Rating: NC-17

Pairings: J/B

Warnings: m/m, song lyrics, angst, character death, h/c

** This story contains the death of a character, but NOT Jim or Blair **

Archive category: Romance/Drama

Disclaimers: All recognizable Sentinel characters are copyright of Pet Fly Productions and Paramount. No infringement intended on my part.... just doing some wishful thinking. :-) The lyrics to "I Will Be Your Friend" are copyright to Amy Grant and her record label.

Notes: { } indicate thoughts

Episode spoilers: Survival, His Brother's Keeper, Out of the Past

Summary: When Dawson Quinn escapes from prison, he has one thing on his mind: revenge on Jim. But it's Blair that pays the price.

Date completed: May 3, 1999


Time Marches On

by Barbara Nice-Miller



The warm summer breeze wafted gently through the open window, barely rustling the curtains in the room in which Jim Ellison sat at his friend's bedside. It was a night like any other. So much so Jim had almost lost track of how many there had been.


As was his custom every evening, Jim read outloud to the still form lying in the hospital-issue bed. Tonight's book of choice was "To Kill a Mockingbird", yet another volume Jim had found on a dusty shelf in his friend's small room. There weren't many books left in that bookcase now.

Jim's deep, even voice filled the room as he read paragraph after paragraph, telling the story to a silent audience.

"Talk to him," the doctors had said so long ago. "Let him hear your voice. He may be able to hear you. We just don't know."

So Jim talked. About everything and nothing. And when he could think of nothing more to say he either turned on the radio or he read outloud from books found on that dusty bookshelf, hoping his voice would guide his friend back from wherever he was. Praying it would bring his friend back to him.

Then maybe this nightmare would finally be over.

Or maybe it would only be beginning. Only time would tell.

Jim sighed and let his voice fall silent, the only sound now in the room the steady beeping of the heart monitor. When the doctors said only the EEG monitor need stay attached, Jim had insisted the heart monitor also remain, as it was the only way he could hear his friend's heartbeat now.

So many things had changed... It had only taken an instant at a dark dockside warehouse to change his life, and that of his best friend's, forever.

And that moment played itself over and over in his mind every time he closed his eyes, even after all this time. He could still hear the gunshots and the explosions, smell the cordite, feel the pain, see his best friend crumple to the ground...

Jim shifted his left leg restlessly at the memory, feeling the familiar ache, a constant reminder of the past and how it led to the present. He rose stiffly from the chair, turning towards the open window, his back to the young man lying so still. He closed his eyes and breathed deep of the warm night air, giving in once again to his guilt and grief, letting himself relive that night...


Dawson Quinn had escaped. How, exactly, Jim still didn't know, and neither did the prison officials, but that didn't change the fact that a mere two months after his capture, Quinn and his cellmate were gone. And stalking Jim.

The arrogant bastard was determined to have the last word and was taunting Jim to catch him, pulling two daring bank heists and leaving behind notes for Jim. Then there were the phone calls, letters and emails. Instead of high-tailing it out of Cascade, Quinn was taunting the detective. Jim was going to make sure he paid dearly for that mistake.

Unfortunately, it was Blair that paid the price.

After almost a month of cat and mouse games, Jim finally thought he had Quinn cornered. But Blair argued that the information on Quinn's hideout had come too easily. That it was a trap, that Quinn was done playing and wanted to end the game. Permanently.

Though Blair's logic was sound, Jim had to investigate every lead. He couldn't ignore it, it may very well be the break he'd been looking for.

If he'd only listened to his Guide...

Simon put together the ten man tactical team to take down Quinn and his cellmate at the newly abandoned warehouse near the docks, their supposed hideout. There wasn't any way to know what they were walking in to, and Jim wanted Blair as far away as possible, but the young anthropologist was having none of it. Arguing that Jim would have all his senses on alert, trying to decipher if it was truly a set-up, the chance of a zone out was high. He needed to be at Jim's side.

"Besides," Blair had added in a hard voice, "It's that bastard's fault I ended up with a bullet in my leg."

Yes, this was personal for them both now, and in the end Jim decided it was best to keep Blair where he could see him, other than worrying about his partner sneaking off on his own, trying to help. Distraction was a great way to get yourself killed. Yet an uneasy feeling accompanied his decision and he had an irrational urge to lock his Guide in the truck instead.

If he'd only acted on that feeling...

The team waited until just after midnight that late spring night to begin the raid. The warehouse was at the farthest end of the dock, shrouded in darkness, crates and overturned boxes littering the area in front of it. Since the rear of the building faced the water, it couldn't be surrounded. This would have to be a frontal assault.

The team assembled quietly along the wall of the warehouse closest to Quinn's. While Simon gave them last minute instructions, Jim and Blair conferred quietly.

"Ok, let's take it one by one," Blair began, slipping effortlessly into Guide-mode for his Sentinel. "Start with sight. Can you pick up on anything?"

"Nothing unusual I can see outside..." Jim trailed off, concentrating harder. A moment later he felt Blair's warm hand settle at the small of his back, just below his Kevlar vest. He unconsciously leaned into Blair's touch, his Guide's way of anchoring him.

"And inside?" Blair inquired. "Can you see through the windows?"

A pause, then Jim shook his head. "The windows are filthy and it's pitch dark in there. I can't make out a thing."

Blair nodded. "Ok, go to hearing."

The young man felt his friend's body twitch under his hand an instant before he spoke. "Got 'em, Chief," the cop gave a grim smile. "Heartbeats."

Blair gave the Sentinel a small pat on his pack. "How many, Jim?"

The bigger man cocked his head, eyes closing slightly. "One...two... three...four..." his brow furrowed as he tried to differentiate between the many heartrates.

"Take it easy, Jim," Blair warned softly. "Don't push too hard."

Jim gave a sharp nod, then relaxed, looking over at his friend. "Six. There's six of 'em," he said confidently. "You were right, Blair. It's a trap. Quinn's got reinforcements."

Blair smiled at the complement and gave his partner one of his own. "Great job, Jim. Let's do smell, just to cover all the bases, Ok?"

"Down here? At the docks? Sandburg--"

 "You've done it before," his Guide stated simply, cutting off the Sentinel's protest. "Just filter the smells one by one and see if there's anything out of the ordinary."

Jim sighed, knowing he could never deny his friend anything, wondering why he even tried to protest in the first place. His eyes slid half shut again as he turned up his sense of smell, grimacing almost immediately as his olfactory sense was assaulted by the numerous waterfront odors.

"Not so high, Jim," Blair cautioned. "Turn it down a bit."

Acknowledging Blair's directive with a nod, the Sentinel adjusted his internal dial and began separating the smells one by one, working outward: Blair, Simon, the tactical team, dead fish, seawater, motor oil, rotting wood...the scents went on and on, identified and cataloged until...what was that?

"Jim? Jim?" Blair was whispering to him.

The detective turned his mind from that last odor to look over at his friend. Simon was crouched next to them now.

"We're getting a bit antsy here, Jim," his captain informed him. "What have you got?"

"I can't see inside, Simon. There are six heartbeats, though. Blair was right. It's a set-up. We gotta be careful. But..." he trailed off.

"But what? What is it?" Blair prompted.

Jim shook his head. "I thought I smelled something. Something...out of place."

"Down here?" Simon asked. "Jim, this is the waterfront. Of course you smell something out of place. Do you know how much garbage washes up down here? Couldn't you just be picking up on that?"

"Yeah, maybe," Jim replied hesitantly. "There's so many smells down here. I just can't isolate it enough to place it." He shook his head. "Sorry, Chief."

"Sorry?" Blair was confused. "Sorry for what? Jim, we're still learning the limits of your senses. And there are limits," he assured the Sentinel.

"We need to move out, people," Simon interrupted. "I'm going to give the green." With that he crept back to the rest of his men to inform them of the possible set-up.

Jim faced his partner, handing him his cell phone. "You know the drill, Chief. You stay here and call for backup if things get hairy."

Blair nodded. "Got it."

Jim turned to leave, but a warm hand with a firm grip on his arm stopped him.


Blue eyes locked with blue, the bond the two men shared never more apparent than at that moment, a myriad of emotions flashing across both their handsome features.

"I know," Jim whispered. Then he was gone, moving into the darkness.

Taking up his position at the rear of the team, the unidentified yet somehow familiar smell still nagged at Jim. Frustrated with himself, he was determined to figure it out. Something was telling him not to let it go. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply, swiftly pinpointing the odor now that he knew what he was searching for. This time recognition slammed into him like a freight train, just as Simon and the team raced around the corner towards Quinn's hideout.

Oh god. C-4.

"NO! WAIT!" he cried out, scrambling from his position against the wall, racing around the far end, weapon drawn.

Too late.

The first explosion lit up the night sky in a brilliant ball of orange and yellow fire and smoke, taking with it the crate the bomb was in and the first two officers, their bodies tossed into the air like feathers. The warehouse windows shattered from the inside, automatic gunfire spraying out, cutting down two more of Simon's men. Screams rang out from the injured officers, as the rest of the team returned fire and scrambled for cover, trying to reach their fallen comrades.

Jim ran full tilt into the battlefield the dock had now become, firing as he went, hearing Simon bellowing out orders to the remainder of his team. He reached the first wounded officer just as a second crate exploded, knocking another man off his feet, wounded as well.

The air was thick with smoke and angry gunfire as Jim pulled the unconscious officer at his feet to relative safety before racing back into the war zone, determined to end this. Fearing the remainder of the crates were also rigged with explosives, but seeing nothing else to use as cover, the detective holstered his weapon, unclipped the concussion grenade from his Kevlar vest, and began his dangerous one-man assault on the warehouse.

Counting on the darkness, the smoke and Simon and his men to keep Quinn and his men busy, Jim kept to the far side of the dock, trying not to draw attention to himself as he slipped from crate to crate, drawing ever closer to the windows of the warehouse.

He almost made it.

Crouched at the corner of one crate, preparing to slip to the next closest one, the flash from a rifle's muzzle inside the warehouse caught the Sentinel's eye as it illuminated the gunman, distracting Jim.


Their eyes locked and an evil, maniacal smile crossed the psychopath's face. Jim's cover had been blown. Sentinel hearing detected the ominous <CLICK> of the triggering mechanism inside the crate and Jim knew he had seconds to live.

Launching himself up and away from the crate, heedless of the gunfire surrounding him, Jim desperately tried to put as much distance between himself and the bomb as he could. Four frantic strides were all he could manage.

The force of the explosion threw him off his feet and hurled him forward, wave after wave of intense heat and debris at his back, before slamming down onto the dock. Excruciating pain like he'd never known raced through his battered body as he rolled across the wooden surface before coming to rest on his back. Dazed and winded, fighting unconsciousness, hearing Simon frantically calling his name, Jim's head lolled to the side, trying to answer but instead catching sight of the torn, bloody mass of flesh that was his left leg.


Blair's cry of utter terror drew Jim's attention from his mangled body. He looked up to see his partner racing towards him, surrounded by a dozen more officers, weapons blazing. Backup had arrived. Uncaring of the extreme danger he was in, Blair charged forward, his only thought to save his best friend.

Horrified, Jim tried to call out, managing only a hoarse whisper. "no...get back..."

Two feet from Jim it happened.

Another crate exploded, sending huge pieces of debris through the air. Unable to slow down or change course, Blair plowed directly through the explosion, his head suddenly snapping violently to the side as a large piece of wood impacted it. Sentinel sight easily picked up on the fine spray of blood as it misted through the air.


The scream was torn from Jim's throat as he watched his Guide's expression change from one of terrified concern to one of total confusion as the wood hit it's mark and his body crumpled like a rag doll.

The nightmare had begun.


The next thing Jim remembered was waking up in the hospital with a gasp, Blair's name on his lips. Disoriented, he turned his head from side to side, feeling strong hands settle on his shoulders, forcing him to lie still.

"Jim. Jim, take it easy."

Simon's low voice came from Jim's right and he turned his head, finding his captain standing at his bedside.

"S-Simon?" His throat felt like sandpaper and he swallowed gingerly.

"Wait. Don't try and talk." The tall man disappeared for a moment before returning with a cup filled with ice chips and a spoon. He scooped a few up and placed them in Jim's mouth.

Jim sighed and closed his eyes briefly as Simon returned the cup, feeling the ache in his throat ease and the muzziness in his head start to dissipate. But along with it came awareness of the battered state of his body.

"Simon? Where is he? What happened?" Jim demanded without preamble.

"Let me get your doctor, Jim. She needs to know you're awake -- " Simon began.

"Dammit, Simon," Jim ground out. "I don't care about me. Where's Blair?"

When Simon's answer wasn't immediately forthcoming, terror overwhelmed Jim, his heart seizing up in his chest. {No...please}

"Oh, god, Simon. Please don't tell me..." Desolation laced every word he spoke.

"No! No, Blair's not dead, Jim," Simon hastened to reassure his friend.

Jim sagged visibly, releasing a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "Then what? I saw..." he swallowed thickly. "I saw him fall, Simon. Then I don't remember anything until now. What happened?"

Simon removed his glasses and ran a hand over his face before answering. "He's in a coma, Jim. When the crate blew he was hit in the left side of his head head with a large piece of wood from the dock itself. They don't...the doctors don't know if he'll recover. If he'll ever wake up," he finished softly.

Jim closed his eyes and turned his head away from Simon.

"There's more," Simon said quietly. "Are you up to hearing the rest?"

A pause, then Jim turned his head back around. "Go on," he said tightly, the muscle in his jaw jumping.

Simon nodded. "As you know, backup arrived shortly after you went down. I had no idea Sandburg had come out onto the dock and was down, too. With the additional men, we pushed forward and got both the concussion grenades and the tear gas canisters inside. We rushed the building and hauled out the four men still alive."

"Quinn?" asked Jim.

Simon's voice was grim. "Dead. I took him out myself inside the warehouse as he drew down on me. He wanted to die. I could see it in his eyes, Jim. He wasn't going to go back to prison so he forced me to kill him."

Jim shook his head slowly. "Don't beat yourself up over it, Simon. You had no choice and he had nothing to lose. He thought he'd gotten his revenge, that he'd killed me."

"Thanks, Jim." Simon cleared his throat and continued. "When I got out of the warehouse the paramedics were working on both you and Blair. Honestly, Jim, I've never been more scared in my life, seeing you both like that. The EMTs wouldn't tell me anything and I got to the hospital as fast as I could. I found almost all of Major Crime had beat me here and they've been camped out in the waiting room ever since," Simon said with a smile.

And got a small smile in return. "And how long's that been?"

"Almost four days."

"Four days? I've been unconscious for four days?"

"Jim...you're hurt bad. You might not be feeling it now, but you will soon enough. Have you looked at your leg?" he finished quietly.

For the first time since waking up, Jim looked down at his body, his concern for Blair overriding anything else up until this point. What he saw was an IV tube in his left arm, a thick, white bandage encircling his bicep, another bandage on his left brow and finally his left leg, completely swathed in white gauze and encased in a very large metal brace from just above his knee all the way down to his ankle.

He looked back at Simon. "How bad is it?"

"Want me to get Dr. Cohen? Have her explain it?"

"No. Give it to me straight."

Simon nodded. "Ok. You had a concussion from hitting the dock, which is what had you in and out of consciousness for these past few days, plus assorted cuts and bruises. Your vest probably saved your life by deflecting most of the debris, but your leg took the worst of it. We found out the crate that exploded next to you had some metal machinery parts in the bottom of it. The shrapnel almost took your leg clean off. It was touch and go on the operating table. They didn't think they could save it. Ultimately, after 12 hours of surgery, you can see they did. You have multiple metal rods in your leg, holding the bones of your lower leg together. Which is what the brace is for. Your kneecap was shattered and couldn't be repaired. You have a plastic one now. They did the best they could, but the damage was extensive and you'll most likely have some sort of nerve damage resulting in the loss of feeling in part of your leg."

Silence permeated the hospital room as Jim struggled to process what Simon had just told him. His voice was strained when he spoke.

"I'm through as a cop, aren't I?"

"I won't discuss this with you now, Jim."

"Simon -- "

"No. And that's final. You need to concentrate on getting better and that's it. Your partner needs you."

At the mention of Blair, Jim again put thoughts of himself at the back of his mind. "Can you tell me anymore about what's been happening with him? What does his doctor say?"

"He went into emergency surgery the same time you did to reduce the swelling of his brain and to remove a small blood clot. His doctor says it's a miracle the blunt force trauma of the wood hitting him didn't kill him instantly."

"What's his prognosis?"

Simon sighed. "They really don't know, Jim. He wasn't breathing when the paramedics got to him on the dock, and they started oxygen immediately, but he went into cardiac arrest on the operating table. It took them longer than they'd like to get him back. Then when they unhooked him from the respirator the day after the surgery he wasn't able to breathe on his own. The respirator is breathing for him again. So after all of that and the severity of his head injury, it's anyone's guess as to how long he'll remain in the coma and what the possibility of brain damage may be, if any. Though the EEG does show slightly diminished brain wave activity. But the brain's a funny thing, Jim. He may wake up tomorrow perfectly fine. No one knows."

"Brain damage...? Where is he, Simon?"

"Upstairs in ICU. And no you cannot go see him. You can't get out of this bed and you know it. I'll keep you updated on his condition until you're up and around, I promise."

"Thank you, Simon."

"I care about him, too."


It wasn't until the next morning Jim realized that his Sentinel abilities were gone. He made the mistake of trying to shift on the bed, resulting in an intense jolt of pain from his injured leg that he couldn't turn down the dial on. Preoccupied with his own medical condition and worried about his partner's as well, Jim took the discovery as a blessing. One less thing to worry about, what with Blair unable to help if something went haywire on him. And it wasn't like this hadn't happened before. His senses would come back just like they always did. Right?

Jim's doctor, Dr. Cheryl Cohen, had been in to see him again this morning, to see if he had any questions on his condition and treatment. What was there to question? His leg was a complete mess, the brace would come off in a few weeks and then he would begin the long, painful process of physical therapy. Open and shut. He was curt with Dr. Cohen and he knew it, but he didn't care. He felt completely helpless lying here. All he wanted was to be out of this bed and upstairs next to his friend. He needed to be up there with Blair, to see with his own eyes...

Instead, he could only lie and wait for Simon's daily visit, and with it news of his partner. And the news was always the same: no change.


Naomi arrived like a whirlwind the following afternoon, having finally been located by Simon in whatever exotic land she'd been in. Dozing from the pain medication, Jim was startled when a small, cool hand settled on his shoulder. He blinked and the hand's owner swam into focus.

"Naomi," he said resignedly, dreading this moment, this inevitable confrontation with Blair's mother about her son and how he was to blame. And now it was upon him. He struggled to sit up, grimacing with the effort.

"It's Ok, Jim. Lie back down," Naomi insisted.

Jim settled himself back against the pillows, looking everywhere but at the pretty red-haired woman at his bedside.

"I'm sorry, Naomi. I'm so sorry," he began, voice tight with restrained emotion, feeling the prick of tears at the back of his eyes that he refused to let fall. "I told him to stay back...he was trying to help me. I couldn't --"

"Stop," came the firm but quiet command, halting Jim's words. "Look at me, Jim."

Reluctantly, Jim turned his head to gaze at the woman that had given life to his best friend. "I wouldn't blame you if you hated me," he began again. "I deserve it for what I've put your son through."

Naomi slowly shook her head, Jim noticing for the first time how tired and pale she looked, so unlike the happy, energetic woman he'd seen just a few months ago. "Don't do this to yourself," she told him. "I'm not here to lay blame. You know my feelings toward the police. But Blair made quite clear his decision to stay with you. I wasn't happy about it then and I'm certainly not happy about it now. But it's not my life. It's his. And I've had to accept his decision. After two years, he knew how dangerous it was, but it's still where he wants to be. There's no one to blame, Jim. It was his choice," she finished softly, reaching out to take Jim's hand. He squeezed it in silent acknowledgment and thanks, amazed at her strength and calmness at a time like this, when all he wanted to do was lash out in anger. At himself. Naomi may not blame him, but he sure as hell blamed himself.

"You've seen him? Talked with his doctors?" Jim questioned.

Naomi nodded. "I just came down. They explained everything to me. The EEG still shows below normal brain wave activity and the respirator is still breathing for him. His other vital signs are good, and there's been no additional brain swelling." She took a breath. "He just won't wake up."

"Dammit. Dammit!" Jim pounded the bed in frustration. "I can't take this anymore, Naomi, lying here like this. It's been a week. I need to see him."

She gave a small smile. "He needs to see you, too. I don't pretend to understand the relationship you have with Blair, because I've never seen him so...attached to anyone in his whole life. Even to me," she admitted.

"I care for your son a great deal, Naomi."

"Did you know that his letters to me are filled with things about you? The cases you've worked on, the places you've been, the things you've done? He's very proud of you."

Jim felt the prick of tears once again and swallowed thickly to keep them at bay. "I'm the one who's proud. Does he tell you about the things he's done? How much he helps not only me but his students and others at the department? I've never...he means..." Jim trailed off, unable to find the words.

"I don't think either of you has ever had a friend like the other," Naomi observed. "Am I right?"

Jim nodded, not trusting his voice.

"Then that's going to make this even harder," she continued. At Jim's questioning look she explained. "Jim, you have to consider the possibility that Blair won't --"

"NO. NO," Jim shook his head angrily at her words. "I won't consider the possibility that he may die. I refuse to accept that. And so should you. Blair's strong. He's a fighter, Naomi. He's got his whole life ahead of him, too much to live for. He won't give up. I know it."

Naomi didn't reply. Simply gave Jim a sad smile, squeezed his hand and left the room.


Three weeks crawled slowly by.

Jim's visitors were his only break from the mind-numbing boredom of staring at four white walls, the concern as to why his Sentinel abilities had still not returned, and the constant worry about his partner still upstairs in ICU. True to his word, Simon came by every day with news from around the station and a report on Blair's condition. Jim could have recited it word for word now: "He's stable, Jim, but still in a coma. No change." And three weeks later Simon still adamantly refused to discuss Jim's position within the department. Adding yet another disquieting topic to Jim's already overwrought brain.

Naomi was a constant presence as well, always stopping in Jim's room after her visit with Blair, looking more tired with each passing day and week. There was no more talk between them of the possibility of Blair's death.

Simon and Naomi weren't Jim's only visitors, of course. The cards and balloons scattered around could testify that nearly every member of Major Crime had been here, along with a scattered few from Vice and the patrol division, along with Daryl and even his no longer estranged brother, Stephen. Jim was always glad to see a familiar face in the doorway, not because they were here to see him, but because he'd found out from Simon that each of his visitors was either on their way up, or had just come down from looking in on Blair. Jim had been stunned by the news. This was proof that Blair had finally made a place for himself within the department. After two years of tagging along at Jim's side, enduring the endless teasing and snide remarks, but proving time and again he could pull his own weight and more, they had accepted him as one of their own. That it took a tragedy like this to make his fellow officers finally realize how much Blair had come to mean to them stung, but at least the acceptance was there. And he'd see to it that Blair would benefit from it when his partner awoke.

Just when he thought he'd go mad from counting the ceiling tiles one more time, his hospital room door opened to admit a pretty, petite woman with reddish blond hair. Jim smiled. Ah, his favorite nurse.

"Hi, Kim."

"Hi yourself, Jim. How's my favorite patient today?" she asked as she moved to his bedside, checking his chart. Before Jim could answer she continued. "Wait, don't answer that. I know you want out of this bed and want to be upstairs with your friend, right?"

"Sorry," Jim apologized. "You must get sick of hearing me say that."

Kim smiled. "No, it tells me you care. Your friend's a lucky person." She gave him a little punch to his shoulder. "Want some good news? Dr. Cohen is taking the brace off today. You'll be up to see Blair in no time."

Jim's breath caught in his chest at the news. His smile lit up the room. God, finally...


An hour later Jim was transferred to a gurney and wheeled downstairs to an exam room where Dr. Cohen was waiting. He was given a local anesthetic to reduce the pain as the rods holding the brace to his leg were disengaged.

"Now remember, Mr. Ellison," Dr. Cohen said. "This doesn't mean that you'll be running a marathon tomorrow, as much as you might want to. I don't even want you bending your leg until your physical therapist stops by to see you in your room a bit later. Understood?"

Jim just nodded, not really hearing what she was saying, instead watching as first the metal contraption and then the bandages were removed and he got his first, unimpeded look at his leg.


That was the first thought that popped into Jim's mind. He knew he was overreacting, knew that the doctors had done a miraculous job and had saved his leg, knew that the scars wouldn't be as noticeable with time. It was just a shock to see what kind of damage had been done.

Fine rows of stitches crisscrossed his leg, showcasing the areas where the shrapnel had done the most damage. He knew underneath the skin metal rods held together his shattered lower leg. His knee was by far the worst, as he'd known it would be. Still a bit swollen, with a much larger, wider set of stitches that ran almost clear around his kneecap, Jim tried to wrap his mind around the fact that there was plastic under his skin now, where bone used to be. He lay back against the pillows, tiredly running a hand over his face. Now that he'd seen with his own eyes he no longer needed confirmation from Simon.

His days as a cop were over.


After Dr. Cohen's examination was finished, complete with a new set of x-rays, a look at the stitches and confirmation that there was some loss of feeling around the kneecap, Jim was transferred back to his own room, where his physical therapist would meet him.

But meeting the man was the last thing on Jim's mind. Once again squashing down his concerns for his future, Jim focused on one thing instead: commandeering a wheelchair and getting upstairs to ICU. To Blair. Right now.

Only Kim was having none of it. Jim had no more been transferred back into his bed and he was trying to get out of it.

"Listen to me, Jim," Kim said. "Just because you got the brace off doesn't mean you can go gallivanting around the hospital! You heard what Dr. Cohen told you. You need to keep that leg straight until your therapist checks you out."

"Forget it, Kim. I am not waiting any longer," Jim stated forcefully, trying to swing his uninjured leg over the side of the bed.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," a male voice warned from the doorway. "I want you to lay back down and stop giving your nurse an attitude."

Jim's rope finally snapped and he turned on the man. "The hell with what you want! What about what I want?!" he yelled at the stranger. "For four weeks, four weeks I've lain in this bed while my partner, my friend, lies upstairs in a coma because he tried to save my life! I'm through with waiting! Either help me go see him or get out of my way," Jim finished with a snarl, blue eyes flashing anger.

Unruffled at Jim's outburst, the man simply crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorjamb, stroking his short moustache, seeming to size Jim up.

"I'll make you a deal," the man offered. "You get back in bed, let me examine you and then rest for the remainder of the evening, and I'll personally take you up to your friend in the morning."

"Who --" Jim began, studying this stranger who was nearly as tall as he was, with the same blue eyes, but staring at him from behind thin, gold framed glasses.

"I'm sorry," the man cut Jim off, pushing away from the doorjamb and walking towards the bed, right hand extended. "Allow me to introduce myself. Dr. Steven Wagner. Your physical therapist." Jim pointedly ignored the outstretched hand, still glowering. Dr. Wagner chuckled and ran his hand through his short, salt and pepper hair. "And you are Detective James Ellison of the Cascade PD. Nice to meet you, Jim. So. Do we have a deal? You'd best take it because I guarantee you if you try and take one step on either of your legs you're going to end up flat on your face. Not very dignified for a cop is it?

Jim knew he was beaten, but he refused to give the man the satisfaction of hearing him say it outloud. He settled for simply swinging his leg back onto the bed.

Steve smiled and nodded his head. "Good. Let's get to work, shall we?"


The next morning, Steve proved himself an honorable man and stuck to the deal from the previous evening. First he helped Jim into a pair of gray sweatpants, now that the brace was off, then helped him into a modified wheelchair that kept Jim's left leg straight out in front of him and took him upstairs to ICU, Jim's heart pounding a wild, staccato beat the entire way. After four weeks of wanting nothing more than to see Blair, now that the moment was upon him, he was scared. Scared to see his friend and have to finally admit to himself that Blair's condition was indeed very serious.

Steve stopped the wheelchair outside Blair's open door and Jim twisted around to look at him. "Thanks. I need...to be alone with him."

"I understand. I'll be back in an hour and we'll get started on your therapy."

Taking a deep breath, Jim rolled himself into Blair's room, pushing the door closed behind him. His intense blue eyes bypassed the overflowing amount of cards, balloons, flowers and machinery surrounding the bed and focused immediately on the still form lying in it.


Jim swallowed and rolled swiftly to the anthropologist's bedside, overcome with a desperate need to touch the young man, to reestablish the link between them that had been broken for four long weeks.

Taking Blair's limp, left hand in both of his, Jim rested his forehead on their clasped hands, exhaling shakily before finally really looking at Blair for the first time.

His friend lay absolutely still, eyes closed, dark lashes in sharp relief against the pale face that blended in with the bedsheets and the thick, white bandage that encircled his head. Jim knew some of Blair's hair had been shaved prior to the surgery to relieve the swelling of his brain, so he was thankful that the bandage covered the shaved patches.

Thin wires appeared from underneath the bandage on either side of Blair's head, running to the EEG monitor next to the bed. More wires were visible under Blair's hospital-issue gown, attached to his chest and the steadily beeping heart monitor on the other end of them. IV solution dripped slowly into the tube attached to his right hand. And above all else was the respirator, with its mechanical hiss and tube snaking down Blair's throat, forcing his lungs to expand and contract, his chest to rise and fall in a carefully timed rhythm that was more than likely keeping him alive.

Jim squeezed the unresponsive hand held tightly between his own, whispering through a tightly closed throat, "I'm here, Chief. You can wake up now, buddy."

No response, as he knew deep down there would be, but there was still a part of him that had been hoping for a miracle. That his voice would bring Blair back, instead of the other way around. He needed to be the Guide now. And how did Blair always bring Jim back? By talking to him, and touching him.

Jim silently cursed his injured body. Because of his awkward position in the wheelchair, he could barely reach out and brush his fingertips against Blair's smooth cheek. But the limited contact would have to do for now. Keeping up the gentle stroking motion, Jim struggled to put his thoughts into words. Where should he start? He had so much to say, so much to apologize for.

"Why?" came the anguished whisper. "Why did you do it? You should have left me!" Jim swallowed. "I'm sorry...oh god, Blair...I'm so sorry. You should never have been there. I knew how dangerous it could have been, yet I let you stay. Christ, this is all my fault..." he let his head hang for a moment. "It should be me in the coma, not you. Never you... You were only trying to help, like you always do. I signed on willingly to do this job, to be a cop. I knew the risks. But you...you had no idea what you were getting into that day you finagled your way into my hospital room." Jim shook his head sharply. "Some Blessed Protector I am. Dammit, Blair, you don't deserve this! And I'm the one to blame." He gave a short, sharp bark of laughter that was anything but funny. "That's the first time I've said that outloud, you know. That it's my fault, that I'm the one to blame. I couldn't take hearing false platitudes from Naomi or Simon or anyone else, telling me that no, it wasn't my fault and no, I shouldn't blame myself when I'd know they were lying the entire time. Actually," he paused. "Maybe I wouldn't know. Not now anyway. Chief, my Sentinel abilities are gone. I woke up after the explosion and they were gone. It's been four weeks and they haven't come back. I know this has happened before, but never for this long. I need you back, buddy. I need you to give me a swift kick in the ass and tell me, like always, you know what the problem and the solution is." Jim let himself smile. "You just wake up now and you can run any damn tests you want on me and I won't make a peep. I swear it. Hey, I'll even get rid of the house rules. Permanently. Come on, how can you pass up a deal like that? Just open your eyes, Chief."

But Jim's only answer to his bribes was the hiss of the respirator and the beeping of the heart monitor. His tentative smile faltered and faded, and he sobered.

"The doctors told me there's a chance you might have brain damage. That you might not be the same, might not be able to do a lot of things or not remember a lot of things when you wake up. I refuse to believe that. You're much too strong to let that happen to you. But...even if it is true, I swear to you I'll never leave you," he vowed. "There's only one thing that scares me, though," Jim admitted, bringing Blair's lax hand up to his lips. "Will you remember how much we love each other?" he whispered.

When Blair's doctor told Jim that Blair may not remember days, weeks or months leading up to his injury, or even suffer permanent amnesia and/or brain damage, Jim's ultimate fear was that his new lover would not be able to recall their feelings for one another. He could handle anything but that. Anything but knowing that their love for one another had been wiped from Blair's memory. Their love was so new, their pent up emotions and desire for one another had finally exploded in a night of passion a mere two weeks before the raid on Quinn's hideout. They'd wasted so much time tip-toeing around each other before finally opening up their hearts and learning what love was really all about. To have to suddenly face the fact that a psychopath's twisted desire for revenge may have possibly ripped it all away from them was cruel beyond belief. To finally find everything you've been looking for, only to lose it in the next heartbeat...

And Jim had no one to turn to. No one knew that he and Blair had become lovers. Not Simon, not Naomi, no one. They had just started their relationship and didn't want to shout it from the rooftops quite yet. No one knew the true depths of his feelings for the young man. To them they were friends, close friends, but to Jim they were the other half of each other's soul.

Jim brought his hand back up to Blair's face. "We've got so much to do together. I can't go on alone. Not anymore. I need you, always." He took a shaky breath. "I love you, Blair. Don't you quit on me..."


For the next week, Jim's life at the hospital became routine. Mornings were spent in agonizing, excruciating physical therapy with Steve, on the mat or in the pool, finally on his way to regaining mobility in his battered leg. After a month of non-use, with metal rods holding his bones together and an artificial kneecap, he had no strength in it and bending it was pure agony. Without the ability to dial down the pain, the end of each session found Jim shaky and exhausted, desperately wishing Blair could be there with him, missing his constant presence at his side. His young Guide had the uncanny ability to be able to calm and center the older man with just a touch, a focus Jim would need to get him down the long road of rehabilitation ahead of him.

After each round of physical therapy, Jim received a rubdown on his healing leg to try and ease the painful cramps and muscle spasms that the sessions left him with; a side effect of partially atrophied muscles rebelling against use after so long. Drained after therapy and relaxed after the rubdown, Jim dozed off and on throughout the afternoons before getting himself into his wheelchair to take his dinners upstairs with Blair every evening.

It was what he looked forward to each day, of course. The chance to see his lover and tell him how his day went, what he did in therapy, news from the station that Simon had brought, hospital gossip...hoping each evening that this would be the night Blair's eyes would open. But seven nights later Blair's eyes still remained closed.

It was on the eighth night Naomi dropped the bombshell that threatened to destroy Jim's entire world.

He was sitting on the edge of his bed getting ready to lever himself into his wheelchair for his nightly visit with Blair when the red head appeared in his doorway. Jim looked up with a smile.

"Hi, Naomi. I'm just on my way up --" he cut himself off at the haunted expression on her face. Panic squeezed his heart and he struggled to draw his next breath. "What? What is it? What's happened to him?" he demanded in a rush, terrified at what her answer may be. Blair had been stable all this time...what could have gone wrong?

"No, Jim, nothing's happened," Naomi said quickly.

Jim was confused. "Then what? You look --"

"Can we talk?" she asked softly, closing his door.

"Of course. Sit down. What's on your mind?" he asked as she settled herself in the chair next to his bed.

"I don't...I don't know how to tell you this, Jim," she began.

"Is it about Blair?" At her nod a tendril of fear took hold in his stomach. "Then just give it to me straight."

She nodded again and took a deep breath. "Jim, Blair has a living will. He had it drawn up when he was 21 after something that affected him profoundly when he was only 12."

The tendril of fear grew till Jim's stomach was clenched in knots. "A living will?" He slowly shook his head. "Blair never told me. Whatwhat does it say? What happened to make him write one?"

"When Blair was 10 we were living in Fort Worth with my brother, Charles, his wife, Maggie, and their teenage son, Robert. Blair was very attached to his aunt. She doted on him, encouraged him in his voracious reading appetite and generally spoiled him rotten." Naomi smiled, the first one Jim had seen since Blair had been in the hospital. "Blair went everywhere with her, soaking up the things she did and said like a sponge." She let her smile fade. "You know I wasn't supermom, and I was so grateful to Maggie for helping to raise my son. For two years, we were so happy. Then the accident happened. Maggie and Charles were on their way home from dinner one night." Naomi paused and cleared her throat. "The drunk driver crossed the double yellow, hit Charles head on. It happened so fast..."

Jim closed his eyes in sympathy and laid his hand on Naomi's shoulder.

"Charles received a broken arm and leg, but Maggie suffered a severe head injury. She slipped into a coma and never woke up. She died a year later." Naomi clasped her hands in her lap. "Blair was devastated, and horrified that Charles would let Maggie linger like that for so long before finally agreeing with the doctors to turn off the respirator. He never forgot her or that experience and he told me he never wanted that to happen to him. He was upset and was only 13 years old when Maggie finally passed and I really didn't understand how serious he was until he showed me the living will he'd had drawn up after his 21st birthday."

Naomi looked up at Jim with anguish, desolation and a profound sense of loss in her wide eyes. "You don't have to guess what his will says."

No...this couldn't be happening. Jim began shaking his head in denial before stopping the motion abruptly and pinning Naomi with an intense, furious gaze.

"You knew," he accused, his voice low and threatening. "You knew about his will the entire time! My god, Naomi, why didn't you tell me?! You let me go on thinking that --" He cut himself off, realization dawning on him. "That's why you told me I needed to accept the possibility of Blair's death, because you knew. Damn you! How could you do this?!"

Jim's tirade had Naomi close to tears. "Don't you see?" she demanded of the angry, disbelieving man, rising swiftly from the chair. "I didn't say anything because I was thinking of you."

"How?" he challenged. "By giving me false hope, by --"

"Jim. What would have happened if I would have come to you that first night I arrived and told you of Blair's wishes? You couldn't leave this bed! You couldn't see him!" She quieted. "You wouldn't have been able to say goodbye," she whispered, wiping at the solitary tear moving slowly down her cheek. "I know how much he means to you. I wanted to wait till you were healed enough to go upstairs and see him. I wanted to wait and see if you could bring him back when no one else could..." Her voice broke and her shoulders shook with a silent sob. Jim gathered her into his arms, her head resting on his shoulder.

"Please, Naomi, don't do this to him," Jim pleaded. "Don't let him go yet. There's still a chance."

Naomi pulled back from the larger man. "He's my son, Jim. Do you think I want to walk upstairs, have the respirator turned off and watch him die?!"

"Then don't --" Jim tried again, refusing to accept this horrifying scenario.

"I have to. And you know it," she stated firmly. "It's what he wants, to not be hooked up to a machine, and he's already been, for a month now. I know you don't want this, and neither do I, but what if it were reversed? What if it were you or I lying in a coma, hooked up to a machine that we'd asked not to be and Blair were in one of our positions? Wouldn't you want him to respect your wishes? As much as it hurt to do so? I know I would."

Naomi was right and he knew it. As much as it was tearing him up inside, he knew he had no right to deny what Blair wanted and had no right to try and force Naomi to do so, either. But it didn't mean he accepted it.

"You know Blair's not brain dead, Naomi," Jim reminded her, desperately trying to find hope in a hopeless situation. "Turning it off doesn't necessarily mean...he may have just been too weak after the surgery last time..." he trailed off, knowing he was grasping at straws after what happened the first time Blair had been unhooked from the respirator, but trying to find something, anything, to cling to, to help him get through this, to finally face the imminent possibility that the man he loved was going to die.

"I know," she quietly agreed. "And I'm holding on to that hope. That, and his love of life and deep connection to you. I don't believe he wants to let either one go just quite yet." With that she kissed Jim on his cheek and left the room, tears once again streaming silently from her eyes.

It would be a long, long time before Jim's tears finally fell.


"No, Simon. I won't do it. And that's the end of it."

"Jim, please..."

It was the day after Naomi's revelation of Blair's living will and it's conditions. She had conferred with Blair's doctors after leaving Jim's room the night before, and now, within an hour or so, the respirator would be turned off. Possibly taking a life with it with the push of a button.

Naomi had contacted Blair's closest friends last evening as well, and now they were gathered here in ICU to say their words of goodbye to someone they cared deeply about, in case the worse case scenario played itself out. Only Jim was refusing.

"Jim, listen to me," Simon tried again, hoping to get his distraught, grieving friend to see reason. "If you don't go in there and talk to him for what may be the last time, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. I guarantee it."

Jim looked up at the tall black man from his position in his wheelchair, the determined expression on his face not quite hiding the pain in his blue eyes. "I won't go in there, Simon. I refuse to accept the possibility of his death. I will not tell him goodbye. Because that would mean I've given up on him. And I haven't. He'll beat this, Simon. Blair's a fighter."

Simon sighed deeply, knowing he'd lost the argument and knowing he'd be at Jim's side to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. He clasped Jim's shoulder briefly and nodded his head, then turned and moved off toward Blair's room. Jim saw Naomi meet him at the doorway with a question in her eyes. Simon shook his head and Naomi made a move towards Jim before Simon stopped her with a hand on her arm and another shake of his head. Naomi sagged, pinning Jim with a pleading look before finally turning and walking inside her son's room. Jim ran a hand over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose. Dammit, he knew what he was doing. He wouldn't give up on Blair.

One by one they came and went from Blair's room - Rafe, Joel, Henri, Serena, Daryl, Simon - as Jim watched from his wheelchair across the hall in the open area of the ICU wing, perfectly still. No one approached him as they arrived or departed, warned off by Simon probably, but each looked at him with tears and sympathy in their eyes and an unspoken offer of support for their friend.

Eventually, only Naomi remained. The time had come. Jim watched her approach him, noting her pale complexion and too bright eyes. She crouched next to Jim's wheelchair, eye level with him now and placed a hand on his forearm.

"Jim," she spoke softly, gently. "The doctors are ready. Please...come inside. I know how you feel about this, but I'd like it if you were there with me, and I believe Blair would, too."

Jim remained staring straight ahead, the muscle in his jaw jumping. "I won't tell him goodbye," he replied, voice rough with restrained emotion.

Naomi gave him a sad smile and stood as Jim's chair began to roll forward. "I won't ask you to."

Once inside Blair's room, Jim stayed at the foot of his lover's bed, off to the right side, his back ramrod straight, looking every bit the ex-military man he was on the outside, while on the inside he was coming apart at the seams. But he refused to let it show as Naomi leaned over the pale, still form of her only child and kissed Blair tenderly on his cheek, whispering tremulously, "I love you," before stepping back and nodding once at the doctor.

With a grim, returned nod, the man turned the respirator switch to Off, as the nurse carefully but swiftly removed the tube from Blair's throat, affording the young man every chance at spontaneous respiration. The end of the tube slipped past Blair's lips just as the respirator gave its final hiss and fell silent.

No one moved.

Blair's chest did not rise.

Naomi's eyes slid closed, her hand covering her mouth.

"NO! NO!" Jim lurched from his wheelchair, his sudden movement and desperate cry startling everyone in the room. His left leg crumpled beneath him with his first step, hurling him towards the floor. He caught the edge of Blair's bed as he went down, halting his fall as Naomi rushed to his side. Jim put all his weight on his good leg and pushed himself up, grappling for Blair's hand at the same time.

"Don't you do this!" he commanded his friend. "Come on, fight! Don't leave me! Do you hear me? I love you! Don't you go! Breathe, damn you!"

And Blair did.

One, small, shallow, spontaneous rattling breath. Followed by another. And another.

Pure, sweet music to Jim's ears.

There was quickly a flurry of activity as the doctor began taking Blair's vitals while the nurse hooked the young man up to oxygen and Naomi looked on in wonder at the tall, handsome man holding on so tightly to her son's hand.

"I told you," the blue eyed man whispered to her, his body trembling.

She could only nod in response, not trusting her voice, believing in miracles for the first time.


Once again, for the next month, Jim's life fell back into the same routine: physical therapy in the mornings, rubdown, rest in the afternoons, evenings at Blair's bedside.

Jim pushed himself hard at therapy, under Steve's watchful eye and guidance, determined to be back on his feet as quickly as possible. It was a long, painful process, regaining strength and mobility in his battered leg, especially with the permanent nerve damage around his kneecap, and he frequently became frustrated when his body wouldn't obey his commands. His outbursts were just as frequent, taking out his anger on Steve, knowing his doctor wasn't to blame, but needing an outlet to channel his emotions that not all had to do with his leg anymore.

After one such incident of facing Jim's misplaced wrath after the big man stumbled while climbing the training steps and reaching out to help him regain his balance, Steve, unflappable as always, decided to get to the bottom of things. There was something else fueling Jim's recent anger. And if he didn't talk about it, keeping it locked up inside instead, it was going to start hampering his progress. Not to mention it just wasn't healthy.

After his patient had calmed down, Steve calmly asked, "So, you wanna talk about it?"

Jim wiped the sweat from his face with a towel. "Talk about what?" he growled.

"Whatever's eating at you."

"Nothing's eating at me, Doc," Jim denied.

"Bullshit," Steve replied frankly. "A few weeks ago you were making great strides. Why all the setbacks all of a sudden? You told me you were going to work your ass off, but you've lost your focus. Why? Let me help, Jim," he offered.

"I can handle it on my own."

"No, I don't think you can." At the man's silence, Steve decided to take a shot in the dark at the source of Jim's problem. "Did something happen with Blair?" Jim's head jerked at the question. Bingo.

"No," Jim replied. "Nothing happened." The towel in his hand suddenly went flying across the room. "Dammit! Nothing's happening!" he repeated. "He just lies there, in a coma that I should be in instead." He dropped his forehead down to rest in his hands. "I thought...I thought that when he started breathing on his own it was a good sign, that he'd be waking up soon." He raised his head. "But nothing's changed. And I wish to god I could take his place. I feel so helpless," Jim sighed. "I miss him. He's my partner. I'm so used to him being right there next to me, I can't concentrate when he's not. And he hasn't been next to me for a long time now. I miss talking to him, hearing his voice...just being with him. I know he's not dead, but every day he doesn't wake up I feel him slipping away from me..."

Steve was surprised and pleased that Jim had finally opened up to him, realizing that took a lot from the normally quiet man, and he wanted to keep him talking.

"Tell me about Blair."

Jim looked questioningly at his doctor. "Why?"

"Because it'll be good for you. Talking about him will keep him at the forefront of your mind. It'll remind you that he's here, he's not slipping away from you, and that you need to keep helping him fight this. And I admit I'm curious how two guys who look so totally opposite can be such good friends," Steve finished with a smile, blue eyes teasing from behind his glasses.

He received a small smile in return. "Yeah, you could say we're opposites."

And so Jim talked. About the kind of person Blair was, what he liked and disliked, the places he'd been and the things he'd seen, the cases they'd worked on and the things they enjoyed doing together. The stories came one right after another.

And while Jim talked, Jim worked. His focus back and his anger and frustration restrained, he threw himself back into his physical therapy. Whether it was on the mat, in the pool, working with weights or on the treadmill or stationary bike, he gave it his all.

In the weeks to follow, he graduated from wheelchair to crutches to a walker to a cane, to his first unaided steps between the parallel bars. At the end of the bars were Simon and Naomi, their faces beaming with pride at Jim's accomplishment. But as he accepted their congratulatory hugs, his arms ached for the one person, the only person, that he wished were there to see him finally walk.

But that person slept on, oblivious to Jim's wish.


He was going home.

Two months after this ordeal began, Jim was going back to the loft. Steve was thrilled with the progress Jim had made and pronounced him fit to be released. He would still have to return to the hospital once a week for the next month for follow-ups with Steve and continue his exercises on his own, but he was going home. Alone.

"Hi, Chief," Jim called out the familiar greeting to the still form of his partner as he slowly entered his hospital room, walking with a pronounced limp, but refusing to use the cane in his hand. He gently ran his hand through the peach-fuzz hair on the side of Blair's head, visible now that the bandage had been removed last week. It would take a while, but the familiar curls would soon grow back. He placed a kiss on his lover's forehead before settling himself in his usual chair at Blair's bedside.

"They're cutting me loose tomorrow. I know I should be happy to be getting out of this place, but I'd rather stay and put up with the terrible food, Steve's slavedriver attitude and Kim's nursing orders, so that I could be just downstairs from you instead of halfway across town." He sighed and held Blair's hand in his own. "I don't want to go back to the loft by myself. Do you realize that tomorrow night will be the first night I've been alone since you moved in? That big bed of ours is going to feel so lonely, Chief," he told his lover, placing a small kiss on Blair's hand. "I miss you," he whispered.

He let silence permeate the room for the span of a few heartbeats, watching his friend's chest rise and fall on it's own, listening to the steady beep of the heart monitor. "We all miss you, you know. You've still got visitors every day and you should see what this place looks like; balloons, cards and flowers everywhere. Even more than before, after everyone found out how tough you were and that you wouldn't let go of this life without a fight." He smiled. "You showed 'em, didn't you, Chief? I never doubted you for a second." He paused again, his smile fading. "Simon and I are going to finally have that talk about work." Jim looked down at his leg. "I'm not going to kid myself. I'm through as a cop. With the nerve damage, Steve said I'll only regain 70-80% full use of my leg. What the hell good's a cop who can only function at 80%?" he asked angrily, before gripping Blair's hand tighter. "First you and now my job...everything I love is being taken away from me. What am I gonna do...?" he whispered brokenly, his only answer silence.


Jim looked at his favorite nurse, shaking his head. "Forget it, Kim. I just got out of that thing. I can walk downstairs just fine."

Undaunted, Kim pushed the wheelchair closer to her patient. "Jim, I've seen your medical records. You've been in and out of here more times than I have fingers. You know the rules. The faster you get in this chair the faster you get out of here. Now shut up and sit down," she smiled.

Jim chuckled, turning and sitting down, his duffel bag and cane in his lap. "Yes, Nurse Cratchett."

"Don't you forget it," Kim replied with a grin, pushing the chair out the door and downstairs to the lobby, where Simon was waiting to drive him home.

"Thanks for the ride," he told Kim, rising from the chair.

"You take care of yourself, Ok?" she said.

"I will," he promised. "You guys just take care of my partner." He leaned over and kissed her on her cheek. "Thanks for everything, Kim."

She smiled up at him, green eyes sparkling. "You're welcome. Just don't let me see that handsome mug of yours on my floor again. You're a terrible patient," she joked. With a wink and a grin, she turned and was gone, moving down the hallway, while Jim walked outside with Simon.


"Are you sure you don't want me to stay?" Simon asked, dropping Jim's duffel bag on the loft's couch.

"I'm sure, Simon. I'll be fine," Jim reassured his friend, lying through his teeth.

The last thing he wanted was to be alone in the loft, but he refused to become dependent on his friend's company. He had to get used to being by himself.

Simon nodded, not looking convinced. "Ok. Can I get you anything from upstairs before I go?"

Jim shook his head. "I can handle the stairs. Go on, Simon. Get outta here."

"You'll call if you need anything, right?" the police captain asked, opening the door.

"I will. And Simon? Thanks again for taking care of the place for me and for having Naomi stay with you." Like Jim, Naomi hadn't wanted to be by herself when she arrived, and Simon had graciously offered his spare bedroom to Blair's mother, grateful for the company as well. After two months, it appeared that Blair's stay at the hospital would be an extensive one, and Naomi had repeatedly offered to move into the loft on Jim's suggestion or to rent an apartment, but Simon was having none of it. For as much as they were as opposite as Jim and Blair, Simon and Naomi had become friends.

"No problem," Simon smiled, closing the door behind him.

The silence left in his wake was deafening.

Jim stood absolutely still in the center of the loft, sunlight and warm spring air streaming in through the open balcony doors. The quiet should have been pleasant to him, after the constant noise and commotion at the hospital for the past months, but it was anything but pleasant. It was unnatural.

No Blair sitting at the kitchen table, typing away at his laptop, glasses perched on his nose.
No Blair in front of the TV, cheering along with the Jags latest win. No Blair in the bathroom, splashing under the shower's spray, leaving wet towels in his wake on his way out.
No Blair in the kitchen, puttering around, banging pots and pans. No Blair upstairs in the big bed, his passionate cries filling the air as they slowly made love.
No Blair...anywhere. No laughter or dirty clothes or smelly food or tribal music or textbooks.

There was no life here now, for that was what the bouncy, intelligent, energetic, curly haired young anthropologist had brought with him the day he moved into the little room under the stairs. And now he wasn't here, may never be here again, and he had taken the life with him. Now the loft felt as cold and sterile as the day Jim moved in.

'You don't know what you've got till it's gone' - the phrase sprang unbidden into Jim's mind, taunting him.

Once again he took it as a blessing that his Sentinel abilities were gone. To be able to pick up Blair's scent that so permeated everything in the loft would have been his undoing. Not to mention trying to find his lover's heartbeat as he slept that night.

Jim turned his head to look upstairs. At their room. It has ceased to be his room the night he told Blair he loved him. The night they crossed the line from friends to lovers and never looked back. The night they swore, wrapped in each other's arms under the blankets, that neither would ever be alone again.

Jim's eyes slid slowly closed as he stood there, alone, letting two weeks of memories, all the time they'd had together as lovers, race through his mind. Sleeping in that bed by himself would be unthinkable now. As was sleeping in Blair's old room. The memories were just too fresh, too powerful. He knew soon he'd be able to deal with being alone and be able to sleep upstairs. Just not right now.

But one month later found the heartsick man still making his bed on the couch every evening, as Blair was moved from the hospital to a long-term care facility on the outskirts of Cascade, condition unchanged.

And time marched on.


Jim ran a hand over his face with a deep sigh, rubbing his eyes tiredly, dragging his thoughts back to the present day. He'd done his penance again, reliving the past with startling clarity, even after all this time. He turned from the window and the warm summer air to move back to Blair's bedside. He stood for a moment, simply staring down at the man he loved, who still slept on, an overwhelming sense of sadness overcoming him once again, as it always did when he let himself turn his thoughts to the past. Or to the future, for that matter. He'd long ago started taking one day at a time. Thinking ahead or behind was simply too painful.

Jim reached out and caressed Blair's face before leaning over to kiss him gently. "Good night, Chief. I love you."

Turning out the light next to the bed, Jim made his way to the door and closed it softly behind him, putting an end to a night like so many others.


A pretty blond woman was at Blair's bedside when Jim walked in.

"Hi, Beth," he smiled in greeting.

The young woman turned around at his voice and gave him a smile of her own. "Morning, Jim." She gestured at Blair. "Just finishing up Blair's bath. I'll be done in a minute."

Jim nodded. "No problem. Here, let me help." He moved to stand on the opposite side of the bed from the younger woman.

Beth had been Blair's nurse from the day he was brought here to Cascade House. Jim had never met a more compassionate, caring, competent, professional individual, and he always felt safe leaving his friend in her care when he couldn't be here. Jim and Beth had become good friends during the time Blair had been a resident at Cascade House. Beth knew what a traumatic experience it was to have a loved one in a coma, and Jim found she was an excellent listener, in fact encouraging him to talk about his feelings, offering advice when she could. In the process, Beth had learned more about the young man in her care, and about the man who cared so deeply for him. It was an excellent trade off for both of them.

Jim reached out and gently caressed the top of Blair's head as he came around to the other side of the bed. "Morning, Chief," he said to the sleeping man before accepting the towel Beth offered him.

"You're here early," the young nurse observed, continuing Blair's sponge bath as Jim dried his partner's lax limbs.

Jim nodded. He had woken up suddenly this morning, plagued by an intense feeling of uneasiness centering around his comatose partner that he'd never experienced before, and had gotten to Cascade House as quickly as he could, only to find everything as normal as always, leaving him confused.

"Yeah, I...have a meeting with a client later today, so I thought I'd stop by this morning instead," Jim lied, feeling suddenly foolish now that he was here and could see that Blair was fine.

Sponge bath completed a short time later, Beth accepted the towel back from Jim and then removed the waterproof sheet from under her patient as Jim lifted Blair up slightly off the bed. While Jim redressed and settled his unresponsive partner back against the pillows, Beth commented, "If you won't be by this afternoon, you could do Blair's exercises now if you'd like."

"Yeah, I think I'll do that," Jim agreed, moving out of the nurse's way as Beth reattached the leads from the EEG machine and the heart monitor to Blair's head and chest.

"Great. Be sure to leave him on his left side when you're through," reminded the nurse, gathering up her things and heading for the door.

Jim nodded, well aware of the danger of bedsores to a comatose person left lying in one position for too long.

"If I don't see you on my return trip down the wing, have fun at your meeting," Beth teased, knowing how much Jim hated the suit and tie aspect of his business. "You'll be back for dinner?"

"Like clockwork," Jim smiled.

"You may want to reset your clock then. It's meatloaf surprise," she winked, scooting out the door.

With a chuckle and a mental note to bring back Wonderburger for himself, Jim focused his attention back on his friend, still puzzled over his earlier uneasy feeling. For the first time in a very long time, Jim wished he still had his Sentinel abilities. If he could monitor Blair's vitals himself, instead of relying on the machines, it would put his mind at ease. He sighed. If wishes were fishes...

Giving himself a mental shake he addressed the sleeping man. "Ready to get to work, Chief?"

Another danger comatose patients faced was atrophied muscles. If left unused, the muscleS in the arms and legs would contract, leaving the patient curled in a fetal ball. So to keep that threat at bay, every afternoon or evening, Jim would exercise Blair's limbs; bending, stretching, flexing, massaging and just generally moving his limbs around to keep the muscles loose and the blood flowing.

As always, Jim started with his young friend's shoulders and arms, again taking note on how thin the body was beneath his fingers. With only the feeding tube to supply much needed nourishment to a man who could no longer eat, Blair's body had soon lost it's compact, muscular form that Jim so dearly loved.

Upper body finished, Jim moved to Blair's leg, placing one hand under the foot and the other on the knee, pushing upwards on the foot till the leg bent, holding it in place for a moment before straightening it out and repeating the movement.

Lost in thought, counting out the repetitions in his head, Jim was completely unprepared when his world once again tilted on its axis.

The ear-piercing snarl of a panther suddenly filled Jim's head, practically deafening him with it's intensity. He jumped backwards from Blair as if he'd been burned, hands clapping over his ears, squeezing against his head, breaths coming in short, panicked pants, eyes wide, flicking madly around the room as the howling continued, finally coming to rest on the sleek, black form in the corner. Jim stared, uncomprehending, into the blue eyes of a very large panther. His panther. {No...it couldn't be...}

Before he could continue the thought, the snarling in his mind abruptly cut off, to be replaced by a more ominous sound: Blair's heart monitor was beeping erratically.

Terrified, all thoughts of his animal spirit fled, replaced by fear for his partner. What was happening? What was wrong with Blair's heart?

Dazed by events happening too fast, Jim staggered back to Blair's bedside, fumbling with the call button, looking at the heart monitor, trying to discern the cause of Blair's sudden, erratic heartbeat. He found his answer when he looked down at his friend, finding a very familiar pair of blue eyes staring back up at him.

Blair was awake.

For Jim, time stopped at that moment. He didn't breathe, he didn't move, he didn't even blink for fear he was imagining this. And if he was dreaming, he didn't ever want to wake up. Things started to gray out as his body demanded oxygen and he gasped, trying to comprehend that Blair's eyes were open. Could this really be happening? After all this time?

He forced leadened muscles to move, placing a trembling hand reverently on his friend's chest. "Blair...?" he breathed, barely able to speak.

On the extremely rare occasion in the past that Jim let himself dream about this moment, it always played itself out in the same way: Blair's eyes opened, a smile lit up his young face and he spoke Jim's name, reaching out to be caught in a fierce embrace by the older man. And they lived happily ever after.

Only the reality wasn't the storybook ending Jim had dreamed about. Instead of a smile and a hug, there was absolutely no movement or recognition on Blair's part. Just a blank, vacant stare. The body was awake, but was the mind?

Like an ice pick to the gut, the warnings about brain damage came flooding back and Jim began to slowly shake his head as his friend remained staring straight ahead. {Oh god...oh no...oh please...}

This nightmare truly was just beginning.

Then there were hands on Jim, moving him away from the bed as Beth and another nurse rushed into the room, summoned by the call button. As the medical staff took stock of the situation, Jim found himself slowly backing away from the bed, stopping only when he collided with the doorjamb, attracting Beth's attention.


"...no..." he whispered, again shaking his head before turning and fleeing the room.

He moved quickly through the hallways of Cascade House, needing to get outside, away from here, slamming through the doors of the back entrance out into the bright summer morning. His steps became faster and faster with each stride as he spotted his destination, the woods adjacent to the long term care facility. His thoughts a chaotic whirlwind spinning out of control, he pushed his body even faster, knowing his knee could never withstand a full out run and not caring in the least the damage he was inflicting upon himself.

Barely inside the treeline his leg gave out, crumpling beneath him and hurling him to the ground with a frustrated cry, skidding face first into the dirt and rocks, scraping his palms and forearms. With his breath hitching inside his chest, he turned himself onto his back, closing his eyes, ignoring the dull pain radiating from his body.

"Oh Blair...this isn't fair..." he panted, his tight rein on his emotions finally slipping. "You fought so hard...this isn't the way it's supposed to be!" He slammed his fists into the dirt. "You're supposed to be Ok now! You're supposed to be -- " his voice cracked and a heartwrenching sob tore its way out of his chest, his heart and his soul.

And for the first time since Blair's injury, for the first time in two years, Jim Ellison cried.

Emotions held in check for too long - fear, anger, denial, hope, love, desire, anguish - released themselves in a torrent of cleansing tears, finally freeing Jim from the past and allowing him for the first time in two years to look towards the future.


It was nearly an hour later when Jim emerged from the trees, emotionally drained, dirty from head to toe with a throbbing knee and a tear stained face, but back in control. He had made Blair a vow when this whole ordeal began that no matter what happened, even if Blair awoke from this a different person, he'd never leave him.

It was time to keep that vow.


After returning to the loft to shower, change clothes and put on his soft knee brace, Jim arrived back at Cascade House two hours later. This should have given Blair's doctor enough time to examine his friend and let him know what was going on and how to proceed. Sure enough, Dr. Jason Tyler ushered Jim into his office right away.

"Jim, Beth said you left rather abruptly. Is everything all right?" inquired the short, brown haired, middle aged man with sharp, hazel eyes.

"I'm fine, Jason," Jim assured the doctor. "I was just...overwhelmed."

Dr. Tyler nodded. "Perfectly understandable, given the length of time Blair's been comatose. Must have been quite a shock."

"It was. What can you tell me?" Jim asked, mentally preparing himself for the worst.

"Well, he's still unresponsive. No voluntary movement or speech yet, but that comes as no surprise. His autonomic functions simply haven't come back on line yet. Think of it this way: when you first wake up in the morning you're still a bit groggy and disorientated, right? Well, that's what Blair is experiencing, to the extreme. He's still...waking up. Which is a miracle in and of itself, Jim. Patients comatose for as long as Blair rarely, if ever, wake." Jason smiled. "He's a remarkable young man."

"That he is, Doc," Jim agreed. "So where do we go from here?"

"I expect by tomorrow morning we'll see him start to move around a bit and try and talk. We'll be able to better gauge his condition then."

"And brain damage?" Jim asked quietly.

"Too soon to tell. Again, tomorrow morning should give us a clearer picture." He paused. "I know we spoke hypothetically about the possibility when Blair first arrived here, and now it may be a reality. Even if there is no brain damage, he may have other physical problems stemming from his head injury and prolonged coma. Two years ago you were adamant about taking care of Blair no matter what the outcome was when he woke. I need to know if you still feel that way. Blair may have a long rehabilitation period ahead of him and he's going to need constant support and encouragement. Will you be there for him?"

Jim spoke without hesitation. "Everyday for the rest of my life. I won't leave him, Jason. No matter what happens now."

Jason smiled. "Good. I knew I could count on you. Knew Blair could count on you, too." He sobered a bit. "Jim, I know we talked about this, too, but if you'd rather I told him instead, when he's ready..."

Jim shook his head. "No. I'll do it. I'd rather it come from me."

"Ok, but if you change your mind just let me know. That's going to be a difficult conversation to have."

Difficult wasn't the word for it. More like heartbreaking. How do you explain to your best friend that he closed his eyes and woke up two years later?


Jim made his way slowly downstairs from Jason's office to Blair's room, his usually small, permanent limp exaggerated by the pain from injured muscles sustained during his run and subsequent fall this morning. The brace under his pants was helping, but he knew he needed to get off his feet and give his knee a chance to rest. As he'd long since discovered, plastic was no match for bone.

Blair's door was open when he arrived and he found Beth just finishing removing the EEG and heart monitor wires and raising the head of his friend's bed so that he was in more of a sitting position. She turned to look at him as he entered the room.

"Jim? Are you Ok?" she asked, concerned. "You ran out of here so fast this morning, you had me worried."

"I'm all right, Beth. Really. It was just...a lot to take in," he explained, looking over at Blair.

His partner's eyes were still open, unblinking and unfocused, his head tipped a bit to the side.

"Can I be alone with him for a while?"

"Of course," the young nurse answered, then smiled. "Keep talking to him, touch him. He's almost out of the woods, Jim. A little more help from you is all he needs." She reached out and laid her hand on his arm. "He certainly is a fighter, isn't he?"

"Yeah," he smiled softly as Beth left the room, closing the door gently behind her.

Jim swallowed and closed the distance between himself and Blair. He held one of Blair's hands in his own, while the other raised up to lay against the side of the young man's face. He dipped his head and closed his eyes, placing a kiss on Blair's forehead, before straightening up again.

He looked deep into blue eyes that stared back unseeingly, whispering fiercely through a tightly closed throat. "Don't you dare give up now, Chief. Not when you're this close. You keep fighting, you hear me? I know you're in there, Blair."

At the sound of his name, the anthropologist made his first voluntary movement in two years: he furrowed his brow.

Jim gave a little gasp and squeezed his friend's hand, hope beginning to blossom deep inside. "Yeah, that's it, buddy...come back to me, Blair..."


Dawn was barely breaking the next morning when Jim returned to Cascade House. He had left late the previous evening, only after Blair had slipped into a natural sleep pattern, and tossed and turned all night, unable to shut his mind off from speculating what the morning may bring. If Dr. Tyler was right, today would indicate in what capacity Blair would live out the rest of his life. But Jim had reason to be optimistic. Blair had responded more and more to his voice and touches last night, actually turning his head toward Jim and his eyes seemed to be tracking movement.

With his heart pounding and his hands sweating, Jim rounded the corner towards Blair's room, nearly running into Beth, coming around the other side.

"Jim! Perfect timing!" The blond nurse took his arm and led him into his friend's room, smiling. "Someone wants to say something to you."

That someone had long, curly hair and bright blue alert eyes, who's face lit up the moment Jim walked in the room, then screwed up in intense concentration before uttering one whispered word.


With that single word, two years of pain and heartache dissipated like smoke in the wind, rooting Jim in place, heart lurching in his chest.

Blair was back.

Emotions too numerous to identify raced through Jim as he broke through his initial shock to pull his partner into a fierce embrace. He felt Blair's left arm wrap around his neck, holding on tightly as he buried his face in Jim's broad chest. Even with Jim's eyes squeezed almost painfully shut, a single tear managed to escape and fall silently onto the top of Blair's head.

"Blair..." he breathed, before loosening his hold and setting his friend back against the pillows.

Blair was shaking his head. "Jim...I d-don't..."

"Shh, it's all right," Jim reassured the young man. "Listen to me, Ok, Chief? I know you're confused and have a million questions and I promise to explain everything, but not right now. You were hurt and I know the doctors are going to run countless tests on you today, so we'll talk tomorrow, Ok?"

Blair nodded and Jim felt a hand settle on his shoulder. He glanced sideways and saw Jason standing next to him. The doctor made a motion with his head, indicating he wanted to speak to Jim alone.

"I need to talk with your doctor, Chief. I'll be right back."

Blair nodded and once more concentrated hard before speaking, his voice rough and deep from unuse. "S-sure, Jim."

Jim squeezed Blair's hand then joined Jason in the hallway.

"I've got good news and bad," Dr. Tyler began. "Good news is that the brain damage, from a mental standpoint, seems to be minimal. But I won't know for sure without additional tests. He knew his name and where he lived when he came around this morning, and he knew you as well. But his speech is slow. He needs to think about what he wants to say before he says it."

"Will that be permanent?" inquired Jim.

"No, I don't think so. His brain is still coming back on line, still reconnecting. I expect it should clear up in the next day or so. But if not we'll start him on speech therapy."

"What about his memory, Jason?"

"Too soon to tell. He remembers the basics about his life, but he's still pretty disorientated, so I haven't probed about the injury yet."

Jim nodded, digesting everything. "And the bad news?"

"As we discussed, brain damage was not the only possible side effect of the head injury and coma." Jason sighed. "The right side of Blair's body seems to be partially paralyzed. Not surprising, seeing as the injury occurred on the left side of his head. The blunt force trauma, with the subsequent brain swelling and blood clot cut off the oxygen long enough so it's as though Blair had had a stroke. Which could be another factor why his speech is being affected, and possibly his memory."

A stroke? Partially paralyzed? Jim's mind was reeling and he sagged back against the wall.

"So where do we go from here, Doc?"

"We're transporting him back to Cascade General for today," Jason replied. "We need a full work up on him, especially a CAT scan and MRI. We need to find out the extent of the paralysis and the state of his memory, also. And we'll slowly reintroduce him to solid food, get his weight back up, along with his strength. He's gonna need it." Jason paused for a moment. "I won't kid you, Jim. Blair's recovery is nothing short of miraculous, but he's got a long road ahead of him. I've seen stroke patients completely recover, both mentally and physically, and so can Blair, if he works hard and keeps a positive attitude."

Beth poked her head around the doorframe. "Jim, Blair's asking for you."

As Jim re-entered the room, he looked at his confused, but very much awake friend, realizing that he may finally be waking from his own nightmare as well.


His dreams were a warning that he didn't heed that something was about to happen...

[He was in the jungle, running. Bare chested and sweating, legs encased in camouflage, feet in combat boots, weaponless. He ran, searching, but for what he didn't know, pure instinct driving him forward.

He burst out of the treeline into a clearing, feet skidding on the wet underbrush as he halted his headlong flight, his goal suddenly right in front of him.


The young anthropologist was crouched down on one knee, looking back at him with a mixture of happiness and relief on his handsome features. And he wasn't alone. Pressed up along his left side was the large, sleek, black form of the panther, bright blue eyes shining in the darkness, pinning Jim to the spot with their intense gaze. Blair's hand rested on top of the animal spirit's head, stroking gently. He smiled, then bent his head to whisper something in the panther's ear. The big cat's body tensed, then charged explosively forward. Before Jim could react, the animal was upon him, springing up and slamming into his chest full force...]

He woke with a cry, arms coming up instinctively, tumbling himself off the couch in his disorientated state. His shoulder's impact with the coffee table brought him to full wakefulness, and he took a moment to disentangle himself from the blanket, wiping the sweat from his face and getting his breathing under control.

Chalking up his dream to simple stress from the past few days, Jim made his way to the bathroom to shower, wanting to get back to Cascade House. He'd stayed late again last night, waiting until Blair was settled back into his room after his day at the hospital. It was a grueling day for the young man, enduring test after test, on display like some kind of lab rat for countless doctors to come by and stare at the man who had suddenly awakened after a two year coma. He was an oddity, and with all the scrutiny he was receiving and with all the talk going on around him, Jim was constantly worried that someone would slip up and Blair would find out how long he'd been in the coma before he was ready to handle that knowledge. But Jason kept his word, making sure the staff knew not to mention any dates and to be sure Blair was not anywhere where he could see a TV or overhear a radio or see a newspaper.

Blair was a trooper throughout the whole process of being poked and prodded, never complaining, and becoming more lucid as the day wore on, his speech improving dramatically, much to everyone's delight. But exhaustion soon caught up with him, to be expected in his weakened condition, and it was a peacefully sleeping Blair that Jim lifted into bed, pulled the covers up over and gently kissed goodnight before heading home with a promise from Jason to discuss Blair's test results in the morning.

Which was another reason he put his dream and it's foreshadowing out of his mind so quickly, too preoccupied speculating on what the results would reveal.

His mind elsewhere, he was caught totally unprepared as he stepped under the shower's spray. The moment the water droplets touched his bare skin it was as if millions of tiny needles were impaling him. He cried out in pain and surprise, lurching sideways, trying to get out from beneath the water as fast as possible, tearing down half the shower curtain in the process. He staggered, wet and naked, out into the hallway, rubbing frantically at his skin. Before being able to comprehend what was happening, the honk of a car horn on the street below drove him to his knees, hands over his ears, the sound seemingly piercing directly into his brain. Panicked, he surged to his feet and make it as far as the living room where a simple ray of early morning sunlight streaming in from the balcony was so intense on his eyes that it blinded him momentarily, causing him to stagger into the coffee table, striking his bad knee and sending him to the floor again. He lay there, eyes tightly shut, hands over his ears, naked, shivering and in pain, his mind amid the turmoil finally grasping what was happening.

The Sentinel within him had reawakened.

His abilities had returned.

How long he remained curled in on himself he didn't know. One minute? One hour? As wave after wave of sensory input bombarded him, one sense spiking after another, he longed to lose himself in a zone out, to slip into blessed oblivion and escape the torture. But try as he might, he couldn't control one sense long enough to purposely zone. Then, just when he thought he would surely lose his mind if the onslaught continued, his Guide's voice spoke to him from deep within his memory...

["You've got to be able to control the intensity level; turn it up and down at will. Now picture something that you can control. Picture a dial."

"Got it."

"Ok, now imagine yourself turning it down, sorta like the volume control on a television set. Only you determine how much you feel. Yeah, that's it..."


"It worked?"

"Yeah...yeah, it just kinda feels like a scratch now..."]

Clutching the memory of their late night discussion while protecting Angie Ferris like a lifeline, Jim searched inside himself for the internal dials, dormant for two long years. And one by one, one sense, one heartbeat, one breath at a time, the dials turned slowly down, the memory of Blair's voice like a balm to his battered psyche.

[Control, control, control]

By the time his senses were holding steady in the "normal" range, Jim's breath came in shallow gasps and fine tremors coursed though his body. But he could function again. He carefully levered himself up onto the couch, getting his breathing under control, afraid the slightest thing would set off another sensory spike.

He sighed, running a hand across his face. He had finally gotten comfortable living like an ordinary man...and suddenly he was a Sentinel again. It was going to take a lot of getting used to. He felt disjointed, disconnected, like he was back at square one once more, unsure of what was happening with his body. He was going to have to relearn everything Blair had taught him...

He started at the thought of his Guide, glancing quickly at the clock. Over an hour had indeed passed and now he was late. Once again pushing aside his own problems and focusing on his friend, Jim rose slowly from the couch, heading back to the bathroom, his battered knee now definitely worse for wear, holding tight to his tremulous control on his senses.

He was out the door thirty minutes later...a Sentinel reborn.


"Jim, come on in. Have a seat," Jason greeted him at his office door.

Jim nodded and sat down, removing his sunglasses, immediately wishing he could keep them on as the harsh florescent lighting irritated his new sensitive eyesight. He squinted for a moment before addressing Jason.

"What are the results?"

"Pretty good, Jim," Dr. Tyler replied from across the desk. "His brain scans were better than expected, though there are indications of a mild stroke like I'd predicted."

"Which is what's causing his paralysis?" Jim asked.

"Yes," Jason answered. "But I believe with physical therapy Blair can make nearly a full recovery. The damage isn't permanent. He already has a limited amount of feeling in his arm and leg."

"Best news I've heard in a long time, Doc," Jim smiled and breathed a small sigh of relief. Physically, Blair would eventually be fine. But mentally?

"What about his memory, Jason?"

Dr. Tyler frowned. "He's got a large gap, Jim. While he can recall facts about himself and you and his life in general, his last clear memory is of being out in the woods searching for a friend of yours - Simon. And getting shot in the process. In fact, that's why he thinks he's here, because of the bullet wound. He's much more clear-headed today and full of questions about his condition. I've put him off as long as I can. You're going to have to talk with him this morning. He needs to know the truth."

Jim swallowed thickly, the feeling of euphoria upon hearing that Blair would be fine physically withered and died, settling like a lead weight on his chest as he learned of his friend's mental status. His worst fear was coming true. Not only did Blair not recall the injury that left him comatose, but the months leading up to it, including the night they confessed their love for one another and their precious few weeks together as lovers.

Jim closed his eyes and struggled to draw a breath. This couldn't be happening. Would the amnesia have erased Blair's feelings for Jim as well, would he at least remember the love he felt for Jim, if not the actual consummation of it?

"Will the memory loss be...permanent?" Jim asked softly.

"I can't say for sure, Jim," Jason answered honestly. "With help from you, and eventually being back home in familiar surroundings, he may recover from the amnesia. But it's also possible that he may never remember that time period."

Jim nodded slowly. He would have to proceed cautiously with Blair in regards to their past intimate relationship. If his injury had indeed altered his feelings for Jim, the last thing the older man wanted to do was possibly drive his younger friend from his life by telling him they were in a sexual relationship. He may just not be able to handle that. It was up to Blair to remember...or not. On this subject Jim would remain silent, as much as it was already tearing him apart. To finally get Blair back, only to lose his love...? Just thinking about it was heartwrenching and he gave himself a mental shake.

"Is there anything else I should know about, Jason?"

"We'll be starting him on physical therapy right away. Hopefully tomorrow or the day after. Other than that, no."

Jim rose from the chair, his knee giving a twinge. "Ok. I'll go talk to him now."

"Take it slow, Jim," Jason cautioned. "Suddenly finding out he's missing two years of his life is going to be a lot for him to handle."


Jim's head was pounding by the time he arrived at Blair's floor. The sights, sounds and smells of the medical facility were playing havoc on his reawakened senses, his internal dials no longer staying at a constant level. His control was slipping. Fearing a zone out right here in the hallway of Cascade House, the Sentinel reached out, searching for the one thing that could always restore his focus: his Guide. With a jolt, he realized just how quickly he was able to tune into Blair, even after all this time, immediately homing in on the heartbeat...that began to accelerate suddenly. With a frown, Jim moved as quickly as his knee would allow him towards Blair's room.


"--air, please, you need to relax," he heard Beth's voice as he pushed open his friend's door.

"No, I won't relax...tell me what's going on!" Blair replied, clearly agitated.

"Chief? What's wrong?"

"Jim!" Confused blue eyes turned towards him."Please, man, tell me what's happening. I don't- "

"Ok, ok. Calm down, Sandburg. Calm down and I'll explain everything."

Blair nodded and fell silent, though his body language remained tense, nervous, as Jim turned to the blond nurse.

"Can you give us some time alone, Beth?"

"Of course," answered, knowing the difficult conversation to come. "I'll be back later."

The door had no more than closed behind her when Blair spoke up again. "Jim, what's wrong with me? What aren't they telling me?" he demanded.

Jim sighed deeply, gazing at his troubled friend. The time had come. But where should he start?

"Blair, I need you to tell me the last thing you remember," he began, his calm voice belying the turmoil raging within.

"Quinn," the young man answered without hesitation. "And Simon. I was shot." He looked down at his leg. "But why is the wound already healed and why can't I move my arm or leg? Jim, what's wrong with me?!" Blair's voice rose in pitch.

Jim moved quickly to sit on the bed next to his Guide, wanting nothing more than to take him in his arms and kiss away his pain, but settling for gently holding his left hand instead.

"I'm scared, Jim," Blair quietly admitted.

Jim closed his eyes, his heart in his throat. "I know you are. And there's no easy way to start this." He took a steadying breath and looked directly at his partner. "You were hurt. Badly. You've been in a coma, Blair. It's what's causing the paralysis in your arm and leg and giving you amnesia." He watched as this information registered with his friend, disbelief written across his features.

"Amnesia? Coma? My god, Jim...what happened to me? How long...?" the questions came tumbling out.

Jim gripped his Guide's hand tighter. "Let me start with what led to you getting hurt, Ok?" At Blair's nod he continued. "Two months after we captured Quinn, he and his cellmate escaped. It took us another month to track him down. We raided the warehouse he was at down at the docks, only to find out too late that it was a trap. Quinn and his men had rigged explosives in the crates in front of the warehouse. Before it was over, four officers were killed, along with Quinn. And you...you were struck in the head by a large piece of wood from the dock when a crate exploded near you while you were trying to help me. You fell into a coma and woke up two days ago."

When Blair remained silent Jim became concerned. "Blair? Talk to me, pal."

Blair slowly shook his head. "I don't remember it. None of it. I'm trying, but it's just not there..." He looked at Jim with too bright eyes.

"It's Ok," Jim reassured him. "You had a severe head injury, the memory loss it to be expected. Don't try and force it. It should come back on it's own."

"And if it doesn't?" Blair asked quietly.

"Then I'll be your memory," Jim whispered fiercely.

It would have been the perfect moment to lean forward and kiss his young lover to reassure him with an expression of his love, but Blair had made no indication that he would welcome an intimate touch, another casualty of the amnesia.

A knock on the door broke the moment and Jim rose, heartsick, to answer it, not realizing Blair was watching his limping gate with intense interest. Jim conversed quietly with Beth for a moment before closing the door and returning to his seat on the bed.


"Yeah, Chief?"

"You haven't told me how long I was in the coma."

Jim rose abruptly, stalking over to the window, startling his partner."You should get some rest- " he began, trying to avoid the question.

But Blair would not be put off. "No, Jim. Just tell me. Please. I need to know."

Jim turned slowly around, leaning back against the wall. There was no way to sugar-coat this.

"Two years, Blair. You were in the coma for two years," Jim finally admitted, breaking the news as gently as possible.

Blair's eyes widened at the statement. "What? That's impossible..." he began, shaking his head in panic and disbelief. "Tell me you're lying, Jim..."

Jim moved quickly back to the bed and gently cupped Blair's face in his hands, stilling the young man's movement. "I'm not lying, Chief. God, I wish I were. I wish I could go back and stop you from running out on that dock. I wish I could give you back those years, but I can't. I'm so sorry..." he trailed off, letting his hands drop to the mattress as moisture sprang to his eyes.

"How could I have slept through two years of my life, Jim?" Blair asked in an anguished whisper. "When it feels like I just closed my eyes for a moment? Oh god, the things I must have missed..."

"Chief, I want you to rest for awhile, Ok? You've been through a hell of a lot in the last few days. You need to take some time -- "

"No," Blair refused. "I need you to tell me everything, Jim. This can't wait. I've already lost two years. I can't afford to lose a single minute more."

Jim sighed deeply, emotionally unprepared at the moment to have this conversation with Blair, but understanding his urgency. If the situations were reversed, he knew he'd want to know what took place in the years that he'd slept as soon as possible.

"Ok, but just a summary. That will be more than enough for you to handle right now." He stopped. "I don't even know where to start."

Blair smiled. "With you."

Jim looked away. "Pick something else," he said a little too sharply, as painful memories of his past reared up.

"Jim? What is it?" At his partner's silence Blair ventured, "Does it have something to do with your leg?"

Jim looked quickly back at his friend, jaw muscle jumping, then stared down at his leg, absently running his hand over his bad knee. "The limp's not normally that bad," he said softly. "I've just had a rough few days."

Blair's hand reached out to cover Jim's, halting it's movement. "What happened?"

With haunted eyes Jim turned back to the young man. "The night we raided Quinn's warehouse I tried to get close enough to get a concussion grenade inside. But Quinn saw me and detonated the bomb inside the crate next to me. There were metal machine parts in the bottom." He felt Blair squeeze his hand in sympathy. His Guide knew where this story was heading. "The explosion threw me back I don't know how far. You saw me go down and tried to get to me..." Jim swallowed. "That's when you were hurt. I tried to yell, tell you to get back...but it was too late...I saw you...when the wood hit you..." he squeezed his eyes shut as the moment played itself out in his mind. "Jesus, Blair... I saw you fall..."

Blair leaned forward as Jim struggled to hold his emotions in check, resting his forehead against the bigger man's. Jim released a shaky breath at the contact.

"You don't need to hear all this now, Blair."

"Yes, I do. And I think you need to tell it, too, to let it all out. Let me guess. You haven't talked to anyone about what you've been feeling since all of this happened."

Jim gave a little snort and a half smile. "Know me pretty well, don't you?"

Blair sat up, replying with a smile, "You are my research subject, aren't you?" Silence reigned for a moment before Blair asked, "Keep going?"

Jim nodded. "I woke up in the hospital four days later. I found out then that you were in a coma, but I couldn't get up to ICU because of my leg. It was bad. The shrapnel from the bomb nearly severed my leg at the knee. They thought it was going to have to be amputated, but the doctors were amazing, and they saved it. But the damage to my kneecap was extensive and they had to remove it and give me a plastic one instead. I also have permanent nerve damage there and metal rods hold the rest of my bones together below the knee." He gave a wry chuckle. "I'm a mess, Chief."

But Blair wasn't laughing, he looked slightly horrified at what his friend had gone through. "God, Jim, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I wasn't there to help you get through that."

"For christ sake, Sandburg, don't you dare apologize," Jim spoke harshly. "You were in a coma because of me. You never should have been there. I deserved everything that happened to me and more. You sure as hell didn't." He rose abruptly from the bed and turned his back to his friend.

"Dammit, Jim, don't give me that crap. Just knock off the guilt trip," Blair demanded. "If I didn't want to be with you I wouldn't. You don't force me to do anything. I'm here of my own free will. And can you honestly tell me that if the situation was reversed you would have just left me lying there, hurt and bleeding?"

Jim whirled around. "Of course not!"

"Then how could you think I would leave you there? I don't remember it, Jim. But I swear I'd do it again in a heartbeat. So stop blaming yourself, because you would have done the same thing."

Silence stretched out for a few heartbeats before Jim spoke.

"Are you sure you didn't major in psychology, Chief?"

Blair chuckled. "The more I hang around with you, the more I wish I had."

"Am I that neurotic?"

"Nah, just complicated. And I like puzzles." Blair smiled. "Will you come back over here now?"

When Jim was settled once again next to his friend he picked up where he left off. "It was a month before I was physically able to go upstairs and see you. I can't even describe what it felt like to see you lying there like that, not knowing if you'd ever wake up." He paused. "Why didn't you ever tell me about your living will?"

"My living -- " Blair closed his eyes and laid his head back against the pillows. "Are you trying to tell me it came to that?" he whispered.

"Yeah, Blair, it did. When they took you off the respirator after the surgery to relieve the pressure on your brain, you couldn't breathe on your own, so they hooked you back up. Naomi waited till after I'd seen you to tell me about your will and the story behind it. God, it was like someone kicked my legs out from under me... I just couldn't grasp that the respirator was going to be turned off..."

"I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't purposely keep it from you. It's just not something that you think about everyday, you know? I just...forgot. I never meant for you to find out about it that way."

"It's Ok. It was just a shock. And I was horrified that I was going to have to stand there and watch you die...helpless to do anything to stop it because I had to respect your wishes. I swear to you, it was the worst day of my life."

"God, Jim...I'm sorry. But do you understand why I didn't want to live like that?"

"I do now. But I was mad as hell at you then."

"Must be why I decided to stick around," Blair joked. "You need your daily dose of Blair-annoyance to make your life complete."

"No, Blair. My life wouldn't be complete without you," Jim stated, dead serious.

Blair's joking manner subsided. "Jim...I don't know what to say. That really means a lot to me. I feel the same way about you, too."

"Just - just say you'll be here for a long, long time. Nearly having you die twice...let's just say I never want to have to go through that again."

Blair grinned. "Then that makes two of us."

Once again comfortable silence fell between the two men, both content to simply soak up the other's presence, after so long an absence.

"You said Naomi was here?"

Jim nodded. "For a year. I've already got the guys at the station helping me track her down to tell her the good news."

"A year, huh?" Blair smiled. "Wow, I think that's a record for her."

"She was worried about you, Chief. Hell, we all were. And she only left because I told her she needed a break. She was there everyday at the hospital and again here at Cascade House. But after a year, with no change in your condition, it was starting to take it's toll on both of us. It took me a week to convince her it was Ok for her to leave. I told her you would understand," Jim finished with a hopeful look.

"You did the right thing, Jim. I know my mom. She's just never been the type of person that can stay in one place. And I was in a coma. There was nothing you or she could have done. Thank you. For watching out for her," Blair said sincerely.

"It was my pleasure, Chief. Your mom's an incredible lady. She'll be thrilled to know you're awake."

Blair smiled at the statement. "I can't wait to see her. Hey, you mentioned the guys at the station. How is everyone?"

"Pretty good, actually. You know, you had a revolving door of visitors from the department while you were in the hospital. Everyone missed you, Chief."


"Really. And you'll be able to see for yourself when I tell them the good news, too. You won't be able to beat them off with a stick," Jim promised.

Blair laughed. "Well, don't keep me in suspense, man. What's everybody up to?"

That same haunted look from earlier fell across Jim's features again, startling Blair.

"There's something I need to tell you first," Jim began quietly. "Two things, actually."

"Sure, man. Go ahead," Blair replied worriedly.

Jim took a deep breath. "I'm not a cop anymore, Blair."

"You're...what?" the young man asked disbelievingly. "Jim, what happ -- " he cut himself off as Jim looked down at his own leg. Understanding raced through him and Blair closed his eyes.

"Yeah," Jim said hoarsely. "I couldn't go back to field duty after the injury. I just physically couldn't do it. I lasted two weeks on permanent desk duty before I resigned."

"I can't -- " Blair cleared his suddenly tight throat. "I can't even picture you being anything else."

"Neither could I. But I had no choice."

"What did you do?"

"For about a month, nothing. That," he sighed, "was a rough time. Every day that passed I felt your chances of recovery diminished, I no longer had the only job I ever loved, and I now had a permanent physical disability. I wasn't accustomed to being weak, and I took it hard. I was mad at the world and I just didn't care about anything anymore. But Simon and Naomi refused to let me wallow in self-pity." He smiled. "Those two got together and helped put me together. They were certainly a force to be reckoned with, let me tell ya, Chief."

Blair chuckled. "They both ganged up on you? You didn't stand a chance, man."

"I found that out real quick," Jim answered with a nod. "Among other things, they brainstormed career ideas for me and got me out of my depression and got me thinking about the future again. It took some trial and error, but I finally settled on something and I've been doing it ever since. It'll never compete with being a cop, but I'm happy."

"Well?" Blair prompted.

In answer, Jim withdrew his wallet from his back pocket and handed Blair a business card that read:


For a moment, Blair was tongue-tied and wide-eyed, then his brain kicked in and the questions came pouring out.

"You own your own business?! A security consultant?"

Jim smiled. "Yep. Who knows more about security than an ex-cop? I started off working for someone else before I decided I wanted to strike out on my own. Simon was behind me 100% and backed me financially to get me started. Then, when I was off and running, he became my silent partner."

Blair shook his head in wonder. "Wow...that's amazing. Where's your office? How many employees do you have?"

"My office is the loft and you're looking at the only employee."

"You're kidding me. You do everything by yourself?"

Jim laughed. "Don't sound so shocked, Chief. Who do you know more organized than me?"

Blair held up his left hand in surrender. "I withdraw the question. But I do have another one."


"Sentinel?? You named your business Sentinel? Are you nuts man?"

Jim averted his eyes. "At the time, no. But now I'm not so sure," he answered cryptically. "Can we talk about that later?"

Puzzled, knowing there was a story there, but also knowing not to push the ex-cop, Blair agreed.

"Sure, man." He studied the business card for a moment. "I'm...I'm really proud of you, Jim. I know how much being a cop meant to you, and how much it must have hurt to lose it. But you didn't let it drag you down. You really persevered when you could very well have just given up instead. I just wish I could have been there to help."

Jim reached out and squeezed Blair's hand. "And I'm proud of you. For beating this thing. For never giving up when you very well could have, too."

The emotional moment stretched out, the bond of friendship the two men shared becoming ever stronger with each passing minute, each spoken word. For Blair, he was reconnecting with life again, through his friend. For Jim, he was reconnecting with a man he had dearly missed for two long years.

The anthropologist reluctantly broke the moment and asked softly, "What was the second thing you wanted to tell me?"

"The hardest thing." Jim paused and seemed to lose himself in a memory for a moment before continuing. "There's no easy way to say this. Blair...Simon was killed a year ago."

Blair sagged back against the pillows, visibly shaken at the news. "Oh my god...what...how?"

Jim felt tears spring to his eyes as he thought about his friend's death. "He...he was on his way home from the station one night and stopped to pick up some cigars. He walked in on an armed robbery in progress. The kid thought he'd locked the door, and when Simon walked in he panicked and fired. Simon never had a chance...the ME said he was killed instantly. I don't think he even knew what happened. I hope to God he didn't..."

Blair made a strangled sound and quickly covered his face with his hand, eyes squeezed shut. Jim held the grieving young man's shoulders.

"It's Ok, Blair. Let it out," he whispered.

Another choked sob and Blair let his hand fall to the bed, opening his eyes, tears leaking slowly down his face.

"Tell me they caught him," he ground out. "Tell me they caught the son-of-a-bitch."

"They did. He's on death row. I swear I never wanted to be a cop more than during that time. It was killing me that I couldn't be part of the investigation." He let his hands drop from Blair's shoulders. "His death left us all in such a state of shock that not everyone has gotten over it yet. I know I haven't. As a cop, you always expect to go down in the line of duty, you know? Then suddenly my friend of nine years is gunned down on his way home by some drugged out punk...?" Jim wiped away a single tear that had escaped his troubled blue eyes. "It's been a year and I still can't believe he's gone."

"This is like a bad dream," Blair breathed.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have told you this much this fast," Jim apologized.

Blair shook his head. "No. I wanted to know. It's just, Simon...god...I know we butted heads, but I did consider him my friend, and under that gruff exterior I like to think he considered me his."

"He did, Blair. Don't ever think he didn't," Jim said fiercely. "He was here and at the hospital every day. I wish he could have been here to see this...to see you awake."

"I miss him, Jim," Blair said simply, his voice wavering.

Jim gathered his distraught friend to him in a brief, warm hug. "I do, too, Chief. I do, too," he whispered. "Naomi missed him as well, which is another reason I asked her to go." Blair looked at him questioningly. "Naomi was staying with Simon in his spare room. I offered her the loft when she arrived, but with both of us in the hospital for who knew how long, she didn't like the thought of being alone, and I can't blame her, so Simon asked her to come stay with him. Since the divorce, I knew he didn't like being by himself, either, so it worked out for the best. It was a rocky start, but with you as the common denominator, they became close friends during that year."

"Simon and my mom? Wow...who would've thought?" Blair asked in wonder.

"I know," Jim smiled. "But like I said before, they made quite a team. Even as opposite as they were, they were good for each other. Which is why Simon's death hit Naomi hard as well. She really did need to get away for awhile."

"It's Ok, Jim. I understand why she's not here." He looked down at the bed and fiddled with the corner of the sheet. "Jim?"

"Yeah, Chief?"

"Can you tell me something...happy?" he looked back up expectantly.

"God, of course," Jim said quickly. "I'm sorry for making you think that these last two years have only been filled with bad news. There've been bright spots, too."

"I'm certainly ready to hear 'em."

"Well, let's see...Joel's the new captain of Major Crime, for starters."

"You're kidding! That's great!"

"They had a temporary captain for awhile after Simon died, some woman named Finkleman, before the brass offered Joel the job. He never hesitated. So he went from captain of the Bomb Squad to the captain of Major Crime and never looked back."

"Man, I'm really happy for the big guy. He's been doing Ok?"

"More than Ok. He practically knew Major Crime like the back of his hand anyway, so things have been going really smooth. We get together about once a week for lunch with Rafe and Brown and swap stories."

"How are those guys?"

"Brown took the test and got himself bumped up to Detective 1st Class and promoted into my spot not long after I left. He and Rafe are still partners, though, and Henri still loves to razz Rafe that he's technically his boss since Rafe is still Detective 2nd Class," Jim smiled. "But Rafe still has his head in the clouds and basically ignores Henri."

"Why's that?"

"Rafe got married, Chief. About six months ago."

"No way! To who?"

Jim shrugged. "The donut girl."

"What?! He married Susan?"

Jim laughed. "Yep. I don't know what started it, but they were suddenly falling all over each other and the next thing I know I'm being asked to stand up at his wedding. And what a huge affair that was. With Henri as the best man, myself and Joel as groomsmen and Daryl as an usher, we looked like deranged waiters in our tuxes."

Blair laughed at the mental image. "Boy, what a group you guys must have made!"

Jim opened his mouth then quickly shut it again, almost reminding Blair that he'd seen all of them in tuxes, along with his brother, Stephen, at the Officer of the Year awards banquet. But Blair didn't remember that.

"And how's Daryl?"

"It's been a hard year for him, understandably. He'll never get over losing his father, but he's starting to get his focus back. Can you believe that he's driving now and looking at colleges? He's even considering the Academy. He'd like to follow in Simon's footsteps. I told him Simon would be proud, but that the Academy would still be there after college."

"Good advice, Jim. Simon would be glad to know that you're looking after his son for him."

"Thanks. He calls about every other week or so to check on you."

"I can't wait to see him."

"Well, you'll have to look up to him when you do. He shot up like a weed last summer."

"He's taller than me now? Aww, man..." Blair mock whined.

Jim laughed at his friend's feigned indignation. "So...that's everything, Chief."

"Not quite, Jim. I want you to explain to me about Sentinel Security. How could you do that?"

Jim sighed. "Because at the time the word meant nothing to me."

"What do you mean?"

"When I woke up in the hospital my Sentinel abilities were gone," Jim explained. "It's happened before, so I wasn't too worried. But months went by and they never returned. I was back to being just Jim Ellison again. Though I never forgot who I used to be. Ex-Sentinel, ex-cop... Simon thought I was nuts naming the business that, too, but time went on and I stayed...normal. For two years I was an ordinary guy. Then last night -- "

"You had a dream," Blair cut in.

"How did you know that?" Jim demanded.

"You were in the jungle, running," Blair continued, ignoring Jim's question. "You found me. I was with the panther...and I let it go. It ran straight at you. Am I right?"

"That's impossible," Jim denied. "How could you know -- "

"Oh god, it's true..." Blair leaned his head back against the pillows, looking up at the ceiling. "I was keeping them."

"What? Sandburg, what are you talking about? How did you know about my dream?" Jim was starting to feel very uneasy.

Blair looked at the Sentinel. "You have your senses back, don't you?"

Jim nodded. "This morning. They came back with a vengeance. I was totally out of control."

"How do you feel now?"

Jim blinked. "Actually...I feel fine. I haven't had one problem since I came in here."

Blair's smile was blinding. "Oh my god..."

Jim was exasperated. "Sandburg, will you stop saying that and explain to me what the hell's going on?"

"Sorry, Jim, sorry. I think I just figured it out."

"Well would you mind sharing it with me?"

"Ok, it's like this. I didn't know I was in a coma. I thought I was just sleeping, and having the most bizarre dream. I was in the jungle, in some sort of clearing. At first I was alone, then the panther suddenly appeared. But I wasn't afraid. You'd already told me about it when we were in Peru. But I was worried. The panther is your subconscious physical representation of your Sentinel abilities. So why was it with me and not you? Something was wrong, but I didn't know what. No matter where I went or what I did, the panther never left my side. I finally accepted its presence but never stopped worrying. Then suddenly you were there, running towards me. I was so happy to see you, man. Somehow I knew why you were there, so I told the panther you needed him. The last thing I remember is it running straight at you. To me, all that happened within the time span of a dream. But now I know it really lasted two years."

"That - that's a lot to take in, Chief."

"I know. Do you understand what it means, though?"

"Actually, I kind of think I do," Jim answered, surprising himself.

"I was keeping your abilities for you, Jim. I don't know how it happened, but when I fell into the coma, I took them with me. As your Guide it was the only way I knew how to protect you. If you didn't have your senses you wouldn't be in any danger, so it wouldn't matter if I wasn't there. When my body decided it was time to wake up, I gave your Sentinel abilities back." He smiled. "Simple as that."

"Simple," Jim snorted. "Yeah, right. Nothing is ever simple with you, Sandburg."

"I just don't want your life to get boring," he stated with a grin.

"No chance of that, Chief. Listen, I'm not gonna try and analyze this whole dream thing. I'll leave that up to you. I'm just going to enjoy knowing that I'm a Sentinel again and that you're back and you're going to be Ok. And say 'thanks' for always looking out for me."

"You're welcome, man." Blair looked down at the right side of his body. "Hey, Jim, from what you've said, it sounds like I'll have a flood of visitors soon. Can you do me a favor?"

"Sure, what is it?"

"I really don't feel up to seeing anyone yet. Not until I'm more... myself. I just need a little more time. Can you tell them that? But thank them for, you know, everything. I really appreciate it."

"Don't worry, Chief. They'll understand. Just say the word and they'll be here in droves," Jim joked.

Blair sighed. "So. Where do we go from here?" he asked, then let loose with a huge yawn.

Jim chuckled. "First thing is that you get some rest and don't even think of arguing with me. This has been an emotional rollercoaster of a day for you. Then tomorrow you'll start physical therapy on your arm and leg."

"Good," Blair replied. "The sooner the better. I wanna get out of here, Jim. I wanna go home."

"I want you home, too," Jim answered quietly, then rose from the bed. He squeezed Blair's shoulder. "Good night, Chief."

And for the first time in two years, Jim Ellison received a reply to his nightly statement.

"Good night, Jim."


Shortly after breakfast the next morning the door to Blair's room practically burst open, and in strode a small whirlwind. Jim smiled to himself at the abrupt entrance. This could only be one person: Blair's physical therapist. After Blair's physical status had been determined, Jim wanted only the best therapist for his friend. So he contacted Steven Wagner about hiring the man for Blair. But Steve's commitment to the hospital required him to work on the grounds, making him unable to work with Blair at Cascade House. So Steve gave Jim the next best thing: his wife. She had no ties to a single institution, instead working with those who were in nursing homes, long term care facilities like Blair, or doing follow-ups in patient's homes.

And that's how Lee Ann Wagner came to be standing in Blair's room. Shorter than Blair in stature with a toned physique, brunette hair reaching past her waist, with sharp green eyes looking out from behind a pair of glasses, it was obvious to both men that this was a woman who could be both tough and gentle. Two qualities every physical therapist needed to have. They needed to push their patients, but at the same time be sympathetic to their frustration at their suddenly limited physical abilities.

Lee Ann turned to her new patient. "So, Mr. Sandburg, are you ready to work? Because I don't take 'no' for an answer."

And so it began.


Two weeks passed without much improvement, as far as Blair was concerned. He was frustrated with his body for not being able to move like it used to, describing his limbs as lead weights hanging from his joints. But to Jim and Lee Ann's eyes, he was making great progress. Unable to even lift his arm or leg without assistance the day they began, he could now move each independently, albeit with neither coordination or strength, but he was steadily improving. His leg moreso than his arm, which had Lee Ann concerned, especially since Blair was right handed, so more time was spent working that limb in particular.

Like deja vu from his own time in the hospital, Jim found Blair's routine mirroring his own from two years ago. He sat through Blair's therapy in the mornings, always encouraging his friend when his spirits sagged, then while Blair rested in the afternoons, Jim took care of his consulting business, returning to Cascade House in the evenings for dinner with the young anthropologist, pleased to see the weight and healthy pallor returning steadily.

Again, this was the best part of the day for Jim. Time to relax and talk about their days, or simply read or listen to the radio in companionable silence. But more often than not, Blair worked with Jim on regaining the fine control he used to have with his senses. Since Blair still couldn't be with Jim like he used to, it was more important now than ever that the Sentinel not have to worry about a sensory spike or a zone out suddenly blindsiding or incapacitating him. And for the first time, Jim actually admitted to himself he looked forward to the tests. He'd found truth in the old adage "You don't know what you've got till it's gone". He hadn't realized how much he'd been missing, how much he'd taken for granted, until his abilities had been taken away for so long and then returned.

Like a little kid, he wanted to show off, impress Blair with what he could do, delighting in his Guide's praise as he completed each test successfully, eager for the next one.

But when it came time for Blair to be tested, things didn't always go so smoothly.

The third week of physical therapy was coming to an end and, while Blair's arm was still cause for concern, his right leg was showing marked improvement. Though not ready to support the young man's weight yet, the muscle mass was returning, as well as flexibility and coordination.

With Jim standing behind him, holding on to a special belt around Blair's waist, the anthropologist's objective was to kick the large, lightweight rubber ball Lee Ann rolled toward him, using his right leg.

He started off well, concentrating hard, making his leg move at precisely the right time, his foot connecting with the ball the first three times. But he missed the next four, either too soon or too late, seemingly trying too hard. The disappointment was evident on his face.

"Ok, Blair, let's give that leg a rest for awhile," Lee Ann told him. "Don't be discouraged, you hear me? You're doing great."

"Yeah, right," Blair muttered as Jim helped him back into his wheelchair and pushed him over to the table where Lee Ann sat.

"Don't just sit there, Blair. Get that arm up here and let's get to work," Lee Ann commanded.

With a deep sigh that Jim knew signified that Blair's heart wasn't in this today, his partner lifted up his arm the short distance and placed it on the tabletop. He knew Blair was becoming angrier by the day that his arm wasn't responding to therapy as well as his leg, and was beginning to doubt that he would ever have full use of it again. Quite a blow to a young man still in his prime.

Lee Ann led Blair through some simple warm up exercises to loosen up his fingers and wrist. Satisfied her patient was ready, she outlined his objective for the next test: pick up one of the colored blocks and place it in the plastic cup, repeating the process until all five blocks were in the cup.

Blair's arm slid along the table until his fingers came in contact with the first block closest to the cup. His hand curled loosely around it and he turned his palm over, cupping it there. He slowly raised his arm off the table, moving it to the left. But his aim was off and he struck the edge of the cup with his hand, knocking it over and dropping the block to the table. Blair leaned back into the wheelchair, shaking his head, eyes downcast.

"Do it again. And I don't want to see you cupping it in your hand this time. Use your fingers to hold it," Lee Ann instructed him.

Pursing his lips, Blair furrowed his brow in concentration and tried again. And missed again. He pounded his left fist against the arm of the wheelchair.

"Once more, Blair. Concentrate. Visualize the block falling in the cup," Lee Ann told him. "You can do this."

But as the cup tipped over for the third time, Blair suddenly lashed out, sweeping everything viciously off the table, cup and blocks flying everywhere, startling Jim.

"Blair!" he called out, shocked at the sudden outburst, but not knowing why. He should have seen this coming. Already frustrated with himself, Blair's failure at both exercises this morning should have warned him his friend had reached his breaking point.

"No!" Blair shoved himself backwards from the table. Lee Ann remained seated, as unflappable as her husband, no doubt having witnessed countless number of these episodes from her patients over the years, knowing they just needed to run their course.

"I can't do it!" Blair yelled, his eyes blazing.

Jim moved towards his distraught friend.

"Back off, Jim! Just back off. I don't want your sympathy and I don't want your pity. You have no idea -- "

"The hell I don't have any idea about what you're going through!" Jim cut him off. "Or have you forgotten about this?" he slapped his left leg. He saw Blair's eyes widen and knew his friend, in his emotional state, truly had forgotten about Jim's own injury.

The bigger man crouched down in front of Blair's wheelchair. "I know exactly what you're feeling. Suddenly your body is your worst enemy and you have no control over it. You want to be back to normal again, but don't think you ever will. Getting angry is natural, but don't let it take you out of the game. It'll get better, Blair, I promise. Just hang in there. Please."

Blair deflated under Jim's words, his anger leaving in a rush of adrenaline. He pounded weakly at Jim's chest with his left hand.

"I hate this, Jim. I hate this," he sighed.

Jim covered Blair's hand with his own. "I know you do, Chief. But you're strong. Look what you've already accomplished. No one expected you to wake up from that coma and you did. You can beat this, too."

Blair simply looked back at Jim with an unreadable expression in his wide blue eyes, and the Sentinel wondered if his words had gotten through to his Guide.

Lee Ann called it a day, telling Blair she'd see him bright and early Monday morning, then pulled Jim to the side, warning him about Blair, "If he gives up, it's all over."

Jim nodded, looking at his friend still slumped in his wheelchair, hoping tomorrow's surprise would pull the young man from his depression before it was too late.



The ex-cop lowered his newspaper and glanced over at his friend, eyebrow raised. Blair hadn't spoken since the incident at therapy yesterday, save for asking Jim to leave him alone for the rest of the day. Which Jim had reluctantly done, returning to the loft, respecting his partner's wish for privacy. Now he was back the next afternoon, reading quietly while Blair sat and stared out the window at the warm summer day.

"Yeah, Chief?"

"Can I go outside?"

Jim smiled at the request. "I'm surprised you haven't asked before."

Blair shrugged. "Didn't really think about it, I guess. Too busy with therapy and stuff. But now it just hit me that I haven't felt the sun on my face or touched the grass in two years."

Jim rose, placing the newspaper on the his chair. "Then let's fix that right now."

Twenty minutes later Jim was pushing Blair's wheelchair out the back doors of Cascade House into the sunny afternoon, down the path toward the park at the far end of the property, to a copse of trees near the playground where a group of children ran and played.

Blair's lap was laden with all the fixings for a picnic, including blankets, pillows, a basket filled with food and fruit drinks provided by Beth, and the radio from Blair's room. Jim had decided that if they were going outside, they were going to do it right.

Destination reached, Jim arranged the blankets and pillows on the lush green grass, laid out the food and turned on the radio before helping Blair out of the wheelchair onto the ground, surreptitiously keeping the young man's back to the path leading to Cascade House.

Blair laid back and closed his eyes, tilting his face up to the sun. He breathed deep of the clean air, running his hand through the tall blades of grass, a smile lighting up his face. Jim froze at the sight, his breath catching in his throat, heart flip-flopping in his chest. Two years ago he never would have thought this moment possible. Two years ago he thought he would be burying his friend, not watching him lying on the grass embracing life instead. Every day Jim thanked whatever deity watched over wayward anthropologists for giving his friend a second chance at life, because no one deserved it more.

Blair was a unique creature. Kind and gentle, tough and demanding, braver than any man Jim knew, wise beyond his years, but he still regarded the world around him with child-like wonder, always ready for a new adventure. He enriched every life he touched, from his students to seasoned veterans in the department. The world needed more men like Blair.

And Jim loved him more than life itself. Even if Blair didn't remember it. Times like these were the hardest, when he ached to hold Blair in his arms and feel the warm press of his lover's lips on his own. He missed the close contact, of holding his hand, running his fingers through those long, silky curls and listening to Blair's small sounds of pleasure breathed into his ear.

They had finally found what they'd been looking for - completion in each other - but it was gone now, ripped from Blair's mind and Jim's heart in a night of violence.

It took every ounce of self-control he possessed, but Jim never gave any indication to Blair that their relationship had been more than platonic. If Blair's love for Jim was still there, locked somewhere inside his memory, it would eventually resurface. Hopefully. And Jim would wait until it did. And if it never did? He would learn to live with the unrequited love, and be grateful every day that his friend was still alive and with him. Blair said it best years ago - "It's about friendship" - and that truly is the only thing that matters.

Blue eyes opened lazily and regarded Jim fondly, snapping him out of his musings.

"Thanks, Jim. This is perfect."

"Yeah, well, you can thank me by helping me eat all this food," Jim replied. "You still need some meat on those bones, Chief."

Blair laughed and sat up, reaching eagerly for a sandwich and glass of juice. "Speaking of food, did I ever tell you about this tribe in New Guinea..."


Thirty minutes later, with full bellies and an empty picnic basket, Sentinel and Guide lay shoulder to shoulder on the soft blankets. The Sentinel described to his Guide the flowers he could smell across the park, the different birds he could see high up in the trees and the sound of the stream running through the woods, until a beautiful soprano voice on the radio caught both their attentions.


When every moment gets too hard
End of the road can feel so far


Blair turned his head to look at Jim. "I'm sorry about my outburst at therapy yesterday."

"Don't be. Like I told you, your anger and frustration is normal. I know. I've been there. You're not going to get better overnight, but you will. The light at the end of the tunnel's there, it's just farther ahead than you want."


No matter how much time we're apart
I'm always near you


"Thank you."

"For what?"

"For not giving up on me. For giving me a reason to keep fighting. For being there every day."

"There's nowhere else I ever wanted to be."


I'll be the shelter in your rain
Help you to find your smile again


"I want you to know it's Ok to not be strong all the time, Blair. Just... let loose around me with whatever you're feeling - angry, depressed, confused - you've been through a lot. I'm here...let me help..."


'Cause I'm never gonna walk away
If the walls come down some day
All alone and you feel afraid
I'll be there when you call my name
You can always depend on me
I believe until forever ends
I will be your friend


"...let me be the strong one. You can lean on me whenever you want. That's what friends are for."

"I never really understood how someone could care so deeply for another person until I met you. You've taught me what friendship really means, Jim. Thank you."


So many people come and go
Nothing can change the you I know
You'll never be just a face in the crowd


"I've known a lot of people in my life. From school to the military to the police force. Some were friends, some were acquaintances, some were colleagues. But none truly stand out when I think of the past. But you do. Because you so drastically altered my life. For the better. You got inside, broke down my walls and showed me who I really am and the potential I have inside me, and somewhere along the line you taught me about the true meaning of friendship...and trust."


And time will tell
Through the seasons and the years
I will always hold you dear
Never you fear


"I haven't thought about the future, Jim. About what happens in the days, weeks, months and years after I leave here. Too scared, I guess. I don't know what I'll be like physically, if I'll ever get those missing months of my memory back, or how easily I'll be able to rejoin my life after missing two years of it."

"Whatever happens Blair, whatever you decide to do, don't ever doubt that I'll be there for you."

"I won't. Because you said you'd always be there to lean on..."


I believe until forever ends
I will be your friend


"You can lean on me, too, sweetie."

Blair shot up with a surprised gasp, turning around to face the pretty red haired woman standing on the path.


Naomi started to laugh and cry at the same time, seeing her once comatose son awake and hearing him say her name. She crossed the grass and dropped to her knees beside him on the blanket, their arms wrapping around each other, holding on tightly.

"Oh, Blair...I've missed you so much."

"I've missed you, too, Mom."

Jim rose silently from the blanket with a smile. When Naomi called him two days ago to tell him she'd gotten the news about Blair and was on her way back to Cascade, Jim suggested they make her visit a surprise, something that would pick up Blair's spirits. She had readily agreed. So to ensure her arrival really was a surprise, Jim made sure Blair was always facing away from Cascade House. And it had worked like a charm.

Jim turned away and began walking back up along the path, still smiling, leaving mother and son to their long-awaited reunion.


//Blair? Blair! What's wrong?//

Naomi's panicked voice was easily heard by Sentinel ears, and in seconds Jim was up from his seat on the stairs of Cascade House and racing back up the path as fast as his knee would allow.

He found Blair curled on his side, hands pressed to the sides of his head, eyes closed, trembling slightly, his skin a chalky white. He threw himself down next to his friend, lifting him up slightly into his arms.

"Naomi, what happened? What's wrong with him?" Jim demanded.

"I don't know! We were talking and he glanced over at the playground. He got a strange look on his face, said 'horse' and collapsed."

"Horse? What horse?"

Naomi pointed to the swingset, where each of the three swings were shaped like animals - an elephant, a lion and a horse.

Suddenly Blair was clutching at Jim's shirt. "Jim, Jim, oh god, the horse, the racetrack, the murder -- "

"Blair, slow down -- "

"No!" Blair's eyes were huge, his breathing rapid. "I remember! Oh, god, it's all a jumble in my head. The racetrack, Little Stogie, your brother! You have a younger brother - Stephen! And, and, the award ceremony! You were Officer of the Year! We were all there - you, me, Simon, Stephen, Henri, Rafe, Joel - we were singing and smoking cigars. And Quinn! Jesus, Jim, I remember Quinn. The raid on the warehouse that night, all the explosions. You were hurt, I was trying to get to you -- "

Blair finally had to stop to draw a breath, leaving Jim and Naomi to stare in wonder and amazement, faces beaming, as Blair stared back, looking as if a great weight had just been lifted from his shoulders.

Memory's prisoner no more.


Later that evening, after Naomi had departed following a celebration dinner in the cafeteria, Blair had asked Jim to take him for a walk around the grounds. It was a beautiful night for it. The air was warm, the moon was full, not a cloud in the sky and the stars twinkled silently overhead.

"Blair? Is there something on your mind?" Jim asked as he pushed the wheelchair ahead of him. "Seems like something's been bothering you since dinner."

Blair was quiet for a long moment, seeming to wage an inner battle with himself. He looked over his shoulder at his friend. "Can we talk?"

Jim stopped walking, setting the brake on the chair and coming around to crouch down in front of his troubled friend. "What is it, Chief? What's wrong?"

"I think...not all of what I'm remembering is real."

Jim shook his head. "I don't follow."

"I mean, I know everything about the murder at the racetrack and your brother is real, because you never told me about that time period. But everything else feels like...I don't know. Like a dream. Like with Quinn. Am I really remembering what happened that night or just recreating in my head what you told me? I'm remembering other things, too, which I don't know if they really happened either, or if it's only something I'd thought about happening sometime."

Jim was more than confused. "Well, what other things are you seeing in your head that you don't know if they really happened?"

"Things about...us."

Jim's stomach gave a flip-flop. {Please, let this be what I think it is} "Go on," he encouraged, his heart in his throat.

Blair pinned him with an intense gaze. "Promise me something first, Jim. Promise me that if what I tell you turns out to be a dream of mine I'm remembering, that it never really happened, it won't change anything between us. Your friendship means everything to me and the last thing I want is to lose it. I'm terrified to say this outloud, but I have to know if it's true."

"Nothing you could say would make me turn my back on our friendship. I swear it. Please...tell me."

Blair took a deep breath. "I'm seeing you and I...together...in your bed... making love."

Jim's breath left him in a rush. They were both getting a second chance. "It's not a dream, Blair. It really happened. Everything you're remembering."

Shock registered on Blair's face. "But...why didn't you say anything? Why didn't you tell me? God, you never even gave any indication -- "

"Just what was I supposed to say? 'Blair, you just woke up from a two year coma, you're partially paralyzed, I'm not a cop, Simon was killed, Joel's running Major Crime, Rafe got married, Daryl's driving, and oh, yeah, by the way, we're lovers'?" Jim sighed and took both of Blair's hands. "Chief, you didn't remember. I couldn't take the risk of telling you we were in an intimate relationship, forcing you to possibly pretend you loved me because I told you that you did, even if you no longer felt that way. Or worse, the thought of us being together would repulse you and drive you away. Your feelings for me needed to come back on their own."

Blair squeezed Jim's hands. "It must have killed you when I woke up and didn't remember. I'm sorry I put you through this. You've been waiting for weeks..."

"I would have waited years," Jim vowed. "Hoping that you would fall in love with me all over again. And even if you never did, I still had your friendship. Which is the most important thing. That I could never live without."

Blair leaned forward, head tipping slightly to the side, eyes sliding almost closed. His breath was soft against Jim's face as he whispered, "This should have happened as soon as I opened my eyes."

Then his lips were on Jim's.

The Sentinel opened his senses wide, letting the taste, feel, smell, sight and sound of his Guide explode through his system at this first, intimate contact in two years. He felt his Guide's tongue dart out to sweep across his bottom lip, seeking entrance, which was given instantly with a dual groan of pure desire. Their tongues slid smoothly against each other, dueling, velvet heat on velvet heat.

Jim's hands grasped Blair's waist, pulling him from the chair, Sentinel and Guide tumbling to the ground. Blair was half on, half off Jim's lap, legs tangled with legs, strong hands tangled in long curls, smaller hands tangled in clothing. The kiss deepened, passion and desire climbing higher and higher, each man now clinging desperately to each other and to the love they both thought had been lost forever.

Blair's hands cupped Jim's face and he started, surprised to find moisture there. He pulled back from the kiss, opening his eyes. Blue eyes identical to his own stared back, bright with tears.

"I love you, Blair..."

"I love you, too. God, Jim, so much."

Jim crushed Blair to him, face buried in the smaller man's shoulder, his breathing rapid. "I was so afraid I'd never hear you say that again."

Blair ran his left hand through the short strands of his lover's brush cut, while his right rubbed up and down the broad back. "Until today I felt like part of me was still in the coma, like part of my brain was still sleeping. But now," he tilted Jim's face up. "Now, I know I'm really awake." He smiled and kissed Jim once again. "And ready to make more memories."


He was going home.

Two months after winning the battle against his amnesia, Blair Sandburg was leaving Cascade House.

Spirits bolstered by his mother's presence, near daily visits from the Cascade PD crew, and Jim's love, the Sentinel watched as his Guide returned to his normal weight and threw himself into his physical therapy. The big day had been yesterday - Blair's turn between the parallel bars. Jim remembered that moment all too well, taking his first step with Simon and Naomi cheering him on. Blair's crowd had been a bit bigger: Jim, Naomi, Beth, Jason and Steven Wagner all looked on as Blair, under Lee Ann's watchful eye, took his first unaided steps. And as Jim embraced his lover at the end of the parallel bars as their friends clapped, he knew that Simon was watching from somewhere and clapping, too.


Jim picked Blair's duffel bag up off the bed and turned to his lover. "Ready to go, Chief?"

Blair stepped forward and wrapped his arms around the bigger man's waist, feeling Jim drop a kiss on the top of his head. "More than ready, man. I can't wait to get home, house rules and all," he joked.

Jim smiled and put an arm around Blair's shoulders. "It's been two years since I had to enforce 'em. You'll have to remind me what they are."

"Umm, you know, I think my amnesia's coming back," Blair tried to deadpan and failed miserably.

Jim swatted his denim covered rear. "Smartass. Come on, let's get outta here."

With his arm still around his friend's shoulders, the ex-cop led the young anthropologist downstairs to the main doors of Cascade House, where Jason, Lee Ann and Beth waited to say their goodbyes.

Beth hugged her former patient and smiled. "Take care of yourself, Blair. I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too, Beth. I can't thank you enough for taking care of me," Blair said sincerely to the pretty blond nurse.

Jason shook Blair's hand. "You'll think about my offer?"

"You bet I will. I'll be in touch soon."

"Good. You're a remarkable young man, Blair. I wish you all the best."

"Thank you, Jason. For everything."

Lee Ann was last and Blair hugged her enthusiastically. "You've helped me so much, Lee Ann."

The small physical therapist's green eyes twinkled from behind her glasses. "Yeah, well, I'm not finished with you yet," she replied, tapping Blair's right arm. Blair looked down at his limb, which was encased in a semi-rigid brace, similar in style to one that a bowler would wear on his throwing arm. It started mid-palm, with an opening for Blair's thumb, and ran almost to his elbow. While Blair's right leg was nearly completely healed and back to full strength, the young man had finally come to terms with the fact that his arm would not be that fortunate. More therapy would be required, but he would never have the strength or fine motor control he once did.

"I'll see you in two weeks for your first follow up," Lee Ann reminded him.

"I'll be here," Blair promised, and then with a final wave to the trio that had cared for him for so long, he joined Jim in the truck, eager to get home and re-start his life.


After a pit stop for groceries, the truck rolled to a stop in front of 852 Prospect, where Jim tossed Blair the keys to the loft, gathered up the bag of groceries and Blair's duffel, and followed his roommate inside. They took the elevator up and paused for a moment outside number 307 as Blair turned the key in the lock and opened the door.


Blair stepped back so fast he banged into Jim, as the occupants of the loft burst into laughter at the startled look on the guest of honor's face. Jim laughed, too, gently pushing Blair inside and closing the door with his foot. "Jeez, guys," he admonished their friends. "I just brought him home, don't give him a heart attack!"

Blair remained standing stock still where Jim had stopped pushing him, mouth gaping open in stunned silence at the scene in front of him.

"Hey look!" Henri Brown called out. "Hairboy's speechless!"

The loft was decorated for a party, but for what the young man seemed to be trying to figure out. Granted, there was a large banner hanging from the upstairs railing proclaiming, "WELCOME HOME BLAIR", but there was also a large Christmas tree in the corner - in the middle of summer! The rest of the interior as also filled with contradictions - New Year's party hats and party favors, Valentine hearts, shamrocks, a menorah, Easter baskets, a seder plate, 4th of July flags, pumpkins, fake horn of plenty's and balloons tied to every available object that read "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" on them.

And amidst all the decorations were their friends and family: Naomi, Stephen, Joel, Daryl, Henri, Rafe and his new wife, Susan, and even Rhonda and Serena. Naomi stepped forward and embraced her son. "Welcome home, baby."

Blair finally found his voice. "Mom, what is all this?"

"Well, it started off as a welcome home party, but then we all got to thinking about all of the other parties and holidays you'd missed over the last two years. So we decided to combine them!"

Blair started laughing and turned to address the group, Jim included. "You guys are nuts."

That's all it took to get the party rolling and Blair soon found himself surrounded, exchanging handshakes and hugs and slaps on the back, soaking up the attention like a sponge, jumping back into life feet first.

The celebration lasted well into the night, the walls vibrating with laughter and plenty of food and drink for all. The highlight was the giant birthday cake with two fat candles in the center, one for each year Blair had missed. What Blair wished for as he blew out the candles he wouldn't say, leading to wild speculation and even more laughter.

It was nearly 1am when Joel, the last remaining party-goer, bid the two men goodnight and closed the door behind him. Jim sighed tiredly and surveyed the damage: paper cups and plates and empty beer bottles were scattered on every available surface, the floor was strewn with popped balloon fragments, pieces of popcorn and tortilla chips, and paper streamers, the sink was overflowing with dishes and two full trash bags sat next to the garbage can. Throwing the house rules out the window, Jim started turning off lights, vowing to ignore the mess till after about eight hours of solid sleep.

"I can't believe it," Blair said in amazement. "You're gonna leave it?"

Jim looked over at his lover who was sprawled exhaustedly on the couch, shoeless, his brace on the coffee table. "You'd best shut up before I change my mind and put you to work," he warned with a smile, flicking off the last switch, plunging the loft into darkness except for the soft glow of the Christmas tree lights.

"Gives whole new meaning to the phrase 'Christmas in July', don't it?" Blair grinned as Jim sat down on the floor facing him. He ran his left hand idly up and down the Sentinel's chest. "Tonight was incredible, thank you. Only..."

"Only what?"

Blair turned sad eyes on Jim. "I wish that Simon could have been here. I miss him."

Jim took Blair's hand and kissed the palm. "I miss him, too."

"Jim? Can you take me to his grave tomorrow?"

"Of course I can."

They sat in silence for a moment, both lost in thought, remembering the tall black man who had come to mean so much to both of them. Then Jim ran a hand over his young lover's long curls, whispering softly, "No more talk about death. Tonight is about celebrating life." He paused. "Come to bed?" he breathed.

Blair smiled gently. "I thought you'd never ask."

Jim rose, keeping Blair's hand in his, and led them up the stairs to their bedroom, bathed in moonlight streaming in from the skylights. Blair looked around with an odd expression on his face as Jim turned back the blankets on the bed. Jim looked up and caught his eye.

"What is it?"

Blair slowly shook his head. "Something doesn't feel right. Why does it feel like you haven't been up here in a long time?"

"How...?" He blew out a breath. "I haven't been. At least to sleep," he confessed.

"Why?" came the soft question.

"I just...couldn't. Too many memories up here. I came home from the hospital missing you so bad I hurt, not knowing if you'd ever wake up." He took a shaky breath. "I couldn't imagine sleeping up here without you. So I didn't."

"Where've you been sleeping then?"

Jim shrugged. "On the couch."

Blair moved to Jim's side, taking his hand. "My god, you've been sleeping on the couch for two years?"

"Mostly," Jim nodded. "Sometimes in your old room when the depression got really bad."

"But never up here?"

"Never," he breathed. "I was waiting for you."

"Here I am," the invitation spoken Sentinel-soft.

They moved together as one, lips meeting gently, tentatively at first, as eyes slid closed and hands began a lazy exploration of the masculine body under them. Jim's went straight to Blair's hair, fingers threading through the long curls, tilting the smaller man's head to deepen the kiss. As Jim's tongue slid past his lips, Blair's hands slid up under his Sentinel's shirt, fluttering over the bare skin of his stomach and abdomen, coming to rest on the smooth, broad plane of his chest. Jim felt Blair's long fingers seek out his flat, dusky nipples, brushing his thumbs across them. Jim groaned into Blair's mouth as the sensation shot straight down to his cock. He released his Guide's hair to pull the young man's body tight against his, feeling the hot, hard evidence of Blair's arousal against his leg.

Blair whimpered and pushed his groin against Jim's thigh, seeking blessed friction. Jim pulled back from the kiss, breathing increasing, and dropped to his knees in front of his lover. He watched as Blair's hands settled on his shoulders and his head dropped backwards, curls cascading down his back, eyes sliding closed with a heated, "Please..."

Jim's fingers deftly undid Blair's belt buckle and pulled the leather free of the jeans' waistband. The single button was worked free and the zipper drawn down. Fingers trembling now, he grasped both denim and boxers and slowly slid them over hips and muscular thighs, Blair's engorged penis springing free, the young man stepping forward slightly out of his discarded clothing. Jim spread Blair's legs wide apart and, without preamble, latched his mouth on the straining cockhead before him.

"God! Jim!" Blair cried out at the sudden onslaught, hands tightening almost painfully on Jim's shoulders as he slowly pumped his hips.

With one hand on Blair's shaft, he let his young lover slowly fuck his mouth as his other hand fumbled with his own jeans and boxers until he freed his aching cock. He felt himself leaking, the precum wetting his fingers. He swirled the moisture around the tip, then down his length before pumping himself at the same tempo as Blair, wanting to come at the same time.

But giving his Guide pleasure quickly overrode his own needs and he released himself in order to reach up and fondle the other man's heavy balls. He could feel them already tightening, drawing up into Blair's body. He was close. They were destined not to last long this first time. It had been too long. Two years too long.

As Blair continued to rock his hips in a steady rhythm, pushing his engorged penis in and out of Jim's hot, wet mouth, the older man set about pushing him over the edge. His hand left Blair's balls to snake a finger up between his asscheeks, searching for his lover's most private place. Before Blair could comprehend was he was about to do, he did it, deep throating him at the same time he pressed the tip of his finger against his anus.

Blair's orgasm overtook him with a hoarse scream of Jim's name, his entire body stiffening before the convulsions gripped him, coming explosively into Jim's mouth. Jim drank greedily, holding onto Blair's hips, the taste of his lover's seed like fine wine. He suckled until Blair finally softened then pulled back to gaze up at him with a smile.

Blair's eyes were glassy, face passion flushed, breaths coming in short pants. He released his grip on Jim's shoulders before his legs gave out and he sank to his knees, arms falling limply to his side.

Jim leaned forward and claimed Blair's mouth for a kiss, letting Blair taste himself as Jim's body begged for its own release. He was so hard it was almost painful. Breaking the kiss, he reached down to stroke himself as Blair watched, remembering what a turn-on he had found out this was for his young lover.

Sure enough, Blair's eyes went wide at the sight and he groaned deep in his throat, leaning forward to knead Jim's thighs, rubbing his palms up and down, their knees touching.

"God, Jim, do it," he ground out. "Touch yourself. Yeah, up and down. Harder, baby. Let me see you come."

Jim moaned at the erotic talk, pumping himself, eyes closed, breathing accelerating.

Blair shifted one hand to touch the tip of Jim's cock before whispering deeply, "Look at you. You're leaking. Do you feel that?" he asked, swirling the moisture around the head, careful not to interfere with Jim's stroking. "Go on, Jim, turn up your touch, let yourself feel it all." Jim whimpered in response to the feel of the wetness, his wetness, and Blair's ongoing erotic dialogue.

Blair continued to use one finger to tease the tip as he bent his head to nip at his Sentinel's neck, delighting in the answering groan he received. "I wanna watch you come, Jim. I wanna see your face as you let go. Will you come for me?"

"Yes...yes..." Jim ground out, trembling with need, eyes still shut.

Blair straightened, his face mere inches from Jim's. "Open your eyes, Jim," he commanded gently. "Look at me, baby."

Jim complied just as Blair's hand slipped lower and squeezed his balls.

"Ahh! Yes!" Jim screamed as he came, streams of warm, white semen arching out from his cock, bathing his hand and Blair's arm.

As Jim's orgasm died away, the older man slumped forward, shaking slightly with the aftershocks, feeling Blair gather him into his arms, holding him tenderly until he came back to himself. When his breathing slowed, he raised his head to capture Blair's mouth in a long, slow kiss.

"I love you, Blair. I love you so much."

"You're everything to me, Jim. Never forget that."

They remained wrapped in each other's arms for many minutes, content to hold each other and revel in their love, until Jim chuckled.

"Look at us. On the floor, a sticky mess and we're still half dressed!"

Blair gave a chuckle, too. "Guess we got a little excited, huh? You tend to do that to me."

Jim's blue eyes darkened with passion. "And I'm gonna do a lot more to you tonight. Properly...slowly..." he drawled sexily.

Blair swallowed deeply at the sound of Jim's voice, and at the look of pure desire he saw reflected in those blue eyes. His cock twitched, filling slightly. They had taken the edge off, now it was time to do it right.

Both men rose from the floor, shedding clothes as they went, until they were gloriously naked. Blair was directly under one of the skylights, his body bathed in moonlight. The effect took Jim's breath away.

"You're beautiful," he told Blair, hating that word to describe his very male lover, but finding nothing else to use. "So damn beautiful."

Blair shook his head, his long curls swaying over his bare shoulders and back. "No, I'm not. But I'm glad you think so."

Jim held out his hand. "C'mere and let me show you."

They were on the bed in moments, Blair lying on his back, Jim straddling his hips, their balls touching. Jim smiled tenderly down at him then bent forward at the waist, bracing his hands on either side of Blair's chest, bringing their semi-hard cocks into direct contact. Both men moaned softly at the sweet sensation, cocks swelling instantly. Bending over further, resting on his forearms, Jim pressed his hips downward, feeling an answering upward thrust from Blair. The Sentinel continued slowly rocking, sliding his now throbbing erection against his Guide's own. Blair's hands rose up to grasp Jim's buttocks, pressing their bodies more firmly together.

"Ahh...yeah..." panted Jim. "See what you do to me? Only you, Blair, only you..." Then he flicked his tongue across his smaller lover's flat nipple, tugging gently on the ring of silver threaded through it.

Blair's hips flew upwards so fast and hard he nearly bucked Jim off. "God! Please, don't stop." he pleaded.

Jim wouldn't have dreamed of it. He lavished the nipple with his tongue, coaxing it into a tight, hard peak before gently biting. Blair threw his head back into the pillow with a wordless cry, a death grip on Jim's ass, trying to get him to go faster. But this time it was Jim's turn to set the pace. He continued with his slow, sensuous rocking as he kissed his way across Blair's chest to his other nipple. This one received the same treatment as it's twin; Blair making little whimpering noises as Jim suckled on one and rubbed his thumb across the other. Blair's hips were frantically trying to increase the friction and Jim finally took pity on him, straightening out his legs and sliding his body down the younger man's. Blair moaned in protest when their erections lost contact, but changed his tune as Jim licked and kissed his way down his chest and abdomen. Jim paused to spread Blair's legs far apart then kneeled between them.

He let one finger start at Blair's collarbone and traced a lazy path all the way down to his groin, where his cock was fairly standing at attention. He let the finger trail over the tip, drawing the moisture he found there down the shaft. Blair arched his head back into the pillow, hands clutching the bedsheets.

"Yesss..." he hissed.

Taking Blair fully in his hand, he pumped him quickly, twice. Blair gave a strangled yell and arched his hips off the bed. Sensing the young man wouldn't last much longer, Jim quickly took him in his mouth, sucking and stroking.

Blair thought he was going to fly apart. He didn't want the feeling to end, trying to hold himself back, but slowly losing the battle. And when he looked down, saw his legs spread wide with his cock sliding in and out of his lover's mouth, it was just too much. He came with a scream of pure pleasure, shooting his seed deep down Jim's throat.

Jim took everything Blair had for the second time that night, nearly coming himself at the sight, sound, feel and taste of Blair's orgasm. He already knew he was leaking. Just one touch...one touch was all he needed for blessed release.

He held Blair in his mouth till he felt him go soft, then let the shaft slip from between his lips. He looked up to see Blair's eyes half closed, breathing deeply, hands tangled loosely in the bed clothes.

Jim straightened up, his cock jutting out proudly before him, the head an angry reddish purple. He reached for himself, intending to bring himself off in front of his lover for the second time, but Blair had other plans. The curly haired man sat up and batted Jim's hand away, then dislodged Jim from his position by rolling over onto all fours, his ass toward Jim.

"Get me ready, Jim," Blair told his lover. "Make love to me...I want to, need to feel you inside me."

A bolt of white hot desire surged through Jim's body at Blair's words and he twisted sideways, fumbling in the nightstand for the tube he'd placed there yesterday. With shaking hands he squeezed a bit of lubricant out of the tube and onto his fingers, warming it, then turned back to his lover.

He kissed Blair deeply, passionately, as his slick fingers ran down the cleft between Blair's buttocks, swirling around the puckered opening. Blair groaned at the intimate touch, pushing backwards slightly, seeking more. Jim granted his lover's silent plea by very slowly sliding in one finger. Blair grunted at the penetration and the kiss faltered.

"Easy, baby," Jim soothed. "It's been a long time."

"I'm Ok," Blair insisted. "Please...keep going. And don't stop kissing me," he smiled.

"As you wish," Jim smiled back, and continued his previous activities.

When Blair began pushing back vigorously one finger soon became two, preparing him, stretching the tight muscle. Jim thrust deeper, finding the small gland hidden deep inside. Blair gasped and bucked backwards.

"Yeah! Again, Jim, again."

The big man complied, touching the special spot once more before withdrawing his fingers. He reached for the tube again, liberally coating his erection as Blair shifted on the bed, kneeling in front of him now. Jim smiled, realizing just how Blair wanted to make love. In his favorite position - riding Jim.

The Sentinel lay on his back without a word and his Guide eagerly straddled his hips. As Jim spread his ass cheeks wide, the young man reached behind himself and guided the older man's rock hard cock to his opening. Blair took a deep breath and sat slowly down, whimpering sharply at the pain of entry as the head of Jim's penis breached the muscle of his anus. Both men remained absolutely still, letting Blair's body adjust, until he took another deep breath and blew it out, sliding down the rest of Jim's cock in one smooth move.

"Blair! God, don't move," Jim panted. "Don't. Move."

Blair wouldn't have dreamed of it, afraid, as Jim was, that the bigger man would come right then. And he wanted this to last a lot longer.

But after just a moment, Blair's legs were fairly trembling with the strain of trying to hold back, trying not to rise up and plunge back down again and again. It was an incredible feeling, to finally be joined this way after their two year forced separation. Neither wanted the feeling to end.

Jim finally wiggled his hips and that's all it took to spur his lover into action. Blair teased him, rising up and withdrawing almost completely before pushing back down, delighting in the sensation of Blair's internal muscles gripping and massaging his cock. They soon found their rhythm, with Blair rising and falling smoothly, fucking himself on Jim's cock as the older man held onto his hips and thrust upwards on Blair's downward strokes.

They went on like this for long minutes, their cries of pleasure mingling in the darkened room, their movements becoming more frantic and uncoordinated as Jim raced toward his orgasm. And then it was upon him. As Blair slammed down, he thrust up as deep as he could, once, twice, then erupted inside Blair, filling him with his seed, crying out his name as he came in pulsing waves.

Jim's cock slipped from Blair's body as it softened and the young man moaned at the loss, rolling off of the bigger man to lay at his side. Jim instantly spooned up behind him. Both their breathings were ragged, both bodies slick with a fine sheen of perspiration, the air heavy with the musky, heady smell of sex.

There were no words to be said. There didn't need to be. The love was there, permeating their hearts and souls.

They lay quietly, Jim's arms wrapped around Blair's chest, Blair's fingers running up and down his arm until they abruptly stopped. Before Jim could ask what was wrong, Blair sat up and looked down at Jim's left leg.

His eyes clouded over at the sight of the fine, white scars that crisscrossed Jim's flesh, evidence of his lover's injury. He reached out hesitantly and reverently traced the largest of the scars, the one that circled Jim's kneecap. He bent his head and gently kissed the scar. "Oh, Jim," he sighed.

"Don't," the ex-cop said, his voice tinged with sadness. "It's in the past."

Blair nodded and lay back down on his side, this time facing his lover. "I've started to think about the future. About my options."

"You've got a few, you know. Like Jason's offer for one."

"A human lab rat?" Blair sounded doubtful.

Jim shrugged. "I don't think it would be that bad. They just want to study you, write about you. This time you'd be the research subject," he joked. "And you'd get paid for it. It's not every day that people wake up from extended comas like yours and make the kind of recovery that you have. They're curious about what makes you tick, and they want to follow your progress in the future, see if the coma leaves any lingering affects."

"I don't know. Maybe," answered Blair.

"Well, Sentinel Security will always have an opening for a smart guy like you," Jim smiled. "I could use a good partner."

Blair leaned in to steal a kiss. "Yeah, well, the first thing I'd do would be to change the name!" They both laughed for a moment and then Blair sobered.

"Actually, I think I'd like to see if I could pick up where I left off at Rainier. I want to teach, but with my arm I can't do any real writing, so that might cause a problem. And I'd like to finish my thesis."

This time it was Jim's turn to steal a kiss. "You have no idea how happy that makes me to hear you say that. I want you to go back to school, get your doctorate. It's what you've always wanted. And now with me no longer a cop, I won't have to fear exposure like I did, if it does come out that I'm your thesis subject."

"God, I love you, Jim. Thank you. So much. But I'm still not exactly sure if it's what I want to do."

Jim rolled his lover on top of him. "Whatever you decide, Blair, I'll back you 100%. Just don't rush into anything. Think everything through." He smiled. "We've got all the time in the world."



Thanks for reading! Comments are always appreciated. :-)

Barbara Nice-Miller