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Part 6

It was frustrating. Jim looked over at his partner who stared unseeingly across the room. He broke off another piece of bread and held it out. "C'mon, Sandburg," he said softly, "take another bite." The lips remained closed until Jim nudged them with the bread, then the mouth opened, he popped in the food, and Sandburg closed his eyes and began to chew. With his eyes closed and the expression of sheer enjoyment on his face, it was almost possible to think there was nothing wrong. But then, his partner swallowed and opened dead eyes and Jim wondered once again what it was going to take to really bring his friend home.

Food was good. Sandburg really got into eating. He'd made lasagna after the bathroom thing. He'd led Sandburg back to the couch, settled him once more in a nest of blankets, afghans and throws, made a mental note to take him to the bathroom every couple of hours, and then he'd come to the kitchen and made lasagna. He'd bought the meat and ricotta the day Sandburg was due to come home, never expecting that he'd be at the hospital for four days. But it was still good, and he needed something to do while he tried to figure things out.

The assessment at the hospital was brain damage. Specialists suspected the repeated freezing had caused brain damage of some kind. But it wasn't totally hopeless. Blair's aphasia seemed to be at least partially psychological -- a defense mechanism against what had happened to him. Perhaps there had been some slight damage that made it difficult for him to find the right words, and he had then just decided it was too much work to keep trying. He just didn't have the energy to deal with the torture and maintain that incredible vocabulary. And now that he was home, he should be able to rest and recover and when he felt safe again, he would begin to speak. Jim sighed. That had to be it. He couldn't bear to think of that brilliant mind trapped without words for a lifetime.

He was pulled from his thoughts when his partner gave a little mew of complaint. It was the closest to a request Jim had gotten and it made him smile. "All right, already," he grumbled with a laugh, "it's coming." He picked up a bite of the lasagna and held it up to Blair's lips where it promptly disappeared. Sandburg had pretty much stripped the world down to two states of being - cold was pain, discomfort, a need of some kind. Not cold was safety, security, contentment, and of course, being warm. He forked up another bite of lasagna and held it up, then offered the bread again. It was repetitive and a little messy as he hadn't mastered the fine art of feeding his partner completely, but they got through it. Jim cleared the dishes while Blair sat unmoving and then he led the younger man back to the couch, turning the TV on low to an episode of Archaeology. He laughed at himself then and gently tousled his partner's hair as he perched on the arm of the sofa. Sandburg had been in his life for so long, he now recognized John Rhys-Davies as the host of Archaeology, and not just Indiana Jones' buddy. Sandburg leaned into his touch, so he spent a minute rubbing his head, running his fingers through the long hair and pushing it back out of the other man's face. When the younger man began to lean against him, eyes drifting shut, he stood and shifted him on the couch, helping him curl onto his side and wrapping him in blankets. Without realizing what he was doing, he leaned down and kissed the cheek that lay exposed to him. "Rest now," he whispered. "You're safe."

He sat in the chair across from the sofa and allowed himself the indulgence of just watching his Guide sleep. One would think that with all the time he'd spent doing just this thing in the hospital, the novelty would have faded. The reality was that, after three months of separation and the agony of thinking Blair was missing -- gone! -- it had been such a shock and surprise to find him only to discover he had been so horribly mistreated. Something inside this good and generous man had broken. Watching him was a luxury he didn't think he would ever tire of, just as being with him was a privilege he would never take for granted again. Blair moved a little, sliding more deeply under the blankets and his lips moved soundlessly. Even with Sentinel sight and hearing, Jim couldn't make out what the other man was saying. If indeed he was saying anything at all.

He let himself sit and watch the sleeping man and was astonished when his own eyes opened again and he found almost an hour had passed. He ran a silent scan over his partner -- sleeping soundly, breathing normally, heartbeat steady, and most importantly, comfortably snug and warm -- and then hefted himself from the chair and padded into the kitchen. He quickly wrapped the remaining lasagna and stored it in the refrigerator then turned to the sink. Dishes stacked to one side, plates on the bottom, silverware on top, glasses next to the sink. He turned on the tap, adjusted the water and began to rinse everything prior to loading the dishwasher.

Almost immediately there was movement from the couch. Jim turned to watch. Sandburg sat up, looking warily around the room but with none of the fear responses he'd evidenced before. He rose a little unsteadily, blinked twice, his head turning from side to side as he took in the room. When his eyes lit on Jim, he froze, swallowed hard, and his mouth moved silently. "Jim," he said without saying, and Jim answered, "Right here, Chief. I'm right here."

Sandburg took a few steps forward, stopped again, then began moving toward him. His footsteps were muffled by heavy socks and he walked awkwardly as if he were favoring the injured left foot, but trying not to. Once in the kitchen area, he stopped again, looking around in confusion. Jim could see the eyes clear in recognition and then see the light fade as some internal struggle was waged somewhere deep inside his friend, far beyond his reach. " 's okay, buddy," he said softly. "Everything's okay here." Jim was torn between moving to his partner, trying to convince him that he was safe, and holding his place, just to see what Sandburg would do next. He'd already demonstrated more independent action in the last 2 minutes than he had in the last four days.

He compromised, asking, "You want something, Blair?" in a soft and quiet tone. This earned him a clear look of recognition that once again faded quickly, but then Sandburg moved forward to the running water, holding out his hands beneath its flow and sighed.

He stood unmoving, staring at the floor as the water sluiced over his hands, between his fingers, splashing up to dampen the cuffs of his flannel shirt. "Not cold," he whispered Sentinel-soft, and once again Jim smiled.

He moved to stand behind his partner, wrapping his arms around the younger man and taking the smaller hands in his own. Holding them carefully beneath the flowing water, he said, "No, Blair. It's not cold anymore."

They played in the water for a while, Sandburg resting his weight against Jim, apparently confident that the larger man would support him, would take the weight and never falter, and then Jim reluctantly pushed Blair forward, waiting patiently until the other man stood steady on his feet. He rinsed the glasses, working his way to the water between Blair's hands, taking the hand-me-down drops that slipped off his partner's wrinkling-wet skin. The forks and knives were next, easier to slip into the water without depriving his friend of its comforting warmth. He had to work at the plates -- the hour he'd napped had allowed melted cheese and tomato sauce to harden and they didn't rinse quickly. As he was picking at a particularly stubborn spot, another hand slipped onto his, another finger traced the plate, and another arm moved back and forth against his own. Sandburg was helping.

He swallowed hard, murmured, "Thanks, Chief," and kept picking. When the plate was completely free of any possible spot of remaining food, probably cleaner than the dishwasher could ever get it, he pulled it from their shared grasp and added it to the bottom rack. "That's about got it now," he said softly. Water off, soap in dishwasher, close the door, turn it on. Sandburg still stood by the sink, his hands held out to water that no longer ran. Jim took a towel and dried Blair's hands, then led him back to couch. He settled him once more, wrapping him carefully in the layers of blankets and afghans and throws that cocooned him and kept him warm and feeling safe, then sat on the floor beneath him. Reaching up, he took the remote and scanned through the channels, searching for something else that might capture his anthropologist's interest. A History Channel program on the Great Wall of China caught his eye, and he put the remote down, then turned to look at his friend. Sandburg lay on his side, staring at the TV, not really totally there, but not with the vacant, dull look he carried so often now. Jim smiled. Things were getting better. He turned his attention to the show. "Thanks for helping with the clean up, Chief. I appreciate that."

A soft hand touched his head and he had to refrain from pulling away or turning to look. Slowly, and without a sound, Sandburg began to rub his head and this time, it was Jim who leaned into the touch.

It was comforting, the touch on his head, the fingers in his hair. He'd missed the touch of his Guide. Somewhere deep inside, a wound he wasn't even really aware of seemed soothed by the balm of this touch. Jim drew his legs up and dropped his head, burying his face against his knees and ignoring the damp spots that appeared beneath his eyes. Sandburg's hand slid down from his head to the base of his neck and two fingers stroked him there. He closed his eyes and shuddered, the thought of never knowing this, never having this connection with this man crashing against his consciousness like waves against the rocks in the midst of a violent storm. He felt battered and beaten and more than a little scared. Sandburg's touch, so trusting, so sure of his acceptance, placing so much faith in him -- what if he couldn't live up to it? What if he wasn't enough to really bring his partner back from the black hole of hell? What would he do then?

He lifted his head, straightened his shoulders, and turned to look at the man on the couch. Sandburg's hand still rested on his neck, no longer moving, and his eyes were fastened on the flickering screen of the TV. "Hey, Chief," Jim murmured, as he turned to face the other man, suddenly bereft at the loss of his touch, "let's get you covered up, okay?" He took the exposed hand, held it for a long moment before gently kissing the palm, then carefully slipped it beneath the covers, and tucked his partner in. "I'm gonna start a fire for you."

He pulled himself up and stacked wood in the fireplace, threw in a firestarter and lit it. Soon there was a roaring fire and it had every bit of Sandburg's attention. Completely ignoring the TV, Blair stared at the fire, watching Jim's every move as he poked at the wood and shifted the stack to allow the chimney to draw better. Satisfied at last, he came and sat on Blair's couch, settling into the opposite corner. He glanced up at the TV, resting an arm across the other man's legs, and commented, "I had no idea there were people buried in the Great Wall." He looked over at this partner. "Bet you knew, didn't you, Einstein?" He rubbed Blair's legs gently through the blanket. "Why don't you come on back and tell me all about it?"

There was no answer, but he hadn't really expected one, so he settled in to watch the last half of the program. Sandburg, however, seemed lost in watching the fire. When the final credits rolled, Jim rose and stretched. He was hot now -- too hot. Keeping the thermostat set higher than usual and then adding a fire on top had created just a little more heat than his Sentinel sense of touch could handle. He needed to cool off for a bit. He looked at the balcony longingly, then looked at his partner. "Don't get too involved in the next show, Chief," he said as he headed for the fire again. "We're going to bed."

He lifted the poker and stirred the fire, letting the logs break and settle onto the concrete flooring. Once he was sure the fire was banked for the night, he hung the poker on the rack and replaced the screen. He walked back to the couch, laid a hand on Sandburg's head, saying, "I'm going onto the balcony for a bit, Sandburg. You stay here. I'll be right back." There was no response, no reaction. It was as if the other man had not heard him speak. Jim shook his head. If this on again, off again interaction was frustrating for him, how much more so it must be for Blair, trapped in his own mind and unable to make his way out?

He stepped out on the balcony, the cold air welcome to his overheated senses. He paused only a moment before closing the door. He didn't want Blair to think he was alone, but he also didn't want to let the cold air seep in and make its way to his partner. There'd been progress tonight and Jim wasn't taking chances.

He could see Cascade from the balcony. Stretching out his vision, he looked west over the ocean and watched two ships pass in the night far away in the shipping lanes. Two ships in the night. It was a well-used euphemism for so many of the relationships in his life. He turned and looked back into the loft. Sandburg still lay unmoving on the couch. His relationship with Sandburg -- the Sentinel with the Guide -- was the most stable relationship he'd ever had. Even his marriage had been haunted by a sense of transience, while there had been something permanent about Sandburg from the moment he'd set foot in the loft.

Jim drew back his sight and watched the lights of the city as a normal man. It was pretty. White lights shone in the clear, crisp air, their reflections twinkling in the snow. It was quiet in the building, quiet on the streets and he began to stretch outward, listening. The Sentinel of the Great City protecting his people. He could hear people talking, cars, doors opening and shutting, phones ringing, televisions -- a great cacophony of sounds, but somehow oddly comforting by the very normalcy of it all. He listened a bit longer, then began to slowly draw back, filtering it all until there was only one thing, one sound that echoed in his ears.

One heart.

Sandburg's heart.

The only sound that really mattered.

He piggy-backed smell onto sound and sought out his Guide's unique scent. This threatened to overload him as he breathed in deeply and was suddenly engulfed in the familiar, comforting scent of Blair. Hands reached out to grip the balcony railing and he reached out mentally, slamming the dials down before he could zone. It still left him reeling. He swayed where he stood, clinging to the rail for stability, then turned and hurried back into the loft. Drawn by the powerful compulsion, he almost stumbled to the couch, scooped up the now-sleeping man, and buried his face in his neck. "Blair," he whispered, almost desperate to make contact. "Blair, come back. I miss you. I need you." He breathed deeply, drowning in Blairscent, being swallowed by Blairskin as his hands ran over the lax body in his arms. His emotions were raging -- he felt out of control -- and it was only by the thinnest of threads that he managed to pull away from his Guide, pull back from the overload, and struggle to his feet. He stumbled into the kitchen and turned on the tap, splashing cold water on his face, then standing erect, muscles trembling as the modern man fought for control with his primitive Sentinel.

He heard a sound behind him and turned. The sound of the water was drawing Sandburg's attention. Jim quickly turned it off. Just the sight of those confused eyes looking warily around the loft was enough to pull Jim firmly back into control of himself -- senses and emotions.

"Time for bed, Sandburg," he said softly, not wanting to startle the skittish man. He checked his dials -- scent, touch, hearing -- all turned firmly down. He stepped forward and placed an arm around the other man's waist, pulling him close and leading him to the bathroom. He waited patiently while Sandburg once again fumbled through toileting, then played in the water. He helped him back to his bedroom, scooping up blankets and comforter as he passed the couch, then waiting again as Sandburg studied the bed as if it was a foreign object. "Bed, Sandburg. Time for bed." The younger man looked at him, eyes clear for a moment as if he wanted to say something, and then his eyes darted about the room as if searching out hidden enemies. "It's safe here, partner," Jim said, gently pushing the man forward, seating him on the bed. He lifted Blair's legs, pulled up the sheets and then proceeded to swaddle him in covers. Once he was sure that the younger man was completely covered and well tucked in, Jim sat on the bed and began to rub his back. Sandburg moved beneath his hand, rolling onto his back and staring up with clear and lucid eyes.


It was one word, but it was enough.

"Jim," the older man repeated back, "I'm Jim and you're home." He looked into the other man's eyes, waiting for the dull and vacant look to return, but they stayed clear, watching him patiently but without any weight of expectation in the gaze. Jim's hand made lazy circles on the smaller man's stomach as he met Blair's eyes steadily, trying to will it into the other man that he was home, he was safe, they were together. Finally, he said, "Close your eyes, Chief. Time to go to sleep." And the eyes closed obediently. "I'm just going to sit here until you fall asleep. Then I'll be right upstairs. If you need me, I'm here."

It didn't take long for Blair's breathing to settle into the steady rhythm of sleep, but Jim sat a few minutes longer, once again allowing himself to drink in the presence of his Guide. He ran his hand lightly over the long hair, brushing strands back from his face. He let his hand linger on the raspy jawline, rough with evening beard, and settled two fingers against the pulse point on the neck, counting each beat, synchronizing his own breathing to the steady pulse beneath his touch. And then he leaned over and brushed his lips against the forehead, breathing in the scent of soap and shampoo and Blair, tasting salt and sweat and Blair, and forcing himself to pull back abruptly as he once again threatened to get lost in the presence of his Guide.

He rose on once more shaky legs and climbed slowly to his room.

He awoke in the dark, confused at first as to what woke him. He scanned the loft. Blair was awake and moving around in the living room. That wasn't so unusual. Sandburg often worked in the middle of the night, fingers tapping on his laptop or pen scratching across papers he was grading. Jim turned on the bed, and looked down into the living room. The comfort of waking to normal Blairsounds faded quickly as he caught sight of his Guide standing by the fire, the metal poker heated to red hot and held out in horror as Sandburg began to cry.

The memory of the last few days crashed in around Jim, erasing the comfort of first-waking, and he leapt from the bed, almost falling down the stairs in his race to reach Blair. He pulled himself up hard when the younger man turned around, the hot poker still in his hand. Tears ran down his face and he looked at Jim in desperation. "I choose," he whimpered, hand extending toward the red hot metal as if he would grasp it.

"NO!" Jim roared, jumping the last few feet to reach his partner, and quickly wrestling the poker from his terrified friend. He threw the metal onto the hearth and gathered Blair into his arms. "Shhhhhh," he soothed. "No more choices. No more choices."

Blair sobbed relentlessly, chanting, "I choose, I choose," shivering violently beneath Jim's touch.

"No more, no more," Jim whispered, "never again."

"Cold, cold, cold, cold, cold ..." The words were wrung from Blair's lips, pouring forth as if they would never end.

"Not cold," Jim challenged him, dragging the man away from the fireplace and back toward the couch where he could reach the blankets and begin to wrap his partner in as many layers of warmth as it took to make him feel safe. "Not cold." He had one blanket over his shoulders and was working on the second when he smelled it.


Blair's bladder had released.

"Cold, cold, cold, cold, cold ..."

Blair was shaking so hard now, he couldn't stand on his own and he leaned heavily into Jim, then began to slide downward, settling on the now wet floor. Jim followed him down, refusing to let go, refusing to let Blair be alone for one second longer. "Not cold," he whispered fiercely. "You will not be cold with me." He pulled the man close, oblivious to the wet, the smell, the discomfort and chanted, "You're home, Blair, home. You're with me, Blair, Jim. You're safe, Blair, safe. It's all over now. It's all right. Nothing can hurt you here."

Slowly, very slowly, the tears stopped and the shivering lessened. Blair's cry of "cold, cold, cold," quieted until he could barely make out the word. And then, the word changed. From a whispered "cold," to a murmured "Jim."

"Jim. Home. Jim. Home."

"Yeah, Chief, you're home. You're with Jim. I've gotcha. It's all right now. Home, Blair, home. You're home safe. With me. With Jim. It's all over and I've gotcha." He held the shivering man to his chest, stroking his back, his arms, his hair. Burying his own face in Blair's neck, murmuring reassurances directly into his ear and comforting himself with deep breaths of Blairessence.

Even the odor of urine couldn't distract him from the scent of his Guide as the man stilled beneath his ministrations, and calmed at his touch. But it was getting uncomfortable.

"Home, Blair," Jim repeated over and over again. "Safe. Jim. Home. Not cold." All the right words, spoken over and over again as if sheer repetition could make Blair finally believe and be at peace.

When the man in his arms stilled completely, Jim dared to move. He stood, dragging the limp form he held up with him, and then waiting patiently as Blair looked around with unfocused eyes but finally stood on his own feet. "Bathroom, Chief," Jim said quietly. "Shower. Let's go get cleaned up." He snagged two more blankets from the pile on the couch and gently pulled his nearly somnambulant partner toward the bathroom.

Once inside, he started the shower, letting the bathroom fill with steamy heat before he began to undress the many layers of Blair. Two flannel shirts, a T-shirt, sweatpants, two pairs of socks and the boxers all came off, leaving his partner looking very thin, very small, and very uncomfortable as he sat on a towel on the closed toilet seat. Jim stripped quickly as well, not even leaving his boxers on as was his wont: everything he had been wearing now reeked of urine. He pulled Blair to his feet and said, "Shower, Chief," and was rewarded when his partner moved forward and stepped beneath the warm water. He followed quickly, wishing he'd thought to put a chair in the bathroom, but resigning himself to sitting on the floor until the hot water began to run out.

Blair stood passively for several minutes. Jim used this time to move everything he would need from the shelves to the floor; soap, shampoo, conditioner, and the cup he had thought to put in the shower to help with rinsing all of Blair's long hair. He touched the razor and then decided to wait until morning to shave his partner again. Just as he placed the washcloth on the floor, Blair stepped back, leaning against Jim. That lasted a few more minutes and then his legs seem to begin to give, and Jim lowered him to the floor, sliding down behind him and settling him back against his chest.

"It's okay, Chief," Jim murmured. "You're safe now. Just rest and let me get you cleaned up." He began to wash Blair's hair again, rubbing gently and spending extra time massaging the scalp.

"Feels good," a sleepy voice said softly.

Jim froze.



"You all right?"

"Tired, Jim. And my head hurts."

"Your head?" Jim reached up and touched the bandage gently.

"Inside, not out."

"You're talking."

"I'm warm."

"But you're talking."

Sandburg leaned back, resting his head against Jim's chest. "I'm really warm," he said contentedly.

"You know where you are?"

"Home. Safe. With you, Jim." The words drawled out slowly, comfortably, and with total assurance.

"You remember what happened?" Jim bit his tongue as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Blair was talking and the first thing he does is ask him to talk about what happened. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "Never mind."

Blair shook his head. "'s okay, Jim. I remember. But I don't want to talk about it now. I just want to sit here and be warm and let you finish washing my hair." He turned around and looked up at his friend. "Can I do that?"

Jim swallowed hard, ridiculously pleased that the water from the shower masked the tears falling down his face. "You can do anything you want, Chief," he murmured huskily. "Whatever you want."

"Good." Blair turned back around and let his head rest against Jim's chin again. "Wanna stay warm. Wanna stay here. With you."

Jim wrapped his arms around him partner, his friend, his Guide, leaned in close and spoke softly into his ear, "I'm so glad you're back, Chief." He squeezed the younger man tightly, drawing him close. "God," he shuddered, "I missed you. And I was so afraid."

Blair nodded, his arms coming up to cover Jim's. "I missed you, too, Jim. I called for you over and over but you didn't come."

His mouth dried up and words strangled in his throat. "I didn't know, Blair, I didn't know ..." he finally choked out.

Blair nodded again, and patted his arm. "That's what I figured. If you'd have known, you'd have come."

Jim sobbed, a single cry ripped from his bowels and swallowed harshly back. He would not do this. He was not the injured one here -- he would not let his emotions, his feelings pull from what Blair needed. And Blair needed him strong, needed him in control. Blair needed him to fix things. He leaned forward and buried his head against Blair's neck, smothering the sobs there, mixing the tears with the water that flowed over the other man's skin. "You're okay now, Blair," he whispered when his voice would function again. "You're home. It's over and you're home. Safe. With me."

"Hair, Jim," Blair prompted, and Jim set to work.

He finished Blair's hair, shampoo and conditioner, then washed the man and himself and then sat in contented silence, flesh to flesh, skin to skin, Sentinel to Guide. He let himself breath in Blairscent and touch Blairskin and listen to Blairsounds and feast on the sight of Blair. He even permitted himself to reach out and lap at the water the pooled in the hollow of the younger man's neck, tasting of the Blairskin that cradled the drops. Blair didn't speak again, and when the water began to turn, Jim realized he had fallen asleep.

He spoke softly into the ear that rested beneath his chin. "Hey, Chief. Time to get out." The relaxed body stirred in his arms. "Gotta get out, Water Baby. Time to dry off." Blair nodded agreeably and when Jim stood, allowed the older man to pull him to his feet. Jim wrapped him in a blanket and began to dry him, using the same trick he'd learned at the hospital.

"Not cold," came a whispered voice, Blair's, but different from the voice in the shower. Jim looked down to see the younger man staring ahead with dull and vacant eyes.

Jim stopped and closed his eyes. Like a statue, he stood unmoving for long minutes, waiting, praying that when he opened his eyes again, his Blair, his Sandburg, his Chief would be looking back at him. But when he looked, there was no one there. His breath hitched and he fought back another sob. He could look at this two ways. This could be a set-back or -- the conversation in the shower could be a sign of hope that things would eventually be fine. Blair would heal and things would be normal again.

He decided to hold on to the hope.

His hands began to move again, rubbing and drying and then, because his heart was breaking and he needed something to connect him to this incredible man who still lay trapped in his own mind, he let the Sentinel out. He unwrapped his Guide and began to journey over him. Eyes examining him, ears listening to his breaths and heartbeats, hands caressing soft skin covering hard bone. He dipped forward, breathing deeply and began to sniff. Slowly, carefully, with none of the primal urgency his prior experience with this had, he began to travel down the planes of Sandburg's body. He sniffed neck and arms and abdomen, allowing his tongue to slip out and add taste to the whole sensual experience. He paused at the genitals, then buried his face there and breathed deeply, repeatedly, and once again allowed himself the smallest of tastes. Legs and feet and toes. Sound, and sight, and scent. He was lost in a world of heightened awareness, heightened enjoyment -- lost in a world of Sentinel and Guide.

Beneath his touch, his Guide stood silent. Waiting, accepting, patient.

Jim moved around to Blair's back and worked his way up again -- slowly, carefully, caressing the skin, reveling in the touch. Drawing Blair in with each breath as if he were the air, and of course, he was. He moved upward, firm, round butt, the dip in the small of his back. That dip had a unique scent, a softer feel and Jim lingered there, touching, tasting, breathing, before moving up over the newest scars on the back and finally diving in beneath the wet hair to nibble kisses across the base of the neck. He was floating in Blair, drowning in Blair, willing to die in Blair.

Sandburg shivered then, a slight tremor that nonetheless drew Jim back to himself. He pulled back, wrapped the man in the blanket and covered his head in a towel. Wrapping another towel around his waist, he padded out holding Blair's hand and led the way to the stairs. At the foot, Blair stopped and Jim looked into his eyes. They were the eyes of his friend. "Upstairs," Jim said softly. "I want you to sleep with me."

Blair nodded once and murmured, "Not cold," then followed Jim up the stairs and settled quietly into the bed, falling asleep almost at once.

"Gonna be hell doing you hair tomorrow, Chief," Jim whispered as he did his best to towel dry the heavy curls. He let his hand rest on the stubbly cheek. "You rest, Blair. It's all gonna work out."

He put on his boxers and then slipped downstairs, making sure the fire was banked and dying, replacing the poker, cleaning up the floor, checking the doors. He grabbed clothes from Blair's room, knowing the younger man would need to dress when he woke in the morning and might be disconcerted to find himself naked in Jim's bed if it was indeed Blair who awoke.

He climbed the stairs again, then slipped into the bed and rolled onto his side. He indulged in Blairwatching a bit longer, then glanced at the clock. Late, and a comfortable lassitude was stealing over him, his limbs relaxed and the horrible knot that had stayed in his stomach for four days had faded almost beyond acknowledgement once he'd gotten his Guide home. Oh, it still flared when he let himself think of what Sandburg had gone through or when he struggled to understand the other man's needs, but just having his partner here with him seemed to make all the wrong things in his life go right. He turned his head and gazed out the window, watching the lights of the city and staring at Blair's reflection in the glass at the same time.

He was a sap.

Sandburg was facing such an uphill battle to return from wherever his brilliant mind had taken refuge, and there was no one to really help him except one stubborn, middle-aged cop -- not necessarily the most likely choice of companion for the journey ahead, but certainly the most appropriate. For this was a journey to be undertaken by the Guide, and the Sentinel protected the Guide. And yet it was a journey to be taken by a man as well -- Blair Sandburg, the man. It was a journey that would require support, and patience, and comfort, and -- love.

And for that there was no better companion than Jim Ellison -- the man who loved Blair Sandburg.