain reminded him of that last despairing kiss, when he'd been so frightened, so desperate for comfort. Her taunting words haunted him. If he'd kissed her like that when they were married... Like what? So frightened he was out of his mind? What had she needed from him that he had never fully understood, didn't have to give?

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he closed his eyes and tried to fight off the beginnings of a throbbing headache. A throwback to a pre-civilized breed of man how often had he heard similar words? All his life he'd been out of step, not quite able to make the kinds of emotional connections that others did, until now.

Christ, even his own father knew he was a freak. Jim rested his forehead on the cool pane of glass, letting it soothe away his painful thoughts.

A noise at the top of the stairs startled him. Had he zoned again? He had been experiencing mild zone-outs for the past few weeks, carefully hiding them from his Guide. What would Blair make of the fact that the problem had started at almost the same time as they had become lovers?

"Jim, what're you doin'?" Blair whispered, his voice thick and rough with sleep.

"Nothing, Chief, just had to stretch for a bit. Go back to sleep, I'll be right up."

There was a long pause, a sleepy sigh, and then the sound of those beloved footsteps retreating toward the bed. As Blair climbed back under the covers, he murmured, "Come to bed, Jim. It's cold here without you."

How had Blair ever managed to sleep alone, even cocooned in the odd layers of sweats and t-shirts he wore to bed? Chuckling softly, Jim shook his head. If nothing else he made one hell of a hot water bottle, keeping his lover warm enough to sleep nude on even the coldest of nights. He'd made short work of all those layers right from the beginning, craving the touch of skin on skin.

Jim hurried to warm the chilled form nestled beneath the blankets, taking the stairs two at a time. Tucking the covers even more tightly around his dozing lover, he wrapped his arms around the cherished body. "Night, Chief."

"Night, Jim," came the drowsy reply as Blair snuggled into the curve of his body.

Brilliant sunlight burned though his closed eyelids. Blair stretched languidly while the annoying buzz in his head slowly formed into complete thoughts. Man, he was sore! He stretched cautiously, careful of tender, overtaxed muscles.

Based on his careful observations over the past three years, Blair had assumed Jim's sex drive was much less intense than his own. He snorted at the faulty conclusion. His amazingly randy lover could go at it for hours.

Lately he woke up every morning feeling as if he had barely slept at all. It was the strangest thing; he'd always been too hyper to sleep more than a few hours a night. Last weekend he'd crashed and burned, out like the dead for almost ten hours. If Jim hadn't pounced on him, who knew how long he would have slept?

Glancing at the clock on the nightstand, he leaped from the bed. "Shit! Oh, shit! Man, Jim, why didn't you wake me up?" Only silence answered him. He leaned over the railing to look out over the empty loft. Jumping out of bed, he dove into the closet and rummaged for something to wear. Tossing jeans and a favorite shirt onto the bed, he scrounged through the dresser for the rest.

"I can't afford to be late again, damn it!" he grumbled under his breath. Hopping from foot to foot, he pulled on his socks. "Damn you, Jim. How can you just let me sleep when you know I have early classes? Why the hell did I let you keep me up half the night again? How the hell do you manage to wake up for work...and how did I sleep through you leaving?"

Tripping himself while fumbling into his jeans, Blair landed with a solid thunk on the floor. Groaning with frustration, he found himself wanting nothing more than to throw himself face down, kicking and howling in a childish tantrum. Realizing how out of control he was becoming, he took a deep breath and forced himself to slow down.

Once dressed, he took a speedy if perfunctory shot at his usual morning ablutions, deciding to skip shaving even if he did end up looking scruffy. With a longing glance at the unused shower, he darted out of the bathroom. In his headlong rush to the door, he almost missed the note folded on the counter, but the bright white paper caught his eye.


The U called -- a broken water main fried the electrical systems on all over the campus, including Hargrove Hall. Your morning classes are canceled. Enjoy your free time.


"Free time! Like, what free time? Man, you just have no idea." Blair crumpled the note and struggled to change gears, trying to decide which impending deadline he should work on first. All he could think of was how great it would be to crawl up the stairs and back into the warm bed waiting at the top.

When had he ever been this tired? It didn't make any sense. Here he was after three years of unbearable longing and waiting and wanting, finally ending up in the arms of the man he loved. As glorious as loving his Sentinel was, the spontaneous combustion between them left his energy in ashes. He should be out of his mind with joy, yet all he felt was overwhelming exhaustion.

Maybe tonight he could entice Jim into taking things easy. How long had it been since they'd gone out for a meal or just cuddled on the couch?

With a heartfelt sigh, Blair gathered up a teetering pile of papers from his old room and spread them out on the table. Unfolding his laptop, he switched it on, then slipped on his glasses and went to work.

The gym was quiet this late in the afternoon, just the way Jim liked it. He was bone weary and didn't feel like doing any lifting today, but years of discipline won out over his desire to pack it in and go home to vegetate.

After his warm up, Jim grabbed a weight bench and started working on presses, giving himself over to the comfort of mindlessly counting the reps in each set. He worked through his routine and soon the burn of his muscles being pushed to maximum erased all thought of his earlier fatigue.

Jim absently noticed that the place had cleared out completely, leaving him alone with the sole exception of a rookie he'd seen around a lot lately. The kid was very earnest and very young. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the rookie glancing over at him time and again. He wasn't surprised when the young man wandered over and began talking to him.

"Hey, Jim. How's it going?"

Lowering the bar, Jim sat up and grabbed his towel, mopping the sweat off his face. "Not bad. What are you doing here this time of day?"

"I was working swings, but I volunteered to do a double shift and got today off."

"So this is how you spend an unexpected day off?"

The young cop grinned. "I've got to stay in shape if I'm ever gonna be in your class."

Laughing softly at the rookie's comment, Jim suspected the kid was working on a case of hero worship. The thought warmed him. Before Blair had entered his life, the nuances in the younger man's regard might have sailed right past him. Now that he had begun to open up to his Guide, he found himself becoming more aware of the emotions of those around him.

Grinning kindly, he offered, "Would you like me to spot for you, Chief?"

The young man's eyes lit up. "Sure, Ellison." He quietly added, "And the name's Mitch Anderson."

Jim chuckled, realizing he'd been busted for forgetting the kid's name. He gave the young man a wide smile as he took his position by the heavy, weighted bar. They bantered back and forth about the merits of their respective routines as he watched the seemingly effortless movements of the rookie with appreciation. He knew just how hard it was to achieve that level of strength and endurance. Jim admired the kid's commitment to staying fit. Mitch wasn't going to turn into one of those cops better acquainted with donuts and coffee shops than gyms.

The two men continued talking and joking in comfortable camaraderie as they worked out. Mitch had a quirky sense of humor and he had Jim laughing hard over the tales of some of his 'interesting' adventures during his first days on the force. The laughter was restorative and a enormous relief after the past weeks of quietly hidden desperation.

Jim couldn't resist telling a few stories of his own more outrageous rookie escapades. For the first time in ages he didn't feel old, tired and frazzled. Just for an instant, he thought wistfully of Blair it seemed like it had been a long time since they had shared this kind of laughter.

Finishing up and heading for the shower, Jim reached out and patted Mitch's cheeks. "You're doing fine, kid. You're going to be one heck of a cop."

Mitch grinned and playfully slugged Jim on the shoulder. "You know it." Tapping Jim's hard, flat stomach, he added, "You're not too bad yourself...for an old dude."

The two men engaged in a moment's mock boxing, until the rookie left himself open and Jim lightly clipped him on the jaw. Mitch threw up his arms in defeat and the two men made their way to the locker room, sparring and laughing all the way.

Blair bounced down the hall, eager to surprise his lover by making a rare appearance at the gym. A workout would feel good after spending the unexpected morning off on paperwork. The electrical problems at the U had only worsened and a harried phone call from his department head's secretary had advised him his afternoon class was canceled as well. There were a million things he should have been doing this afternoon, but he couldn't resist the opportunity to spend some time with Jim.

Blair frowned. Just how long had it been since he and Jim had done anything together outside of work? Something about that nagged at him, but before he could put a finger on it, he caught sight of his Sentinel. Pausing at the open double doors, he let himself drink in the beauty of the powerful arms, moving fluidly through each lift.

He loved having a chance to watch Jim unnoticed. Living with a Sentinel had its drawbacks; the rarity of opportunities to ogle his lover without being caught in the act was one of them. And what an opportunity this was, Jim's tank top clung to his sweat damp-chest, his muscles flexing and gleaming under the harsh lights.

The heady scent of sweat and musk permeated the air, along with the faint sounds of Jim's deep breathing. The heavily weighted bar rose and fell with a steady, rhythmic cadence. Bombarded by the intoxicating sight and sounds, Blair felt himself growing almost light headed. A tingle of excitement cascaded down his spine and wrapped itself around his groin. Standing silently in the shadowed entrance, he fidgeted, one hand furtively slipping to his crotch to adjust his hardening cock in suddenly too tight jeans.

A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and he watched as another man approached Jim. The guy was huge, easily as tall as Simon and more muscular, one of those depressingly beautiful Nordic blonds. The admiration on the younger man's face was easy to see. Blair felt the hairs on the back of his neck beginning to stand on end.

Without conscious thought, he faded further back into the darkened hall, straining to hear their conversation. He could make out very little of what they were saying, until the last few words, "...for you, Chief?"

Blair felt the words drop on him like bricks, driving the breath out of him. Jim was smiling almost beaming at the interloper! His eyes rounded with amazement as he watched the easy interaction between the two. Blair struggled to hear more, but couldn't quite make out the rest of the conversation.

Who was this guy? How did Jim know him? Searching his memory, Blair snatched at a brief image of the younger man in uniform and guessed that he must be one of the latest batch of academy graduates.

Fighting to control his ragged breathing, Blair made up his mind to stop lurking and break up the little tete-a-tete. Firmly telling himself he was overreacting, he hesitated as the two men began talking again. There was no mistaking the leer the blond gave Jim's firmly muscled ass when he bent over to pick up a pair of dumbbells.

Balling his hands into angry fists, Blair swallowed his rapidly burgeoning rage as Jim and the younger man laughed together at a shared joke. Every gaze between them cut like a knife. Blair's breathing became ragged as he watched Jim reach out and pat the younger man's face. His heart thudded painfully in his chest as he watched the young blond touching Jim in return. Finally, the two headed off toward the locker room, dodging and ducking as they shadow boxed with one another. With a choked back exclamation, Blair fled down the hall and out of the building.

Hours later, Blair found himself pacing his darkened office. The power had been restored, but he felt oddly comforted by the dim room. With characteristic nervous energy, he flitted from place to place, absentmindedly fingering dusty artifacts and thumbing through files, his jerky movements reflecting his chaotic thoughts.

Blair tried to convince himself he was obsessing over nothing. It had to be that the moon was in the wrong phase, or his biorhythms were out of whack. It was so not like him to fixate on something like this, to be so jealous and suspicious. He took a series of deep, cleansing breaths, murmuring to himself to let it go and find his center.

All his life Blair had been searching for something. From the moment he first met the agitated, frightened man, something inside him finally found peace. He had walked into a hospital exam room to confront the object of his studies, only to be floored when a raw desire he'd never before experience flamed into life. And he had known without doubt that this was what he was had been seeking. The electricity of Jim's first touch was stunning, erasing all fear, even when it seemed the angry Sentinel was determined to push him through a wall.

It had taken almost three years for their partnership to finally reach consummation. Three years of charged touches, heated looks and finally, a preternatural emotional link that drove them together.

It was the culmination of all his secret hopes and dreams. He was sure Jim felt it, too, he had to feel the rightness of their growing bond. Why else would the man be so fucking insatiable? How could he have the desire or the energy to turn to someone else?

Blair lurched to the chair at his desk and slowly sank down in it. Resting his forehead on his arms, he closed his eyes, only to wrench them open again. Seared into his retinas was the image of Jim and the young blond giant.

It was an image he couldn't shake; how stunning they were together, how their muscular bodies were a perfect complement to one another. Two flawless specimens, well matched in size and strength and beauty. Ringing in his ears was the gentle tone of Jim's voice as he called the other man 'Chief.'

Blair's life and relationships had been a never-ending kaleidoscope of change. Discovery and change were what he lived for. He'd always taken what was offered for the time it was offered and been happy. He hadn't known that what he was longing for was the elusiveness of security. He hadn't recognized that he needed something that was meant to last forever.

"Oh, God, what am I going to do?"

Muttering to himself, Jim paced the loft. "I can't believe he hasn't called."

At seven, he'd been annoyed that Blair hadn't let him know he was going to be late. At seven-thirty, he'd begun to worry, pacing back and forth between the windows and the phone. At eight, he had swallowed his pride and tried calling Blair, only to find there was no answer on his cell or at his office. Now it was almost nine and he was nearly frantic, calling every number he could think of and finding no clues to his lover's whereabouts.

"Where the hell are you, Chief?" Running nervous, shaking hands through his hair, Jim strode determinedly to the phone again. Hitting the speed dial for Blair's cell, he got the same endless ringing he'd heard all evening. He tried Blair's office again and still got no answer. Jim racked his brain, trying to think of which friends he had forgotten to call.

He didn't know what to do. If he went looking there was always a chance he might miss Blair's call. The thought of the younger man in trouble and unable to contact him frightened Jim into inaction.

"Damn you, Sandburg! Where are you? What is it this time, another co-ed with the hots for her neo-hippie professor?"

The muscles in Jim's jaw twitched as he ground his teeth in frustration. With an exasperated growl, he grabbed his coat and headed out the door. At the top of the stairs, he cocked his head, hearing the Volvo pulling into its space outside.

By the time Blair reached the loft, Jim was seated on the couch with the tv on and the remote in his hand. He had his long legs stretched out in front of him and a cold bottle of beer sweating in his hand, looking as if he'd been camped out there all evening, watching the tube without a care in the world.

Blair hesitated, obviously searching for a suitable excuse. "Jim, man, sorry I didn't call, I just lost all track of time."

It wasn't an unlikely story. Blair frequently got so submerged in his studies he was lost to the world around him. It was oddly uncreative, which was unsettling. Jim knew that Blair, the master of obfuscation was floundering heavily for the right excuse. Seeing the apprehension and doubt on his lover's face, Jim swallowed hard. He schooled his face into its long accustomed, expressionless mask and cut in before Blair could continue.

"Don't worry about it, Sandburg, we didn't have anything planned." Toying with the remote, he flipped through the channels, finally settling on a game he had no interest in watching.

The unnatural silence stretched out between them. Angry questions burned on his tongue as he felt Blair's gaze boring into the back of his head. Every muscle ached with the tension of holding himself still. Jim forced himself not to scent the air for the smell of where Blair had been, of who he had been with. His head pounded with a rage that begged for release.

He couldn't say anything. Once the Pandora's box of his anger was opened, he wouldn't have any control over what he would say. He forced himself be silent and pretend that he didn't know that any moment the world was going to come crashing down around him. And this time, he wouldn't be able to pick up the pieces.

Blair hung up his coat and stared hard at his lover. No greeting, no hug, no movement from his Sentinel at all. Just the revealing tightening of the jaw telling him louder than words that Jim was pissed. Why can't he just say something? Blair found himself wanting to push at Jim, wanting to make him blow up.

The moment when he could have gone to Jim, embraced him, and pretended that everything was okay had passed. The jealousy and guilt torturing his guts wouldn't allow him to join his lover on the couch. Blair opened his laptop and laid out his notes on the dining table. Sighing softly, he began to work on his latest grant proposal. Unable to concentrate, he stared at the back of Jim's head, willing him to say something wanting desperately to relax, talk this out and force all the worries and doubts from his mind.

"So, how'd things go down at the station today? Anything interesting come up?" His voice sounded stilted and artificially calm, but at least it broke the tense silence between them.

"Nothing new, Chief, just reports. I was chained to the desk all day." Jim's reply was clipped.

"Sorry I didn't come give you a hand. I was kind of swamped this afternoon."

"It's okay, kid, I had it covered. Did you get anything to eat tonight?"

Kid... Man, he hated it when Jim called him that and Jim damn well knew it. What was going on in that beautiful head, anyway?

"I grabbed a sandwich on campus. I wasn't very hungry."

Jim nodded, grunting something that could have been agreement and turned back to the television.

"Are you just pissed that I'm late, or is it something else? I don't have to account to you for my time and I don't deserve the silent treatment." The resentful words tumbled out before Blair even felt them forming.

Jim slowly swivelled around to look at him again. Seeing the frost in the glacial blue gaze, Blair felt a shiver run down his spine. He knew better than to taunt the man when he was in this mood.

"If you didn't have a way of attracting every murdering psychotic in the city, I wouldn't have to worry. If you'd had enough courtesy to call and tell me you'd be late, I wouldn't have had to wonder if you were hurt or in trouble. Obviously, none of this ever occurred to you."

Blair stiffened with outrage. Jim was such an asshole! No, he wasn't Mr. Clean-cut All American Boy Cop, but he wasn't a doormat, either. "Damn it! That was nasty and unfair."

"Fair? What is it with you and fair, Sandburg? Fair isn't what's needed here. How about responsible? How about considerate?"

Blair flinched at the harsh words. "I don't play these kind of games, Jim. You want to fight dirty, then find someone else to play with. I'm sorry I was late and I didn't call. If you have a problem with that, you can find a better way of saying it."

Silence and a carefully schooled blank stare was Jim's only reply.

Blair closed his laptop with a snap. "I am so out of here."

He waited for Jim to stop him, to say something, but the older man only turned his back on him again. Caught up in his own careening emotions, he missed the clenched fists and hard shudder that jolted through the powerful body.

Blair rose stiffly from the table. He gathered up his papers and began loading everything into his backpack. Without another word, he swung the pack onto his shoulder and headed to the door, stopping for his jacket.

Looking back over his shoulder, he saw that Jim had risen. The Sentinel was standing still as death, looking at him with a mixture of rage and grief on his face. Blair paused for a moment, pleading silently for Jim to say something, anything that would let him know that leaving was the wrong thing to do. The silence extended while Jim remained rigidly silent. With a furious flip of his shoulder, Blair grabbed his jacket and headed out the door.

If Blair had lingered a moment longer, he would have seen terror on Jim's face. He would have been there to catch him when the overwhelming emotion drove Jim to his knees.

The sagging couch in his office was a lousy place to sleep, not that he was getting any. Instead he tossed and turned, wondering how in the space of less than twenty-four hours, his life had gone to hell....

Why was he obsessed with the thought that Jim was attracted to someone else? Wasn't it the Sentinel's compulsion to be the territorial one in the partnership? Just once, it would have been nice to be able to sit down and talk through his doubts with the tough guy. The problem was that he couldn't talk to Jim about his feelings. No, that wasn't true, he could rattle on about his feelings for hours, he just couldn't expect Jim to reciprocate.

Rolling over again, he pummeled the pillow, taking his frustration out on it. Giving up on finding a comfortable position, Blair stood up and began pacing. How could he sleep when all he wanted to do was scream?

What would he do if tonight's argument was the beginning of the end of their relationship? Blair tried to recapture a few of his old visions for the future, dusting them off like antiquated reference books. There was nothing there that moved him, nothing that he wanted more than a lifetime spent with his Sentinel.

Their bond was crumbling and he didn't know how to shore it up. Blair didn't have a clue how he was going to continue to fit into Jim's world in the long term. They had never discussed the future, not even on that first night when a relieved and jubilant hug over surviving another spectacular disaster had turned to something else.

He smiled sadly, remembering that first night. When he had tried to pull away from Jim's embrace, he'd realized the comforting arms wrapped around him had turned into bands of steel. The hands that had been pounding him on the back were now buried in his hair. Looking up into the blazing passion in the eyes of his Sentinel, he'd been lost. Trapped by that gaze, Blair could no more have refused the joining of their lips than he could have sprouted wings and flown.

Blair wrapped his arms tightly around himself as he lost himself in sweet remembrance. Incendiary was the only way to describe what followed the kiss. Clothes were flung away as their bodies suddenly became too heated to bear the weight of the fabric. Somewhere in the far recesses of his mind, Blair had felt a frisson of doubt, a tiny little quiver of fear of the unknown. The moment came and went so swiftly he barely had time to acknowledge it. He placed his complete trust in Jim.

He ran his hands through his hair with a half-stifled moan. He'd trusted Jim then, why couldn't see his way clear to trusting him now? Even with all of his anxiety and inexperience with the sexual part of their relationship, he hadn't been as frightened as he was now.

Blair had known about Jim's eclectic sexual history. He wasn't surprised by the discovery, because he'd read between the lines enough in the research he'd done to understand that along with the genetic code that made a Sentinel came a predisposition for bisexuality. He'd just never thought about what Jim's bisexuality might mean to him. For the first time in his life, he had found himself in love with another man and it scared him to death.

The wonderful, gentle way Jim had led him through the first throes of passion into a world made delicious by incredible, inexhaustible sex was completely unexpected. It was so much more than he had hoped for, had ever had the courage to wish for. And somehow, so much less....

Blair heaved a sigh and gave up on sleep entirely. He wouldn't be able to sleep until he understood how things had gone so wrong. He curled up on the couch again and tried to center himself enough to meditate.

In the wee hours of the morning, it finally came to him. Why their newfound relationship seemed to stand on shaky legs. Not once between them had they ever mentioned the 'L' word. Why hadn't he admitted what was in his heart?

Why had he walked out instead of telling Jim about the doubts and insecurities that plagued him? It wasn't like he didn't know how to push his reticent lover's buttons. So why hadn't he forced Jim to talk this out?

The questions spun themselves round and round in his overtired brain. Above almost everything else he admired about Jim was his forthright honesty. He had the terrible feeling he had stormed out of the loft in a foolish attempt to force Jim into making a declaration. Blair groaned as he faced the bitter truth; he had tried manipulation because he was too frightened to be honest himself.

The impact of his head hitting the desk jerked him awake. There was just no way he was going to make it through his office hours this morning. Blair's back and neck were knotted with cramps. All he wanted to do was to go home, snuggle into bed with his lover and sleep.

Blair was startled out of his reverie by a light tap on his office door. It swung open a few inches and an elfin face appeared.

"Blair, hi! Have you got a minute to talk?" Erica smiled at him, her bright eyes wide and friendly. Behind her, he could see Jack and Suzanne.

Blair sighed inwardly the TAs were good friends; normally, he welcomed their presence. Today, he just wasn't in any kind of shape for conversation. "Sure, come on in." He tried to look encouraging, but even attempting to smile was painful.

After chatting a while, Blair found his burdens easing just a bit. He was still haunted by the events and revelations of the night before, but the easy rapport with his friends was a comfort. It had been too long since he'd spent time with them. Soon he found himself laughing over a wild story of Jack's, complete with a ribald impersonation of their least favorite professor.

In a more positive mood, Blair made up his mind that he wasn't going to let go of Jim without a fight. What they had was too important, he wasn't going to run away. He'd finish what he had to do this morning, catch a nap, get through his afternoon class and then go home to confront his reticent lover with the honest truth.

Jim walked down the hall, his normally long and decisive stride reduced to a hesitant shuffle. There was no use trying to deny his dread. His stomach was churning with tension. Blair had walked out on him, the way he'd always known he would.

He wasn't going to give up. The tortuous night alone had convinced him that it was time to set things right. Blair was more precious to him than life Jim knew he had to make himself express that to his partner. Squaring his shoulders, he took the final turn in the hallway that led to Blair's office.

Through the frosted glass of the door he could see that Blair wasn't alone. A deep vibrating thumping told him that the 'war chant of the Yanamamo Headhunters was finding its echoes in the cellars of Seattle.' Jim paused, unsure whether to continue down the hallway or wait. Without conscious thought, he reached out with his hearing, piggybacking it to his sight in the way he had been taught.

The lighthearted conversation froze Jim in his tracks. Blair was surrounded by people, laughing over a shared joke. A redheaded kid was talking.

"If he doesn't stop bragging about his truck, I'm gonna go postal." He lowered his voice to deeper pitch. "A real pickup truck, back when men were men and sheep were nervous!"

Explosive laughter met his impression. Blair was laughing so hard he was hugging his sides.

One of the girls wiped her eyes and trilled, "Jackson's such an old fart! I hate working with him, he's so completely anal."

Anger tightened Jim's chest, making him fight for breath. Who were they talking about? Some old bastard, obviously...someone just like him. A red haze settled over his vision and then just as abruptly faded away. He had no right to be angry. Blair was here with his friends where he belonged. Whoever they were laughing at, it didn't matter.

He had no business being here, he had no business trying to hold onto Blair. What had he been thinking? It was over. Blair would move on and he'd be left behind. Again. Nothing in the world could change the fact that he'd taken his best shot and, unsurprisingly, had failed.

Adrenaline surged through him as he pivoted and rushed back down the hall, desperate to outrun his defeat.

He knew he must look like a drunk: stomach-churning vertigo made the ground heave and pitch beneath his feet until he was staggering. At one point, he fell hard, ripping open the knee of his trousers and bringing concerned students to his side. Brushing them off, Jim kept going, lurching his way to the parking lot.

The odd rolling and swaying made driving to the station a nightmare. He couldn't seem to focus, the lines on the pavement moved like snakes writhing their way down the blacktop. Brilliant light reflected off a thousand surfaces, each with its own halo of color. Sounds of the rushing traffic assaulted his ears, until the cacophony reached a screaming roar.

Realizing he was endangering the lives of other motorists, Jim finally pulled off the street into a parking lot. He slid across the seat and threw himself out of the passenger door. Light, noise and motion assaulted him, all of it too overwhelming to dial down. It was too much, too painful.

Gasping for air, he put his head down and fought back the waves of nausea that had him in a cold sweat. After a few minutes, the vertigo subsided. It was replaced by a dimming of his sight.

Jim clutched the side of his truck, shuddering with apprehension as his vision slowly tunneled, narrowing until there was only the tiniest pin-point of light and then that disappeared, too. The sounds of the traffic became more and more muffled and he realized he could no longer feel the smooth, hard surface of his pickup beneath his hands.

Jim was trapped in darkness and silence, completely cut off from all sensation. For a moment he wondered if this was what death felt like. Then he realized that the thought of dying wasn't nearly as frightening as being this terribly lost and alone.

The insistent ringing of his phone drew him out of his exhausted slumber. Blair forced himself to stagger off of the couch and pick up the handset.

"Hello?" His voice husky and obviously sleep ridden.

"Sandburg, what the hell are you doing there?" Simon's demanding query instantly cleared his head.

"Um, I sorta work here, Simon." His weak attempt at humor was met with dead silence.

"I need you here and I need you here fast. Jim's in trouble and, damn it, I have no idea what's wrong!"

Blair felt as if he'd just been sucker punched. "Whoa, what do you mean, Jim's in trouble? Has he been hurt? Where is he?"

"I'm over on Pender Street about ten blocks south of the station. Jim's... It's like he's in a coma or something. The only reason I haven't called an ambulance yet is that I'm guessing this has something to do with the Sentinel thing."

"I'll be there in ten, Simon. If it looks like he's in any difficulty at all, call an ambulance, anyway."

"Do you think I'm an idiot? He seems to be fine; he's just frozen like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz."

Blair dropped the phone back onto his desk, grabbing his jacket and backpack and hitting the door at a dead run.

The Volvo skidded to a stop behind Simon's car. Blair leaped out and rushed over to where the captain was standing next to Jim with one hand on his shoulder. A black and white was parked nearby with a uniformed cop pacing anxiously next to it. All of this registered faintly in the background as Blair focused on his partner.

Jim stood next to his pickup, his face blank, staring into the distance, his hands gripping the side of the bed, knuckles white with strain. He was completely still, frighteningly so, not even the flicker of an eyelash acknowledged Blair's arrival.

Blair motioned Simon away and took his place next to the Sentinel. He pried one of Jim's hands loose from its grip on the truck and took a quick check of his pulse. Strong and steady, it was somewhat reassuring.

"Hey, there. What's up, Jim?" Still holding the wrist in one hand, he placed the other on his partner's back and started slowly rubbing in small, gentle circles, keeping up a constant stream of chatter. There was no response. Blair fought back his panic as minutes ticked by. Unable to coax any sort of reaction out of his partner, Blair finally turned to Simon.

"How long has he been like this?"

"I don't really know. The patrolman over there spotted him over an hour ago. When he came past again half an hour later and saw Jim hadn't moved, he called me."

Blair glanced over at the uniform that was still waiting nervously in the background. His eyes widened when he realized it was the rookie who'd been working out with Jim the day before. Cursing whatever fates were choreographing this scene, he looked back at Simon, who was fishing a cigar out of his case.

"We need to get him home, Simon. This isn't working."

Simon bit hard into the cigar. "I think we need to get some professional help for him, Blair."

"Simon, if he goes to the hospital like this, they'll have him under psychiatric care in no time. We can't do that to him, man. I know this has to do with his senses. Something's taken them offline." Blair stared at the frozen statue his partner had become, shook his head and mumbled to himself, "I've never seen him so completely offline."

"Okay, I'll go along with you on this for now, Sandburg. If you can't do anything for him there, I don't see where we'll have any choice."

Blair grimaced his agreement and worked at loosening Jim's other hand. It was slow going, getting Jim peeled away from the truck and moved to Simon's car. The young cop, seeing the difficulty they were having, came over and offered to help. Their eyes met for a moment and Blair swallowed hard, acknowledged his assistance with a slight nod.

Between the three of them they half carried, half dragged Jim to Simon's car and then forcibly bent him down and slid him into the back seat.

"Damn it, Sandburg, I don't see how the two of us are going to get him up to your place."

"Excuse me, sir." The rookie looked worriedly at Simon. "Shouldn't you be taking Detective Ellison to Cascade General?"

Simon glanced at Blair, obviously waiting for the younger man to explain away the details.

Blair leaped into the breach, his mind racing to fit together a credible story. "No, there's no reason for that. Jim has a-a medical condition he picked up overseas during his time in the military. It usually never bothers him un-unless he eats the wrong combinations of foods. Something that doesn't mix with his medication. So, a few hours of bed rest and he'll be just fine."

Simon shook his head, amazement at Blair's lame story written all over his features.

The cop looked doubtful, but didn't argue. "I can follow you over and give you a hand, Captain Banks."

Simon's gaze flickered over to the young cop and back to Blair. With a shrug, Blair silently agreed.

"Okay, Anderson, follow me. I want this kept quiet, got it?" He glared a silent command at the rookie.

"No sweat, Captain. Jim's a friend, I'll be glad to do anything I can to help."

The ride to the loft was surreal. Blair rode in the back with Jim tucked close beside him, talking steadily about anything and everything he could think of. With Simon's attention taken up by driving, he felt safe enough to reach out and grasp one of Jim's hands in both of his, gently massaging the palm.

Getting Jim out of Simon's car was a little easier than it had been getting him into it. The rigidity of Jim's stance had relaxed a bit, but he still remained frozen in place until they repositioned him. Between the three men, they managed to get Jim upstairs and laid out on the couch without too much trouble.

Blair walked Anderson to the door. "Thanks for helping me out here with my partner." He purposely put an emphasis on the word 'partner' while looking intently at the rookie.

There was a flicker of comprehension in the big man's eyes, then he smiled and stuck out an oversized hand. Without hesitation, Blair reached out and returned the handshake. Mitch gripped his hand and smiled again.

"You take care of Ellison. He's a great guy. You're lucky to be with him."

Blair recognized that his message had been received. "I will, and I know I am."

"I think maybe he's lucky, too." With those words, the young cop turned and walked out of the apartment.

Blair sighed, closing the door and leaning back on it. He saw Simon was still chewing his cigar and pacing nervously beside the couch.

"Okay, Simon, I think I can take it from here. Why don't you go on back to the station? I'll give you a call as soon as Jim's back to normal."

"Sandburg, as much as I admire everything you've managed to do with Jim and his crazy, screwed up senses, I think this may be more than you can handle."

"We'll be fine, Simon! Haven't I handled everything else?" Blair choked back his fear and doubts, determined to show the captain he was wrong.

Simon shook his head, looking over to where Jim was lying still as death on the couch. "I don't know if I should leave the two of you here alone. What if he needs medical care?"

"Come on, Simon. You know I won't let anything happen to him. Give me a chance. If he ends up in a psych ward, it would be the end of his career. You can't do that to him, you know you can't!" By the end of his diatribe, Blair was vibrating with emotion.

Simon stopped pacing and looked him up and down. "Does this thing with Jim have anything to do with what's going on between the two of you?"

"W-what do you mean?" Blair couldn't believe his ears. No, Simon had not just said that. They'd been very careful. He and Jim hadn't talked about coming out any more than they had their feelings, but it was an unspoken agreement. Jim's life and career could be in serious danger if they were careless. Gay cops were targets for the media and the homophobic old guard. Regardless of how Blair felt about them going public, they had no real choice.

"Come on, Sandburg. I have eyes. The two of you have been dancing around a relationship for years, and the past month or so, all that tension has just disappeared."

It was too much, Blair's world was being rocked from one crisis to the next. He didn't know if he could handle this latest bombshell.

"Captain...Simon, I I don't know what to say." The one skill Blair could always count on, his ability to talk his way out of any sort of tight situation, had disappeared.

"Don't have a coronary, Sandburg. What the two of you do in your personal lives is none of my business, except as a friend."

Blair heaved a silent sigh of relief; maybe he wouldn't have another battle on his hands.

"Remember, I'm also your commanding officer. You two are my best men and I'm not about to do anything that's detrimental to either of you, but having you riding together and sleeping with each other isn't something I can publicly condone." The big man shrugged and spread his hands. "As long as you don't flaunt it to the brass, I don't see a problem with it."

Blair was speechless. He'd been so terrified of what would happen if he slipped, if someone caught on. Now that fear seemed preposterous. He wondered how many of their other friends had figured them out.

"W-what can I say? Thanks, Simon, I really appreciate you taking it like this. I've been so worried...."

Simon reached out, placing his hands on Blair's shoulders. "Listen, I'm your friend, and I've been Jim's friend even longer. You're good for him, Blair. And the way I see it, he's good for you, too. Help him out of this and then we'll talk about the rest."

With that said, the captain turned and strode to the door. Waving his cigar, he punctuated his words. "Make sure you get an ambulance here ASAP, if anything goes wrong. And remember to call me." The big man jerked open the door and glanced back over his shoulder. "That's an order, Sandburg."

Grinning like an idiot, Blair called out, "Will do, Captain."

The heavy door swung shut and he was jolted back to reality. Jim was still on the couch, frozen in blank stillness, cut off from all of his senses. Blair winced, how could he have forgotten even for an instant?

Settling onto his knees next to the couch, Blair embraced the stiff body of his lover. "Come on back to me, Jim. We need to talk. I mean it...we've really got to talk." When there was no response, he wasn't surprised. Sighing, he got to work, going through every method they'd discovered for ending a zone out over the past three years.

Almost an hour later, Blair was frustrated, hoarse and close to panic. He was completely out of ideas. Nothing was working. Struggling back to his feet, he ignored the pins and needles in his cramped legs. Terror and doubt flayed him.

"Jesus, James, you've got to stop this. I can't do anything to help you and you're scaring the shit out of me."

Running his hands over his face, he took a shuddering breath. He was so terrified and the one thing he needed most right now was to feel the arms of his lover wrapped around him. There was no way that could happen, so he sat down next to Jim and tried to work out a solution.

What was so basic, so fucking elemental that it would bring his lover back from wherever he was? It would have to be something that would catch Jim on a purely instinctual level. He wasn't doing higher thought right now.

So what sorts of things would Jim respond to? Threats? Danger? Yeah, that might just be enough to bring him out of it.

Jim had a deep seated fear of open water. Nope, the closest thing he had was the bathtub and somehow that just didn't seem too frightening. The only scary thing about that was the thought of him trying to move two-hundred pounds of dead weight to the bathroom.

"Think! Think, damn it!" Blair pounded the heels of his hands against his forehead. "What the hell is universal enough, that's purely instinctual ? Fire!"

That would do it. Blair jumped up and ran to his room to rip several pages out of a notebook. Crumpling the paper into rough balls, he shoved them into the fireplace and topped them with a few small slivers of kindling. Casting a worried glance up at the smoke alarm, he crossed his fingers and closed the damper before striking a long fireplace match. The paper smoldered blackly along one edge before bursting into flame.

Now the question was, would it be enough? A sudden thought immobilized him. Yes, that might help. He raced to the kitchen and hauled scissors out of a drawer. With a jerky, haphazard motion, he whacked off a hunk of hair and ran back to the fireplace with it clutched tightly in his fist. Tossing the hair on top of the flames, he watched it smoke and then ignite. With a shuddering sigh, he returned to Jim's side.

Pushing and shoving until his lover was moved over, he fit himself next to him. Blair wrapped the oblivious man in a tight embrace. "Come back to me, Jim. Please. Please, I need you I love you." His voice trailed off to a choked whisper.

Dark and cold and terribly silent. He would have shivered if he could have felt his body at all. How had he gotten here? Where the hell was he? He couldn't remember the journey that had brought him here, but he knew that it was a safe place. As frightening and as alone as this reality was, there was comfort in it. He let himself drift in the darkness....

Something was disturbing his silent refuge, a too-familiar scent that unsettled him. He let himself sink into the fragrance, so warm and comforting, yet somehow wrong. It shouldn't be here, not in this place. Underlying the familiar was something else, something acrid. It smelled like...Blair and smoke. Fire! His Guide was in danger.

The darkness that enveloped him was rent by a brilliant and blinding light. Dazzlingly bright colors spun until they gradually took shape and form. Instinct as old as his genetic code, finely honed by years of relentless training took over. Grasping the warm body that surrounded him, he rolled. Jim ignored the solid thump of landing on the floor, taking the impact and protecting the man in his arms. In one sinuous motion, he rolled the beloved form beneath him. On full alert, he scanned the area for the flames that endangered them.

Stretching out his hearing until the clamor was deafening, he found nothing beyond the normal sounds of the building's tenants and traffic noise. He swivelled his head, searching the loft. Peering through the windows, Jim still found no signs of fire.

Unable to isolate the menace, instinct screamed for him to get his Guide to safety. Move!

Jim surged to his feet, heaving Blair up and over his shoulder. Ignoring the pained grunt and momentary struggle from his lover, he rushed headlong up the stairs. Without pausing, he moved behind the bed, lowering Blair to the floor, tucking them both securely next to the wall. Tense, every muscle at ready, he surveyed the loft below them for signs of the threat.

Still unable to find the source of the smoke and scent of burning hair, he cast a concerned look to his Guide for direction. Round, alarmed blue eyes stared back at him. Belatedly, Jim realized that Blair was speaking to him and he struggled to understand the words.

"Jim... Jim... Jim? What's happening? Can you tell me what's wrong?"

"A-are you okay, Chief? I smelled smoke. Is there a fire?" His throat felt tight and dry, making the words difficult to form.

"I'm fine, Jim. There's no fire." Blair closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, then continued on his voice deep and calming. "Everything's fine now. What's going on with you? Are you okay?"

Rising unsteadily to his feet, Jim stretched out a hand to help Blair up. Reaction from the enormous adrenaline rush that had spurred his leap into awareness and defense hit him. He wiped a shaking hand across his face as his knees gave way.

Luckily, Blair was ready. He grasped the larger man under the arms and turned him to fall back on the bed. "Whoa there, Jim, take it easy."

Jim shuddered again and again. The spasms grew stronger, until he was convulsing. Blair looked even more panicked and the smell of fear assaulted Jim's nostrils again as the younger man hastily gathered the covers around him. Once the last layer was firmly tucked in, Blair lay down next to Jim, folding his arms around the bulky mass.

"It's okay, Jim. Just try and relax. You were gone for a long time, but you're gonna be all right now."

Jim sighed and let the warmth and comfort of Blair's body penetrating the layers of blankets calm him and he wondered why Sandburg sounded like he was trying to convince himself. The tremors finally became more bearable, fading away to random shivers. He sighed again as the aching tension in his overtaxed muscles began to fade.

"Jim, can you tell me what happened? Do you remember anything?"

He pondered for a moment. 'Did he remember anything?' What the hell kind of question was that? "Like my name, rank, serial number? What day it is? Who's the president of the United States?"

"That's so not funny right now. Do you remember how you got so zoned that you were doing a fine imitation of a Macy's window dressing mannequin for almost three hours?"

Jim huddled even deeper under the blankets. He remembered clearly enough he remembered much too clearly: the agonizing discovery that this relationship wasn't the most important thing in his life; it was his life. The fight that wasn't a fight but an ending, the miserable night with no sleep and no escape from the fear that he was destined to be alone. The terrible knowledge that life without Blair was something he couldn't face.

Jim wondered if he could get himself unwrapped quickly enough to make a dash to the bathroom, since his stomach suddenly felt like it was deciding it would be more comfortable inside-out. He ruthlessly forced the nausea down and made himself answer Blair's question.

"I had a zone out, Chief. Who knows what caused this one. One minute I was driving down the road and the next I'm here with you." That was the truth, at least as much of it as he wanted to admit.

Blair stared at him, making no effort to hide his frustration. "Man, I hate it when you make me pull stuff out of you. Do you remember what you were thinking when the zone out started? What you were feeling?"

Jim snorted. "I was thinking that things were looking weird and I pulled over. I felt weird, too. I don't know what you want me to say, Chief I'm tired, think I'll get ready for bed." Jim struggled to peel off the layers of enveloping blankets, when he was suddenly pinned by 160 pounds of enraged Guide.

"Damn it! You. Are. Not. Going. Anywhere. Until we figure this out." Each word was punctuated by the firm thump of a fist pounding his chest.

Overbalanced by Blair sitting squarely across his hips and trapped under the covers, Jim could only flinch as the words were hammered home. He tried to look anywhere except at the man who was solidly in his face. It was an impossible task. Blair was determined to have his way and Jim knew there was nothing he could deny his lover.

"What was going on with you? This was really bad, Jim. Anything could have happened to you. You were just...frozen." Blair shivered, then reached out to wrap his hands around Jim's face. "I could have lost you, you big shit."

Jim stared into the eyes of his beloved. No matter how much he loved Blair, no matter how much he needed him, he wouldn't try to force the younger man into staying in a relationship that was wrong for him. Blair's overactive feelings of responsibility would be so easy to manipulate. He pondered his options, and not for the first time, wished he could obfuscate as well and as easily as lover.

"I'm not sure what happened." The unspoken truth weighed heavily on him. Flicking his gaze over Blair's right shoulder, he continued, "I was tense and my vision started playing tricks on me. I couldn't keep driving so I pulled over and got out of the truck. For a moment everything was too bright, too loud and then everything faded away. The next thing I knew, I was here with you."

Jim met Blair's eyes, taking in his tense features and finally noticing the hank of unevenly lopped-off curls. "What happened to your hair, Chief?"

"I'd been trying for almost an hour to get you out of the zone out and nothing was working." Blair cleared his throat anxiously. "I had run out of ideas. That's when I thought of using a fire."

Jim nodded slowly. "Yeah, I smelled the smoke and the burning hair. I knew it was you."

"So, what I'm hearing here is that you thought I was in danger and you reacted to that?"

"That about sums it up, Chief." Jim wriggled, trying to get free. He didn't know what to say next, and the close proximity of his lover was fraying his tightly-wound nerves.

"What the hell happened today that made you go into the mother of all zone outs? Is this about last night?" Blair wouldn't let go of his face and Jim couldn't bear being under the laser- sharp gaze. He closed his eyes and nodded.

"Damn it! Talk to me, Jim! I'm not moving. I can stay here all day." Blair settled himself even more firmly across Jim's body.

Jim obstinately refused to open his eyes and refused to respond. There was nothing he could say. It had been wrong to start a relationship with Blair. His Guide had never been with a man before, had probably never even thought about it. Sentinel research consumed the younger man; Jim should have known that exploring the sexual aspect of his abilities would be too enticing for the anthropologist to refuse.

Blair lowered his head until they were touching foreheads. It was almost too much for Jim, he needed his lover's touch so desperately.

"Jim, last night was probably the worst night of my life. I had a lot of time to think and I came to the conclusion that I can't, I won't leave you. Even if that's what you want, I can't do it. It would hurt too badly." Blair shuddered. "You can force me to leave, but I won't go willingly."

Jim stared incredulously at his lover. "W-what did you say?" The words were so miraculous, he thought he must still be suffering the after effects of his zone out.

"Listen to me, James Joseph Ellison. I know that I'm not a cop, that there are probably a lot of other guys who you'd be better off partnered with. I know you could have your pick of lovers." Blair's voice shook as he revealed his deepest fears. "Jim, no one will ever love you the way I do. I think I've always loved you, from the moment we first met. You've got to believe me."

He was stunned. How could Blair think that he would ever choose anyone else? There was never any choice for him, his heart and soul were committed to the wild-eyed, intractable young man pinning him to the bed. He tried to firm his resolve and shook his head.

"No, Blair. It's this Sentinel thing. You think it's what the 'Guide of the Great City' should do. It's not right for you to give up the life you were meant to have." He was lost now. There was nothing left to hide. "You think I need you to love me...and, Lord help me, I do. But, I'm not what you need "

His next words were cut off as his mouth was covered in a savage kiss. Without thought, he responded to the harsh grind of lips and opened to the probing tongue. Blair plundered his mouth like a starving man and he couldn't resist, because he was starving, too.

Gasping for air, Blair finally pulled back. "The life I want is with you." Blair dropped another swift, hard kiss onto his lips.

Jim's face, normally so impassive, glowed with joy for an instant before he caught himself. It would be so easy to believe and he wanted more than anything to believe what Blair was telling him, but it wouldn't resolve the underlying problem. He was still exactly what Blair had called him; a throwback, unable to connect in the ways normal people took for granted. He retreated as far as he was able, pressing back into the bed.

"You have practically your whole life ahead of you, Chief. All those expeditions you want to go on, your career they're your future. Besides, you'll need someplace to come home to, a real home and a family of your own...." Jim faltered as Blair glowered at him, his expression becoming more and more fierce.

"Listen to me, Jim Ellison, and you listen good. I do not need you to tell me what you think I need or think I want. I'm not a kid. I'm 28 years old and I know exactly what I want. It's not some white picket fence suburban heaven you've dreamed up. This is the home I've always wanted. The only family I need or want, I've got. Naomi and you. I need you, Jim." Coming to the end of his harangue, Blair wrapped his arms around Jim and buried his face in the bigger man's chest.

Jim worked to release his arms from the blankets, no mean feat considering he was pinned under his Guide and the younger man was clinging like a limpet. He finally got free and wrapped his arms around Blair's back. He stroked his lover comfortingly, trying to convey his love and gratitude.

"Chief, I " Jim choked and started again. "I love you. I don't know how I could live without you." His voice broke. Panicked by what he had revealed, he couldn't go on. Tucking his face into the mass of curls, he inhaled the lingering scent of shampoo and the underlying essence that was pure Blair. How could he bear to give this up?

Stillness greeted his declaration. He squeezed Blair and waited desperately for a response that never came. Slowly, he brought both of his hands up to lift Blair away from his chest. Jim was stunned by what he discovered. Blair's eyes were squeezed tightly shut. From beneath one closed eyelid, a single tear tracked its way down the flushed cheek.

Blair never cried. Not really. He had seen the younger man choking back his grief and sorrow many times, had seen him sobbing uncontrollably when drugged out of his mind. But never real tears, never like this.

"Aw, damn it, Chief! I'm so sorry."

The smokey blue eyes snapped open, over-bright with emotion and sudden anger. "Don't you dare tell me you're sorry. I've waited three years for you to say that, say it and really mean it. Don't you dare try to apologize."

Appalled at how badly Blair had misunderstood him, Jim tried to repair the damage. "I'm sorry that I hurt you. I know it would be better for you if I could end this all here and now, but I'm not sorry I love you, that I'm in love with you. Never that." The words were spoken with a quiet passion he'd never expressed before.

"Oh, man, that's the most beautiful thing you've ever said to me. But there's no way to end what we have, we're meant to be together, Sentinel and Guide."

"Chief...." Jim's inability to find the words constricted his throat. He struggled to express what he was feeling. The emotions were there, but the words refused to come.

"Blair...." Whatever it was he wanted to say turned hot and suffocating, moving from his chest into his face and escaping through his eyes, becoming a wetness that cooled and itched as it moved down his cheeks.

Blair looked horrified. He reached out and wiped away the tears that streamed down Jim's face. They flowed over his fingers, quicker than he could capture them.

Jim was at a loss. He couldn't remember ever crying before. Had he cried when his mother left? He could recall trying his best to comfort Stephen, after she'd gone. But he had no memory of crying himself. He didn't know it would hurt so much and there didn't seem to be any way to stop.

Jim found himself stretched out with his head in his lover's lap. Blair dabbed at his tears with a corner of the sheet, murmuring words of comfort and dropping kisses on his forehead. Struggling to breathe deeply, he finally managed to gain a measure of control.

"I'm so sorry, Blair."

"Stop apologizing. And I don't want to hear any of that 'men don't cry' macho bullshit out of you." Blair shook his shoulder to punctuate the warning.

"I didn't mean to do that." Jim searched for signs of condemnation in Blair's expression. The only thing he found was love and acceptance.

"Sometimes it's the only thing to do," Blair said with a beatific smile. "It's okay. You're still gorgeous."

Jim gave a weak chuckle that ended with a watery snort.

"That, on the other hand, was sorta disgusting, man. I think you'd better blow your nose." Blair hooked a wad of tissues off the night stand and handed them over.

Jim made thorough use of them, before saying with a grimace, "Still think I'm gorgeous, Chief?"

"'Til the day I die, love."

The heartfelt reply tightened Jim's chest again and for a moment he feared a return of the tears that had so amazed them both. He reached up and buried his fingers in the mass of untamed curls, drawing Blair's head down for another soul-deep kiss.

Breaking away reluctantly, Blair shook a finger in Jim's face. "No way, man. We have that part down to a science. What we need to do is talk. If we're going to make this forever, there's a lot we've got to discuss. Like your fear of me leaving you, and my jealousies."

"Your...what? When did that start? Have long have you been...." Jim scowled with frustration. His jaw tightened and he stopped, disheartened by his bungling effort to form the right words.

"How long have I been insanely jealous?" Blair smiled, his quicksilver mind grasping the heart of Jim's meaning.

Jim nodded, his eyes flickering back to meet his lover's, holding his breath, surprised that Blair had known exactly what he'd been trying to say.

His look was met with a soft and understanding smile. "Forever. It started with Carolyn, I guess. Danny Choi was a biggie; Lila hurt like hell; a certain rookie cop just recently made me nuts." Blair shrugged.

"You really feel that way?" Jim could hardly believe what he was hearing. Why would Blair be jealous? Why had he had never seen that? It was almost too enormous for him to comprehend. All this time he had been so preoccupied with his own fears....

"Blair, you don't need to ever feel that or think that." He reached out and grasped the warm, familiar fingers. Bringing Blair's hand to his face, he rested the palm against his cheek. "I have never felt for anyone else what I feel for you."

"There's more, Jim. These past few months, I've been drowning. I have my commitments at school and with you at the station and there's never enough time for us. And lately I've been so tired. " Blair dropped his head, letting the cascade of mahogany curls hide his face.

Sentinel sharp vision saw past the curtain of hair, taking in the deep red stain rising over Blair's cheeks.

"I can't keep up. I've tried, believe me, Jim. It's not that I don't want to." Blair's voice cracked.

"Blair, don't," Jim murmured as he sat up and drew the younger man to his chest. He had known that his scheme to keep his lover would ultimately fail, but he had no idea how badly he had failed them both. His demands had pushed Blair too far. "It's not what you think. I...I was so afraid of doing things wrong again. I didn't want to disappoint you that way. It wasn't just the talking that I couldn't get right, Blair, it was the feeling and the...." Jim's voice trailed off, barely audible.

Blair's head shot off of Jim's chest. The younger man looked intensely at the Sentinel. "What was that?" Blair's eyes narrowed and Jim watched while his lover worked out the connection between what he'd said and what he meant.

"You've been trying to make up for your failings with Carolyn?" Blair demanded. Jim nodded unhappily.

Blair took a deep breath and plunged ahead. "Where else did it go wrong? You couldn't open up to her the way she wanted you to? And the sex, it wasn't right, either?"

Jim flinched away from the gentle probing. Unable to meet Blair's gaze, he looked away and replied with another nod.

"Did you love her, Jim? I mean really love her?"

"I thought I did, Chief. At first I thought it was the best thing for both of us. She seemed to love me, too. After a while, it was all we could do to speak civilly to one another and she she could hardly stand for me to touch her."

There was a long silence as Blair let Jim gather his thoughts and waited pointedly for the older man to continue.

"I never have been able to get it right, Chief. Even as a kid. You've said it yourself, I'm a throwback. I tried to hide behind the sex, tried to keep you from being that disappointed with me."

Blair groaned and hid his face in Jim's chest again. His reply was muffled. "You have it all wrong, Jim. You're not going to disappoint me. You're so much more than you give yourself credit for. I should never have made that remark."

His Guide nuzzled the hard muscles of Jim's chest. "I don't need you to hide what you are. I just need to know that you love me. Our love isn't just about sex, Jim. It's what we feel for each other."

"I can't always find the words, Chief. I want to, I really do, I just don't know if I can." Jim squelched back the fear that he was going to be tested again, only to be found wanting.

"You're doing pretty good so far. Just don't ever stop trying and I'll be happy. I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me."

Jim closed his eyes and sighed. They were going to be okay. For the first time in his life, he knew that someone trusted and loved him enough to look past his flaws and make it work. Something hard and cold buried deep inside him melted away, leaving contentment in its place.

The late afternoon sun slanted through the clerestory windows, bathing the lovers in a golden glow. Jim watched the way the light played over Blair's features, storing the memory away in his heart.