A DIFFERENT WAY OF SEEING



LRHBalzer






 (sequel to "Sentinel Too")
Note: This is the last of a trio of short stories that make up my sequels to the Third Season cliffhanger.
1. Primary Focus; 2. Movers and Shakers; 3. A Different Way of Seeing


Sunday, May 24th, 6:00 a.m.
 

Jim Ellison sat up, quickly taking stock of his surroundings, trying to remember why he had fallen asleep in Sandburg's room instead of in his own bed. Sheer exhaustion, he finally admitted to himself, brushing a hand over his unshaven face. He moved upward from the bed, stretched the kinks from his body, then glanced down to an object that had fallen to the floor by his feet. The stuffed bear. He scooped it up and tossed it on the bed as he stumbled from the room and down the hall to the bathroom. There is something to be said for not having to negotiate stairs first thing in the morning, he thought, splashing water on his face.

As the cold water jolted his senses, he froze.

He had dreamed during the night.

But of what?

The flash of memory kept him in place over the sink, water running over his cupped hands as he fought for the content of his dream. Nothing. Just the faint trail of its passing through his thoughts. The jungle. The injured wolf.

Nothing.

He straightened and stared at his reflection in the mirror as though expecting the image to speak and reveal his dreamscape. Blank, still-tired eyes stared back at him. Nothing.

He stripped off the clothes he had slept in and stepped into the shower, moving through his routine quickly, then shutting the water off. Dripping, he waited, eyes closed, once again feeling the whisper of words from his dream haunt his consciousness. The jungle. The injured wolf. Perhaps another person...

Nothing but the briefest glimpse of that other-time world.

Jim shook the water from his hair, pulling a clean towel from the shelf and briskly rubbing himself dry. He pushed away all thoughts of the dream. If it refused to make itself known, he had no patience to go looking for it. Either it was there to tell him something, or not. Since he did not remember it, it must not be important.

He wrapped the towel around his waist and reached for his shaving supplies, rinsing the razor and shaking the can. The foam swelled into his hand, a white frothing ball, and he spread it over his beard, eyes meeting eyes, stubborn and alone. He looked away long enough to pick up the razor, then met his own stare once more. "What is it?" he asked, not expecting an answer and only marginally relieved when one didn't come.

Upstairs in his room, he rearranged his dresser top, moving the photograph to the left and the bonsai to the right. After a moment's hesitation, he moved them back, deciding he liked it better the other way. It really didn't matter. He pulled open the top drawer and groaned at seeing only a few clothes in it. Laundry. When was the last time he had done laundry?

When was the last time he relaxed and put his feet up and had a beer with Sandburg?

He fished out some underwear and threadbare socks, then pulled open the next drawer for a T-shirt, frowning at the choices. Gray with ripped seam under one arm. Light blue with an unidentifiable stain on the front. He looked more closely and detected the faint remains of mustard. Mustard? Oh, the hot dog two weeks ago. He had been jostled by someone as he walked down the sidewalk. He threw the shirt on the pile of dirty laundry to wash again. Blair had bought some of that stuff that took out stains; it was probably down by the washer and dryer. That's why I haven't done laundry. I couldn't get to it with all the furniture in the way.

The gray shirt went on the bed. A clean pair of jeans in the bottom drawer would do. They were old, but still in good enough shape. Like me, he thought, idly.

He dressed quickly, frowning at the rip on the T-shirt, but deciding it wouldn't show with a jacket on. Then he saw Blair's jacket, still on the bed. He picked it up and held it for a moment or two, lifting it to his face. It needed cleaning, smelling of fountain water and the hospital and only so faintly of his partner.

It was all he had left of Blair's clothing -- the rest had been cut off at the hospital and had been taken for evidence or thrown away. Except for the jacket that someone had carefully removed -- why? Jim wasn't sure. He didn't even like it, but he had sat holding it those first hours at the hospital when they wouldn't let him near his partner. He had been frantic and lost control, hardly aware of Simon and Rafe locking arms around him and carrying him from the ER into the waiting area. Simon had handed him the jacket and he had crushed it to his chest and rocked back and forth. Holding it. Waiting. Hardly feeling the warmth of Rafe and Brown on either side of him. Or Simon's constant reassurance, the light touch to his face and head, the squeeze on his shoulder every few minutes trying to connect with him. To keep him from zoning.

Ellison shook himself at the memory, suddenly aware of what had gone on, how they had stayed by him while he had been lost in his grief and worry.

He took a deep breath and let it out, centering himself.

A movement in the corner of the room. He spun around, crouching, then slowly straightened. "What is it?" he asked again, eyes burrowing into the shadows and the man who stood there. He was in the jungle dreamscape. He was dreaming.
 

"Your Guide has journeyed back to you," the older Sentinel said, raising his staff, then setting it down. He was dressed for battle, the paint detailing his tribe and allegiances.
"Yes. He's growing stronger," Ellison said softly.
"Yet he has been hobbled." The Sentinel-warrior moved aside.
The wolf of his previous dreams lay on the ground behind the warrior, legs bent awkwardly beneath its body. It tried to stand when it saw him, but fell back to the earth, landing heavily.
Ellison took a step closer, his sight zeroing in on the broken bones of its back legs. "Who did this to him?" Ellison demanded, his attention turning on the Sentinel-warrior, fists clenched.
"He must learn his place."
"Sandburg made his choice."
"In his mind, he made his choice and he knows his place. Even in his heart, he knows where he wishes to be. But his soul still wanders."
Ellison moved past the Sentinel-warrior and knelt at the wolf's side, his hand resting on the gray coat of the fierce animal. He could feel the wolf's pain, the short heavy pants, the muscles trembling. It quieted beneath his touch, nuzzling against his hand, unafraid of him. As he watched, the wolf changed shape, twisting into the naked body of his partner. Sandburg lay curled on the ground, his cheek against Ellison's palm. The Guide blinked, then looked at him and sat up, smiling as Ellison drew him upward, steadying him as he stood. Relief flooded the animated face as his legs straightened beneath him and supported his weight. Together they took a few steps, then Ellison released him -- leaping to try to catch him as he fell to the ground with a cry and faded back into the pain-filled body of the wolf.
"What's wrong with him?" Ellison asked, turning his anger back to the warrior even as he tried to calm the distraught animal.
"I told you. He has been hobbled. When he learns what it means to be your Guide, he will stand unaided."
"That makes no sense. How can he be my Guide if he can't walk?"
"Then you must learn to listen to him. That is your lesson. Your task. Listen and he will guide. Stay close to him, and he will guide. With you, he can walk. Without you, he cannot. And if he cannot, you will not be a Sentinel." The Sentinel-warrior turned and disappeared, taking with him the jungle and the dream.
 
Jim swayed, blinking as color returned to his world. The dream was already fading, but not the fact that he had dreamed -- hallucinated -- while awake, standing. Grasping at the memory, he stared back into the corner where the old warrior had stood, but the morning light showed only a hamper of clothes that needed washing. He swore, his jaw rigid with tension, but the content of the dream refused to make itself known.

The jacket was still in his hands. Jim looked at the tag, saw it had to be dry-cleaned, and added it to the pile of clothes to the right of the dresser, all things to be taken to the dry-cleaners. There was a place over one block that Blair always took their clothes to, trying to make time with the young woman who worked there on Wednesday and Fridays.

Life would go on. Blair was alive. Things would be mended. Cleaned. Repaired. But for now, he would put on a ripped T-shirt because he had nothing else to wear. The significance made him laugh. And the laughter brought enough energy for him to grab a armful of clothing and take it to the washing machine downstairs, at least starting a load. Tonight he would put it in the dryer and there would be clean clothes to wear the next day. And tomorrow I'll do a load of Blair's clothes, so he'll have clean clothes to wear home.

The thought cheered him and he ate some breakfast, managing to put some bread in the toaster and scramble some eggs. He didn't recognize the brand name of either package, and smiled again at what his friends had done to keep him going. The fridge had milk in it. Orange juice. Bread, butter, and eggs. Two boxes of cereal sat on the counter, one with sugar, one without, as though the purchaser hadn't been sure how his tastes ran.

He washed up his breakfast dishes and set them to dry, then got his things together as he saw it was approaching seven-thirty and the time that Simon was coming for him. Jacket, keys, cell phone. He needed a watch, but his was broken. He went into Blair's room and straightened the quilt he had been lying on, then stared at the bear thoughtfully, trying to figure out what it was doing out. He hadn't seen it for several months. It had been relocated from its place on top of the bookshelf to a box when Blair needed more space for his growing collection of books. But now it was back.

Maybe for good reason. Maybe it would help Blair sleep, help him relax a little with the silliness of sleeping with a bear. He frowned, sorting through his own vague memories of going to sleep holding the bear. Pushing the thought aside, he decided he would take it to Sandburg and let him make the decision of whether he wanted it or not. What could that hurt?

An hour later, after smuggling it past Simon out of the loft, then in and out of the captain's car, Ellison's feet dragged to a halt as he walked down the hospital corridor. He looked down at the paper bag clenched in one hand. He wasn't really planning on giving his twenty-eight-year-old partner a stuffed bear to keep him company, was he? The bear had served its purpose at one time, when Blair had been injured and trapped in the basement of a semi-demolished house, but to his knowledge the stuffed animal had not made an appearance since then, relegated to a cardboard box of memories.

Okay. So...maybe he wouldn't give him the bear after all. But then what was he going to do with it? He had nowhere to put it. Simon had already left for the station. There were no coin lockers around that he could see. If he walked in his partner's room with a paper bag, Sandburg would want to know what was in it, and he didn't really have a good enough reason he was willing to share.

Ellison walked a few more steps, then turned left at the end of the corridor, instead of right. The nurses' station. "Excuse me, I'm--"

"Yes, Detective," said the duty nurse, not looking up from her paperwork.

He forced a smile. "I'm Detective Ellison. Could I leave this bag here? I don't want to take it in with me when I'm visiting my partner."

"This is not a storage locker, Detective," the nurse responded, still not looking up.

"I realize that..." He stopped talking, realizing she wasn't listening. "Excuse me?" he began again. "If I can't leave the bag here, do you have any suggestions where I could leave it?"

She glanced up finally, looked at the bag, then went back to her papers. "I think you can manage to carry that with you, Detective. You look strong enough. And if you can't carry it, I'd suggest checking yourself in. That would be 'Admitting' on the first floor."

"Listen, all I want--" At the slight tap on his arm, he turned to see another nurse, Rebecca, if he remembered correctly.

"Detective Ellison?" She motioned him away from the desk. "I'm sorry. It's been a hard night. We lost three patients, all within a short period of time. It's hard to deal with sometimes. She's not usually like that," she added, in a softer voice yet.

"Thank you. How's my partner?" he asked.

"The doctor is in with him now. They had wanted to take some tests, but they're having difficulty waking him up. He's not responding." She stopped him as he turned to go. "Do you want me to watch the bag for you? I can put it under my desk at my station. I'll just write your name on it and let my replacement know you'll be collecting it later. Her name is Barbara."

"Thank you." He handed over the bag. "Don't lose it--"

"I'll make sure it's safe."

"Thanks." Ellison walked quickly to his partner's room, stopping outside the door only long enough to listen to the steady heartbeat. As long as that heart was beating, the lungs filling with air, he could deal with the rest. "What's wrong?" he asked as he stepped into the room. Two orderlies were preparing to move an unconscious Sandburg from his bed onto a gurney.

Dr Albinoni turned as he entered. "Good morning, Detective. We're having some difficulty waking your partner up. He has a fever and seems--"

Ellison turned away from him as he heard a faint sound from the bed.

"Hey...Jim." Sleepy blue eyes met his, a yawn twisting the familiar features as Blair fought to wake up.

"Hey, there, Junior," he answered, moving between the orderlies to sit on the edge of the bed. Ellison waved the two men away, then took Sandburg's offered hand in between his own. "Have a good sleep?"

"Hmm...Yeah. Tired still, though," came the hoarse whisper. The dark lashes swept downward as Blair turned his head on the pillow.

Ignoring the doctor's surprised expression at his partner being awake, Jim touched the back of his hand to Blair's forehead. "You've got a bit of a fever."

"I'm cold," Blair admitted, eyes still closed.

"Cold and tired, right?" Jim asked, his voice teasing. "Listen, buddy, the doctor here wants to check you out, then we can visit some, okay?"

Blair's eyes opened, glanced to his right, then he closed his eyes and groaned.

"Are you in pain?" Ellison asked, moving his hand to the side of his partner's face.

A shiver turned into a slight shake of his head. "Uh...can we talk first? Before...he examines me? Please..." The last word ended in an entreating hiss.

Dr Albinoni stared impatiently at Ellison as he turned to look questioningly at the physician. "Again?" Albinoni looked to his watch, then his schedule. "I have to see a patient in the next room. I'll be back in a few minutes. If it could fit into your very important schedule, I'd like to give him a complete examination. We want to monitor this fever and I'm concerned at our inability to wake him before."

"He's a sound sleeper. I have to go into his room and pull him out of bed some mornings; he doesn't even hear his alarm. I think he just needs some time to settle down. Once he gets his bearings, he'll be fine for an examination. It always takes him awhile to wake up in the morning." Ellison fixed the doctor with a stare that had been known to cause hardened criminals step back.

"Five minutes, and I'll return to check him over." Albinoni gathered his things and left the room.
 


Blair let out a sigh of relief when the man left them. He cautiously opened his eyes again and glanced around, taking in the morning light streaming through the trees and Ellison sitting on the edge of the platform he was lying on.

"What was that all about?" Jim asked, quietly, staring down at him. "Did you really just wake up?"

"Hmm? What? Yes, I just woke up when you walked in. Why?" Blair turned toward him, yawning once again.

"Because they couldn't get you to wake up." The Sentinel's voice was flat. Concern masked.

Strange that he saw Jim as 'The Sentinel' in this way of seeing. The bandana around his head, the tribal markings, the army fatigues stripped to bare functional use, armed with a crossbow and knife. Not Jim Ellison: his friend and co-worker, but 'The Sentinel'.

"What do you mean? They couldn't wake me up? Really?" He yawned again, his lungs expanding to take in the extra air. It still hurt a little to take a deep breath. "I don't remember them trying to wake me up. Just opening my eyes and seeing you coming over to me."

Jim noticed his slight wince. "They have you on antibiotics, watching your lungs. Let me know if you have trouble breathing, okay?"

"Okay." Blair tugged on Jim's arm, trying to pull himself up to a sitting position, and once again the Sentinel obliged him. Settled a little more comfortably, he pulled the rough woven blanket (that felt like a soft cotton blanket) closer, watching as Jim tucked it around him. "Thanks," he whispered, leaning his head back. It was easier to breathe sitting up. Easier to talk.

But it was hard to find the words he wanted when his brain was so sluggish. He shivered, tugging the blanket closer. He couldn't think of any way of wording this that didn't make him sound crazy. Maybe he was. Crazy. Maybe he shouldn't say anything at all. Just fake it.

He had been sure that when he woke up in the morning, everything would be okay. He'd breathe okay, everything would look like it was supposed to look, and in a week or two, he'd tell Jim all about it. Hey, guess what? When I first woke up in the hospital, I thought I was in the jungle. Funny, huh?

He shivered again, clearing his throat to say something, but started coughing instead. He had a huge headache, he realized, and tried to move one hand up to his head, but the IV cord stopped him. The other hand ventured out from beneath the blanket and touched the bandage wrapped around his skull. Well, that explained the pounding inside his brain. Coughing didn't help.

Jim arranged the blankets around him, still waiting patiently for him to talk. The man was studying him carefully, the Sentinel's face composed and ready for anything, it seemed. Anything but this, probably. Jim does not want to hear this, man. No way. How do I say this to him? It's so unfair. Damn it. Damn it!

Ellison raised a hand and placed it over Sandburg's heart, feeling the rapid beat that he was no doubt listening to.

This is so not cool. Blair closed his eyes and reopened them, hoping for a miracle, but nothing had changed. If anything, the jungle was clearer, denser, darker. Frustration flared, exhausting him with the effort of keeping control. Blair felt his eyes brim with tears and he covered his face with one hand. He bit his lip trying to keep it from trembling. Shit.

Jim shifted over to him, one arm resting on his shoulder. "If you need to talk, then talk, Sandburg. The doctor will be back here in a few minutes."

Ah, man. What can I say? Blair shook his head, eyes tightly closed, feeling his whole body begin to shake. Air seemed to be squeezed out of his compromised lungs, refusing to enter his body when he inhaled.

He felt himself being shifted with infinite care to rest against his friend's shoulder.

"Relax. I'm here. Tell me what's wrong."

"Can't," Blair managed to gasp.

"Concentrate on your breathing," Jim said softly, and Blair tried to comply, gradually controlling his hyper breathing until he was able to pull away from his partner and lean back again. "That's it, Chief. Now talk to me."

"Okay. Here goes," he said, in a rush. "Something's wrong with me. I don't think it's anything the doctor can do anything about, but something's definitely not right here. Hasn't been since I first woke up. Yesterday, I mean. But it's the same today. It hasn't changed or gotten any better. I thought it might, but it didn't. Jim, my sight-- my sight, it's..." He didn't know how to word it, but before he could try, Ellison tilted his face up.

"Your eyes? Can you see me? How many fingers am I holding up?"

"One and that's rude, Jim." He felt the smile creep to his face, appreciating his partner's attempt to steady him. "I can see you. It's just how I'm seeing you."

Jim frowned. "Tell me what you see, then."

Again, he could feel the panic rise and he held on to Jim's arm until the feeling passed. He fingered the fabric of Jim's jacket, his fingers blurring over his partner's bare arm. His voice was little more than a whisper, but at least it was steady. "I know I'm in the hospital, okay? I can hear the sounds of the machines, I can smell the place, I can feel the blanket and the bed and your jacket. But-- but-- I see the jungle, man. I see you wearing stuff like you wore in Peru when we were there, when you sorta went native on me. And speaking of natives, unless there are a lot of Peruvian natives in the medical business in Cascade, I'm kinda screwed there, too. If they're talking English, it's a mystery to me. I understand you, but the rest is all gibberish. Nothing I remotely recognize. Maybe I just got hit on the head too hard. Or maybe I'm really not awake yet -- maybe this is all a dream and I'm gonna wake up soon. I don't know, maybe I'm dead. Maybe I'm dead," he said again, and hiccuped.

Fingers dug into his upper arm, where Jim had gripped him. "Don't say that. You're not dead."

"Sorry," he whispered, and hiccuped again, drawing his legs up to sit cross-legged beneath the covers. "But I'm not all here either. I don't get what's happening. ~hiccup~ I really want to be your Guide, but I'm not going to do you any good like this. ~hiccup~ Unless, we were in Peru or something, and then maybe my sight would be normal." ~hiccup~ It took all his concentration to attempt to control the hiccups, frustration climbing at his inability to suppress them.

Jim's hand moved to his knee, the pressure slowly increasing, and when Blair looked up, he could see Jim's eyes blinking rapidly, unfocused.

"Jim? What is it? What's wrong?" He sat up straighter, reaching to touch Ellison's shoulder. "Jim!" he shouted, sharp coughs resulting from the effort. He doubled over, leaning forward as he fought to breathe around the hiccups, but Jim's hand on his back eased the battle for oxygen.

"Don't worry, Chief. Just concentrate on breathing steadily. I'm okay. I'll tell you about it in a minute, once you're settled," Ellison said, quietly stroking his back, calming the lung-shaking coughs.

Sandburg closed his eyes, too tired to fight, and leaned into the gentle massage, feeling the muscles across his back and between his ribs ease up the pressure on his chest. After a minute or two, the hiccups died down and faded, and he took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

When Jim finally spoke again, Blair listened intently, trying to grasp every nuance of what the other man would say. "Chief, I had a dream this morning -- actually it was a repeat of one I had last night, but I had forgotten it."

"Yeah?" Sandburg sat up, his attention focusing further. "What was it about?"

Ellison touched the young man's forehead with the back of his hand. "Your fever's going up a bit."

"Well, I'm not claiming to be one hundred percent right now, Jim. What was the dream about?"

"You. I think the old Sentinel-warrior of my dream was telling me about this. This is something he warned me about, something we have to work together on." Ellison looked at him carefully, then took Blair's hand, placing it on his jacket sleeve. "This might not work because you're still sick, so don't worry if nothing happens."

"Yeah, yeah. What did he say to do? Did he tell you what we needed to do?"

"Not really. The dream was a little different than this. But this might work." Jim's free hand rested on the side of Blair's face, his fingers curling around into his hair. "Are you willing to try something? Then look at my jacket carefully, Chief. You can feel it, you said, so try to see it, too. Tell me what color it is."

Blair closed his eyes and felt the fabric, then opened them and saw Jim's bare arm again. "I told you, I can't see normally, just what you had on in the jungle. You're not wearing a jacket at all...wait...it's beige," he said suddenly, looking up. "It's your beige jacket." He blinked, his eyes trying to focus on two things at once. Like a photograph with a double image.

"You can see my jacket?"

"Yes. No. It's like..." Blair looked around the room, then back to Jim. "It's like a reflection in a window. I can see the jungle around me, but there's an image of..." He stared at Jim's chest, concentrating on the second image he was seeing. "You're wearing a gray T-shirt." It made him tired, but he could see it.

"That's right." Ellison carefully withdrew his hand from Sandburg's face, standing and moving a foot away from the bed. "Now what do you see?"

Blair felt his world crash. "Nothing. Just the jungle. And you. Like before. I thought it was coming back. What happened?"

"I'm not sure, but I think your sight will come back," Jim said after a moment. "I told you I had a dream. I think when we're together, maybe in physical contact, you're going to be able to hear and see normally. But when we're apart..."

"It's jungle time."

"Something like that," Ellison said, smiling, once again dressed normally as he sat on the edge of the bed and rested his hand on Blair's.

It was becoming easier to see, the real image strengthening as Blair clung to Jim's hand. The pounding of his headache hadn't diminished, nor had the pressure behind his eyes. Maybe it'll clear up when my headache goes away.

Ellison turned his head toward the door and a few seconds later, a man wearing a white coat entered the room.

"Are you ready? I've got a busy schedule this morning and I'd like to take a look at you first."

Blair nodded. "Dr. Albinoni, I presume?" He knew he was smiling widely, but it was a relief to be able to see the man and actually understand what was being said to him.

"Yes. I've been keeping an eye on you, young man. You gave us a bit of a scare this morning when we couldn't wake you up. I'd like to run some tests to see what the cause might be. Could you lie back down for me?"

"Yes, sir." Blair's smile faded as he shifted to lie flat and Jim moved away from him. The shutters had fallen back in place. The doctor metamorphosed into a tribal healer, the medical instruments fading into meaningless blurs. "Uh, Jim? You mind staying here? You don't mind do you, Doctor? I'm just a little freaked out by all this and I'd really like if he could stay. Right, Jim? Could you tell him something?" Anything, man. Make up anything, but find some way to stay with me. "Please? Would that be a problem?" He knew his heart rate had gone back up, both the doctor and Jim listening to the betraying sounds on the monitor, but he didn't really care. He was cold and tired, and for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what was going on in his head.

Jim walked around the bed and sat on the other side, away from the doctor, one hand resting on his lower leg. "How's that?"

Cascade Hospital returned. Dr. Albinoni and the blue cotton blanket. And a nurse with a bunch of needles to take his blood. "Fine. Thanks."

Albinoni didn't look happy about Ellison's presence, but since it left him with a calmer, responsive patient, he apparently decided not to argue about it. Thirty minutes and a lot of poking around later, Blair wrestled his eyes open and watched the doctor leave the room. Or rather, watched the tribal healer leave the room.

"Jim?" he whispered, relieved when he saw the Sentinel come to his side. "I'm tired."

"The medication is going to make you feel that way. You need to sleep. You're fighting a fever." Ellison rested a hand on his arm, massaging it gently.

"The jungle's still there. It's not working," Blair said, shivering.

"I didn't say I had all the answers. Maybe you're just tired and when you're feeling stronger, it'll be better. We'll work it out, okay? Sleep now and we'll try again later."

"But why is this happening? Just tell me why... tell me... Hey, Jim, how come I don't dream like you do, huh?" Blair asked, his eyes only half open. "If I'm the shaman, how come I don't dream? I only have nightmares. You get all the cool dreams with panthers and stuff."

Jim continued the mesmerizing massage on his arm and shoulder. "I don't know, buddy. Sometimes I wish you would have them, not me. I can never make sense of them. I'm sure he told me all kinds of things, but I can't remember much when I wake up."

"What else do you remember?"

"Why don't you have a nap, then we'll talk more?"

"Please, Jim. What did he say? Is this the way it's always going to be?"

"No. This will pass. I'm sure of that. It's just teaching us something."

"Oh." Blair nodded to himself, then furrowed his brow slightly, both eyes closed. "Stay here?"

"I'll be here. I might go get some coffee, but I'll be able to hear you waking up."

"Hmm..."
 


9:30 a.m.
 

The donut was stale.

Disappointed, he let it drop back to the cafeteria plate and brushed the dry crumbs off his hands, frowning at the sticky flakes of frosting seemingly glued to his fingers. The napkin, when he tried to wipe his hands, also stuck to his fingers, leaving behind tiny wisps of white paper. The mug, made from the same hard green plastic as the rest of the dishes and stained inside from years of use, nevertheless held a reasonably fresh cup of coffee, which he drank down quickly.

At least he could say to Dr Albinoni that he went down to the cafeteria for a break, as was their deal. And if the doctor didn't know that Ellison's hearing stayed focused on his sleeping partner, that was fine, too. Ellison strongly suspected that Blair would remain asleep until he returned to the room; the coincidence of it happening two days in a row made any other option unlikely.

He stretched his legs under the otherwise deserted table and stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the light rain falling on the small courtyard of the hospital. What would Sandburg make of this? A tropical downpour? He was surprised, actually, at how easily he had accepted what Sandburg told him. Why? Because it means he'll stay close to you, like the hobbled wolf?

Maybe, he admitted, reluctantly. Maybe right now, that's what he needed, to keep Blair within reach. To guard him from whomever had hurt him. He remembered the fierce gray wolf and how it had laid its head in his palm, accepting his protection and care, and he knew that within him was the need to extend that to his Guide. The wolf accepted it, nuzzling into his hand, but at any time, it could have turned and bitten him. No, the wolf had willingly entrusted itself to him.

Something was doing this to Sandburg, altering his sight and possibly his sleep-patterns. Who? Why? For how long?

Something was manipulating them, and Ellison hated feeling manipulated.

What do you want from us?

He felt the shift in perception, an awareness as intense as if one of his senses were activated. A dream fragment resurfaced as he sat alone in the cafeteria.

"How can he be my Guide if he can't walk?"
"Then you must learn to listen to him. That is your lesson. Your task. Listen and he will guide. Stay close to him, and he will guide. With you, he can walk. Without you, he cannot. And if he cannot, you will not be a Sentinel."
Stay close to him.

Listen to him.

Suddenly the two floors separating them was too much. Ellison pushed up from the table and returned to Sandburg's hospital room, taking the last corridor at a jog in his haste. But everything seemed fine. The young man was asleep, his temperature closer to normal. Even his breathing seemed less labored, the slight wheeze gone from his lungs. Ellison touched his partner's temple, feeling the pulse through his fingertips, the life in a body that had been left for dead a few days before.

We'll get through this somehow. It's not just you, Chief. We both have lessons to learn.

His head throbbed. It took him awhile to remember the dials and longer yet to do anything about the level of pain. Probably just a tension headache -- why should that be a surprise, considering his last few days. Few weeks. Few months. Ellison dropped into the chair by the bed and stared at a spot on the floor until he heard the doctor enter the room.

"He's still sleeping, I see." Albinoni scribbled something on his clipboard, then set it down on the foot of the bed and moved closer to his patient.

"Doctor, when can he be released?"

"We'd like to monitor him for a few days yet. He's had a remarkable recovery, but he's not out of the woods yet."

"What if I agree to bring him in to be checked as often as you'd like and watched him carefully for any signs of difficulty?" Ellison asked, keeping his tone reasonable. "Can he go home? I mean, I thought there was a bed shortage here or something. Couldn't this bed be put to better use by the hospital if he's well enough to go home?"

The doctor frowned, turning to glance back at the clipboard on the bed, then over to Ellison. "What are his living conditions?"

"He lives with me. I was a medic in the army."

"And would you be with him for the next week?"

"I can be. Yes."
 


12:15 p.m.
 

Arms folded across his chest, Simon Banks stood at the foot of Sandburg's hospital bed and studied the sleeping young man. Maybe studied wasn't the right word. Scrutinized. Contemplated. Pondered. "Have you...uh...discussed what happened before? With you kicking him out of the loft?" He turned his head sharply to look at his detective. "You can't just sweep something like that under the rug."

"We've talked about it. A little. Enough for now."

Banks snorted. "I bet. I can see it now. You saying 'Sorry about that' and the kid replying 'No problem, man'."

"I realize it's not going to change overnight, Simon."

"Yeah? Well, realize this: Sandburg's been through hell and back this last week. I don't want to see you adding to it." His voice softened as he saw Ellison's reaction. "Oh, hell, Jim. I know how much you were hurting when you thought he was dead there--"

"And what? Now that he's breathing and his heart is pumping, I'm back to being a soulless bastard?" Ellison stared out the window, eyes fixed on some distant place.

"Listen to me, Jim. I know what the kid means to you. And I know you kicked him out anyway. What does that say?"

"I don't know."

"What?"

"I don't know why I kicked him out." The detective began restlessly pacing.

"Maybe you need to figure that out before it happens again."

"So why did I do it?"

"What were you thinking at the time? Or, more important, what were you feeling at the time?"

Sharp eyes stared through him. "Isn't your lunch hour over yet?"

"Don't change the subject, Mister. Why did you kick him out?" Banks reined back his anger, trying not to direct it at his friend. "There must have been a reason why you did it," he asked, his voice softer.

Ellison was at the window again now, staring down at the city. "I can't think of one good reason why I would do such a thing."

"Maybe there wasn't one good reason," Sandburg whispered, struggling to open his eyes. "Maybe there were just a lot of little reasons that added up."

Ellison's eyes closed, his jaw tightening, but he didn't acknowledge the comment.

The captain moved to the young man's bedside. "He cares about you, kid." Banks sat at the edge of the mattress, resting one hand reassuringly on Sandburg's forearm.

"I know, Simon."

Ellison turned then, glancing at Sandburg. "Cascade?" he asked, quietly.

Blair nodded, his eyes blinking as he looked around. "Yeah. About half and half."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Banks demanded

Ellison shrugged and looked back out the window, and Banks' stare came back to Sandburg. The young man had probably been shaved sometime that morning and his face now seemed even paler than when he had visited before. He had dark circles beneath his eyes, his hair untidily pulled back by an elastic. "Well?" the captain asked.

"It's not important, sir. Jim?" Sandburg sat up, accepting Banks' help in fixing a pillow at his back. "Jim?"

With a long, drawn-out sigh, Ellison left the window and returned to the observer's side. He said nothing, arms hanging loosely. Worn out, Simon could see. Empty.

"Jim, I want to go home. I want to go back to the loft. Can I?"

Ellison nodded. "The doctor said he would check on you after you woke up."

"That's not what I'm asking." Sandburg's steady gaze refused to let Ellison turn away.

"If he says you can, I'll go and get the truck."

"Jim?"

The entreaty was soft enough to slip between Ellison's defenses, and the detective crossed the few steps to where Sandburg lay and carefully sat down on the opposite side of the bed from Banks. One hand reached out to rest alongside the anthropologist's cheek. "I'm sorry. I'm just a little dense right now. I know I need to say this." Tired blue eyes sought out tired blue eyes. "Come back, Chief. Please."

A faint smile and fainter nod was the only response, but it was enough.

The moment passed. "Good. I'll let the doctor know you're awake and then we'll see what we can do about springing you from here," Ellison said, standing and leaving the room.

Sandburg yawned, moving his hand to cover his mouth. "Sorry, Simon. Still sleepy, I guess."

"Rest, kid."

Sandburg's eyes closed, then opened a moment later. "What's it like there? Have you seen it?"

"What? The loft?"

"Yeah."

"The furniture and everything is where it should be. The Major Crimes Moving Company put it all back yesterday."

"Thank them for me, okay?" Sandburg gave a little laugh. "I bet Jim spent all night rearranging everything."

"He was under orders not to touch it, but I can imagine he moved a few things."

"Yeah...what about my stuff at the motel?"

"Rafe and Megan packed it all up and took it to the loft."

"Did they pay Bob?"

"Who?" Banks asked.

"The motel manager. He let me stay there free. Maybe I can ask Jim to stop by there on the way home...or not. Bob would probably kill him," Sandburg said, reconsidering.

Banks studied the pale features, noting the slight tremble in Sandburg's hand as he pushed his hair back. There seemed to be something wrong with the kid's eyes. He kept blinking and looking around the room, as though he was having trouble focusing. "Are your eyes okay?"

"What? Sure. Yes. Why do you ask?" tumbled out of the young man's mouth.

"Just wondering. You look like you have a headache or something."

"Geez, Simon, I have bandages wrapped around my skull and I have a concussion. I think I'm entitled to a headache, don't you?"

"It's well within your rights," he said, knowing something else was wrong. Trouble was, he didn't know how far he could push Sandburg to get him to talk. The kid wasn't a cop. Not a cop. Not a cop. Not a cop. So why was he sitting here on his lunch hour? Because Blair Sandburg was family. And, God help them, these two had a way to go yet before this mess was over. If they weren't together on it, it was going to rip them apart and there was no way they'd ever get back together again.

"What's wrong?" Sandburg asked quietly.

"Hmm?"

"You're staring at me, Simon. What's wrong?"

"Are you going to be okay? With Jim, I mean."

Sandburg leaned his head back and exhaled slowly. "Yeah. I think so. I can't quite put into words how I feel. Like I've been torn in half somehow."

"That's basically what Jim has told me."

"Yeah?" Sandburg smiled, sadly, staring at the closed door. "I miss him." He looked back at the captain. "I mean, I feel disconnected from him. He's there, but something's not right. I feel his friendship, his concern, and I return it, but there was something deeper before and now it's...broken, I guess is the word. I think I did it. I broke the connection. Or maybe Alex did. Jim thinks he did. Maybe we all did. There's just so much riding on this, Simon. We've got to figure it out. This might sound utterly pathetic, but we have no choice but to mend what went wrong. This Sentinel thing...it's too important to let go. Jim's too important for me to walk away from."

"Maybe. But you're important, too, Blair. Remember that."

"Thanks," Sandburg said, with a tired smile. "I appreciate that. I do." His voice dropped, as he stared back at the door to his hospital room. "I think Jim and I.... we're connected somehow, as Sentinel and Guide. It's like we've forgotten how to be that. Simon, I've just got to figure out how to do this. I've tried juggling all the things in my life and it doesn't work; everything came crashing down around me. So now I've got to find another way of handling it. I guess we both do."

"If you need to talk to someone..."

"Thanks, Simon. You've already listened, and I appreciate that."

Banks stood as the doctor entered, Ellison trailing after him, his face stony, not meeting either man's eyes. "So did you catch all that?" he asked as he passed the Sentinel.

"Enough of it," Ellison answered, letting the door close between them.

"Good," Banks muttered as he headed down the hall.
 


2:00 p.m.
 

Ellison waited until Blair ate lunch and fell back asleep before collecting the stuffed bear, calling a cab, and heading back to the loft to get the truck.

The connection was broken, Sandburg had said. Ellison stared out the window of the cab, clutching the paper bag with the bear, trying to make sense of everything he had heard his partner say. The connection was broken. That's what it felt like. Like he was pouring all his love and affection and caring and hurting into a big funnel and somehow it was only trickling into Sandburg, whereas before it would have been instantly absorbed by his Guide. The other half of his soul. Blair had said it so well. Had he known Jim would be listening? It seemed that Simon had known.

He closed his eyes, trying to breathe carefully and let his pounding heart calm down. He had never wanted anything so badly in all his life, as to have their relationship restored. Healed. Desire was not enough. He wanted this enough. Blair wanted it. But the connection wasn't working right. It would no longer be enough just to be friends. To share an apartment. To work together. Not when they both knew that there had once been something more.

The other half of my soul.

The cab driver's sharp call brought him back to his surroundings, and he quickly paid the man and got out. He let himself into the apartment, glancing around to make sure everything was in order for Sandburg's homecoming, if the doctor could be convinced. There was food in the fridge. The heat was on. Someone had even rehooked the television, cable, and stereo.

Sandburg's room was fine. The sheets on the bed were still clean since he had slept on top of the covers. Ellison put the bear back on the bed where he had found it, knowing he could blame its presence on the Major Crime Moving Company, as Simon called them.

Clothes. He gathered Sandburg's laundry and went downstairs, moving his own clothes from the washer to the dryer, and putting in a mixed load of sweats, T-shirts, and underwear. He debated staying at the loft long enough for this load to be done and moved to the dryer, but the thought of medical staff trying unsuccessfully to wake Sandburg up was enough to change his mind.

It took some sifting through Sandburg's things to find a sweater and pair of jeans that looked clean enough to wear. He folded them into a plastic bag along with socks, sneakers, underwear, and a corduroy jacket. Ten minutes after entering the loft, he shut the front door and hurried down to the truck.

He dropped the bag of clothes beside him on the front bench and started the pickup's engine, listening to it idle until it had warmed up long enough for him to pull out into traffic.

Sandburg's coming back. Sandburg's coming back. It repeated in his head like a mantra. Sandburg's coming back.

Why?

Because...

That was harder. He wasn't sure why the young man was willing to return to the loft.

Why do I want him back?

Because...

Because I need him in my life.

Because I'm a selfish bastard. You were right, Simon.

I'll do my best, Sandburg. I promise you, I'll do my best.
 


7:30 p.m.
 

He kept his eyes closed in the truck. What his eyes were seeing -- the jungle overlaid with shadowy buildings -- was just too weird. It made him feel like he was tearing through the woods at high speed, branches and trees whipping by him, faster than he could focus on them. By the time they got to the loft, his stomach was churning and even when Jim came around to the passenger side and helped him out, he still kept his eyes closed, allowing his partner to lead him into the building.

It was a relief to be coming home from the hospital and he wondered briefly what Jim had said to the doctor. Regardless, he was home. I'm home. It'll all be better, once I'm home, he thought, a smile tugging at his lips until the memory of his last moments in the loft resurfaced: Jim standing at the balcony, unreachable, as distant from him as that first meeting in his basement office when the cop had thrown him up against the wall, like some demented version of a Terminator. Blair remembered seeing the empty rooms of the loft when he had walked in with Megan, the truth finally hitting him that he had been totally shut out from Jim's life. No longer needed, no longer wanted, no longer of any importance to the Sentinel whatsoever. His heart had hurt, cramping in his chest, making it difficult to breathe, to think. He had never felt so alone in his life. And he was no stranger to being abandoned.

With a familiar creak, the elevator arrived, the door opened, and they stepped into it, the door sliding shut after them. As if the Sentinel knew what was going through his mind, he felt himself being pulled closer to Ellison, arms wrapping around him securely. "Almost there, Chief."

"Yeah." He fought the instinctive urge to pull away. With a shock, he realized he still didn't trust Jim. Not really. There was something within him that was bracing itself, getting ready for the inevitable moment when he would be kicked out again.

There was a desperation in Ellison's grip, but there was something else, too.

Your life enfolding mine.

The words of the old psalm whispered through his thoughts. The instinct apparently worked two ways. Another deeper urging called him to relax into the safety of his Sentinel's care.

'Your life enfolding mine.' What does that mean, huh? Can you explain it to me? Could someone explain it to me?

"Hey." Jim's voice rumbled around him.

Blair slowly opened his eyes, just a crack, enough to see that he could see the elevator superimposed on the jungle. "Yeah?"

"Hanging in there?"

"Yeah. I'm just a little worn out."

"How's your head feel?"

"Better since they took the bandages off. It doesn't pull my hair now."

"Good. I'm glad you're coming back," Ellison said simply, calmly. As though that made everything all right.

Blair stole another peek, heartened by how the detective appeared. Determined. Relieved. Chin up, back straight. Now if only I shared your confidence that everything will be okay.

There was no doubt in his mind that Jim wanted him to come back. But he had also wanted him to leave.

And Alex was still out there somewhere.

Would it all happen again in a week? A month? A year?

Would he find himself on the street again because yet another Sentinel dared enter Jim's turf?

He shivered and the arms around him tightened possessively. The comfort became strangling. And suddenly explainable. He's never going to let me out of his sight now. I freakin' died on him! How is he going to handle this? How am I going to handle this?

Blair heard the elevator door open again and, feeling a sudden need to be independent, he pushed away from Jim, eyes wide open, trying to walk to the apartment door by himself. He knew the hallway. He could do it. He didn't need to hang on to Jim to negotiate the few steps from the elevator to the door. He'd be okay once he got into the loft.

Two steps away from his partner and the walls disappeared, leaving behind a thick jungle tangle of trees and branches. The hallway was gone -- no superimposed images. I can do this. He snapped his eyes shut, pulling up the memory of the hallway, and he promptly walked into the wall.

Jim's hand on his arm flared his temper and he yanked his arm away, insisting on moving by himself, but he tripped on something and fell into the dense underbrush that felt like some boxes. Getting to his feet was difficult, but he managed it, only to fall again when his sight showed the jungle floor and reality held another box. He ended up throwing himself against a tree and shutting his eyes tight against the sight of Tribal-Jim kneeling down beside him, his face showing the shared pain.

"Fuck," he whispered into the smoothness of the wall that looked like a tree. His hand felt the cool, painted surface beneath his fingers and palm. "This got old real fast."

Jim's hand rested gently on his shoulder for a moment. "Let's go inside," he said, when Blair's breathing steadied, and he hoisted him upward and eased him sideways through the unseen maze and into the loft.

Blair opened his eyes, but the jungle remained. From where he stood, he could see Jim walking around the clearing, moving things around -- things that blurred when he tried to focus on them. The counter, he decided was to his right. The table, straight ahead. But he was too frightened to move. It was still the jungle! Nothing had changed. "I can't see anything properly. No Cascade," he said, his eyes wide as he tried to force the proper images to his vision. "Just Peru stuff. Not even the mirror reflection thing."

"Take it slow," Jim said softly, turning around to look at him. "Why don't you lie down and rest, and I'll see about dinner?"

Like it was that easy.

This was so wrong. No way. This wasn't right.

Headache growing by the second, Blair could feel his heart thumping, his bruised sternum aching with each pounding beat. He was so tired, feeling the lightheaded dizziness that spelled out exhaustion. His hands were shaking, but it was from more than fatigue. "I don't understand. This isn't fair," he whispered. "I thought-- I thought I'd be able to see properly in the loft. And I can't. I can't." He could hear the faint edge of hysteria in his voice -- and really didn't care. Damn it, he was scared. As in 'out of his mind.'

"We can't do anything about it at the moment. Just rest first, Chief."

Blair stood shivering in the entranceway, hands covering his face, words pouring out of his mouth, unstoppable. "I can't. I told you. I want this to stop. Jim, what can I do to fix this? I need it to stop. I can't do this. Help me out here. Can't you do anything about this? Can you summon that dream guy or something? I just want it all to be normal."

He heard Jim shut the fridge door and approach him. "I have an idea." Strong fingers gripped his upper arms.

"Yeah? That's great, man, because I'm all out of them. What is it?" He was led to the living room, the carpet beneath his feet. A tug brought him down to the couch to sit beside his partner, feeling Jim's arm go around his shoulders.

"Just keep your eyes closed for a minute and rest." Jim sounded so sure about what he was saying that Blair tried to comply, concentrating on his breathing. "Don't fight me, Chief."

"I'm not," he said, deliberately opening his eyes and glaring at his partner. "I was just trying to see on my own, without having to rely on you all the --"

The jungle disappeared into darkness. Absolute, total, inky, jet-black darkness.

"Oh, shit, Jim. Oh, man. Okay, okay. I get it. Whoever you are -- I'm here, okay? I'm beside him. See me here? See? I'm sitting beside him." He moved against the Sentinel, the side of his face against Jim's chest, one arm snaking around his back, the other wrapping around his waist. "Please, don't do this. Stop this."

"What is it?" Jim's voice came by his ear. "What's wrong? Chief?"

"Fuck!" The word exploded from his mouth, anger mixed with terror. "What's wrong? I can't see!" His eyes blinked back the tears, fighting to break through the blackness that had descended on him. "I can't see anything. Nothing. Come on, please let me see. Please let me see." He felt himself being held tightly and gave in to the panic he had kept back for two days. "Oh, God, please don't do this. Let me see."

Tears ran like rivers down his cheeks as he tried to stifle the quiet, suffocating sobs and cling to his ebbing control. "Not fair. I'm just so damned tired, Jim. I thought it was over, so what's happened now? What am I doing wrong? Huh? Can you tell me?"

Jim said nothing, but silently held him and let himself be held onto. The terror came in surf-crashing waves; Blair would just be able to catch his breath, when another wave would crash into him, uprooting his composure, threatening to tear him away from Jim and let him sink in the cold, icy unknown beyond the warmth of those arms.

The phone rang in the background and, if anything, the brief interruption of time and space was more disorienting and terrifying than the darkness itself. Jim ignored the ringing and it went to the answering machine. Something about Blair's car at the university lot.

"The Volvo..." Blair gasped, when he had the air to do so, his mind scrambling to figure out what to do.

"We'll have it towed here. That's not important right now." Jim didn't move. Didn't let go of him.

"Doesn't matter. Can't drive...anyway..." Blair opened his eyes when he thought he had regained some control, but still saw only darkness through his tears. "No!" he cried out, involuntarily. "No! Please. Please, whoever is doing this to me...Please, make it stop." There was a horrible sound from his mouth, a desperate cry of pain that frightened him. "Stop it! Stop it!"

Jim drew him closer yet, and with a terrible cry, Blair buried his face in the man's shoulder, hands clinging to his shirt, sobbing into the fabric. But these were no longer the quiet sobs of before. It was as if his entire being was forced into each one, tearing through his chest and his soul, screaming from his diaphragm and his lungs and his throat. Fear and terror of the darkness possessed him until he totally exhausted himself and let the darkness claim him, spiraling through the night to collapse into the gentle earth around him.
 


Water was lapping around him.

Warm and comforting, it seeped into his pores and gradually unknotted his stomach muscles and eased his breathing. He passed from one level of consciousness to another, hardly aware of his journey, where he was now or how he had arrived there.

He breathed in the moist, humid air, and breathed out the coldness deep within him.

The water swirled around his head, an equally warm hand brushing lightly against his face. Stroking through his hair. Soothing. Calming. Easing the hurt.

He didn't have to think. That was the best part. He just floated in limbo, relaxed, safe.

Words hovered over the surface, rolling toward him...and then away...like tidal waters pulled by the moon. He would almost have their meaning, and then they would elude his grasp, trickling through his fingers, only to return again and tease at him.

"Almost done here, Chief. That's it."

Jim's voice. Jim's hands.

"You're doing good. I'm just going to rinse you off."

The water was nice. Warm and cradling. Flowing over his head like a baptismal blessing. Like oil.

There was a tune that fluttered through his memory and was gone.

Water ran down his skin as it drained away, pulling the pain with it. The towel was nice, too. Gently patting a body that felt too bruised to move. Cocooning him. Lifting him.

And then he was sitting up, still breathing in the steam. Feeling the condensation like dew on his cheeks.

He hummed under his breath, trying to catch the tune. Grandfather's song.

Something on his face. It smelled nice. On his beard.

The song was about a beard.

How did that go? His grandfather used to sing it to him. He could hear the scarred baritone voice rising like incense to the heavens, aloft on the breeze. First loudly to God in Hebrew and then softly for him in English, the small child entranced in the courts of the synagogue. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is...

That was it. He had it now. The words were coming back to him, over the years. Behold how good and how pleasant it is, for brothers to dwell together in unity...

He hummed it again, feeling the vibration in his chest, hearing the echo in the small room.
 

Behold how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron's beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
Grandfather used to sing it to him.

He breathed out slowly, letting the memory settle around him. Three months of treasured memories living in his grandparents' house. Walking through the streets, holding tight to his grandfather's hand, watching the two long curls bounce as his grandfather talked to him. His own hair was short then, a tangle of soft curls framing his five-year-old face. Grandfather's hair was shorter than his, except for the curls that were long, dancing as he walked through the streets in his long black coat.

His chin was lifted and he felt the gentle scrape against his throat, and he stilled the tune until it was done and a soft damp towel wiped his face and neck. Then he was standing. Something went over his head, so quickly that he didn't have time to feel suffocated. Soft, loose clothing, his hands and arms maneuvered into sleeves. His feet were lifted, first one and then the other. More clothing pulled on by hands that were comforting and a voice that was calming.

The tune came back and he hummed it again as he was lifted, carried, and then lowered gently to his bed. A quilt covered him as he floated in his memories, anchoring him, keeping him safe.

Behold how good and how pleasant it is...
 


Ellison sat on the side of Sandburg's bed watching him sleep and, finally, as midnight approached, he felt the calm that had descended on his partner move to cover him as well.

Not the homecoming he had planned. They were supposed to have returned to the loft, spent some time relaxing, had some dinner -- maybe they would have sat out on the balcony and talked about what was happening with Sandburg's sight. He had a rather awkward speech prepared to give to the younger man, something about how good it was to have him home at last and how he would do everything in his power to make sure he would never get to the point where he would treat Blair so unfairly again. He was going to make sure the kid understood him.

Instead, he found himself struggling to strip the sweat-damp clothes from his partner and then immerse a shivering, muscle-knotted Guide into a hot bath, trying to ease the painful cramps that had twisted Blair into a hunched-up ball. But it had served just as well. As the heat worked its magic, Sandburg had gradually relaxed. Ellison had then surprised himself as he went on to ritualistically cleanse away the telltale reminders of Sandburg's near-drowning and hospital stay -- and the memory of another Sentinel who had come far too close to his Guide. He had gently scrubbed around the bruised skin erasing the bandage marks, shampooed and rinsed hair, shaved the coarse beard.

And in so doing, he had healed something within himself and within his partner.

At least, for a while.

He stood and stretched, his gaze once again finding the young man curled so relaxed beneath the quilt. There had been no indication from his partner that his sight had returned. In fact, Sandburg's eyes had been closed the entire evening, drifting in and out of consciousness and awareness. Occasionally he would hum, smiling to himself, and Jim would smile in response, not knowing what had prompted the tune but knowing it had pleased Blair.

Ellison reluctantly left the bedroom and mounted the stairs to his loft room. The bed accepted his weight, and with an exhausted sigh, he rolled over and went to sleep.

Morning found him downstairs, making coffee, waiting. Sandburg had slept through the night undisturbed, hardly moving from the position Ellison had left him in. At four minutes to eight o'clock, he heard the creak of the futon bed, soft muttering about socks for cold feet, then Sandburg stumbled out of his room to collapse at the counter.

And look up at him and smile. "Hey, Jim."

"Can you see?"

"Good morning, Jim. How you doing, man? You appear to be a little tired," Blair said, eyes sparkling at the emphasis.

"You can see." He held out a cup of coffee, nodding happily as it was taken from his hand. "So, is it Cascade or Peru?"

"Cascade," Blair said, his smile fading slightly. "With just a touch of the jungle," he added, his face reflecting the resignation. "I'm not complaining. It beats the alternative." He took a sip of the hot coffee, then placed the mug on the counter. "I'm going to have a shower."

"There's lots of hot water; take your time. I'll have breakfast ready when you get out," he said, taking the eggs from the fridge.

"Thanks. I'll be quick." Blair walked into the bathroom, then a moment later came back out, a hesitant smile on his face. "Uh...Jim...Did you--?"

"Give you a bath last night? Yup."

Blair gave a choked laugh, his eyes widening. "No shit?" He disappeared back into the bathroom, only to reappear again, tugging at Jim's long-sleeved T-shirt that he just realized he was wearing. "Uh...thanks. I guess I needed it, huh?"

Jim cracked the eggs into a bowl. "Yeah." We both did. He didn't look up, though, concentrating on beating the eggs. "There's a load of your clothes in the dryer, and another in the washer. Now get in the shower. I may not be so gentle if I have to do it again."

Hands raised in mock surrender, Blair went back into the bathroom.

Fifteen minutes later, curls still dripping occasionally onto the table, his Guide quickly consumed the simple breakfast and reluctantly followed it with the antibiotics he was still ordered to take. "Are we going to the station today?"

"I don't know. We shouldn't rush things. I barely convinced the doctor to let you go." Jim took their dishes and lowered them into the soapy water in the sink. "Are you up to it?"

"Yeah. I think so. For the morning, at least. I'd like to see everyone. Say thank you for their help and stuff."

"Okay." Leaving the dishes to soak, Jim poured them both some more coffee, and they moved to the couches in the living room. "Let's talk about your sight."

Blair nodded, swallowing his nervousness. "It seems to be okay now. I can still see both images, but Cascade is stronger."

"Do you know why you went blind last night?"

"As the Borg say, 'Resistance is futile'."

"What?" Jim asked, not getting the reference.

Blair shrugged, not meeting the older man's eyes. "I think I'm being shown something about my attitudes. I'm being taught something."

"About what?"

"About what it means to be a Guide. Your Guide."

"You were doing fine before, Chief."

"I don't think so, man. I think...I think someone or something is trying to hurry us along. Maybe something is going to happen. I think we were on the right course, but we -- I -- got a little sidetracked and I'm being shown where I was missing out. Sort of putting me back online."

"We're both being put back online. This is a two-way partnership."

"Yeah. I thought at first that maybe whenever we're together, I'm going to be able to hear and see normally. And whenever we're apart, I'll see the jungle. But it hasn't always worked that way. It's not consistent. I spoke to Simon when you weren't there. It was hard to see him, but I could make him out. So it might have just as much to do with attitude as proximity. Maybe it's when I'm being your Guide, I can see. When I'm resisting, I can't see properly. The more I resist, the less I can see."

Jim waited until Blair looked at him. "That's a harsh sentence."

"Maybe. And we won't even get into why this is happening and who is causing it, okay? I really don't want to find out that my psyche came up with this all on my own."

"I dreamed it, too, remember."

"Then I'll blame you," Blair said, his smile cutting through the remark. "So, I guess I'll just try and be a good little Guide, do whatever you want, and follow you around all day and stay out of trouble."

"Blair, I--"

"I'm sorry, that didn't sound right. This is my problem, Jim, not yours, so I'm going to have to..." He trailed off, then nodded slightly. "But it's not, is it? It's not just my problem. I think in terms of me and you, when I should be thinking us."

Jim stared at him, his jaw clenched. "Did it happen again?"

"Just a flicker. Enough to remind me. Like a piano teacher telling you to sit up straight." Blair smiled. "It's okay."

"You're very accepting of all this. I wouldn't be."

"It's not like I have a lot of choice in the matter, is it? Not if I want to do this right. And I want to, Jim."

"I still don't like it. I don't like feeling manipulated."

"Then don't think of it that way." Blair raised a hand, stopping his retort. "Listen, you and I, we don't know a lot about this Sentinel thing. Really, we don't. I know a few bits and pieces, but we've got no other Sentinels and Guides around to talk to about what is normal and what isn't. Just this guy who pops up in your dreams. Maybe we really are being taught something. Something that will fix whatever is wrong. Meanwhile...I think we should do our best to continue as normal. Unless you...well, hear otherwise."

"You really are feeling better this morning?" Jim asked, softly.

"Yeah," Blair nodded. "I'm not sure what all happened last night, but for a short time there, I felt such incredible peace, man." He glanced up at Jim, as though checking to see if he was listening. "I remembered my grandfather."

"You've never mentioned your grandfather before."

"I don't remember why, but I went to live with Naomi's parents for a few months when I was about five. Her father was tall and fierce-looking, with dark eyes and he wore a long Hasidic coat. He had the curls, the whole bit. I adored him and he adored me. We just sorta clicked. I went everywhere with him. I think I laughed more during those few months than I did for the next ten years. It was cool, too, because I remember Naomi coming back to get me, and my grandfather hugging her and my grandmother crying. I think something healed in their home that day. Which was good because he died the next summer."

"You were humming to yourself."

"Right. Yeah. The song. Grandfather used to sing this song to me. I was remembering it. About how good and pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity. How blessed. And that's what I was feeling then. That we were connected again. The carrier hum was in place."

"It was," Jim said. "I felt it, too."

"I wish it were back," Blair said, meeting his eyes sadly. "I feel okay right now, but not like last night."

"If it happened once, it can happen again." They sat in silence for a few minutes, then Jim stood to go. "Do we tell Simon about your sight?"

Blair accepted his help in getting up from the couch. "Why don't we see how it goes? Would that be okay? I mean, he already knows there's something wrong with me, but why don't we see how this morning goes, and then talk to him in the afternoon?"

"You'll tell me how you're feeling? You'll lie down when you need to?"

"I promise," Blair replied, seriously. "We'll take it slow. Besides, I have this phobia of the dark...."
 


9:30 a.m.
 

It was a little overwhelming, coming to the station, but Blair was seeing the double image and could navigate around the bullpen unassisted, so he soon relaxed and enjoyed watching the tribal people milling around him smiling, transforming into familiar faces as they approached the desk to talk. The babble of voices in the bullpen (all nonsense phrases as far as Blair could tell -- it didn't sound like any language he'd heard before) became clear when the speaker came near and spoke to either him or Jim, so he relaxed further and scooted his chair as close to Jim's as he could.

By ten o'clock, the novelty of his return had worn off and Major Crimes had gone back to work, leaving Jim at the computer and Blair sitting beside him, basically twiddling his thumbs. "Now what?" he mumbled to himself.

"Now we get some work done. I've pulled up Alex's file here--" Ellison handed him something. "And here's a folder with all the information I ran on her earlier."

Blair glanced down to the pile of bark in his hand. "Uh, Jim..."

Ellison looked over to him. "Can you see it?"

"No. Well, I know you handed me a file folder, but that's all speculative since I'm looking at tree bark shavings." He tried, but couldn't keep the slight tremble from his voice. There wasn't even a double image now. Just the jungle. Trees and vines and tangled underbrush. Why? What had he done wrong now? He was with Jim, wasn't he?

Ellison took the file from his hands, then stood and led him to what must be the break room and gently pushed him onto a tree stump/chair, crouching down before him. The Sentinel waited until he met the man's eyes, and then asked, "Any ideas on what we can do? Is there anything I can do?"

"I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing wrong." His eyes threatened tears, but there wasn't much he could do about it.

"Maybe it's not you. It could just as easily be me." Ellison placed his hands on Sandburg's knees, keeping the contact, but it didn't help Blair's sight any. The jungle remained. "You said it hasn't been consistent, remember?"

"I don't know. I can't figure it out." He took a deep breath, exhaling it rather shakily. "You didn't happen to have another dream, did you? I could use a bit more information for this one."

"Sorry, Chief. No dream. But I'm here, okay? You know I'm here."

"Yeah." Sniff. "Thanks." Another sniff, but at least he was keeping himself together. "That was nice coming in and seeing everyone," Blair said, changing the topic.

"They were all concerned about you," Jim said, his fist lightly tapping Blair's knee.

"And you. They were looking at you just as much as they were looking at me."

"It's just this damned huge smile on my face," Ellison said, grinning. "For what it's worth, I'm glad you're here. I'm overwhelmed sometimes that you're alive and sitting here and we have another chance to set things right. That you're here with me."

Blair smiled back, feeling something release inside his chest. He almost gasped at the sensation, at the weight that no longer pressed against him. At the emotion born within him. Last night had been Peace. This was Joy. He laughed, hearing the delight in it. "I'm glad to be here, Jim. Really."

"And if we have to go now and take you home, we will. You tell me what you want to do."

Blair thought about it for a minute, but couldn't come up with any brilliant ideas or solutions. "Why don't we just see what happens for a while. Maybe I'll try to chart when my sight comes and goes, so we know what the parameters are to this."

"Sounds good." Ellison stood, the hand moving from Sandburg's knee and while the jungle remained full force, it was overlaid now by the shadowy image of the break room. "Want anything while we're here?"

Well, it was a start. But wasn't it supposed to happen the other way? Sandburg sighed, his head hurting. "Some tea. Thanks. I'm not up to trying to boil water yet. I'd probably start a fire and burn the place down."

"Regular or spearmint?"

"The mint would be nice." He closed his eyes and listened as Jim put the kettle on, got out a mug, and took a tea bag from the box in the cupboard. "Where do you think she is?"

"I don't know. Simon thinks she might be in Columbia."

"Can you feel her around here?"

"No. Not even that...tension...I was feeling for the last few weeks."

"That's good." Eyes still closed, Blair ran his hands over the round table top, stopping when he found a pen someone had left behind. "What about her apartment? Did anyone check it?"

"Brown did. I've got the report on my desk."

"Anything there?"

"I haven't actually read it yet. I'm sure Simon would have said something, though. He would have called me at the hospital or at the loft."

"Yeah." Blair fingered the pen, clicking the end. "Jim, I wasn't trying to ditch you or anything. I wouldn't have been her Guide. I was just trying to help her."

"I know." Ellison unplugged the kettle and filled the mug with boiling water. "I didn't understand it then, though. I couldn't think. It was like the most intense jealousy I had ever felt. I saw her in your office, going through your things. I knew you had been with her." He took a spoon and took out the tea bag, dropping it into the garbage can. "I could smell her on you. You stank of her. Not the scent of a woman but the mark of another Sentinel."

"I tried to tell you about her a few times."

Ellison put the mug in his hands, sitting down at the table across from him. "I remember now. At the time, though..." He shook his head, looking down at the table surface. "I just wasn't thinking, Chief. I wish I could explain how I was feeling. My senses were all over the map, all fluctuating. But there were these emotions...powerful...compelling... I was just so positive she would take you away from me."

"Why?"

Jim shrugged. "Everything else seemed to be. I really didn't want you to go, but I knew I was driving you away."

"Maybe you were just afraid I was going to leave, so you lashed out first."

"Maybe -- You know what my first unclouded moment was? The first time in weeks I was probably untouched by her presence? It was at the university, that morning we found you. I knew she was nowhere around, but I couldn't sense you. I couldn't see you or hear you. My senses expanded as I was running up the front stairs to your building, and suddenly I could smell you behind me. I've heard you before -- listened for you -- for your heartbeat or your voice. I've been able to see you from a distance. But this was the first time I zeroed in on your scent in quite this way."

"You could smell me? When was that?"

"When you were lying face down in the fountain pool. If I hadn't smelled your presence, we would have gone inside the building and you probably wouldn't have made it. It was about five-thirty in the morning. No one was around yet. No one else would have seen you."

Blair started shaking, the tea spilling over his hands. Jim took the mug from him and put it aside, then moved his chair closer, wrapping his arms around his partner. "I couldn't have survived that, Chief. If you had died."

Blair buried his face in Jim's shoulder, too tired to try to control his shaking limbs. Several minutes went by, then Jim released him and handed him the mug. "Drink this."

Blair did, sipping at the calming tea, wiping his eyes on the arm of his sweater. "Let's go back to your desk, Jim. You've got work to do."

Jim took the mug from him and, with a hand to his elbow, steered him back to the desk, settled him in a chair, and put the tea mug in his hands. "Do whatever you want. We'll stay for another hour and then go home."

"Okay." Blair sat for a while, just sipping his tea and looking around the bullpen, watching the relatively clear images of Rafe and Brown talking across from him. Megan was in discussing a case with Simon. The Cascade image was stronger, the jungle the reflection. As he relaxed, he noticed the file folder on the desk and opened it, reading quietly to himself while Jim wrestled with information on the computer. "Want some help with that?" Blair asked, finally.

Jim smiled and made room for him at the computer. Blair slipped into the seat and keyed up the search screen, then started looking for the prison records Jim had been after. His sight remained constant, almost completely "Cascade" and when he got to the correct webpage, he vacated the chair, switching places with Jim again and going back to reading the file.

"How's it going?" Jim asked, after half an hour. He had closed down the internet link and was working on completing some reports.

"Not bad. I seem to be able to read okay."

"Good. I've got to take this over to Forensics and get a signature and a copy of their report. Do you want to come, or stay here?"

Blair thought about it. "I'm okay here, right? Maybe I'll just stay and keep track of what happens sight-wise when you go."

"I'll be gone about five or ten minutes. I'll tell Simon to keep an eye on you."

"That won't be nec-- Oh. Okay," he said, correcting himself.

"Another flicker?"

"Nope. Figured this one on my own."

Jim smiled, mussing his hair, then went to Simon's office and poked his head in, talking briefly to him before waving and going out the far door and disappearing into the jungle.

Okay, we're back to jungle. That didn't take long.

He put down the file and closed his eyes, letting the familiar sounds calm him. He was okay. He was safe. The voices were all wrong now, but that was okay. He knew who they were. His friends. Co-workers. He would keep his eyes closed, maybe put his head down on the desk here and they would think he was asleep and not ask him anything. He was safe. He was okay.

He woke to Jim's gentle nudging. "Come on, Chief. Let's go home."

"What?" Blair lifted his head and peered around the busy office of Major Crimes. Rhonda smiled at him and went back to her typing. Rafe stopped talking to Henri and they both smiled at him indulgently, like he was the demented but loveable mascot of the office. Blair stuck out his tongue at them, and they laughed and returned the gesture, then turned their attention back to whatever they had been discussing.

"Let's go," Jim repeated, reaching for their jackets, but Blair waved him off, sitting up and stretching.

"No, I'm okay."

"You were sound asleep."

"So I had a little power nap and I feel fine. I'd like to stay."

Jim hesitated, then hung the jackets back up. "For a little while. We'll go home at lunch time." He dropped some files on the desk that Blair began paging through.

"You didn't get the signature you needed."

"No, Cassie wasn't there. She was down in Evidence checking something and I didn't feel like chasing her down. I'll try again in fifteen minutes." Jim leaned closer. "So what happened?"

"Hmm?" Blair responded, still reading the file.

"While I was gone?"

"Oh, that. You got as far as the door, and it was Peru again in here. Everything went native and I couldn't understand anyone so I played possum and feigned sleeping, figuring they'd leave me alone. Guess I played the part too well, right?"

"I don't like leaving you alone if you can't understand anyone."

"I was fine, Jim. Really. And I'm back to reading now." He pointed to a page of the file. "What's this about Alex's partner?"

"That's about all we know."

"I think I met him."

"You mentioned once before that you thought he might have been in your office with Alex."

"Yeah, I think so. Maybe. It's all kind of hazy -- Jim, you said that when you found me in the fountain, your senses were back online, functioning normally. The perceived 'threat' of the other Sentinel was gone."

Jim nodded. "It was still there, but just in the background."

"How long would I have been there-- in the fountain?"

"We don't know. It's hard to say. The water was icy cold, which probably kept you alive. But I'd say no more than a few minutes. There is evidence, from the scrapes and bruises on your knees and hands, that you might have been conscious for a brief time, struggling maybe to get yourself out."

Blair grimaced. "Maybe I'm glad I don't remember it. I'm just wondering how far they could have gotten in five minutes."

"Not far enough. I think I would have known if she was within five or ten minutes of the university. But if her partner was there, maybe she had left earlier and he took over. I might not have noticed him."

"You mean maybe he was there watching us? Watching you pull me from the fountain?"

"Maybe. I wasn't really paying attention to anything else. I'm just sure that she wasn't there." Jim jotted down some times. "When did she show up at the university?"

"It was still dark. I think about three o'clock."

"That leaves over two hours. How much do you remember?"

"She pulled a gun on me right off the bat... I thought she was going to blow me away."

"The doctors said your skull injury was a few hours old, so probably either she or her partner hit you on the head soon after they got there." Jim looked down at his watch. "I'm going to try and find Cassie again. Why don't you come with me?"

"I think I'll stay here. I want to see if the effect is the same this time. This is as safe a place as any to check my reactions."

Agitated, Jim tapped the desk with his fingers until Blair put his hand over the detective's. "Relax, Jim. I'll be fine."

"Just call me if you need anything. I'll come right away," he said, standing.

"Will do," Blair said with a smile, adding a yawn once Jim had turned away. Okay, he's at the door and...presto. Peru. Okay, that would be Jungle-Rafe and that would be Jungle-Henri sitting on that log talking. Rhonda is.... Wow. Rhonda. Jungle-Rhonda. He knew his face was bright red staring at the topless tribeswoman. He looked away, studying his hands for a moment. Maybe I won't mention that to Jim. He'd lock me up. Blair yawned again. He was feeling sleepy, but not too bad. He picked up the file and stared at the bark strips. I'll pretend to read this time.

Telephones rang around him, including the one on Jim's desk, but he didn't answer it. He didn't usually answer Jim's phone unless he was expecting a call. Better it go to the dreaded 'voice mail'. Some of Jim's snitches knew him now, but most still preferred to speak to Jim personally.

A noise made him raise his head. The tribal warriors had all changed position and he had lost track of Jungle-Rafe and Jungle-Henri. Someone else was there, someone who was very angry. A prisoner? The pushing and shoving escalated quickly, and someone was shoved in his direction, knocking him off his chair into the underbrush. He scrambled back out of the way, trying to stay out of the line of fighting. A large native grabbed him by the collar and started dragging him back toward the fight and Blair tried to loosen the tight grip, but to no avail. He was dragged across the clearing and into a cave.

"JIM!" Okay, this wasn't a good idea. Help me out, Jim! "JIM!"

The warrior was yelling, both at him and whoever was at the entrance of the cave. Blair dove into the corner of the cave, pushing as far back into the darkness as he could. Jim will come. Jim will come. Now, Jim.

Gunfire went off nearby, the sharp echo setting off his nerves. Jim...Come now, please. More yelling in the cave, then arms trying to reach him, to pull him out. He kicked at them, hearing their angry response. They buzzed around the cave entrance, arms waving.

More noise. More warriors. Blair put his arms over his head and tried to make himself small. "Jim?" he whispered.
 


He heard the first cry as the elevator was taking him back to Major Crimes. Before he could do anything, Ellison felt a wave of dizziness come over him, then he was standing in the clearing again before the older Sentinel-Warrior.

"What are you doing?" Ellison demanded. "Sandburg needs me. He's in trouble." His entire body resonated with his Guide's distress.
"He does need you. As you need him." The Sentinel-Warrior looked at him calmly, with the hint of an amused smile on his face. "Do you understand that you need him?"
"I do. I do need him." He could feel his Guide's fear emanating across the distance separating them. "Let me go to him."
"Why do you need him?"
"He is my friend. I have a responsibility to him."
"Why do you need him?"
"I need to make sure he's safe. Because of me, he's in danger right now!"
"He is not in danger. He will be safe."
"Damn it! He's frightened. He's all alone."
"He has friends to protect him, Sentinel. They are keeping watch over him."
"It's not the same. I need to be there."
"Why?"
"Because he's calling out to me."
"Ah. Tell me, Enquiri, have you learned to listen to him?"
"I told you he's calling out to me!"
"Have you learned to feel what he is saying? Have you learned to listen to what his body needs, his soul needs?"
Ellison stood trembling in the shadows of the clearing, his thoughts frantically trying to find an answer that would free him to go to his partner.
Then the Sentinel-Warrior began to hum a tune that seemed vaguely familiar.
"Enquiri, you washed not only his feet, but all of him. You were the servant. You provided for his needs. You calmed his anxiety. You healed his soul. And you did it not because of you, but because of him."
"He was in such pain," Ellison whispered, tears flowing down his face as he remembered.
"And you listened to the cry of his heart."
"He's crying out to me now."
"He has been crying out to you for a long time. You are just hearing him now. Tell me, Enquiri, have you been crying out for him?"
"I need him."
"Why do you need him, Enquiri? Do you know yet?"
"He is the other half of my soul. I am not alive without him. He completes me."
"And what is your fear?"
"My fear... is that he will leave. Or that someone will take him from me."
"He is your Guide because he chooses to be and because it is who he is. He is your Guide. And no one will take him from you."
"What if she returns?"
"He is your Guide."
"She will try to take him--"
"He is your Guide."
"But--"
The Warrior lifted his staff. "Is he your Guide, Enquiri?"
"Yes," Ellison whispered. "I need to go to him. He is calling me. I must answer his call."
"You must respond to him because he is your Guide. You must lay aside your independence and place your soul at his feet. He is your Guide. He will lead. Be with him now. Listen, and he will guide you. Stay near to him, and he will guide you."
The warrior faded back into the jungle, then the jungle faded into the elevator, and the elevator doors opened.
 


The sounds around him crescendoed as he hid in the back of the cave, hands tight over his ears, trying to block the noise. The tribal warriors were all yelling, and he could see their legs as they swarmed around where he hid. Three times, they had bent low to grab at him, and he had kicked them back, screaming at them to leave him alone.

"Chief?"

"Jim?" Blair opened his eyes, relief flooding him at seeing the Sentinel.

And through the darkness of the cave, he saw Simon's office. Simon holding his hand to his jaw. Rafe flexing and clenching his right hand as though it had been injured.

"Jim?" he repeated, his voice quavering. The Sentinel pulled him out from under the board table and into his arms, almost crushing him, but he didn't care. "What happened?" he whispered as soon as his heart stopped pounding quite so fast. He was still shaking, trembling so hard he knew his muscles were going to ache later.  "Simon?"

"A witness to a crime came in to make a statement, but he saw someone he didn't like, and pulled out a gun and fired off a few shots. They were trying to get him under control when the man he had been threatening decided to attack him. They're sorting it all out now."  Simon was kneeling beside them, touching Blair's cheek. "You okay, Sandburg? You gave me quite the scare."

"Sorry... Did I do that to your jaw?" Blair couldn't turn his head much -- Jim held him quite securely against his chest -- but he could see from the way Simon was talking that his jaw hurt.

"It's okay. I obviously scared you." Simon looked tired. As tired as Jim looked when Blair finally got a good look at his face.

"Jim? Hey, Jim." The grip wasn't letting up at all. "Jim, I want to go home, okay?  I need to get out of here. I don't want to have to explain why I freaked."

"I shouldn't have left you. I'm supposed to stay with you. Stay close to you. I'm sorry." The words were whispered so quietly Blair could hardly hear them.

Simon had closed the door to the office, so at least they didn't have an audience. "Jim, can we continue this discussion at home? I'd really love to go home, man."

Ellison took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then finally he released Sandburg. "I'll get our coats. Stay with me."

With a backwards look at Simon, Blair followed his partner into the jungle clearing/bullpen, trying to ignore the concerned looks that came his way. Great. First day back and I lose it in the bullpen.

Brown came over to them as Blair struggled into his jacket. "You okay, Hairboy? Sorry 'bout that. We had no idea the guy was carrying. He was just a witness. We weren't arresting him for anything."

Blair nodded, his hands raised in a placating manner. "It's okay, Henri. I'm fine. My head's just a little sensitive and the noise bothered me. I was trying to get away from what was happening and I got dizzy and... Well, I'm okay. See?" he added, smiling and spreading his hands.

"Come on." Ellison stepped between them, motioning Sandburg toward the elevator. "Let's go home and grab some lunch," he said, his face still devoid of emotion.

The trip home was silent and apart from occasional glances at his partner -- whose attention was firmly fixed on the road ahead of them -- Blair kept his eyes closed, willing his stomach to quit feeling so queasy.

But there was no mention of lunch once they arrived at the loft. Instead, Jim steered him to the couch, sat beside him, and drew him back into the crushing embrace. "I'm sorry, Chief."

Ellison's heart was pounding. Blair could feel it through the man's sweater. He could feel the Sentinel's fear and he let Jim hold him tight. Something was happening to his partner. Deep shuddering breaths sounded in his ear. Hot tears dropped to his cheeks.

"I'm here, Jim."

Ellison nodded, but didn't let go. It was as though he was trying to absorb him somehow.

Your life enfolding mine.

Oh.

Not crushing him, but enfolding him. The reason Jim was holding him so gently and fiercely was because Blair Sandburg was that important to him.

Blair felt more tears on his cheeks and realized they were his own, for he was loved. Cherished.

The fear of abandonment vanished at the realization of his own worth and Jim's silent, passionate acknowledgment of it. Blair was home. He would not be turned out again. He was loved.

First, there had been Peace. Then had come Joy. And now, Love.

He was loved. The tears turned to sobs, but not the painful ones of the previous night, but sobs of relief, of the end of one path and the beginning of another. He was gathered closer, if that were possible. His sobs were echoed by the Sentinel, and the sound was like music to his ears. Broken and mended by the Peace, the Joy, and the Love between them.

The sobs became sniffles, the shudders became a gentle rocking, but Guide and Sentinel remained together until the wounds between them were healed. Trust allowed the privilege. Love allowed the Trust.

Blair opened his eyes, and as he blinked and focused, he saw the loft. Nothing else. No jungle. No double images. For the first time since he had awoken in the hospital, he was seeing clearly.

"My eyes are better now," Blair whispered. "Jim! My eyes are better!"

"What?"

"My sight. It's normal. It's clear. Not even a trace of the afterimage."

Jim moved and cradled Blair's face in his hands, the pale blue, red-rimmed eyes searched his, as if trying to see for himself that this was true.

"Really." Blair nodded, smiling, but it was awhile before Jim smiled back.

"When did it clear up?"

"Just now. I... realized I was home. And that you were with me."

"I am, partner. I'm here. I'm with you." Jim reached back to the table behind the couch and pulled some tissues from the box there, handing them to Blair, then reaching back for some more for himself, blowing his nose and wiping his eyes.

Blair's stomach growled. He slowly detangled himself from his partner and stood, stretched, then moved to the kitchen and stared into the fridge. "Want some lunch?"

"Lunch? No. I couldn't eat right now." Jim turned on the couch and looked at him. "Your sight is normal?"

"Yeah. And I'm hungry." He felt like he hadn't eaten in days. Weeks, maybe.

"I'll make you something," Jim said, starting to get up.

"Thanks, but I can do it. I'm just going to heat up some soup." Blair leaned over and located a pot under the counter, and placed it on the burner, then opened one of the cupboards and retrieved a can of vegetable soup. "Want some?"

Jim shook his head, watching his every move.

"I'm okay, Jim," he said, softly, opening the can and emptying the soup into the pot. He went to the sink and filled the can with water, then dumped the water into the pot and stirred it. "See? I didn't cut myself or anything." Turning the element on low, he gave the soup one last stir, then returned to the Sentinel and knelt before him. "What are you thinking?"

Ellison reached out and touched the side of Blair's face, brushing back a lock of hair. "I had another dream."

"When?" Blair breathed.

"I was trapped in the elevator on the way back to Major Crimes when I heard you call out to me. There was nowhere I could go. And then...I was back in the jungle. The place in my dreams."

"What did he say?"

Ellison shook his head, wearily. "That you were my Guide. That I shouldn't fear you leaving me. And that for you to function as my Guide, I need to listen to you and stay close to you. Keep you near me. Follow where you lead. Be not only your Protector, but your Servant."

"That goes along with what I've been learning," Blair said. "To stay near to you and to listen to what it is you are saying. If I don't listen, I won't know how to answer you. If I'm not around, I can't help at all. And I've been shown how much I have depended on what I see, instead of what you see. I've never had to answer to anyone else before; I've never been part of something else. I've come and gone as I wanted, when I wanted. But being a Guide is a lifetime choice, not one of five things I'm doing. I'm no longer just me, I'm part of an us. And that's cool, man. It's awesome, because it's you that I'm with. Ever since last night," Blair shrugged, smiling, "I just feel lighter inside. And this morning I learned to laugh again. And just now, I feel that I can trust you with me. With who I am. That I am loved and cared for. Not just rescued from the bad guys -- you've always done that -- but that my other needs will be met, too."

"I want that. But, realistically, what are we going to do? Stay together twenty-four hours a day?"

"If we have to. When we have to. We need to seriously talk about some things, like my dissertation and degree -- what both our comfort zones are there -- the university, the classes I teach and the ones I take, our jobs at the station, our friends, and even what happens in the future. Our choices now depend on us rather than just you or just me. Dwelling in unity," he added.

"What?"

"That song I told you about. Behold how good and how pleasant it is, for brothers to dwell together in unity."

Ellison nodded, smiling, but the smile slowly faded. "How can we keep doing this? She's out there. She's going to come back for you. How can I ever leave you alone again?" he asked, again reaching to touch a lock of hair. "How can I let you go out of my sight to the university? To the market? To the movies? What if that had been her in the bullpen? She isn't just after you, Chief; she was also fighting me for this city."

"Do you think that might be why you pushed me away? To protect me?"

Ellison stared at him blankly, not confirming nor denying.

"Well, regardless, we'll be ready this time. We know a lot more than we did before. First, I think you'll sense her. You know what her presence feels like now, right? She shows up in the city and we'll know, we'll have some warning. You tell me, and then we'll figure out the next step. And I know that being your Guide is my number one concern, that I need to be exclusive to you. And I didn't know how extensive the territorial aspect was, of what it would do to you having another Sentinel around Cascade."

"I think it started when the Chopec named me the Sentinel of the city," Jim said, leaning forward, elbows on his knees.

"Probably. Anyway, I'll stick to email with other Sentinels, if we encounter them. Let them find their own Guides, huh?"

"Right..."

"Right... And we know what she looks like. We'll find her first. Maybe go deal with her on 'neutral ground' where you don't have your 'Sentinel of the Great City' instincts getting in the way. Then you can deal with her cop to criminal." He tilted forward until his forehead touched his partner's. "We'll do it. Together."

Jim nodded, drawing him close again for a long minute and then releasing him. "I'm hungry now."

"Figured. I made enough for both of us." Blair smiled, his grin widening when Jim responded with a blinding smile of his own.

"Both of us." Ellison threw back his head and laughed, then grabbed Sandburg's hand and drew him up. "Watch the soup and I'll make us up some cheese sandwiches."

"I'll get the beer."

"No beer. Not until you're better."

"Come on, Jim. Alcohol has no effect on antibiotics. I'll be fine," Blair said, eluding the Sentinel's grasp and making a break for the fridge. He had almost reached it, when he was tackled from behind, suspended off the ground and balanced on Jim's left hip, his hands trapped at his side by Jim's left arm holding him in place.

"No beer, Junior. Milk." Jim opened the fridge with his right hand, snagged the milk jug, and shut the door with his foot.

"Okay, okay. You win." Blair felt his feet make contact with the floor again in front of the stove, and dutifully stirred the soup before it burned. Behind him, he could hear Jim making sandwiches. He sighed and smiled and kept stirring the soup. Big Brother mode, he noted.

"There are only two beers left and I thought if you were feeling okay, we could have them tonight. Maybe watch a movie or something," Jim said, without turning around.

"Sounds good. Maybe do up some steaks on the balcony?"

"Put our feet up and relax."

"Yeah," they both said at once and looked at each other.

It had been a different way of seeing before, but he was glad he could see the warmth of Jim's smile now, directed at him.

He was home. He was back.

They were back.

And truly, in the deepest place of his heart, there was nowhere else he wanted to be.
 


finis


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