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Strange Rescue

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Strange Rescue

by Monica

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Author's disclaimer: All things related to The Sentinel belong to PetFly and Paramount. This story is strictly for fun and not profit.

Strange Rescue
By Monica

It was the tongue that did it.

Blair was able to ignore the sudden weight on his bed, the presence of another being beside him, the vague noises. But when the tongue began licking his face, and then teeth nipped at his chin, he woke up fast.

He'd had plenty of fantasies that involved waking up to see blue eyes locked on his, but not blue eyes in this particular face. A hairy face, with a long snout and pointed ears. A wolf.

"Wha-" God, had animals escaped from the Cascade zoo? And how did they get here? And why did it have to be a wolf? Why not a friendly monkey, or a groundhog, or?.wait a minute, a wolf? The animal gave Blair about one-second to process this development before seizing his T-shirt in large jaws and jumping off the bed, pulling Blair after him. Blair tumbled, landing awkwardly on his hands and knees. Another growl made him look up and realize he was face to face with a huge panth er.

All right, the odds of a wolf and a panther in his room were certainly next to zero. Forget escaped zoo animals. There was really only one possibility. "Spirit Guides, I presume?" he said weakly. He was about to holler for Jim, telling his Blessed Protector that they had visitors, and to hurry up and save his butt, when he remembered that he was alone in the loft. Jim was on a stakeout at a nightclub, following a tip that an escaped criminal had been spotted there. Blair had accompanied Jim the previous night, but he was battling a fierce cold, and after a night of coughing in the smoky club, Jim had insisted that Blair stay behind that night and get some rest. He had considered himself lucky to be left content in his warm bed. Now he had to deal with two ticked off Spirit Guides on his own.

The panther hissed and moved above him, taking hold of the back collar of his shirt. For one terrible moment, Blair had visions of being the wishbone in a "pull-and-make-a-wish-contest", but the wolf released him once the cat had him secure. Blair starred at him blankly, then the panther began to drag him, like any cat carrying its young.

"Hey! I am not one of your cubs! I don't like to be carried by the scruff of my neck. I don't have a scruff--" His objections were cut short when the wolf nipped at the soles of his feet, obviously advising him to move. Blair took the hint, crawling as best he could, deciding he was in no position to argue with these two.

"Nice kitty," he gasped. "Nice puppy. Whatever you want, okay? Just--watch the teeth!" The panther growled and moved faster, pulling him out of the bedroom and across the living room to the front door. Once there, he released the back of Blair's neck, only to take his hand and tug at him, a clear sign to stand. The wolf grabbed Blair's keys from the basket and the human obediently took them.

"Okay, you two want me to leave. I can do that. See, I'm leaving." He opened the door and was lead out into the hall. Blair was then pulled down the long flight of stairs to the basement. "The basement?" Blair asked incredulously as they reached the bottom of the building. "You woke me up to go to the basement?" Both animals merely looked at him, and the panther slightly tightened his grip on his hand with a menacing growl. Blair, having the distinct impression that he had just been told to shut up, quieted.

He was lead through the halls of the basement to Jim's private storage area. He unlocked the door, understanding now why he had been given his keys, and was unceremoniously dragged inside. The wolf gripped the door knob in his jaws and pulled it shut behind them as Blair clicked on the light s o he could see in the windowless room. The panther finally released his hand, allowing Blair to back up against the wall, glaring at his furry kidnappers. "So?you going to tell me what's going on here?"

The wolf turned his head to one side, looking interested as he studied the anthropologist, but the panther hissed and the wolf snapped back to attention. The two Guides spent a moment in silent communication, then the cat turned and walked through the door, disappearing. Blair gulped nervously, sliding down to sit on the floor. The wolf glanced back at him, then yawned and stretched before laying down in front of the doorway, clearly trapping him inside.

Blair rubbed his hand, checking for teeth marks. Finding none, he looked at the watch that he had thankfully forgotten to take off earlier. 1:00 AM. Jim would still be at the club until it closed around 2:00. Hopefully when he returned to the building, he would find his kidnapped Guide. Of course, seeing how protective Jim was, he would go ballistic at finding Blair missing. That thought made Blair wince in guilt, even though it was hardly his fault.

"You two better have a good reason for this," he warned his captor. "And you are going to explain to Jim that it was your idea that I disappear during the middle of the night." The canine merely yawned again and scratched his left ear vigorously, totally unconcerned at having to deal with the Sentinel.

Blair sighed, looking around. Well, there were worse places to be held prisoner, he knew. Jim, bless his anal retentive soul, kept the camping gear in and a supply of emergency equipment tidily stored in the storage unit. Blair spread out two sleeping bags so he would at least have a comfortable place to sit during his forced stay. Despite wearing his usual T-shirt, sweatpants and socks, he was beginning to feel a bit chilled, and pulled out the blanket as well. He coughed a bit, his cold still lingering.

His Guide watched curiously as Blair dug through the rest of the supplies. Flashlights, batteries, radio, extra batteries, medical kit, extra batteries? he was beginning to see a pattern. He idly wondered if the Ellison family had stock in a battery company. Ah-now this was more interesting. A supply of food. Dried fruit, nuts, jerky, um, not bad. And a six-pack of bottled water. Perfect.

Sandburg sat back on the bags and spread out the goodies from his raid. The wolf joined him, at first curious, then whining when he smelled the jerky. Blair laughed at the begging look on the long face, and opened the plastic jar.

"All right, fellow. Here you go." He offered a piece of dried meat to the wolf, who happily accepted it. Two quick bites, and it was gone with only another pleading look on the canine face. "This probably isn't good for you," Blair warned as he held out another piece. The wolf showed no regard for the advisory and snatched the treat up. "I wouldn't have thought that Spirit Guides even ate. I mean, you're not really real, you know? You're not regular animals. You're on a spiritual plane of life. Do you eat there? I just can't believe that you like human food." The animal Guide waited patiently, letting his human talk nonsense for a while, knowing that another morsel would be coming in time.

Blair opened one of the bottles of water and poured some into a small bucket he found in the supply pack. The wolf accepted the drink happily and sat beside the student as they continued their snack. Blair looked at him thoughtfully. "You know, I've never really spent a lot of time with you before. Jim's Guide visits him a lot more. What up with that?" He was sure he saw a shrug of the shoulders. "What-I'm not worth the time? I don't need visits? Come on, help me out here." The wolf merely helped himself to another pie ce of jerky. The human rolled his eyes and sighed.

"Great. Who would have thought that I would get stuck with a quiet Guide? One that's getting hooked on preservative-loaded meat. If you get sick, don't come running to me." The Guide ignored the ramblings and concentrated on eating the meat. "I've created a monster," Blair moaned.

A growl made Blair look up to see that the panther had returned. He stalked over and touched noises with the wolf. Again, Blair had the feeling they were communicating and wished they would clue him in. The wolf wagged his tail as the big cat sniffed the container of jerky. "You too?" Blair groaned. He held out a piece cautiously, and the panther took it with feline grace. Just like his friend, he immediately wanted another, and then another piece. Blair finally dumped the whole jar out on the floor and watched in amusement as the two Guides devoured the contents , occasionally growling over who got what piece.

Wearily, Blair realized that he'd had only about two hours of sleep before the animals had woken him. He eyed the Guides carefully. The cat was fastidiously washing his paws after his snack while the wolf licked the empty container, obviously hoping for another taste. Well, they seemed to be content. Might as well see if he could get some rest while being held prisoner.

He laid down and was reaching for the blanket when he felt a presence by him. The panther was inspecting the sleeping bags, sniffing cautiously at them and at him. "Ah, come on, man," Blair complained. "You drag me down here, in the middle of the night, I'm tired and cold---" His protests ended when the huge cat suddenly laid down- half beside the human and half on top of him, apparently satisfied that the sleeping bags were suitable for a nap. The feline stretched out, laying his head on Blair's shoulder close to his heart, one paw possessively on his chest, holding him down. It was all the invitation the wolf needed, and he joined them with a happy yip, jumping over to snuggle warmly beside Blair on his other side.

The anthropologist struggled for a minute, not sure he liked this turn of events. The cat's muzzle was frighteningly close to his neck, reminding Blair of just how dangerous the animal could be. He was trying to move away when the panther growled softly and the claws of the paw on his chest men acingly dug into his skin for a second. Blair knew that he had just been told to settle down and go to sleep; like a parent ordering a reluctant child to bed.

"What the Hell," Blair sighed. It had been a crazy night; being the center of a Spirit Guide nap sandwich was only the latest turn of events. Why fight it? Once he relaxed, he realized it was actually pretty comfortable. Definitely warm and cozy, much better than a blanket. The chill he had f elt was rapidly disappearing as the fury bodies covered him. It seemed right, somehow. This was his Spirit Guide and Jim's Guide, after all. He had no idea why he was here with them, but he knew he had nothing to fear from these two.

Blair closed his eyes and shifted to get more comfortable, only half-aware as he snuggled closer to the panther's long body. The wolf rolled over a bit following him, and the human was securely tucked between the Guides. He coughed again, and immediately received several soothing licks to his chest and face from the cat. Sandburg grimaced a bit, then it turned into a yawn. He mumbled a vague complaint when the cat's tail brushed against his leg, tickling, and was lulled to sleep by the comforting warmth and the loud purring of a contented cat.

Jim starred in amazement at the sight before him. Blair, a wolf, and a panther sound asleep on the sleeping bags. They were snuggled together, laying beside, across, and under each other like a litter of? well, a litter of something. Trust Sandburg to stay warm and go to sleep no matter what wa s going on around him.

For a moment, Jim felt instinctive fear at seeing his Guide covered by two dangerous animals, but then relaxed. These were their Spirit Guides, not ordinary animals. They had saved Blair, protected him. Even to the point of keeping him warm while he was hidden away.

The Sentinel cautiously approached the sleeping pile and knelt. He was debating how best to wake them when the panther lifted his head, yellow eyes glaring into his.

<Took you long enough> The words sounded in Jim's head, a clear message and a rebuke. The cat flicked his tail in annoyance to emphasize his point. Jim swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded.

"I know," he whispered. He looked at the peacefully sleeping human and thought what would have happened if the animals hadn't protected him. The possibility made him furious and terrified at the same time. "I? didn't know."

<Claim your Guide, Sentinel. Then you will know>

Jim looked up. "Claim?" he questioned. The sound of his voice awoke the wolf who starred briefly at Jim before beginning to lick Blair's face. Sandburg sputtered at his abrupt awakening.

"Ah, no, not again," he whined, eyes still closed. "Just once can't you wake me up nicely, and-"

"Sandburg," Jim interrupted. "Why don't you try talking to human now, um?" Blair's eyes flew open.

"Jim!" Blair sat up, pushing away two large animals who both growled at their displacement. He was about to apologize to them when he was caught up in a very human hug.

Ellison held him tightly, letting all his senses be directed at the Guide, reassuring himself that he was unharmed. His grip tightened until Blair was squirming for breath. "Hey- Big Guy? I'm glad to see you too, but? I can't really breathe here!"

Reluctantly, Jim released him, but still kept a hold on his arms. "Chief, thank God your safe," he said. "When the panther showed up, I thought-"

"Whoa, wait a minute." Blair pushed some hair out of his eyes as Jim sat beside him. "Want to tell me first what's going on here?" He directed his question to both his fellow human and the animals. Jim sighed. "The sighting at the nightclub was a setup. The guy we wanted was actually waiting for? well, for me to come alone." Blair frowned, puzzled. Jim hated to continue, but knew he had to. "What he actually wanted was to get you alone? to kill you as revenge because I was the one who captured him before, and he knows that we're close."

Blair's eyes were wide as he processed this. "He was going to kill me?" Jim managed a nod, then pulled him in for another tight hug.

"God, Chief. I caught him leaving the building, mad as hell that you weren't in the loft. So mad that he actually talked, confessed," 'with a little persuasion, Jim acknowledged'. "If you had been upstairs?"

Blair swallowed. "I'd be dead," he finished. "If these guys hadn't gotten me out of there." He looked down at the wolf who was laying partially across his legs. Sensing his unease, the canine whined softly and nudged Blair's hand. Stroking the coarse fur calmed him a bit. "They saved me, Jim." His Sentinel nodded.

"They did," he agreed softly. Blair was shaking now a bit as the reality of his would-be situation sank in. He didn't resist when Jim continued to hold him, now rubbing his back.

"How did you know?" Blair's voice was soft against his chest.

"The panther. He appeared in the nightclub, like he was telling me to follow him. I? knew? that something was wrong."

"He disappeared for a while," Blair recalled. "After they got me down here. That must have been when he was with you. Then he returned here once you were on the way," he guessed.

Jim shrugged. "I suppose. The important thing is that you're safe." The panther growled his agreement. Blair lifted his head to smile at the cat.

"How did you find me down here?"

"Your heartbeat," Jim answered. "I just followed it down here."

Sandburg smiled. He had suspected as much. It was nice to know that Jim was that focused on him. It was also nice to be in his arms?

Blair pulled away a bit, suddenly self-conscious. A look of disappointment flickered across Jim's face then disappeared. Blair had never given any sign that he was interested in? well, interested. It was enough to know he was safe.

The panther took Blair's hand again, pulling him so he had to stand up. Jim followed. "Guess they think you can go now," he commented. "Yeah." Blair suddenly dropped back to his knees and to Jim's shock "hugged" the sleek cat. The feline rubbed his head against Blairs', returning the affection. Then the wolf jumped on Blair's back, lightly knocking him down and the two play wrestled for a minute in a dog version of a hug. Blair finally got up only after several wet licks on his face.

"Thank you," he said to them, quietly, sincerely. Both animals nudged against his hand, in a 'your welcome' gesture, then the wolf ran out of the room. The panther lingered for a minute, looking directly at Jim, and he heard the voice in his head again.

<Claim him, Sentinel. It will keep him safe> Then the panther was gone in a graceful blur of motion.

"Hello? Earth to Jim?" Ellison was pulled out of his daze by Blair's concerned voice. "Jim? You zoned on me there, Big Guy."

He forced himself to smile. "Sorry. Those guys coming and going just shakes my nerves a bit."

"Yeah, I guess. I just sorta got used to it. Kinda had to." Jim grinned at that.

"Talked their ears off, didn't you?" Blair's blush showed his agreement. Ellison picked up the former jerky container, noting the teeth marks in the plastic. "Do I even want to know?" he asked. Blair shook his head, his ears now coloring. "I thought so. Come on, let's get out of here."

He took his Guide back upstairs and Blair sighed. "Man, talk about interrupted sleep," he grumbled. Jim monitored him, noting that there were still a few nervous shakes and his heartbeat was slightly elevated. Despite his casual acceptance of the Spirit Guides, it was clear that he was unnerved by what had prompted their presence. Still cursing himself that he hadn't known what danger his Guide was in, Jim tried to think of something to calm him.

"Tell you what. It's not even 3:00 yet, and Simon said the paperwork could wait till this afternoon. Why don't you take a shower and lay back down for a while?"

Blair nodded at the suggestion. "Okay," he said. He went in the bathroom, clearly functioning on auto pilot only. Jim normally dialed his hearing down at such times to give Blair privacy, but this time all senses were on full alert, keeping watch over his Guide. He listened to Sandburg's sighs and mumbles about what a crazy world it was when someone wanted you dead and your ass was saved by animals. Just a s Jim was about to chastise himself again, he heard the new mutterings.

"I'm not afraid, not afraid. I will be able to sleep? maybe. Wish the Guides were back, could sleep with them? could sleep with Jim? Oh, God, quit thinking that. You are not sleeping with Jim and that is that, okay? I mean, really?"

That was all Jim heard before he nearly zoned on the information. Blair wanted to sleep with him. Blair needed him, even if just for now. Without consciously moving, he was standing by the door when it opened.

"Hey, all yours," Blair said. He had changed into a fresh T-shirt and sweatpants and looked so alive, so beautiful, that Jim reached out and allowed himself to touch Blair, lightly running a hand through the dark hair. Startled, Blair just looked up at him. "Jim? What is it?"

"Blair?" Jim took a deep breath, inhaling the wonderful scent that was his Guide. How could he even begin to explain? "When the panther showed up? I knew something was wrong. God, I should have suspected something. I should never have left you. If something had happened to you? if the animals hadn't?"

"Jim," Blair was concerned. "It's not your fault. How could you have known?" The Sentinel growled in frustration and Blair was reminded of the panther.

"I should have known," he repeated. "The panther said that I would know if-" he quickly broke off that sentence. "Look, Chief, you just had a pretty unnerving experience. How about? well, I'd feel better? I mean, if you would feel better?"

"Hey, I'm the one that usually stammers," Blair said, trying to ease the obvious tension. "Come on, what's up?"

"Why don't you come up and sleep with me? in my bed, I mean," Jim finally blurted. "I don't think you should be alone right now. And I know that I would feel better if you were close by." Blair felt as if the wind was knocked out of him. He had never honestly thought that Jim would even ask him such a thing. Sure, they had occasionally shared a tent while camping and slept by each other, but taking it to the same bed was a whole other level. Whoa, getting ahead of yourself, he thought. That isn't going to happen. Jim is just in severe Blessed Protector mode. And besides, sleeping together, doesn't necessarily mean sleeping together.

Then Jim looked sharply behind him, and Blair turned to see the panther and wolf standing at the foot of the steps leading up to Jim's bedroom. The wolf moved his head in an unmistakable "come on" gesture, and bounded up the stairs. The panther just looked at them irritably, tail waving angrily, as if wondering what was taking them so long.

"Um, Chief, it seems they want us to join them." Maybe this would work after all.

Blair must have made some sound or gesture of agreement, because the next thought he had was that they were walking up the stairs and it was really happening. Jim was just helping him feel better, that was all. The fact that the animals were practically throwing them together didn't help.

Once upstairs, Blair slid automatically into the big bed, quickly turning over so he was facing the wall. He heard the sounds as Jim stripped to his boxers and laid down beside him, but with a distinct distance between them.

Jim nervously glanced over at the hair that was spread over a pillow. "Um? comfortable, Chief?" Oh, that was brilliant. Sure he was- it was just an ordinary day when he was kidnapped by animals to save him from a killer.

"Yeah," Sandburg answered. He sounded as uncertain as Jim.

"How's your cold?" Jim tried again.

Blair paused. "Actually, I feel fine now," he said in a puzzled tone. "I was coughing earlier, but ever since you woke me downstairs, I haven't coughed at all." He looked past Jim's shoulder to the cat, frowning, remembering the licks from the animal that had eased his cough before he had fallen asleep earlier. Then, too tired to peruse the thought, he mentally shrugged.

The wolf had jumped up on the bed and unceremoniously walked over Jim to squirm between Blair and the wall. The mattress dipped again when the panther joined them, laying against Jim's back.

It was subtle at first, but became more blatant. The panther moved so close to Jim that he shifted over a bit, only to be followed by the sleek body. On the other side, the wolf was doing the same, pushing Blair closer and closer to Jim.

Ellison finally gave up and put an arm around Blair. He was unsure what Blair's reaction would be, but he merely rolled over to willingly snuggle close, putting his head on Jim's chest. "I think they're trying to tell us something, Chief."

"Seems that way," Blair agreed quietly. "Trust me, they're pretty persistent." He hesitated. "Do you mind? I could-"

"It feels perfect," Jim said. It did feel right. The Guide was safe in his arms, protected. It was how it should be. He began to stroke the curly hair and felt Blair relax more. Quickly, his breathing deepened and became regular. Exhausted, he fell asleep without another word. Jim stayed awake for a time, just listening to the steady heartbeat and breathing. He turned his head slightly to see the large cat behind him. "Thank you," he whispered. The panther nodded, then began purring loudly. On the other side of the bed, the wolf yawned as he nuzzled the pillow, getting comfortable. Soon, Jim followed them all into sleep.

Blair rose reluctantly up through the layers of sleep, not wanting to wake up yet. He was warm, comfortable. Determined to recapture that wonderful sleep he'd been in, he snuggled more into the warm body beside him, feeling arms tighten slightly around him, a hand pet his hair. Ah, now this was more like it. He could get used to this. He purred in contentment, feeling a bit like the panther.

Panther? Arms around him?

Oh? damn.

Fully awake now, he hesitantly opened his eyes and saw a broad, muscular chest beneath him. Oh? double damn.

The hand in his hair continued to lightly run through the long curls. For a second, he thought maybe he could pretend to still be asleep and somehow stall the inevitable, but knew it was useless. "Chief?" the soft voice interrupted his jumbled thoughts.

Okay, time to face him. Why was this so difficult? It wasn't like?anything had happened. He lifted his head up and managed to look Jim in the eyes. "Morning, Jim." He sounded remarkably normal.

"Good morning yourself." Jim felt relaxed and at ease. The good feelings he'd had when he went to sleep had not gone away in the slightest. In fact, if anything they were intensified now that the threat to his Guide was gone. He had awoken some time ago and just lain in complete contentment, listening to the steady heartbeat and breathing and playing with the curls. He had known immediately when Blair had woken up, but had also sensed his unease as he realized where he was. Not wanting to startle the younger man, he moved carefully.

Blair was looking around the bedroom. "They're gone?" he asked, referring to the now missing animal Guides.

"Yep. And they were even considerate enough to not leave any hair behind. I was sure I'd find a ton of shredded fur on the bedspread."

It was the tension-breaker Blair needed, and he laughed. Trust Jim to be concerned about animal hair. He'd probably been worrying all night about the best way to clean the bed covers. Jim managed a suitably irritated look at the laughter.

"Sure, laugh about it. You aren't the one who can see the hair floating around a house cat or small dog. I didn't even want to know what a panther and wolf would leave behind."

"Only you would think about that, Big Guy," Blair snickered.

"Someone has to keep this place from being condemned," Jim muttered. Then his eyes grew serious. "How are you?'

Blair sighed and relaxed back into the arms that still held him. "I'm okay," he said. "A little unnerved, you know, but nothing terrible. I think I actually had the easier part of it. Sure, it was weird when they showed up and dragged me downstairs, but I had no idea what was really going on. Ignorance is bliss, you know. Seems that you had the hard part."

"It was?hard," Jim agreed. Blair looked at him curiously. "When I got here and realized the danger you were in, it was like my heart stopped. Then I heard your heartbeat, and everything was all right. You were safe. That's all that mattered."

Blair looked down, feeling slightly nervous again. It was so not like Jim to reveal his feelings like this. "It's not your fault," he said firmly. "And I was safe. The Guides-"

"They shouldn't have had to be here," Jim interrupted angrily. His arms suddenly tightened, making Blair wince slightly. "I should have known. I'm your Protector."

"How could you have known? What else can you do?"

"This." And Jim abruptly pulled Blair down and kissed him.

All thought, all reason, fled from Jim's mind the moment he began. Startled, Blair tired to pull away from the fierce embrace, only to be held firmly in place. The Sentinel, sensing his mate's attempt to move away from him, immediately rolled, pinning the smaller body beneath him and stopping any further attempts to leave. One hand snaked through the long hair, holding the head in place as he continued to plunder the sweet depths of his Guide's mouth.

<Claim him, Sentinel> The thoughts of the panther echoed in his mind. He would do that, it would keep him safe.

Blair had gone from startled, to slightly aroused, to startled again all within the span of a single minute. 'What the Hell?!' his mind thundered. He felt Jim cover him and started to seriously need some air. Before the need became overwhelming, Jim released his mouth, only to travel to his neck. Blair felt the collar of his T-shirt being roughly pulled aside, and was reminded of the panther again. The hand in his hair moved, forcing his head to turn to the side and Jim's other hand held his shoulder down.

Then teeth sank into the tender skin at the juncture of his shoulder and neck. Alarmed, Blair struggled against the sharp pain, only to hear the growl of the big cat in his head.

"Jim! That hurts! Stop it, please!" The older man's response was to continue, digging his teeth in deeper, now sucking also against the trapped flesh. Blair whimpered and tried to lay still, realizing that fighting was useless. After several long minutes, Jim drew back and Blair looked at him. His face was blank for a minute, in a zone, then his features changed and he blinked, becoming aware. He saw the mark on Blair's neck, already vivid, and visibly shook.

"God, Chief?.I'm sorry?" he pulled away and made to leave when Blair grabbed his arm. Ellison could have easily pulled away, but remained.

"Wait a minute," Blair said. "I think we need to talk about this, don't you?" He saw the twitch of the jaw: Ellison speak for 'no comment'. "All right, I guess you don't think so, but I do, and seeing as how I'm the one who just got?" he paused, trying to think of the word he wanted.

"Assaulted?" Jim supplied bitterly.

Blair sighed. "No. Mauled maybe, but not assaulted." Another twitch: at least Jim was listening. "Everything has been crazy since the animals came and got me. Not the least of which is sleeping in your bed."

"And then I turn into an animal on you."

"Maybe. But was there a reason?" Jim refused to make eye contact with him. "There is a reason, I can tell. Come on, what is it?"

"A stupid reason, that's what it is." Jim finally turned to face Blair. It was the least he owed him. "The panther?last night, and again this morning, it was like he was talking to me. I keep hearing him in my head."

Blair was fascinated. This was new- Jim admitting that his Guide spoke to him. "And what does he say?" Jim studied the wall past Blair's head.

"To 'claim' you," he said finally. "And I have no idea what he means by that. Only that I need to keep you safe, and 'claiming' you, whatever that means, will supposedly do it. And then the next thing I know, I'm not thinking, only acting. And you got caught in it."

"'Claim' me?" there was a slight waver in Blair's voice. Concerned, Jim finally turned to look at him. Blair was now the one starring blankly, lost in thought. Jim could almost see the mind under the curly hair working. It was Blair's version of a zone- thinking so intently.

They sat quietly for a minute, then Blair finally looked at Jim. "I, um?might know what he meant," he finally said softly. "But I doubt you'll like it."

Jim frowned, wondering why his Guide was keeping something secret- something that obviously disturbed him. "What?" he said.

Blair was studying the pattern on the quilt. "Burton wrote about times when a Sentinel and Guide need to?bond. And it happens fully when the Sentinel claims their Guide."

"So what do Burton- and the panther- mean exactly by claiming?" The flush of embarrassment clearly rose on Blair's face and even his neck shaded pink. It took a second to dawn on the detective's mind. "Oh," he said finally.

"Yeah, oh," Blair agreed. "When I first read that, I didn't understand it. Burton didn't exactly spell it out, you know, and you had to read between the lines to get what he really meant, but yeah. Claim, as in sex. Burton said it bonded the pair. It doesn't always happen?it's instinct for the most part. But it makes sense if it does happen because they share all their lives together." He half expected Jim to jump up, to be angry over that revelation, but he seemed to be taking it more calmly than the anthropologist.

"I wonder how that would keep you safe," Jim mussed.

"I don't know?you seem to be taking this pretty well, Big Guy. No offense, but I was pretty sure you would be appalled to say the least."

Jim looked at him intently, the pale blue eyes pinning him. "Why do you think that?' he asked quietly.

Blair wondered what was going on in the Sentinel's mind. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "You just?it just seemed like something that would set you off. You're such a control freak, I can't picture you calmly hearing that instinct will drive you to?and the panther trying to throw us together?and sleeping together?"

"Chief," Jim gently interrupted the ramblings, his voice soft and deep. "I'm not offended. Not at all," he added as he slid a fraction closer to Blair.

The younger man starred at him. "Uh?" he managed.

A smile crossed Jim's face. "Chief, you're a brilliant teacher and anthropologist, and a terrific partner. But you don't know everything."

"Your not upset?"


"And you've?" Blair made a vague gesture with a shaking hand.

The smile broke into a grin as Jim caught the waving hand. "Yes," he said simply. "And I take it that you haven't?" The blush instantly reappeared and included the small ears as Blair looked away. "Don't be embarrassed, Chief. It's not something I advertise, you know. I never wanted you to feel uncomfortable, so I never said anything."

"And I didn't want you to feel uncomfortable, so when I read about the ?claiming?I never mentioned it. Funny, uh? We're both trying so hard to protect each other."

"Which I failed at last night," the bitterness returned to Jim's voice.

Blair sighed. "We're back there again, aren't we? Jim, it wasn't your fault." He raised a hand to touch the mark on his neck. "I just don't understand how protecting me, and?claiming me, work together."

"The panther said it would keep you safe," Jim insisted. "And right now, the need to protect you is nearly overwhelming. And so is the other need." He saw the alarmed look cross the younger man's face and hastened to reassure him. "Blair, I would never-"

"I know, I'm not afraid," Blair insisted. "Well, okay, I'm nervous about that, but I'm not afraid of you." Jim nodded, understanding the difference, the distinction. Carefully, he raised a hand to Blair's cheek, lightly caressing the smooth skin and traveling to the hair that fell in wild curls. Blair looked at him steadily, letting him continue. Finally, Jim drew his hand away with a sigh.

"Pressuring you, or scaring you, is the last thing I want to do, Chief. I can tell your scared."

"Yeah," Blair admitted in a small voice. "Jim, Burton talked about how?it's also a 'possession'. A Sentinel possessing their Guide's body and mind. It's not just a casual lovemaking. It's forever."

"I think that's right. I know that what I feel- what I've felt for a long time actually, isn't temporary or a phase. I love you, Blair."

Blair glanced away. No one had ever said that to him that way before, with the meaning behind it that this carried. Blair thought back over the past months, all the times Jim stepped casually between him and a suspicious person, threw an arm across him when taking a corner too fast, even though he was always buckled in- another thing Jim oversaw. Jim had been his Blessed Protector for some time, and maybe more than that. Maybe his lover, at least in his heart.

"I love you too, Jim," he finally said. "I just-"

"I know." Jim lifted a gentle hand to cover the full lips, stopping Blair's words. "It's okay."

With a sigh, Jim glanced over at the clock before turning back to Blair. "Chief, a lot happened last night, and this morning. Why don't we just put things on hold for now? We need to go into the office and fill out those reports. We can talk later, all right?" Blair nodded, relived at the respite. "Let's get moving then. It's your turn to make breakfast, and I want eggs."

"Eggs? Haven't you been listening to me? That stuff is like so bad?" as Blair went into his latest rant on the evils of fatty food, Jim smiled, content that he had successfully distracted his Guide and gotten him on a new topic.

Still, he mentally sighed as he followed Blair downstairs. He did desire the younger man- strongly. It was almost overwhelming, especially since last night. Knowing the danger he had been in, it was still all he could do to not wrap Blair up and lock him away where no one could ever hurt him. And now knowing that sex, "claiming", would help protect him, it was just more incentive to make Blair his.

But he had spoken the truth. He would never force Blair to do anything, no matter what his body and mind suggested. If Blair refused him, and refused him for the rest of their lives, he would respect that and not cross whatever line Blair needed to draw. He thought of the panthers words and sent out a mental appeal.

<I need some help here>, he thought.

It was late when they finally returned home. Filling out the reports had taken most of the afternoon, and then they had stopped to eat at a new Chinese place. Jim kept the talk light during the meal, knowing that the last thing Blair needed was any pressure. The younger man was quiet and subdued, and Jim could sense the busy mind working and worrying.

It had been a long day for the Sentinel. While Blair had worked on the reports at the station, Jim fantasized about throwing him over the desk. Blair had given Simon an edited version of events, throwing in a comment about Jim's Sentinel abilities to explain. Jim wanted to show him what other "abilities" he had- and show him again, and again.

Once at the loft, Jim turned on a Jags game, trying hard to concentrate on it, and not on his partner who was hidden away in his room. Maybe another beer would do the trick, he decided, and took one from the refrigerator. Blair came out as he settled back on the couch.

"Okay, I'm ready," Blair declared.

Jim looked at him blankly, trying to remember if they had an appointment he had forgotten. "Ready for what?" he asked, taking a sip of his much needed beer.

"You know. Sex."

Blair knew that Jim could move fast, but what happened next surprised even him. In the span of about 2 seconds, Jim choked on his beer, recovered, turned off the TV, threw the remote aside, placed the beer can downon a coaster- and had Blair in his arms.

He didn't try anything, just held Blair, looking intently into his eyes. "Blair, are you sure? Do you know what you're saying?"

"Yes, I know and yes, I'm sure." Blair smiled. "Nervous, I admit, but still sure."

Jim reached up to run a hand to touch his soft cheek. "You need to be positive, Blair. Are you feeling any pressure? Don't think that you have to-"

"I want this, Jim. I know I don't have to, I want to."

"But I don't-"

"Jim, for crying out loud. Do you want me or not? Keep asking and I'm--" his words were cut off by the kiss.

It was like their first kiss that morning, and yet different. Sudden and fierce like the first, but also growing slower after Jim touched his lips, reassuring. Blair relaxed into it, kissing back this time and not passively lying there, too shocked to respond. This was slow, and careful, Jim testing Blair's reaction and Blair determined to leave no doubts.

Jim finally ended it, moving his lips to taste the chin and neck, nuzzling like the cat. Warm lips traveled over the mark he had made earlier. Blair had worn a turtleneck and left his hair down to cover it.

"I never did apologize for this," Jim murmured against the soft skin.

"You said you were sorry," Blair managed, senses whirling. Jim chuckled softly, pulling back to look at the small face.

"Confession time, Chief. I was sorry that I scared you, and bit you so hard. I wasn't sorry that I had done it."

"Jerk." Blair joined in the soft laughter, then Jim grew sober again.

"Blair, before we can continue, I really need to know. What made you change your mind? Why now? I said I would understand if you decided it wasn't right for you-for us."

"I know, and I love you even more for it." Blair leaned into the strong arms that encircled him. "Jim, I've been attracted to you for a while too. I just didn't let myself think about it much because I'd never had those feelings for a guy before, and I thought maybe it was a Sentinel and Guide thing. And I realized that it is a bond between us. And it's stronger and more far reaching than I thought."

He smiled at the look in Jim's eyes- love. "When the Guides rescued me, I realized how much I meant to you, and what you meant to me. I thought of you the whole time I was in the basement. I was nervous, scared, and all I could think was that you were going to put things right when you came back. I was just waiting for you. And it took that experience to make me realize it."

Jim kissed him again, lightly. "If we make love, it will bind us together, Blair. Are you ready for that? I am your Protector, and if what the panther says is true, I may become even more so after this. You said once that I was territorial, a throwback. I doubt I'll change for the better."

"I doubt it too," Blair smiled. "And I am ready. Just don't think that you can ever grab me by the hair and drag me to your cave."

"Deal." Jim leaned down for another long round of kissing which was broken when Blair finally pulled away for air.

"Upstairs," he suggested.

"Um?not just yet."

"The couch?"

Jim laughed. "One, my back won't take it, and two, I just cleaned the couch last week." Blair blushed at that. "You're racing a bit ahead, Chief. Let's take this slow. We are going to make love, but I don't need to throw you down right now. It's your first time, Blair, and I'm not going to forget that, no matter what. Let's get relaxed a bit first."

"Okay," Blair was still blushing and he rested against the strong chest, just enjoying the feeling and comfort. Jim sensed his need, and hugged him. After a minute, Jim kissed him again, then guided him down onto the couch, drawing Blair onto his lap.

A long, slow stint of kissing relaxed Blair, and Jim could feel some of the nervous tension leave a bit. He left Blair's sweatshirt in place, but removed his own T-shirt, accepting the eager help from the younger man. Blair then fell into a long exploration of Jim's chest and arms, while Jim moved his hands under the sweatshirt. He knew leaving the clothes on for now would help his lover feel more comfortable.

"Um?upstairs- now?" Blair said finally, teasing in his voice.

"I think that's a good idea- now," Jim agreed dryly, returning the soft laughter. Blair got up, and Jim followed him, pulling him in for another long kiss once they were standing. It took them a while to make it upstairs, having to pause every few steps for another kiss.

Once upstairs, Jim slowly removed his clothes, accepting Blair's now fumbling help again, then carefully undressed his Guide and swiftly moved them under the blankets. Blair relaxed more once he was covered again, and happily continued with the kissing and exploration.

Jim worked his way down the neck, tonguing his mark on the soft skin, and moved to the chest. He found the nipples and suckled gently on one, enjoying the groan that it brought. "Feel good?" he asked in amusement, his lips just barely above the sensitive area, his breath caressing the skin.

"Oh, yeah," Blair managed. "Beyond good, actually."

"Then I must be doing a good job." Jim continued his ministration on the nipple for a long time, then moved to give the opposite one the same treatment. By now Blair was groaning constantly, his own hands caressing and drawing sounds of pleasure from the older man.

The Sentinel finally returned to kiss his Guide's lips. Blair eagerly accepted him, his tongue tracing the outline of Jim's own lips and relaxing more into their lovemaking. With a deep sigh, Jim pulled back a bit, his large hands cupping the face beneath him, studying the features he loved.

"I love you, baby," he said tenderly. Blair still smiled, but there was a slight falter, a sudden increase in his heartbeat. "Nervous?" Jim guessed. Blair hesitated, then nodded.

"Yeah. Especially since I can, um?feel something that is definitely interested." He moved slightly, brushing his body again the large cock that had been enjoying it's place against Blair's thigh. It enjoyed the movement even more and let both parties know. "Kind of intimidating, Big Guy. And I mean that literally now."

"Blair, we don't have to do that. There are other ways we can please each other. For that matter, we don't have to do anything. Just holding each other is fine with me."

"No. I mean, just holding is always good, but that's not what either one of us wants or needs right now." Blair thought for a moment, then pushed a bit against Jim's chest. Jim moved, wondering if Blair wanted to get up. But Blair just rolled on top of Jim as the older man settled on his back, Blair laying across his chest. With a smile, he resumed the kissing.

Jim happily laid back, enjoying the feel of the body above him and continued his own kissing and caressing. Since Jim would have to take control of the later stages of their lovemaking, it seemed right to let Blair guide them now.

Between Jim's instincts, and Blair's eagerness at the new experience, it didn't take long for both to quickly reach full arousal. Jim growled slightly as he pulled Blair against him, their cocks rubbing together. Blair returned the sentiment, doing his best to make Jim crazy.

The older man firmly grasped the firm buttocks and rolled, pinning his mate beneath him again. This time however, it was a gentle hold, not threatening, but reassuring. Blair easily accepted the weight above him, feeling safe and secure this time. Even when Jim trailed his lips over the mark on his neck, he just purred and willingly turned his head, letting Jim continue. He let his legs spread apart at the gentle and subtle urging from Jim's legs, and moved his hips up to establish firm contact with the cock that was becoming more and more eager in the proceedings.

The Sentinel pulled back slightly to cup his Guide's face again, one thumb tracing the smooth chin. "How are you feeling?' he asked quietly.

"Like I'm ready," Blair smiled at him. "I mean that, Jim. I think I'm about ready to kill you if something doesn't happen pretty soon."

Jim returned the smile and merely kissed the tip of Blair's nose. "Youth," he grumbled. "No patience. And no sympathy."

"Oh, yeah, like you're so old," Blair smirked. "So ancient. So, decrepit and feeble-"

"Keep that up and nothing will happen, I assure you," Jim warned. He kissed him thoroughly, re-igniting the fires that had dimmed a bit. He had been listening carefully to Blair's heartbeat and breathing and could sense his arousal as it waned and grew. He knew that his Guide did want this joining, this bonding, but also knew that he was nervous about the physical events that were about to happen between them.

He kissed Blair again, lightly, taking a deliberate break to slow things down and let Blair regain his balance. "We'll take it slow, baby. There's no rush. Anything that makes you uncomfortable, tell me and we stop. No matter what."

The blue eyes smiled at him. "All right, but I don't think that's going to happen. I need this Jim, like you do." The warm lips found the spot on Jim's neck that matched where he had been marked earlier, and gently sucked, leaving a mark of his on Jim. "Claim me, Jim," he whispered against the new mark.

With a growl, Jim rose up and turned Blair onto his side. He fumbled in a nightstand drawer and found the tube of lubricant, then rejoined his lover. Blair snuggled back against him. Jim moved his legs, guiding Blair to raise his knees up. "Relax, baby," Jim whispered on his ear. "Just my fingers right now." Blair nodded and settled into enjoying the internal massage he began to receive.

Jim took his time, drawling it out because he knew that the final act would be quick. Blair whimpered- in pleasure, not pain- moved as best he could and generally encouraged Jim. Only when Jim was certain that Blair was ready did he slowly remove his fingers.

Every sense attuned to Blair, Jim eased inside him. Blair tensed at the start, then relaxed, trusting Jim to take care of him. The slight pain eased as Jim remained still, letting him adjust. Jim found the mark on Blair's neck and nuzzled it, and it drew a groan of pure desire from the younger man. The discomfort faded away instantly, and Jim began to move. Blair quickly responded and it took only a few thrusts before each lost control. They came violently, rapidly and nearly together, knowing only how perfect it was.

Jim withdrew carefully, but Blair only smiled, feeling no pain at all. They snuggled for a long time in comfortable silence, broken only by occasional murmurs and kisses. Finally, Jim kissed his brow, then moved away. "Rest, baby. I'll be right back."

"'kay," Blair yawned, snuggling into the blanket Jim pulled up around him.

True to his word, Jim returned in a few minutes. He sat on the edge of the bed and held up a washcloth he had brought with him. "Roll onto your tummy," he instructed kindly. Blair obeyed, and Jim lightly washed him. He kissed each cheek, then he turned Blair over, slid his arms under him, and easily lifted him up.

"Jim!" Startled, Blair laughed, putting his arms around his shoulders. "What are you doing?"

"You'll see," Jim grinned as he carried him downstairs and into the bathroom. He had started the tub slowly filling on his earlier trip, and lowered Blair into the warm water.

The younger man sighed happily as his body quickly relaxed. Jim shut off the water, and then slid into the bath behind Blair, pulling the younger man against him, encouraging him to stretch out in the large, deep tub. After just soaking and enjoying the warmth and closeness for a long while, Jim picked up a sponge and bath gel and began to wash his lover.

That accomplished, Jim got out and kissed him again before leaving, instructing Blair to just relax and soak. After a few minutes, Blair decided to get out. He was drying off when Jim returned. "That's my job now," Jim said softly and took the towel away to continue.

"Anytime you want," Blair responded, enjoying the attention. Jim bundled him in another towel while he combed out his hair, and Blair caught his reflection in the mirror. "Jim!" The older man looked up. "The mark. It's gone."

Jim frowned, turning Blair around to inspect his neck. "No, it's not, Chief. It's as bright as before."

Wide blue eyes met his, then Blair looked back into the mirror. "I can't see it," he said. He raised fingers to lightly touch the area. "I can just barely feel it. It's not sore at all, just a little warm. But I can't see a thing."

"And I can see it perfectly." His hand covered Blair's where it rested against his neck. "My mark, on my Guide."

"Maybe?maybe another Sentinel could see it. As a sign that the Guide was already bonded to a Sentinel."

"Sort of a hands-off, he's taken sign?"

Blair grinned at him. "I think so. The tribe wouldn't need to see the mark- they would know that the Guide was bonded. But another Sentinel, from another area, would see the mark and know they needed to look elsewhere for a Guide."

A distinct growl emerged from Jim's throat and he pulled Blair close to him. "No one better look at you, Blair. Your mine now."

"I know." Simple words, spoken without any regret or unease. Blair reached up to kiss the tip of Jim's nose. "And right now, I'm getting cold. So how about- -" The Sentinel tossed aside the damp towel and picked Blair up again.

"Much as I love the rides, I can walk, you know," Blair said as he was carried upstairs.

Jim put him down on the bed, which had fresh sheets that he had put on while Blair was in the bath. "You deserve a little pampering," he said fondly. He placed an extra soft pillow on the bed and lifted Blair up again to sit him directly on the pillow, cushioning his tender bottom. Blair flushed, but kissed Jim's neck, touched at the care and sensitivity.

Jim sat behind him, pulling Blair to rest against his chest, and tucked the covers up around them. "Warmer now?"

"Um," Blair replied.

He chuckled, taking that as a yes. "Maybe this will help too." He reached over to the nightstand and lifted a cup that he handed to Blair.

"Tea," Blair exclaimed happily. "Jim, you didn't have to do this. But I love it. And I love you."

"Love you too, baby." Jim held Blair while the younger man drank his favorite tea. Between the lovemaking, the warm bath and the tea, Blair was soon yawning and falling asleep. Jim took the empty cup away, then moved them down so they could stretch out, still careful to keep the soft pillow under Blair.

They had just settled down when Jim became aware of two additional beings in the loft. The wolf appeared first, trotting up the stairs happily. He rested his chin on the edge of the bed, whining until Blair reached over to scratch him behind the ears. The panther arrived with more dignity, and Jim saw a nod of approval from the big cat as he took in the sight of the two humans in bed.

<Good> The voice of the panther echoed in Jim's head.

Blair scratched the wolf again then turned to look at Jim. "Think they'll want to join us again?"

"They better not," Jim answered firmly, eyeing the cat to get his message across. "I plan on just cuddling you tonight, not one of them."

The wolf, who had already put his front paws on the bed in preparation to jump up, whined in disappointment. Blair joined in the complaint. "Ah, come on Jim-" he began, but was cut off by a firm kiss. Jim waved his free hand in an unmistakable "shoo away" gesture to the wolf. The canine took the hint and went to join the cat, who had curled up on the rug. Jim finished his kiss when Blair yawned again.

"Go to sleep, love," he whispered, brushing his lips across the forehead that rested under his chin. "We'll all keep watch over you."

"I know," Blair responded sleepily. He nuzzled into his new pillowJim' s chest- and fell asleep, loved and protected by one Sentinel and two Spirit Guides.


Blair woke before Jim and just relaxed in the warm embrace for a time. He thought about how tender Jim had been with him, before, during, and after, and thanked every God he could name that it had happened. With some help from a couple of Spirit animals, of course.

He glanced around the room, but couldn't see any sign of the animals. Blair wondered if they would be frequent visitors. He would like it, but knew Jim would be less than thrilled. Especially if they continued to show up at night. Blair personally didn't mind the extra warmth and snuggling during sleep, but could see how it could definitely ruin some plans- especially romantic plans.

Right now though, it was morning and his stomach was checking in. Um, big breakfast sounded good. Eggs, toast, bacon, the whole bit. Everything he had lectured Jim against yesterday. Eggs two days in a row. Jim would probably faint from the shock.

Carefully, he freed himself from the big arms that encircled him. Jim grumbled a bit, then went back to deep sleep. He made himself get up, noticing only a few twinges in unusual places. That brought a blush to his face, as he remembered what had caused those twinges, but also brought a smile.

He appropriated Jim's robe for the trip downstairs. Finding his glasses, he wandered into the kitchen and started the coffee. Once the most important part of the meal was going, he dug through the cupboards, looking for the rarely used big electric skillet. He just used the regular frying pan over the stove most times, but if he was going to cook a lot of eggs and bacon, he wanted the electric one.

He finally found the skillet, and set it on the counter. Then he took out the cord and reached to plug it in.

<Stop! Danger!>

It was a shout in his mind. Not clear words, but a sense, a feeling and a clear message. Blair froze.

"Chief!" This time it was spoken words, Jim flying down the stairs, gun in hand, alert for the threat.

The Sentinel quickly scanned his Guide, not immediately finding the cause of danger. He stepped to Blair, pushing him against the wall while he stood in front of him and scanned the loft. Still not finding anything, he turned back to the smaller man behind him. Large hands reached out to run over the slim body.

Jim's hand ran down Blair's arm and found the electric cord that the younger man was still clutching. He pulled it away and examined it. "Damn," he swore softly.

"What?" Blair asked in a small voice. Jim held up the cord, revealing a frayed end and exposed wire. If Blair had plugged it in, he would have received a nasty electric shock.

"Stupid cord," Jim was grumbling. "Should have thrown it out years ago- -"

"Jim," Blair interrupted. "You know what just happened?" The detective frowned.

"You were in danger, and I?" his voice trailed off as he realized what Blair was saying.

They looked at each other, and communicated without words. From the shadows, two animals nodded in approval.

The end