Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

Never Saw Blue

by Arianna

Inspired by Hayley Westenra's song of the same name
(Words at the end of the story)

Warnings: In this story, Jim suffers permanent amnesia.
Having tissues handy might be a good idea.

My thanks to StarWatcher for her beta, to Alyjude for her cover art, and to Starfox, for hosting my stories.

Finally, I think this story could lead into a series to be called:
Wolf and The Jag
If anyone feels moved to write a story to continue this universe, please do.

********************

Prologue

They sat for a moment in silence, studying the dark, deserted lane bounded by brooding warehouses that loomed over them. Less than a half hour before, they'd been on their way out of the office after calling it a day, bantering about whose turn it was to make dinner, when Jim was called back to the phone. He'd frowned, and then nodded as he listened, saying, "Fine, I'll be there." When he'd turned back to Blair he'd explained, "Sneaks says someone with information about a major drug deal wants to talk to me." So, here they were, close to the docks, long after more sensible souls had left the area.

"I don't like this," Jim muttered, his gaze raking the street, his head tilted as he listened to the sounds around them.

Blair chewed his lip. "You think it's a setup?"

Jim shrugged, and he stared at the car parked at the other end of the block on the far side of the street. "That's the vehicle Sneaks said to look for," he said, "but I'm not picking up any signs of life in it."

Blair suppressed a groan. The last thing they needed was to discover the body of a would-be informer. Gods, they'd be up all night, and they were due in court in the morning. "He's probably in the trunk," he snarked as he opened the passenger-side door. "C'mon, let's check it out and, if there's nothing, let's go home. I'm beat and I'm starving. We can pick up pizza on the way."

Jim graced him with a crooked half smile full of indulgent and weary amusement as he, too, opened the door and stepped down to the grimy street. They were just moving past the hood of the truck, Blair angling in closer to Jim's side, when Jim sniffed and stiffened, his head again tilted and his gaze narrowing as he concentrated on his hearing. Blair had just paused beside him, one hand unconsciously lifting to Jim's back when, with an urgent, "Bomb!" Jim whirled and slammed him back and down.

Blair hit the sidewalk hard beside the front wheel just as the world blew up. Deafening, sizzling hot sound blasted past them, sending them tumbling, banging into obstructions he couldn't identify but that sent shards of blinding agony surging into his chest. Flames ripped through the darkness, casting an orange pall over the street and starkly illuminating the buildings, their frontages blasted black by the massive explosion. Oily smoke billowed in thick, choking clouds. Blair felt Jim's heavy weight on his back, covering him, protecting him from the fiery metal that rained down around them. He gasped, tried to call out Jim's name. But he couldn't seem to breathe, couldn't move, and he tasted blood in his mouth just before everything tilted crazily, went dim ... and then black.

********************

He couldn't seem to get a grip on consciousness. Sound roared around him, surrounding him, pulsing through him with shattering intensity, but in the midst of all the cacophony he was sure something was missing, something ... something that should be there, that he needed to hear. He strained with all he was to listen, to latch onto what wasn't there, then felt fear build and build as he listened in vain, unable to distinguish the sound he needed in the midst of all the ear-splitting noise. Hands touched him, moved him and he tried to reach out to them, tried to call out, but he couldn't find his voice and his limbs were leaden, immobile, frustrating and frightening him. What had happened? Where was he? What was going on?

The heavy scent of smoke filled his lungs, mingling with the sweet metallic taste of blood and the astringent smell of medicinal concoctions overlaid with the sharp odor of cleaning products, nearly choking him. Light seared his eyes. Once, he thought he saw a tall, dark-skinned man looming over him, looking worried no, scared but the image wavered and was lost in the blinding light. Pain rose and fell, blossomed until it was unendurable, swamping him like waves crashing him into rocks, dragging him down and under, far from the voices and hands. He cried out but no one answered. Still, in the midst of all the confusion and fear, he strained to hear, to find the one who should be there, who would make everything make sense.

Pain exploded in his head, turning the world upside down. He was falling, falling helplessly into a dark, bottomless chasm. Time lost all meaning, and his mind was filled with the ear-splitting roar of exploding flames.

********************

An annoying, incessant beeping drew Blair up from the depths. Dazed, wondering where he was and what had happened, he looked around and tried to make sense of what he was seeing: white walls, other beds with people groaning or silent, machines, and white-garbed women and men moving with quiet efficiency. Hospital. He was in a hospital. Why? And where was Jim? When Blair shifted on the narrow bed searing pain shafted through his chest, leaving him gasping, nearly blinded by surging darkness, and he struggled to not cry out and to remain conscious.

He needed to know what happened. He needed to know where Jim was.

But the pain was too much and he lost his tenuous grip on the world around him.

********************

"I wish he'd wake up."

Blair heard the words as clear as a bell, and he recognized Simon's voice. The man sounded worried and tired, bone tired. Instinctively, he struggled to reach out, to lend reassurance, solace.

"Blair? Can you hear me? I think he's waking up, Joel."

Blair opened his eyes to a blurry world, and blinked to clear his vision. The light was dim and, except for the persistent beeping and wheezing of machinery, everything seemed very quiet. "S-Simon?" he managed to croak, and licked his lips. His mouth felt as dry as cotton.

"I'm right here, kid," Simon replied, moving into his line of sight.

Blair felt him gently squeeze his hand and then saw him lift a cup with a straw toward his mouth. Gratefully, he sipped cool water and sighed at how good it tasted. How good it felt.

Joel smiled at him, though the smile was wobbly at best. "I'll tell the nurse you're awake," he said, brushing his eyes as he briefly turned away.

"J-Jim?" Blair asked, and grimaced at the scratchiness of his voice even as his gaze darted around the cavernous room filled with other beds and patients. "Where's Jim?" He moved, intending to sit up, but his chest reminded him of why that wasn't such a great idea. "Simon what the hell happened?"

"What do you remember?" Simon replied, his expression solemn, his gaze evasive.

Blair felt anxiety flutter in his gut and build in his chest, shortening his breath. Something was badly wrong. Glancing from Simon to Joel and back again, struggling to remember, he fought to remain calm. "We were leaving for the night. Going home. Were we in an accident? What? For God's sake, Simon where's Jim?"

Banks pressed his lips together, and then his gaze, dark with sorrow and heavy with compassion, met Blair's. "Jim's not here," he said, hoarse with control. "He's gone."

"Not here? Gone where? Home?" Blair demanded, refusing to understand the shaky tone, the stricken look of despair ... because there had to be a mistake. Jim wasn't, couldn't be....

"We don't know where," Joel admitted heavily. "His father refused to tell us."

Okay, that makes no sense, Blair thought, looking from one man to the other. "I don't understand," he complained, beginning to feel frustration override the anxiety. "Jim's okay, right? What does his father have to do with this?"

Simon heaved a sigh. "The two of you were seriously injured in an explosion that was probably meant to kill you we suspect to keep you both from testifying in the Coppolino case. You have a head injury and have been unconscious for more than two days. Jim ... Jim suffered major injuries, including a skull fracture and severe concussion, some second degree burns on his back, fractured ribs, and he banged up his knee pretty bad. You've also fractured some ribs and your right arm."

Blair looked around the large treatment room, finally realizing he was in Intensive Care. "Why isn't Jim here?" he demanded. "I have his power of attorney. No way should he have been moved without my say so."

"You were unconscious. Jim ... Jim woke up briefly down in the ER. He didn't know me, didn't know where he was or what had happened and, well, he didn't seem to recognize your name, either. He was in a lot of pain, and then he lost consciousness again. Blair, after that, Jim sank into a coma and the tests indicated he suffered...." Simon's voice cracked and he looked away to regain his composure. With evidently hard-won control, he continued, "Jim had massive brain damage and he may never wake up again."

"No," Blair protested. "No, he might have been in a zone. Because of pain, or the blast, or "

"His father decided Jim would receive better treatment in a private care facility," Joel cut in. "They moved him out yesterday."

"Moved him where?" Blair asked, exasperated. Frightened. Was Jim even still alive? Dear God, he had to be alive! "C'mon, you must've checked. You ... you have ways of tracking, of finding out..."

"The ambulance took Jim to the airport, and he was loaded onto Mr. Ellison's private jet. We can't get the flight plan without a court order, and we have no grounds to demand that," Simon replied, sounding infinitely weary.

"But William must've said," Blair argued. "He wouldn't just ... he'd tell ... didn't you ask?"

Joel shook his head. "Mr. Ellison wasn't inclined to share any information with us. He ... he blames the PD for Jim's injuries. Said he would get a restraining order, if necessary, if we attempted to find or see Jim."

Overwhelmed by the information, frightened about how badly Jim had been hurt, not really tracking well because pain was hammering in his head and robbing him of breath, Blair looked away and tried to make sense of what they were saying. "He'll have to tell me," he grated. "Legally, I have the right..."

"Legally?" Simon challenged. "Ellison has the resources to drag this through the courts for years and bankrupt you. If he doesn't want you or any of us to have contact with Jim, then we'll never find him, period."

Joel laid a calming hand on Simon's shoulder. "Blair, right now, you need to rest. We can figure it all out later, when you're stronger. The important thing is that Jim's father will have Jim's best interest at heart, and will make darned sure that Jim is getting the best care possible. So you don't need to worry about him, okay?"

Blair could only shake his head slowly and close his eyes. They didn't understand. What if Jim was locked in a zone, one sense over-stimulated and locked out of control by the explosion or the fire, or the pain of his injuries? He had to find Jim, had to get to him, make sure he was getting the care he needed. "I need to talk to Jim's dad," he rasped. "You need to get him here."

Simon shifted to look at Joel, and both men looked distinctly uneasy. "What?" Blair demanded, feeling as if everything was getting away from him. His chest felt tight, and it was hard to get his breath.

"Nothing," Joel replied, his tone calm and soothing. "Just ... just take it easy, rest. I'll get Jim's father here as soon as I can."

"Joel," Simon rumbled, but he stopped and shrugged when Joel shot him a hard look.

A nurse pushed past both men to take Blair's pulse and blood pressure, and put him through his mental awareness paces. "Gentlemen, please go back to the visitors' lounge," she directed brusquely.

"No, I need to " Blair protested.

"You need to relax; your blood pressure is going through the roof," she told him in stern, no-nonsense terms. "I'm going to call your doctor, and I'd rather not have to give you a sedative when you've only just awakened."

Defeated, in too much pain and too exhausted to fight her, Blair sagged into the support of the mattress. Nothing was making any sense. Why would William Ellison take Jim away? Where had Jim been taken? God, how could Simon allow it to happen? Jim could be stuck in a deep zone and who would know? He had to find him, had to make sure he was okay. Had to ... but the pounding pain in his head was making him nauseous, and he couldn't concentrate. He heard a machine begin a shrill drone, and he groaned as the sound pierced his head, adding to his misery. The nurse was back, but he couldn't seem to put words together. He saw her inject something into his IV line and he struggled to stay awake but, moments later, the darkness closed in.

********************

Blair blinked awake and frowned, trying to remember where he was. His head still ached, but the pain was muted, not as sharp and thunderous, far less nauseating than before. Memories cascaded, and he recalled Simon had said something about an explosion. Stirring cautiously, careful not to awaken the pain demon in his chest, he peered around and saw he was still in Intensive Care. Anxiety surged when he didn't see Jim, and then he remembered that William Ellison had had him taken somewhere; anger mingled with his anxious and urgent need to find his partner.

"Ah, you've decided to wake up," a warm, masculine voice observed from the side. Mindful of his throbbing headache, Blair slowly swiveled his head to regard a pleasant-faced man with a receding hairline garbed in a white lab coat over a shirt and tie, and sporting a stethoscope around his neck. "I'm Doctor Morrison."

"Hey, how are you?" Blair murmured with reflexive courtesy, and held out his hand, or tried to, only to discover it was encased in what felt like a ton of cement and bound by a sling. "Uh," he muttered, frowning at his arm and then looking back up at the physician, "when can I get out of here?"

Dr. Morrison smiled. "Depending on how you do in the next twenty-four hours, tomorrow. But you'll need to take it slow for the next six weeks you suffered a bad break in that arm and it's going to take a while to heal."

"How long have I been here?" Blair asked then, trying to get his bearings.

"Nearly four days. You suffered a serious concussion, two badly fractured ribs and several that were cracked; you'll need to have your chest bound for two weeks. You also broke both bones in your arm you'll be wearing that cast for six weeks, and have therapy after that before you can return to active duty. In addition, initially, you suffered a pneumothorax uh, air escaping into your chest compressed a lung, but that was fixed almost immediately. The concussion has been our biggest concern; though you've awakened several times, it was only for brief periods. Do you know your name?"

"Yeah, sure, I'm Blair Sandburg, born on May twenty-fourth, nineteen sixty-nine. We're in Cascade and I work for the Cascade PD. I'm fine."

"How's your head?"

"Um, aches a bit. Not too bad," Blair replied, blithely minimizing the heavy pounding to a minor irritation. Increasingly impatient and determined to find out more about how Jim was, he wanted to cut off the inquiries about his own health before the doctor asked about his ribs, which were exceedingly painful. No way did he want anything distracting the man from giving him information about Jim. "My partner, Jim Ellison? What can you tell me about his injuries? I have his power of attorney, so it's okay to discuss him with me."

A cloud seemed to pass over Dr. Morrison's face, and his smile faded to something that looked like either compassion or pity. "I'm sorry. Your partner was very badly hurt and, well, seemed to have suffered severe brain damage. He fell into a coma shortly after being admitted, and never awakened before he was transferred to a private care facility by his father."

"Which private care facility?" Blair asked, hoping it could be that easy.

"I don't know. Someplace out of state," Morrison replied, dashing his hopes.

"Could you find out? I'd like to see him as soon as I can get out of here." When Morrison hesitated, Blair added as persuasively as he could, "He'd do the same for me. We've worked together for years, share an apartment ... he's my best friend. And like I said, I have his power of attorney so, legally, I should be finding out what's happening to him."

Morrison nodded. "I'll see what I can do. We should have the location on record."

For the first time since he'd awakened with all his memories intact, Blair felt some of the tension that thrummed through his body ease just a bit. He'd prefer not to have to hope that William Ellison would tell him where Jim had been taken, just in case William didn't want to say. Blair didn't know him well, and didn't know if the man had ever gotten over the media circus around the dissertation fiasco months ago. Going to him, cap in hand, asking for favors, didn't feel like a great idea. Still, he probably should touch base with the man before haring off who knew where. If he wanted to, William could either make things easy or put a whole lot of barriers in his way. On the other hand, if William Ellison didn't know he was on his way, then he could scarcely erect any barriers, could he?

"Thanks," Blair sighed, weariness pulling at him. "Do you know why his dad had him moved? I wouldn't've thought that would be such a good idea given Jim's condition."

With a slight grimace, Morrison replied, "Mr. Ellison seemed ... devastated by his son's injuries, and furious. He raged at, uh, Captain Banks?" he said, sounding uncertain.

"Yes, Simon Banks," Blair confirmed. "He's our boss."

"Yes, well, Mr. Ellison seemed to blame Captain Banks for what had happened to his son. And he struck me as a man who naturally takes charge. He felt he could ensure better care for his son elsewhere, so he made that happen."

Blair nodded thoughtfully. "Yep, that sounds like Jim's father, all right. He really loves Jim, and I don't think he ever wanted Jim to be a law enforcement officer." Conjuring up a wan smile, he went on, "I don't want to create any legal hassles, but as his power of attorney, I really need to know where he took Jim. So I appreciate any help you can give me. And, uh," he gestured at his arm and, gritting his teeth against the wave of pain in his chest from even so slight a movement, then his head, "thanks for putting me back together."

A warm smile lightened the physician's somber expression. "Just doing my job. I'll get that information for you. We'll be transferring you to a regular room shortly. As I said, I expect you'll be able to go home tomorrow. Light duties for the next six weeks; no heavy lifting, no running around back alleys after bad guys. If you suffer any recurring dizziness, headache or nausea, you need to see your own doctor or get to a hospital right away."

"I hear you," Blair replied soberly, but his mind was elsewhere, already planning what had to be done as soon as he was discharged. Just how badly had Jim been hurt? Was it really a head injury, or was he lost somewhere inside his senses? Or maybe both? Once again, Blair's anxiety spiked. He had to get to Jim as quickly as possible.

********************

Lost in a misty twilight of shadows, unable to move, wracked by pain that ached endlessly throughout his body and was punctuated at exhausting intervals by sharp, hideous stabs of agony in his head and chest, he suffered through burning, blistering heat, freezing chills, and relentless itching, like ants crawling all over him, biting him mercilessly. The noise was less raucous and chaotic, but sounds were still loud, sometimes deafening, adding to his misery and his confusion. He couldn't remember what sound he most wanted, needed, to hear; he only knew it wasn't there, and the lack of it left him feeling desolate, utterly abandoned and alone. Chemical, medicinal smells assaulted him continuously, nauseating him, but there was no escape. Sometimes, he heard a low keening, and he feared it was coming from somewhere inside, but he wasn't sure it was really real. Wasn't sure anything was real. Flames fed his nightmares, terrifying him. Where was he? What was happening to him? Why? But he had no answers and he despaired of ever finding any, of ever finding his way out of the mist and shadows.

Sometimes, when he was at his limit, was going mad, or maybe dying, a hazy jungle, blue and cool, enticed him into its depths. Between him and an alluring bright light, a black cat with piercing green eyes watched him. He was unnerved by the powerful animal, a little frightened of it, though he didn't know why because it never attacked, just paced restlessly, back and forth, unable to settle. Sometimes, when he felt the cold to the very marrow of his bones and he leaned toward the warmth promised by that bright light, the jaguar growled a low warning, and he sank back, too nervous of the powerful creature to press forward, too tired to try. A silver-gray wolf with brilliant dark sapphire-blue eyes snuggled up against him, whining softly, as if commiserating with him, sharing his misery and offering warmth and comfort. When he cradled the wolf in his arms, all sound became muted, distant, surreal; herbal, floral, and light spicy scents soothed him, and the pain floated away. In those moments, rare and fleeting though they were, he felt a kind of peace steal over him and he could rest....

********************

Simon and Joel found him in his new room, smiles breaking over their faces when they saw how much better he was. He was glad to see them; there was a lot that needed doing, and not a lot of time to do it.

"Hey," Blair greeted them, wincing as he pushed himself higher against the raised head of the bed. "I'm really glad to see you." Rushing on before they could barely respond to his greeting, he stated, "I found out where they took Jim. He's in a place called the Rawlins Institute in the Virginia hills, just outside D.C. I need to know more about it God, I wish I had my laptop here. Anyway, Simon, the doctor says I have to be on light duty for nearly two months, and with my right hand in this cast, I'm just about useless anyway, so I'm thinking I'll just take medical leave, okay? To go out there and find out what's going on with Jim. Would one of you arrange a flight and rental car for me? I want to go tomorrow, as soon as I can get out of here, sometime late tomorrow morning would probably be best. My credit card's in my wallet, in the drawer of the table, right there. Stupid phone doesn't work, so I couldn't make the bookings myself, and they said it won't be fixed until tomorrow, which doesn't do me any good. Oh, and I'll need the copies of the power of attorney and..." He faltered briefly, then hastened on, "And of Jim's living will. They're in the top drawer of the desk in my room at home. My backpack is on the floor beside the desk; I'll need it and my laptop, too. And, uh, clothes just simple stuff; jeans, shirts, a sweater, socks, toothbrush ... you know the drill."

Simon blinked at the rush of words, then his eyes narrowed, and he objected just as soon as Blair drew a hitching breath, bracing his chest as he did so. "You sure you're up to a trip that soon? You only just woke up, Blair you've been unconscious, on and off, for days. You won't do Jim any good if you collapse on the way to find him."

"Maybe I should go with you," Joel offered, looking as if he was caught between worry and wry amusement.

"Nah, I'll be fine, thanks, though I appreciate the offer," Blair replied, remembering they'd said Ellison, Senior would take out a restraining order if they showed up. He didn't need that kind of complication or hassle; wouldn't allow anything to get in the way of getting to Jim. "It's just a broken arm and some battered ribs. Not anything serious. And my headache is nearly gone," he lied smoothly, to reassure them. "I just need to get there, you know? I have to find out what's going on with Jim. How badly hurt he is. Whether he's..." He paused and looked at Joel, but then having no time for the pretense that Joel didn't know Jim was special shrugged and continued, "zoned. He does that sometimes," he explained quickly to Joel, "gets kinda lost in one of his senses."

Joel frowned and chewed on his lip, but he finally nodded. "You call if you need any help, y'hear?" Blair gave him a solemn nod of agreement.

Sighing, as if resigned to the inevitable, Simon added, "I'll make the arrangements, and see what I can dig up on this Rawlins Institute. I can let you know what I've found out when I pick you up in the morning."

"And I can pack you a bag tonight, and take it and your backpack into the office in the morning to give to Simon," Joel offered. "I'll make sure to get those documents for you."

Glad they were so willing to help, Blair relaxed a little and gave them a smile. "Thanks." But his smile faded when he said, "I heard Ellison, Senior, gave you kind of a hard time, Simon."

Simon's lips thinned, and he nodded. "Man was upset. I can understand that. If it'd been Daryl, well..." His voice faded and he shook his head. Taking a breath, he went on, a warning in his voice, though his tone was kind, even gentle. "Blair, you have to understand, Jim was ... he was very badly hurt; his head wound was serious, potentially deadly. The doctor in Emergency? He didn't think Jim ... he didn't think Jim would ever wake up. And if he did, the doc said Jim might never know who he was or ... he wouldn't be the same person, might be only marginally functional, at best. The odds of him just being in a zone aren't good."

Suddenly chilled, Blair shivered, and he felt fear rise in his chest, stealing his breath away and filling the back of his throat with burning bile. The very thought of Jim hurt like that made him want to vomit. Clamping his jaw tight, he swallowed hard, and then dragged in a deep breath. He couldn't give way to fear, couldn't allow horror to infiltrate his imagination; wouldn't, just wouldn't think of Jim as an empty husk. Couldn't, or he'd break apart. Though tears glazed his eyes, he blinked them away, and he resolutely returned Simon's concerned gaze. "I won't give up on him," he rasped. "Not until I've seen him for myself. We don't know what's going on with him right now. We can't know, not from here. Jim ... Jim is strong, so strong. And determined. He'll fight to survive. He won't quit."

Joel squeezed his good shoulder in mute support, though both men avoided his gaze and heaved sorrowful sighs. Their seeming resignation and acceptance that Jim was lost to them shook him, but he refused to give up hope. They didn't know Jim the way he did. They had no clue about his senses or what they did to Jim when they were out of control. Nobody understood that, not like he did. Jim had survived against the odds so often, almost as if he had a charmed life and Blair sometimes wondered if he did, if the Universe watched out for him because he was so incredibly special and was so needed in the world.

"Don't give up on him," he ordered, low and hoarse with emotion. "I don't need you sending out negative vibes, okay? I need you to have positive thoughts and maybe even pray for him. But don't you dare give up on him."

Simon snorted. "Negative vibes?" he echoed and then chuckled in a wry, weary way. "Only you, Sandburg," he muttered and shook his head, but he managed a wan smile. "Okay, okay, only positive thoughts," he agreed, holding up his hands either in surrender or just for peace.

"And prayers," Joel added, sounding determined.

********************

The next morning, when he arrived to pick Blair up, Simon eyed him up and down with frank assessment. "You sure you're up to making this trip today?" he challenged, doubt and concern resonating in his voice andshadowing his eyes.

"Yeah, sure," Blair assured him as he gratefully accepted Simon's help in getting dressed because the cast and sling on his arm made him awkward. In a vague way, he marveled at how matter-of-fact, even natural, it seemed to accept such intimate help from the man, but then he scolded himself and eschewed any sense of embarrassment. Simon wasn't just their boss; he was a friend, a very good friend. "How tough can it be? I sit in the airport, sit on the plane probably sleep all the way there and drive a few miles."

Simon looked doubtful, but he didn't argue about it, for which Blair was exceedingly grateful, because he really didn't have the energy to debate the matter. He was going, period. They'd barely finished getting him dressed in jeans, sneakers, a loose T and even looser blue flannel shirt, all topped off with Jim's leather jacket larger than his own to accommodate the sling, when an aide arrived with a wheelchair. Blair sank onto it without even trying to conceal his gratitude. He was weak and a bit unsteady on his feet, he knew that, but it couldn't stop him from getting on that plane.

On the way out of the hospital, Simon told him, "The Rawlins Institute has a top-notch reputation for working with people with head injuries; it's rated the best in the country, so Jim's dad did his homework before taking him there. I put some information about it and a map from the airport along with the legal documents in the front pocket of your backpack."

"Thanks, Simon. I really appreciate all your help."

Once he was settled in the front of Simon's sedan, and they were on the way to the airport, Simon told him, "I'll need you back next Tuesday, for a day or so, to testify at the Coppolino trial. We managed to get an adjournment until you were sufficiently recovered, but I can't put it off indefinitely." He shot a hard glance at Blair. "You realize that if Coppolino was behind that bomb, then he might still be gunning for you?"

"Oh, shit, I forgot all about the trial," Blair muttered, aggrieved. He hadn't given any thought to it at all; hadn't considered that Coppolino could still be a threat. "Well, he won't know where I've headed, so that's a bonus." He didn't want to be bothered with the trial, didn't want to be engaged with anything but Jim's recovery, but he knew Jim would kick him six ways to Sunday if he didn't do his best to have that bastard put away for a good long time. "Don't worry, we were all prepped for the trial last week, and no problem, I'll be back. I'll call you when I get settled there, and give you my coordinates so you can reach me if you need to."

Simon fumbled in his coat pocket. "Here's Jim's cellphone. We recovered it at the scene, and Joel packed the charger in your case. Keep it charged, okay?"

"Thanks," Blair murmured as he stuffed it into his own pocket. "I'll try to keep it on, but they might not allow calls inside the Institute."

Simon reached into his inside jacket pocket, and drew out a thin folder. "Here're the plane tickets and the rental car agreement."

"Great," Blair breathed, then added diffidently, "You forgot to take my credit card last night. I'll pay you back."

"Don't worry about it, Sandburg," Simon replied, studiously not looking at him. "Everyone in MCU chipped in to cover the cost. We all wish there was more we could do to help."

Blair's throat tightened and he felt the burn of tears sting his eyes; God, the pain meds or something were turning him into a sniveling baby. Sniffing, blinking hard, he rasped, "Thanks. I'll make sure Jim knows. You're ... you're all pretty amazing."

When they got to the airport, Simon helped him out of the car and got him a cart for his backpack and lightly-packed duffle bag. His legs feeling all too much like rubber, Blair was very glad to lean on it for support. Once again the older man's brow furrowed with worry. "Let me know when you get there and ... and what you think once you've seen Jim." He paused and reached out to grip Blair's shoulder. "I promise I'll only think positive thoughts but ... but ... if ... I know how hard..."

"I'll be okay, Simon," Blair assured him, though he wasn't at all sure that was the truth. But he couldn't think about how he'd feel or what he'd do if ... no, couldn't think about it, period.

"Don't feel you have to do it all alone, Blair," Simon growled with rough affection. "If you need help, support, anything, you just call, okay?"

Grateful beyond words, Blair could only nod, and then he enveloped Simon in a tight embrace, as best he could with one good arm. For once, Simon didn't bat him away or whine in protest, just hugged him back.

********************

Hours later, the late September evening on the east coast was fading into dusk and shadows were deepening in the rolling, Virginia hills. By the time Blair pulled up and parked in the visitor lot near the main entrance of the Rawlins Institute, he felt like he'd been hit by a truck, and wasn't entirely sure he had the energy to even get out of the rental Ford. Taking a moment to gather up his shreds of energy, he peered through the windshield at the building. Built of red brick with white trimming around the windows, and a wide entry graced by Corinthian pillars, he thought the architecture reminiscent of Colonial America. The floors above ground level all sported wide balconies, giving the place the feel of a luxury hotel more than of a hospital. Looking around at the stately trees maples, oaks and sycamores, all vibrantly incandescent in their fall foliage sprawling lawns and gardens, he could only begin to speculate at how much William Ellison was paying to have Jim treated here; not that Blair was complaining. He wanted Jim to have the absolute best care possible.

Unfortunately, sitting there wasn't helping him feel any stronger. If anything, he felt as if he could sleep for a month, and he literally ached at the thought of walking across the parking lot and along that curving walkway to the entrance. But he was so close; he couldn't stop now, not until he'd seen Jim. Not until he found out whether it was a sensory problem or ... something else. He took a deep breath and slid out of the car.

Grabbing his backpack from the trunk, he slowly made his way to the wide walkway that separated the pavement from lush lawns and gardens and led to the shaded portico over the double sliding doors at the front of the sprawling, five or six story building. Benches were placed along the pathway, some under the spreading branches of ancient trees, and he sagged down onto one when his head started spinning and he felt as if his knees were going to give out. Drawing in one shuddering breath after another, appreciating the crisp, smoky scent of the air, he willed the pain that radiated from his chest to ease but without much luck because his splitting headache made it hard to concentrate. Giving up on mitigating the pain, he tried to distract himself and calm himself down by admiring the treed grounds that dipped down to a narrow lake, and the forested hills on the other side. The brilliant fall yellows, oranges and crimson were lit by the slanting rays of the setting sun, so that the land rolling like waves into the distance almost seemed ablaze. An aura of peace surrounded the place in the dying light of the day.

"Sir? Are you alright?"

Looking around, toward the entrance, he saw a white-garbed orderly hurrying toward him.

"I'm ... really tired," he admitted, seeing no point in pretending he was in better shape than he was. "I'm here to see one of your patients. Jim Ellison. He was admitted a few days ago."

The young man offered him a hand up and, relieving him of his backpack, steadied him into the building. "If you'll just have a seat here," the orderly offered, gesturing toward a grouping of elegantly plush chairs and loveseats in the reception area, "I'll ask the receptionist to call Mr. Ellison's ward supervisor."

Blair nodded and sank onto one of the chairs. Unzipping the front pocket of his backpack, he pulled out the folder of legal documents that gave him the right to see Jim immediately. Unconsciously muttering to himself, he said, "I'm finally here, man. Just a few more minutes. Sorry it took me so damned long. God, I hope you're okay. Please, Jim, please be okay."

********************

The panther stopped its restless prowling, and its head lifted, alert, as if it were scenting something, and then it gave an odd snuffling sound before turning to pace toward him to drop down on the grass. Looking intently into the distance, it gave a low yowl, and then it yawned and laid its head on its paws. The wolf wriggled and yipped, sounding and acting excited.

He didn't understand what the animals heard or sensed, but their behaviors gave him a sense of anticipation. Around him, the blue jungle and the ever-beckoning light faded and he was once again assaulted by sickening smells. Sounds, some sharp and shrill, others a continuous annoying drone, filled his mind, warring with the pulsing pain in his head and body that seemed to define his reality.

But ... but there was something different. Something ... listening hard, he heard a rich, deep cadence, soft as if far away, but warm and mellow, almost musical. Even more faintly, he could just barely detect a rhythmic beat. Something shifted, as if the world tilted, and fragments of images flashed and merged before him, real but not real the cat and the wolf, leaping, merging in a blast of blinding light, a sense of infinite affinity with and then a rhythmic beat oddly, inexplicably familiar, bringing a surge of heart-stopping relief and wild joy. As faint and distant as the new sounds were, they echoed the familiar beating, merged with it, and transcended all other sounds such that everything else seemed to be muted. The mellow cadence came and went, but the rhythmic pounding, soothing in its regularity, continued unabated.

Confused, he wasn't really sure what he was hearing.

He only knew the sounds he'd been searching for, waiting for, were somewhere close now. Poignant gratitude filled him, mingling with the surge of profound relief. He wasn't alone after all. He hadn't been abandoned.

********************

Long minutes had passed before Blair heard the clip of shoes on the polished marble floor. Looking up and along the hall, Blair saw two distinguished older men heading toward him a stranger and a scowling William Ellison.

"Oh, great," Blair muttered to himself, figuring he should have guessed that William would be here, and not back in Cascade. Plastering on a smile, determined to be positive and pleasant, he rose to his feet. "Mr. Ellison," he acknowledged with a nod.

"I'm Dr. Amos Landry, the neurologist assigned to Mr. Ellison," the stranger said, introducing himself with cool courtesy.

"I'm Blair Sandburg, Jim's partner and roommate, and I'd like to see him, now," Blair returned, his tone even and not quite hard. "How is he? Has he regained consciousness?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Sandburg, but only family "

"I have Jim's power of attorney," Blair cut in. Looking at William, he went on, "Look, I don't want to cause a lot of trouble, but I can get a court order if I have to. I just want to see him. You understand why. Maybe ... maybe there's something I can do."

William looked down and away, his jaw tight.

Blair handed the documents to the specialist, to verify his right to be there. "Has he regained consciousness?" he asked again.

William shook his head, and his rigid demeanor gave way to exhausted sorrow. "No," he rasped, sounding so much like his son. "No, he hasn't."

"Mr. Sandburg's documents are in order," Dr. Landry said evenly. "Both the power of attorney and the living will. He has the right to see your son."

William flinched, but he nodded grudgingly. "Just give us a moment, and I'll show him the way upstairs."

"Wait," Blair insisted before the doctor could walk away. "What can you tell me about Jim's condition?"

"When he first arrived," Landry began, "his reflexes were suppressed, his pupils uneven in their reaction to light, and there was considerable and increasing pressure on his brain from bleeding inside his skull and the impact from the moderately depressed skull fracture he'd suffered. We've stopped the bleeding and given him medication to reduce the swelling of brain tissue resulting from the insult of the injury and severe concussion. His internal thermostat seems to be out of whack, though I'm not sure why; he swings from being feverishly hot to being nearly blue and shivering with cold. As for the rest, he suffered some relatively minor burns to his back, three cracked ribs, and his right knee was badly sprained." He paused and scowled in thought, as if bothered by what he didn't yet understand. "As Mr. Ellison told you, he hasn't yet awakened, but nor is he exhibiting the normal signs of coma. Though he doesn't react to painful stimuli, indicating a deep coma, his EEG readings suggest that he should be responding. At irregular intervals, his muscles go into prolonged spastic contraction and then, for no reason we've been able to determine, he relaxes almost completely. But head trauma is complex and no two cases are exactly the same."

Hope flaring in his chest, Blair replied as he returned his documents to his backpack, "I really do need to see him now. Jim has a lot of sensitivities. There could be something in his environment impacting on him. I'll need to know what medications he's on."

"Mr. Sandburg, I very much doubt his difficulties are caused by allergies. You have to understand that your friend has been very badly hurt. Even if he regains consciousness, which is by no means a certainty at this juncture, he may not be the person you remember," the neurologist cautioned. "Injuries of this sort can result in significant personality changes. His memory may be affected, as might his ability to process information or even function physically as he once did."

"We'll deal with whatever arises," Blair stated emphatically, blocking all doubt from his mind and refusing to give credence to the specialist's dire prognosis. Intellectually, he knew he should at least consider the man's words but, emotionally, he couldn't and wouldn't accept that Jim's condition was hopeless. Glancing at William, he read deep pain and fear in the man's eyes and in the slump of his shoulders. While he felt a measure of compassion for the man, anger also twisted in his gut. Why was everyone so ready to assume the worst? So apparently ready to give up? "Jim's survived a lot of things. We can't give up hope," he insisted.

William looked at Landry and a silent signal passed between them. The neurologist nodded at Blair. "After you've seen Mr. Ellison, if you have any questions, have the staff page me." With that, he briskly walked away.

"Okay, okay, you want to talk to me before I see him; I get that," Blair said impatiently. Being so close but not yet within visual or touching distance was frustrating the hell out of him.

"You heard the doctor," William began, sounding infinitely weary and older than his years. "If ... when Jim wakes up, he may not remember anything, nothing at all."

"Yeah, so?"

"If he has amnesia, I don't want anyone telling him about his past, about being a detective, about...."

"About the tensions in the family?" Blair supplied, having no more time for niceties.

His lips thinning, William gave a curt nod. "Or about his ... senses."

Heaving a sigh, Blair fought his impatience, but he was hurting too badly, and was too tired to keep a tight hold on his emotions. "Mr. Ellison, his sensory abilities have nothing to do with his memories. From what Landry just described, I think he may be locked in a zone. I can help him with that. Dammit! Do you want him to be suffering unnecessarily? Huh? Don't you want to help him? Surely to God you wouldn't rather he remain in this, this vegetative state, if there's a chance I can help him wake up!"

"No, no," William protested, holding up his hands. He sounded like a man at the end of his rope, broken, and so afraid. His voice was trembling, almost cracking, when he continued, "Of course, I want only the best for Jimmy. That's why I brought him here. But ... but if he doesn't remember on his own, I ... I only want to help him. I want ... this could be a chance for us, a chance to rebuild our relationship. A chance to start over. Don't you see? I just want him to live and ... I want to be here for him."

"Okay, fine, I get that, I really do. But I need to see him right now," Blair urged but, moved to gentleness by the man's raw pain, less stridently. "Let's just see if we can get him to wake up before we start worrying about what he can remember."

William gestured back down the hall, the way he'd come, toward an elevator. Stifling a moan at the protest from his ribs, Blair hitched his backpack over his shoulder. "How's his skin? Does he have a rash or any other sign of irritation?" Blair asked as they made their way down the hall.

"Yes, a severe rash," William confirmed, with a sharp glance at Blair. "You think you can help that? The nursing staff has tried everything."

"Maybe," Blair temporized, but he nodded affirmatively nevertheless. Jim had always responded well to the mixture of aloe, Manuka honey, and lanolin he'd concocted years ago for just such irritations. Blair had a jar of it in his backpack, along with the white noise generator, eye mask, an old, fleece sweat-suit, softened by years of washing, and various and sundry other 'emergency supplies' that he kept close at hand.

They entered the elevator and William touched the button for the fourth floor. "I've been so afraid Jimmy'll never wake up," he admitted, barely louder than a hoarse whisper. Tears glazed his eyes. "I should have brought you here sooner."

"Well, I was in no shape to go anywhere until this morning," Blair told him. "I only woke up myself yesterday."

William looked at him, then; really looked at him. "I'm sorry; you look just about ready to collapse. Do you need anything?"

"I just need to see Jim," Blair replied. "After that, everything else will take care of itself."

"Please, if he doesn't remember, please don't fill in the gaps," William asked, and it was clear that he was sorely pressed to retain his dignity and not resort to outright begging.

Blair gazed at him, and bit his lip. "He'll find out. If Jim doesn't remember much, he'll be curious, and he'll find ways to get answers."

"But maybe, by then, he'll have learned to trust me again," William insisted.

"If you lie to him now, when he finds out the truth, he'll never trust you again," Blair warned. "And I won't outright lie to him. I can't." At the devastation in William's expression, he softened his stance. "Look, let's just play it as it comes, okay? If he doesn't remember much at first, it's probably better not to overload him with a bunch of facts. I've heard that it's preferable to let people remember on their own, if they can. So I won't blurt everything out, okay? If it's an issue at all. First, we have to get him to wake up. Then we have to see how badly hurt he really is, and take it one step at a time."

********************

The cadence of sound, the rhythmic drumming, was growing louder, coming closer. Now, amidst the riot of sounds that assaulted him, he could hear footsteps approaching, and he wished they'd hurry. Though he had no idea of where he was or of what had happened, deep in the core of him he knew something important was about to happen. Something he'd been waiting for.

His eyes opened. Blinding light assaulted him, and he could make out no details in the glare, but still he stared upward, waiting ... and listening with all that he was, until the drumming filled his ears, blocking out all other sounds.

********************

Blair paused briefly at the door to Jim's room, to take a deep breath and steady himself. William gave him a sad look of understanding, and then ushered him inside the palatial room that continued the impression of being in a luxurious hotel rather than a medical facility. The lights were on, harshly bright against the growing darkness outside the windows, but they allowed Blair to clearly see his partner, and he winced in sympathy.

"Oh, Jim," he sighed and shook his head as he approached the bed.

But for a towel across his groin and the pressure bandage around his knee, Jim's nudity coupled with his insensibility made him seem heartbreakingly vulnerable and so uncharacteristically helpless. Multiple bruises and contusions from the explosion mottled his fair skin, and an angry rash that covered his limbs was also creeping up his sides, from his back to his chest and abdomen. Tubes twisted around him, an intravenous line feeding a clear fluid into his body from a bottle hung on a pole at the head of the bed; another line snaked out from the catheter hidden under the towel, draining waste to a bag hanging under the bedframe. Wires led from sticky patches on his chest to a machine that beeped with irritating frequency, and Blair could see how reddened the skin was under and around the round tabs. An oxygen tube ran from the wall behind the head of the bed to feed enriched air into Jim's nostrils, which were dry, cracking and reddened, as were Jim's lips. His skin was pebbled with goosebumps, and was slightly blue around his lips, fingertips and toes. The man was freezing in the chilly room. Jim's eyes were open, and he was staring, unblinkingly, blindly, at the light in the ceiling. The mingled scents of Lysol and urine were strong enough to bother Blair, so he knew they must be sickening to Jim.

Swallowing hard to steady himself and his voice, Blair reached out to lay his palm flat on Jim's bare shoulder. "Hey, buddy," he murmured, empathy warming his voice and covering the anger he felt at Jim's wretched condition. Given how much William had to be paying, it was a disgrace. "I have to say, I've seen you look better. But I'm here now, and everything's gonna be alright. Just give me a minute, well, a little more, and you'll feel a whole lot better; I promise."

Looking around the room, Blair spotted a blanket on one of the upholstered arm chairs clustered in a grouping near the balcony windows, but it looked too heavy and coarse to be of any comfort to a sentinel's sensitive skin. Still, he had to deal with the rash and then get Jim covered. Thank God, he'd brought the old, soft sweats. Letting the backpack slip from his shoulder, he set it on a chair and began rummaging in it with his left hand, first pulling out the sweatshirt and pants, and then the tub of lotion.

"We need to cover his skin with this stuff, and then you need to help me get him into these clothes," he said to William. "Warm the lotion in your hands first, and then touch him only very lightly to smooth it on, okay? He must be in agony. We'll need to get different linens institutional stuff is too harsh for his skin. He needs a three hundred count cotton, at least; silk would be better." While he was talking, he pulled out the white noise generator and clicked it on, and then found the black silk eye mask, which he carefully secured over Jim's face to block out the light.

"As soon as we've got him more comfortable, I'll call the concierge at the lodge where I'm staying. I'll have the sheets here in a matter of hours," William replied, already having rolled up his sleeves and scooping lotion from the jar. "Do they need to be washed before they're used?" Just having something concrete to do appeared to have steadied him, and invested him with some of his more natural confidence and air of authority.

"Yeah, in hypoallergenic, very mild detergent, with an equally mild fabric softener, to keep static from gathering in the cloth in the dryer," Blair directed, even as he eyed the EKG machine. Looking around, he spotted the call button and pressed it, and then he unceremoniously switched off the machine. The silence after the annoying, shrill beeping was wonderful.

In seconds, before he'd had time to carefully remove even one of the sticky connectors, a nurse had rushed into the room. "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded loudly.

"Making him more comfortable," Blair retorted, though he kept his tone low and calm. "There's nothing wrong with his heart, and he's allergic to the adhesive in these patches. If you have a problem with that, call Dr. Landry." She huffed and seemed about to argue but, when William glared at her, she retreated. Blair gave him a quick grin. "I really need to learn how to do that. You Ellisons can terrify just about anyone with that look."

"Everyone but you," William riposted, one brow cocked in amusement. "Didn't seem to register on you at all downstairs."

Despite himself, Blair chuckled. "I work hard at being immune."

After removing all the stickies, and very glad that Jim didn't have a wealth of chest hair to make it harder to do painlessly, Blair soothed lotion onto each reddened site, and then he found a tube of glycerine in his pack, which he carefully applied to Jim's lips and nostrils. By then, William needed his help to roll and support Jim against his body while William coated his back with the lotion. Blair checked out the burns but they really had been minor and were healing well. When William was finished, and had washed his hands, they worked Jim into the soft, comfortable sweats. Once his body was covered and protected by the cozy fleece, Blair covered him with a sheet and retrieved the blanket from the back of the chair against the wall, which William layered over his son's body. When they were finished, Jim's color was better, and he no longer looked like a human popsicle.

Blair chewed on his lip, his nose wrinkling against the unpleasant scents in the room. Now that Jim was covered and warm, he could open the balcony door, to air the place out. The cool evening air was lightly scented with pine and something floral from the gardens below. Satisfied that they'd done about as much as they could do with the supplies they had, Blair switched on a lamp by the chair, and then moved across the floor to the wall to flick off the overhead light. He wasn't aware that he'd begun to sway until William wrapped an arm around him and guided him back to the chair beside the bed.

"Uh, thanks," Blair murmured faintly, the room fuzzing a little around the edges of his vision. "It's been a long day."

"When did you last eat?" William demanded.

"I'm not sure," Blair admitted. "I didn't have much of an appetite. Too worried about Jim. Too anxious to get here."

His mouth pursed with disapproval, William shook his head as he bent to check out the contents of the small refrigerator built into the wheeled television stand. Drawing out a bottle of water and an apple, he put the water on the bedside table next to Blair and gave the apple to him. "You sit right there and don't move. I'm going to find you something substantial to eat. And I'll get them to move a cot in here, so you can stretch out."

Blair looked at him in surprise. "A cot?"

"Well, you weren't planning on going anywhere, were you? I figured you planned to stay until you got him to wake up."

He hadn't consciously thought about it, but William was right. There was nothing and no one who could remove him from Jim's side, not now. Not yet. Maybe not for quite a while. So he smiled as if he'd been caught out, and shrugged. "A cot would be good," he agreed.

Once William had gone, Blair put the apple on the table and hitched the chair closer to the bed, to reach out to lightly clasp Jim's arm. "I know you're in there, Jim. And I'm pretty sure you can hear me. If you can, I want you to imagine those dials in your head, one at a time. Let's take smell. I bet it's probably way too high. So I want you to picture it and picture turning it down, one notch and then another ... and then another." Slowly, patiently, low and steady, Blair worked Jim through each of the dials but, when he was done, he couldn't see any change. Jim was still just lying there, unmoving, breathing shallowly.

Leaning back into the support of the chair, weary beyond words, Blair studied his friend, and wondered if there was anything else he could do to make Jim immediately more comfortable. The air in the room was already lighter, fresher, the light was no longer harsh, and the white noise generator would shut out all, or at least most, of the sounds from beyond the room. In some subtle way, Jim looked more comfortable. His color was better, and his body seemed less tense, the muscles more relaxed, so maybe he was resting now, and not fighting against all the excess stimulation.

Maybe what Jim needed most was simply to sleep, but Blair wasn't sure he could sleep, could rest at all, if he was still locked in some kind of zone. If only he could get some response, anything, a twitch or snort, a muffled snore or muttered words, even if they didn't make any sense, just something that would let him know that Jim wasn't trapped somewhere deep inside one of his senses.

"You need to give me a sign, man," he whispered, and tenderly rubbed his thumb against the skin of Jim's arm. Frowning, he stood and lifted the face mask, and he found that Jim's eyes were still open ... so he definitely wasn't asleep. "Okay, Jim, let's get you back. What are you locked on, huh?" There was really no way to tell, no way to even guess. Could be touch, because he'd been in such pain after the explosion that Simon had said he'd cried out in agony. The thought of Jim suffering like that twisted in Blair's gut and tightened in his chest. Could be sound the explosion must've blasted his hearing and, though his own memories were all pretty vague, Blair had the impression that Jim had been listening hard just before the bomb had blown. Sight? He'd been staring at the light when Blair had arrived. Wasn't likely smell or taste; he didn't usually zone on either of those senses.

Hoping his instincts were right, Blair again rummaged in his pack, digging deep, all the way to the bottom, to find the small vials of various scents that he kept handy. When his fingers found the cool, smooth and rounded glass surfaces, he carefully gathered them into his palm and drew them out, to deposit them on the bed. Selecting the rose scent, he tried loosening the top but the cast that covered part of his hand made it hard to grasp the small lid. Grimacing with impatience, he clamped his teeth around the lid and twisted the vial to open it. The heady scent of roses filled his nostrils, and he almost sneezed; roses, because roses were the first scent he'd asked Jim to identify, a scent that was easily recognizable.

Unconsciously holding his breath, with desperate hope, he held the little bottle beneath Jim's nose. Behind him, he heard William come back into the room, and his stomach rumbled at the enticing smell of scrambled eggs, toast and coffee.

"What are you doing?" William asked, as he set the tray down on the bedside table.

"I'm trying to stimulate his sense of smell," Blair explained. "He could be zoned on touch, or sound, or sight but probably not taste or smell."

William moved to stand on the other side of the bed, to see what was happening. But there was nothing to see. Disappointed, but determined to try another scent, Blair was about to move the small bottle away from Jim's face, when Jim's nose twitched.

"Did you see that!" Blair exclaimed, and looked up at William. "The twitch? Did you see it?"

William nodded slowly, and his jaw tightened. His lips quivered and, when he glanced at Blair, Blair could see tears glimmering in his eyes. "That's good, right?" he finally managed to stammer.

"Very good," Blair enthused. Straightening, he put the vial on the tray on the table beside him, and spotted the packets of sugar. "Perfect," he breathed, and hastily ripped one open with his teeth. Carefully, he trickled a few grains on Jim's lips, and then nudged them into his friend's mouth. Then, a few more grains.

Jim licked his lower lip.

"That's it," Blair crooned, giving him a few more grains. "Come on, Jim. I know you're in there, buddy. Come on."

It was a long minute, and Blair was trembling with hope, when Jim blinked, and blinked again. Gripping Jim's lax hand, murmuring encouragement, he watched awareness steal into Jim's eyes. Jim frowned and sniffed, and his gaze wandered over the ceiling. His fingers tightened around Blair's, and then he slowly shifted his head to look at Blair.

"Welcome back, buddy," Blair said with a slow smile, though anxiety fluttered in his belly. There was no recognition in Jim's eyes. "How're you feeling?"

"Bad headache," Jim muttered, his voice rough from disuse. "An' it hurts to breathe."

Blair nodded with keen understanding. His own headache thumped behind his eyes, and his chest felt like an elephant was sitting on it. "We'll see if we can get you something for pain," he said, to keep it simple. No doubt, Landry would have to examine Jim before the nurses would give him anything.

Jim was still frowning at him, his expression confused. Blair glanced at William, and was nearly undone by the tear slipping down the older man's worn and wrinkled cheek. Swallowing hard, he returned his attention to Jim. "You've been hurt, but you're going to be okay."

"Who are you?" Jim demanded, peering at him with narrowed eyes. "Do you work here? You don't look like a doctor."

Blair felt as if a mule had kicked him in the gut. Even having been forewarned, he wasn't prepared, hadn't really believed that Jim wouldn't know him. But despite a sudden light-headedness, he sucked in air and held himself together, answering as evenly as he could, "No. No, I don't work here. My name is Blair Sandburg and I ... I'm here to help you." He waited a beat, and then asked, "Do you know your name?"

Jim looked surprised by the question and seemed about to answer, but no words came. Fear blossomed in his eyes. "N-no," he stuttered, his grip on Blair's hand now vice-like. "I don't ... I don't remember..." he admitted, sounding stricken.

"Hey, hey, it's okay," Blair hastened to reassure him. "You took a hard hit to your head, so it's not surprising if you're a bit confused right now. Your name is Jim James Joseph Ellison. And," he went on, with a nod at William, "that man beside you is your father. You're safe, Jim. You're in a hospital, and you're going to be okay."

Jim's gaze jerked to William, and his expression was lost. "I ... I'm sorry. I don't know ... I don't remember you."

William swallowed heavily and cleared his throat. "That's alright, son," he said, gently patting Jim's shoulder. "For now, I can remember for both of us. You just take it easy, and I'll go see if I can rustle up your doctor. Get you something for the pain."

William quickly turned away, and headed out the door. Blair saw his face, saw the pallor of shock, the grief and the fear mingled with the relief that Jim was finally awake and talking but not remembering. He could easily empathize with the man, and certainly understood what must be a profound relief. For William, Jim's loss of memory might be good news, a chance to build a relationship they'd never had. But for him? Blair's relief was shadowed; his world had dropped out from beneath his feet, leaving him in free fall, and he had no idea where he was going to land. And damn it, it hurt that William could claim a close relationship with Jim when he didn't have the same right, despite ... well, despite everything. When all was said and done, as close as they'd been, Jim didn't remember him and Blair didn't have the right to claim they were family, even if Jim was just about all the family he had. Weariness assailed him, making it hard to keep his own pain at bay, but he resisted it as best he could and returned his attention to Jim, who was now staring at his chest, puzzlement and a growing unease on his face.

"You're listening to my heart beating, aren't you?" he asked softly.

Startled, looking as if he'd been caught doing something very rude, or maybe frightening, Jim looked up into his eyes. "How did you ... how can I hear...?"

"Jim, you have heightened senses. You can see, hear, feel, taste and touch things that most human beings couldn't begin to perceive. It's okay. It's perfectly normal for you. Don't be afraid of it."

"How do know all that?" Jim demanded gruffly. "How could you possibly know?"

"Like I said, I'm here to help you. I'm kind of an expert on people with senses like yours," Blair told him, and blinked back the burn in his eyes. More like the only expert on your senses, he thought, but pressed his lips together to keep from blurting out that they were best friends, and partners on the Cascade police force, and they'd been sharing a home for years ... he'd promised William to take it slow, and he would. Jim looked like he was already overwhelmed, and he shouldn't have to cope with anything more, at least not right now. Maybe, maybe this would all be temporary, and Jim's memory would return soon. Maybe.

"Do I know you?" Jim asked, sounding like he was floundering, desperate to grab onto something solid.

"Apparently not," Blair returned with a crooked smile, though he couldn't meet Jim's gaze. Clearing his throat, he added, "I've heard that the standard procedure when someone has amnesia is not to overload them with a whole lot of details about what they don't remember. It's too overwhelming and confusing, and can lead to the creation of false memories. It's better if you take it slow and let your memories emerge naturally."

"What if they don't?" Jim challenged with a glare, and looked like he was going to argue the point.

Blair shrugged helplessly and turned away. Searching for something safe to talk about, his glance landed on the open bottle of cold water on the tray William had brought. "You thirsty?"

"Yeah, yeah, I am," Jim replied, his voice rough and husky. "My mouth is as dry as dust."

Blair eased his hand from Jim's clasp and reached for the bottle. He half-filled a glass on the table, slid a straw into it, and turned back to Jim. "Here you go, but take it slow; just a little sip at a time. It's been a while since your stomach had anything in it."

After a few swallows, Jim let the straw slip from his lips and nodded. "Thanks, Chief," he rasped.

Blair gaped at him, happiness suffusing his whole being, and then his heart twisted when he realized that Jim hadn't realized what he'd said or, at least, hadn't understood the impact his unconscious choice of words would have. Taking a shuddering breath, Blair sagged down onto the chair behind him. God, it hurt, more than he'd ever imagined anything could hurt, to know that Jim didn't have a fucking clue who he was. The smell of the cooling eggs, so tantalizing just minutes before, now nauseated him, and he took a hasty sip of water from the bottle to settle his roiling stomach.

"You're looking a little rough, yourself," Jim observed, scowling with concern. "You okay?"

"I, uh, I'm just a little tired," Blair obfuscated. The truth was he felt like hell. He'd been running on adrenaline and not much else since he'd awakened that morning, driven by his need to get to Jim, to find out how badly he was hurt and, now, devastated, he had nothing left. "It's been a really, really long day." Get a grip, he told himself sternly. Jim's alive, awake, and making sense. That's a whole helluva lot better than things might have been. Encouraged by that determinedly cheerful thought, he managed to conjure a smile.

He heard footsteps in the hall, and quickly turned his head to see William and Dr. Landry come into the room. Landry stopped dead and gaped at Jim, obviously astonished to see him awake. Without warning, Blair's headache spiked, and he heard roaring in his ears. The room tilted, spots filled his vision. He heard someone shout ... and then the world faded to black.

********************

"Help him!" Jim shouted, or tried, but his voice was still raspy and had no force. Fortunately, the man who was apparently his father seemed to understand. Moving faster across the floor than Jim would have thought possible, he caught Sandburg just as he started to topple from the chair. The other guy, someone Jim hadn't seen before, stopped gaping at him and helped his father shift Sandburg to a padded armchair near the window. Once they had him settled there, the stranger knelt by him to check the pulse at his throat, and look into his eyes. Jim figured from the way he was acting that he had to be a doctor.

If he could have, Jim would have gotten out of the bed to go check on Sandburg himself, but he was tied down with tubes. Frustrated with his own helplessness, he watched closely, and wondered at how very worried he was about a young man he didn't know. Or did he? There was something about the kid, a feeling more than anything else. A feeling of ... affiliation? A feeling of ... trust? Yeah, yeah, for some unknown reason, he had an inclination to trust Sandburg. And whether he knew the man or not, Jim couldn't deny the very real anxiety he felt to think there might be something wrong with the guy.

The kid was only out for a few seconds and, as soon as he was at least semi-alert, he seemed embarrassed to be the center of attention, and was quick to assure everyone he was fine. But Jim knew damned well he wasn't fine; he was hurting. He could see it in Sandburg's eyes, even in the dim light and from across the room. And he could see the fine tremble in the kid's hands ... and hear the racing of his heart.

How the hell can I do that? How did I know he was going to pass out, before it happened? Jim wondered uneasily, uncomfortable with the knowledge that he'd sensed it somehow somehow? He'd heard the man's heartbeat suddenly spike and become erratic. And he'd seen the telltale signs of staggering pain in the sudden rictus of agony on Sandburg's face and in the way he held his body, the sudden, stark shocky pallor. Enhanced senses? Okay, so I don't remember my own name, but ... something about all that sounds more than just a little crazy.

And yet, he couldn't deny the evidence of his own eyes and ears. Something very weird was going on that he didn't understand, not at all, and it pissed him off. Having the headache from hell, and ribs that made him wish breathing was optional, didn't help. He wanted answers, and he wanted them now. But all that mumbo-jumbo Sandburg was spouting about letting him remember stuff on his own made him afraid that no one would be giving him those answers anytime soon.

The doctor didn't seem to be buying Sandburg's reassurances, either, and ordered him to remain in the chair. Jim's father retrieved the tray of food from the bedside table and, putting it on the wheeled, over-bed table, pushed it in front of Sandburg.

"Eat," he directed.

Sandburg looked distinctly queasy, but he gave a shallow nod and started nibbling on a piece of toast, and then he drank the glass of juice apple, by the look and scent of it. Meanwhile, the doctor had turned to Jim and was studying him as if he was some kind of unusual specimen; it gave Jim the creeps. Finally, he spoke. "I'm glad to see you're awake, Mr. Ellison."

"Jim. He, uh, Sandburg said my name is Jim."

The doctor gave a single nod, and approached the bed. "I understand from your father that you don't remember your name or what happened to you?"

"That's right," Jim agreed, half his attention still on Sandburg who, evidently thinking the attention was off him, had pushed the tray of food away and was sitting with his head back against the support of the chair, his eyes closed. His heartbeat had settled down, though, so Jim focused on the doctor. "Who are you?"

"I'm sorry. I'm Doctor Landry; I'm a neurologist and you're my patient."

"What happened to me? Where am I?"

"You're in the Rawlins Institute, in Virginia, not far from Washington, D.C.; this institution specializes in the care of individuals who have suffered serious brain injuries," Landry explained as he came closer, and drew a pen-light from his pocket. "May I?" he asked, but didn't wait for an answer before he was leaning closer, covering one of Jim's eyes with a hand while flicking the light into the other, blinding him with the brilliance of it which didn't endear him to Jim at all. And all the time, he kept talking, asking his questions, as if his were more important than the questions plaguing Jim. "I'm curious to know do you have any memory of what happened to you? Any impressions? Even fragmented memory or dreams?"

Jim hated playing guessing games. These people had the answers, so why wouldn't they just tell him what the hell had happened to him? But he wiped away the tears now streaming from his irritated eyes and tried to rein in his temper; maybe there was some point to trying to jog the memories like this. Looking away, he took a deep breath to calm down, and he frowned with the effort of dredging up some recollection of the past. Unexpectedly, flames flickered in his mind.

"Fire," he muttered. "Flames ... explosions." And then, another image slid before his mind's eye. "A ... a jungle, at dusk, maybe. It's blue."

Sandburg's heart rate spiked again and, when Jim looked, he saw the kid was sitting up, surprise in his eyes and ... hope? So the jungle definitely meant something.

"Hmm, well, you may be remembering a bit of the explosion, in which you were injured," Landry was musing. "Tell me," he went on, turning to ... Jim couldn't keep thinking of him as 'father'; it felt too weird to have a father he didn't remember. What was his name? Oh, yeah, 'William'. "How did you get Jim to wake up? Or was it simply spontaneous?"

William glanced quickly at Sandburg, and then shrugged with what Jim was sure was false uncertainty. "We, uh, well, as Blair told you, Jim has a number of sensitivities, like to the, uh, detergent the sheets were laundered in," William explained, though he seemed to either be making it up as he went along or choosing his words carefully. Jim wasn't sure how he knew that, but it had something to do with body language, heart rate ... a mixture of impressions, too many, too quick to really register. "Anyway, Blair had some lotion that will sooth Jim's skin rash. After we applied that, we got him into a pair of his comfortable old sweats. That seemed to, uh, relax him. Blair also opened the door to the balcony, to air out the room. After a while, he ... he just seemed to wake up."

Blair was also studiously not looking at the doctor, and was chewing his lower lip. Jim could smell the heavy scent of roses in the room, but there no flowers and the scent wasn't coming from outside. He could also still taste the lingering sweet flavor of sugar, and he spotted the remains of the ripped packet on the tray Sandburg was ignoring. Just then, Jim noticed the little vials on the tray, one of which was open and ... and, yeah, that's where the heady scent of roses was coming from. So, Sandburg and his ... er ... William had done more than deal with the rash and dress him which made him wonder what he'd been wearing before, but he shrugged that off. It begged the question, though, didn't it, of who had brought his comfortable sweats Sandburg? Who'd also brought the soothing lotion? Who was a self-proclaimed expert on people with 'enhanced senses'? Just who the hell was this Sandburg, anyway?

Too many questions. Had to focus on the important ones. Like why weren't they telling the doctor everything? And what was that stuff about 'sensitivities'. Didn't this doctor know he had, what did Sandburg call it? Five enhanced senses. Oh, and how come Sandburg looked like he was as beat up as Jim felt, bruises evident on his face, neck and hands, some abrasions, the broken arm and the kid seemed to have just as rotten a headache, and he was trying to breathe shallowly, so his ribs were hurting, too. Had they been in the same explosion? And what had exploded? Jim shook his head, then wished he hadn't when the pain reminded him that staying relatively still was the best bet.

"Is that unusual?" Jim asked, deciding to throw his lot in with the ones who'd awakened him rather than this doctor whom they didn't seem to entirely trust. Always best to go with the ones who seemed to have the answers, while Landry appeared to be as baffled by what had happened as he was. "With head injuries, I mean? Is it unusual for someone to just wake up?"

"No, no," Landry allowed. "Every head injury is different. There's nothing hard and fast about how the brain works or recovers from trauma. Let's check you out, shall we?" he went on, drawing a small reflex hammer from another pocket as he approached the side of the bed. Jim resigned himself to going through the hoops. But he looked at his father, and then at Sandburg, and was determined to get more information out of them after the doctor left them alone. Like, for instance, what did the blue jungle mean?

"My head's killing me, and so's my chest, and my knee is throbbing pretty bad," Jim told the doctor, while the man tested the reflexes in his arms, legs and feet.

Once again, Sandburg perked up. "Uh, Jim's got a lot of allergies to medications. Maybe try Tylenol, and see if it does the trick?"

Jim quirked a brow, intrigued and at the same time, vastly uncomfortable. Just how much did Sandburg know about him? And how did he know? Frowning, he wondered if maybe he shouldn't be more cautious than his innate response of trust inclined him to be. For all he knew, maybe he was Sandburg's lab rat and if that was the case, he didn't plan on any such relationship continuing into the future.

Damn it. He hated not knowing anything that mattered.

Landry agreed that, given Jim's head injury and that he'd just awakened after being unconscious for nearly a week a week? that nothing stronger than Tylenol would be tried, at least initially.

"How did I happen to be in an explosion?" Jim asked, his temper fraying badly. "And was Sandburg in the same explosion? Is that why he's so beat up, too? Huh?"

Landry held up a hand, as if the others might be ready to jump in with answers. "It's best, for now, if you try to let your memories emerge on their own. You've had quite a shock, and you've already had to absorb a lot of new and no doubt disturbing information. It's very difficult, dislocating, even frightening, to be unable to remember anything about yourself and your past. But it's not good to flood you with too much information too quickly."

Jim glared at the doctor and wondered if he'd be saying that if he was the one lying in the bed without a fucking clue about who he was. How many years had he lost? Jim felt anxiety build in his gut, a feeling of being completely, profoundly out of control. Was he married? Probably not. His father was here so he could assume a wife would be present, too, if there was one. What did he do for a living? Where did he live? What was his favorite food? His headache pounded in his head and, to his humiliation, tears threatened. Clamping his jaw tight, he closed his eyes and fought to maintain his composure.

A warm hand lightly clasped his arm. "It'll be okay, Jim," Sandburg assured him, his voice low and calm and oddly soothing. "Whatever happens, it'll be okay."

Jim opened his eyes and looked into those deep pools of blue, so filled with compassion. As crazy as it was given he didn't know the man from Adam and really couldn't see how anything was 'okay' Jim wanted to believe him.

Sandburg asked the doctor if he'd mind giving the nurses the order for the Tylenol, because Jim would feel so much better once the pain was under better control. As if they'd rehearsed it, William perked up and took the doctor by the arm, leading him from the room, saying something about arranging a cot for Sandburg, so he could stay in the room with Jim. Okay, now that's weird. Why would Sandburg be sleeping here? In the same room?

Jim flushed at the thought that occurred to him. "Are we lovers?" he asked, not really thinking they were, but why else...?

Sandburg's eyes widened in surprise, and he smiled, laughing a little. "No, man, no, we're not," he assured Jim. "Nah, it's just because your senses might wig out on you, and your Dad wants me close, just in case."

"Maybe you should be admitted to your own room; you're hurting, Chief. I can see it, even if that fool of a doctor seemed to accept it was just a case of hypoglycemia. Were we in the same explosion?"

Blair's gaze fell away, and his smile faded. "Jim, if you ask me direct questions, I won't lie to you," he said very quietly. "But I really think it's a mistake to push too hard right now. I can't begin to imagine how frustrating it must be to have more questions than answers, but ... but try to be patient, okay? Give the process a chance? That doctor really isn't a fool; he's one of the best in the country. If he says it's best to take it slow, he probably knows what he's talking about, okay?" The rush of words stopped, and Blair's eyes rose to meet his. He bit his lip, and then he nodded. "Yes, we were in the same explosion. I think you probably saved my life."

"So you're here because you feel you owe me something?"

"No. I'm here because ... because I want to be here. Because I can help you get a handle on your senses."

"You woke me up, didn't you?"

Blair nodded, and once again that smile broke loose, lighting up the room. "Yeah. Man, I was never so glad to see you come out of a zone in my life! We were so afraid it was a coma, that it might be brain damage. But I hoped ... well," he cut himself off, as if realizing he was blurting out too much information. "I'm just really, really glad that you're awake."

"Zone?" Jim probed.

"It's what I call it when you get so wrapped up in one of your senses that you lose track of everything else around you," Blair explained.

"What about the blue jungle?" Jim asked, watching Sandburg closely for a reaction.

He wasn't disappointed. Blair's eyes widened again, just before his gaze dropped away. "I ... it's a safe place," he said so softly he was nearly whispering. The gaze flicked back up to meet his, appeal now radiating with almost tangible power. "Please don't ask anything more, okay? You need to rest. You've been hurt really badly, Jim. Let's just take this one step at a time."

A nurse bustled in with a tiny paper cup filled with two Tylenol caplets, interrupting them. Jim swallowed them gratefully.

"You should rest, Jim," Sandburg cajoled again, before he could resume his questioning. "Let the meds work; if they don't, well, I've got some ideas on how to help you control the pain, but ... but I think I've thrown enough at you tonight. I know you have more questions but, hey, your Dad is arranging for me to stay right here. So, don't worry. I'm not going anywhere and we've got all the time in the world to talk about just about anything."

"Except who I am, where I live, what I do for a living ... questions like that," Jim muttered, aggrieved, but he closed his eyes and settled back against the pillow.

Once again, he felt Sandburg grip his arm, just above the wrist, and squeeze very lightly. Commiserating? Offering some kind of assurance? Or just plain comfort?

The weirdest thing was it worked. The kid's touch seemed to ease his anxieties, soothe him in some indefinable way. Vaguely wondering about that, exhaustion pulling at him, Jim drifted into sleep. He half-woke when the touch slipped away, but he heard Sandburg's voice, a low murmur, talking to someone called Simon. The voices rose and faded as he floated so close to sleep and he only picked up bits and pieces of the conversation. He thought in a vague way that Blair sounded emotionally volatile. Happy that he was awake. Sad that he couldn't remember anything. Hopeful that it was only temporary. Promising to stay in touch and to be back for the trial the next week. Trial?

Jim was wondering what trial, and thinking that Simon, whoever he was, had sounded very relieved to know he was awake and talking, and his deep, mellow tones and words of reassurance seemed to help Blair calm down. In his half-asleep state, it didn't occur to Jim to wonder about how he'd been able to hear Simon's voice; he hadn't realized Simon wasn't in the room. He just drifted, enjoying the cadences of Sandburg's voice, the soothing, reassuring sound of his heart beating, and let himself slip back into sleep.

********************

Blair ended the call and put the cell phone back into his pack. Straightening, he turned to look at Jim, and was relieved to see his friend was sleeping, and hadn't been disturbed by the call. So tired he could barely stand, Blair shuffled back to the armchair by the balcony doors and gratefully sank into its well-padded comfort. Settling his head back, he watched Jim sleep, and thought about the amnesia, and what it meant. He felt a great hollow ache at the idea that Jim might never remember who he was, or all the time they'd spent together, all they'd been through together. Would this Jim like him? Want him around? He frowned at that, at the delineation between 'this' Jim, and the man he'd known for nearly five years.

His mind drifted as he contemplated the concept of identity. What really made people who they were? Some studies indicated that ninety percent or more of personality was actually genetic; others argued that it was nurture, not nature, that defined a person, what they valued, how they behaved, and insisted their experiences, their memories, shaped them. Without his memories, would Jim be the man he was? The man who lived to protect others? The man who was courageous and tough, but who had a vulnerable soul and who was generous and gruffly kind? Would this Jim face the world with wary suspicion, wondering when it was going to bite him on the ass again? Would he be essentially a loner, who had made room in his life for a brash and mouthy grad student? So much room that they were still sharing a home and were now official partners at the PD? Would he want to be a cop? Or would William get his way? If Jim never remembered, or was no longer interested in the life he'd had, would he be willing to go into the family business?

So many questions. And compared to all the questions Jim must have, scarcely the tip of the iceberg they'd be dancing on and around for the next little while; Jim trying to find out everything about who he was, William hoping to build a strong, lasting, healthy and happy family relationship, Blair trying to help but also trying not to give too much away or convey any expectations of Jim, about who they'd been to one another. Because if Jim didn't remember him, then ... then what? Just thinking about it all was depressing, and exhausting.

Would this Jim, the one who didn't know he had never really made peace with his senses find them easier to manage, more automatic, less of an ongoing struggle? Though he'd been deeply zoned, once he'd awakened, his senses had seemed to, more or less, fall into a comfortable level of engagement. That pen-light had sure irritated his eyes, though, so maybe sight was still turned a bit too high. Sound, too, maybe. Jim could hear heartbeats but he didn't usually have his hearing tuned so high; normally, he could block them out, along with all the other innumerable sounds that would drive anyone crazy if they had to listen to them all, all the time. They'd have to work on the dials tomorrow. Blair shook his head, wondering how this Jim would react to the concept of having imaginary 'dials' in his head.

The way his head was pounding, Blair dearly wished he had his own set of dials.

He was just beginning to wonder where William was, when the man returned with an orderly who was pushing a folded-up rollaway bed. Thank God, he'd soon be able to stretch out and go to sleep. Stifling a yawn, he put a finger to his lips and motioned at Jim, to warn them to be quiet. In less than a minute, the narrow bed was set up, and it was definitely calling to Blair's aching body.

William softly asked if he needed anything, and he shook his head. All his gear was in the duffle bag in the trunk of the rental, but he could make do without it that night. With a whispered admonishment to him to, "Get some rest," William told him he'd be back in the morning, and turned to leave. But he hesitated and turned back. Wordlessly, he opened his arms and drew Blair into a solid hug. "Thank you," he whispered brokenly. "Thank you for coming. For helping him."

His throat suddenly too thick for words, Blair just nodded, and hugged the man back. With a shuddering breath, William patted his back, stepped away and hurried out without a backward glance.

Blair brushed his eyes, and then, awkward with only one good arm, stripped off everything but his underwear. Feeling distinctly light-headed, he crawled under the sheet and blanket, asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.

********************

Jim was awakened by a nurse, just to see if she could, which flat-out annoyed him. Surly, he winced when she turned on the light, to check his pupils. Then she took his blood pressure and pulse. "Am I alive?" he asked sarcastically.

"So it would seem," she allowed, giving him a long-suffering smile.

Disgruntled, he wondered if he was supposed to feel guilty for not being happy about being awakened from a perfectly comfortable sleep. He glanced at Sandburg, and shook his head. Despite the light being on, and the commotion in the room, he was snuffling softly, dead to the world. Jim sighed in outright envy.

He felt as if he'd only just managed to get back to sleep, when she back to wake him again. "Is this really necessary?" he demanded.

"You were unconscious for five days," she reminded him though it was the first he'd known just how many days he'd been out of it. "We need to make sure you don't suffer any setbacks."

"Uh huh," he grunted, enduring the routine with ill grace. His arm was itching around the IV needle and the catheter felt distinctly uncomfortable. "When can I get unhooked from all this stuff?"

"Once you're eating and drinking normally, I'm sure the doctor will discontinue the IV," she told him.

"And the catheter?" he pressed.

"I'll leave a note on your file with your request and the head nurse can discuss it with the doctor in the morning."

"Doctor Landry?"

"No, he's your neurologist. Doctor Cummings is your internist, and Doctor Wyatt will oversee the care of your injured knee."

"Uh huh." Jim shook his head, wondering if all this high-priced medical help was really necessary. Seemed to him, Sandburg had done more for him than anyone else, at least so far, and he wasn't even on staff. Scowling, he looked over at his temporary 'roommate' and shook his head. That guy could sleep through an earthquake. The nurse turned off the light, and he rolled onto his side, hoping sleep wouldn't elude him for long.

He felt as if he was drifting for a while, the headache and other discomforts distant, not intrusive, and then he found himself in the jungle. The big cat eyed him coldly, and gave an annoyed yowl. The wolf was lying on its belly a few feet away, head on its paws and big blue eyes watching him sorrowfully. He whined softly and, ears twitching uncertainly, inched a little closer. Jim wondered what was wrong with him the cat had always been standoffish, but the wolf had been more like a playful puppy, cuddling close. He lifted his hand to entice the animal closer, and was appalled when it cringed, as if expecting a blow. But it held its ground; didn't run away. Carefully, Jim held out his hand and, after a moment, the wolf inched close enough to sniff his fingers, and then it delicately licked his hand. Jim wasn't sure if the gesture was meant to reassure him that the wolf wouldn't bite, or as an entreaty of sorts, a hope of not being rejected. Touched, he stretched out his hand to scratch the wolf's head and, gently, he drew the animal closer until he was holding the wolf in his arms.

"Shhh," he murmured. "I won't hurt you."

The wolf looked up at him, studied him, those haunting blue eyes filled with sorrow and pain. "It's okay," he consoled. "Whatever's bothering you, it's okay." The wolf nosed his cheek and

"Wake up, Mister Ellison. I need to check your pupils."

"Oh, for the love of " he snapped. "My pupils are fine. My blood pressure is fine. But you're giving me a headache!" He looked at Sandburg, who was still dead to the world, and he resented the man's ability to sleep undisturbed. But then, as she was putting him through his paces, he thought about how Sandburg had nearly passed out the evening before and he'd clearly had his own headache from hell. Concerned now, Jim said, "I think you should check my friend over there. He was hurt in the explosion, too, and he also has a head injury."

"Are you sure?" she challenged. "I don't have any information about him in the charts. I don't even know why he's sleeping in here."

"Yes, I'm sure. Look, just see if you can wake him, okay? Because either he's a very heavy sleeper, or there's something wrong, because he hasn't woken up once despite the lights being on and you coming in and out."

"Alright," she agreed, after she'd finished checking his pupils, pulse and blood pressure. She had to stoop a little to give Sandburg's shoulder a shake because the cot he was on was low to the floor. "Sir? Mister..."

"Sandburg," Jim supplied.

"Mr. Sandburg. I need you to wake up."

"Wha'? Huh?" Blair grumbled. "'m tired," he complained, and rolled over, away from her.

"He seems fine," she reported.

"You didn't check his pupils."

Looking harassed, she shook Blair again, and he groaned, but he rolled onto his back and rubbed his eyes. "Wha's the matter?" he asked and then, looking around, he frowned, as if he couldn't quite figure out where he was.

"I just want to check your pupils, Mr. Sandburg," she explained.

"Uh, yeah, sure, okay, I guess," he replied, and stoically endured the examination.

"Alright, you can go back to sleep," she told him.

He heaved a heavy sigh and, with a muttered, "Thanks," he rolled onto his side. Within seconds, he was again snoring softly.

"He seems fine," the nurse told Jim. "I'll let you sleep now until morning."

"Great," he grumbled at her retreating back. "Now that I'm wide awake, you'll let me sleep. I hate hospitals."

But then he blinked at what he'd said. How did he know he hated hospitals? Shrugging, not sure how he knew anything, including the language, he looked at Blair and wondered just who he was. Obviously, they knew each other or, at least, Sandburg knew him. And the way the kid had succumbed so passively to the nurse's eye examination, Jim was pretty sure he'd been undergoing something similar on a regular basis. Sandburg hadn't been quite awake; he might well have thought that he was still in hospital being treated for his own injuries. He'd been so shaky the evening before that Jim was pretty sure that he'd left his own hospital bed to come to him, to help him.

"You're a mystery, Chief," Jim murmured. Narrowing his eyes, he had the feeling that he rather enjoyed solving mysteries. And then he huffed a hollow, humorless laugh. Good thing, given that the biggest mystery of all was his own life. Who was he? Where was he from? Where did he live? What did he do for a living? How old was he? What did he even look like, for God's sake! Stifling a groan of frustration, he rolled onto his side and closed his eyes, hoping to find his way back to the jungle.

********************

When Jim woke the next morning, sunlight was streaming in through the wide balcony windows. Squinting against the bright light, he saw William sitting in the armchair, reading a newspaper. Sandburg was still sound asleep. Relishing the opportunity to study the two men unobserved, Jim remained still.

William looked less haggard, as if he, at least, had had an undisturbed rest. He was impeccably groomed, his clothing casual but it looked expensive, and he read the paper with focused attention, a frown of concentration on his face. Jim looked closer and could see that his father was reading the financial section of the New York Times. Quirking a brow, Jim tried to imagine being that interested in business reports, but there was no resonance inside, no flicker of curiosity about the trading index on the Stock Exchange or whether the value of stocks and bonds had gone up or down. But if his father was a business man, and evidently wealthy, then maybe he was in business, too. Jim felt a sinking inside at that idea; he just couldn't imagine it, but the nothingness in his mind, the uncertainty about everything especially about the details of his own life was beginning to get to him. Beginning? If he was honest, he'd have to admit he was barely keeping the screaming mimis at bay, but he was trying really hard not to think about the emptiness in his mind.

Shifting his attention to Sandburg, he noted the wild curls that tumbled every which way, and the growth of heavy stubble that accentuated the unhealthy pallor and the lines of strain around the man's eyes. Must be really hurting to feel it so keenly while asleep. Or maybe it wasn't pain. Maybe Sandburg was deeply worried about something. Could be a combination of both, he supposed. Yesterday, he'd had an impression of youth, and recalled having thought about Blair as 'a kid'. Clearly, though, he wasn't all that young. Frowning, Jim thought about it and decided it was the animation in Sandburg when he was awake in his eyes and smile, and the way he moved quickly from one thing to another that made him seem younger than he probably was. The man exuded a kind of raw vitality, even when he was clearly exhausted, as he had been late last evening. And it was the hair. Something about that thick mane of curls gave him the aura of youth perhaps because there was not yet any gray in it, or perhaps simply because it gave the illusion of being untamed.

"How're you feeling this morning, son?" William asked, breaking into his thoughts.

"Not too bad," he replied. "Headache's still there. Ribs are still sore." Jim thought about it and added, "And I think I could eat a horse."

William smiled with evident delight. "That's great; a good appetite means you're getting better." He folded the paper and stood. "I'll go see if I can find us some breakfast."

Blair stirred then, muttering subvocally as he rolled onto his back. He scrubbed his face with his left hand, and raked his fingers through his hair, pushing it back behind his ear; he absently scratched his cheek as he looked at the ceiling, then the balcony windows, as if trying to get his bearings. But when he turned his head and saw Jim, he froze for a moment. And then a bright smile wreathed his face. "Hey, Jim," he called softly, pushing himself up to sit on the side of the cot. "You sleep okay? Pain manageable or is it off the charts?"

"Would've slept fine if the nurse hadn't kept waking me up," Jim groused. "Pain's not great. Thumping headache, aching ribs, throbbing knee. Back's itchy."

Blair's smile muted into concerned commiseration. "We'll work on that today. I can help you, uh, reduce your sensitivity to external stimuli and pain," he said as he stood and ambled toward the bathroom in the corner.

"How're you?" Jim asked, wondering just how Sandburg was going to reduce his 'sensitivity'. "You were kind of peaked yesterday."

"Better," Blair called over his shoulder, and yawned. "Getting a decent night's sleep helped a lot. I'm just gonna get cleaned up; wake myself up a bit." He disappeared into the john and closed the door, but not before Jim had had a good look at the spectacular bruises and abrasions that decorated Sandburg's body. The kid looked like he'd gone a round or two with a bulldozer.

By the time William returned followed by an orderly pushing a table loaded with food and coffee, Sandburg was out of the bathroom and fully dressed. He must've found a razor in there because the stubble was gone. Scratching his itchy face, Jim envied him that.

As he poured the coffee, William said, "Doctor Landry gave me the go-ahead to give you some basic facts about the family."

"Great, finally some real information," Jim enthused, hoping he'd like what he was about to hear.

"Uh, well, yes," William agreed as he settled on a chair by the bed. Blair was over in the armchair, by the window, slightly apart. Not family. Jim frowned at that thought, but quickly returned his attention to what his father was saying. "You were born on June twenty-eighth, nineteen fifty-eight, which makes you forty-one years old. You have a younger brother, Stephen, who was born in nineteen sixty-two. You grew up in Cascade, Washington, not far from the Canadian border, and we all still live there."

Forty-one? God, I'm middle-aged! I've lost half my life, Jim thought in shock and no little despair. For a minute, he couldn't get past it. Forty years, a total blank. His stomach flipped and he pushed away the bowl of bland oatmeal that he'd been allowed. How could he forget forty years?

"You okay, man?" Blair asked, soft, hardly audible, but Jim could hear the compassion, the empathy.

Wiping a shaking hand over his face, Jim wasn't sure how to respond. "I ... it's a shock," he admitted. "How does a guy lose forty years?" Hearing the plaintive tone in his voice, despising it, Jim clamped his mouth closed and worked at getting his emotions under some semblance of control. Coming apart wouldn't help anything, wouldn't make anything better. Clearing his throat, forcing himself to focus on the other details William had shared, it occurred to Jim that there was one glaring omission. "And my mother? What about her?"

William sighed and, for a moment, Jim wasn't sure he was going to answer. Finally, he looked up and said, "I've never told you this, so you never ... your mother was like you, Jimmy."

Across the room, though he turned away as if to offer them privacy, Jim could hear Sandburg's heartbeat doing the rumba.

"Like me? You mean enhanced senses?"

"Yes, only we didn't understand that was what was happening sensory perception out of control. Grace heard things, voices, that others didn't. Saw things in ways no one else did. Some days, she could barely tolerate wearing clothing."

"You thought she was crazy," Jim charged, his voice flat, but he was chilled at how easily such a mistake could be made. What would most people think if he went around telling them he could hear their hearts beating?

"I'm sorry, yes, we did," William admitted. He glanced at Blair. "We didn't know anyone who understood, who could help her the way Blair ... well, the way he can help you. She tried, Jimmy. She loved you boys, and she really tried, but it all got to be too much. I didn't want her to go ... I suppose I was angry with her for a very long time afterward for leaving me, for leaving us."

"Where did she go?" Jim asked.

"She retreated to a cloister in rural France; after a few years, she entered the religious order and took a vow of silence. I think the silence, the peace of the countryside, the simplicity of life and lack of confusion, the structure and predictability ... I think it all helps her to, to cope, to manage her senses."

"She's still alive?" Blair asked, sounding surprised and oddly hopeful, as if what had happened to Jim's mother really mattered to him. "Maybe I could help her."

William nodded somberly. "Yes, she's alive and, so far as I know, doing well. I don't know if she'd see you, Blair. I don't know if she'd see any of us. She left us a long time ago, and she's a different person now: Sister Mary Margaret, not Grace Ellison."

"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Jim wondered, thinking it was odd that his father had kept such information to himself for decades.

Grimacing, William shrugged and bowed his head. He heaved a sigh. Meeting Jim's gaze, he replied, "I was very upset when your mother left, very angry. More hurt than angry, I suppose, but it was easier to be angry than to feel so helpless, and such a failure. I loved her ... more than I can ever say. I felt she'd abandoned us, that she didn't love us enough to keep trying. I was wrong, I know that now, but at the time?" He shrugged again. "I buried myself in my work, and I'm afraid I wasn't a very good father. We didn't ... we didn't talk much, Jimmy. We never have had much to say to one another. By the time I realized what a fool I was being, it was too late. You'd left home."

Jim looked across the room at Blair, and saw such naked compassion in the dark eyes that he had to drop his gaze. Because ... because the compassion wasn't necessary, not for that sad story, and all the other things that were left unsaid but were written large in his father's expression of grief and guilt and undeniable sorrow. Because that's all it was to him: a story about someone else's tragedy. He didn't feel it, not inside, not as something deeply personal to him. The truth was, he wasn't sure he thought much of man who couldn't see past his own anger, and he didn't mean his father apparently, he'd been blind to his father's pain, not only as a child but as a man. He'd left, and from the way his father regarded him, in all the years that had passed since, he hadn't been back. Maybe that explained why his brother wasn't here. Or any friends. Didn't sound like he was the kind of man who would have made many friends; too self-righteous, too judgmental.

Maybe that's what the compassion in Blair's eyes was about. Not for the story, but for what it meant or didn't mean to him now. But ... there was something unsaid, something he had to know. If the hypersenses had driven his mother to madness, or at least left her believing she was mad, then how had he survived all this time with the same senses? What had his father said? That she'd had no one to help her.

No one who understood.

No one like Sandburg.

Before Jim could ask his questions, a nurse bustled in and immediately chased the others out, telling them to go for at least half an hour; Blair wouldn't leave without making her promise to use the non-allergenic oatmeal soap he'd left in the bathroom and the lotion he'd brought on Jim's skin. And William remembered that he'd brought freshly laundered silk sheets for Jim's bed, as well as a pair of silk pajamas, and he handed her the bag that he'd left by the chair.

Jim wasn't sure he wanted them to leave, not sure at all. He felt oddly abandoned they were his lifelines, the only people in the whole world that he knew and even marginally trusted. As if he understood, Blair assured him they'd be back when the half hour was up, and he gave Jim a reassuring smile before disappearing from sight.

The good news was that she was there to remove the IV and the catheter, a process he endured by gritting his teeth and staring at the ceiling. She suggested a bed bath, but Jim wanted a shower so badly he could taste it. So, with her standing just outside the door, to help him if he grew too weak to manage, he luxuriated in the hot spray. And then he stood before the mirror above the sink. Taking a cloth, he wiped off the steam and stared at his face a face he had no memory of ever seeing before. Badly shaken, beginning to fully understand what it meant to have no memory, he stared at the face of man who looked hard and fit. But he had trouble meeting his own eyes because the lost confusion in them was more than he could stand to see.

********************

Blair and William didn't speak as they walked through the Institute and ambled outside to enjoy the beautiful autumn day. Of one accord, they strolled down the sloping lawn and, near a grove of maples, they sat at a picnic table overlooking the pristine lake, its surface a mirror for the glorious colors adorning the roundabout hillsides.

"Must've been hard to see your wife suffer, to not know how to help her," Blair murmured. "Not easy to be a single parent, either."

Inhaling deeply, William shook his head. "I was a poor husband and a worse father. All those years ago ... people were hard on anyone who was different, tended to ridicule them or ostracize them. I wanted to hide our problems, ignore them, pretend they didn't exist, and she couldn't do that. How could she when she had to live with such pain and fear of what was happening to her, of not being able to control what the world did to her?" He sighed again, heavily. "I tried to pretend that I didn't know Jimmy was the same, had the same 'affliction'. I didn't know how to see their talents as extraordinary gifts of nature." He turned from his contemplation of the lake. "I hurt them both badly, and there's nothing I can do to change that."

Blair studied him, and then shrugged. "We all make mistakes it's called being human. I can see you're sorry, that you wish things had been different. I'm sure Jim can see that, too. I know he was glad to ... to reconcile with you a couple years ago. You're still a family. There's time to create a whole lot of new memories together."

William returned his steady gaze. After a moment, he said, "Jimmy's very lucky to have you in his life."

Smiling sadly, Blair looked out over the water, to the hills beyond. "I've been very lucky to have him in my life."

"Past tense?" William asked, confusion and worry blossoming in his eyes. "You're not thinking of leaving, of abandoning him now?" Before Blair could reply, his gaze dropped and he went on thoughtfully, "But I forgot, you've got a job; you really can't stay indefinitely, can you?"

"No, no, you don't understand," Blair hastened to explain. "I have to go back to Cascade for a couple days, to testify at a trial, but I'll be back. And I'll stay as long as Jim wants and needs me around. I just meant ... I just meant that...." His throat clogged and he had to clear it. "This Jim might not want me around. This Jim doesn't know me and I have no claim on him. Once he's got a handle on his senses, well ... that might be it. He doesn't owe me anything, and I'd never want him to feel obligated, or anything."

Abruptly embarrassed for having said so much, with a glance back at the Institute, he hurried on, "Jim heals faster than most people. I think it may be part of his genetic makeup, though there's no way to be sure about that. Anyway, he won't have to stay here long and I'd like to get him out of here as soon as possible." Returning his gaze to William, who was looking surprised to think Jim had to get away from the Institute, Blair lowered his voice and explained, "Doctor Landry is no fool. The way he looks at me and Jim, I'm pretty sure he saw all that stuff that was on the news months ago about Jim being a sentinel. He's already suspicious about how we got Jim to wake up. I don't want him to start messing around with Jim, treating him like some kind of rare specimen, studying him like he's a thing, not a human being." Grimacing, his gaze dropping, Blair muttered, "He endured enough of that crap from me over the years. He doesn't need to go through it all again."

"I don't know how you could have helped him, without having studied him," William offered.

"Yeah, well," Blair shrugged. "He doesn't need to go through it all again. He hated being treated like some kind of lab rat." Standing, he added, "Must be getting close to half an hour. We should head back inside."

"What about you?" William asked, as he, too, got to his feet. "How're you feeling? You were badly hurt, too."

"I'm a little stiff, and I still have a headache, but I'm good. Yesterday? I just pushed a little too hard, coming here straight from the hospital. And I kinda forgot to eat all day," he admitted, with a sheepish grin. "Jim says I'd forget my head if it wasn't attached," he added with a laugh, and then remembered that this Jim wouldn't say anything of the kind.

"You're a damned good friend, Blair Sandburg," William said as he laid a hand on Blair's shoulder. He kept it there as they walked back up the hill, detouring toward the rental car in the parking lot to get Blair's duffel bag.

"He's been a damned good friend to me, too," Blair said. He added, very softly, "He's my best friend the only real family I have, except for my Mom, and I don't see her from one year to the next. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for him." Turning to William, he gestured up at the open balcony door on the fourth floor, and said in a normal tone of voice. "If he's listening, he'd easily be able to hear us from there."

Blair wished he'd thought of that before, but he'd grown so used to not worrying about Jim overhearing him that he'd forgotten to be careful. Thinking back over the conversation, though, he decided nothing had been said that he need worry about and, if Jim was listening, maybe it was good that some things wouldn't ever have to be said face to face. Jim hated anything mushy, and conversations about friendships he didn't remember, and shouldn't feel obligated for, could be awkward emotionally.

William glanced upward at the building that was still some distance away, and his eyes widened in surprise. "My God," he murmured. "I had no idea."

********************

Garbed in his new blue silk pajamas, enjoying the feel of the fabric against his skin, Jim limped to the windows and looked out over the grounds. When he saw how far away William and Blair were after having picked up most of their conversation, he blew a soundless whistle, amazed as William was that he could hear so far, so easily. Some of what he'd heard was intriguing, even a bit disturbing, like the idea that Blair worried about Landry treating him like a lab rat, and that there'd been some kind of media issue about his senses. Sounded like his instincts that hypersenses weren't the norm had been right.

Frowning as he watched them cross the pavement and disappear under the portico, he thought about what Blair had said. This Jim might not want me around. As if he was a whole different person from the man he'd been and maybe he was, how would he know? For the first time, he considered how his amnesia impacted on others, and what it might mean to someone to know a good friend no longer recognized them. This Jim. Did that mean there was another Jim? Or did it mean the old Jim was ... what? Dead?

On one level, Jim was grateful for the consideration Blair was giving him, and the freedom from any obligation to feel something he didn't, to be something he wasn't. Hard to be a friend to someone you didn't remember.

On another level, he felt ... bereft and unnerved. He didn't want his friends or family to decide he didn't really exist any longer. He desperately didn't want to be isolated in a world that he no longer recognized. If he'd chosen some people to be friends before, wouldn't that mean they'd be worth getting to know again? Or ... had he changed? Would they care to still know him?

Hot, fierce anger surged, nearly staggering him with a deep resentment toward the amnesia. It had robbed him of so much that was precious, so priceless and irreplaceable. He felt so utterly and completely helpless; he didn't know how to get the memories back, or if that was even possible. Stupid to blame the amnesia, as if it was a thing. Was there anyone to blame? Anyone from whom to exact retribution? Everyone said he'd been hurt in an explosion the same explosion that had injured Blair. But nobody had said what had caused the explosion. Abruptly, he felt a wash of wretched hopelessness. What good would retribution do? It wouldn't give him his life back. Wouldn't replace the memories, the experiences, the emotions that were gone as if they'd never happened, as if he'd never been.

Feeling as lost as if he were adrift on some faceless ocean, deeply frustrated, he rubbed the back of his neck. So far, nobody was saying much about anything, which gave him nothing nothing to hold onto, to give him a sense of some kind of permanence in his life that he could depend upon. Even his father had only given him the basics about his childhood. Who the hell was he? What manner of man had he been? Sonuvabitch, he hated this not knowing, this emptiness inside that was beginning to consume and overwhelm him.

God dammit! Maybe it made some sense, this portioning of the past; maybe it did some good for him to try to remember on his own. But he was damned sure none of them understood, had the first clue, about what it was like to have this great, gaping hole where his life had been. How horrible and sickening and ... and terrifying it was to live like this. Dear God, what if the memories never came back? How could he endure it? How did he even begin to reconstruct what was lost?

Without consciously realizing he was doing so, Jim was still trying to listen to William and Blair, but they'd stopped talking when they'd entered the building and he lost track of them. Unreasoning panic struck him. He had to find them, had to know where they were because without them he was truly lost. So he reached out farther, listened harder, trying to find Blair's heartbeat in the cacophony of all the voices and banging of doors and cabinets, and rushing of water through pipes, and other heartbeats, so many heartbeats, everything so loud it was painful, excruciating, too much ... too, too much....

His hands flew up to cover his ears. The burden of sound too crushing to bear, he crashed to the floor and curled into himself. "Blair ..." he gasped. "Blair ... please...."

Someone grabbed him, held him close, and he could finally hear that precious heartbeat that told him he wasn't alone, wasn't lost and abandoned. Weeping with unreasoning, desperate gratitude, he grabbed Blair and, eyes still tightly closed, he pressed his ear against Blair's chest. "Don't leave me," he begged. "Please ... I need ... don't leave me."

"Shhh, it's okay," Blair soothed him, rocking him a little and stroking his back. "Shhh, easy, Jim. I'm here. I'm right here. It's alright, buddy. It's alright."

Gradually, Jim calmed enough to realize what he was doing weeping like a child, holding onto another man as if he'd never let go. Humiliated, he argued breathlessly, "No, no, it isn't alright. Crying like some baby. I ... I'm a man. I ... I shouldn't need ... I'm sorry. So sorry."

********************

Feeling as if his heart was breaking, Blair shook his head as he held Jim as tightly as he could with only one arm to keep his friend from pulling away. "Ah, Jim, it's okay to cry. I don't know how you're handling it all. Must be so terrible for you. So awful ... I wish I could do something to make it all better."

Looking up, he saw William had dropped into the nearby chair and was staring at his son, tears brimming in his eyes and sliding down his ashen cheeks. And Blair guessed what the man was thinking; it looked like William understood that the values, the beliefs he'd inculcated in his oldest child were still functioning despite the loss of specific memories. And those old, unconscious beliefs were tormenting Jim now, hurting him, making him feel less of a man.

"Jimmy, Blair's right," William insisted, his voice cracking with fervent emotion. "It's okay to cry, son. It's okay."

Jim looked up, saw the tears on his father's face, and heaved a great sigh. Shuddering, he relaxed against Blair's body, stopped trying to pull away and pretend he could do it all on his own. "I'm scared," he admitted in a halting, rasping voice. "I'm afraid you'll ... you'll both ... that I'm not the same person and you won't want me ... that you'll leave. I don't have anyone else. I don't know what I'd do..."

"You're not alone, Jim. You're not," Blair insisted, though he marveled at this man who could express how he felt so honestly. This wasn't the stoic Jim who never cried; who when he was hurting most pretended he didn't need anyone. "Your father loves you, and so does your brother, Stephen. I ... I love you, and you've got lots of friends back home who are worried sick about you and all wish they could be here."

Jim sniffed and scraped a hand over his face, wiping away the tears. Easing away from Blair, he shook his head. "I don't know what happened. I was ... I couldn't hear your voices anymore, so I tried to listen to your heartbeat. Only there were so many sounds, everything was so loud that it hurt. I couldn't find you, no matter how hard I tried."

Nodding, needing to console and reassure his friend, Blair lightly rubbed Jim's arm. "I understand. I know what happened and why. I think it's time we did some work with your senses, so they're not such a mystery to you. Okay? You ready for that?"

"Oh, yeah, yeah," Jim gusted, though he looked nervous and uncertain. "I'm ready for anything that will give me back some part of myself. I don't care how hard it is. What do I have to do?"

Giving him a reassuring smile, Blair replied, "I don't think it'll be that hard. But, first, let's get you up off the floor. William, could you give us a hand? I'm worried about him putting too much weight on that bad knee."

Together, they quickly got Jim settled on one of the armchairs. William got them each a bottle of water from the bar fridge built into the wheeled television table. Blair gratefully accepted his, but when it was immediately clear that he'd have difficulty uncapping it, Jim took it from him to do the honors. "Thanks, man," he said, as he took the bottle and lifted it for a long swallow. Though it was just a small break, he felt a release of tension and saw the others relax, too. They'd all needed some distraction, some distance, some return to normalcy, however minor, after being awash in such strong emotion.

"Okay," he said, setting the bottle aside on the table between his and Jim's chair. "I really don't think you'll find it all that difficult to reconnect with your sensory abilities. It's like ... well, you don't remember specific, personal memories, but you remember the language, right? Or like riding a bike. We might not ride one for years, but we never forget how. Muscle memory. Even breathing some things are in our unconscious memory. Your senses are natural to you, like breathing."

Jim was nodding, though he wasn't looking all that convinced. William seemed to be fascinated.

"How's your pain level? Comfortable, manageable, or would you like to moderate it? It's important not to ever turn pain all the way off, because it's a critical signal from the body to pay attention, to take it easy, but you don't have to be in agony."

Jim frowned. "My, uh, head aches pretty bad."

"Fine, let's start with that. I want you to imagine a dial in your head that ranges from one to ten."

Jim cocked a brow, looking skeptical, but he nodded and closed his eyes. "Got it," he said.

"Good. Now, how high is the pain? Not a ten, because that would be unbearable. Three would be noticeable but not bad."

After a moment, his expression thoughtful, Jim reported, "It's about seven."

"Okay. Slowly turn the dial down to three, and feel the pain getting less and less as you go."

After a moment, Jim's eyes blinked open, and he seemed astonished and very pleased. "It worked!" Looking from Blair to his father and back again, he repeated incredulously, "It really worked!"

"Of course it did," Blair laughed. "They're your senses. Only makes sense that you can increase or lower your level of awareness as needed. For example, you couldn't function if your hearing was always turned up full blast, but sometimes you need to be able to hear something very soft, or far away."

"Why? Why would anyone need to do that? Why would anyone have senses like mine? They must be an aberration. A freak of nature," Jim challenged.

Out of the corner of his eye, Blair saw William cringe at the 'freak' reference, but he ignored him. "Jim, throughout history, there have always been people with senses like yours. Different cultures referred to those people by different names, like 'Watchman' or 'Guardian' or 'Sentinel'. Essentially, they all mean the same thing. People with heightened senses were very special, very important to their tribes and communities they literally kept watch, not just for enemy movements, but of the weather, or the movement of game. They listened for approaching threats. They could smell if water or food was good or had gone bad. Today, some people with a heightened sense of smell work for the perfume industry; people with enhanced taste ability work for wineries or coffee refiners. Well, you get the idea. Just like some people have incredible talent for music or art or some are brilliant mathematicians, others are incredible athletes ... we all have different talents. Some of your talents involve being able to sense the environment, the world around you, with greater acuity than others can. That's not freaky, man. That's being gifted."

Jim cocked his head and stared into the distance, obviously evaluating what Blair had said, weighing the truth of it. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah, I can see that. Okay, show me something else."

For the next hour, Blair worked Jim through setting his internal dials for each of his senses. Though it was clear that Jim wanted to keep going, was desperate to keep learning more of what he'd already known, they had to take a break when the physical therapist arrived to show him the exercises he needed to do to strengthen his injured knee.

Sitting back, watching, Blair reflected on what a different experience it was working with a Jim who was actually eager to learn all he could about his senses. Not that Jim hadn't always wanted to know how to use them and control them, but he'd tended to gripe about having to practice or take the tests necessary to determine his range, as if it was just too annoying and a distinct hardship. This Jim just seemed to get a kick out of it all and his joy at learning what he could do, and that he could control his perceptions, was very nearly tangible. Certainly, his smile was damned near incandescent. And, man, that felt good. Really good.

After that, it seemed as if an endless stream of people, from doctors, to room cleaners, to lab techs wanting blood samples, to aides bringing meal trays flowed through the room, making it impossible to focus on sensory exercises for any length of time. They called it a day and just relaxed, opting to play cards in-between interruptions, while William told Jim a little more about his childhood, like the fact that he'd been an all-city quarterback in his day.

Not long after dinner, after another couple games of cards and easy reminiscences about the past from William, Jim gathered up the deck and turned to Blair. "I think we should call it a night. You look like you're about to pass out."

Grinning, Blair sat back and shook his head. "I'm okay."

"No, no, you've been pushing hard to be here, to ... to help me," Jim insisted soberly. "I can see you're pretty beat up, too; I've noticed that when you're hitting your limit, you get kinda pale. And the skin tightening around your eyes tells me you're hurting." With a small, teasing smile, he added, "Unless I miss my guess, you don't have one of those dials in your head, to turn it all down. So, it's bedtime for you, Junior."

Snickering, Blair gave in. In truth, he was teetering on the edge of exhaustion, and his headache was pulsing worse than it had all day. "Fine, Mom," he agreed, with a wink at William. "I'll be good. And, since you're the patient here, it probably wouldn't hurt you to turn in early, either. You've had a busy day."

The other two men laughed and William stood to take his leave. In easy, companionable silence, Blair and Jim took turns using the facilities to wash up and get ready for bed. Despite protests that he didn't have to bother, Blair insisted upon applying more of the lotion to Jim's skin, and was glad to see the rash was nearly gone. Jim changed into his old, comfortable sweats, which pleased Blair and made him very glad to have brought them.

After they'd turned in and the lights were out, silence reigned for a few minutes. Then, Jim said, "Thank you. For being here. I know, if not for you, I'd still be lying here impersonating a vegetable. I ... just, thanks."

For the first time since that damned bomb had blown up their world, Blair felt a patch of warmth in his chest, and his throat thickened in a good way. The fun they'd had that day, the work on Jim's senses, the kibitzing and teasing and Jim even watching out for him, concerned about his health it felt so natural. And now this, this expression of gratitude that made everything worthwhile. Maybe ... maybe his Jim wasn't really gone.

"You're very welcome, man," he replied quietly. "Truth is, there's nowhere else I'd rather be."

********************

The next morning, when William had to make some calls to deal with business problems, Blair and Jim elected to take a walk and enjoy the unseasonably warm fall weather. First, they stopped by the nursing station, to find out where to get a cane for Jim, to ensure he didn't put too much pressure on his healing knee. The nurse called someone, and an orderly met them in the front lobby with an elegant cane fashioned from a dark wood.

Outside, they ambled slowly across the driveway to the lawn stretching down toward the lake. "Want to keep working on your senses?" Blair asked.

"Absolutely," Jim assured him with a wide smile. "What do you suggest?"

"Oh, easy stuff," Blair assured him with a grin. "Identifying some familiar scents. Listening for birds. Describing the finer details of clouds."

"Bring it on, professor," Jim agreed, sounding genuinely enthusiastic.

Stopping by one of the gardens, blocking Jim's view with his body, Blair checked out the flowers and dead-headed a few blooms that were past their prime. Holding the blossoms in his hand, behind his back, he nodded to Jim to indicate they should keep walking down the hill.

"Okay, this is far enough," he decided. He continued standing while Jim gripped his arm to steady himself as he eased down to sit on the grass, before dropping down himself to sit cross-legged facing his friend. "So, what kind of flowers am I hiding in my hand?" he asked.

Jim closed his eyes and sniffed and smiled. "Too easy. You've got a thing for roses, don't you?" he teased, opening one eye and cocking a brow.

Blair grinned and nodded. "What else?"

Jim sniffed again, then rolled onto his side to look back at the garden. His nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply, and then he turned back to Blair. "Don't know the names, but you've got one of those fluffy white flowers and a blossom or two from one of the stalks of blue ones."

"Delphiniums that's the blue one, and nasturtiums, the white. Very good," Blair praised him, impressed with the way Jim had separated the various scents to match those in the garden to the petals in his hand without having to be told how to do it. He wondered if Jim's control was more natural now that he wasn't half fighting, half resenting his senses. "Tell me how many birds you can hear in that grove over there and if you hear any other animals."

Closing his eyes, Jim laid back, his hands cradling his head. "Gotta be at least two dozen birds in there, chirping and singing away," he said, frowning a little as he differentiated each distinct bird. "No, more. Twenty-eight. Mostly swallows and chickadees, but some robins, several crows and, I think, a blue jay. And there're a bunch of squirrels scurrying around, probably gathering nuts for the winter. More than a few mice, too something pretty small and furtive, anyway."

Blair blew a breath of admiration. "Man, you never cease to amaze me," he said, knowing he sounded reverent, but that's the way he felt. Jim's gifts were phenomenal, so incredibly special, and he felt so privileged to be a part of the process.

Jim flushed a little, but he also smiled shyly with pleasure at the praise. Opening his eyes, he stared up at the fluffy clouds floating overhead, lazily drifting to the east. "The finer details of clouds," he murmured, echoing Blair's earlier words. "Well, let's see that one looks like an elephant on steroids."

Laughing, Blair checked out the cloud in question. Tilting his head, he demurred, "I just don't see it, man."

"Yeah, well, you don't have my incredible vision," Jim retorted, straight-faced. But then he grinned, "Seriously, I know you probably can't see it, but the way the mists are moving inside the cloud, the play of light and shadow, I really can see an elephant."

"I believe you," Blair replied.

"Really?"

"Of course," Blair assured him. "I got used to the fact a long time ago that you can see and hear stuff that I never will."

"How long a time ago?" Jim asked, his voice tight with the need to know.

"Nearly five years now," Blair told him, but he turned his gaze toward the water. "Let's not push too fast, okay?" he asked.

"How fast is too fast?" Jim demanded. "What if my memories never come back, huh? What then?"

Blair inhaled deeply and let it out slowly. Then he turned his head to meet Jim's gaze. "I've kept journals about a lot of the stuff that happened during those years. At some point, if it's pretty clear that ... that your memories are really gone, I'll give them to you. And I'll answer any questions you have. But not yet, okay? It's too soon to know if this is ... if this is the way it's going to be."

Jim grimaced, but he nodded with reluctant acceptance. Looking back up at the sky, his voice still a bit tight, he said, "I've heard you talk about having to go back to Cascade for a trial. Can you tell me what that's about? When you'll be going? If you'll be back?"

"Oh, I'll be back. You can count on that," Blair replied. "Jim, I really wish I didn't have to go, but I do. I'm the key witness. I have to leave tomorrow, but I shouldn't have to be gone more than two days."

"Witness? To what?"

"I saw a gang leader kill a man. We've known about him for a long time, but other witnesses, if they survived, were always too scared to testify or they just disappeared," Blair told him with a sorrowful shake of his head, knowing those people were probably dead.

Jim frowned and, with a twinge of pain probably from protesting ribs he rapidly sat up to stare at Blair. "That sounds more than a little dangerous. How did you happen to see the killing? Wrong place, wrong time? And what are the cops doing to protect you?" He paused, and then Blair saw the connection in his eyes. "The explosion! Did somebody try to kill you? To stop you from testifying?"

"Whoa, slow down," Blair protested, holding up his hands in surrender. "As far as the cops protecting me, I am a cop, Jim. A detective, actually. My partner and I had the guy under surveillance when we saw the hit go down. It happened too fast for us to stop it, unfortunately," he sighed, and bit his lip at the memory. "But at least we can finally put Coppolino away for a long time. As for the explosion?" He shrugged. "Maybe. Nobody knows for sure."

Jim was gaping at him. "You're a cop?" he challenged, sounding flabbergasted. "You?"

"Yes, me," Blair assured him, wondering if he should be insulted. Gesturing to himself, he added, "I know I don't fit the profile, but the look helps when I have to go undercover, you know? You're not the only one who doesn't think I look like a cop."

Jim was still gaping at him and shaking his head, as if he was having trouble taking it in. "It's not just the way you look but you're right. I look like a cop you look like, I don't know, just..." At a loss, he shrugged. "I guess I thought you were a therapist or some kind of sensory specialist, maybe someone from a university. How do you know how my senses work?"

Before Blair could answer, Jim frowned and looked away, evidently not really expecting a response because, well, Blair tended not to answer leading questions about his past unless there was no avoiding it. Blair waited, pretty sure Jim was beginning to put it all together, even if he didn't actually remember. When Jim's expression flattened, and he looked up, his gaze piercing, Blair braced himself. "I'm a cop, too, aren't I?" he demanded, hard and flat, certain. "I'm your partner. That's why we were in the same explosion."

"Not just a cop," Blair affirmed. "You're an incredible, an absolutely brilliant detective. Cop of the year for the last four years in a row."

"And your partner."

"Yes, I'm your partner," Blair agreed, but emphasizing the difference. "You're the senior partner you've got a few years of experience on me."

Jim looked away, his gaze wandering over the landscape, and then he nodded slowly to himself. "That feels right," he said, sounding as if he was talking to himself as much as to Blair. With a crooked smile, he turned back to Blair. "Senior partner, huh? Yep, that definitely feels right."

Blair snorted, then laughed. "Yeah, I'm not surprised you like the sound of that. You love being in charge, man."

Jim bit his lip and then, sounding vulnerable, he asked, "That's a job I could go back to, right? That I could still do? Would you work with me, even if I don't remember? I might need a lot of help."

"Jim, if you decide that you still want to be a detective, I know a whole bunch of people who will dance for joy to have you back, including me. But if you decide that ... that the idea doesn't work for you and you'd rather do something else, that's okay, too. I'll help you, back you up, on anything you want to do."

Jim gazed at him, wonder illuminating his face. "Two days ago, I didn't know you, didn't know your name. And today ... today you're the one who helps me see the world in a way no else ever could." He bowed his head and studied his hands as he steepled and unsteepled his fingers, rubbing his palms together. "I think ... I think I was waiting for you," he said quietly, sounding nervous, even shy. "I remember this dream. I was waiting, but I thought ... I was afraid that maybe nobody would ever come. And I was listening for something, listening so hard, even though I didn't really know what I was listening for." He lifted his gaze to stare at Blair's chest. "I'm pretty sure I was listening for the sound of your heart." Looking up into Blair's eyes, he went on, "I don't consciously remember you but, but ever since I woke up, I've felt like I know you. Like I've always known you."

Feeling like he was breaking up inside, Blair pressed his lips together in an effort to stop their trembling. But his eyes burned and he knew he was about to cry. Swallowing hard, sniffing, he inhaled deeply to gain some kind of control, but he couldn't contain ... bowing his head, he lifted a hand to cover his eyes, to swipe the tears away.

"Oh, geez," Jim breathed. "I'm sorry maybe I shouldn't've said anything -"

"No," Blair cut in, holding up his hand in a mute plea for Jim to wait until he could speak. Sniffing again, finally dislodging the lump in his throat, he looked straight at Jim and rasped brokenly, "I'm glad you told me. I ... you don't understand. I didn't want to say didn't want to impose, in case, in case you never I know we're not related but, man, you're my family. You're the most important person in my life. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you. And, and there's no way that I wouldn't come, wouldn't find you. If it took a lifetime, I'd find you."

"Why didn't you say something?" Jim demanded. "At first, hell, you let me believe you were some kind of consultant my father brought in. And, okay, sure, I figured out you were more than that, that you must be a pretty good friend to ... why didn't you say anything?"

Blair sighed heavily and swiped at the tear slipping down his cheek. "Ah, Jim. I didn't want to mislead you, but they say people who've lost their memories, or who have been in comas, sometimes change; sometimes want different things than before, and don't want others. I didn't want you to feel any obligation to me; you've got enough to deal with, without some stranger claiming a relationship you can't remember," he blurted, needing Jim to understand, to not think he was playing some kind of twisted game.

"And, and, well, I know you get that you and your Dad haven't had the best relationship in the past," he went on, a little more calmly, but with no less intensity because he really wanted Jim to understand. "Man, he wants you to recover as much as you or I do, but ... but this is a chance for him, a chance he never expected to have. He loves you so much, and he's so sorry for everything that happened a very long time ago. This ... this might be the only chance he's got to build different memories with you, better memories, so that you'll want, you'll want to know him again, maybe even care for him. The two of you a couple years ago, you saved his life, and since then, you've seen him every once in a while, but it's never been easy. This could be his only chance, man; he's got such high hopes of reconciliation. And I didn't want to get in the way of that. He's your real family and you both deserve to ... to know one another, to be comfortable with one another." He paused and raked his hair back. "And Stephen loves you, too. I'm sure he'd be here if he could, and he'll probably show up soon."

Jim was listening intently, his fingers aggressively combing through the grass, as if seeking something to hold onto. When Blair finished, he looked away and was silent for what felt like a long time. Finally, he blew a long breath and the tension in his shoulders eased. "Okay, I guess I can understand that." Turning his head back to face Blair, he went on more strongly, "But you have to understand something. I may not remember anything, but my gut tells me that family isn't just about blood. And ever since I woke up, my gut's been telling me that you're a whole lot more my family than he is, or will ever be. Don't get me wrong. I ... I like the guy. The more time I spend with him, the more I like him. He's..." Jim waved at their surroundings, "he's obviously paying a small fortune to make sure I get the best care possible, and I really appreciate that. So I'm also very grateful to him." Licking his lips, he shook his head and shrugged. "I don't really know how I'd feel if I got my memories back, but I can't imagine ever cutting him off, ever not wanting to spend time with him."

"He'd be very glad to know that," Blair told him.

"Yeah, okay, I'll find a way to let him know," Jim agreed. "But do you understand? Him, I like okay. You ... I can't really imagine a future without you in it."

Once again, Blair felt joy well in his chest. "I'm really glad to hear that, man, because I've been renting a room at your place for years, and I really didn't want to have to move out."

Jim stared at him, and then laughed. "That's it? I bare my soul and you're worried about having to move?"

God, it felt good to laugh with Jim again. "Hey, I'm serious, I love living in that loft," Blair insisted. "It's not just a room it's home."

Jim reached out to ruffle his hair, causing him to duck away, a routine so familiar it made his heart ache. But Jim had stopped laughing by the time he said, "Funny, what you said about wherever it is being 'home'."

"Why? That's how it feels to me."

Jim nodded pensively, and again started combing his fingers through the grass. "I know. I get that. It's just, for me, home doesn't feel like a place, because I can't remember it. I guess, for me ... the way you make me feel, I don't know no, that's bullshit. I do know. You make me feel safe, Chief. I feel okay with you. That everything will be okay, eventually, even if I never remember anything. I guess when I think of home, I think of you."

"Oh, Jesus, Jim, you're destroying me here," Blair husked, once again fighting off the emotions that surged over him and threatened to take him under. "You have no idea how much that means to me. We're good friends, the best, but you've never you would never admit anything like that. You just don't like to talk about emotions. Your past, well, you've got a tendency to wall yourself off. Sorry, sorry. I shouldn't be laying that on you. But, but I just ... man, you have no idea how important you are to me. Or how I would have killed to hear you say that, sooooo many times in the past."

Jim's lips twisted unhappily. "I get the impression that I was a real bastard. Held a lot of crap against my father for a lifetime. Left you wondering where I stood."

"But you might not have felt the same before," Blair hastened to interject. "This is all really hard for you I can't imagine how you're holding it together so well. If I couldn't remember anything, I'd be a basket case. Right now, I'm a lifeline, I know that, so it's natural you'd, well, feel a pretty strong sense of affiliation. And you weren't a bastard. Guarded, yeah. But you had good reason. You've been through a helluva lot of tough stuff in your life; stuff that would have destroyed a lesser man. Don't ever think you were a bastard, Jim. You're the best man I've ever known."

Giving Blair a quizzical look, Jim playfully challenged him. "Why do I think you might be a little prejudiced about that, Chief? And that not everyone would agree with you?"

"Well, for one thing, because I'm the bastard here," Blair returned with a grin. "My Mom says she has no idea who my father was."

"Smart ass," Jim laughed.

"Oh, yeah, very smart. You may not have noticed, but I'm a certified genius," Blair teased.

Gazing at him fondly, Jim replied, "Oh, I've noticed, hotshot. I've noticed."

Blair stood and held out a hand to help Jim lever himself to his feet. "C'mon, William will be wondering where we got to, and I've probably laid more than enough stuff on you that ... well, that was all maybe too soon and too fast."

"No way," Jim returned, shaking his head vigorously. "I needed to hear all that; needed to know something about who I am and what I've been doing with my life. And ... and I think we both needed things to be said, to know where we stand." He slung an arm around Blair's shoulders as they made their way back to the Institute. "I've been thinking about this trip back to Cascade. Maybe I should be going with you," Jim said, all teasing gone and suddenly very sober.

"No," Blair replied. "You're not up to traveling yet, and there's nothing you can do back there. Plus, I'm just as glad you're somewhere where I don't think Coppolino can find you, at least not easily. But I do think that it would be a good idea for you to leave here as soon as you can; maybe go to a lodge someplace with your Dad. Pay cash and use different names."

"He's that dangerous?"

"Oh, yeah, at least until we get him locked away for at least fifty years," Blair confirmed. "And I don't want Landry too close to you for too long. He suspects there's something going on he doesn't understand. If he gets wind of your senses, and he may already have pretty strong suspicions because, well, you don't need to worry about that I just don't want him to start messing around with a bunch of tests and driving you crazy. You, uh, don't, or at least didn't, have a lot of patience with tests."

"I feel better every day; stronger. I'm sure I should be able to move on from here within a few days."

"Okay, well, let's plan on that. Your Dad knows how to get in touch with me if you decide it's time to go before I get back."

Jim playfully tugged on one of his curls. "Jesus, Sandburg. A cop? I never would have guessed that. What else don't I know about you?"

Huffing a laugh, sliding firmly into avoidance, Blair replied in the same jocular tone, "Man, it'll take years to recount all those stories over again."

"I look forward to hearing them," Jim replied with a grin.

"You say that now, but you haven't heard any of them yet. I think you used to tune me out most of the time," Blair riposted, his tone light.

Jim, looking amused, just quirked a brow. But then he sobered. "I really think I should be going back there with you; I don't have a good feeling about you heading out on your own."

"Jim, I'm a big boy now and I even carry my own gun," Blair chided. "I'll be fine. There's nothing you can do there except be a target. I'll be a whole lot happier knowing you're here."

Though he didn't look pleased about it, Jim finally nodded in agreement.

When they got back to his room, William was just concluding a phone call. "Ah, there you are," he welcomed them as he closed the cell phone. "I'm glad to say my work's finished, at least for the moment."

"Great," Jim replied, and graced his father with a warm smile.

Blair hesitated, but decided secrets wouldn't help anything, so he reported, "Jim's figured out he's a cop and that we're partners. I knew it wouldn't take him long he's always been one hell of a detective. And he says that sounds good to him, that he hopes to get back to work as soon as he can."

"Oh, I see," William murmured, evidently at a loss as to what else to say. Blair felt sympathy for him, understanding that William had probably hoped that, one way or another, Jim either wouldn't find out or, if he did, wouldn't ever want to go back to that line of work.

Jim was giving him a quizzical look, a smile playing around his lips. "Gee, Pop, does that mean we can't still be friends?"

William's lips twitched, and then he, too, grinned. Moving forward, he clapped his son on the shoulder. "Jim, you can be whatever you want to be. I've always been proud of you, and I always will be."

Blair was proud of both of them. "And, uh, we talked about how important it is to leave here as soon as Jim is well enough. William, you know I'm worried about Landry putting the pieces together and, well, I'm also worried about a guy back in Cascade. He's probably behind the bomb that nearly killed us, and he's also probably looking for both Jim and me. Once I go back to Cascade and testify, I think that danger will be alleviated, but it's best not to take chances."

"I'll talk to the doctors and make arrangements," William replied, all business, and Blair knew he could trust the man to make things happen. "When do you have to leave?"

"I'll call the airline this afternoon to fly back in the morning."

William shook his head. "Take the jet."

"What?" Blair squeaked.

"We don't need it, and you don't need to put up with the hassle of commercial air travel. You're still recovering yourself, and you need to be rested when you get there. Getting through that trial," he glanced quickly at Jim, then back to Blair, "well, any trial would be stressful."

"Well, if you're sure," Blair temporized, trying not to look too thrilled at the idea of not having to cope with long security lines and five hours crowded onto a regular plane. And he'd understood William's meaning about the trial; it wasn't going to be any walk in the park, that was for damned sure. He'd need to be at his best.

"I'm sure. I'll call the pilot later."

"That's ... that's really great. Thanks!"

Jim's gaze at his father was full of approval and great warmth, so much so that William seemed a bit flustered and embarrassed, but also very pleased.

********************

The next day, Simon met him in the arrivals and baggage area of the private terminal. Grinning when Blair came through the gate, backpack over his shoulder, he said sardonically, "Well, you seem to have come up in the world, Sandburg. Do I need to start worrying about you accepting mob payoffs?"

Laughing, Blair shook his hand. "Pretty sweet, huh? I gotta say that Jim's father sure knows how to travel painlessly. I've never had such a great flight."

They turned as one to head out to the parking area. "How's Jim doing?" Simon asked, concerned.

Blair thought about it before answering. "All things considered, he's doing great. He still doesn't have any memories, but he figured out yesterday that we're partners, and he'd like to come back to work as soon as he can."

Simon's eyes widened. "Well, that is good news. You'll have to tell me all about what's been happening on our way back into town. What about you? How're you doing? You ready for tomorrow?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," Blair confirmed as he slid into the front seat of Simon's sedan.

"The D.A. wants to go over your testimony again this afternoon," Simon told him, as he got in behind the wheel. Pausing, he added, "They're worried, Blair. It hasn't been that long. You know the Defense will attack your credibility."

"Yeah, I know," Blair replied, raking back his hair. "But we've got Jim's signed report to enter into evidence, and his hand-written notebook, too, if necessary. It'll corroborate my testimony. Surely to God that'll be enough to put a homicidal psychopath like Coppolino away."

Simon's expression was grim as he cranked on the engine. "Let's hope the jury thinks so."

"Is there anything more about the bomb? Any leads?"

"Nah," Simon rumbled as he steered out onto the airport parkway. "The materials weren't anything special standard C-four, wires and fuses that could've been obtained just about anywhere." He shrugged and then gave Blair a sidelong look. "Given the sheer amount of C-four, though, it's a miracle you guys both survived."

Blair stared out the windshield. "I have no idea how we did. Just can't remember any of it. But I'd lay a year's salary on the bet that Jim sensed something in time to save both of our lives."

"Amen to that."

Hours later, Blair was exhausted and fed up with going over and over his testimony. Finally, the D.A. pronounced him ready and cut him loose. Outside the meeting room, Simon was waiting for him.

"Geez, Captain, you really don't have to be my personal chauffeur!" Blair exclaimed. "Though I have to admit, I'm damned glad to see you. Man, I didn't think they'd ever stop asking the same questions over and over and over again."

Simon grunted, and nodded, well used to how paranoid the D.A. could get about an important case they really couldn't afford to lose. "Well, I'm more than just your chauffeur," he said, with no little hauteur. "I'm also your protection detail, and you're to remain in my custody until I deliver you to the Courthouse in the morning."

"Oh, you're kidding, right?" Blair groaned. "No offense, man, but I was really looking forward to going home."

"Not going to happen," Simon informed him as they walked through the building. "We're both staying at a safehouse tonight. Your suit clothes have already been taken over there."

Blair rolled his eyes and sighed heavily, but he knew better than to protest. He was their only witness and, given the bomb, they already knew Coppolino would do everything possible to stop him from testifying. Blair was all in favor of anything that was designed to keep him alive.

********************

That night, the old dreams came back. Wrapped in horror, breathless, Jim felt desperation consume him. Fragments of forgotten memories flashed and flitted. Blair was there, lifeless. "NO!" he cried out, his heart shattering. The blue jungle intruded, washing away all else. The wolf and the panther, leaping toward one another. A blinding flash of light erupted. He couldn't see. What? Where? Blair? Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The sound surrounded him, pulsed through him. Blair!

Jim woke in a sweat, gasping, his gaze raking the darkness. Where was he? Where was Blair? What the and then the memories cascaded. He was in a hospital. Blair was gone, back to where they came from. Back into some kind of danger. He should be there, dammit! Jim scraped his face with trembling hands. Restless, unsettled, unable to remain in bed, he got up to pace, but his damaged knee twinged and ached. Frustrated, rubbing his leg, he dropped down onto the chair by the balcony door and stared into the night. Fragments of the dream haunted him: the feeling of utter loss and despair, horror, helplessness, the jungle and the animals racing toward one another. The light and the sound of a beating heart. Closing his eyes, he grabbed onto that memory, played it over and over. Blair's heartbeat. He knew it as surely More surely, he thought bitterly than he knew his own name.

Seized by anxiety and uncertainty, he needed to know Blair was okay. There was a phone on the table beside him but he didn't know the number. But he knew his name and he knew they shared a place in Cascade. Grabbing up the phone, he directed the operator to find his number no, he didn't know the address! Finally, the phone on the other end was ringing, ringing, ringing. But there was no answer. Shaking now, Jim slammed the phone down. What time was it? Glancing to the clock on the bedside table, he saw that it was nearly dawn. Blair should be at home, shouldn't he? Was there anyone else he could call? The Police Department, maybe? Surely, they'd know but why would they? What if Blair was with a girlfriend? Jim didn't know if he ... he didn't know anything.

"Get a grip," he ordered himself. Blair wouldn't appreciate being hounded in the dead of night. Forcing himself to breathe deeply, slowly, Jim gradually managed to beat back his sense of panic.

But he was unable to get back to sleep. When his father appeared the next morning, he insisted that William call Blair, just to ... to wish him luck at the trial. William looked at him oddly, but complied without argument, for which Jim was grateful. When Blair answered, groggy and obviously barely awake, Jim felt like a fool. "Ah, sorry to wake you, Chief," he stammered. "Just ... I just wanted to wish you luck today, that's all."

"Uh, thanks, Jim," Blair replied, and yawned. "If they need me again tomorrow, I'll call you. Otherwise," he yawned again, "I'll be back tonight."

"Good, that's good," Jim returned. Ending the call, he passed the cell phone back to his father.

"You alright, son?" William asked, studying him.

"Yeah, sure," Jim said quickly. "I just ... it's stupid. I dreamt ... never mind. It was stupid." But he couldn't shake the sense that Blair was in danger; couldn't stop thinking he should be with him.

Early that afternoon, during lunch, Jim and his father kept the television on to watch CNN while they ate. Jim was having a hard time dealing with his lack of knowledge about the past, though he could understand and grudgingly accept the rationale for keeping him in the dark but he reasoned there could be no harm in learning about current events. Any information was better than none, he'd argued that morning, and succeeded in gaining his father's agreement to have CNN on all day. Now, he listened with eager attention, more than half hoping some news report would trigger something inside or, as a minimum, alleviate some of his hunger to know what was going on around him. As they ate, just as it had been all morning, it was the usual bad news from around the world or at least Jim figured it must be usual, because his father didn't seem all that surprised by the images of coups, revolutions, civil wars, famine and flood that were paraded across the screen.

But then the news anchor put a hand to her earphone and interrupted a report from the Middle East. "I'm sorry, Bob, but we have to cut in. Gang violence has erupted in Cascade, Washington. We're going live to Don Haas, outside the Courthouse in Cascade, where a notorious gang leader and alleged executioner is scheduled to go on trial this morning. Don, what's happening out there?"

Jim and William both stiffened, lunch forgotten, as they stared at the screen; the camera view shifted to the street outside a multi-storied white stone building fronted by thick, Corinthian columns and a long, wide flight of stone steps. Jim's heart was in his throat, dread twisting in his belly as he quickly took in the scene. The reporter was crouched behind a news van and the racketing sound of gunfire filled the room. "Thank you, Wendy. Just seconds ago, while Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade PD was escorting Detective Blair Sandburg, the Prosecution's key witness, up the steps to the Courthouse, two cars pulled up and automatic weapons' fire began to rake the area."

Desperate to find Blair, Jim was squinting at the screen, trying to make out what was going on behind Haas. The image was shaking and the resolution wasn't good. "Dammit," he cursed, as he peered at the screen. "Get that clown out of the way."

As if the cameraman had heard him, the picture zoomed in, panning the balaclava-clad gang members firing automatic weapons from behind two battered cars, and the police returning fire from various positions on the sidewalk and from the Courthouse steps. Jim could see several civilians sprawled on the sidewalk, arms covering their heads, just trying to stay out of the line of fire. As Haas continued to report, the camera zoomed in even closer onto figures crouching near one of the cement pillars that fronted the classical building.

"My God!" William burst out.

Jim almost didn't recognize Blair. Hair tied back, glasses perched on his nose giving him an academic air, clad in a good suit, and down on one knee, he was half-sheltered by one of the thick pillars and was using it as a shield. He'd ditched his sling and was using the cast to brace his left hand as he leveled his weapon and returned fire. Beside him, ducking around the other side of the pillar to take his own shots at the attackers, was a larger, dark-skinned man, who suddenly cried out as he slammed back and onto the steps.

"Head of the Major Crime Unit, Captain Simon Banks, has just been shot!" Haas practically screamed into his microphone. Jim blinked, and wondered why the name felt familiar.

Blair immediately repositioned himself to give Banks better cover, even as an explosion rocked the building behind them, blowing out part of the wall, scattering shattered stone and dust into the air. Haas was babbling, "Gang leader and enforcer, Frank Coppolino, was to go on trial this morning for murder. He was taken to the secure holding cell near the courtroom a few minutes ago, and it looks now as if his gang has attacked inside as well as out, to not only kill the only eye witness to his latest alleged murder, but also to literally break him out of jail."

On the screen, Simon had recovered enough to unceremoniously push Blair behind him as he again returned fire. Sirens screamed in the background and smoke billowed from the hole in the building's wall. Several gang members had fallen, and the few who were left crouching behind the shield of their cars were now making their move to escape. Police cars swarmed around them, boxing them in and, finally, the scene outside the Courthouse seemed to be under control.

Don Haas pressed his hand to his own earphone, nodded briskly, and then reported. "I have just received an unconfirmed report that Frank Coppolino has escaped police custody. I repeat, the reputed leader and enforcer for the Devil's Own has escaped."

Jim was trying to see if Blair was okay, but was frustrated by the fact that Haas' head was in the way. Once again, the cameraman seemed to realize that viewers would rather see the people making the news than the guy reporting it, and homed in on the small crowd of police officers now surrounding Blair and Banks. Blair was fussing over Simon, gesturing at his body, where Jim could clearly see a blood stain spreading on Banks' right side, and Banks was patting Blair on the shoulder. Cocking his head, listening harder, Jim could hear, "I'm okay, Sandburg. It just grazed my side. Calm down. Somebody tell me what happened in the Courthouse, dammit!"

"They blew up the courtroom. In the melee, they gunned down the security detail and blasted open the door to Holding. Coppolino got out the back way."

"Sonuva -" Banks cursed, sounding equal parts furious and frustrated. "Do we know how many casualties?"

"Not yet, Sir, but so far, there are no reports of anyone being killed."

Banks, expression grim, nodded, and looked out at the street, where uniformed police were handcuffing the captured shooters. "They sure wanted him bad, to have sacrificed so many to get him out," he muttered. "Sandburg, we need to get you out of here and to a safehouse." Unceremoniously, he took Blair by the arm and, surrounded by a phalanx of cops, drew him down the steps to a squad car. Jim could hear Blair argue, "We need to get you to a hospital!" Grinning in spite of himself, relieved the immediate danger to Blair was over, Jim figured he'd put money on them going to a hospital before any safehouse.

The camera cut back to Haas. "Looks like the action is over," he said, stating the obvious. "We have unconfirmed reports of eleven injuries inside the Courthouse, three of them serious, and five police officers were wounded in the firefight you just witnessed. Four innocent bystanders who just happened to be passing in front of the Courthouse when the attack began, were also wounded. Six gang members were shot and three others have just been arrested."

The television went to the split screen format. Wendy asked, "Don, what can you tell us about this case?"

"Well, Wendy, as I said, Frank Coppolino is reputed to be the Devil's Own enforcer, as well as their leader, and he's alleged to have murdered more than two dozen people. In the past, witnesses have either been too afraid to testify or have been killed or have disappeared and are presumed dead. This time, Detectives Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg witnessed the hit on a drug dealer named Raoul Rodriguez. Just over a week ago, the night before they were originally scheduled to appear in this court case, both detectives were badly injured by a bomb, and it's suspected that Coppolino was behind the attempted hit, to prevent them from testifying. Detective Ellison is reported to have suffered serious head injuries. The last information we had indicated he was in a coma, and ... well, we don't know if he'll live or not."

"Ellison and Sandburg those names are familiar," Wendy observed.

"Yes, I'm not surprised you remember them," Haas replied, now looking and sounding smug. "Five months ago, you'll recall that, based on an alleged dissertation document written by Sandburg for his PhD, there was speculation that Detective Ellison is a 'sentinel' a man with incredibly genetically enhanced senses. But, in a press conference, Sandburg stated his paper was fraudulent. He was expelled from his PhD program at Rainier and fired from his teaching position there." Haas stopped briefly to breathe. Shaking his head, he shrugged. "Since then, Sandburg seems to have done very well in redefining himself as a law enforcement officer. He aced his courses at the Academy and was promoted almost immediately to the rank of detective, to be partnered with Ellison, four-time Cop of the Year here in Cascade."

"So, what do you think, Don. Is Ellison really a 'sentinel' or not?"

"Well, there's no way of knowing, Wendy. But a lot of people wonder if Sandburg was a liar and a fraud, then why is Ellison still working with him? There're a lot of rumors, but no substance. And now," he concluded with an expression of deep sorrow that Jim was sure was feigned, "given Detective Ellison's apparent injuries, we may never know. Don Haas, reporting from Cascade, Washington."

Flabbergasted and furious, badly rattled by watching people trying to kill Sandburg, Jim turned on his father. "What the hell!" he roared. "Blair lied to cover for me? Gave up his career at the university? How does something like that happen? How could I have permitted it? Jesus Christ what the fuck else don't I know? Huh?"

William looked at him in dismay. "Jimmy it's a long story."

"I've got time. Talk."

"I don't know all of it."

"Tell me what you do know," Jim growled. But then he gave himself a shake. What was he thinking? The story the past as important as it was, could wait. "But first, Blair said you have his cell number. Call him. Find out what's going on and when the hell he'll be back here." Jim raked a hand over his head. "And maybe we'd better make tracks. If that Coppolino is on the loose, Blair will want to know we're somewhere that can't be traced." He paused, and then added, "And tell Stephen it would be a good time to take a trip out of town."

William had his cell phone in his hand and was punching in numbers before Jim finished talking.

********************

"Either we go to a hospital, or I'll cause such a riot that everyone in town will know where I am within five minutes," Blair argued fiercely. "And you know I'd do it, too."

Sighing heavily, his hand pressed hard against the growing stain on his suit jacket, Simon shook his head and directed the cop up front to take them to Cascade General.

"All right!" Blair crowed softly, undeterred by Simon's repressive glare, but he was more than a little concerned by how quickly Simon had capitulated, and by how his pallor was increasing along with the size of the blood stain. Shifting closer, reaching across Simon's body to pluck at his jacket, he said, "Let me see how bad it is."

Batting him away, Simon growled, "Back off, Sandburg. Keep your hands to yourself."

Blair narrowed his eyes and glared at him.

Glaring right back, Simon was digging into his pocket when his cell phone rang, and he grimaced as he pulled it out and flipped it open. "Yes, Chief." Listening, still glaring at Blair, he nodded. "Uh huh, he's safe."

Blair's cell phone rang, startling him, and he dug it out of his pocket. "Sandburg. Oh, hi, William. Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Simon took a hit, though. We're on the way to the hospital now." He listened as he watched Simon. "I think he's okay, but he's a stubborn cuss and won't let me check him out." When Simon rolled his eyes and shook his head with exaggerated forbearance, Blair stuck out his tongue at him, and grinned. "What? Uh ... hold on a minute."

Covering the mouthpiece with his hand, he said, "William said I should get back on his jet and fly back east. Said I'd be safer out of town until that killer is caught."

Simon, still listening to his boss, frowned in thought. "Sir, if I might interrupt. Sandburg's just received a call from William Ellison. We can have him on a private jet and out of the state within an hour or so could be a better option than the safehouse. Cheaper for the City, too."

Blair, listening to William, as well as Simon, began shaking his head at the 'hour or so', and held up three fingers.

Simon rolled his eyes and added, "Seems the jet will be ready to depart in three hours, so I'll keep Sandburg under my personal protection until then."

Blair snorted softly and grinned. Into his cell phone, he reported, "Sounds like a plan, William. Look, I want you and Jim oh, okay, good."

"Yes, Sir, I agree, he should still be in protective custody, especially given he's still healing after being half blown up last week. His aim with his left hand is pathetic," Simon was saying. Ignoring Blair's indignant huff, he glanced down at his bloodied side. "I, uh, I might have some ideas about who could be assigned to that duty. Just have to check something out first."

"Uh, William? Sounds like I might be bringing along some company a big guy with a big gun, to keep us all safe," Blair said into his phone, his tone wry, his smile wide. He listened and nodded.

"I'm on my way to the hospital now, Sir, to check on the casualties. I'll get back to you in, oh, half an hour or so, or at least as soon as I've got something useful to report. Yes, Sir," he nodded again with evidently weary patience. Sighing, he terminated the call and stuck the phone back into his pocket.

Blair listened a moment more, and he snickered. "Yeah, I hear you. Tell Mother Hen Ellison that I'm fine and I'm safe and I'll meet up with the two of you soon." Clicking off the phone, he said to Simon, "You're gonna love the jet."

Simon huffed a laugh, but grimaced and pressed his hand even more firmly against his side.

Blair's grin faded. "You sure that's just a flesh wound?" he challenged, knowing that Simon had a tendency to underestimate, or at least downplay, the severity of his own wounds.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure. Just hurts like hell, that's all," Simon grumbled.

Their driver wheeled the squad car into the broad drive that swept up to the Emergency entrance.

********************

"I like that boy," William said, as he disconnected the call. "He's got panache. He said to assure you that he's fine and safe, and will see us in a few hours."

Before Jim could respond, William had already hit a speed dial button. In seconds, he was briefing Stephen on the situation, and advising him that the jet would be departing in three hours from the private terminal at Cascade International Airport. "Bring casual clothing, suitable for a cabin or a lodge," he directed, evidently simply assuming that his younger son would take the sage advice and hitch the ride out of town. Two seconds after terminating that call, he was talking to his pilot in Cascade.

Too agitated to sit still, Jim was up and pacing with the help of the cane he'd been given the day before. There was nothing he could do and he felt utterly useless. Frustration and helplessness were fast building to anger, especially when he didn't have anything to think about other than the information the newscasters had bandied about: Blair had lied to cover up the knowledge of his senses and, for that, he'd lost his PhD and his career in academia and probably a good deal of earned respect and who knew how many friendships. Acid soured in his belly. The whole thing sickened him. He couldn't begin to imagine how he could have allowed such an eventuality to occur. Surely to God, he hadn't simply stood back and allowed Sandburg to sacrifice so much for him? And now a kid who had trained all his life in one field was, only months later, a cop, a detective, and wild men with automatic weapons were trying to kill him.

Blair had said he'd do anything for him, to help and support him, but this was ridiculous. What the hell had he done to earn such unprecedented devotion? Jim shook his head. He knew just about zip about the kind of man he'd been, but the few hints he'd gotten, about rejecting his family for decades and, how did Blair put it? He couldn't remember, just that Blair had assured him he wasn't a bastard, and had survived some terrible things. Scowling, Jim rubbed his forehead, wishing he could rub his increasingly intrusive and annoying headache away. And then he remembered he could do exactly that. Stopping before the balcony windows, staring sightlessly out at the rolling hills, he pictured the pain dial and turned it down.

Immediately, he felt substantially better physically, but that didn't alleviate any of his frustration, or his worry. He should have followed his instincts. He should have gone back to Cascade with Blair. Sighing, he didn't know what he could have done to make anything better there that day, but at least he wouldn't be here, out of the action, and wondering if that gang was trailing Sandburg or maybe even attacking him again right at that moment.

Cursing under his breath, he told himself he couldn't think stuff like that or he'd go nuts.

Listening again to his father's side of yet another phone conversation, he heard William ordering clothing from someone. William looked up at him. "Collar size?"

Jim looked askance at him and shrugged helplessly. How would he know? Rage flared and he wheeled away, nearly over-balancing when his bad knee protested. God damn it! Little things, big things, important facts and useless bits of trivia, all gone. He wanted to smash something, scream his fury and let loose the hideous beast that gnawed inside of him, challenging him to make sense of a world he no longer knew or understood. Tears stung his eyes, but he blinked them away and stared out at the rolling hills. Giving way to the fear and rage would accomplish nothing but, God, he hated this, being like this, living like this. Struggling to rein in his anger, he told himself that instead of being angry, maybe he should try just being grateful that he wasn't alone in this morass of the unknown.

Behind him, he heard William say, "I'd guess sixteen. Shoes? Probably twelve." William continued to list his requirements, until he'd left an order for six pairs of jeans, eight casual shirts, eight sweatshirts, six pullovers, enough underwear and socks for two weeks, athletic shoes and hiking boots. "Blue from light to navy, and," he paused a moment, and Jim saw William's reflection in the glass eying him, "dark jewel colors, burgundy, deep green. You get the idea." Jim turned back to the room and resumed his frustrated pacing, hoping it would burn off some of his agitation. William listened to the voice Jim could hear just as clearly, nodded again. "That's right. And pack up everything in my suite. I'll be checking out in two hours, maybe less. Have the new clothing and my luggage waiting at your desk. Yes, thank you, Raymond."

Next, he punched in another number and launched into an old boys' discussion, exchanging golf scores, sly political putdowns and laughter with God knew who. But then he sobered and said, "John, I just wanted to check in to ensure there's no problem with borrowing your cabin in Virginia. I know I didn't give you much notice." He smiled and nodded. "The family and a couple close friends, as I indicated yesterday; we hope to stay for a month, six weeks tops." He listened. "Yes, we'll be arriving later today. Again, I'm sorry for the short notice ... yes, yes, well," glancing at Jim, "he's doing remarkably well but needs a quiet place for recovery ... uh huh. Great! Thanks, John, I really appreciate this."

Slipping the phone into his pocket, William stood. "All that's left is to speak to your physicians to arrange your discharge. I'll be back," he glanced at his watch, "in no more than half an hour." Frowning, he gestured at the cane. "I'm not sure you should be pacing so much on that knee. Why don't you take the time to do your training exercises, and maybe sit out on the balcony for a bit; enjoy the wonderful weather?"

Jim was sorely tempted to point out that he didn't need daddy to tell him how to take care of himself, but he bit the words back. He'd abruptly, even rudely, tasked his father with getting a number of things done, and he had to admire the speed and efficiency with which each of the tasks, including some he'd not thought of, were being accomplished. Clearly, when he was on a mission, his father was a man to reckon with. So, to stay out of the way of the human steamroller, and not interfere with or slow down the progress being made, he simply nodded his agreement to his father's suggestions, and watched the man stride briskly from the room.

Not that he followed those suggestions. Instead, he prowled the room and lavatory, gathering up all their personal effects, including stripping the silk sheets from the bed, and ensuring his and Blair's things were packed in Blair's duffel bag, so he'd be ready to go when his father had cleared the decks. Rummaging in the fridge, he took several water bottles and apples for the drive to wherever it was that they were going.

Jim had just sat down, to give his aching knee a break, when William returned with the three specialists in tow. One he'd never met before checked his ribs, had him take several deep breaths while the doctor listened through a stethoscope, and pronounced him good to go, providing he didn't do any heavy lifting for two weeks. The orthopod, also a man he didn't know, unwrapped his knee, felt the joint, manipulated his leg, and instructed him to walk for fifteen minutes twice a day, increasing by five minutes a day until he was walking for an hour; he was to apply heat for fifteen minutes before walking and an ice pack for fifteen minutes after, and he was told to use the cane for a month. The doctor offered to give him a prescription for pain killers but, remembering Blair's advice that Tylenol usually worked for him, he declined.

Once the two first doctors had left, Landry put him through the usual paces of checking his pupils, reflexes and blood pressure. When the man finished, he studied Jim and shook his head. "You seem to be doing well, but I must protest this abrupt departure. My advice would be to remain here for another week of observation, in case of relapse."

"Well, I appreciate the advice," Jim replied dryly. "But, like you said, I'm doing well and I feel fine."

Frowning, Landry challenged, "Given the nature of your head injury, the severity of the concussion ... your headache must still be severe. There could still be a slow bleed in your brain, a hematoma. You're still suffering from amnesia, are you not? So you are far from well."

Jim shrugged. "The headache's mild, nothing I can't easily tolerate. As for the amnesia you said yourself that it may clear up on its own, or it may be permanent. Sitting around here isn't going to make much difference, is it? What I really want is for people to start telling me about my past."

"I wouldn't advise that, not yet, not for at least a month," the specialist cautioned. Jim bit back a curse, and was forestalled from arguing when Landry continued, "I'm curious about your sensitivities. I'd like to put you through a battery of tests, maybe get to the bottom of them. There may be ways of alleviating your symptoms."

Unimpressed, Jim thought they were finally getting to the real reason Landry didn't want to sign any discharge papers. Blair's concerns appeared to be right on the money. Whatever had happened months ago, whatever had been in the media about his senses, this man had seen it, and wanted to know a whole lot more about what made him tick. With a long, flat look at the neurologist, he shook his head. "My sensitivities are under control," he asserted, thinking of his dials. Remembering what he'd overheard Blair saying to his father two days before, he added, "I've had a full battery of tests and don't need any more."

Landry's eyes narrowed in speculation. "You don't actually know that for sure, do you? You don't remember."

William, evidently fed up with the delay, interjected, "No, but I do. I'm grateful for everything you and the rest of the staff have done to help my son, but he no longer requires the specialized care afforded by this Institute. If that's all, we've made our arrangements and need to be on our way."

Though he was barely covering his annoyance and frustration, Landry pursed his lips and then nodded. "Good luck to you, Mr. Ellison," he said to Jim. "If, in the future, we can be of any further assistance to you -"

"Yeah, I know. I'll call," Jim interjected, hoping his tone conveyed the 'when hell freezes over' sentiment that he fully intended.

********************

Simon needed ten stitches to close the gaping gouge in his side. "I told you it was just a graze."

Blair snorted. "Yeah, like the Grand Canyon is a gully," he retorted. "Tough guys," he muttered just loud enough for Simon to hear, curling his lip at the blood soaking the shirt that Simon was putting back on. "One of the uniforms has compiled the information available on the condition of the victims that were brought in. Five have been admitted, three in severe to critical condition, but so far, everyone is still alive, even the guys the gang took down inside the Courthouse. But," he paused and heaved a sigh, "I guess that could change. They're in pretty bad shape they've already been taken up to the OR."

Simon finished dressing, and they made their way out of the hospital. The cop who had brought them was leaning against the cruiser, his arms crossed, but he straightened when he saw them. "Where to, Captain?" he asked, holding open the back passenger door.

"Give me a minute," Simon directed, and pulled out his cell phone. "Chief? Banks. Okay, here's the current status on the vics," he said briskly, giving the summary. "A full report will be sent up to your office as soon as it's prepared. Now, about Sandburg's protection."

Blair listened as Simon did a masterful song and dance routine, convincing the Chief that it would be better for everyone's budget if Simon took a month or so of his accumulated leave, and the time to recover from being shot, to personally ensure Sandburg and Ellison's security.

"Yes, I thought you might like the idea," Simon drawled, concluding the arrangements. "Yes, of course, I'll report in on a regular basis. Thank you, Sir." He gave the driver his home address, and then punched in another number. "Joel? Oh, I'm fine. Just a few stitches, is all. But I've been assigned to babysit Sandburg and Ellison for the next month or so, unless we get Coppolino back into custody before then, so you've got the desk in my absence. We'll be heading out of town. I'm not exactly sure where we'll be but I'll let you know. Uh, look, I've got Jim's weapon and badge in my desk. Could you have them delivered over to my place? Yeah, right away. We'll be heading out as soon as I've packed. Yeah, sure, I'll pass that along."

Shoving his phone into his pocket, he eased back against the support of the seat and heaved a long sigh, sounding more worn out than he'd been letting on, and closed his eyes.

Blair studied him, noting the lines of strain around his mouth and eyes, and the unnatural gray tone of his skin. But he knew Simon wouldn't appreciate any fussing. "Babysit, huh?" he chided.

Simon smirked. "I calls 'em the way I sees 'em, Sandburg."

"Yeah, right," Blair drawled. "Thanks, Simon," he added, meaning it. Looking out the window at the passing street, idly nudging his backpack with his foot, he observed, "I guess going to loft, so that I could pack up some things for me and Jim is out of the question."

"You guess right." But Simon's levity faded. "You know, William Ellison probably won't welcome me with open arms. Last time I saw him, he threatened to get a court order, if need be, to keep me away from his son."

Blair didn't say anything for a moment, and then he turned back to Simon. "That's when he didn't know if Jim was going to live or die, when he was afraid and angry and felt helpless. Like you'd feel, if anything like that ever happened to Daryl."

Simon's gaze dropped away, and his jaw tightened. "Doesn't change what he said, or what he might do."

"Ah, Simon," Blair sighed and, tired of feeling constrained, he pulled his hair free of the band. "Everything's changed now. Jim ... Jim figured out he's a cop but he doesn't remember who he was. He's not even ... he's not even the same person that he was before the explosion."

"What do you mean?" Simon demanded, leveling a hard look at him.

Shrugging helplessly, Blair shook his head. "You'll have to see for yourself. But ... I think, I think William will do everything he can to help Jim find himself, his memories. And if that means dancing with the devil or welcoming you and me with open arms then he'll do it. Just like us, he'll do anything in his power to help Jim." Blair chewed on his lip, and resumed his stare out the car window. "But there's nothing any of us can do, not really. If Jim's memory never comes back ... then the Jim we knew is gone."

"Ah, shit," Simon gusted.

"Yeah," Blair sighed.

********************

An hour later, Simon packed and both of them changed into more casual and comfortable attire, they were pulling up outside the private air terminal. Blair spotted a familiar face as soon as they walked inside. "Stephen!" he called, giving Jim's brother a wide smile. "Hey, you guys remember each other, right?" he asked, gesturing from one to another as he performed the most casual of introductions. "Simon Stephen, Jim's brother. Stephen Simon, our boss and friend."

"Of course, I remember," Simon avowed, holding out his hand. Shaking it, Stephen nodded pleasantly.

"So, you're coming, too?" Blair asked as they ambled across the lounge toward the exit out onto the airfield.

"Uh huh," Stephen agreed. With a wry smile, he went on, "Dad called about two hours ago. Told me to drop everything and pack for a month or so in a cabin or lodge. I gather someone's after you and Jim, and they might use family as leverage?"

"You got it," Blair admitted, chagrined. "Sorry to disrupt your life like this."

Laughing, Stephen waved off the apology. "Hey, don't worry about it. A month in what Dad considers 'a cabin', on his tab? Not a hardship."

Simon whistled as they made their way across the tarmac to the sleek jet.

Clapping him on the back, Blair said with almost proprietary glee, "See, told you'd like it. A Gulfstream whatever and wait till you see the interior." He blew on his fingers and shook them.

"I would have thought you'd disapprove of rich trappings as bourgeois, elitist and unethical given the state of poverty in the world," Simon opined, sounding grave but there was a twinkle in his eyes.

"Oh, man, rich people bleed just like us," Blair replied. "I don't have anything against them and some do a whole lot of good. Their companies employ lots of people, corporations can be good community citizens...."

"Yeah, right," Simon teased, as they mounted the steps into the cabin. "I've heard that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the gates of Heaven."

Blair saw him wink at Stephen, to let the man know he was pulling Sandburg's chain. Waiting until they got inside, anticipating Simon's pleasure when he saw the plush leather chairs and sofa, and all the luxurious appointments, he grinned smugly. After tossing his backpack into an overhead bin, he sat down and, securing his seatbelt, he was still grinning as he replied to Simon's comment. "You're making the same interpretative assumption that nearly everyone does today really hard to picture anyone making it through the tiny eye of a seamstress's needle. But Jesus was making a reference that everyone in Jerusalem would understand. There's a gate through the wall of the ancient city that was specially constructed to slow down invading armies. It's a very narrow, dog-leg design, where only one person can enter and go through at a time, the path doubling back on itself. They call it, 'the eye of the needle'. Now, it's possible to lead a camel through it not easy, granted. But possible."

Stephen chuckled. "I've never heard that before but I have to say, I like that interpretation. And I suspect my Dad will, too." He moved forward and told the pilot they were ready to go. Making his way back, he stopped in the doorway of the galley. "Anyone want a drink?"

"Well -" Simon began, but Blair cut in. "Simon lost quite a bit of blood today, and he was given something for pain at the hospital, so he can't have any alcohol. But, yeah, after the week I've had any old, and I mean old, single malt will do." He gave Simon an angelic smile, and pretended to be oblivious to the glare he got in return.

Stephen gave Simon the diet Coke he settled for and handed Blair a heavy, crystal whiskey glass half-filled with a warm amber liquid. The plane was taxiing toward takeoff, so he quickly poured himself a glass of the same, and strapped himself in. Just before the jet began its run, he turned to Blair, and raised his glass. "To you," he saluted. "For waking the prince." Though the words were light, his tone and expression were rich with gratitude as he added, "Thank you."

Surprised, Blair ducked his head and shrugged. "No thanks needed," he said.

"So, anyone know where we're going?" Simon asked, and Blair was glad of the change of topic.

"Yes," Stephen replied. "Dad called just before you guys arrived at the terminal. We'll be staying at Senator John Caldwell's hideaway in the Virginia hills a nice little retreat for when he needs a break from D.C. He's already on the campaign trail, drumming up support for the primaries in the spring, so won't have any time to spend there this fall. The place is a historical property just outside the Shenandoah National Park's boundaries, along the Skyline Ridge Road you know, Blue Ridge Mountains territory. Anyway, it's only about seventy miles from Washington, so we'll be landing at National Airport. I hear there are miles of hiking trails on the property, let alone in the neighboring park, not to mention creeks and streams that teem with trout."

"Ahhh," Simon sighed happily. "My kind of protection assignment."

Sounds perfect, Blair reflected, very thankful to be headed there rather than be hidden away in some dismal safehouse in Cascade. Nobody will ever think of looking for us there. Tension bled out of his muscles as he relaxed for the first time since he'd awakened after the explosion. Thinking he could get to really like William Ellison, he lifted his glass to savor his first sip of the satiny smooth twenty-two-year-old Longmorn.

********************

William stopped at a supermarket on the outskirts of Luray. Switching off the engine, he turned to Jim. "Won't take me long to stock up here and I think it's best if you wait in the car easier on your knee and less chance of anyone seeing you. Probably a long shot, but with your face on the television news and that killer looking for you, well...."

"You're right," Jim agreed, though something in him rebelled at the idea of hiding. Nevertheless, his knee was aching, and he didn't feel like contending with the crowded store. After his father had gone, he stared at a billboard advertising the Luray Caverns and he wondered if he'd ever visited them, or even heard of them before. Not knowing got old real fast. On the other hand, he thought wryly, going back to places he'd been would be a whole new experience.

Sighing, Jim leaned his head back against the neck support. He was going to meet his brother and someone from the Cascade PD, who was coming with Blair to provide them with additional protection, as if two cops couldn't take care of themselves. Still, Blair would be wearing that cast for weeks yet, which left him vulnerable, and Jim wasn't even sure he would remember how to aim a weapon. Idly chewing on his lip, he reflected that he wasn't really looking forward to meeting Stephen or some colleague. He felt at such a disadvantage; people knew him, knew all manner of things about him, about which he had no clue and, on top of that, he didn't know anything about them. It was exhausting to even think about.

Idly, he wondered what his interests were. Did he like to read? Certainly, he had a huge drive to read to find out all he could about damned near everything, but that was survival more than entertainment, for feeling at less of a disadvantage in this world into which he'd awakened. William had mentioned there were fishing streams and creeks on the property, and the idea of fishing appealed to him. It sounded peaceful, undemanding. His incipient sense of restlessness and his well-defined musculature suggested to him that he liked to workout; made sense since he'd been a cop, which would presume a fair degree of fitness. Beyond that, he had no idea if he liked music or liked to build things with his hands or liked games. Well, card games were okay, an easy way to pass the time.

God, he had so much to learn about the world, about other people, about himself. The sheer magnitude of it all was daunting, very nearly overwhelming, and he had to struggle to keep both anger and anxiety at bay. One day at a time, he told himself. Just take it all one day at a time. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the deep breathing exercise Blair had taught him, to help him relax.

The sound of the trunk popping open woke him with a start, and he swiveled around to see his father loading what looked like half the grocery store into the car. Though it looked like a mountain of food, he supposed that five men could go through a lot of supplies in a week, and they were going to be holing up in these mountains for at least a month.

And then he thought about how incredibly generous his father was being. As if paying the tab at an expensive medical institute, giving Blair access to the private jet, and buying him a new wardrobe weren't already far more than enough, now he was stocking in enough victuals to feed a small army. William had been supportive, helpful, and as honest as he could be given that information was supposed to be fed to him in infinitesimal, incremental bits and it was obvious that William cared about him ... loved him. Rubbing his mouth with his forefinger, Jim couldn't say he loved William in return, not yet at least. But he liked the man, and thought he seemed to be a man he could respect. He was increasingly comfortable with the idea that William was his father, and he wondered why he'd been so determined to eschew contact with the man if his assessment of what William had said, and the way he'd said it, and of what Blair had told him, was all true. Since so far as he was able to trust anyone at this stage, he trusted both William and Blair, he had no reason to doubt anything they'd said.

Once again his thoughts circled back to how dependent he was upon others because he just didn't know enough about anything or anyone yet. God, he hated it, hated the idea that he wasn't completely his own man worse, didn't even know what manner of man he was. Maybe it was in his nature to sit back and let another man pick up the tab for everything, but it didn't sit right now.

When his father got into the car and switched on the ignition, Jim teased, "You think you bought enough to keep us all from starving?"

William flashed him a grin as he backed out of the parking slot. "Well, I can guarantee nobody will go hungry."

"Dad," Jim said, trying out the appellation for the first time. William seemed to falter a bit, his grin wobbling, but then a full smile blazed, illuminating his face. Jim was touched by how much the simple term could mean to the man, by how very much William cared for him and wished to be included in Jim's life. "Dad, you're ... well, your generosity is unbelievable. But you don't have to pay for everything. I'm sure I must have some money put away, plus I must have a salary coming in; and I know the others are working. When we get to the cabin, we need to figure out a more even and fair sharing of costs."

Concentrating on getting them back on the highway, William didn't immediately respond. But once they were cruising south and further into the hills, he said, "I'm happy to do what I've done, Jimmy. I'm sure you've figured out that I'm a wealthy man, and I have nothing and no one I'd rather spend my money on. For the first time in your life, you've needed me, and I ... well, I want to do this. I want to help you in any and every way I can. I also know that Blair and the man coming with him, Simon Banks, don't have a whole lot to spare nobody gets rich on a cop's salary, nobody honest, anyway. So I'd like this to be a kind of retreat for them, a chance for me to thank them for everything they've done for you. Truth is, though I don't know either of them very well, I'd like to ... to be friends with them, and this gives me that chance. As for Stephen, he's doing well, but he's young and still finding his way. A father can treat his sons now and then, can't he? Spring for a family holiday at a fishing cabin?"

Considering the questions, still not very comfortable with being a kind of leech, Jim nodded slowly. "I suppose," he said. "But men need to contribute."

William smiled and winked. "Well, I'm a lousy cook and I hate housework, so you'll all have lots of opportunity to make contributions in the next month."

Jim laughed. "Yeah, okay, that seems fair," he allowed. Simon Banks, he thought, having not known before who was coming with Blair. Recalling the big man he'd seen on the television screen, his first reaction was that he was disposed to like anyone who'd seemed so intent upon keeping Sandburg safe.

But then he recalled the man's rank, and it occurred to him that this Banks was probably his and Blair's boss. Why would their boss be undertaking the assignment to ensure their protection and safety? That didn't make any sense. Unless he'd wangled the deal to get a sweet, paid break from the pressures of the job, which seemed ... dishonest in a way Jim couldn't quite explain. And then it occurred to him that the man might be coming to check him out, to assess his readiness to return to duty and that made him feel pressured, even resentful. Couldn't it wait until he returned to Cascade, when he knew more about himself and his life, and was more ready to take on the rest of the world? Did the man know about his senses, or was he going to have to be careful about what he revealed? Wasn't it enough that he was about to encounter a brother he didn't remember without having to have his boss watching his every move? His initial inclination to welcome this Simon Banks waned, and he felt disgruntled about having to share the cabin with the stranger, a stranger who held authority over him.

About half an hour from Luray, William turned down a winding side road, and then an even narrower, gravel road which, Jim realized, was the long drive through a dense forest to the cabin.

When he spotted the 'cabin' through the trees, he blinked and looked again. "Wow," he breathed, stunned by the magnificence of the sprawling, two story, log, glass and stone edifice that looked large enough to easily accommodate five times their number. "This is some cabin."

Surrounded by flaming maples and golden oaks interspersed with tall evergreens, apparently growing out of a fragrant, flowering meadow, the lodge of wood weathered to a soft blue-gray seemed timeless, as if it could have evolved out of the bedrock in tandem with the grass and trees. The cedar-shingled roof cresting over the center of the two-story structure with a massive round window high in the wall harmonized with the pines reaching toward the sky; more windows, so deep and wide that they seemed to make up entire walls, glinted in the sunlight and reflected the brilliant splashes of autumnal colors and the infinite shades of green of the natural world. A number of stone chimneys hinted at fireplaces within. Wrapped around the building, an elegant and welcoming covered verandah broken only by wide, shallow steps, supported balconies for the rooms above and sported solidly-crafted rockers, benches and chairs for whiling away a summer afternoon, or for stargazing in the dark of night. The wide front door was inset with a panel of smoky, etched glass. Beyond the house, glimpsed through the trees, the land and forest dropped away to open a broad vista of hills rolling into the distance. Unseen but close by, a brook or creek chuckled over stones. Birds trilled and chirped a cheerful welcome, and a rabbit lifted its head to look at them before scampering away through the long grass into the shadows of the forest.

"Mmm," William murmured, smiling with evident pleasure at Jim's reaction. "Hoped you'd like it."

"What's not to like?" Jim inhaled deeply, feeling the profound peace of the place seep into his soul. Getting out of the car, he insisted upon helping his father carry in the luggage and groceries.

The inside proved to be every bit as spectacular as the exterior. The entry opened into a great room under the soaring peaked roof. A wide, wooden spiral staircase in the far corner led up to an internal balcony banding three sides and giving access to bedrooms and, glimpsed through the open doors, what appeared to be private sitting areas. A massive stone fireplace occupied the opposite corner, and between were windows and a sliding patio door overlooking the rolling ranks of hills. The comfortable furniture evoked colonial times; a well-stocked bookcase and entertainment center lined one whole wall, and a breathtaking, multi-colored quilt was hung like a tapestry on another wall. Colorful braided rugs of blues and greens decorated the gleaming wood-planked floors. To the left was a large, open kitchen with pristine counters, a chopping block style center island, modern appliances, and a long, plank table of dark pine surrounded by matching chairs.

After helping his father unload and put away the groceries, Jim explored the amenities more fully. On the side of the room opposite the kitchen, there was a round table with comfortable chairs for playing cards or board games. To the right, doors led off to more bedrooms that opened onto the verandah, each with luxurious ensuite bathrooms and fireplaces. At the end of that hallway Jim discovered a supply room with its own exit to the verandah, that held everything from fishing poles to snowshoes. Spacious, open, gracious, and yet giving the ambiance of a well-lived-in, comfortable home rather than a showplace.

"This place is amazing," Jim said with unfeigned admiration, when he returned from staking out one of the lower bedrooms with the bags of clothing William had ordered for him. Grinning at his father, he asked, "How in the hell did you swing this deal?"

William laughed as he carted bags of food into the kitchen. "John's an old friend, and he's bragged about this place for years kept issuing invitations that I never had time to accept. I just finally took him up on his standing offer."

"I'm very glad you did; I may never want to leave. Thanks, Dad."

********************

Hours later, Jim was on the verandah overlooking the hills and watching the sunset, trying to recapture the pervasive sense of peace which had enveloped him when they'd arrived that afternoon. But, as minutes and hours had trickled past, that serenity had evaporated, and now he was once again grappling with his frustrations and anxious questions, tired of not having any answers, angry that there was so much he didn't know and felt the others were keeping from him. William had refused to tell him what had happened only months ago, or why Blair had sacrificed so much for him; had simply said it was Blair's story to tell. Jim wanted, needed, to believe in Blair, to trust him God, he had to trust someone to be straight with him, and Blair had promised he wouldn't lie. Well, maybe he hadn't lied, not straight-out, but he'd led Jim to believe he'd always been a cop, and hadn't said anything when Jim had said he'd thought Blair more likely to have been associated with a university, to be a researcher or consultant. Even so, he wasn't angry with Blair for holding out on him, so much as he was ... afraid. Afraid Blair and his father were being over-protective, not telling him things about himself that he wouldn't feel good about. God, how could he respect a self who had apparently sat back and allowed his friend to self-destruct to protect him? Blair had told him he wasn't a bastard, not some self-righteous jerk who'd been unable to see anyone's perspectives but his own. But was that really the truth? His fingers clenched into fists, and he again had to fight the urge to hit something or scream out his frustration with the world, with himself, for having nothing but a blank hole where his life, his memories, had been. He needed, desperately needed, to sit down with Blair and sort all this out. He needed to know.

Nor was the need to talk with Blair and have it out all that troubled him. Soon now, another stranger who had a claim on him would be arriving: his brother, Stephen. Jim took a shuddering breath. Could anyone even begin to understand how hard this was? This meeting of family for whom one had no memory and no feeling but wary uncertainty? This requirement to accept strangers as intimates, knowing they knew everything about you, while you knew exactly nothing about either them or yourself? Jim felt like a blind man, perpetually treading uncertain ground that could give way beneath him and suck him into a morass from which he could never escape.

And not only Stephen was coming, but this Simon Banks, too. His boss, the man who held his future in his hands, who could, and probably would, decide he wasn't worthy or capable of doing his job anymore. Would Banks be wrong? Jim shook his head. He'd grabbed at the idea of being cop more as a lifeline, or even security blanket of sorts, to have something solid, something definite, about his life to hold onto. But he couldn't honestly say he felt ready or equal to the challenge of picking up his career wherever he'd left it. There must be a mountain of information, about laws and jurisdictions, rules and regulations, about criminals and informers, about previous cases and colleagues hell, just about the city itself, its neighborhoods and communities, the population of certain quarters, that he'd have to regain somehow. Could he go back to work without undergoing even the most basic retraining? He gritted his teeth against the inclination to mutter helpless curses about everything he had no clue about, and toward a boss who was coming before Jim felt ready; a boss who was pushing him, pressing him, threatening him just by his very presence. Dammit, wasn't it enough that he had to cope with everything else? Why did he have to absorb this, too? This requirement to demonstrate his competence, his ability to hold his own and whatever else this Banks might be looking for? Despairing, Jim felt wholly unequal to the challenges before him.

He heard a vehicle approaching; the time to prepare himself, to be ready for whatever came, had run out, and all he had was this roiling of fear and frustration and sick uncertainty and so much anger. He wasn't ready; doubted he'd ever really be ready until he brought some light into the dark and twisted corridors of his mind that hid all his truths about who he was and where he fit in the world. Standing, he steeled himself for his first meeting with a brother he didn't know and a boss he already more than half resented. Limping around the corner of the porch, he saw the car coming through the woods. Though he knew he should probably go and greet them, his feet felt as if they were glued to the floorboards of the verandah, and he couldn't force himself to go a step further. So, he damped down his emotions as best he could, and waited by the side steps near the parking area for them to arrive, while William hurried out of the house and down the steps to greet his guests.

Blair's cheerful, "We're here!" and bright smile as he got out of the back seat of the rental sedan eased some of Jim's tension. Though his throat was too tight with anxiety to speak, he waved in welcome. A tall, lean man with brown hair got out from behind the steering wheel, and Jim regarded him with interest. This was his brother, Stephen. The much taller Simon Banks also got out and nodded to him, shook William's hand, and then moved around to the trunk, to help Blair unload their luggage, while William escorted Stephen toward the house and Jim. Swallowing to moisten his desert-dry mouth, and sucking in a huge breath to steady himself, Jim straightened in readiness.

As they came up the steps, William said unnecessarily, but seemingly to ease the awkward introduction, "Jim, this is your brother, Stephen."

Doing his best to force a smile, Jim held out his hand. Stephen took it, and his smile seemed genuinely warm.

"I'm sorry, I don't remember you," Jim said up front, with an uncomfortable shrug. God, this was so hard. He felt so vulnerable, so defenseless. Did this man like him? Resent him?

"I know," Stephen replied, his voice low and kind. "I'm just really glad you survived the explosion." A small, taut silence fell between them.

"I'm ... I'm looking forward to getting to know you," Jim offered, then added with stiff levity, "Just, uh, don't hold stuff I don't remember against me, okay?"

"Jim, I don't have any grudges, nothing to hold against you," Stephen insisted. He looked away and back again, and his voice was roughening with emotion as he continued, "You're the big brother I looked up to and wanted to be like; the big brother who saved my life a couple years ago, when someone tried to kill me. And when someone else tried to frame me for murder, you ... you figured it all out and kept me from going to jail or worse." Stephen's gaze dropped and then returned to his, and Jim realized this guy was as nervous and uncomfortable as he was. "Any childhood rivalries we may have had were a long time ago and long forgotten."

Jim couldn't help but be moved by the open sincerity in his brother's tone and expression. Clearing his throat, he husked, "Thanks, I appreciate that."

Reaching out to lightly grip his arm, tears glinting in the corners of his eyes, Stephen said uncertainly, "We've never really known each other very well, not as adults. Why don't we just consider this a new beginning, a fresh start a chance to finally spend some time together, maybe even find out we like each other?"

Unable to feel the same emotion, but grateful and touched by how much Stephen seemed to want that, Jim nodded. "Sounds good to me." Looking around, grasping for something they could share, he asked, "Do you like to fish?"

His grin widening, Stephen shrugged. "I've never done much fishing, but I'm game to try. Do you like fishing?"

"I don't know," Jim admitted with a laugh. "But ... I find the idea appealing. It sounds peaceful."

"Well, we'll have lots of time to give it a shot." Gesturing back at Blair and Banks, Stephen leaned in and said in a low conspiratorial tone, "I think we've got some experienced and enthusiastic anglers here who can show us the ropes."

Jim looked past him at Blair, who was herding Simon toward the house, the both of them laden with bags. And it looked like they'd stopped to also stock up on supplies. Banks had a case of beer tucked under one arm.

"Jim," Blair said as they climbed the steps and William and Stephen reached out to take the bags from them, and carry them into the house, "this is Simon Banks. He's a really good friend. Simon's the only person we ever told about your senses, and he's covered for us, protected us, sometimes at the risk of his own career, for years."

Ready to resent the man and his presence there, not having expected to greet the man as a friend, Jim was completely disconcerted. "Friend? I, uh, thought you were our boss."

"That, too," Simon agreed with an easy smile, and he held out his hand. "I know you have no memory of me, and I'm real sorry about how badly you've been hurt. I can't begin to imagine how hard it must be to ... well, I was thinking about it on the flight here, and I guess I can't think of much worse than losing all memory of everything and everyone you used to know. I don't expect you to welcome me with open arms, but I want you to know, you're my best friend, Jim. I'll do anything in my power to help you in any way I can."

Best friend? Astonished, Jim belatedly realized he was gaping at the big man. "I'm sorry," he said, trying to recover his balance. "I ... I thought you were coming to, well, to evaluate my readiness for duty. I didn't realize, didn't expect...."

"Hey, no reason to be sorry. From the facts you had, it was a reasonable deduction. But so far as I'm concerned," he reached into a pocket and drew out a slim leather folder, "here's your badge, and you can come back to work as soon as you feel you're ready."

Jim reached out to take the badge, and was surprised at how much having it meant to him. "Thank you," he murmured as he stroked his thumb over the shield, and then looked back up at Simon. "I really appreciate this. Everything's ... it's like being cast adrift at sea, I guess, with no anchor, no land in sight, nothing to hold onto. This ... this helps. Let's me know there's some place where I belong."

Nodding slowly, Simon's eyes filled with compassion. "You don't need to be grateful, Jim. You're the best detective I've ever known; you have a knack for finding out the truth. Oh, the senses help, but they're not the whole of it, not by a long shot, and you're like a bulldog. You don't give up." Including Sandburg in his gaze, he went on, "The two of you are probably, in your different ways, the bravest and brightest men I know, and you make a helluva team. But, having said that, there's no rush. You need to take your time to get your bearings. And Blair, here, has to do some healing, too."

"Simon came along to help protect us," Blair interjected, blushing a little, maybe from the praise? But his smile was wide and warm. "He talked the Chief into giving him leave to do it; said it would be a good deal for the City." Reaching up to lay a fond hand on Simon's back, he went on, "He usually spends his holidays with his son, Darryl, but I'm glad he decided to come back here with me. It's not very likely that the Devil's Own will find us here but, if they do, well, we couldn't have better help."

The reference to the gang brought back all the memories of the newscast earlier in the day, and Jim exclaimed, "You were shot this morning I saw it happening! And I've been keeping you standing out here. Come inside. Are you alright? Is there anything you need?"

"Oh, I'm alright. It was just a scratch," Simon demurred, but he began moving toward the doorway.

"Just a scratch," Blair echoed with a disparaging snort. "Like the Columbia River Gorge is just a ditch."

Frowning, not sure who to believe or if Blair was teasing, Jim looked from one to the other.

"Well, I needed a few stitches," Simon allowed.

"A few? Like ten," Blair expounded. Turning to Jim, he added with a wink Simon couldn't see, "Took out a whole love handle, so now he's all off-balance."

Simon took a playful swing at Blair's head, which he deftly ducked, laughing.

"Sandburg, you are the most disrespectful officer I've ever had the misfortune to command," he charged with apparent ire, but there was a twinkle in his eyes and a grin twitching on his lips. "My love handles, should they exist, are no business of yours." Meeting Jim's eyes, he shook his head. "You have no idea what you're in for; this kid wears us all out."

Laughing, relaxing more than he'd ever imagined would be possible with the big man, Jim slung an arm around Blair's shoulders as he ushered them inside. "Oh, trust me, I have some idea," he said, and ruffled Blair's hair. Then, sobering, remembering how the newscast had ended, and all of his pressing questions, he went on. "There're some things we have to talk about, short stuff."

Puzzled, Blair looked up at him. "What things? Trouble with your senses?"

"No," Jim replied with a tight shake of his head. "When the bullets stopped flying back in Cascade, the news commentators mentioned what had happened a few months ago; something about you denying your dissertation for me, and getting thrown out of university."

"Oh, that," Blair muttered, looking away. "Not now, okay? It's ... it's been a long day."

Jim assessed him, his senses reaching out seemingly of their own accord to evaluate Blair's body's rhythms. His temperature was a little low, the lines of strain around his eyes and mouth pronounced, as was his pallor, despite his attempts to appear jovial and relaxed. Jim could readily see for himself that the kid was nearly dead on his feet. He looked at the big man with them, and Simon appeared troubled, as if he was about to intervene. Clearly, there was quite a story here, one that would take time to tell and understand. "Okay," he agreed, if reluctantly, because his burning need to know about his past was becoming ever more strident. "Tomorrow'll be soon enough. But I need to know what happened, Blair. I really need to know."

Blair blew a long breath and nodded. "I promise I'll tell you tomorrow."

"Blair, I hope it's alright," William cut in, as he joined them with a warm smile. "We've put you in a bedroom down here, across from Jim. Simon, you're upstairs," and he turned to point up past the balustrade, "the first door left of the steps you have a great view of the valley. Stephen and I are up there, too. And Stephen tells me you guys didn't stop to eat on the way," he continued with a heartiness Jim hadn't seen before, and he wondered why his father was working so hard to make Simon Banks feel welcome. "I've got soup heating on the stove, and sandwich fixings on the kitchen island. C'mon in, make yourselves at home, and dig in. And Simon, thanks for bringing the beer just what we needed!"

"My pleasure, Mr. Ellison. This," Simon went on, sounding carefully courteous as he gestured at the great room they'd just entered, "is a beautiful place. I'm very glad to be here and appreciate you having me."

"Nonsense. You're Blair and Jimmy's friend, and you're here to help keep them safe," William objected, and gave Simon a friendly slap on the back. "I'm grateful to you. And, please, none of that 'Mr. Ellison' stuff. Call me William."

Simon raised a brow that appeared a bit skeptical but then, his rigid posture easing, he just smiled, and nodded.

Jim sighed. He could feel currents of emotions he didn't understand swirling around him, and wondered at the complexities of relationships amongst these people he didn't know. Suddenly tired, discouraged, he grabbed onto his father's suggestion of focusing on the simplicity of putting together a casual meal. But he brightened a little with the hope that, now that there were more people around him who would be talking with one another, and temporarily forgetting about him and his lack of memory, maybe he'd pick up more about the past that they'd unconsciously be bound to share.

********************

After a hearty breakfast the next morning, William showed the others the supply room that held the recreational equipment; it was then that Simon revealed he'd brought his supply of handmade lures and flies. William exhibited an interest and, before long, everyone had a rod and reel. Simon explained the niceties of fly fishing as they made their way out of the house and along a path through the woods to a nearby 'stream' that would have counted as a river in some parts of the country. Several yards wide between towering banks of trees, light glinting on the water running to the sea, the stream lapped hungrily at the shore and gurgled over and around the stones and rocks in its way.

"I hear there're trout and some perch here," William told them, as he doubtfully examined the rod he was carrying.

Simon and Blair demonstrated how to cast without tangling the line though Blair found it a bit awkward to cast with his left hand while the Ellison men watched with intent interest. Jim caught Blair giving him an odd look, and quirked a brow. With a small smile, Blair revealed, "You taught me how to cast a few years back. I'm sure you'll pick it up again quickly."

"Like riding a bike," Jim returned sardonically.

"Exactly the same; muscle memory."

Jim was pleased to find that Blair was right, and he was soon casting like a pro. William and Stephen were having more difficulty, so Simon drew them off a little further upstream, to continue their lesson. Given that Jim knew Simon was aware that he intended to talk to Blair about whatever had happened months ago, he thought the strategy to grant them a little privacy was smoothly executed.

Looking around, Jim spotted a cluster of good-sized boulders on the edge of the water. "Let's pull up a rock," he suggested, "and get comfortable. I have the feeling that this story might take a while."

"Story?" Blair echoed with a small frown as he reeled in his line for a new cast. But his face clouded, and he nodded. "Right," he agreed, turning to lead Jim to the rocks. "Not that it's all that long a story," he called over his shoulder.

"Mmm," Jim murmured, wondering if he was going to get a severely edited version of the truth. "I want it all," he stated, for the record. "Don't cut any corners."

Blair cut him a quick glance before looking away. "Okay," he sighed, and settled onto one of the rocks. "We won't be able to cast from here," he pointed out, gesturing at the trees growing close behind them, as if seeking a stay of execution.

"Oh, I think the fish will still be there when we're done," Jim told him, and grinned wryly upriver, where William and Stephen were attempting to untangle their lines.

Blair chuckled, and seemed to relax a little. Taking a breath, he began, "I have to go back a bit, to when we first met. Our agreement was that, while I would write my dissertation on you and your senses, you would get to read the document first, to ensure you were comfortable with it. And ... and both from an academic perspective, and from the need to maintain your privacy, the understanding was that no one would ever know you were the subject of the study."

Jim nodded to show he understood.

"Well," Blair went on, looking out at the water and raking his hair back from his brow, "it didn't exactly work out that way. I ... I wrote the first draft with your name in it. You'd read an earlier chapter and, well, the whole academic tone of the thing had, um, pissed you off. So I wanted the draft to be ... comfortable, I guess, for you to read. Nobody else was supposed to see it. But, but, my mom, Naomi, surprised me with an unexpected visit just as I was finishing it. She wanted to know what I was working on and, and I told her it was my dissertation. I told her it was just a draft, and ordered her not to read it, told her it wasn't ready for anyone to read."

"She read it," Jim interjected when Blair paused.

"Nooo, she didn't," Blair said, his voice low. He heaved a sigh. "I had to rush off to meet you at a union rally. Word was out that a hit was being planned against the union leader who was up for re-election, and you were on his protection detail. Naomi found the file on my laptop and she sent the whole thing to an old friend of hers. She thought she was doing me a favor; he was an editor at Berkshire Publishing in New York City, and she figured his comments would help my next draft." He turned to Jim, his eyes wide with sorrow. "She didn't know, Jim. She didn't realize how sensitive the information was. She was just trying to help me, that's all. It was my fault. I should have password protected the file, or something. Probably no, definitely should never have written it with your name in it."

"What happened?"

Blair pressed his lips together and swallowed hard. Clearing his throat, he replied, "The editor, Sid, called me to tell me it was great, and he offered me money to publish it. I was horrified when I realized what Mom had done, and I told him to shred it, that it was an unauthorized document and I didn't want anyone to see it." Blair looked out at the river. "He ... he offered more money. I told him I wasn't interested, and told him to stop calling me and just destroy the paper. Instead, he ... he released excerpts to the media."

"That has to be illegal," Jim said, frowning in concentration.

Blair gave a hollow laugh. "Oh, yeah, violation of copyright," he said quietly. With a shrug, he continued, "I had hoped to deal with it. I had hoped you wouldn't ever know ... but we got blindsided by journalists mobbing you, asking questions about being a sentinel. You were caught completely off-balance and, and you weren't happy about it, not any of it, and I couldn't blame you. I'd violated your trust. It was an accident, but that didn't matter. I should have been more careful. As a result," Blair rushed on, "the media went nuts, wouldn't leave you alone, and got in the way when you would have caught the assassin. Because he was able to escape, the next day, he tried to take you out, and got Simon and another of our colleagues, Megan, instead. They nearly died."

He ducked his head and heaved another heavy sigh. "I had to stop it," he went on, his voice low and shaky. "It was my responsibility, all my fault. So ... so I called my own press conference, and I said the paper was a fraud, that it was fiction."

"What did the university do?"

Blair shook his head. "Oh, they expelled me and fired me from my job as a teaching fellow. I wasn't surprised; they really didn't have any choice, given the breach of ethics involved."

"But you didn't do anything unethical; the paper wasn't a lie," Jim protested.

"I compromised you and violated your privacy," Blair returned as he lifted his head and steadily met Jim's gaze. "That was the breach of ethics that warranted expulsion and dismissal. I'd put your life, and the lives of others at risk by my carelessness and thoughtlessness. I deserved what happened."

Jim shook his head. "What did I have to say about your decision to do that?" he asked. "I can't believe there couldn't've been other answers, other solutions, that wouldn't have cost you everything. What happened was an accident and everything you'd written was true. I can't see why I'd let you trash everything just so people wouldn't know that I can see and hear and whatever better than most other people."

"We didn't discuss it," Blair said, again looking away. "It was my decision."

Frowning, chewing his lip, certain he wasn't getting the whole story, Jim sat back and thought about it. "So, why didn't I hold my own press conference to tell everyone your paper wasn't a lie?"

Blair continued to stare out at the water. "Jim, it's important that people not realize the truth. The senses aren't all good news. You have vulnerabilities ... like when you zone, or when your senses spike out of control when there's too much input, like blinding bright lights or shrill siren sounds or dog whistles. We can't afford to let the bad guys know the truth, or they could take you down. The fact that you're a sentinel has to be kept secret."

"Is that legal? I mean ... that I can hear people talking through walls or see something going down blocks away?"

Blair rubbed his mouth. "No, not exactly. We've always had to make sure we had evidence that would stand up in court."

"So you've been a cop, what, just a few months?"

"Five months and eight days," Blair replied, flashing him a wan smile, and then he swiveled on the rock to face Jim. "I don't want you to think that was some consolation prize. I love being your partner. I ... the lure of academia had palled for me some time ago. Everything worked out okay."

"Soooo, you're saying I left you hanging in the wind to protect my own ass," Jim said flatly, having put it together. "And I was okay with that."

"Jim, you didn't know what I was going to do I don't think you were all that thrilled about it, but it was done, is done," Blair argued. "I did what I had to do, what I'd do again in a heartbeat. You were not responsible for any of it."

"Do the people who matter know? Our colleagues, for instance? The people we work with in law enforcement? Do they know you're not a fraud?"

Blair's gaze dropped, and he shook his head. "Simon knows. Megan figured it out. The Chief and Commissioner know because Simon had to tell them to get clearance to offer me a badge. But we can't let anyone else know; word would be on the street in hours. We can't afford to take that risk."

"I see." Gnawing on his lip, Jim studied Blair. He could see that the kid was utterly sincere, but it didn't sit right with him. Bottom line, the senses were real and that paper hadn't been a lie. Sandburg deserved to get his PhD, not be expelled and, probably at least to some extent reviled. "I need to think about this," Jim muttered, standing to move away, back along the shore to where he could cast his line.

Blair followed him. "There's nothing to think about. It's over, finished, and everything worked out fine. Thanks to Simon, I was able to get my badge and become your official partner. I'm happy with that, man. I love working with you, love helping to protect our community."

Jim looked down at Blair and, again, he could see the sincerity ... and he could see more. He could see Blair's fear for him in the dark depths, Blair's need to keep him safe. I've never seen blue like that before. "Partners," he echoed, his heart aching with the knowledge of what Blair had given up for him. "Partners look out for one another, right?"

"Right," Blair agreed.

"You watched my back, took the hit," Jim replied.

"I was the one who screwed up."

"It was an accident."

"Doesn't make it any better, man. Our friends damn near died because of my mistake."

Jim turned away and cast his line. "I hear you, Chief, and I understand what you're saying. And ... and I don't know if I've already said this, but I'm grateful to you for, for sacrificing so much to keep me and my secret safe." He reeled in and re-cast his line. "But I'm not sure what kind of partner it makes me, to let you live with a lie that was convenient for me."

"Jim "

He held up his hand. "I understand what you're saying," Jim insisted, turning to meet Blair's worried gaze. "And I'm saying I need to think about it. I'm saying that I'm not sure I like or respect a man who could let his partner make that kind of sacrifice, and not set the record straight if not with the public, at least with those we work with everyday. You don't get to decide what I think about that man, Chief. That's up to me."

Blair stared at him, and then nodded. "Okay, but you've got to promise me that you'll talk to me and Simon if you decide you want to change things. This can't be unilateral, Jim. It involves all of us."

"Okay, I can promise that," Jim agreed. He waited a beat. "Sandburg why didn't you talk to me before you gave that press conference?"

Blair broke eye contact then as he bowed his head. "I told you. It was my mistake..."

Jim thought about the little he'd figured out about the man he'd been. What had Blair said? That they'd been blindsided by the media; that he hadn't been 'happy' about it that he'd been pissed off about an earlier chapter of the paper. That he hadn't known what Blair intended to do to fix things. "You haven't told me everything, have you?" he charged, but gently. Hell, he didn't want to make the kid feel bad about any of this. "I'd bet that you didn't tell me because ... because I was angry and I probably wasn't talking to you. Is that about right?"

Blair looked up at him, his blue eyes large and dark with regret. At first, Jim wasn't sure he'd respond but, finally, he nodded. "Yeah, man, that's about right," he allowed, and he turned away. Casting his own line, he went on, "But you had every right to be angry, Jim. And I'm okay with how it all turned out. I'm not sorry to be a cop, and I don't regret what I did. I want you to know that. And I want you to remember that. Don't feel you owe me something here, because you don't."

"From what I saw on TV yesterday, looks like you're a hell of a good cop," Jim said then. "You're sure steady under fire."

Blair flashed him a pleased smile, erasing the tension of the moments before. "Thanks, man."

Jim nodded and, uncomfortable that such a modest observation could evidently give Blair such happiness, turned away to cast his line. Wasn't the kid used to hearing approbation from him, that such a small thing seemed to make him so happy? If so, after all Blair had done, after all he'd given, how unacceptable was that?

Silence fell between them, while he thought about what Blair had told him, about what had happened not so many months before. Glancing upriver, he also thought about his father and his brother, the brother who'd said that they didn't really know one another, and was glad of a chance for them to maybe find out they liked one another. And he thought about Simon, about what Blair had said, that Simon had put his own career on the line to keep the secret his secret safe. He wondered if it was true, that the others they worked with didn't know about the secret, and he doubted it; doubted anyone would believe Blair had written a fraudulent paper, had lied in such a fundamental way or, that if he had, that Simon would have brought him onto the team. So, what did that mean about what the others must think of him? That he'd allow such a lie to stand?

Jim felt sick inside, his gut twisting with disgust with himself, or at least with the man he used to be. For the first time, he wasn't sure he wanted to get his memories back. He didn't think he wanted to know a man who could so coldly reject his family, and who could stand back and let his friends risk and sacrifice so much on his behalf.

He was damned sure he didn't want to be that man.

********************

Blair wasn't happy with the conversation he'd just had with Jim. Though he'd tried to be balanced, he was sure he had failed to convey how horrible it had been for Jim, how betrayed he'd felt. Okay, sure, so Jim could have listened to him, could have ... with a facility gained by previous practice, Blair shut down his own hurt and anger over what had occurred. That wasn't the point. The point was, Jim didn't remember any of it, and he seemed inclined to be awfully hard on himself, on how he judged himself and his past actions. Frowning, Blair toyed with the idea that Jim seemed to be judging himself now, the way the old Jim had judged his family or anyone else who had failed to meet his expectations, or who had badly let him down. Was this a pattern of behavior that was etched in bone as much as it was learned through experience? Nature versus nurture?

Shrugging off his musings, Blair glanced at Jim and didn't like the expression of deep discontent that he read on his partner's face. He also wasn't sure standing for any length of time was good for Jim's knee. What he did know for sure was that casting with his left arm wasn't a whole lot of fun. Looking further along the river, he could see that William and Stephen, though, were really getting into it and Simon, of course, would happily spend the day fishing.

Abruptly, he decided he'd had enough, and reeled in his line. Maybe he'd try again tomorrow or the day after that. Certainly, in the next month, there'd be plenty of time for all the fishing anyone could desire.

"Jim," he called in a normal tone. "My left wrist has had enough for today. How's your knee doing?"

"Aches," Jim replied with a grimace, evidently unhappy about maybe cutting the session short but then, Jim had always loved to fish.

"We can come back tomorrow, or even this afternoon, if you want," Blair suggested. "I just don't think it's a good idea to over-do it on our first day here."

Nodding, albeit with clear reluctance, Jim reeled in his line.

Blair ambled upriver to explain to the others why they were heading back, but told them they'd better not return to the lodge until they'd caught enough for dinner. Simon laughed and the others grinned, willing to take up the challenge. Rejoining Jim, he followed his friend along the narrow forest path back to the house. Once there, they put their gear away, and then went to the kitchen to make a fresh pot of coffee.

"Why don't you go sit on the verandah?" he suggested. "I'll bring the coffee out when it's ready."

"Sounds like a plan," Jim agreed, and went out the far side, to sit where he could see out over the hills.

"Always the sentinel," Blair murmured to himself, wondering if Jim understood his compulsion to have unimpeded views. Shrugging, he told himself that maybe it was just that Jim, like the majority of people, enjoyed a wide open, beautiful vista.

Once the coffee was ready, he poured two mugs and carried them outside a bit awkwardly, given the cast continued to make even the simplest things in life difficult. Handing one to Jim, he sat down on the next chair. They sat in silence for a few minutes and then, blowing on his coffee to cool it, Blair murmured, "You're being too hard on yourself."

Jim looked at him, but his expression was guarded and he was giving nothing away.

"You don't know enough," Blair continued. He wondered how far to push it, but thought he might as well say what he thought. "You've got a tendency to jump to judgment before you have all the facts, or before you hear the other guy's perspective."

"You think so?" Jim asked, sounding caught between belligerence and curiosity.

Nodding, Blair eased back in the chair and crossed one leg over the other. "Well, think about it. Let me know if I'm wrong here, but I'm betting you're thinking you were too hard on your family, a cold-hearted bastard who found it too easy to walk away. Added to that, I think you're feeling as if you owe me and Simon something, or that you don't deserve what we've put on the line for you, that you should have somehow 'made things right', as you define 'right'. Just like yesterday, you were sure Simon had come up here to judge you, and you weren't happy about that, before you had all the facts."

"Okay, I'll give you that I was wrong yesterday, but I don't see how I'm wrong about the rest of it," Jim countered.

"Jim, you have no idea how harsh your childhood was," Blair replied. "You see William now, the man who genuinely regrets the things he did, the way he was, and only wants desperately to make it up to you. You don't see the man who was brutally cold and remote after your mother left, who pitted you and Stephen against one another in competitions for his love and approval, in some misguided attempt to make you both strong and independent. You were just a kid when your Mom left, and you were badly hurt by her abandonment. You needed a father that reassured you of his love, and that her leaving wasn't your fault. You didn't need a father who ... well, who ultimately told you to hide your abilities in case people thought you were a freak." Jim gaped at him, obviously stunned by what he was saying. "I probably shouldn't be telling you all this, because I guess we're still not supposed to give you a lot of intel about your past but I won't have you judging yourself unfairly. You had good reasons for leaving home, and I'm pretty sure William has as much as said it that your leaving was what finally got William's attention and made him realize he had to change; by leaving, you gave Stephen a better chance for a healthier home. But you didn't know he'd changed, had no way of knowing, so there was no good reason for you to ever go back. Why would you? You're not into abuse, nor should you be."

"But ..." Jim began. "He's been nothing but generous and kind ... and I could've called ... touched base years ago."

"Yeah, well, that works both ways. He could have called you when you were discharged from the Army years ago you were back in Cascade, not hard to find but he didn't. When you were hurt so badly this time, I think he realized he might not ever have another chance to get to know you. He really is desperate to make up for the mistakes he made and the lesson here is that people can change, and we need to give them room to change," Blair insisted. "The fact is, you were already beginning to spend a little more time with both him and Stephen, the fences were slowly being mended, only ... well, the whole dissertation blowing up put a new strain on everything."

Jim sat back and seemed to be thinking about the points he was making, so Blair gazed out over the valley and sipped at his coffee, giving him time.

"I don't understand how I could let you destroy everything you'd been working toward," Jim said into the silence. "I don't understand how I could stand back and let that happen, or how I could let Simon risk his career for me."

"Jim, when the diss broke, and the media were in your face, you felt I'd betrayed you and, in self-defense, you put your walls up and focused all you were on the job," Blair told him, feeling the pain of it all over again. "You were hurt and surprised, and you had good reasons to be furious with me. I let you down. After years of promising you I'd safeguard your privacy, I failed in the most fundamental way. Okay, so I gave up my career. I'd do it again in a heartbeat rather than have you risk your life, and the lives of others, by allowing information about your senses and vulnerabilities to be commonly available to any crook with the ability to read. Jim, it's a question of principles, priorities and preferences. Ethically, I had a responsibility to make things right, to fix the violation of your privacy. Lives and safety have to come before the vanity of a degree, and my preference was to ... to salvage what I could of our friendship. Working with you now? Man, that's a dream and a bonus I never expected to have ... and that I'm not sure I deserve. But it's what I want. And it was what you wanted. We both won, Jim. So, please, don't beat yourself up over it now."

When Jim didn't say anything, Blair leaned forward and gripped his arm. "Jim, you're a man who puts his life on the line every day to protect the vulnerable, to do what's right, to chase down incredibly dangerous criminals and stop them before they hurt more people. You're cautious, yes, because you've been badly hurt by too damned many who should have been people you could trust without reservation. You're not particularly demonstrative, but that doesn't mean you don't feel things deeply. You are a man of great integrity and courage. When Simon and his son were missing in Peru, you flew down there to find them ... and you saved their lives."

"How do you know that?" Jim challenged.

"Because I was there," Blair returned. "They'd been taken captive by a murderous gang that had enslaved a whole village to make cocaine. I went with you to help find them, and managed to get myself captured, too. Jim, you took on the whole gang all by yourself. And you saved us all. You were incredible, man. I've never seen anything like it. You're strong, and I don't just mean physically, and you're courageous. You're a good man. One who is worth the sacrifice I made, worth the protection Simon affords. I know you can't remember all that, but I can, and so can everyone who knows you. You have nothing to prove to anyone."

Jim bowed his head and crossed his arms. He took a shuddering breath, and then another. Finally, he gave a half shrug, half nod, as if he wanted to believe everything Blair was telling him, but wasn't sure he should. But he cut Blair a quick, sideways look and said with husky emotion, "Thanks. I was starting to think ... I, uh, I needed to hear that I'm not a total jerk."

"Ah, Jim, I'm sorry it's so damned hard," Blair sighed as he set his mug on the wooden floor. Reaching out to lay a hand on Jim's shoulder, he added, "Anytime you really need to know something, you tell me and I'll do my best to fill in the details. Anytime. And you know what? I bet Simon would be glad to do the same." Then he grinned. "Besides," he added, giving Jim a playful punch, "you can't seriously think that either Simon or I would be best friends with a total jerk."

Jim snorted at that, and then laughed a little. "I don't know," he retorted. "I don't know either of you all that well; you seem a little, well, impetuous and even crazy around the edges. And from what I heard and saw on the TV yesterday, he can be a pretty intimidating taskmaster. Maybe you're both just really hard up for friends."

"Oh, gee, thanks," Blair drawled. "Crazy around the edges, huh? Real nice. But no worse, I guess, than calling me a neohippy witchdoctor punk, which was your reaction when we first met." He shook his head, and then chuckled. "Can I watch you tell Simon you think he's intimidating? He'll be sooooo pleased, especially since that whole act doesn't work on either of us."

Jim grinned, and then a thought seemed to occur to him and he asked, "I was in the Army?"

"Yeah, I'm not entirely sure about this, but I think you joined up and got your degree on their ticket. I do know you were in Covert Ops for a lot of years. On a mission in Peru, your chopper was shot down and all the rest of your group died in the crash. You survived and worked with the Chopec a local tribe for eighteen months, fulfilling your mission to close the pass to gun and drug runners. There was an article about you in People magazine. After that, you resigned your commission, went home to Cascade. You went to the Academy and joined the PD; that was about ten years ago."

The more he heard, the more Jim seemed to relax, and he settled back more comfortably in his chair. He took a long sip of coffee, and then asked, "How'd we meet, anyway? I mean, if I was a cop and you were at the university ... no offense, but I doubt we moved in the same circles or shared many of the same interests."

Blair laughed and raked back his hair. Not at all sure he should be sharing so much information, but unwilling to allow Jim to jump to the wrong conclusions or always think the worst, he hoped he wasn't doing any harm. "Well, I was seeing this nurse," he began. Before long, he had Jim laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes, over the stories of climbing trees and fending off magpies, and Jim's reactions to having to sniff literally hundreds of bottles of fragrances to track down a mad bomber.

And then he told Jim how he'd used his senses to find him, after he'd been taken by a psychopathic murderer. "You saved my life that night, man. No doubt about it."

Jim looked at him, a small smile playing in the corners of his mouth. "I suspect you've returned the favor since," he said. "I know for a fact that ... that I wouldn't be sitting here now, if not for you. I think maybe Simon's right. We make a helluva team."

"That we do, partner," Blair agreed whole-heartedly, clinking their coffee mugs together. "That we do."

********************

Jim was grateful for Blair's candor, and for his friend's assessment that he wasn't a total jerk; he grinned to himself every time he thought of that conversation, though he suspected Blair had gone easy on him, that there was still more to the whole story. He was still very uncomfortable with the fact that he'd evidently let people think Blair's press conference was the truth, but he was willing to accept there were different perspectives and that, maybe, staying mute might have served some necessary purpose. He also took to heart the point that he had a tendency to judge too quickly, and he made a concerted effort to listen more and judge less as the month unfolded.

As one day blended with another, he exercised his knee and, within a week, he was able to walk easily for an hour with only the slightest occasional twinge. Every day that it didn't rain, and even some when it did, if it was only a light mist, he went fishing. Sometimes they all went down to the stream to try their luck, but most often it was just him and Simon, which gave him the chance to get to know the big man. On those days, he asked questions about how he'd ended up working in Major Crime, about his other colleagues in the Unit, and about Simon's opinion of him and of Blair. Simon answered with thoughtful deliberation, and didn't only tell him he was respected and good at his job. Jim learned he'd been a loner, an irascible and angry sonuvabitch, particularly after his former partner, Jack Pendergast disappeared, until he'd hooked up with Blair. With a grimace of regret, Simon told him he and Blair had discovered years ago that Pendergast had been murdered the night of his disappearance. Jim also learned he'd been married for nearly two years, and amicably divorced for much longer, his former wife now living and working in San Francisco.

Simon also threw a little more light on the whole senses thing, and why they were careful not to reveal too much about them ... and he realized that Simon wasn't all that comfortable about the senses, didn't want to know everything there was to know about them. Jim began to see that his father might have had a point all those years ago, if he'd feared that people would think him a freak, as Blair had told him had happened. People didn't always react well to those who were different, especially if they didn't understand. And Jim sure in hell didn't want to be perceived as some comic book superhero. There was also the issue of all the potential legal implications of what he could do, and how that could be construed as a violation of rights. It was all so complicated ... more complicated than he'd first imagined.

Jim got to know his father and brother and found he enjoyed their company. Evenings and rainy days were spent either playing various games, usually cards, or reading books from the extensive house library. When they needed to restock supplies, William and Stephen went into town; nobody wanted to risk Jim or Blair being spotted by someone who would tell the media or, worse, sell the information straight to the Devil's Own. Simon, in his nominal role as their protector, always stayed with them.

After three weeks, especially since Jim was back to full physical health, Simon decided he couldn't really justify stretching out his vacation time there any longer. However, when he called the Chief to suggest returning to work, he was surprised that the man insisted the protection detail was still necessary. Coppolino was still at large, nobody had a line on where he was hiding out and word on the street indicated the gang leader was searching hard for Sandburg and Ellison. In addition, the killer could be anywhere in the country because the Devil's Own, like Satan's Choice and Hell's Angels, had biker clubs in every state. The Chief decided it didn't make sense to bring in another watchdog at that point, not when within two weeks they'd be ready to return to Cascade, to get Blair's cast removed. So he put Simon back on official duty, and Simon was pleased to be able to keep fishing without using more of his precious vacation time though, he allowed as he felt slightly guilty about it. But not much, given he was under direct orders and, besides, for all of his career he'd worked more hours than he'd ever been paid. Jim listened to Simon muttering justifications, and he liked that the man didn't sound like he believed himself; that taking advantage of the system, even if he wasn't, didn't sit well with him.

Jim was less happy to know that a killer was still out there somewhere, still gunning for them. In odd moments of quiet, he took to mulling over the problem and considering options for how it might be dealt with. He also found that he was thinking less about what he didn't know about the past, and more about the future. The walls of nothingness were still there in his mind, still as disconcerting as ever when he came up against them, but he was building more new memories, living in the 'now' more fully, so he felt the loss less keenly.

Until the time drew near for them to leave their refuge and return to Cascade. The abrupt return of his earlier anxiety surprised Jim, but then he realized he'd mistaken growing comfortable in a haven with a few people who were friends and family for reality but reality was a world full of people wherein he didn't know friend from foe, faceless men and women who knew him, held opinions about him, but about whom he knew nothing.

Nor was it just the persistent amnesia that worried him. It was the absence of emotion. Not that he didn't feel, he did but not what he suspected he was supposed to feel. He liked William and Stephen well enough, but he didn't love them, wasn't sure he ever would, regardless of the fact that they were family. When Blair or Simon told him things about his past, like about being married, or about the whole dissertation thing, intellectually he could understand what had occurred, but he had no emotional markers, no anger, regret, sense of loss, nothing. It was like he was hearing the stories of someone else's life, someone who was interesting, maybe, but didn't really matter to him. It was ... disconcerting and uncomfortable, but he didn't know what to do about it.

His dreams had more power to evoke emotion, especially the recurring dream in which he was locked in horror, desperate for something, and the wolf and the cat jumped into a blinding blaze of light. He knew the dream had something to do with Blair, because it was Blair's heartbeat he heard after the light burst in his mind. Jim figured it all had something to do with his original injury, with feeling lost and abandoned and with somehow knowing, despite the amnesia, that Blair was out there, somewhere, and hoping Blair would find him.

For some reason, he shied away from discussing that dream with Blair, with discussing anything about the blue jungle and the animals there. Dreams ... well, dreams weren't real. There was no point in talking about what Blair had once told him was a 'safe place'.

Nor did he talk about his growing reluctance to go back to that old life. Blair had told him and so had Simon that he had nothing to prove to anyone. Much as he appreciated their reassurances, and their clear, limitless support, they were wrong. He had one hell of a lot to prove to himself. He had to prove he could walk back into a life, filled with people and places about which he had no memory, and make a success of that life. Jim told himself he should think of it as a challenge, but a challenge was ... was learning a new skill, not taking on a whole life. The magnitude of it all left him feeling shaky hell, downright terrified. What if he couldn't do it? What if ... what if it was just too hard? What then?

God, what if he discovered he didn't want any of it anymore?

********************

Blair watched Jim as the day for their return to Cascade drew closer, and he could see that his friend was worried, though Jim was doing a pretty good job of pretending everything was just fine. But his mask wasn't as good as it had been before he'd been injured, nor did he seem as inclined to hide everything that he felt. In many ways, Blair could almost pretend this was the same old Jim the sense of humor was as dry, the rock-solid integrity intact but there were differences. This Jim didn't fight his senses, didn't downplay them, didn't hesitate to use them in front of the others. His senses seemed more a natural part of him, a way of being, rather than irritants to accommodate and control. Nor was Jim's anger as close to the surface, but the impatience was still the same. Jim had a built-in sense of urgency, a need to move forward once decisions were taken.

And maybe that was the biggest difference of all. This Jim wasn't so quick to make decisions and, though he appeared confident, Blair could read the uncertainty in his eyes. Jim had stopped talking about how hard it was to function without his memories, how lost and disoriented he felt with those areas of darkness in his mind, where he'd once been so sure of who he was and of what he wanted out of life. But he was clearly still haunted by the emptiness, still off-balance and who wouldn't be?

Blair wondered if the others saw the same things, or if they just wanted so badly for Jim to be all right, fully recovered and whole, that they were blind to vulnerable man in front of them.

Nor was Jim the only one who seemed to be getting more anxious as their day of departure loomed. William's veneer of urbane geniality was cracking. He'd made several conversational forays directed toward encouraging Jim to take time to rethink simply going back to the PD. The most recent, earlier that afternoon, had pushed too many of Jim's buttons by coming too close to insinuating he wasn't up to making decisions for himself, at least not yet. Jim had coldly reminded William he was a grown man, forty-one years old, and more than capable of deciding how to live his own life. Though Jim had argued that he didn't need anyone doing his thinking for him, Blair had seen how white he'd gone when William suggested he take more time, as if William had inadvertently hit a sore spot.

William had backed down, but he hadn't been happy. Stephen and Simon had jumped into the breach, suggesting a game of cards, but William had begged off, and Jim had said he needed to go for a walk.

Nursing a beer, Blair was waiting for him now on the porch, wondering if Jim was rethinking his almost automatic decision, weeks ago now, to simply go back to work in the PD? And if he was, what did that mean for Blair? Was Jim also rethinking their partnership? He'd been about to follow Jim, to ask those questions, when Simon had caught him by the arm and had simply shaken his head. Deflating, Blair had nodded. Jim needed his space, and these were decisions he had to make on his own.

Dusk was falling when Jim finally ambled out of the forest, looking preoccupied and reluctant to return to the house. But he lifted his head and, spotting Blair, waved. A minute later, he climbed the steps to the verandah, and hitched his hip onto the railing across from where Blair was sitting.

"Feeling better?" Blair asked.

Jim shrugged. "I shouldn't've gotten so angry. He's just trying to help."

Blair nodded. "He pushed a few buttons, though, didn't he?"

Jim rubbed his mouth and then his hand skated over his head to knead the back of his neck, gestures so familiar as to make Blair's heart ache, because this Jim didn't know that these had always been signals of his unease. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah," he allowed. "But I need to make up my own mind about where I belong."

"I know," Blair murmured and conjured a sad smile. "But he's right that there's no need to push it. There's no deadline here, man."

"Isn't there?" Jim demanded, straightening. "We go back to Cascade tomorrow. I can't hide out forever. I ... I have to face what's back there."

"What's back there are friends and your home," Blair reminded him quietly.

"And Coppolino, and others just like him," Jim retorted, his tone and expression dark. "Simon says they still don't have a lead on him. He could come after you us at any time."

Blair couldn't argue with that. Even putting out the news that Jim had no memory of anything before that damned bomb had blown up their world wouldn't make him less of a target. Coppolino wouldn't take the chance that Jim's memory might return someday. The thought gave Blair pause, and he realized that he'd just about given up hope that Jim would ever recover, would ever really be the same man who'd been his friend for so many years. His chest tightened, and he blinked at the burn in his eyes.

"All we can do is take it a step at a time," Blair offered, knowing the advice was as much for himself, as it was for Jim, because the thought that the Jim he'd known was really gone was just too hard to bear. "Doesn't help to fight battles that might never happen."

Edgily, Jim nodded in stiff agreement, and then he sighed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be dumping all this on you."

Smiling, mastering his own emotion, Blair disagreed. "Who else, man?" Standing, he stretched and looked up at the sky, at the early stars just beginning to glimmer, and prayed for the strength to be whatever Jim needed him to be. "C'mon, let's go inside and wash up for dinner. It's nearly time to eat I think Stephen and Simon have been preparing quite a feast."

"I know," Jim replied with a tired smile. "I could smell beef roasting from a mile away."

********************

Although it was crowded in the backseat, with Blair squished between him and Stephen, Jim was glad his brother had turned in his rental weeks before. The drive to the private airfield was less than an hour, but he wouldn't've wanted to choose between riding with his family or his colleagues; there were enough tension as it was, given his father's antipathy to him being a cop. Not that William didn't respect law enforcement officers, or value them; he just thought his son could do better, and find something certainly less dangerous to do for a living.

And, to be honest, Jim had to admit to himself if no one else, some of the growing tension was his own anxiety about coming face to face with his life. He was holding out a lot of hope that being back in familiar surroundings, seeing his own home, having his own clothing and personal effects would break through the wall in his mind and somehow allow him to recapture the lost memories. If being home didn't help, he didn't know what would, and he was afraid he'd have to face that those memories were gone for good; that the man he'd been was gone for good. Just the thought of that tightened his chest and made him feel breathless with incipient panic. He felt almost as if he wouldn't really exist anymore, wouldn't have any roots or foundation to stand on. The conflicting eagerness and terror of going home was very hard to bear.

Then there were all the people back there, people who were colleagues and had been friends; others who were threats. Courtesy of Blair and Simon, he at least knew the names of the others on their team in Major Crime, and had some idea of how to recognize them, so he wouldn't be going in totally unprepared. Megan Conner was a tall Aussie with red hair; Rhonda, the office manager, was calm and good-natured; Henri Brown and Joel Taggart were African-American Joel would be the one in a suit; Brian Rafe was South African and would be immaculately attired in expensive clothing. Joel was solid, the former captain of the Bomb Unit; Brown was a joker; Connor could be loud and argumentative but Blair seemed to like her. All but Rhonda played poker. Beyond that...? Nothing. The only people in the whole world he truly knew and trusted at all were the men with him in the sedan.

Of all the potential threats waiting back in Cascade, Coppolino and his cohorts in the Devil's Own gang were the most pressing; there had to be a way to track that bastard down and flush him out of hiding.

Everything and everyone else came under the heading: The Great Unknown.

Jim told himself to suck it up. Evidently, in the past, he'd started his life over more than once: joining the Army, going to the Academy. This was just one more beginning. But it felt like so much more than that. Blair had told him he was inclined to be wary because people he'd trusted had let him down, but he wondered if it was more than that. The idea of trusting all these people sight-unseen left him cold. He needed to make up his own mind, make his own assessment of whom he'd trust or not. He also told himself that he'd been able to adapt to changing circumstances in the past. Clearly, if he'd been in Covert Ops, he must have been able to drop into new and unknown circumstances with no difficulty ... but the feeling that he had no control over what was happening to him, of anything in his life, was beyond unpleasant. He hated it with a passion.

They reached the airfield and his father returned the rental sedan while the rest of them got their bags onto the jet. Jim gaped at the Gulfstream; he'd understood that his father was well-off, but this indicated wealth on a scale that was hard to comprehend. He was privately embarrassed by how grateful he was that he wouldn't have to contend with the noise, crowded conditions and smells of a commercial flight. Which triggered another worry: he'd been managing his senses just fine in the peaceful and pristine, rural environments of the Institute and the lodge, but how would he do in a big, noisy, polluted city?

They settled in for the flight, Jim choosing a window seat with the hope of clear skies that would allow him to see the country they'd be flying over. Staring out the window would also give him an excuse not to talk to anyone. He was too keyed-up for mindless chit-chat, too preoccupied to play cards. Increasingly, he just wanted to get there and get it all over with, find out if he would remember or not; decide if he felt comfortable in his old skin, or not.

Jim was aware of the concerned glances Blair was bestowing upon him, but he pretended to be oblivious. He knew Blair was only worried for him, only wanted to help however he could. But Blair couldn't help him with what was coming. Well ... he could and did help just by being there, but he couldn't relieve the anxiety; couldn't make these next hours and days any easier. Jim wondered if Blair worried at all about himself, about what the implications would be for him if ... if Jim decided that the life he'd had wasn't the one he wanted. Jim felt the weight of those implications like no others. Blair had given up so much for him, sacrificed so much; Sandburg had become a cop to be his partner. What if ... what if it turned out to be all for nothing? Jesus, how could he do that to the kid?

Staring up at the sky as the jet climbed into the air, Jim prayed to a God he didn't think he really believed in, prayed that being home would bring his memories back. Prayed that the life waiting for him was one he'd be comfortable in.

Prayed that the man he'd been wasn't really gone for good.

********************

They were striding the short distance across the airfield toward the small private terminal, bags in hand or slung over shoulders, when Simon's cell phone rang.

"Banks." He listened, his other hand clamped against the opposite ear to block out the whining roar of the jet engines. His posture straightened, tightened. "Good. Okay. We'll head straight there."

Hanging up as they entered the terminal, he told the others, "Looks like our luck may be changing. We've got a lead on Coppolino. Guess he smacked his girlfriend around once too often, and she's blown the whistle on him. Joel's got the details." Turning to William, he held out his hand. "It's been a pleasure to get to know you," he said, and then turning to Stephen, "and you, too. I hope I'll see more of both of you in the future."

William and Stephen echoed similar sentiments, though they seemed a bit stunned by how quickly events were moving. "I want to be kept in the picture about this Coppolino," William stated firmly.

"I'll keep you as informed as I can," Simon promised, then said to Jim and Blair, "A patrol car has been dispatched to pick us up and take us straight to the office."

This is it, Jim thought, nodding and swallowing hard against the butterflies that had erupted in his belly. Feeling chilled, he unconsciously put a hand on Blair's back, and steered him toward the doors and the black and white he could see pulling up by the curb. "I'll call you both later," he called over his shoulder, to his father and brother.

********************

Nothing about the building seemed familiar, but Jim could hear soft exclamations when uniformed officers and others noticed him, and a few called out, "Detective Ellison! Good to see you back."

He pasted a tight smile on his face, and nodded in response, but wondered why Blair wasn't similarly being welcomed back was it because of that damned press conference? Jim was determined that something had to be done about that, if only here within the PD's walls. Having no idea where to go, Jim contented himself with following Simon and Blair onto the elevator, and then down a short corridor through wide glass double doors sporting the label, 'Major Crime'. Taking a deep breath and straightening his shoulders as he walked into the bullpen, his gaze darted around, taking note of the people present.

Shouts of welcome erupted, and he was soon surrounded by men and women, some pounding on his back. "Conner," he acknowledged, wincing when both she and Brown, shouted, "JIMBO!" but doing his best to hold onto his smile. "Brown, Rafe hey, Rhonda. Good to see all of you, too." He hesitated but felt it was best to spit it out, in case they didn't already know. "Sorry, guys, afraid I don't remember any of you. So bear with me, okay?"

"Ah, no sweat, Jim," Henri hastened to reassure him. "You need anything, you just ask, man. We're here for you."

Jim found himself unexpectedly touched by the assurance, and the very evident sincerity behind it. Patting Brown's shoulder, murmuring, "Thanks," as he passed, he continued following Simon and Blair to an inner office. Through the glass wall, he could see the man he presumed was Joel hurrying out from behind the desk to greet them.

"Jim," Joel said, reaching to shake his hand and grip his arm as soon as he'd cleared the threshold. "I can't tell you how good it is to see you. Having you back, seeing you look so well, it's like a miracle!" he exclaimed. Looking toward Blair, to include him, he went on, "The two of you sure do beat the odds, and I'm glad of it." Jim was pleased when Joel reached out to give Blair a quick but solid hug. "I've missed you around here," the big man said with a wide smile.

"Nice to see you, too, Joel," Simon drawled sarcastically, but smiled to show he took no offense at not being greeted as enthusiastically. Glancing at the map and the satellite photos strewn on the conference table, swiftly sober and all business, he set down his luggage and asked, "What've you got?"

Waving them all to places around the table, Joel replied, "Well, the good news is, we're pretty sure we know where Coppolino is hiding. The bad news is that he won't be easy to get to." Putting a finger on the map, he said, "He's holed up in an old farmhouse, here. The house is within the city's boundaries, so it's in our jurisdiction, but the access road and drive are in the county. We'll have to coordinate action with the Sheriff's Department. Plus, as you'll see from the photos, there's no cover anywhere around the house, which will make a discreet approach impossible." He sat back in his chair and sighed. "The really bad news is that he's not alone. Between what the girl, Lucy, told us, and the satellite photos, there're anywhere from twenty-five to thirty armed and dangerous gang members there at all times. Prying him out of there will take a war."

"Damn," Simon grunted as he studied photos and passed them along to Jim and Blair. "Well, at least we know where he is, which is a helluva lot more than we've known for weeks." Getting up, he went around his desk to pour himself a cup of coffee, waving the pot around in a mute demand to know if others wanted some.

"Yeah, I'll have a cup," Jim agreed, hoping it would taste as good as it smelled. Joel waved off the offer, but Blair chimed in, "Me, too, thanks."

Jim studied the satellite photos, and scratched his cheek as he thought about the scenario. The trick would be to get inside without being stopped. Accepting a steaming cup from Simon, he sat back in his chair. "You know, I might have an idea about how to do this," he offered tentatively, remembering the books he'd virtually inhaled at the lodge, in an effort to ground himself in as many classical and popular cultural references as possible. "It'd be risky, but something similar's been tried before, at least once." With a small smile, he added as he looked up at Simon, "Some might even call it a classic strategy."

"Let's hear it," Simon directed encouraged.

"I just have one question first," Jim replied, turning to Blair to ask with deadpan seriousness, "Do I know how to ride a bike?"

Blair blinked at him and then his eyes narrowed in speculation. Jim found it both exciting and immensely gratifying to watch the ideas flash in his partner's eyes, and he had no doubt that Blair was getting both the wry humor he'd intended about 'muscle memory' as well as the entirely serious uncertainty behind the question and, from his obscure 'classic' reference, anticipating the plan, putting all the pieces together at light-speed.

Then, laughing out loud, clearly delighted, Blair assured him, "Yeah, man, you do. Two-wheel and motor." Sitting up straighter, his eyes bright with enthusiasm, he added, "This is gonna be fun."

********************

Three hours later, they'd run through the plan with the others on the team for the umpteenth time, and Simon had just called the Sheriff's Department to ensure their cooperation and support. Hanging up, he reported, "Okay, it's a go. It'll take the rest of tonight and most of tomorrow to get everything set up."

"Great," Blair gusted, pushing himself back from the table. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm starving. And I still have to get this damned cast removed before we head home."

"Uh, going home isn't on the agenda for you two," Joel replied.

"What?" Jim and Blair exclaimed simultaneously. "You've got to be kidding," Jim added, seeming aghast.

Startled by Jim's vehemence, Blair looked at him and was worried to see how rigid Jim had become, all his muscles tight, his hands fisted. Not entirely sure what was going on, but guessing, he reached out to lightly grip Jim's shoulder.

"No, no, I'm not," Joel explained. "Sorry, guys, but the Devil's Own have a bounty on your heads we can't risk you going back to your apartment; nobody wants a shoot-out on your street, right? You're going to a safehouse tonight."

Jim's gaze darted around the room like a cornered animal, and then met Blair's eyes. The desperation in them, the need, clawed at Blair's heart. "I wanted ... I hoped...."

"I know," Blair murmured, sure now that he'd guessed right. "It's only one more night."

Jim stared at him for a long moment, while silence reigned in the office, the tension palpable. Then, the stuffing seemed to pour out of him and he slumped in his chair. Nodding, he sighed, "Fine."

The others began moving out of the office, but when Blair and then Jim stood to go, Simon held up a hand. "Jim, Blair, just a moment."

What now? Blair wondered, tired and worried about Jim, needing to get him somewhere quiet where he could relax.

"I can't let either of you participate in the takedown tomorrow," Simon told them, regret heavy in his voice and expression.

"You can't be serious!" Blair protested.

"C'mon, you know the regs," Simon replied, carefully calm but deliberate. "You're our only witnesses; you can't be risked. Not to mention that neither of you have been cleared for return to active duty."

Exasperated, Blair tossed his hands up in helpless anger. But when he turned to Jim, the anger gave way to cold dread. Jim was looking mutinous, and he was fingering the badge clipped to his belt. His partner had been worried about coming back, Blair knew that, but having his plan accepted had restored Jim's confidence and vigor. But now, being denied the right to go home, with all that that meant, and then being told he wouldn't be allowed to implement his own plan, was too much. Jim's doubt about everything, about where he belonged, about who he was, was coming to a head.

Wheeling back to Simon, Blair argued with the sure knowledge that he couldn't afford to lose this battle. "Look, if the op is safe enough to risk anyone, then it's safe enough for us to participate, and we can have the damned medical releases signed between now and tomorrow afternoon, long before it's due to go down. C'mon, Captain, after what that bastard did to us? What he's cost us? We deserve to have the chance to bring him back in. We've earned it."

"You said I could return to duty when I thought I was ready," Jim added, his voice deadly quiet as he lifted hard eyes to meet Simon's troubled gaze.

"Please, Simon. You have to let us do this. You have to."

Lips thin, Simon studied Jim and then Blair, before glancing at Joel for his input. Joel bit his lip, but nodded.

"Okay," Simon agreed with evident reluctance, but held up a hand, "providing you both get the necessary medical clearance. But if anything happens to either one of you, so help me, I'll kill you myself."

Jim's posture eased, and Blair felt relief wash over him. "Thank you," he breathed, still chilled by how close he believed it had been.

********************

The safehouse turned out to be a dreary motel with adjoining rooms that each had doors directly out to the parking lot. Its saving graces were that the back of the property dropped steeply into a rocky ravine, so an approach from that direction was virtually impossible, and the access from the parking space in front of the units meant they could slip inside, unseen.

"Charming," Jim grunted, and tossed his duffel containing the clothing his father had bought him on the bed nearest the door.

"Well, it's sure not the lodge," Blair agreed, with a dispirited glance around the dismal room made even more gloomy by the dim lighting.

Joel, who'd insisted upon taking the first shift as their protection detail, came in through the connecting door. "Pizza? Chinese?" he asked affably, holding takeout and delivery menus in his hands.

"Whatever," Jim sighed, and turned away to pull back the garish orange and purple striped curtain to check out the ravine in back; immediately, he erupted into sneezes from the dust he'd unleashed into the room. Eyes streaming, he reached out blindly to take the tissues Blair was offering to wipe his face. "Dammit," he cursed. "Doesn't Cascade have any clean hotel rooms?"

"Not and also be perched over a ravine," Blair joked with a glance at Joel, in a transparent effort to lighten the mood.

Looking away, Jim cleared his throat, and focused on getting his reaction under control. He knew he should be rolling with it; should be grateful the City was still providing protection. It was neither Blair's nor Joel's fault that going home was out of the question. There was no fault here, just necessity. And he knew Joel only wished him the best was genuinely concerned about both of them but he found the older man's hovering annoying and claustrophobic. "I'm sorry," he rasped. "I'm just ... tired."

Joel nodded sympathetically, and Blair just looked worried. Feeling crowded, Jim had to fight his urge to stalk out to walk off his foul mood.

Blair and Joel settled on pizza, and Joel retreated to the other room to call in the order. Jim appreciated the man's sensitivity and consideration when Joel closed the connecting door, giving them some degree of privacy.

Glancing ruefully at Blair, Jim grimaced. "You must think I'm really losing it."

Blair's face melted into bemused compassion. "Nah," he replied, waving off the apology. "I'm tired of living out of a suitcase, too. And I'd really hoped to get rid of this cast today ... but, I guess it'll have to wait until tomorrow."

Jim just looked at him, wondering if he'd imagined it earlier when he'd thought Blair understood why he'd been so upset about not being allowed to return to the loft. But Blair moved across the room to stand beside him. "I know," he said again, just like he had in the office. "You really need to see the loft, and touch your own stuff. I understand; I really do. I'm sorry. I wish everything could just be ... easier."

He sounded so woebegone that Jim found himself giving the kid a consoling pat on the shoulder. "No, I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't be taking my pissy mood out on you, or Joel. Like you said, it's just one more night. But I swear, if they don't let us go home tomorrow, I may have to kill someone."

Blair laughed softly. "Don't say that too loud, or they'll have another reason to be worried about sending us out to pick up Coppolino. We really do have to bring the creep in alive."

Jim snorted, and returned to the window, to peer out through the grimy, streaked glass at the darkening evening and the cold rain that blurred the rocky embankment on the far side of the steep gulch. In the reflection, he could see Blair standing behind him, arms akimbo, a helpless look of anxious concern on his face. "When Simon mentioned the regs, I didn't have a clue what he was talking about," Jim admitted, feeling the weight of everything he didn't know bearing down on him.

"Yeah, well," Blair replied with a wan smile as he raked his hair back from his face, "you're in luck. I am like obsessive when it comes to studying, and I know every relevant law, rule, and regulation, formal and informal, backwards, forwards and upside down. Just consider me your walking, talking, reference manual."

Jim conjured a smile, but Blair didn't look like he was buying it. Shoving his hands in his jean pockets, Jim turned back to face him. "I thought maybe coming back here, going to the station, would jog something loose, but ... nothing. Just ... nothing."

"Not nothing," Blair replied, his tone low and encouraging. "You're the one who looked at an impossible situation and came up with a workable plan. Memories or not, you've got the instincts. I know it's hard well, I guess I can't know how hard it is, but I'll help you in any way I can. You can do this job, Jim. You..." But Blair broke off, his gaze searching Jim's face. "You need to give it some time; need to give yourself a chance."

Jim nodded, but his gaze dropped away. Blair was probably right. He probably could do the job, especially with Blair's support. And the others downtown had clearly demonstrated their support, too; their, well, evident happiness to have him back. But none of that helped fill the emptiness he felt inside, the great gaping nothingness that had once been filled with his identity, his experience, his trust in his own judgment. Everything seemed to be crowding in on him, hemming him in, and he didn't know if he could handle it, or even if he wanted to.

But then he looked back up at the one friend he had in the world, the one man he felt more than gratitude toward a great deal more. Even if he wasn't sure he wanted to bother with it all for himself, Blair deserved better than that; deserved to have him do his best. So he nodded again, more firmly. "You're right," he agreed. But, not wanting to keep thinking about it, needing a distraction, he asked, "Did you bring the cards? Maybe we can see if Joel wants to play a game."

Blair rewarded him with a relieved smile, and bent to dig around in his magical backpack. Jim was sure he must have everything including a kitchen sink stashed in there.

********************

First thing the next morning, they went to the cast clinic at the hospital to have Blair's cast removed and, though it took a bit of haggling, Blair got his necessary medical release to return to active duty. From there, their uniformed driver took them to Jim's doctor's office. The woman was predictably surprised by how well and fit Jim appeared, given how he'd looked the last time she'd seen him, two months before. By dint of forgetting to mention the small matter of his persistent total amnesia, he also received medical clearance for duty.

"Don't say anything," he growled to Blair on their way out.

Flexing his weakened right hand and arm, doubting whether he'd be able to level a pistol, let alone handle the recoil if he had to actually shoot it that evening, Blair warbled, "Far be it from me to cast any stones. Literally, man. Not sure I could even cast a marshmallow. But I won't tell Simon if you won't." What the hell. He'd just carry a shotgun; nobody ever talked back to man waving a shotgun or he sincerely hoped they didn't. So far, he hadn't had to kill anyone and he was clinging to the hope that maybe he wouldn't ever have to take a life. Though the darker side of his soul whispered that if he had to kill anyone, Coppolino would be the one he'd choose to take out.

Jim snorted and then, laughing, he hooked an arm around Blair's shoulder. "What a team," he sighed with a grin. Waggling his eyebrows, Blair grinned back.

********************

When they handed him their clearances later that afternoon, Simon quirked a disbelieving brow but he kept his doubts about how they'd gotten them to himself. "Okay," he allowed. "Everything's on track. We'll be meeting up with the Sheriff's contingent in an hour. Since it will take just about that long to get there, we might as well head out now."

"We're ready to go," Jim assured him.

Simon pulled on his coat and gathered up the relevant file of warrants before he led the way out of the office and across the bullpen, the rest of the Major Crime team falling in behind him.

********************

When they reached the rendezvous point, two miles from the farmhouse and down a winding, muddy lane that hid them from the county road, they saw that the Sheriff's officers had been busy that day. Eight Harleys, none of them regulation, were parked to one side, and at least ten gang leather jackets and helmets, along with a miscellaneous collection of knives, revolvers, pistols and sawed-off shotguns, were stacked in the open trunk of one of the squad cars.

"Pulled over anyone who rolled outta that property today. Wrote up a bunch of running infractions, confiscated one heck of a lot of unregistered weapons, an' took 'em all in for 'questioning'," one of the county men said with a wink and a devilish grin. "They weren't none too happy about it, 'specially when we told 'em we could hold 'em for twenty-four hours without givin' 'em a phone call. The ones left back at the farm might be wonderin' why nobody's come back, but they won't know what happened. Still, they'll be gettin' nervous, an' there's probably at least twenty of 'em still holed up in there."

"Good work," Simon approved, and gestured to his team to dump their coats in his sedan and to don jackets and helmets. Thunder rumbled, and lightning flickered in the overhead clouds, but so far the rain was holding off. More Cascade patrol cars pulled in, doubling the number of police cars parked and ready for that evening's operation.

Pulling on a leather jacket with the garish gang colors and stylized devil, Jim asked Blair, "You think your wrist is up to handling one of those monsters?"

Zipping up his purloined jacket, Blair looked longingly at the bikes, wishing he could say 'yes', but it was too big a risk, especially on muddy ruts and the wet gravel drive up to the farmhouse. "No," he sighed, and turned back to Jim. "I'll ride behind you." Then he grinned and batted his eyes as he added, "They'll just think I'm your little chickie."

Jim laughed and reached to ruffle his curls, but Blair ducked away with a grin. "Not the hair, man," he yelped playfully, then pulled on a helmet. With the face visor, nobody would see his heavy five o'clock shadow, at least not until it was too late. His long curls would only add to the illusion. Once again checking out the trunk, Blair chose a sawed-off shotgun and checked the action and the load.

Joel, Henri, Rafe, and Megan would also ride bikes into the compound, along with three uniformed officers. When they'd mounted up and given the thumb's-up to Simon, he signaled the rest to get into their patrol cars. Simon looked at them and shook his head. "Well, you all sure look mean enough to be Devil's Own," he drawled. Sobering, he went over the final details one last time. "We'll be right behind you," he concluded. "Good luck."

They saluted him and kicked on their engines, which fired with an ear-shattering roar.

"Dial it down," Blair called into Jim's ear, and he nodded.

And then they were in motion, Jim's bike leading the pack back up to the county road, where he turned toward the farmhouse. Cold air and the pavement under their wheels rushed past them, and the rumbling purr of the engine filled Blair's ears. The other bikes bunched up close and, no more than a quarter mile behind, the patrol cars sped after them. Blair felt the anticipation, a combination of tension, excitement and fear, build in his gut as they drew ever closer to the now inevitable confrontation, and his left hand even more tightly gripped the shotgun that was braced along his thigh.

Jim turned onto the side road that led to the farm's driveway, and kicked up the speed, so that they and the others were racing full out through the early fall dusk, made darker by the hovering clouds, lightning flickering in their depths. The road, the fields beside them, were now nothing more than a blur as they sped past. Behind them, the sirens started to wail, and the bubble lights began to strobe, atavistic, primitive. There was no feeling in the world quite like the throbbing pulse of a racing bike between your knees, with the wind in your face, the rumbling thunder of the engine filling the world: sensual and exhilarating, the essence of freedom.

They leaned into the hard turn into the farm lane, and roared up the long, graveled road. Looking past Jim's shoulder, Blair could see men and a few women spilling from the ramshackle barn, and from the house, too, to stand on the rickety porch, each of them with a weapon in their hands. His mouth was dry, but he was ready to do whatever he had to do.

Jim slid to a stop and they hopped off the bike, the others roaring in and stopping in a tight cluster around them, all of them also pulling out weapons as they raced toward the house and up the steps to the porch. "Cops!" Jim shouted urgently, pointing back toward the road before reaching to flip up his helmet's faceguard, but not quite clearing his face. "Tried to stop us up on the highway, but we rolled over them!"

Coppolino was there, a big man, beefy but all muscle, with long, greasy hair and a three-day stubble. "If they want a war, they came to the right place," he snarled, waving a revolver at the approaching vehicles. "I've been bored, stuck out here. Bring it on."

Blair stayed with Jim, one step behind his shoulder, and the others pounded up the steps on their heels, until they were milling around on the porch with the gang members. They all fumbled with their chin straps or face guards, making a production of it, given their hands were full of weapons. Confusion reigned and none of the gang took a good look at them, all their attention focused on the approaching cop cars. Rafe and Brown ducked into the house to take a quick look inside to ensure no one was lurking out of sight. In seconds, they were all in position, backs to the wall of the house, their targets in front of them. Standing no more than three feet behind him, Jim and Blair bracketed Coppolino.

Sirens blaring, lights strobing, the patrol cars whipped up the lane and, fanning out to create a wall of steel, brakes squealed as they slid to a sharp halt. Cops bristling with rifles and handguns poured out to crouch behind the improvised barrier.

"Coppolino! Cascade PD!" Banks shouted. "You're surrounded. Throw down your weapons."

"Yeah, like that's gonna happen," the killer snarled, dropping to a crouch behind one of the wooden porch pillars.

"Police! Drop your weapons!" Jim roared from behind Coppolino, his revolver pointed squarely at the man's head.

With startled exclamations, the gang members whirled to see nearly a dozen cops drawing down on them from very close range, one of them with a mean-looking shotgun. They'd been caught cold, and were dead if they moved. One either panicked or decided to tough it out, and was raising his gun to shoot, when Brown dropped him with a shot that blew out his knee and left him a screaming heap on the floor. The sharp explosion made the others jump and they hastily ditched their weapons. When the men on the porch surrendered, the gang members down by the barn looked like they weren't sure whether to keep fighting or not.

"Give it up," Coppolino ordered sharply, and then leered at Jim and Blair as he added, "And live to fight another day."

Jim just gave him a cold smile. "Turn around and put your hands behind your back," he directed, and then stepped close to clip on the cuffs, while Blair read Coppolino his Miranda rights.

"And you thought you could get away from us," Blair couldn't resist taunting as he shoved Coppolino down the steps and toward one of the uniforms. "See you in court," he growled, thinking the killer was damned lucky he hadn't given in to the nearly overwhelming impulse to blast him to hell. Panting, shaken by the atavistic urge to kill, Blair turned away.

In less than ten minutes, with minimal bloodshed, nearly two dozen members of the Devil's Own were cuffed and in the back of squad cars, all of them to be charged with harboring a criminal and resisting arrest.

"I gotta hand it to you, Jim," Simon said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Very neat, very clean, and very effective. Good plan as usual, I might add." Laughing, he drew out a cigar and, crowing, "Operation Trojan Horse," he saluted before turning away to light it.

"Thanks," Jim replied, looking pleased. But as he stripped off the gang colors, Blair saw him gazing at the motorcycle they'd ridden, an inscrutable expression on his face.

"Can we go home now?" Blair asked, knowing he sounded a bit plaintive and all of ten years old, but he didn't care.

********************

Riding up front with Simon on their way back into town, Jim was pumped. He'd never felt such a thrill of satisfaction as when he'd locked the cuffs around that bastard's wrists. Nor had he ever felt such pride, as he listened to Sandburg recite the Miranda in tones that said, loud and clear, that Blair felt pretty damned good about the night's work, too. His plan had gone perfectly, everything flowing with a kind of inevitability, and they'd busted a lot of dangerous men that night. And despite the risks of going up against such a heavily-armed and murderous gang, they'd not suffered one casualty. Oh, yeah, success felt good; damned good.

And that ride; God, he'd loved the wild speed. He could still feel the road humming beneath the wheels, the rush of the wind against his body, and the living pulse of the powerful machine he controlled. He'd savored the rich scents of the wet earth and the stubble in the fields, and the sight of the road stretching out in front of him toward infinity. For those few minutes, he'd felt ... free. Free of all the pressures and uncertainty, free of responsibility and doubts; free to be whoever he wanted to be. There was only the wind and the road, the speed and Sandburg riding pillion behind him, loaded for bear and backing him up, whatever came at them, no matter what. Jim would have given just about anything to have that ride go on forever.

"You know," Simon said, breaking into his thoughts, "just because we've got him locked up again, doesn't mean that gang won't still come after you to keep you from testifying."

"Oh, way to beat back the euphoria of success," Blair complained from the backseat. "Can't you just let us enjoy the big win we had tonight? At least until tomorrow?"

"Yeah, yeah," Simon rumbled. "I'm serious, Sandburg. I've got half a mind to keep you both in protective custody until after the trial."

"No way," Blair exclaimed, sitting up and leaning forward between the seats. "Don't even think about it. Simon, you know how long it's been since we've been home? Since we've slept in our own beds? I'm sick of wearing the same jeans and shirts. Man, being in protection is like being under arrest. No privacy, none. Eating greasy fast food gets old real fast. And it's ... just really awful. C'mon, you know we'll be careful, right, Jim? Besides, nobody can keep us safe as Jim can. Cut us a break here."

Jim was thinking he didn't know what sleeping in his bed felt like. Or what clothing was hanging in his closet. And he was thinking how much he desperately needed to find out.

Simon glanced at him, and then twisted to quickly look at Sandburg. "Okay, okay. I know how much I'd hate it," he groused. "But you can't take any chances, and you can't let up your guard. I'm going to have Patrol increase their drive-bys at night, just to up the security in the neighborhood. And Sandburg, put your seatbelt on."

"Right, good, fine, we'll be careful," Blair promised, scooting back to dutifully attach his seatbelt. "Oh, shit," he cursed, smacking his forehead. "I forgot we never got a chance to clear out the fridge. The place must stink to high heaven. Oh, Jim, man, I'm sorry, but you won't be able to stand it."

"Relax, Blair," Simon soothed. "The guys took care of that while you were still in the hospital. And Joel said they brought in some basic supplies for you last evening."

Jim turned to look at Simon, struck by the consideration, the thoughtfulness of their friends. "That's really great of them," he said. "I never expected, never thought..."

"Oh, man, you have no idea," Blair chimed in. "Now that you've met them, I'll tell you that everyone in Major Crime chipped in to pay my way to Virginia, so I could find out what was going on with you. Our friends are, bar none, the best."

Feeling that same warmth that had stolen over him the day before, when Brown had promised whatever support he needed, surprised and very touched by the kindness, Jim sat back in his seat. There was such a huge dichotomy between the loneliness he felt, the sense of not fitting or belonging anywhere, and the reality he was experiencing. He realized then that not remembering his friends didn't mean he didn't have them. "I'll have to thank them," he said softly, bemused, but also very grateful.

Simon cast a wary eye along the street, scowling at the shadows, as he pulled up in front of their building. "The truck was a write-off after the explosion but, Sandburg, your car, such as it is, still runs," he told them. "I'll see you both in the morning. You can write up your reports then."

"Thanks for the lift," Blair said as, backpack over his shoulder, he scrambled out of the back with their duffel bags.

"Yeah, thanks for everything," Jim added as he, too, climbed out of the sedan.

Simon tossed him two sets of keys. "Your keys, and Sandburg's; for your front door, and the Volvo," he said with a smile.

"Geez, right," Blair muttered, as Simon pulled away. "I forgot he must've had them since they took us into the hospital that night."

"Chief, we're in trouble if you start forgetting things, too," Jim teased as he relieved Blair of his bag and they made their way into the building. Not at all sure where they were going, Jim followed Blair into the stairwell, and up the two flights of stairs. All the while, he was reaching out with his senses, listening to the sounds of the building, smelling its distinct scent, studying the worn steps and the walls that badly needed a new coat of paint, trying to feel some sense of familiarity, hoping that being back to where he'd apparently lived for at least ten years would make the essential difference.

But lead was beginning to form in his belly as Blair stopped at what was apparently their front door. He followed Blair inside, and then stood in the entry, looking around, drinking it in the tiny, utilitarian kitchen, the skylights, the balcony and the furniture grouped around the freestanding fireplace. The glass table and the stairs to the loft above. The hall under the steps and the entry to another little room which, oddly, had an interior window in the wall. Moving in further, he saw the back door and what he assumed was a door to the bathroom.

He touched the table, moved into the living room and peered at the CDs beside the player: a lot of Santana, and quite a few featuring tribal drums and chants, none of which seemed familiar. His fingertips drifted over the small collection of books, and he spotted the photo of him with others in fatigues. Picking it up, he studied the faces but recognized none but his own. Wandering to the balcony doors, he stared out at the harbor and the islands beyond, barely visible now, even to him.

Once again, with an odd sense of déjà vu, he saw Blair watching him in the glass. His partner looked like he didn't know what to feel. Hope? Fear? Worry?

"Any beer in that fridge?" Jim asked, to break the silence that lay heavy between them and to mask the despair that was eating at the edges of his mind. After the euphoria he'd felt earlier, the crash was crushing.

"Uh, yeah, probably," Blair replied, turning to check out their supplies. "Yes!" he cheered softly, as he reached in to draw out two bottles.

By the time he returned to the living room, Jim had left the windows and moved to drop into the chair. Blair handed him a bottle, the cap already twisted off, and crouched down beside him. Laying a light hand on his arm, Blair asked, "Anything?"

His throat too tight to speak, fighting the burn in his eyes, Jim shook his head. Tilting the bottle, he took a long swallow, hoping it would wash away disappointment too great to bear, and fear too sharp to contemplate. He couldn't look at Sandburg, or he knew he'd lose it, break down like some kid who was utterly lost and forlorn, terrified of never finding his way home again. But he knew tears were glistening in Blair's eyes, too. He could smell them, and he could hear the sniffs and convulsive swallows as Blair, too, fought for control.

Blair's grip on his arm tightened, and Jim was immensely grateful to know he wouldn't let go. He needed someone needed Blair to be his foundation, his anchor, to keep him from spinning apart and shattering into little pieces, now that his last hope had died.

How long they sat there, Jim didn't know. Time drifted, stretched, lost all meaning. Finally, he stirred. "It's late. We need to call it a night," he said, his voice rough to his ears, hoarse with effort.

"Jim..."

"I can't ... I can't talk about it tonight, okay?" he pleaded, lifting a hand for mercy, or maybe a stay of execution. Because when they talked, they were going to have to face what it all meant. Someone had died. He'd never be buried and most wouldn't even know he was gone. But Jim knew. And he knew that Blair did, too.

But all that could wait. Had to wait. He just couldn't do it that night.

"Okay," Blair whispered beside him, sounding like it was taking all he had not to fall apart. Pushing himself up, Blair took his bottle, empty now, though Jim didn't remember drinking it, and held out a hand to draw him up to his feet. Jim didn't expect the quick, fierce embrace or how much he needed and was glad of it. But the swift, muffled words were nearly his undoing. "We'll get through this," Blair rasped. "I promise, Jim. We will get through this."

He found himself hugging Blair back, and God, he wanted to believe him. Had to believe him.

Without any hope of his own left, all he had to hold onto was Blair's hope for a future that would be less bleak than this night; that and Blair's belief in him, in the person Blair believed him to be. No, he thought then, as he held on and hugged Blair with all his strength, Blair's belief in us.

Despite the wretchedness of his grief and the immensity of his sorrow, Jim thought that was something he could believe in, too, and he felt himself draw back from the edge of madness.

********************

Blair lay awake most of the night, listening to the silence of the loft and relaxing only marginally when he heard Jim's soft snores from the loft above not long after they'd gone to their beds. He'd never seen Jim as devastated as he'd been that evening; so broken and so abjectly defeated, and he'd been afraid that Jim wouldn't be able to sleep. But Jim had been so exhausted that sleep had probably taken him unaware, which was a mercy; sleep was the man's only refuge now.

God, it tore Blair apart to know Jim was hurting so badly, and not be able to do anything about it, not be able to fix it. Tears glazed his eyes, but he brushed them away, having no time for them. He had to sort out his own turbulent emotions and process all that had happened, at least as much as he could, so his feelings, his devastation and loss wouldn't get in the way of doing what he could to support Jim. Swinging up to sit on the side of the bed, elbows braced on his knees, he buried his face in his hands, feeling defeated before he'd scarcely begun. But, determined to deal, he raked his hair back as he straightened and stood to silently prowl the small room like a caged animal. Hands fisted, he wanted to scream his fury to the gods Jim didn't deserve this torment but he dared not make a sound lest he waken his friend. Jim badly needed to rest.

Taking a deep breath, Blair let it out slowly, and then padded out of his room into the living room, to stand staring out the balcony windows toward the bay. All he could see was darkness. All he could feel was darkness. Cursing silently, he wheeled to sit on the sofa, and drew his legs up in a meditative pose. Closing his eyes, he focused only on breathing deeply and slowly for several minutes until he felt more centered, more able to at least name all the emotions roiling within.

When he at last opened his mind to allow his feelings to emerge, hatred flared and consumed him like a hot flame. Blair wasn't someone who hated; it wasn't in either his nature or philosophy, but he hated Coppolino with virulent passion, for what he'd had done to Jim, to both of them. Rage burned in his chest, justified and legitimate hatred, but he felt powerless, absolutely impotent, because there was nothing, not one blessed thing, he could do to make any of it any better. Hatred helped nothing; worse, it was corrosive and ate at souls like acid. Worst of all, he realized he was using the hatred, fixating on it, to avoid being lacerated by his overwhelming sense of loss. He had to set the hatred aside, let it go. They'd done what they could about Coppolino; the man was back in a cell and would soon, if justice was truly served, be on his way to prison for the rest of his life. There was nothing more that could be done ... and what had been done to them couldn't be undone. Blair pictured his hatred as a firestorm, and watched it burn out for lack of fuel to sustain it.

Without the hate to stave it off, an agony of loss filled his chest so that he could scarcely draw breath, clogged his throat, choking him, and burned his eyes with the sting of salt. Wrapping his arms around himself, bowing forward under the weight of it, biting his lip to hold in any sound, Blair wept silent tears of aching sorrow. Though he despised himself for giving any time at all to his own feelings, when Jim was the one who ... the one who had lost so very much that was priceless, infinitely precious, and absolutely irreplaceable, it hurt, God it hurt so bad, to know Jim didn't and never would remember all that they'd shared. Blair felt bereft, as if he was grieving for someone who had died, recalling so many special moments, times of joyous laughter and triumph, terrible times of fear and desolation, moments that had shaped him into the man he'd become. He, alone, carried those memories now.

He, too, had hoped for a miracle, had even imagined Jim walking into the loft, looking around, and the light of joy erupting on his face as all his memories fell back into place. God, he'd wanted that fantasy to come true, for Jim's sake but also for his. It tore him up inside, knowing Jim didn't remember, probably would never remember. Sniffing, scrubbing the tears from his face, Blair told himself he had to let the hope go, had to deal with what was. He had to stop wallowing in his own grief; he still had the memories, right? Which was a whole lot more than Jim had. Jim's pain and loss far over-shadowed his own, so he ruthlessly pushed his own deep loss aside.

Blair was worried, badly worried about Jim. Somehow or other, Jim seemed to have come to the conclusion that without his memories he had less worth, less presence or less right to belong, but that just wasn't so. Okay, fine, the enormity of the loss Jim had suffered couldn't be underestimated; it had to be truly horrible, disorienting and dislocating. Even sharing memories didn't really help because Jim couldn't feel them as real; for him, they were just interesting stories. So, okay, they had to face it. Jim's past was gone, and there was no bringing it back, not unless they got some miracle and he couldn't count on that. But ... but there was still the present, and the future, right? Jim was still there; he hadn't gone anywhere. And that was the miracle, right? That Jim had survived what had at least appeared to be massive brain trauma and, but for the memories, had pretty much fully recovered, was as strong and capable as he'd ever been. Frowning, Blair thought about 'this Jim' versus 'the Jim before the explosion'; there were differences, but none that were significant, not really. A man was more than his memories, much more. They may have lost their past, but Jim was still there. How the future unfolded was up to them.

Biting his lip, nodding to himself, Blair decided to start first thing in the morning with a new focus, one that left the past alone and which looked forward, rather than back. They'd make new memories, good memories. At the end of his night's struggle, after ruthlessly burying his own pain, Blair was left with a sense of overwhelming gratitude that Jim was alive. When he came right down to it, that was all that mattered.

********************

Jim awoke Thursday morning to the scents of fresh perked coffee, scones warming in the oven, bacon, and fried onions. His stomach rumbled in delight, and he smiled as he opened his eyes. Then, looking around the strange room, belatedly realizing he was in a 'home' he no longer recognized, he felt a fresh wave of devastation.

But he couldn't deny his gnawing hunger, so he rose to face the day.

"Hey," Blair called with a smile when he walked down the steps. "You've got plenty of time to shower before we eat."

"Smells good," he replied, wanting to reward that smile and the work being done to give him a good start to the day, striving to be grateful. But he felt so damned fragile, as if his world, his whole life, was on the verge of shattering like spun crystal. Slowly padding down the stairs, he recalled how hopeless he'd felt the evening before, and how he'd clung to Sandburg as if the man were a lifeline, or the only solid point of reference he could count on. "You sleep okay?" he asked, sincerely wondering how Blair managed to roll with everything, absorbing the blows and carrying on.

Blair didn't look up from sautéing the onions, and his response was just a beat too slow so, when he shrugged and said, "Not bad," Jim wasn't buying it. He paused for a moment, biting his lower lip as he contemplated Blair's back. He felt oddly as if a wall had come up between them, and he wasn't at all sure how to broach it. Shrugging, wondering if he was imagining things, he headed into the bathroom. "Give me fifteen," he called.

Not quite fifteen minutes later, he was again descending the stairs, this time showered, shaved, and clothed for the day. He felt marginally better, as well as even more ravenous. Blair was dishing up the eggs scrambled with the onions and a sharp cheddar cheese. The scones, along with various jams and jellies, were already on the table, along with two steaming mugs of coffee. Breakfast looked great, but it felt a bit elaborate for a work day. Jim thought that might be an observation best kept to himself; if Blair was prepared to go to all this trouble, who was he to complain, especially when it all smelled so delectable.

Inhaling appreciatively, Jim settled at the end of the table, and Blair set a plate with eggs, sliced tomato and, if he wasn't mistaken, turkey bacon, in front of him. Looking up at his friend to thank him, Jim noticed how pale Blair looked, his pallor accentuating the dark smudges under his eyes that belied his assurance that he'd slept well enough the night before.

"Dig in," Blair directed as he took the place along the side of the table, to Jim's right. "I hope you like it."

"Is it a special occasion?" Jim asked as he reached for a scone. "Have I forgotten it's your birthday, or mine?"

Smiling, Blair shook his head as he forked up some of the egg mixture and swallowed it. "Nope, nothing like that," he replied. Reaching for his mug of coffee, he blew across the surface and looked over the top of the mug at Jim. "I just felt like celebrating the fact that we're here, we're alive and this is the first day of the rest of our lives."

The rest of our lives. Jim thought about that as he began eating and, for a moment, the burst of flavors on his tongue drove away any other thought or awareness. "Mmmm," he moaned in near rapture. "God, this is delicious!" he breathed, his enjoyment enhanced by being so hungry after not having eaten the evening before.

Blair literally glowed at the compliment and his very evident pleasure in the simple meal. For the next few minutes, they ate in companionable silence and shared the newspaper Blair had placed on the table at some point earlier that morning. However, before they were quite finished, Jim put the sports section aside. Feeling better than when he'd first awakened, stronger somehow, perhaps fortified by the food, he felt he needed to be clear about how he felt about his past. "You said we're celebrating the first day of the rest of our lives," he began, and Blair looked up to meet his gaze. "I have to tell you that ... well, it feels more like the 'first day' period." Looking around the loft, he sighed. "I was hoping ... but nothing here feels familiar. I think we have to face the fact that I'm never going to remember." Feeling the familiar surge of desolation, he swallowed hard against it and added, "The man I used to be is dead."

Blair's left palm slammed down on the table with such force that the crockery rattled. "NO!" he exclaimed, and then choked as he swallowed something the wrong way. He coughed and his eyes teared as he struggled to clear his throat, holding up his hand for time. Startled by the vehemence of Blair's reaction, Jim gaped at him. "No," Blair continued, his voice raspy with effort. "You are not dead. You are still Jim Ellison. Okay, okay, I know you don't remember exactly what that means, but you are still, in every way that counts, the man you were before, and I won't have you believing you've lost all of yourself just because you can't remember stuff." He cleared his throat and took a sip of coffee.

"How can I be the same man when I have no idea who he was?" Jim protested.

For a moment, Blair seemed lost for words, and his gaze skittered around the loft as if seeking inspiration. He pressed his lips together and swallowed hard, as if struggling against and suppressing strong emotion. Jim could hear his heart thundering and once again he caught the tangy scent of tears. "Jim ... Jim, I know it's hard well, maybe I don't know, can't know, how really hard it is for you. But I swear to you," he finally resumed, once again meeting Jim's gaze, "you are ... you have the same integrity, the same courage and innate kindness; your intuitive skills, your intelligence, your deductive and reasoning abilities are all as sharp as ever. Your amazing senses are intact. The differences?"

Blair hesitated, and then plunged on, "The differences are, I think, you no longer have a learned wariness, a tendency not to trust, at least not easily, because of things that happened in your life. Hard things. Hurtful things." He paused again, frowning, evidently struggling to find the right words. "You've lost some reference points. Okay, a lot all of your reference points. But ... but that's the past. Not the present. Not the future. You'll gradually build a lot of it back. If you want, I'll give you my journals for the last five years. They won't be your take on what happened but it'll give you some background information, some of those reference points, like about past cases and how we learned to understand your senses. Stuff like that."

Jim could see that, for whatever reason, Blair was really worked up, and he wanted to put his friend's mind at ease. But he couldn't. Maybe this was one thing that Blair couldn't understand, because he couldn't experience the world in the way Jim was, couldn't feel the abject sense of disorientation and, worse, of no affiliation with the people or things around him. Whoever he'd been, whatever had really mattered to him, whatever he'd believed in, that Jim Ellison was gone. Was dead.

Shaking his head, Jim grimaced with sorrow and wondered if he could ever explain it all. "I appreciate the offer, Chief," he allowed. "And I'll think about it. But reading about ... won't make any of it real for me, won't make that part of me come back. I can only tell you how it feels. And it feels like I'm starting completely over, completely fresh, with an entirely clear slate and no real idea of what I want to write on it. To me, the man you knew is gone and might as well be dead."

His jaw clenching, Blair stared at him with wide eyes filling with so much pain that Jim felt it sear through him; it astonished him that anyone could feel so much anguish on his behalf, could empathize to such a degree. But Blair's gaze quickly cut away, and he gave a single, tight shake of his head. "I can't argue with how you feel," he whispered hoarsely, his voice on the edge of cracking. "And, and I'm really sorry that it feels like that to you. Must be horrible." He swallowed convulsively and suddenly thrust his chair back to stand and busily clear the table. Jim could see his hands were shaking badly. The sudden spurt of activity stopped and Blair stood absolutely still, but his heart was pounding like a freight train. "I ... I can't think of you like that. I can't."

With that, he spun away from the table to carry the plates and an armload of condiments into the kitchen. Watching him closely, monitoring him, Jim abruptly realized that he wasn't seeing empathy. He was seeing Blair's own pain ... but why? What had hurt Sandburg so deeply?

"Chief, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you," Jim offered, feeling awkward in his uncertainty about why what he'd said had hit his friend so hard. Since he'd awakened in the hospital, Blair had been his rock and had never revealed such personal hurt.

Once again, Blair's back seemed like a wall that encompassed and hid a world of meaning. "I hear you," he murmured, and turned on the tap to fill the sink with gushing water. "Let's just ... let's just get ready for work, okay?"

"Okay," Jim agreed, gratefully grabbing the opportunity to step back from emotions he didn't fully understand and had no idea how to diffuse. But then, as he carried the mugs to the kitchen, placing them on the counter beside Blair, and cleared away the coffee grounds, he thought over what he'd said and he supposed that sitting across from an old friend who told you he was actually dead and gone was bound to be upsetting. Wanting to console his friend, Jim laid a hand on Blair's back, near his shoulder. "I really enjoyed breakfast I think it's the best one I've had since, well, since I can remember."

He felt the muscles under his hand loosen, and Blair heaved a deep sigh. With a sad, crooked smile, he faced Jim. "I was pretty sure you'd like it," he said. "It was your favorite." Before Jim could respond, his gaze fell away. "I'm sorry ... I guess I over-reacted when you said ... but I understand, I really do; maybe more than..." He sighed again and gave a slight shake of his head. Looking up as he stepped away, he went on more swiftly, "We really are gonna be late for work. We should go."

Jim studied Blair's eyes and read sorrow and regret in their depths, and something more uncertainty? In this man who had held him with such fierce strength last night? Once again he was struck by the signs that Blair had spent a sleepless night. Something was going on with the kid that he didn't understand, but it was pretty clear that Blair didn't want to discuss it, at least not at that precise moment. "Sure, okay," he agreed, turning toward the door to pull on his jacket. But he felt uneasy, as if he was missing something. Hell, given what he couldn't remember, he was probably missing a whole lot of things. Laying a hand on Blair's back to usher him through the door, he said, "Whatever's bothering you, you know you can talk to me, right?"

Blair looked surprised by the offer, but the tightness around his eyes eased. "Thanks," he said with a quick smile before he stepped into the hallway.

Jim wasn't sure whether that meant that Blair would tell him what was worrying him, or if it was just simple gratitude for being told he could. The surprise, though that bothered Jim. Was it so unusual for him to make such a simple offer? If it was, how would he know? God, this whole amnesia thing gets old, real fast, he thought in frustration as he followed Blair into the stairwell.

They clattered down the stairs and out along the side of the building to Blair's car in the small lot. Studying the old Volvo as they approached, Jim found himself shaking his head. The car just didn't inspire him with any confidence and he told himself he'd have to soon buy a new set of wheels for himself. Sniffing disparagingly as Blair moved to unlock the passenger door for him, he caught a too-sweet scent and, without consciously processing the danger, he grabbed Blair's arm and hauled him back, away from the vehicle.

"What?" Blair asked, startled.

Jim sniffed again, to be sure he wasn't imagining it. "C-four," he stated, wondering how he knew. "We need to get the bomb squad over here."

"Ah, shit," Blair cursed as he backed further away and pulled out his cell phone. Punching in Simon's number, he groused, "Guess Coppolino hasn't given up." Jim shrugged and nodded, figuring they probably shouldn't be surprised. Into the phone, Blair reported, "Simon? We're going to be a little late Jim smells C-four on my car. Could you ... uh huh, okay, we'll keep a safe distance and make sure nobody else gets too close. See you later."

"You know what this means?" Blair complained with a disgusted grimace. "The DA is going to want us back in a safehouse until we go back to court. God knows how long that will be."

Jim curled his lip at the thought of the sleazy motel. "Oh, great," he muttered, even as he checked out their surroundings, looking and listening for any lurking threat.

The disgruntlement on Blair's face gave way to curious speculation as he eyed Jim. "How'd you know what it was?"

Biting his lip, Jim shook his head and shrugged. "I don't know how I know. I just know."

Blair grinned and slapped him on the back. "Hey, that's good enough for me, man. It's probably scent memory, which is different from the kind of memories you lost."

Jim grinned. "Like muscle memory?" he asked, beginning to think that was Blair's answer to everything.

"Yeah, sort of, well, not really, but the analogy works," Blair replied as he moved away to block another apartment resident from getting too close to his car. Though Jim didn't detect anyone watching them, he followed closely and then, with a light hand on his partner's back, guided Blair closer to the shelter of the building's wall.

Soon after, sirens blaring, three patrol cars swung onto their block and formed a protective perimeter around the entry to the parking lot. Uniformed cops got out to handle crowd control and to close off the area around Blair's car, a good thirty feet in any direction. One of the officers approached to offer them a ride downtown. They accepted, but begged time to pack their gear for another sojourn in a safehouse. Not fifteen minutes later, they again left the building and Blair handed his car keys to another officer. They were just getting into the patrol car when the heavy black bomb squad van arrived.

Looking back as they pulled away, Blair murmured anxiously, "I sure hope they won't have to blow up my car."

"Small loss," Jim grunted. "It's a wreck."

Blair smacked his arm. "Hey, don't be bad-mouthing my girl. She's a classic, man."

Jim huffed a laugh, but he didn't bother arguing the point; it was enough that Blair was smiling again, the pain-filled shadows no longer haunting his eyes.

********************

Simon looked up from his desk just as they trooped into the bullpen, and waved them into his office. Blair hitched a hip onto the conference table and Jim dropped into the closest chair. Simon held up the coffee pot, and they both nodded. While he poured, Simon told them, "I've got good news and better news, which would you like first?"

Standing to take the mugs and hand one to Jim, Blair eyed their smiling boss suspiciously. "You're looking way too happy given we both nearly got blown up this morning."

"I'm just glad you're alive." Simon's smile widened, and he played out the silence as he blew onto the hot coffee. "And so is the DA," he added.

Jim looked from their boss to Blair and back again, not quite understanding the cat and mouse game, and not in the mood to play. "Okay, I'll bite," he sighed. "What's the good news?"

"They were able to disarm the bomb without damaging the vehicle; one of the uniforms will drive it in and leave it in the garage downstairs."

"Yes!" Blair cheered, punching the air.

Jim quirked a sardonic brow. "Well, if that's the good news, I really hope whatever else you've got is better than that."

"Jim!" Blair protested.

"It's a wreck, Chief. That Volvo should have been put out of its misery years ago," Jim countered, but laughed when Simon snorted and nearly choked on a mouthful of coffee. "Sorry, sir," he apologized, doing his best to look contrite. "We'll behave. What's the rest of your news?"

"The DA has worked with the Court to juggle the schedule and get Coppolino's trial on the docket for next Monday morning."

"Whoa, that is good news," Blair agreed. "The sooner I testify, the sooner we can stop looking over our shoulders."

"My thought exactly," Simon drawled. "But after this latest escapade, you'll have to go into protective custody until then."

"Ah, geez," Blair complained. Setting the mug down on the table, he stood as he continued, arms waving, "I don't see why we have to "

"You want to put your neighbors at risk?" Simon cut in, his tone low and challenging.

Jim thought Banks made an excellent point, though he also knew how much Blair preferred to be home, especially after so many weeks of living out of his duffel bag. Personally, he didn't really care. The loft didn't feel any more like home than anywhere else did or didn't but being there imposed the extra pressure of expectation and disappointment. The place should evoke memories; the fact that it didn't left him feeling emptier and more at loose ends than before. He felt as if he was stuck in limbo.

"No, no! Of course not!" Blair protested. "That's not what I was going to say. Okay, I don't like it, but I can see why we have to go underground until the trial. But I don't see why we have to have babysitters. We both know that nobody is going to sneak up on Jim. He's the best surveillance system we've got. And now that I've got the cast off, I'm not as vulnerable as I was. So why waste the manpower? You've been short-staffed for months already, what with us being down for the count. And I don't know about Jim, but I really don't want some strangers invading our personal space."

"He makes a good point," Jim chimed in support. If he and Blair holed up on their own somewhere, it wouldn't be too bad; at least he could relax. He wondered if Blair was lumping everyone in Major Crime into the 'stranger' camp, because that's what they all were to Jim. "So long as we keep a low profile, maybe stay someplace different each night, we should be okay."

Simon eyed them as he thought about it, but then he nodded. "Okay," he agreed. "You tell no one but me or Joel where you are on any given night."

"Agreed," Blair assured him. While there was little likelihood of any leaks in the department or the DA's office, it didn't hurt to be extra vigilant. "And we can keep doing our jobs, right?"

"I'm not sure about that," Simon hedged. "All it would take is one drive-by shooter..."

Blair turned to Jim, his wide eyes and stance telegraphing his expectation of support. Jim looked from him to Simon as he grappled with the situation. This was Blair's job; all that he had now that he'd given up his original academic career for him, so Jim felt he owed Blair whatever support was ever asked of him. But he also understood Simon was afraid for their lives, and he shared that fear, if not for himself, then for Blair's life. He sensed, as the silence grew taut, that the others were surprised by his continued silence, and he suspected his former self would have fought to stay on duty. He just didn't know if that would have been for ego purposes or because he'd been genuinely committed to serving to the best of his ability; he profoundly hoped the latter. But now? When everything was so foreign? When he had no idea what his duties were or how to pursue them? When he was in the midst of strangers and couldn't assess who was friend and who was foe? When he again looked up at Blair, Jim saw disappointment and maybe resignation settling on his face and darkening his eyes.

"Maybe there's a compromise position," Jim offered. "I'm sure we can work here, in the office ... following up on leads, interviewing witnesses, maybe to free up the other detectives to work in the field? And there's probably a lot that we could do from a hotel room, using the phone, the computer?" When Blair's expression shifted again, becoming thoughtful, he added, "It's less than a week, Chief. We can tough it out, right?"

Heaving a sigh, raking his hair back from his brow, Blair nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I guess. I just hate feeling so useless, you know? Feeling penned up all the time."

Simon's expression softened and Jim found himself wondering what the man was thinking or perhaps remembering as he contemplated Sandburg. Someone who had embodied the concept of 'free spirit', maybe? Someone who had somehow balanced whatever he'd been doing at Rainier with being here, backing him up? Someone who, indeed, wasn't used to feeling useless? Jim felt the weight of the massive blank wall in his mind, and he wondered what he'd been like. Impatient? Restless? Because he felt both now, but had no outlet for either emotion.

"We'll get through this," he said quietly, purposely echoing Blair's words from the evening before, and he saw that Blair understood. This was just one more hurdle in their path, one more frustration; one more thing beyond their control that they had to adapt to and accept, because they really had no choice.

"Good," Simon rumbled, and reached for a thick file on the side of his desk. "A new case just came in that's going to require a lot of data analysis: looks like a major investment firm in town may have been defrauding clients of millions. There are complaint statements, bank records, company financials ... well, you get the picture. It looks complicated and may take days to plough through the paperwork to figure out what's been going on. One of the three partners disappeared yesterday either made a run for warmer climates or has been killed. A forensic accountant will be working with us, and we can have witnesses come here for interviews."

Jim felt less than thrilled with the task as he stood to accept the file, but he supposed it was a place to begin picking up the pieces of his professional career. Blair looked more enthusiastic than he felt, and he wondered if the research aspect of digging through records to find patterns appealed to the kid.

"Jim should have a chance to go over wherever it was that the missing partner was last seen and the place where he lived," Blair said. "Sooner rather than later, to see if he can pick up anything the forensic techs might have missed." Jim frowned and wondered what Blair thought he might find, but he set the concern aside. No doubt his partner would walk him through the process.

Simon was nodding. "Okay, you can call dispatch to have a squad car take you over to his condo; if you leave from the garage and return the same way, the danger of being spotted should be minimal. He was last seen at his office I'm less sure about the two of you heading there. You can interview the other partners here." Blair grimaced but nodded reluctant acceptance.

As they turned to leave, Simon added, "Sandburg, you'll be leaving your vehicle in the garage until you've testified; if either of you need to go anywhere, one of us or a squad car will take you. Later today, maybe after you've visited the possible crime scene, you can go home and pack before coming back here. Figure out where you want to stay tonight and I'll take you there personally."

"Thanks, Simon, but we've already packed. Our bags are out by our desks," Blair said with a rueful smile, once again sounding a bit dispirited. Jim just nodded and followed his partner out of the office.

********************

Blair walked Jim through the apartment, reminding him of the kinds of things he normally scanned for, like the scent of blood, stray hairs that didn't seem to belong to the missing man, who had short, brown hair. Unusual scents, like bitter almonds, perfume, drugs. When they headed into the bedroom, to check it out along with the closet and ensuite even though the Crime Scene techs had reported that it looked like the missing partner had cleaned the place before taking a powder Jim stopped dead in the middle of the floor and turned toward the immaculately made bed.

"What?"

"Blood."

They checked the floor around and under the bed, but found nothing. Then they stripped the bed ... still nothing. But when they flipped the mattress, they found a massive stain that was still slightly damp.

"Somebody went to a lot of trouble to make it look like he'd left town," Blair murmured, looking around the room.

Jim nodded but his attention was still on the mattress. Slipping on a plastic glove, and drawing an evidence envelope from his pocket, he leaned down to pick up several blond hairs that had stuck to the surface. Blair curled his lip but said, "Good work, Jim. We just need to find someone to match them and we've got either the murderer or an accomplice."

Gratified that he'd been able to detect the well-hidden clues, Jim grinned at him. For the first time, his senses were more than just a novelty, a set of abilities that others didn't have, and he felt a surge of satisfaction as he began to appreciate their usefulness. Maybe there was a place for him in this life his old life after all. Blair's gaze warmed and he gave a crooked smile in return, as if he was reading Jim's mind and understood. Straightening, slipping the envelope into his pocket and stripping off the glove, Jim reflected on how often it seemed that Blair understood him without many, if any, words being spoken. It occurred to him, not for the first time, that Blair seemed to know him a whole lot better than he knew himself; not just in terms of the memories that Jim no longer had, but ... in somehow knowing what made him tick.

********************

The rest of the day and half the evening were spent studying the documents in the file. The accountant, Josh Langdon, was doing his own expert review of the financials and client investment transactions, but Jim and Blair had been curious to see if they could spot anything in the numbers. Just after eight PM, Blair sat back from the desk in their hotel room and, lifting his arms over his head, stretched his back, wincing a little when it cracked. "I'm getting old," he muttered to himself, and then looked over at Jim, who was sitting in a chair by the window and sifting through his half of the file. "So, what do you think?" he asked.

Jim grimaced and cast a dyspeptic eye over the documents littering the beds and tables. "I think they were all skimming the profits," he replied. "How about you?"

"Yeah," Blair sighed. "I think you're right. I guess we'll have to wait until Josh gives us his analysis, though, to be sure. Man, I have to say, reading endless pages of numbers is not my idea of fun."

"Me, neither," Jim agreed. Glancing at his watch, he asked, "You hungry? Want to order some room service?"

"Sounds like a plan." Blair dug under his pile of papers for the hotel's room service menu, took a quick glance, and got up to hand it to Jim. "Gets claustrophobic, doesn't it? Being stuck in a room like this. Are the chemicals from the cleaning solutions getting to you?"

Shrugging, Jim looked around and then opened the menu. He hadn't realized that a big part of Sandburg's concerns about having to leave the loft were about him and his sensitivities. Didn't this guy ever stop thinking about his needs? "It's not so bad. Better than that pigsty the other night."

"Would be hard to be worse," Blair groused as he turned back to the small bar fridge and pulled out two beers.

They ordered and then took a few minutes to put the file back together, both of them wishing it contained photos of the principal players so they could see who had blond, medium-length hair. But that would have to wait until they conducted interviews the next day.

Content to consider the work day over, Jim took a sip of beer and relaxed in his chair. "So," he said, "you've never said much about your life, except that your mother's name is Naomi. I'd like to hear more, if that's okay with you."

"More? About my life?" Blair echoed, looking a bit startled. "Uh, sure. Anything in particular you want to know?"

A little bemused that what he'd thought was an ordinary enough request had elicited surprise, he shrugged and grinned. "Why don't you just start from the beginning? Like, where were you born?"

Blair's grin grew slowly as he settled back into his own chair. "Man, you have no idea what you're asking. This could take a while."

"We've got nothing but time," Jim replied.

Laughing softly, Blair nodded in agreement. He took a sip from the bottle, raked back his hair, and began. "My mom, Naomi, says she doesn't remember who my father was. It was the sixties: free love and drugs and rock and roll, and she ... well, she's never stopped seeking enlightenment. Anyway, I was born in a commune "

"Why do you call her 'Naomi'?"

"She prefers it she always said she didn't want to get into the paternalistic hierarchy and power dynamics between parents and children, so she pretty much always treated me as an equal, though I do slip and call her 'mom' sometimes."

Jim quirked a brow. "Have I met her?"

"Oh, yeah, a few times," Blair said with a quizzical smirk. "You thought she was pretty hot. And ditzy."

Blinking in surprise, trying to imagine that and deciding he didn't want to go there, Jim motioned with his bottle as he said, "Sorry for interrupting. Go on you were born in a commune?"

"Yeah," Blair resumed, and soon had Jim laughing so hard his stomach and sides ached but, after the tension of the day, the laughter felt good.

Later, long after they'd eaten and were getting ready to turn in for the night, Jim asked, "Why did you seem so surprised when I asked you to tell me about your life?"

With a diffident shrug, Blair looked at him and then away, busying himself with pulling his bag of toiletries from his backpack. "No big deal really," he said, sounding almost too casual. "It's just that you've never asked before."

"You mean since...?"

Blair shook his head. "No, no, you've never asked before; never seemed all that interested." As if he realized what a condemnation that was, he looked up and hurriedly added, "But then, you never really had to. I was always yammering away about something or other."

"Huh," Jim grunted as he drew down the bedspread and reflected that it was true that Blair could and did talk a lot, but he didn't usually say all that much about himself, as much as he told stories about places and times and people he'd known. "So you've told me all that stuff about the commune and going to all the different schools and stuff before?"

"No," Blair admitted on his way into the bathroom. "I guess it just never came up before."

Jim stared at the closed door. Never came up? Because I never asked. Because I was never that interested. Once again feeling blindsided by a past self he didn't understand, Jim cursed under his breath. But there wasn't much he could do about the past, especially about a past he couldn't remember.

That night, the old dream returned. The one of desolate loss and the jungle, the wolf and the panther and the bright, blinding light as they leapt into one another, a terrifying dream, inexplicable, and then always so reassuring when, just as the dream ended, he heard the distinctive beating of Sandburg's heart.

********************

Late Friday morning, they met the two remaining partners, Ron and Charlotte Whittier, when they arrived for their interviews. Jim thought Ron looked like a college jock gone to seed, with thinning red hair and a thickening paunch, though he affected a 'hail fellow well met' bonhomie and his silk, handmade suit made the most of his burly shoulders. Charlotte, who dressed and moved like a runway model in a loose, navy over-jacket and generously-cut skirt with a silk blouse, had stylish, medium length-blond hair and very cold blue eyes. Jim glanced at Blair and caught him looking at the woman with a slightly sad, slightly wary, not quite cynical expression, as if he regretted someone so beautiful could evidently also be a cold-hearted thief and murderer. Or maybe Sandburg felt that way about all the perps. Jim suspected that, as bright as the kid was, Blair never could quite understand people who made those kinds of choices.

They'd discussed how they'd play it, and Blair slipped into his 'good cop' role, thanking them for coming, offering coffee and, when they protested about having already given their statements and answered questions, he smoothly informed them that, "A few new facts have come to light," as he ushered them into the interview room. Once they were seated, Jim and Blair took chairs on the opposite side of the table, their backs to the mirrored wall. Jim sat across from Charlotte, and Blair opened the file he'd brought with him.

"What new facts?" Charlotte demanded, her tone hard.

"Well, first, if I could just review some of the points from your earlier statements," Blair countered. He scanned a document and looked back at them. "You both said that you have no idea where your business partner, Andrew Whalen, has gone?"

"That's right," Ron agreed, and shook his head sorrowfully. "I have literally no idea what got into Andy. We've been best friends since college and I we had no idea he was embezzling from the company and defrauding his clients. He sure didn't give any sign that he planned to take off like that."

"Uh huh," Blair grunted. "Well, Andy didn't exactly 'take off', did he, Mrs. Whittier?"

"Excuse me? How would I know?" she retorted, all huffy and eying Blair like he was pond scum.

"Because," Jim interjected, flat and cold, "strands of your hair were stuck to the blood soaking his mattress."

"Those are some of the new facts which have come to light," Blair added helpfully.

When the two suspects gaped at them and paled, Jim noted that both heartbeats had sky-rocketed and went on harshly, "So now we're just wondering which one of you killed him or whether you were both in on it."

"I didn't "

"Ron, shut up."

"Charlie, I told you they'd "

"We have nothing further to say," she cut in again. "Not until we've spoken to our attorney."

Jim gave her a cold smile and then shifted his gaze to her husband. "If I were you, I'd get my own lawyer, before she lays it all off on you."

"But I didn't "

"Ron, dammit, don't let him bait you!" she snapped as she stood and stepped away from the table, her posture rigid and her expression fierce.

"Okay, well, of course you can call counsel," Blair assured them as he closed the file. "You're both being charged with the murder of Andrew Whalen. In addition, I understand the federal authorities will also be charging you with SEC violations as well as misappropriation of funds, embezzlement and fraud the other new facts were found by our forensic accountant, who can clearly demonstrate you were all in on the scam."

"If either of you decides you want to cooperate, in consideration for potentially reduced charges or sentencing, let us know," Jim said as he got to his feet. Watching Charlotte, noting her slightly dilated pupils and flushed skin, listening to the thunder of her heart, he thought she might be on the edge of losing it.

"Look, I didn't have anything to do with this," Ron insisted. "Charlie and Andy were screwing around behind my back, and they're the ones who were cheating our clients. Andy was getting cold feet, and he was threatening to tell me everything, so Charlie shot him! I only found out about it all when she called me, begging for my help to get rid of the body. She's my wife! What could I do?!"

"You spineless, worthless worm," she snarled. With no further warning, she pulled a revolver from her skirt pocket and shot him, the explosive report of the weapon deafening in the small room. Even as he was dropping to the floor, she swiveled the revolver at Blair. "Get up. You and I are going for a walk," she said. Darting a glance at Jim, she added, "You so much as breathe and I'll blow him away."

Jim felt cold with the desire to inflict maximum damage upon her, but he held his impulse in check, waiting for the backup he could hear coming.

"Oh, hey," Blair soothed, his hands up in the traditional non-threatening stance of surrender, his eyes as wide and innocent as a puppy, "you really don't want to do this. There's no way you can get out of a building full of cops; it's just not going to happen. You don't want to get shot, do you? Maybe killed?"

Waving her weapon threateningly, she shouted, "I said get up!"

Just then, the door from the hall burst open and Blair dove to the side, distracting her further. As she was whirling toward the door, Jim lunged across the distance between them, grabbing her from behind and, squeezing her wrist until she dropped the revolver, disarming her. "We need an ambulance," he said to Simon as, ignoring her struggling and cursing, he drew her arms back and cuffed her. "She shot her husband, but he's still breathing."

Blair got up and brushed dust from the floor off his jeans. "Told you you didn't want to do that," he said and, after quickly checking her husband to ensure he wasn't badly hurt, he began reciting the Miranda to both of them.

Simon yelled for an ambulance and then entered the room, to check on how badly wounded Ron Whittier was, but the man was already sitting up and clutching at his bleeding arm, cursing and yelling, "You bitch! I'll see you in hell!"

"That's enough!" Simon shouted, silencing the man as he hauled him to his feet and handed him off to a patrolman at the door. Another officer took Charlotte Whittier, to book her for first degree murder, aggravated assault with intent to kill, threatening a police officer and resisting arrest, as well as sundry other charges.

Simon grimaced as he looked from Jim to Blair and back again. "I nearly had a heart attack when she pulled out that gun," he griped, with a nod toward the mirrored wall. But he smiled grudgingly. "Well played, gentlemen. I didn't think you'd get a confession that quickly."

"Well, technically, we didn't," Blair said with a grin. "All that happened was the worm turned."

Jim and Simon groaned and Jim took a swipe at Blair's head which, laughing, he ducked.

********************

The rest of the morning and half the afternoon were taken up by lawyers, formal interrogations, filling in forms, and reading the feds into the case. Bemused by the gruff posturing and aggressiveness of the federal agents who seemed to think their jurisdiction and the money crimes outweighed murder, Jim sat back and watched Simon draw lines in the sand while Blair calmed and charmed them. Jim thought the jurisdictional stuff was both mind-numbingly boring and annoying as hell. They'd broken the case and, so far as he was concerned, murder trumped money.

Sitting back, disengaging all of his attention from the debate, he glanced lazily around the bullpen ... and stiffened when he noticed a stranger who didn't seem to belong to anyone, in that no one else was paying him any attention and he was lurking on the edges of the large, bustling room, just inside the open double doors. Garbed in jeans, scuffed boots and jean jacket, an earring in one ear, with a spiderweb tattoo barely visible under scruffy hair, probably in his mid-twenties, the guy had a hand stuffed in one jacket pocket; he looked pale and haunted, and was staring at Blair. Cocking his head, Jim focused in and heard the racing heartbeat. Not good, he thought, easing to his feet and wondering how to best diffuse a situation that looked like it could turn deadly. Would be sure suicide to take out a cop in the middle of the bullpen, but this guy looked like he knew that. Jim kept his movements casual, so as not to attract the guy's attention, as he moved around the room, alerting Brown and Connor with whispered warnings as he slid past their desks. In seconds, he was across the room and had his weapon drawn just as the stranger began pulling his hand from his pocket.

"Freeze," Jim snapped, bringing his pistol up to point at the guy's head. "And then, slowly, raise your hands."

The stranger flinched at the order and his gaze broke away from Blair to stare wildly at Jim. "I have to ..." he stammered, his hand still stuffed in his pocket. "They've got my woman and kid."

"It's not going to happen," Jim told him. "Let me see both hands and then we can talk about what to do for your family."

The young man's Adam's apple bobbed and, if anything, he grew even paler, but helpless tears filled his eyes; he slumped and timidly lifted his hands into the air. Jim quickly patted him down and found a revolver in the pocket. By then, silence had descended upon the bullpen and Blair seemed shaken, as if he'd never thought there could be any danger there, in the heart of their safe territory.

Simon looked furious as he stalked across the floor. "What's going on here?" he demanded.

"Looks like this guy was pressed into playing assassin," Jim said, as he cuffed the man. "Says his family are being held hostage."

"They'll kill them for sure!" the man wailed. "Please, you have to stop them!"

"Stop who, exactly?" Simon rumbled, taking one of the man's arms and, with a gesture to Jim, indicating they should get him into a nearby interview room.

"Jingles and Marty, they said if I didn't kill him, that guy back there, that "

"Yeah, yeah, we get the picture," Jim cut in, steering him into the room and then down onto a chair. Simon leaned against a wall, his arms crossed, and Blair, following them in, closed the door.

"Sandburg, who's babysitting the feds?" Simon asked.

"Oh, well, I..."

"Yes, you were, and you still are. We can take care of this."

Blair looked mutinous, but he turned around and left the room; Jim heard him grumbling to himself as he retreated down the hall.

"Okay, let's start this story from the beginning, shall we?" Simon directed.

Their prisoner gave him a dismal look. "I ride sometimes with the Devil's Own," he said with a grimace. "Nothing serious; just, you know, hang out with them sometimes. Anyways, last night, Jingles and Marty "

"They have last names?" Jim asked. The guy shrugged and shook his head. "While we're on the subject of names, what's yours?"

"Larry Shultz. I don't know their last names."

Jim got his address, and then said, "Okay, so last night, these two guys invaded your home. Are they still there or did they take ... ah, what's her name?"

"Suzy Harper. An' yeah, they're still at the apartment, so far's I know. Said they'd kill Suzy and little Joey. God, man, he's only three years old!"

"Okay, I hear you. Just take it easy. And let's be clear about what they told you to do."

"They said I had to shoot that guy who was just here. Sandburg? An' ... an', well, if I could, I was supposed to kill you, too. They gave me the gun and said they'd be listening to the news, so's they'd know I'd done it."

Jim glanced up at Simon, who nodded and left the room.

"Where in the building is your apartment front, back, corner? Where?"

"Back of the building, middle of the second floor."

"Larry, you know we're gonna have to keep you here. We'll do what we can to rescue your family. You sit tight, and we'll bring them to you. There'll be a guard on the door so don't even think about trying to take off."

********************

The bullpen was a hive of activity when Jim returned. He barely spared a glance for the FBI agents standing to one side and looking bewildered, perhaps because no one was paying any attention to them.

"Dead?" Blair was exclaiming to Simon, and tossed up his hands. "Sure, why not? I'm all for stopping these surprise attacks before somebody gets hurt. But Jim and I have to help rescue that family. You know that, Simon! Jim's the only one who can tell if they're still in the apartment and in which room or ..." he swallowed heavily, "or even still alive before SWAT goes in."

Connor got off the phone. "Dan Wolf says he can spare us some blood."

Brown dashed back from the armory. "I've got the blanks!"

Joel called from another desk as he hung up, "The Chief gave us the go-ahead."

Simon looked from Blair to the others and nodded, while he listened with one ear to someone on the phone. "Yes, yes, that's right. Uh huh," he grunted, and pointed at Megan and jerked his thumb toward the door. She hastened out. "Fine, we'll keep you apprised." Hanging up, he reported, "The DA's on board."

Rafe held out his phone, "SWAT is ready to roll." Simon took that phone and said, "Give us a few minutes to set everything up on this end, in case they've got watchers in the building. We'll meet you at the address in," he glanced at his watch, "twenty-five minutes. Don't go in until I get there."

Brown was loading his weapon with the blanks.

Turning to Jim, Simon explained, "We're going to fake your death and Sandburg's, and you'll both stay 'dead' until the trial on Monday morning. You better call your father and brother so they're prepared when the media gets the news in half an hour. Sandburg, do you need to call your mother?"

"I don't know where she is," Blair said with a shrug. "If she hears about it, you'll be the first person she'll call."

Jim drew out his cell and hit the speed dial for this father, retreating to a quieter corner to make the brief call. Behind him, Megan returned with two pint-sized sealed containers. "Sorry, Dad," he concluded. "I can't explain it all right now but I'll call you later. Will you call Stephen? You know you'll have to fake ... yeah, thanks."

Simon nodded at Brown, who fired several blank shots at the ceiling. He arched a brow at Blair, who rolled his eyes, grabbed his chest and dramatically staggered before dropping to sprawl the floor. Jim, suppressing laughter, simply laid down on his side. Simon took one of the containers to artfully splash Blair with blood and Megan did the honors with Jim.

Jim heard Rafe mutter to Brown, "God, at least this time, Sandburg's not really dead." And Brown grunted, "Oh, yeah." What the hell did they mean? This time Blair wasn't dead? When the hell had he been dead? Jim couldn't make sense of it and his thoughts were interrupted when Blair grimaced at the sloppy and smelly stickiness, and complained, "Ewwww."

"Quiet," Simon ordered. "You're dead."

The thunder of pounding feet sounded from the hallway and cops raced in, weapons drawn. "The shooter went down the stairwell!" Joel exclaimed, and pointed them away from the bullpen. Others crowded the outside hall and entry; Joel and Brown urged them to clear the corridor, but few paid any attention to them. The elevator 'binged' and Dan Wolf arrived, as if to render immediate aid, followed by two of his subordinates pushing gurneys.

Dan moved from Jim to Blair, shaking his head sorrowfully for the benefit of any strangers gawking through the glass from the hallway. Megan, shoulders shaking, covered her face and turned away to hide her laughter. The others did their best to look suitably shocked and solemn while they helped Dan's staff load the two men onto the gurneys and cover them with sheets that immediately showed gruesome stains as they soaked up some of the blood.

Simon and Dan pushed a path through the crowd to the elevator, and they accompanied the loaded gurneys inside. Behind them, in the bullpen, Jim could hear one of the federal agents demanding irritably, "How're we going to get our reports if the arresting officers are both 'dead'?"

"Don't worry," he heard Joel reassure them, with just the barest hint of sarcastic contempt in his tone. "We'll see that you get what you need." Jim had to agree with the contempt; here they were, racing to try to save the lives of a woman and a child and the feds were worried about the paperwork for the money crimes.

The elevator door closed and the car took them down to the basement level. Simon stopped briefly in the men's locker room to get clean sweatshirts for them, then Dan and his orderlies continued on with the gurneys into the morgue, while Simon headed into the main parking level for his sedan. Inside the morgue, Blair and Jim miraculously revived and, grimacing, stripped off their ruined shirts, quickly washed their torsos and donned the clean apparel. By the time Dan waved to them that the private parking bay for the morgue was clear, Simon was pulling in.

"Thanks, Dan," Blair called softly before climbing into the front and scrunching down into the wheel-well. Jim slid into the back and, covering himself with a blanket he found there, laid flat. Simon glanced at his watch and peeled out of the bay and up onto the street, siren blaring to clear traffic from his path.

"What about the media announcement?" Jim asked, while he fiddled with the blanket, having missed part of the planning while he'd finished with their wannabe assassin.

"The Chief will put out the announcement in fifteen minutes, along with an APB for Shultz. Joel and Brown will do 'eye witness' interviews for the television media, which should be around the same time. By then, we should be outside the apartment building," Simon advised him. "I must be nuts to take either of you anywhere near there," he grumbled to himself, then ordered sharply, "You two, make damned sure you stay out of sight."

"Aren't we risking the bikers killing them as soon as they hear the news?" Jim asked, looking at his watch and thinking they would be cutting it close.

"That's why we're reporting that Schultz escaped. They'll want the woman and kid alive to continue to hold over him until he gets back to the apartment or calls to meet them somewhere else," Simon replied as he wheeled through the heavy downtown traffic and into one of the seedier neighborhoods. "Or, at least, that's what we're counting on. Truth is, they could already be dead." He abruptly cut the siren. "Okay, we're about two blocks away and I can see the SWAT van up ahead."

"Park as close to the middle of the back of the building as you can," Jim told him. "The apartment's on the second floor."

As soon as Simon came to a stop and switched off the engine, Jim closed his eyes to concentrate his focus on his hearing. Blair scrambled between the front seats to drop into a crouch beside him and tug the edge of the blanket over himself, so that they were both covered. Jim felt one hand lightly grip his arm and the other rest on his shoulder, to keep him from drifting too far into his hearing. Latching onto one voice, a querulous old man, he searched higher in the building and over, closer to the middle, blocking out other sounds and voices until....

"You got anything on the local station yet?"

"Nah. Should be soon if Sharky's call was on the money and the twerp did his job. Crap, who'd've thought that loser would get out alive after shooting two cops?"

Using those voices for reference, Jim opened his hearing even more, listening for the distant heartbeats. He heard a child sniffling and a woman's low crooning, though her voice sounded tight with fear. "Got 'em," he said, opening his eyes to look up at Simon. "The two bikers are in the living room, waiting for the news on the TV. Sounds like Suzie and Joey are in another room, the kid's bedroom maybe, at least thirty feet away."

"Good," Simon said. "You two stay down and out of sight." He slid out of the sedan and hastened to meet the SWAT captain by the front entrance of the building which was out of sight of the windows of the apartments on the back.

Blair shifted around to get more comfortable on the floorboards. "Let me know how it goes down," he said softly.

Jim, watching the time pass on his watch, still listening to what was going on in the apartment above them, nodded. He heard, "Hey, turn up the sound. I think that's it!"

"Just minutes ago, an unknown assailant gunned down two detectives inside the Cascade Police Department. The identities of both men are being withheld, pending the notification of their families, but the shooting occurred in the Major Crime division. It's rumored that this was another, and this time sadly successful, hit on Detectives Ellison and Sandburg. The killer is described as being in his mid-twenties, unshaven, wearing a jean jacket and jeans, and medium-length light brown hair." Jim stopped paying close attention when he heard Joel's voice describing the attack.

"The announcement's on TV," Jim reported, listening to the reactions of the bikers and their exclamations of surprise as the apartment door was kicked in, and someone yelled, "Cascade PD! Drop your weapons!"

"SWAT's inside," he told Blair, very glad of Blair's grounding grip on his arm as he strained to hear through the sudden confusion of shouts and swearing. And then he smiled. "Simon's just found Suzie and the kid. They're okay."

Blair grinned and relaxed. "Great! Now, that's worth 'dying' for."

Jim ruffled his hair but, recalling what he'd heard in the bullpen earlier, the words chilled him. He must've misunderstood Rafe, right? Because, clearly, Sandburg was very much alive. Frowning, he reflected then on how often attempts had been made on their lives and how close it had come far too often. And those were only the times he could remember. Helluva way to make a living, he thought. The danger didn't bother him for himself but, studying Sandburg, he really wasn't happy with how often, at least lately, the kid was flirting with death. Was it worth it?

But then he heard Suzie crying with relief even as she bubbled with thanks to Simon and the SWAT team members. Felt good to know he'd helped save their lives, if only at a distance. Felt very good.

********************

Blair wasn't thrilled about having to remain scrunched on the floor of the backseat, hiding under the blanket with Jim, while Simon went up to the office to sort out the protective custody for Larry Schultz and his family, providing Larry would agree to testify against the other two. He needed to be kept under wraps to ensure he didn't tell anyone that he hadn't actually killed anyone. Simon also needed to make arrangements for their accommodation for the weekend, to ensure that the story that they were dead didn't get blown. Beside him, curled on his side on the seat, Jim seemed lost in his own thoughts. Finding it hard to remain still for so long in such a confined and stuffy space, Blair closed his eyes and practiced deep breathing exercises.

Being able to meditate would be even better, but he was too restless to focus his mind. He'd been okay when he'd been too busy to think and then, later, when his adrenaline was pumping as he waited to find out what was happening up in the apartment, hoping against hope that the woman and kid would be okay. But now, he was riding the predictable low that followed the rush and subsequent dissipation of the adrenaline in his system as surely as night followed day. In the aftermath, he felt nearly overwhelmed by all that was happening, all of it out of his control. Being hunted was no damned fun, and was especially horrible when the lives of other innocents, like that Suzie and little Joey, were held as hostages to force a man to try to kill him ... well, them. At least, now that they were supposed to be dead, the attempts would stop and he could breathe a little easier.

But that wasn't all that was worrying him. Jim was ... wasn't Jim, not the Jim he'd been before. Earlier that day, when the feds had been pushing hard, Jim hadn't pushed back, like he used to do; instead, he'd been almost indifferent, and certainly unengaged in the whole discussion. Whatever sense of turf or territoriality Jim had once had, it seemed to have vanished with his memories. And he'd taken the whole plan of pretending to be dead and hiding out awfully easily even seemed relieved to know they'd be going under deep cover until the trial. Before, Jim would have fought the idea, Blair was sure of it. He would have hated what he would have seen as running and hiding out, would have refused to give Coppolino the satisfaction. Before, Jim wouldn't've stayed hidden in Simon's sedan while others stormed the apartment to save the woman and child. Blair thought everything they were doing was simply sensible, and would leave a lot fewer other lives at risk, to boot. But he wasn't an alpha male like Jim. God, he didn't know how to interpret the differences; didn't know what they meant, if they meant anything significant at all. What he did know was that it was driving him nuts being trapped under the hot blanket in the stuffy car.

Finally, just when Blair thought he might scream with frustration, not to mention from the incipient cramp in his leg, Jim murmured in his ear, "Simon's coming back."

"Thank God," Blair breathed.

A moment later, the trunk popped open and there were the soft thuds of things being dropped inside, then the door opened and Simon slipped into the driver's seat. Without speaking, he drove out of the parking garage and onto the street. Once they were clear of the building, he said, "Okay, looks like everything is going according to plan. Joel arranged to borrow his brother-in-law's fishing cabin in the mountains about two hours from here. I've got your jackets and bags in the trunk. I'll take you up there now, get groceries for you, and get you settled in. When I pick you up early Monday morning, I'll bring your clothes for court."

"Sounds good," Jim replied, sounding like he meant it.

Blair twitched and tried to straighten his aching leg. "Ah, when can we get out from under the blanket?"

"Not until we get out of town and I'm sure I'm not being followed," Simon drawled. "Sorry. Shouldn't be too much longer. Maybe twenty minutes."

Blair sighed and lightly banged the back of his head against the door. Jim reached an arm around him and lightly massaged his neck and shoulder. As a distraction, it helped, and he bent forward both to give Jim better access and to reach his leg, to knead the cramping muscle.

Finally, Simon gave them the 'all clear'. Jim swung his legs off the seat and sat up, to give Blair room to move up beside him. They piled the rumpled blanket between them.

"So, two days of staying out of sight and then court," Jim summarized, his gaze on the passing scenery. "You figure that once Blair has testified that the danger from Coppolino will be over?"

"Yeah," Simon confirmed. "I'll be glad to get you guys back fulltime."

Blair grimaced ruefully and shook his head. Personally, he'd be glad when he and Jim were no longer active targets, but he didn't say that out loud. Cops were supposed to take this kind of shit in their stride and he was a cop now, so he couldn't either rage or bluster about how sick he was of being scared all the damned time. He'd made his choice to be Jim's official partner months ago, and he wouldn't unmake it, not for anything in the world. But ... being a cop hadn't ever been his life's dream and there was a lot of the territory that had changed between being an observer and being a badge-carrying insider. Like also carrying a weapon. Like having to testify in court and knowing they were likely to rake him over the coals because of his reputation as a liar and fraud. And, now, like having to be the expert on everything from procedures to cop culture for the guy sitting beside him, the one who was supposed to be the senior partner he relied upon. Only Jim didn't remember being a cop and there were moments when Blair wasn't sure Jim particularly even like being a cop. Fact was, he wasn't sure of much of anything these days when it came to Jim. The man was saying less and less since they'd returned to Cascade. Jim watched and listened and often looked like he was a thousand miles away ... or, maybe more accurately, looked like he wished he was somewhere, anywhere, else. Maybe even wished he was someone else.

Oh, not that he didn't understand, or at least tried to understand what Jim was going through. Blair did his best to imagine what it would be like to have no memories of his life, of who he was, of anyone or anything around him, of what mattered to him, what he believed in. He was pretty sure, if their situations were reversed, that he'd be a complete basket-case, locked away in a very quiet rubber room until he could wrap his head around a world he no longer understood and a self he didn't know. He was absolutely sure that he wouldn't want to be a cop. And if he didn't remember anything about sentinels, he wasn't sure he'd still be committed to supporting Jim in any way he could. A guide, if that's what he was, could survive without a sentinel. Good thing, then, that he hadn't lost his memory, because he wasn't as certain that a sentinel could survive without a companion who understood their needs. As good a handle as Jim had on his senses in some ways even better now that he didn't remember his resentment and not quite acceptance of all the senses meant he still needed someone who knew what to do if he zoned, and who paid attention to the environment, watching out for a million and one potential hazards.

Jim, on the other hand, was taking the experience of being in a completely alien world one step at a time. Except for the occasional meltdown like the other night in the loft, he seemed more or less stoic about it all. If anything, he appeared more than comfortable to be relieved of their usual duties and to have to hide out somewhere other than the loft.

The loft the home that wasn't home anymore, at least not to Jim.

Sorrowfully, Blair recalled how very much Jim had been counting on the loft giving him back some semblance of who he was, some memories of what his life had been. Watching Jim, as he'd moved around the apartment, seeing his raw desolation and his collapse in despair had broken Blair's heart. Because he'd also been desperately hoping their return to the loft would unlock some of those memories. He'd promised Jim they'd find a way through, they'd work it out. But he truly didn't know how best to help his partner and ... and, God, he missed Jim. Missed him with an intensity that was shattering. Increasingly, Blair felt alone, and very lonely.

All of it left Blair feeling chilled and more than a little lost. What if Jim decided that this life just didn't suit him anymore? What if he decided he wanted to make a fresh start, somewhere else? What if he decided he wanted to leave everything and everyone from this life behind because, without his memories, none of them were relevant to him anymore?

Blair swallowed his anxiety and told himself he was dreaming up problems that didn't necessarily exist. Jim ... Jim needed time; needed a chance to get his balance back. What he didn't need was a neurotic partner in the midst of his own identity crisis demanding answers that Jim wasn't ready hell, wasn't really able to give, at least not yet. But, God, it hurt to know this Jim thought of the Jim before amnesia as being a total stranger, a total 'dead' stranger.

A lump thickened in his throat, and Blair ached with how much he missed the old Jim, the Jim who shared his memories, the most important memories of his life. Even with Jim here, right beside him, it was so damned lonely because this Jim didn't remember ... just didn't remember.

Tired of too many questions that didn't have answers, tired of being scared of whatever was going to happen next to turn his world upside down, just plain tired, Blair leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes. When sleep drifted over him, he didn't fight it off.

********************

Two and a half hours later, after stopping for groceries and frequent references to Joel's hand-drawn map, they rounded the last curve of a rutted track and saw the cabin, a small, weathered, wooden structure nestled within a thicket of trees, well hidden from the eyes of any passing strangers. Inside, it was simply one large room open to the rafters, with a utilitarian bathroom and shower just off the entry. A decrepit black iron, pot-bellied woodstove squatted in one corner on a brick slab, with wood and kindling stacked against the wall beside it; bunk beds laden with blankets stood in the opposite corner. A kitchen with open shelving and ancient appliances filled the third corner, and a table and chairs for four stood in the middle of the room. In the final corner were an old, faded sofa with two matching armchairs, and low shelves of battered books and games under wraparound windows. No phone. No television. No radio. But it was relatively clean and there were fishing rods; Jim could hear the gurgle of flowing water somewhere nearby. The place was chilly and damp, so while Jim and Simon whipped up sandwiches for a quick dinner, Blair got a fire started in the stove. Now, as the evening bled into night, the place was warm and cozy.

Simon stood and stretched. "Well, I suppose I better be getting on back to Cascade." As he pulled on his jacket, he said to Blair, "I'll be back early Monday morning with your clothes for court. The DA said you won't be called before ten, but I want to make sure I get you there in plenty of time."

"Sounds like a plan," Blair agreed, and they walked Simon out to his car. "Thank Joel for setting this up for us, okay?" he called just before Simon climbed into the sedan. Their boss nodded and waved, and had soon driven around the first curve and out of sight.

Jim finished cleaning up the detritus of their late dinner, and surreptitiously watched Blair, who was nursing a second beer while he squatted in front of the bookcase, checking out what was there. Something was off with his partner, but he wasn't sure what it was; all he knew was that Blair was too quiet. Oh, he spoke when he was spoken to, but he hadn't initiated any conversation since Simon had told them they'd be coming up here until the trial. True, he'd slept most of the way ... but something just didn't feel right.

"You okay?" he finally asked, having grown tired of trying to guess what might be bothering Sandburg.

"Huh? Oh, sure, I'm fine," Blair said over his shoulder, but he sounded flat and distant. Tired to the bone.

Frowning, Jim got himself a second beer and moved into the living area to sink onto one of the ancient chairs. "Anything good to read?"

Blair shrugged, then straightened and turned to settle in the other chair. "Quite a bit, actually," he said, and gave a small grin. "Especially since you probably won't remember having read any of them."

Jim snorted. "But I take it you've read most of what's there?"

Nodding, Blair took a sip from his bottle, then picked at the label. "Doesn't matter," he said quietly, staring at the bottle in his hands. "If the weather holds, we can fish during the day. And there're cards and a cribbage board. It's only for two days."

"You worried your mother will hear the news? I brought my cell phone. You could try to track her down."

His expression pensive, Blair looked up and out the window at the trees that were growing shadowed. "I really have no idea where to even start," he replied. "I haven't heard from her in more than six months now. She's probably not in the country, or even on the continent. If she does hear anything, she'll call Simon, and he'll let her know everything's okay." After a beat, he looked at Jim. "But you told your Dad you'd call him and explain what's going on. He's probably anxious to hear from you."

"Good point," Jim agreed with a sigh; he'd forgotten all about having to get back to William. Returning to the kitchen, he retrieved his cell from the charger. Checking the range indicators, he grimaced. "Not great reception out here," he muttered as he turned to the door. "I'll try outside." Blair had gone back to staring out at the gathering darkness and Jim couldn't help but wonder about how Blair didn't know where his mother was, or why he hadn't heard from her.

But 'more than six months' ago would have been about the time that he'd thrown away his old life and chosen to become a cop. Certain that it couldn't be a coincidence, Jim stepped out onto the rickety front porch. Just how much had Blair given up for him? And how much did the costs of that decision hurt? Increasingly, Jim was finding that burden hard to bear. However much Blair assured him that it was all okay, even necessary, he just couldn't reconcile the idea that his life, his needs, outweighed Blair's life. But he didn't have a clue what to do about it, at least not yet, not when he didn't have a clue about much of anything.

He managed to get through to his father, though the connection was full of static. Keeping it short and to the point, he brought his father up to date and reassured him they were fine and would be back in town on Monday. Ending the call, he stared up at the sky, reflecting that he had a family that felt like strangers pleasant and congenial strangers, ones he liked well enough, but strangers nonetheless and Blair's only family was out of reach. Biting his lip, he felt as if they only had one another; certainly, Blair was the only person in his life for whom he felt any attachment, any real caring.

Jim didn't begin to understand why Blair seemed so essential to him, so intrinsic to his life, his world ... he only knew he felt certain that Blair was his foundation, his lifeline, his touchstone. He could handle the rest of it, all that was foreign to him, so long as Blair was beside him. But, at the same time, he felt guilty nearly all the time. Guilty for not being sure he wanted to be a cop anymore, and what that meant for Blair, who had already given up his career and, in many real ways, his identity for him. Guilty for knowing he'd prefer to just take off and start over somewhere else, but he wasn't sure he could do that without Blair with him, and he didn't have the heart to ask Blair to give up anything more for him. Guilty for needing the man so badly when he suspected that he wasn't at all the friend Blair had once known and made such sacrifices for ... and he was increasingly afraid that, one of these days, Blair would decide that maybe the man he was now wasn't worth his time.

Jim didn't know what to do except take it all a day at a time and hope that it would all, somehow, get better, get easier, and that the life he had would also become a life he wanted.

When he went back inside, he discovered Blair had set up the cribbage board and had already dealt out a hand. Willing enough to be distracted from his grim musings by a casual game, he took his place at the table. But as he studied the cards, he still wondered why Blair was so quiet and more, he wondered why Blair didn't seem willing to share whatever was obviously bothering him. Was the kid already beginning to second-guess the commitments he'd made? Was he tired of them being continually locked away in virtual isolation with one another?

They decided to make it an early night. Blair called dibs on the lower bunk and had already turned in, facing the wall, by the time Jim finished building up the fire for the night. Not yet tired, too restless to even consider sleeping, Jim dug around in his bag and pulled out the one document Blair had given him when they'd packed the day before when they'd left the loft and insisted he read, even if he never wanted to read any of the journals. Turning on a lamp, he settled in a chair and looked at the cover page: The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg. Taking a breath, he turned the page and began to read.

Hours later, he put down the last page. Sitting back, he shifted in his seat so that he could see Blair, who was snoring with a soft snuffling sound that was oddly both calming and comforting. Jim felt ... stunned; overwhelmed by the work he'd just read, not only in terms of what he'd learned about himself, but more by what he realized it had cost to suppress the document. There was a whole chapter devoted to how to identify nascent sentinels, who were maybe locked in apparent madness because their senses had tormented them beyond endurance and, more importantly, how to help those people. How many people in the world were suffering because he'd believed his secret had to be kept at all costs? As he'd read, he'd also come to understand much more of all Blair had done to help him understand his senses, and to hone them; he'd grasped how very much he owed this man who had, most probably, saved both his sanity and his life.

Beyond all that, he had come to see himself as Blair saw him; had felt the respect, even awe, despite the fact that Blair very clearly also saw and understood his vulnerabilities, both as a sentinel and as a man. More, shining through the words, illuminating the pages, he'd felt the love that Blair had felt for him, maybe still felt for him, and it humbled him because he felt so totally unworthy.

What the hell was he going to do to ... to be worthy? To give something back for all he'd been given?

Jim had no idea of even where to begin to answer those questions. The weight of what felt like nearly impossible burdens bore down upon him as the night deepened, until he grew too weary to wrestle any longer with all of the issues and concerns that plagued him. Stiff with emotional exhaustion, he stoked the fire and barely managed to climb into the upper bunk before sleep claimed him and carried him again back to the jungle, to the same dream of desolation, of the wolf limping toward the light. Only, this time, the eerie silence of his fitful dream was broken by the sound of his own voice, crying out for Blair not to go, begging him to come back ... and then the wolf was again racing toward the black cat....

********************

Early Saturday morning, they took large mugs of coffee and fishing rods to the gurgling stream that had been beckoning Jim since they'd arrived. Perched on rocks, they cast their lines and soaked up the warmth of the early morning sun. After half an hour or so, Blair grimaced and kneaded his right wrist, which was no doubt still weak after being in a cast for more than a month. For a while, Blair tried fishing with his left arm but, when the sun climbed higher, he sat back further on his rock and rested against a sturdy tree trunk. Hat pulled down over his brow to shade his eyes, and his line trailing in the water, he dozed for an hour or more. Jim was glad to see him so relaxed and knew he'd have to thank Joel for finding them such an out-of-the-way refuge, where neither of them had to fear being under siege.

Jim had to admit that he felt a whole lot better out here in the woods than he did in downtown Cascade, for a whole lot of reasons. In part, he knew he was indulging a cowardly desire to hide out and avoid picking up the pieces of his shattered life in an effort to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Sighing, he shook his head. Even with the best will in the world, he just wasn't sure it was possible. Sure, there were aspects of the work that he liked, and he could already see he had some talent for it. The senses sure gave him an edge.

But ... so very many buts.

"Hey." Blair's voice broke into his solemn contemplation, drawing him back to the world around him. "You okay? You're looking, well ... not happy."

Forcing a smile, gesturing to the stream and the forest, Jim challenged, "What's there not to be happy about? It doesn't get any better than this."

Blair's gaze seemed to cut right through him, as if he could see straight to his soul. "Maybe this," he mimicked Jim's encompassing gesture, "isn't what you were thinking about? Maybe it's everything we're avoiding by being here."

Jim's lips thinned and his gaze fell away. He opened his mouth to deny it, to redirect, to engage in the pretense they'd been sharing that everything was going to work out fine, but what was the point? If he couldn't be honest with Sandburg, he really was alone, a stranger in a very strange land. So, he gave an uneasy roll of his shoulders, not quite a shrug, not quite a nod.

Blair reeled in his line and shifted on his rock to face him. "Talk to me, Jim," he urged with tones that were filled with calm concern and compassion.

Sighing, Jim reeled in his own line and set the rod down beside him. "I'm not sure where to begin," he admitted, looking off past the treetops to the distant mountain peaks. "In some ways, I think I should just suck it up and soldier on, you know? That to do less is ... cowardly."

To his surprise, Blair chuckled. "Ah, man, the one thing you have never been, never could be, is cowardly," he said with rock-solid assurance and a gentle smile. "It's just not in your nature. If you have concerns, then they're legitimate and you shouldn't bury them or ignore them. So, spill, okay?"

Jim scratched his head and then rubbed his mouth. "Okay," he agreed. "And I'm not saying any of this is a decision or anything, just stuff that's been bothering me."

"I hear you."

Heaving another sigh, shrugging again with the discomfort of trying to put all he felt into words, Jim began slowly. "Well, first, the city clogs up my senses. The noise is like fingernails on a blackboard. The smells..." He shuddered. "Even in the office, I'm stuck with waves of colognes and perfumes, deodorants and hairspray, makeup, cleaning fluids, the ink from the photocopier, bad breath, residual cigarette and cigar smoke and it just goes on and on. On the street, it's exhaust fumes and the stench of garbage, and the pavement. I have a headache all the damned time that just gets worse, and I feel like I'm trying to see and hear and move through molasses. Out here, everything is clean. There? It's filthy. And it's just exhausting to constantly have to filter it and dampen it down."

Blair nodded, and looked out at the water. "I can help you with some of that. With getting your dials aligned so that you don't perceive anything more than the rest of us, unless and until you want to. It just takes practice. You've done it before so I know without doubt that, if you want to deal with it, you can."

Jim didn't say anything and, after a moment, Blair added, "But I'm guessing all that is the least of the problems."

Grimacing, Jim rubbed his palms together and nodded. "You're right. I know all that's more under the heading of 'uncomfortable but doable', than 'deal breaker'." Tossing up his hands, he stood away from the rock he'd been perched on to pace along the shore. "I don't feel like I fit there anymore," he finally admitted. Looking up at Blair, he hastily added, "I get that I can do the work, and I appreciate everything you do to make it easier for me, but..."

Suddenly, now that he was giving voice to his feelings, the anger he'd been trying so hard to hold at bay erupted, hot words flowing like a river in flood. "God dammit, that job stole my life from me! And all that's happened since we've come back is that people have been trying to kill us. I know, intellectually, that the work is worthwhile and needs to be done, but in my gut? I wonder if it's all worth it, or if maybe ... maybe I've given enough. More than I'd ever imagined having to give I doubt I ever thought that I lose myself. Chief, I look in the mirror and I see a stranger. I look around me and all I see are strangers. Only, these strangers know more about me than I know myself, more than I'll ever know. And, and I can see them watching me, expecting me to say or do something based on what they know about me, and then being surprised when I don't do whatever it was they expected like yesterday, when the feds were there and acting like idiots. I don't even know how to describe how unnerving it is, how frustrating, to be watched like that. And there's no escape, no refuge. I live in a home that feels no more comfortable or familiar in fact less so than the cabin back there. I don't know who I am anymore. I feel trapped in a life that isn't mine. I'm forty-one fucking years old and I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. That scares me shitless and makes me feel sick inside all the damned time."

Shadows of deep sorrow darkened Blair's eyes, but he only nodded and quirked a brow, his encouragement for Jim to go.

"Isn't that enough? You want more?"

"Is there more?"

Jim shook his head and turned away to pace for a few strides before turning back. "Yeah, there's more." Walking more slowly back toward Blair, he searched the sky, wishing all the answers he needed could be written there for him, but there weren't even any clouds. "I read your paper last night," he said quietly. "It's ... brilliant. I was overwhelmed by ... by everything you've done for me. How many times have you saved my life, huh? And how much value could your work be if others could benefit from your insight and knowledge like I have? How many people are suffering because I didn't want 'my secret' known? I'll tell you how valuable what you offer is it's priceless! Jesus, I feel so disgustingly selfish, so ... I hate it. I hate what I know I've cost you and what I know I'm costing countless strangers who need what you can offer, the hope you could give to mitigate their pain and confusion ... the, the lives they could have."

When Blair started to interrupt, Jim held up his hands. "I know. I know. The secret was necessary, is necessary, to protect me because our work is dangerous. But that just brings me back to the damned job and my questions about whether it's worth all that suffering, all that sacrifice. And then I come up against the wall of just what does it mean to be a sentinel? Am I obligated to do this job? To protect the people of Cascade as best I can? Man, that is one hopeless task because as much as I can ever do, I can't help them all. So, what kind of sentinel does that make me? But if I don't stick with this job, then what am I going to do with my life?"

He sank down on his haunches and picked up a stone that he skimmed over the water with enough force to send it clear to the far side. "And what does it all mean for your life?" he asked then, and regretted the pain of his confusion and the conflict he felt in his voice but he couldn't either deny it or hide it. "If I give up, am I betraying you? Betraying the huge, the staggering sacrifices you've made for me?" He shifted to sit on the grassy verge, his arms around his raised knees. "I don't know which way to turn. I ... I feel like some lost little kid and it's humiliating. I don't know what to do."

He heard Blair walk up to stand close behind him and, when Blair clasped his shoulders, he leaned back against the support of his friend's sturdy legs. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be dumping all this on you. But you asked and ... and there's no one else I trust, no one else I can even imagine talking about it all with." Exhaling a shuddering breath, he whispered hoarsely, "And I don't think I can do it all, make sense of it all, on my own."

"You don't have to do it on your own," Blair murmured and squeezed his shoulders. "You don't have to do anything that doesn't feel right to you, or that causes you pain. You're entitled to take whatever time you need to get comfortable in your own skin again. And to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. Jim, you don't owe anybody including me anything. You paid all those dues a long time ago."

"I don't remember paying any dues."

"Lucky for you, the rest of us do remember," Blair affirmed with warm indulgence.

Jim felt tears burn his eyes and his throat tightened with the relief of simply being heard and being accepted without judgment of having the legitimacy of his mixed-up thoughts and doubts acknowledged. He sniffed and scrubbed at his face. "Thanks, Chief," he rasped. "I don't think I'm any closer to knowing what the hell I'm going to do, but it's a relief to be able to talk about it."

Massaging his tight shoulders, Blair went on, "Jim, you don't have to decide anything in a hurry. You can take it all one step at a time today's step being to enjoy the peaceful serenity of this place. And we can talk about it anytime you want to explore options, to delve deeper into things, like the sentinel stuff, for example. My paper didn't touch on any of the really neat historical and cultural stuff, like the Temple of the Sentinels we, uh, found in Mexico. It's a place you might want to visit at some point."

After a pause, he added, "And if you decide that you really just need some time and space, maybe to get away and explore the world to reacquaint yourself with it, you can afford to do that. For one thing, you were injured on duty and you have a ton of accumulated sick leave and when that runs out, there's disability leave. For another, you've got quite a bit of savings stashed away because you were always a frugal man. If you're not comfortable in the loft, you can sell it you own it free and clear. You have options, Jim. You are not trapped."

Twisting around to look up at him, Jim managed a rueful grin. "All that's really good to know, Chief."

Stepping away, Blair jerked his head back toward the cabin. "I don't know about you, but my stomach thinks my throat got cut. Let's head back for some lunch."

Glad to get off the uncomfortable subject of his life and feelings, Jim accepted the hand Blair offered him to lever himself to his feet. "I could eat," he agreed with a more honest smile. Just then, the breeze freshened; he caught a different scent on the wind and the air felt different on his skin. Looking up at the sky, toward the west, he mused, "I hope the fish are biting later or we might be out of luck. There's a fair-sized storm blowing in."

Blair's grin widened and he shook his head as he glanced at the still clear sky and then at Jim. "Man, you will never cease to amaze me."

As if by mutual accord, they avoided discussion of heavy subjects for the rest of the day. After lunch, the silence easy between them, they went for a long hike to work off the meal and stretch their muscles, and then they returned to the stream. By late afternoon, they'd caught enough fish for dinner both that evening and the next.

"And not a moment too soon," Blair observed, shivering at a strong, bitingly-cold gust of wind. The clouds, dismal and gray, had moved in over the afternoon and were now banked low against the mountains.

"Storm's going to hit before midnight," Jim told him, as he looped an arm around Blair's shoulder for the walk back to the cabin. "We need to get the fire going; we'll need it tonight, to stay warm."

Blair took care of starting their fire while Jim cleaned the fish. He wasn't fond of the slimy feel of the flesh, but Blair just grinned and reminded him that his special eyesight and sense of touch abilities were what made him so perfect for the chore of removing bones. Jim snorted and muttered with good-natured irritation that being 'special' wasn't all that great. Blair laughed at his grousing as he headed back outside to haul in a few armloads of wood, to replace what they'd burned the night before, from the pile on the side of the cabin. As the afternoon darkened prematurely into dusk, they flicked on lights and prepared the simple meal of fried fish, salad and baked potatoes with companionable shoving and teasing in the tiny kitchen. The wind was whistling around the cabin and they could hear the creaking of the limbs of the trees around them when they sat down to eat but inside, except for a draft around the floor, it was warm and cozy.

"So, when did you decide to study people like me?" Jim asked before taking his first bite.

"Like you?" You mean sentinels?" Blair clarified. When Jim nodded, he smiled and his eyes got a faraway look. "Okay, well, you remember I told you that Naomi and I moved around a lot when I was a kid? I got to meet a lot of aboriginal spiritual leaders here in the U.S, as well as in Canada, Mexico and parts of central America, and I heard a lot of stories. My favorites were about the watchmen, or guardians, or sentinels all essentially the same, just different names and it wasn't long before I had this fantasy where I'd meet a sentinel and, well, maybe help him, because all sentinels had a companion or guide." Blair smiled again and shook his head. "Lots of times I was told that the sentinels had all gone away a long time ago, but sometimes a shaman would look at me and nod. One told me if I kept searching I would find what I was seeking. Neat, huh?"

Jim wasn't sure how 'neat' it was to find someone who had ultimately cost Blair pretty much everything else he'd ever worked for, but he just quirked his brows, shrugged a little, and gestured with his fork to indicate Blair should continue with his story.

"By the time I was twelve, even though it seemed there weren't any more sentinels in the world, because there was nothing written about them and nobody would admit to having ever met one, I was pretty sure they had to still exist. I'd been doing a lot of reading about genetics and how talents and traits are passed from one generation to another "

"Genetics? When you were twelve?" Jim interjected.

"Uh, yeah," Blair affirmed with a quizzical, 'okay, I'm a geek' expression, but he carried on, "Anyway, I decided that sentinel abilities had to be related to the survival of the species, and so they had to be dominant genetically. So that meant there still had to be sentinels; they couldn't've all just disappeared. I think that there were sentinels in the villages Mom and I visited, but nobody said anything about it because, well, a sentinel is special and is important to the survival of a tribe, so I think their identities have always been hidden from outsiders. You know, for security purposes. But I thought they had to also exist in our modern world, too. Only, after centuries of living in towns and cities people had forgotten about sentinels, so when kids were/are born with the abilities, nobody pays much attention."

When Blair paused to eat a few mouthfuls before his food got cold, Jim imagined a bright little kid with a mop of curls eagerly listening to tribal lore, and wondered what his life would have been like if that kid hadn't made up his mind to look for sentinels. He wondered if he'd still be in a coma. More likely, he would have been dead for years by now.

"When I started at Rainier, I checked out all the references to sentinels/watchmen/guardians I could find in the library. There's literally a ton of lore in pre-history mythology from virtually every civilization. For example, in the Judeo-Christian stories, the watchmen were the progeny of angels who had fallen in love with mortals. Hercules, as another example, was the son of a god and a mortal woman, Alcmene. The references are so consistent that I kinda more than half believe there was a time when beings from beyond our world mated with humans and maybe that is where we got the special, dominant DNA."

Jim blinked. "You're not serious. Angels? Aliens? Come on."

Blair lifted his hands. "Who knows, man? Who really knows? You think we're the only intelligent beings in the vastness of the universe?" But he waved his hands as if erasing all that. "Whatever. The origins don't really matter. The salient point is that the mythology of sentinels is universal ... like the 'great flood', you know, from Noah's time? When there's that much consistency, then it's a good bet that the myths are based on reality, just like there were a number of massive floods in pre-recorded history. Or like Troy, for example. People thought that was a myth until they dug up the city. When I was twenty, I came across the most modern reference I've ever found: The Sentinels of Paraguay by Sir Richard Burton. Man, it cost every dime I made that summer and more, but I had to have that book."

Blair smiled again as he gazed into the past with fond remembrance, and Jim tried hard not to envy him his memories. "Over the years," Blair continued, "I kept searching. I did my masters' thesis on the role and impact of enhanced sensory perceptions on society and, in my research, I found hundreds and hundreds of examples of people with enhanced abilities to smell and taste, like people who work for perfume companies or vineyards. I have a theory that those who are chosen for scout roles in the military or during explorations would generally have enhanced vision and hearing abilities, but I wasn't able to get the grant I wanted to work with the US military on that." He shrugged. "Another grant I didn't get was to study surgeons, because I'd bet they have enhanced sight and touch with amazing hand/eye coordination." He sighed. "And, as you saw in the doctoral thesis, I suspect a number of people who are labeled as autistic or who end up in catatonic stupors in institutions are possibly sentinels who haven't had any help in understanding or controlling their senses. A person could work a lifetime and only scratch the surface of all the possibilities...."

His voice drifted off and he went back to finishing his meal. Jim couldn't help thinking that if it weren't for him, Blair would have spent his lifetime finding more sentinels and helping them. Instead, Blair had had to deny his work and his vision that sentinels could and did exist in the modern world. The awareness of what he'd cost Blair, and maybe a whole lot of others, seared him like a raw wound that wouldn't heal. Jim had seen enough, and heard enough from Simon during their talks at the Lodge, to know that Blair was a good cop, even a brilliant detective. But ... "Do you like being a cop?" he asked, saying the words before he'd hardly thought them.

Startled, Blair swallowed his last bite before replying. Clearing his throat, he said, "It's good, important work that helps a lot of people, and figuring out mysteries is interesting."

"So you like it?"

Picking up his plate and utensils, and carrying them to the sink, Blair answered, "Like anything else, there's stuff I like and stuff that I'd rather not have to deal with, but it all comes as a package a package I wanted because I wanted to be your partner."

Turning on the tap, Blair started filling the sink with detergent and water. As he cleared off the table, Jim reflected that Blair hadn't really answered his question and he wondered why, but he decided not to push it. However, it was obvious that the answer wasn't an unequivocal 'yes'. Blair washed up while Jim dried and put the dishes and utensils away. "You said earlier that there's a whole spiritual side to this sentinel stuff ... and that we'd found a temple?" Jim queried as they finished the chore, interested in learning more about stuff that pertained to him but wasn't so intimately personal that it was uncomfortable to talk about.

"Uh huh," Blair agreed as he emptied the sink and dried his hands before filling the kettle and putting it on the stove. Finally, turning to face Jim, he asked, "When you first woke up at the Institute, you talked about a blue jungle. Do you remember that?"

Jim looked away, and squatted to put the pans they'd used back into the cupboard under the counter. "Yeah," he said, feeling unaccountably wary, wondering what it meant, what Blair was about to tell him. Standing, he asked, "Why?"

Blair hesitated and turned away to pull peppermint teabags out of the supplies they'd brought and to reach for the brown clay teapot on the shelf above counter. When the kettle whistled, he busied himself with making the tea.

"C'mon," Jim urged. "You said ... you said it was a safe place."

Blair nodded. "It is," he confirmed, then let out a long sigh. "It's a different plane of existence, a spiritual plane," he went on, not looking at Jim.

"A spiritual plane?" Jim echoed, and couldn't help the skepticism that bled into his voice.

Blair looked up at him, his expression shifting from uncertainty to irritation, even defiance. "Yeah, that's right," he affirmed, his tone hard with defensiveness, and then he huffed a bitter laugh. "You never were comfortable with the spiritual stuff. Always hated it." Turning away, he poured two mugs of steaming tea.

Outside, the wind abruptly battered at the cabin walls and rattled the windows, making Blair jump. Though the storm was probably only dumping heavy rain on the coast, hard pellets of sleet hammered the glass and pummeled the roof. Inside, the fire blazed in the iron stove, and Jim swiftly turned away to layer a blanket from his bunk under the door to keep out any more drafts. They were safe, and there was plenty of wood to keep them warm but he felt as if they were the only two people left in the world, completely isolated and cut off from anyone and everyone else.

When he straightened, he saw that Blair had taken his mug and was sitting on a chair near the sofa, staring out at the night. Taking his mug, Jim crossed the cabin to sit on the other chair. Sitting forward, his hands cradling the hot mug, grateful for its warmth, he said, "I'm sorry. I asked you tell me about this stuff. The least I can do is listen with an open mind."

"I know it's hard for you to believe in," Blair replied, sounding distant, as if a wall had gone up between them. As if he was holding something back, hiding something, or maybe part of himself.

The distance worried Jim. No matter what had happened, since he'd awakened nearly two months ago, Blair had always been there, supportive, understanding, a rock he could lean on or cling to. The wind blasted against the cabin, its voice a wild cry in the night. Jim shivered, suddenly cold despite the warmth of the cabin. "Blair, please. I really am sorry. Tell me what the jungle means."

Blair sipped gingerly as the tea, as if seeking strength from it, or maybe the warmth. Maybe he felt the chill, too. "Maybe it would help if you think about it like one of the dimensions mathematicians and physicists talk about dimensions we can't see or sense, but intellectually know have to be there. Dimensions that exist side by side with the three-D world we exist in; maybe that would make it more acceptable, believable."

Jim didn't find that helpful, perhaps because he knew nothing about the mathematics Blair was referencing. But he didn't doubt what Blair was telling him, so he nodded encouragingly.

Inhaling deeply, then letting the breath out slowly, Blair set his mug down on the low wooden table in front of the sofa. Clasping his hands together and bracing his forearms on his thighs, he leaned forward and his hair fell like a curtain to hide most of his face so that all Jim could see was shadowed. "Okay," he began, "were you alone in the jungle?"

Frowning, wondering what Blair was getting at, Jim shook his head. "I didn't see anyone else," he said truthfully, not sure if he should mention the animals or not.

"Huh," Blair grunted. "I'm surprised. I would have thought the black jag would have been there."

Blinking in astonishment that Blair knew, Jim stammered, "He was. And there was a wolf, too."

"Really?" Blair exclaimed softly, and his smile was poignant. Nodding slowly, sitting straighter, he murmured, "I'm glad."

"I don't understand."

"Oh, sorry, man," Blair apologized. "The black jag is your spirit animal. It shows up when you're in trouble or when it needs to give you a message. Sometimes, it morphs into you, so it can speak. I gather it's usually pretty cryptic, and you find it annoying more than helpful. I think the wolf is my spirit animal."

"Spirit animals? You're kidding, right?" Jim challenged, thinking it all sounded so crazy that it made him uncomfortable. "I see spirit animals?" He shook his head. "Does anyone else ever see them?"

Blair turned his face away and hunched his shoulders. His voice was muffled when he replied, "I did. Once." He scrubbed his face with his palms, then got up to put more wood in the stove, to build up the fire.

Afraid he wouldn't say anything more, immensely relieved to know he wasn't the only one to have seen the animals, Jim asked, "Do we only see them in dreams?"

"No, no, you've seen the jag when you've been wide awake," Blair told him. He hesitated, then added, "You saw another jag, too, a spotted one."

"You said something about a temple in Mexico?"

"Yes, near Sierra Verde," Blair replied, returning to his seat and picking up his mug. "It's the legendary Temple of the Sentinels, lost for generations, at least; it was nearly reclaimed by the jungle. We, uh, we didn't spend much time there, but I've always thought it would be worth going back to explore it and to see what we could learn from the hieroglyphics carved into its walls."

Sitting back, Jim thought about that. He could tell Blair was hiding something important his heart had been hammering anxiously since the subject of spirit animals had come up. Whatever it was seemed to upset him, because he'd also gone very pale and wasn't making eye contact. There was a slight tremble in his hands. "Would you like to go back there?" he asked.

"Yeah," Blair sighed. "Someday. Yeah, I'd like to go back." He lifted the mug and drank the now cooler tea. Standing, he turned away to carry the mug to the sink. He sounded distant again when he said over his shoulder, "The spirit guides are real, Jim. And they have great power." He rinsed out the mug and set it on the dish drainer. "I think that's probably enough spiritual stuff for tonight. You want to play some cards, or just read for a while?"

Jim felt as if he'd blown something important, missed something, failed to enter a secret door that had once again closed: a door to what made Sandburg tick, a door to something that had great significance. All because he felt awkward about talking about things he couldn't readily see or touch even if he had, actually, seen the jaguar, and not just in the netherworld of the unconscious. He knew he must have, because Blair wouldn't lie to him about something like that. Blair knew how important it was to be truthful about stuff he couldn't remember. He was desperately sorry he'd shut Blair down, and wanted to learn more, but it was clear that Blair wasn't going to share more that night.

"Cards," he said, mostly to ensure that Blair didn't drift too far away from him. They played for a couple hours and listened to the angry howl of the wind. Even with the roaring fire, it grew chilly, then cold in the cabin, and Blair layered on a sweater. Finally, they decided to call it a night.

Jim built up the fire and wished they had an alarm clock, to wake them to add more wood because what was there would burn down long before morning. The place was going to be freezing when they woke up.

That night, he dreamt his dream again. The utter horror of desolate loss pervading him. Crying out for Blair, begging him not to go, to come back. The wolf limping away through the jungle, toward a bright light in the distance. Then the jag and the wolf racing toward one another, faster and faster, and leaping, merging an explosion of light a vortex of emotion, of infinite affinity quickly subsumed by the steady, blessed drumming of Blair's heartbeat where there'd only been heavy silence. Relief flooded him, and then he was encompassed by profound awe. Limitless gratitude welled within him, and wild, unadulterated joy.

Jim woke once to a pervasive chill. Reluctantly, but knowing it was necessary or they could freeze to death, shivering violently, he got up to get the fire going again. While he fed in kindling and then larger logs and waited for them to catch fire, he studied Blair, who was curled tight under the blankets in his bunk. Asleep, he looked so incredibly young, the lines of strain around his eyes and mouth smoothed away. What caused that strain when he was awake? What was he so carefully not talking about?

Frowning, Jim realized he seldom asked how Blair was doing, or if there was anything he needed. Once the fire was burning well, he closed the stove's grated door and hastily climbed back into his nest of blankets. The wind was still blowing, but not as violently. Rolling onto his side, Jim thought about how he'd been so caught up in his own pain and uncertainty that he hadn't given much consideration to how his amnesia affected others. Blair had told him they were best friends, even family. How much did it hurt, he wondered, to care about someone who couldn't remember anything of what you'd once shared? With a sinking feeling in his gut, he knew it must hurt like hell.

He remembered the defiance and irritation Blair had exhibited that evening when he'd challenged the existence of a spirit world and, remembering, he also now realized he'd heard pain in Blair's voice and read it in his friend's avoidance of his eyes and slumped posture. Blair had said he'd always hated the spirit stuff, but he wasn't sure that was true. What he felt wasn't hate but fear and a wariness, and uncertainty of how much he could trust what he didn't understand. Suddenly, he remembered the wolf, and smiled to think Blair's spirit guide had cuddled so close to him, to comfort him when he'd felt so lost and abandoned. But the smile faltered when he recalled the wolf had been uneasy with him, even maybe afraid, after he'd awakened and hadn't recognized Blair, hadn't remembered him, as if the wolf feared being rejected, even hurt, by him.

How often had he rejected what Blair had tried to give him, had shared with him? Thinking back to the little he knew about what had happened about the dissertation, about how skittish his father and Blair both were about talking about that time, he wracked his mind, trying to remember and yet terrified that what he might remember was that he'd ... but no, no, he couldn't have done that surely? He couldn't have rejected Blair? Wasn't he just afraid, now that he wasn't the man he'd once been, that Blair would inevitably reject him? Wasn't that what the dream meant? That and his inexpressible, desperate hope that Blair wouldn't abandon him?

Uneasy, he finally drifted back into sleep ... and back into the dream.

********************

Blair woke to the sound of Jim crying out his name, begging him not to go, to stay. Groggy, disoriented, it took him a moment to remember where he was, and then he was scrambling out of the bunk, hissing when the cold floor pierced through the thick socks on his feet and his clothing. Shivering, squinting in the uncertain light cast by the flames, he bent close to check on Jim and could see in the flickering light, as he often had when he'd been awakened other nights to the sound of Jim's cries, tears glistening on his friend's cheeks.

"Ah, man," he sighed, and carefully drew the blankets up over Jim's shoulder to shut out the bitter chill of the night. Jim was sleeping, his expression soft, and Blair could tell that the nightmare was over; it never seemed to last very long. Compassion filled him, and sorrow that Jim seemed to suffer so much in his dreams, that they gave him no respite from what he suffered every damned day as he struggled to make sense of his life. His hand lingering over Jim's shoulder, he whispered, "I'm right here, Jim. Don't worry, man; I'm not going anywhere."

His breath puffed in the air and, shivering, he moved across the floor to peer out into the darkness but he could only see the shadowed room reflected back at him in the glass. God, he hoped the weather wouldn't maroon them up here, and make it impossible for him to get to court on Monday. The chill of the cabin was nothing compared to the icy rage he felt whenever he thought about Coppolino, and what that bastard had done to them. Blair didn't wish many men dead, but he'd come so close to shooting that night when they'd recaptured Coppolino, came so damned close to just blowing him away. Still shook him to think about it, and he had to take a few deep breaths to calm himself down.

The brutal cold of the cabin reclaimed his attention, reminding him of more urgent needs. Briefly, he considered pulling the blanket from beneath the door, but decided they needed all the help they could get to keep the warmth in and the icy cold out. Instead, he took their jackets from the pegs on the wall and carefully layered them over Jim, to ensure he was as warm as possible.

Shuddering now from the cold, he paused only long enough to shove more logs onto the voracious fire and to pull on a sweater over his sweatshirt and another pair of socks before climbing back into his own nest of blankets. Huddled within them, glad of their residual warmth, he stared at the fire in the grate and thought about Jim's recurring nightmare. Blair was sure that it dated back to his friend's emotional meltdown in the Institute nearly two months before, when Jim had lost track of him and had been afraid he'd been abandoned. For a long time, listening to the low moan of the wind and gazing at the fire, Blair chewed on his lip and wished he could turn back time or do something, anything, to alleviate Jim's mental and emotional anguish. But he was as helpless to heal Jim's pain as he was the wretched misery he felt, and the loneliness, since his best friend had forgotten everything they'd once shared.

Finally, the shivers abated enough that, exhausted, his thoughts blurred and he was able to slide back into sleep.

********************

When Jim woke he was still warm in his cocoon, but he could sense icy tendrils probing through the layers covering him. Dull light seeped through windows festooned with filigreed swirls of frost and, except for Sandburg's soft breathing, the world was utterly silent. The wind had died sometime during the night, and that was good news. The bad news was he couldn't hear the crackling of wood in the fire or smell fresh smoke. The fire was out and the cabin had all the residual warmth of an icebox. Reluctantly, not anxious to be chilled to the bone but resolute in his quest to be useful, he slithered out from under the blankets and dropped lightly to the cabin floor. Spotting his jacket on the mound that had covered him, he grabbed it and pulled it on, shivering at the chill feel of it, but knowing it would warm reasonably quickly.

The grate creaked when he opened it and he winced at the sound, harsh in the silence. Blair stirred and blinked at him, but he urged, "It's early. Go back to sleep." Blair sniffed and seemed to nod as his eyes drifted shut. Jim frowned at the barely visible, long-dried tracks of tears on the kid's face, and the lines of tension that were again visible around Blair's eyes and mouth. For months now, Blair had been his rock, but the man wasn't made of stone. His jaw tightening with concern, Jim decided it was beyond time to stop fixating on his own problems and start paying more attention to what was going on with Sandburg.

Shivering, he blew on his hands and turned back to the stove. In seconds, he stuffed in new kindling and lit it with a long match from the box on the floor. Once it was burning well, he layered in bigger sticks of wood the thickness of his forearm. The pile that had climbed halfway up the wall was sadly depleted and he hoped there was plenty more stacked outside. Otherwise, they'd have to start rationing the wood or they'd run out long before Simon came back for them. Closing the grate, he stood and moved into the kitchen, intent upon making some hot coffee but he discovered, to his dismay, that the stove wasn't working. Concerned, he flipped a light switch, but nothing happened. They'd lost their electricity. Not good. But not dire, either. The flat surface on the top of the iron woodstove would serve well enough.

Once he filled the metal coffeepot with water and added grounds to the basket, and it was heating on the stove, he hastened into the small bathroom. God, it felt like walking into a freezer! Shivering violently, he finished as quickly as possible and washed his hands in cold water without electricity, the water heater was toast. He hoped the water pipes wouldn't freeze and burst. Back in the main room, he hastily ditched his jacket to pull on more clothing, and then put it back on. The coffee had begun to perk and he paced to keep warm as he waited for it to finish. Pausing briefly by the windows, he peered past the filigreed frost and saw a world coated in thick ice. Shifting a little, he realized he could no longer see the narrow lane that led back to civilization it was drifted and iced over.

"Great," he breathed, a billowing puff of air. Moving back to the kitchen counter, he took his cell phone out of the useless charger and checked the power and signal strength. Glancing at his watch, he decided it was far too early to call Simon, but call he would in a couple hours. Remaining in the cabin until the next morning was no longer a palatable, or even safe, idea. Nor could they risk putting off their return to the city until morning it could take the better part of the day to plough the secondary highways and then the back roads, let alone get up the rutted trail to them. If more snow came, they could be totally stranded and in real trouble. The clothing they'd brought with them was fine for rainy fall weather, but totally inadequate for survival in this kind of cold and ice. Besides, no way did Jim want to miss their court date; he was looking forward to seeing Coppolino's face when they entered the courtroom.

Deciding to bring in more wood, he stepped out on the porch but found it slick with ice everything was slick with ice too slippery to negotiate with his city shoes and icicles hung from the edge of the peaked roof. With both hands on the wall to help stay upright, he eased sideways over the ice to the edge of the porch, and peered around the corner at the stacks of chopped wood, all of it encased in thick inches of rock-solid ice. Trying to chop into that mess would be asking for a nasty accident, and all the boiling water in the world wouldn't melt the ice before hot water froze in the brittle air. Cursing under his breath, Jim eyed the forest around them. There was lots of wood there, just waiting to be chopped, but his shoes weren't equal to the challenge of the ice. Blair's runners might fare better on the slippery ground, but they were too small for him. Grimacing at the idea of sending Blair out to chop wood, especially with his still weak right arm, Jim looked around for anything resembling an axe but didn't see one. Sliding as quickly as he could back to the door, he scoured the small cabin for an axe, but to no avail. If there was one, it was probably encased in ice on the far side of the inaccessible stacks outside. Giving up on the idea of augmenting their limited supply of fuel, shuddering with cold, he castigated himself for not having helped Blair bring in more the night before, but neither of them had imagined how bad the storm would be, or how deadly cold the cabin would become.

The coffee had finished perking and he eagerly poured himself a big mug, anxious to hold it in his hands and warm the chill from them. The fire in the stove had warmed the room by a few degrees but it was nowhere near comfortable. Given how quickly the heat had dissipated in the night, remembering the icicles, Jim figured the warm air was seeping out through chinks in the uninsulated roof and walls almost as quickly as it filled the cabin. Once again, he studied the dwindling supply of wood. If they were careful, it might last most of the day, but the fire alone wouldn't be enough to keep them warm. He finished his coffee and crawled back up into his nest of blankets.

It was going to be one long, cold, miserable day.

********************

Blair opened his eyes and wondered why the coffeepot was sitting on the top of the stove, just a few feet away from his bunk. But his bladder, demanding his attention, distracted him from further musings. Loathe to get up, he nevertheless shoved back his blankets and swung his feet onto the floor. "Geez, it's cold!" he muttered as, arms wrapped around himself, he hurried to the bathroom. "God, it's an icebox in here!" he protested in the little room, seriously not happy and grumbling out loud his inability to imagine how the hell early explorers and settlers had survived without central heating.

Scampering back out into the main room, he looked up to see Jim, sitting up in his bunk but wrapped in blankets like a bulky mummy, grinning at him.

"What's so funny?" he demanded, taking a quick detour to the kitchen to grab a mug and then making a beeline for the coffeepot.

"You," Jim told him. "You've been so quiet and calm and restrained that it's great to hear an unrestrained yell or two. Proves you're human."

Blair snorted as he filled his mug. "Why's the coffeepot over here?" he asked, but then wondered if he really wanted to know.

"The electricity's out. The wind or ice must've downed the line."

Nope, really didn't want to know that. "Wonderful," he groused as he ventured a sip of the blazing hot liquid. Shivering, he looked at the sad little pile of wood that still remained near the stove. "Should we bring in more wood? Looks like we're going to need it."

"We should ... but the woodpile's encased in rock-solid ice."

"Damn. We're in trouble here, aren't we?" he observed, knowing there was no question about it. Without firewood, they'd freeze.

Jim tossed his jacket to him. "Put on all your clothes," he directed as he climbed down from the upper bunk. "I was about to call Simon and tell him a rescue is in order."

"Good plan," Blair agreed, teeth chattering, while he pulled another sweatshirt and sweater out of his backpack. Considering what he was already wearing, he decided just the sweater was enough and all that would fit under his jacket. Instead of pulling on a third pair of socks, he drew them over his hands and fiddled around until they were awkward but serviceable mittens. Wrapping a blanket around his shoulders, he took his mug in both hands and went to a window, to check the great outdoors. "Hate to admit it," he muttered, "but it's kinda pretty. Beautiful, actually."

"If you like ice," Jim agreed, as he moved to another window to get slightly better reception and punched in Banks' number. "Simon? Jim. Look, power's out and we're running out of fuel and from the depth of the snow and ice up here, it's going to take hours to get to the cabin. We need to get out of here today." He listened and nodded. "Good. Yeah, I know, it'll be awhile. See you when you get here."

Perching on an armchair, Blair asked, "How long is 'awhile'?"

Jim sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "He'll be lucky to get here before dark."

Blair gaped at him, and then stared at the woodpile. "We're gonna run out of wood before then."

"Yep," Jim agreed as he moved into the kitchen area and started pulling out pans. "First thing on the agenda is to eat. We're going to use up a lot of energy just trying to stay warm."

Resigned to having to take off his mittens, blanket still around his shoulders, Blair lumbered to the kitchen. He pulled eggs, and the fish and cooked potatoes from the night before out of the fridge, along with butter and bread. Swiftly, he chopped up the potatoes and added onions from the last of their supplies. By then, Jim had the pans heating on the top of the woodstove and had butter melting in them. Blair lightly dusted the fish with flour while Jim began frying the potato and onion mixture. The fish fillets went into the second pan and were soon sizzling. After buttering slices of bread, Blair whipped up an egg and milk mixture, adding vanilla and a dash of cinnamon they might freeze to death but he didn't see any reason why they couldn't eat well in the meantime.

Wrapped in blankets, they ate the fried fish and potatoes, while a second pot of coffee perked on the stove. Then Blair finished making the French toast. Jim found maple syrup in the fridge and put it on the table, and then put a large pot of water on the stove to heat. By the time they finished their 'dessert course', savoring every delectable morsel, the water was boiling. Swiftly, they washed up the dishes, cleaned the counter and the table, and filled their mugs with coffee for the third time. Chores done, both blanket-wrapped, they huddled in the chairs and stared out at the frozen landscape.

"Well, this is fun," Blair said and couldn't resist quirking a grin at the ludicrousness of their situation. "We've got a perfectly warm and comfortable apartment back in Cascade, but have to be out here in the deep woods, freezing our asses off, because we're supposed to be dead."

Jim nearly choked on a swallow of coffee then, with a glance at Blair's quizzical expression, started to laugh. "At least you're cheerful about it."

"Me? I'm always cheerful. You're the one who's usually the bear."

"If you say so, Chief," Jim replied with a sardonic grin.

Blair's smile vanished. "Ah, man, I'm sorry. I ... I guess I just forgot..."

"Hey, hey, easy!" Jim exclaimed. "I wasn't taking a shot at you. It's okay to tell me what I was like and to forget sometimes that I don't remember. We can't walk on eggshells about it forever."

"No, guess not," Blair agreed, but his light-hearted mood of survival against the odds was broken. Suddenly, the cold cabin, their isolation from the world around them, the dreariness of the day that stretched out in front of them, their phenomenal bad luck in having the storm hit in the first place, all just seemed like a metaphor for their lives lately. And he had no idea when, if ever, that was going to change. Scrunching down into his blankets, he sipped at his mug.

Jim dropped into silence too, until he finished his own coffee, then he rose and rinsed out the pot. "We've still got lots of food," he said. "Mostly stuff for sandwiches, but at least that's easy." He rummaged around in the cupboards. "Hey, what would you say to some hot chocolate later?"

"Now that's an idea I could get behind," Blair replied, attempting to muster some of his earlier energy. "Maybe sooner rather than later. I'm seriously freezing over here."

"You got it, pal," Jim said. Finding a suitable pot, he filled it with milk and set it on the stove. Checking the fire, he shoved in more of their precious wood. Minutes later, the cabin was filled with the rich scent of cocoa. Jim poured them each a mug. There was lots left that he could reheat later.

"Mmmm," Blair purred in something approximating contentment as he sipped the delectable brew. "Perfect," he judged. "The best I ever had."

Jim seemed pleased by the praise, but grew thoughtful as they savored the chocolate in silence.

Blair finished off his drink, and then he yawned. "Man, I don't know if it's the cold or all the carbs we've stuffed into ourselves, but I feel like I could sleep for about ten years."

Jim studied him, a slight frown between his brows. "Could be a bit of both, but it's not a great idea to fall asleep, Chief. We need to nurse that fire along."

"We've still got enough wood that if it goes out, we can start it again. It's not like we'd freeze in the bunks, is it?"

"I don't know. I don't have any idea of how cold it is in here, but it's not a good sign that we can see our breath." Glancing around at the walls, he grated, "Must be a thousand or more little chinks and holes in the walls and roof, too small to see, that're letting all the heat out."

"Bet you could see them," Blair replied.

Barking a laugh, Jim shook his head. "You're probably right, but I'm not sure I want to know the grim details." He stood and motioned toward the bunks. "I don't know how I know this, but I know that we need to conserve body heat as much as possible. The best way to do that is to bundle up together in one of the bunks."

"Be still my heart," Blair teased, but he nodded agreement and, shivering, got up to shuffle across the floor. Man, he really was feeling like he could about pass out.

Jim pulled one of his blankets down to layer over Blair's bottom sheet. "To keep the cold from the floor out," he explained.

"Do it right, man," Blair told him. "The fibers of those blankets right against any part of your body will drive you nuts. Put the blanket under the sheet." Once Jim had complied, and stuck yet another of their dwindling logs onto the fire, Blair said, "Okay, well, there's not much room. I guess you should get in first and I'll crawl in over you. We'll be snug as two bugs in a rug."

"You got that right," Jim agreed with a rueful grin. He laid down and Blair gingerly climbed in on top of him, trying not to gouge with elbows or knees as he drew the sheet and blankets up around them and got as comfortable as possible, his head resting on Jim's chest, just below his chin. "Comfy?" Jim asked, laughter in his voice.

"Oh, yeah," Blair replied with just the slightest trace of sarcasm. "Make sure you keep your ears open. I don't want Simon catching us like this. We'd never hear the end of it." He yawned again and his eyelids felt too heavy to stay open. "Do me a favor wake me when you want me to put another log on the fire."

"Okay, Chief," Jim said, his arms wrapping Blair in a solid embrace. "Let's just hope I don't fall asleep, too."

"You won't," Blair murmured with complete trust. "You're the sentinel, man. You'll tune your ear to the crackling of the fire and if it stops, even if you fall asleep, you'll wake right up." Snuggling just a little to get comfortable, Blair closed his eyes and promptly fell asleep.

********************

Despite Blair's confidence in him, Jim fell into a light doze. When he woke, he wasn't sure how much time had passed; the light filtering through the window was still dim, a kind of twilight because of the heavy cloud bank above them that cut off the sun. However, it had been enough time for the fire to once again burn out.

"Damn," he muttered. He'd used just about the last of the kindling that morning and they'd already burned their refuse. So much for Sandburg's confidence in his great sentinel abilities.

"What?" Blair asked muzzily, still more than half-asleep.

"The fire's out and I don't think we've got any kindling left. Gonna be tough getting a blaze going quickly with just the bigger logs," Jim told him, disgust heavy in his voice. "Sorry, Chief. I fell asleep."

"Don't beat yourself up," Blair replied. "If we both fall down on the job, we share the blame." Shifting, evidently preparing to slide out of their warm mound of blankets, he muttered, "Must be something here we can burn." He sniffed at the cold air and shivered reflexively. "You brought the diss, right? We can burn it."

"Are you kidding? I'll burn some of my clothes before I sacrifice your work!" Jim exclaimed.

Blair braced himself and rose on his hands and knees to meet Jim's gaze. "It's just paper, man," he soothed, but his small smile seemed shy with pleasure at Jim's reluctance to destroy the document. "I've got an electronic copy on my laptop."

"Oh. Oh, well, then, yeah, the paper would work," Jim agreed. He braced Blair as his friend half-climbed, half-crawled over him to get off the bunk.

"Yikes," Blair yelped when the cold air hit him. "It sure hasn't gotten any warmer!"

Jim rolled to his feet beside Blair and slid past him to dig the document out of his bag, which was lying on the floor at the foot of the bunks. "You hungry?" he asked, drawing out the thick bundle of paper and looking up at Blair who, arms crossed, was huddled into himself and shivering despite his many and varied layers of clothing.

"Yeah, I could eat," Blair replied. He sounded surprised, given all they'd done was sleep, but Jim knew, without knowing how, that their bodies were burning a lot of energy just to stay warm. While Jim crunched up paper and tossed it on the still warm ashes in the stove, Blair shuffled to the kitchen, where he dug out the fixings for sandwiches. By the time Jim had the fire going strong again, Blair had sandwiches made and a bag of chips opened. He filled a pot with milk and hurried across the floor to put it on the stovetop. "I think we need more hot chocolate," he said by way of explanation.

Draped in blankets, walking around as they ate, to keep their blood going and to stay as warm as possible, they wolfed down the sandwiches and took turns digging into the bag for handfuls of chips. As soon as the milk was steaming, Blair made more hot chocolate.

"There was some in the pot on the other stove," Jim remembered belatedly.

"Looked frozen solid," Blair explained as he handed a mug to Jim. He dumped the fresh mixture into the pot with the frozen chocolaty goo and placed it on the stove. "It'll take a while to melt it." Quickly, shuddering at the cold water pouring from the faucet, he cleaned out the one pan as fast and well as he could. "Oh, man," he whined, with a despairing glance in the direction of the bathroom. "I gotta go but I really don't want to freeze my assets, if you get my drift."

Chuckling, Jim shook his head. "TMI," he protested. "But I'll be heading in there right behind you, so warm it up for me, okay?"

"Oh, nice image, Ellison," Blair groused as he reluctantly, but necessarily, made his way into what Jim was coming to think of as the meat locker. "You know," he went on muttering behind the closed door, "the Romans used to send their slaves to warm the marble toilet seats for them in the public bathhouses. Yikes!" he exclaimed. "God damn it, it's cold!"

Clutching his blanket around him with one hand and his mug of hot chocolate in the other, standing as close to the stove as he could get without setting himself on fire, Jim laughed.

By the time Jim finished in the icebox, Blair had rinsed out their mugs and was back in the bunk, buried under the blankets. He scrunched as close to the wall as he could get to give Jim room to slide in, then resumed his position on top. Feeling the shivers wracking Blair's body, Jim rubbed his hands up and down Blair's back to warm him as quickly as possible.

"What time is it?" Blair asked, sounding like a little kid despite the deep voice. "Will Simon be here soon?"

"Not for a while yet," Jim told him. "It's early afternoon."

"There isn't much wood left."

"No, no, there isn't," Jim agreed; there was no need to spell out what that meant. "We need to stay awake, and feed it one log at a time, to make it last as long as possible." Blair sighed heavily, but then Jim could feel the kid gather himself together in the subtle way his shoulders moved and the way he resettled his head on Jim's shoulder. God, he's brave, he thought, grateful beyond words for a companion who could suck it up and not complain, even when as miserable and probably scared as Blair had to be feeling.

"Okay, what do you want to talk about?" Blair asked.

"You."

"Me?" Blair queried and chuckled. "Man, haven't you heard enough stories about my childhood and youth to last a lifetime?"

"Not sure I'll ever hear enough of those stories, Chief. But, right now, I want to hear about your sentinel years."

"What? Why? Er, I guess I know why, but I'm still not sure how much ... I haven't given up hope yet, that you'll get your memory back," Blair protested, but there was a timbre in his voice that told Jim his friend was worried about more than that.

"Chief, Blair ... I've spent months thinking about how hard having amnesia is on me maybe too much time. But it's got to be hard on you, too. You don't say anything but, well, I've been thinking about it, and if it was me, I think I'd find it hard if my best friend had forgotten everything about ... everything."

"Ah, Jim, you sure you want to hear this?" Blair murmured, his voice sounding thick.

"Yeah, yeah, I do. You've been a rock for me, Chief. I don't know how I'd've gotten this far without you but I figure friendship has to work both ways."

Blair nodded slowly against his shoulder. "Okay," he whispered, as if it was hard to speak. "Uh, the other day? When you said ... you said you felt like the old Jim Ellison was dead?"

"Yeah?" Jim murmured when Blair's words faltered.

"I, uh, I over-reacted, got angry," Blair said. "Told you not to feel like that, that it wasn't true. I shouldn't tell you how to feel it's not my right. And I'm just so sorry; I wish there was something I could do, anything..." His voice cracked.

"Shh, I know," Jim soothed him. "I know."

Blair sniffed, and Jim smelled the tang of salt in the air. "The night after you went to bed, the night we realized being back in the loft wasn't going to help?" Blair whispered hoarsely. "That night ... that night I felt like you'd died. But I told myself not to be stupid; that I was just so damned lucky that you were right there. And if we had lost the old memories, we could make new ones, that the most important, most wonderful thing was that you were still alive. I nearly lost you, Jim. God, I was so scared when I woke up in the hospital and they told me how badly you were hurt. And you weren't there. I couldn't get to you. And days had passed! I don't know what I'd do if ... if...."

"It's okay. I'm here. I'm right here," Jim assured him, and tightened his embrace to ease the trembling he felt and knew had nothing to do with the cold.

"And I thank God every day that you are," Blair murmured. But he sniffed again, and shifted to swipe a hand at his face. "But, but it's hard sometimes, you know? So many things have happened in the last five years, things we shared, that only you and me ever knew about. So many memories, man; the most important, most profound moments of my life. But I'm the only one who remembers them now ... and, sometimes, that really hurts. And, and, sometimes, even though you're right here, I feel really lonely."

"I'm sorry," Jim husked past the lump in his throat.

"No, no, geez, don't be sorry it's sure not your fault," Blair urged. "It's just ... hard, sometimes."

"Would you tell me some of the memories?" Jim asked. "Even if I can't share them the same way, I'd like to know what they are."

"Finding you," Blair murmured. "That was just so incredible, so amazing, after looking for half my life, maybe more." He paused and then sounded chagrined as he added, "I was such a jerk, Jim. At first, all I could think about was my dissertation. I even called you my 'holy grail', like you were some kind of thing. You blew me off and I don't blame you."

"If I blew you off, how'd we end up being friends?"

"Well, um, I'd forgotten to mention the zoneout thing, so I chased after you. You were zoned on the street, and there was this garbage truck and I, well, I kinda grabbed you and pulled you down and the truck passed right over top of us."

"Jesus, Sandburg!" Jim exclaimed, picturing it all too easily. "You could have gotten yourself killed!"

"Yeah, well, so far as I knew, you were the only sentinel left in existence and I sure wasn't going to let you get flattened!" Blair chirped back, as if what he'd done was nothing special.

Jim puffed a breath and shook his head. Seemed to him, this kid was always saving him in one way or another. "Any other memories you care to share?"

"Soooo many," Blair breathed. "Like when you let me move in after my own place got blown up there was a meth lab I didn't know about next door and, man, I even brought a Barbary ape with me. You said it was only going to be for a week, tops ... well, actually, I said that, promised it, actually. But, but I never got around to moving out and you never got around to telling me it was time to go. In my whole life, I've never had another real home before, and I've never lived in one place for so long."

"I didn't see the ape at the loft," Jim noted wryly, to balance the tugging on his heart.

Blair barked a laugh. "No, no, Larry left even before the week was up after trashing the apartment twice. God, I still don't really know why you let me stay after all that. You never charged me much rent, either, just a share of the utilities and the food. You've been really good to me, Jim."

"I suspect no better than you deserved, Chief. You seem to forget that you were helping me hold onto my sanity and, seemingly, saving my life from time to time."

"And then, when I was kidnapped by that serial killer I told you about? I was sure I mean stone cold, absolutely fucking positive that I was about to die, but you found me. And you saved me," Blair told him, still sounded awed by the memory. "I could not believe it when you burst into that scary warehouse. I thought I must be hallucinating. One of the most terrifying nights of my life I thought for a few minutes he might've killed you, too. I was drugged, not thinking straight, could just hear the gunshots somewhere deep in the building. But you came for me and got me out of there. And ... and despite all the mistakes I'd been making that probably got me there in the first place, you told me I'd done everything right. Because I'd kept yelling at him, fighting him the only way I could, with words, because I was all chained up. You said you heard me and that's how you found me."

Jim's arms tightened around him as he thought about how things might have turned out differently. He didn't know how he'd found Blair that night, but he was damned glad he had. "That was only 'one of the most terrifying nights' of your life?" he echoed. "How many terrifying nights have you had?"

"Oh, enough to last a lifetime ... and then some," Blair said softly.

For the next hour or so, Blair told him stories of some of their adventures, from a retreat to a monastery only to face mobsters, to heading into the rainforest to find Simon, who'd been kidnapped by a killer, to visiting his cousin, Rucker. "You'll like him, Jim. We'll have to get together with him soon," Blair assured him. And then there were stories about the Jags, Cascade's basketball team, and a domestic terrorist who'd nearly gotten away with Blair in a helicopter, and then the stories got a little weirder, one about a possible angel, and another about a ghost named Molly. "So many stories, man," Blair murmured, sounding sleepy, and Jim knew the cold was getting to him.

"Need to put some more wood on the fire, Junior," he said, easing Blair over to the wall.

"I can do it," Blair protested.

"No, I'll do it," Jim insisted, wanting Blair to stay within the warmth of the blankets. Because he was the one on top, Blair wasn't staying as warm to begin with as Jim was. "And I'll pour us the rest of that hot chocolate."

God, I hope Simon gets here soon, Jim thought as he tossed the last sticks of wood onto the still glowing embers, along with the last of the dissertation. Stirring the ashes, he watched as the flames caught and flared high before closing the grate. Then he poured the last of their hot chocolate and scrubbed the pan clean in the bitingly cold water from the faucet. He carried the mugs to the bunk, sitting on the edge to drink his while Blair stayed mired in the blankets. When the cocoa was gone, he rinsed the mugs and tidied the little kitchen, not that there was much to do. "You want a sandwich?" he asked.

"Nah, I'm good," Blair replied, sounding drowsy.

Jim's jaw tightened with concern. The damn shack had seemed so cozy just two days ago, but now he knew it wasn't meant for winter use. The place was worse than a sieve, letting the warm air escape and allowing the frigid cold to replace it. In this weather, the place was a deathtrap, pure and simple. Their only hope was to keep as warm as they could for as long as they could. He went back to the bunk and they shifted around until they were back in what had become their usual positions.

"Don't go to sleep on me, Chief," he commanded.

"'m just tired," Blair said. "An' it's getting hard to think of stories to tell." But, even as he said it, his heart beat skipped a little, and Jim knew Blair was holding out on him. What the kid meant was that he was finding it hard to keep finding meaningful but still relatively innocuous memories to share. Which meant whatever story wasn't being told was important.

"Uh huh," Jim grunted, and then he remembered a question he'd had for days. "Chief, the other day, I heard Rafe say something strange. It was when we were playing dead, and he said about you, 'Well, at least Sandburg's not really dead this time'."

Immediately, Blair stiffened, going rigid in his embrace, and his breathing stuttered.

"What?" Jim asked, more mystified than ever but certain that he was onto something vital. "Blair? What did he mean?"

"Oh, man," Blair gusted. "I don't know if ... it was...." His voice caught, and he had to take a breath to steady himself. "It was probably the most horrible and the most miraculous thing that ever happened to me; that ever will happen," he finally said, his voice slow and low with the effort at control. Blair took a deep, deep breath and let it out very slowly. "Okay," he whispered. "I think I can do this." But he had to clear his throat again. "I found someone I thought might be another sentinel. She, uh, she had all five senses but ... but she was pure evil. Maybe because she had a rotten life, I don't know. I just know she wasn't a true sentinel. But I didn't realize it at the time, not at first. And she had a really incredible link to the mystical like to the mythical Temple probably because she was more than half-crazy." Blair paused, and Jim could feel his body trembling.

"What happened?" he asked, telling himself that it had to have turned out okay because they were both there, right?

"I didn't tell you I was going to, but then ... something happened and I didn't, and I thought it was probably better from a research perspective to not let you know right away or let her know about you. Man, I was a freaking idiot. Your senses started going all over the map and you got all territorial. I should have realized sooner it was because of her, that somehow you sensed her. Hell, you probably smelled her on my clothing. Anyway, at the same time, we were investigating these robberies and there was some video of the thief. You saw right away that it had to be another sentinel, or at least someone with sentinel senses. That's when we put the pieces together and, man, you were so not happy with me for keeping her existence a secret. You said you'd never be able to trust me again."

Blair stopped again and shuddered so hard it felt to Jim like a small convulsion. "She ... she killed me, Jim," he said in a small voice. "She found me in my office at the university, and she held a gun on me. She took me outside and clubbed me over the head and dumped me facedown in a fountain and I, and I drowned." He was shaking hard, and Jim could hear the pain and the tears in his voice. "I remember ... I remember thinking that I wished we hadn't had a fight. That I'd see you, even just one more time, to tell you how sorry I was that I'd f-fucked up so b-badly."

"Ah, God, Chief," Jim groaned, horrified by what he was hearing. Holding him close, stroking his head, combing his fingers through the curls, he rasped, "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

Blair sniffed. "That was the horrible part. The, the unbelievable, miraculous part is what happened next. I was in this blue jungle and didn't have a clue what was happening. I felt lost and cold, and there was this big black jag and a wolf that was whimpering. There was this light some distance away, and I knew I was supposed to go toward it, but I didn't want to. Oh, God, I knew I was dead or dying, but I couldn't stop thinking about you and I didn't want to let go. But, but I didn't know the way back and it was like the light was tugging at me. I ... I was giving up. And the wolf was limping toward the light. Slowly, like he didn't want to go, either. The jag howled, sounding like it was in pain, and the wolf whimpered, but it kept g-going. It's the only time I ever saw our spirit animals." Blair's voice broke, and he swiped at his face. "My life was over, and I knew it. And I just felt so bad that I'd screwed everything up and let you down, and I was never going to have a chance to fix it, to make it right."

Astonished by what he was hearing, sickened by what had happened to Blair, Jim could only listen. Taking shuddery breaths, barely able to whisper through his emotion, Blair went on, "And then ... and then I heard you c-calling me. Yelling at me t-to c-come b-back. I c-couldn't believe it! You were there, somewhere. And you wanted me back! The, the wolf whirled around, and then he was racing, God, running flat-out at the jag, who was racing full tilt at the wolf, and they leapt toward each other and they, they merged in this incredible, blinding, blast of light."

Blair shook with emotion and he sniffed and hiccupped a sob, and he twisted to cling to Jim with all his strength. "I was alive again. Somehow, you brought me back. You. Brought. Me. Back. It was the most incredible, mystical, magical spiritual thing that's ever happened to me and you shared it, Jim. You told me later, you had the same vision. We merged, man. Like we were one being. I could feel it and I know you did, too. It was ... damn it, damn it, there are no words to describe what it was like; the immensity of it. The intimacy. Nobody else knows, could ever know what it was like. But we never talked about it again, not ever. And, and I always hoped we would, but we didn't. And now, n-now we c-can't ever talk about it, share it, because you d-don't r-remember. And it hurts, man. So bad. Knowing you don't remember giving me my life back; us being part of one another."

All the loss and loneliness, the uncertainty and fear, being strong when he'd been cracking inside for months was there in his voice and in his grip as he clung to Jim's jacket and cried with intolerable pain, "It's fucking k-killing me that you can't, can't remember that, man! Can't r-remember moving heaven and earth to get me back."

As he'd listened, Jim's grip around Blair had tightened and tightened, and he was finding it hard to breathe. Tears burned in his own eyes and a massive lump grew in his throat, partly in response to Blair's pain, but also because of how incredible it all was and how overwhelmingly grateful he was that, somehow, he'd gotten Blair back and he knew, as he listened with ever-growing awe, that Blair was recounting his recurring dream.

"But I do remember," he finally managed to rasp. "Every night. I dream about it, over and over, every night."

"Wh-what?" Blair gasped and lurched upward, to see his face. His eyes were wide with hope so raw and vulnerable that Jim's heart twisted with compassion and love deeper than anything he'd ever known.

"I started dreaming bits of it when I was first hurt, and lost in that jungle," Jim told him, his voice rough with emotion. "I didn't know what any of it meant. And then, ever since you woke me up, over and over again, I have this dream. In it, I'm ... I'm sick with devastation, with a loss too great to bear. And then I'm shouting for you to not leave me, to come back to me." Tears blurred his eyes, and he had to blink them away, uncaring of the one or two that spilled onto his cheeks. "I can see the wolf limping toward the light. And then turning to run toward the jag, and they ... they leap and merge together and there's this blast of light and blistering heat. And then, where it was only silence before, heavy, awful silence, I hear your heart beating. And I know you've come back, that you haven't abandoned me." He crushed Blair to him, and bent his face into Blair's hair. "God, Chief, you don't know the relief, the, the joy I feel every damned time I hear your heart beating in that silence."

********************

Clinging together, they both struggled to master their overwrought emotions. "What would I have done?" Jim kept muttering over and over. "What the hell would I have done if you hadn't come back for me?"

Blair swiped tears from his face. "I wanted to come back," he said brokenly. "I never wanted to go." Oh, God, Jim remembers! He really remembers! "It was a miracle, a part of the mystery that I don't think we can ever really understand," he went on as he struggled to calm his breathing. "I'm so glad that you remember!"

"Shh," Jim murmured, holding him as if he'd never again let go.

Closing his eyes against tears that wouldn't stop, Blair thought about that time and the days, weeks, months that had followed. He'd been so shocked, so bewildered and devastated to find Jim with her on that beach. So angry when Jim kept trying to save her, while leaving him and Megan behind in the jungle. So hurt that Jim had never wanted, or been able, to share what had happened in the Temple, in the pool. Hadn't ever wanted to talk about what had happened at the fountain.

For months, he'd been so angry with Jim and had felt so ... so abandoned somehow. As if, despite having brought him back from the dead, Jim didn't really want him around anymore. So, finally, he'd given up and finished his dissertation, accepting that the time had apparently come to move on, even if he didn't want to, even if he didn't understand what exactly had gone so wrong. And then the dissertation had blown up in his face, bringing down the whole house of cards, so that even maintaining some vestige of friendship looked like it might be impossible. He'd understood Jim's anger, his sense of betrayal, he really had. He'd screwed up royally, for about the umpteenth time, only this time ... this time Simon and Megan nearly died, and Jim ... Jim seemed to really and truly hate him. That had hurt. That Jim had believed he could have done it on purpose, could have deliberately betrayed him. That had hurt worse than dying.

Even after, against all the odds, it had all worked out, and he'd gotten his dream of being Jim's official partner, he'd still harbored so much anger and hurt. Once again, they'd never talked about it, just moved on, but the wounds hadn't healed. Up until the night that bomb had changed everything for them, Blair had hoped that, one day, he'd find the right words, the right time and place, for them to work through it all. But now, he knew, that was never going to happen. This Jim, this man who had been so moved by what had happened at the fountain that he still remembered remembered every damned night, even though he couldn't remember anything else this man was never going to remember the rest. This Jim couldn't be held accountable or blamed for anything. This Jim was innocent.

Most importantly, this Jim was alive and, somehow, by some new miracle, despite being strangers in very fundamental ways, they were still partners; still best friends.

Blair knew then that he finally, finally had to let go of the deep-seated hurt and anger; just had to let it go, because it didn't matter anymore. It was the past, and it was done. And if he had to remember for both of them, he'd be damned if he remembered the pain, not when there was so much more that was good hell, that was mind-blowingly great.

Emotionally spent, Blair relaxed in Jim's embrace, relishing the closeness, the warmth, especially when he could also feel the cold seeping into his back. He found himself growing drowsy and, distantly, he knew that wasn't a good thing. In a vague way, he knew if he went to sleep now, he might never wake again but he thought that slipping away while being held in Jim's arms wasn't such a bad way to go. Not that he wanted to die; he didn't; desperately didn't want to let go. Not now. Especially not now. But he was just so tired. He'd been so damned tired for so damned long that he just didn't have anything left.

********************

Jim was shaken to the core of his soul. While he clasped Blair close, his lips pressed against Blair's brow, his mind skittered back over the bits and pieces of the dream world he'd inhabited, that he visited each night. Back to the beginning, to his earliest memories of the jungle, and he shuddered with awe as he finally understood it all.

The jag, pacing back and forth, starkly outlined by the light beyond him, always between Jim and the light. Growling with low warning whenever Jim yearned toward the warmth the light offered. The wolf, crowding close, warming him when he was so cold, cold to his very marrow, nosing him and licking his face, his hands, showering him with affection, with love, holding him in place. Neither of them letting him go, while he'd waited, feeling lost and alone, abandoned; waited for something he didn't know ... for someone he couldn't remember. Dear God, the spirit animals had brought them full circle. He hadn't been dead, but he'd been damned close; they'd held him, forced him to cling onto life even if he didn't know what was happening. And they'd showed him, bits and pieces, fragments of memories that had made no sense to him, memories that ... that meant so very much now.

They'd given Blair back to him, and had held him safe until Blair could call him back. He shivered and drew shuddering breaths, feeling as if he couldn't get enough air. What kind of power...? What purpose did they have together that such mystical beings would safeguard them so well?

"Oh, God, Blair," he whispered as he clung to his friend as if he was a life-preserver because, in the end, that's exactly what he was, wasn't he? Desperately, he struggled, fought with the darkness in his mind; he needed to remember more. Needed to remember everything! Because for all that he did remember, he didn't remember the merging that Blair described, the sharing of souls; the best he could grasp was that fleeting moment of affinity with ... but it was gone, no matter how much he wanted more than he'd ever wanted anything to recapture it, for Blair if not for himself. But he couldn't penetrate the veil, however hard he pushed until pain throbbed mercilessly, and pounded through his head.

Cursing the darkness, the nothingness, he wondered why Blair had been alone that night; how could he have left Blair so vulnerable if he'd known there was another like him, a hunter, deadly and vicious, stalking them? He needed to know, needed to understand.

The long, lonely call of a wolf snapped him back to the world around him. The cabin had grown dark, the dim light of the day faded to nothing in the murk of fall's early night. The fire had gone out. How the hell long had he been lost in his thoughts, in his useless futile search for a past that was lost to him?

The haunting call came again, ending with urgent yips. Shaking his head to clear it, Jim was abruptly aware that Blair was a dead weight upon him, and his friend's breathing was too shallow, his precious heartbeat slower than it should be.

"Chief?" he called, shifting to lift Blair, but the kid lolled against him, boneless. Deeply unconscious. "No!" Jim cried. "Dammit, no!" Energy surged through him and, in one motion, he rolled, taking Blair with him, shifting his friend under him, into the greater patch of warmth, such as it was. The cabin was icily cold and there was no heat left in the blankets that covered them. Frantic now, he clasped his hands around Blair's face and could feel that the cheek that hadn't lain against him was chilled. "Don't you do this, Sandburg!" he growled, rubbing Blair's arms, drawing him close to warm him as much as possible. "Chief! Blair!" he shouted. "Wake up! Do you hear me? Wake the hell up!"

In the distance, he heard the rumble of engines, drawing closer, but so slowly it was torture. "Chief, please," he begged and shook him.

"Wh-wha'?" Blair mumbled, blinking but not focusing.

"Wake up, Sandburg!" Jim ordered.

"'m tired," Blair mumbled, his lids dropping down to hide the deep blue of his eyes.

Jim shook him again. "Simon's coming! You hear me? Simon's almost here. You have to wake up. We have to get ready to leave."

Blair sniffed and cleared his throat. Licked dry lips and swallowed. "Simon?" he echoed, and his eyes flickered open. "Here?"

"Almost. Any minute now," Jim assured him. "Stay with me, okay, buddy?"

"S'alright," Blair breathed. "Not goin' anywhere, man."

The engines were close now. Jim could hear two trucks. Rising, he hurried to the door. Outside, he could see light growing around the first curve, and then a plow appeared. The massive truck shoved snow and ice off to the side. With lumbering slowness, it backed up and another vehicle pulled in, a black SUV with a Cascade PD insignia on the doors. The plow started moving again, back the way it had come, and the doors of the SUV popped open. Simon and Joel stepped out into the freezing night.

"Jim!" Simon called.

"In here! Sandburg's in bad shape. Hurry!"

Slipping and sliding, the two older men moved forward as fast as they could. Jim whirled back and gathered Blair, blankets and all, into his arms. But, when he turned, Simon was already there. "I've got him," Simon told him, sweeping Blair away from him and, wheeling around, heading back into the night.

Joel shone a flashlight around and spotted their bags. Slinging them over his shoulder, he hastened toward Jim and slung an arm around him, to steady him across the icy porch and down the single step. In moments, Jim was in the backseat of the well-heated vehicle, blankets pressed over him and Sandburg, who he'd pulled into his arms. Joel stashed their bags in the back and turned back to lock the cabin door.

Simon was already back behind the wheel. Twisting around, he rumbled, "Joel's been worried sick about the two of you. Said the cabin was never designed for winter and he was scared stiff you'd freeze to death before we got to you."

"We damned near did," Jim rasped, fighting off shivers he knew were more from his fear for Blair's life than from the cold.

"I'm sorry, Jim. I tried local rescue options but they were already overloaded after that storm. We got here as fast as we could commandeered that plow back in Cascade. Told 'em it was urgent police business; well, it was. Blair's testimony is vital to the trial tomorrow. The mountain roads are a mess, accidents everywhere, power lines and trees down. In places, we had to chop our way through."

Joel climbed into the front passenger seat and slammed the door. "Let's go," he urged. Leaning around the seat, he demanded, "How's Blair? Is he okay? We've got a thermos of hot tea, and another one of coffee."

Jim nodded shakily. "I think so, but ... it was getting close. Too close."

"Man, I'm soooo sorry," Joel apologized. "I never thought to check the weather before I sent you guys up here. If anything'd happened...."

"S'okay, Joel," Blair murmured as he snuggled sleepily against Jim's side. "You're here now. S'nice 'n warm. Ever'thin's fine now."

Jim smiled fondly at his partner and gently ruffled his curls, relieved and amused when Blair grumpily pushed his hand away. "You heard the man," he said to Joel, with a wide grin. "Ever'thin's fine now." He waited a beat and added, "You know, I could really go for some of that coffee."

Half an hour later, Blair roused enough to drink some of the tea. Warmer, considerably more alert, he huddled under the blankets and sipped at the hot beverage. Between swallows, he said, "I'm really sorry, Joel, but we burned all the wood your brother-in-law had in the cabin. And I think we might've left the place a bit of a mess." Peering up at Jim, he asked, "Did we bring the sheets? To wash them?"

"Blair, son, don't you be worrying about that," Joel assured him, a big grin on his face now that Blair was clearly none the worse for their adventure. "You just rest and we'll soon have you back in Cascade."

"We've got good news," Simon said then, as he turned onto a less treacherous county road that would lead to the state highway that would take them back into the city. "The guys we rousted on Friday? They rolled over on another member of the gang, Stanley Morris, better known as Sharky. He's the guy who planted the bomb that damned near killed the two of you. We rounded him up yesterday, and he's turned state's evidence against Coppolino, who arranged and paid for the hit. The DA persuaded the judge to allow those charges to be added to the slate he's being tried for."

"Geez, leave town for two days and miss all the action," Blair complained, but with an oddly cold smile. "Good work, gentlemen. We are going to send that killer away for the rest of his sorry life."

"I've still got your clothes for court at my place, Blair," Simon told him. "You'll both spend the night there, and I'll take you to the courthouse tomorrow."

"What about my clothes?" Jim asked.

There was a brief, brittle silence, then Blair said with too-smooth nonchalance, "Ah, Jim, there's no need for you to sit through court tomorrow."

"Are you kidding? No way am I going to miss seeing that bastard's face when we walk in. I want to see you nail him."

Nobody said anything. Jim saw Simon meet Blair's gaze in the rearview mirror, and then Blair shrugged. "Sure, of course," he agreed. "You, of all people, need to be there to see that. No question, not after what he did to us."

Bewildered, Jim looked from one man to another, knowing he was missing something, but having no clue as to what it could possibly be. Why wouldn't they want him to be in court when Blair testified? It made no sense. But the warmth of the SUV had been slowly seeping into his muscles and bones, leaving him in a semi-stupor. Too tired to figure out what he'd missed, too contented to be alive to worry about it, he leaned against Blair's solid presence beside him and dropped off to sleep.

********************

When they arrived at Simon's place, they both had to be awakened. Inside, more than a little muddle-headed, they both indulged in hot showers and enjoyed the substantial meal Simon put in front of them. Immediately afterward, warm, clean and replete, they hit the sack.

The next day, aside from a few aches from spending too many hours the day before in the cramped bunk, Jim woke feeling good. And he felt even better when he saw his suit clothes hanging on the back of the door. Either Simon or Joel must have gone to the loft after he and Blair had crashed the night before. He took a quick shower and shaved, and was dressed in less than half an hour. When he got to the kitchen, he found Sandburg already there, talking quietly with Simon. Blair was wearing the same suit Jim had seen on the televised report the last time Coppolino's gang had attempted to murder him. The memory left him feeling uneasy, as did the way the clothing completely changed Blair's appearance. The well-cut navy suit, light blue shirt and dark blue tie with thin crimson splashes looked good on him, but with his hair so rigorously pulled back and bound, and wearing his wire-rimmed spectacles, Blair resembled a scholar far more than he did a cop.

"Morning," he greeted them, and helped himself to a cup of coffee that smelled strong and blessedly free of any added flavorings. "You look like you're all set for court, Chief."

"As ready as I'll ever be," Blair agreed, unusually somber as he fiddled with his cuffs.

"Well, let's get this show on the road," Simon said, while patting Blair's back. His false heartiness again left Jim wondering what he was missing. But he shrugged it off when he and Blair retreated down the hallway to get their bags; if all went as planned, they'd be spending the night back in the loft.

They arrived in the private lot under the Courthouse just before ten AM, so there were few people to notice them as they made their way inside and up the staircase to the second floor. The trial had begun an hour before, and opening arguments were well underway from what Jim could hear through the closed door. Simon went inside, but Blair had to wait to be called. In the interests of keeping the surprise for Coppolino intact, Jim elected to stay with him and sat down on one of the benches provided for witnesses. Blair wasn't quite pacing but he was pale and his body was stiff with tension.

"What's up, Chief?" Jim asked. In the two months or so since he'd awakened, he'd seen Blair in nearly every mood but he'd never seen this anxiety; hell, the kid hadn't looked this nervous when they'd been shooting at him the first time he'd appeared to testify against Coppolino. "You're not worried about testifying are you?"

"Well, it's my first time," Blair replied. When Jim's surprise must have shown on his face, Blair explained, "I didn't have to before. You're the senior partner so you were always the one the DA called to testify."

"Oh," Jim murmured. He hadn't thought about that. No wonder the kid was tense. "I'm sure you'll do great, Chief and it was only a matter of time, right?"

Blair gave him a wan smile. "Yeah, right," he agreed. "One might even say this moment is as inevitable as it is unavoidable."

Jim thought that was a strange thing to say, but figured Blair just meant that most cops, especially detectives, would inevitably find themselves called upon to testify in court; it went with the territory. It was the unavoidable part that didn't make a lot of sense. Why would Blair want to avoid it? Shrugging to himself, still listening with half an ear to what was going on inside, Jim tilted his head. "I think they're getting ready to call you."

Blair took a deep breath. Just as the door was being opened by a bailiff, he lightly gripped Jim's arm. "Whatever happens, just ride with it, okay? From what I've seen watching you testify, things can get pretty rough during cross-examination. Since I'm the only witness to the murder, I know the Defense will do all it can to discredit me."

Before he could respond, Blair was already striding into the courtroom even as his name was being called. Right behind him, Jim had a good clear view of Coppolino whirling around to gape at them in stunned shock. Jim gave him a cold smile and a tight nod of acknowledgement before he slipped into the seat on the aisle midway toward the front beside Simon.

Blair continued on through the gate, crossed in front of the bench, and stepped up into the witness stand. Even as he was taking his oath, the defense attorney tall, immaculate, with a mane of white hair was on his feet, yelling, "Objection! Your Honor, this witness was not expected."

The Judge banged his gavel. "Overruled," he drawled, and then leaned forward on his forearms to frown down at the lawyer. "Yes, yes, I know there was a rumor about Detective Sandburg's death last Friday, but I understand it was necessary to ensure no further attempts were made before he could get here today. I realize it's a bit unusual, Counsel, but Detective Sandburg was on the list of potential witnesses last Friday, when an assassin tried to kill him, for what was the fourth time, and his name was never stricken from the list. He was also on the list weeks ago, when members of the Devil's Own tried to gun him down on the courthouse steps. And again, he and his partner, Detective Ellison were on the potential witness list two months ago, when they were ambushed by a bomb the night before they were supposed to testify. So, given how many times this trial has had to be postponed to allow the Prosecution's principal witness to be present, I'm presuming you've have plenty of time to prepare for his testimony." The Judge's eyes hardened. "Or were you simply so sure Detective Sandburg would never make it to trial that you didn't bother to prepare?"

Disgruntled, flushing at the reprimand, the attorney shook his head and sat down. Beside him, Frank Coppolino looked thunderous and was openly glaring daggers at Blair, but Blair appeared to be either oblivious to him or indifferent. The DA swiftly established the facts, reviewing how Blair had happened to be on the scene of the murder at the critical time, and why neither he nor Detective Ellison had stopped the murder from happening. After Blair described what he'd witnessed, she had Blair identify Coppolino as the man he'd seen shoot and kill Raoul Rodriguez in cold blood. She lifted a revolver from the table in front of her. "Is this the weapon you saw used during that shooting, and which you removed from the defendant?"

Blair asked to see the weapon and compared its registration number with the one recorded in the notebook in which he'd noted the details of the arrest. "Yes, ma'am, that's the weapon we confiscated from the defendant immediately after the shooting." She entered the gun as 'exhibit A'. "Your Honor, we will demonstrate with forensic testimony that the bullet that killed the victim came from this revolver and that it has the defendant's fingerprints on the grip and trigger."

Finally, she led Blair through questions to establish why Jim was unable to testify, as well, and introduced Jim's signed report from that now distant evening to be entered as corroborating evidence.

"My partner, Detective James Ellison, is unable to testify today," Blair explained, "because of the injuries he suffered two months ago, the night before this trial was originally scheduled. We were lured to a deserted area in the warehouse district by the harbor, where a bomb evidently intended to kill us exploded."

The District Attorney intervened to state, "Your Honor, we intend to show that the defendant arranged for that attack on the lives of Detectives Ellison and Sandburg."

The Defense lawyer looked like he was going to object, but seemed to think better of it. The DA turned back to Blair. "Detective Sandburg, could you tell us the nature of your partner's injuries? I mean, he's here in the courtroom and he looks to be in good health."

Blair nodded, and his tone was heavy with sorrow as he answered, "Detective Ellison has total, and we fear, permanent amnesia. He remembers nothing whatsoever from his life before that bomb exploded. He didn't even know what he looked like until he could see himself in a mirror." Several members of the jury gasped, while others frowned with either sympathy or empathy; they all craned their necks to look at Jim, who did his best to ignore them. "If you wish, we can provide a medical report detailing his injuries. However," Blair was going on, "Detective Ellison's official and signed report on the incident that night and our arrest of Frank Coppolino describes the murder in detail, and will corroborate my testimony."

"This report?" the DA asked, holding up a document. Blair asked to see it and then nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

The DA read the salient points of the report into the record and submitted it as 'exhibit B'.

"Thank you, Detective Sandburg. Your witness," the DA said to Defense.

The Defense attorney stood and paced slowly past Sandburg to stand looking at the jury. "Detective Sandburg," he began, "you were a graduate student at Rainier before joining the Cascade Police Department less than a year ago, isn't that right?"

Jim stiffened, and Simon laid a restraining hand on his arm. Dammit, he'd never thought ... he should have realized they'd go after Blair like this. Bitterly, he belatedly understood why Blair and Simon hadn't wanted him to be present for this. They'd been trying to spare him him while Blair took the hit for him again.

"Yes, sir, that's correct."

"And you wrote a paper, with the intention of submitting it as your PhD dissertation, that claimed your partner, Detective Ellison, was a sentinel. Is that also correct?"

"Yes, sir."

Bristling at the innuendo that was also subtly designed to undermine both of their credibility, Jim leaned forward, his hands clasped between his knees and struggled to contain his total antipathy for what was happening. How had he been able to stand it before ... back when Blair had first allowed the world to believe he was a fraud? Why hadn't he stopped it then, made things right? Glancing at Simon, Jim wondered how he could allow the farce to continue. Simon knew the truth. How could he allow Blair to carry out this charade? What made the secret so damned important it was worth this? Why was his life, his career, more worthy than Blair's?

"And you're the same man who was on the news about seven, eight months ago aren't you, telling the world you'd lied and that you'd written a fraudulent dissertation?"

The DA was on her feet in a flash. "Objection. Detective Sandburg is not on trial."

"Your Honor, my question goes to the credibility of the witness."

"Overruled. Please answer the question, Detective."

"Yes, that's what I said during the press conference," Blair admitted, his voice low and even, though Jim alone could hear the slight quaver in it. He could tell Blair was taking great care to respect the oath he'd taken to tell the truth a tricky proposition when that whole press conference had been a lie.

Throughout the exchange, the lawyer had kept his back to Blair while he faced the jury. Now, he shook his head and sighed. "So you lied about your friend and now partner, with whom I believe you were and still are living, and you lied to the university after having worked for nearly fifteen years to obtain your doctorate, you lied. You wrote a fraudulent paper. Maybe all your papers were lies? Were they, Detective Sandburg?"

His anger flaring, guilt eating at him, Jim shifted restlessly in his seat. He hated this, hated watching, listening to it. Hated the way Blair's heart was thundering and his breath was tight, as he sat there and sucked up being called a liar and fraud, when he'd never done anything wrong.

"No, sir, they were not."

"How can we be sure?" the lawyer goaded, his tone taunting, disparaging. "How can anyone ever be sure when you're telling the truth and when you're lying?"

"I took an oath to tell the truth."

The lawyer snorted. Spreading his hands, he said to the jury, "In my experience, liars don't much care about breaking their oath." Wheeling around, he sneered at full volume, "A self-confessed liar and fraud, you're a disgrace to the Cascade Police Department!"

"Objection!" the DA shouted.

But before she could state her grounds, unable to stand a moment more, Jim wrenched away from Simon's grip and stood, yelling, "Stop it! That's enough! I can't let this travesty go on."

The Judge banged his gavel. "Detective Ellison, you're out of order. I'd advise you to sit down and be quiet or I'll find you in contempt."

Simon was hissing at him, plucking at his sleeve, but he stepped away, toward the front of the courtroom. "Judge, please, let me speak," he appealed, spreading his hands wide. "What's happening here isn't right. Blair Sandburg's paper wasn't a lie. It was the honest-to-God's truth. I am a sentinel." The Judge gaped at him and he let his arms fall to his side.

The room erupted into chaos. Flashbulbs popped; reporters shouted questions; people gasped and exclaimed in surprise. Recovering his aplomb, the Judge pounded his gavel, bellowing for order in his Court. Jim just stood there, not responding to any of the questions or exclamations, not looking at anyone but Blair. "I'm sorry, Chief," he called over the bedlam around him. "I know I promised I wouldn't ... and I know you didn't want me to do this. You've tried so damned hard to protect me. But I couldn't stand it. Couldn't sit there and watch him crucify you. Just couldn't do it."

Blair shook his head slowly from side to side, but his lips twisted in a tight, close-mouthed, rueful smile. It was his eyes, though, that told Jim it would be okay; his blue, blue eyes so filled with compassion and understanding ... and gratitude.

Finally, the tumult subsided. "I warn you all," the Judge lectured, "any further losses of control and I'll clear this courtroom and charge the worst offenders with contempt. Now, let's get back to the trial, shall we? Defense Counsel, in light of Detective Ellison's, uh, timely intervention, do you have any further questions for the witness or challenges to his credibility?"

"Whether Sandburg lied in his paper or during his press conference, he still lied," the lawyer blustered.

"Why you sonuva "

The gavel banged. "Detective Ellison! I'm warning you, sir. You're flirting with a charge of contempt!"

Jim glared but subsided.

Turning to Blair, the Judge studied him for a long moment, until the silence in the courtroom became heavy. "Detective Sandburg," he began, "would you explain why you lied during that press conference?"

"Yes, sir. The draft document was released without my approval and against my express wishes. The inclusion of Detective Ellison's name in the document, even if it was a draft, was ... an unforgivable error on my part that seriously compromised his personal privacy. In addition, the media reaction was such that they were interfering so badly with an ongoing police operation that an assassin escaped arrest and subsequently shot, and nearly killed, Captain Simon Banks and Inspector Megan Conner. I had to stop the media frenzy. And I had an ethical obligation to make things right for Detective Ellison, to make him whole. The paper was my intellectual property, and it was my right to say whether it had validity or not. It was my considered judgment that publicly denying it would be the quickest way to repair the damage done, or as much of it as I could repair, and stop the media frenzy surrounding Detective Ellison."

"Even at the cost of your academic career and your personal reputation?"

"Yes, sir. It was the right thing at the time, the only thing to do."

"I see," the Judge murmured. Once again, he fell silent and it was as if everyone in the room was holding their breath. "Well, sir, I agree with you: that paper was yours by right to acknowledge or deny. I commend you for your uncommon integrity, and for your rare personal courage; not everyone would go so far, and sacrifice so much, to 'make things right'."

Obviously struggling with his emotions at the unexpected and exceptionally positive support, Blair blinked rapidly and swallowed hard. "Thank you," he whispered hoarsely, but the silence was such that he was heard to the furthest reaches of the large, crowded room.

"Again, Defense Counsel, do you have any further questions for the Detective?"

Stunned by the Judge's intervention, his argument in tatters, the lawyer shook his head. "No, your Honor. I'm finished with this witness."

"Any cross?"

The DA stood. "Just once more for the record, Detective Sandburg. On the night of July twenty-fifth of this year, did you witness the defendant, Frank Coppolino, shoot and kill Raoul Rodriguez in cold blood?"

"Yes, ma'am, I did."

"Thank you, Detective, you may step down," the Judge said, then added to the court in general, "We'll take a thirty minute recess. Detective Ellison, would you approach the bench?"

Taking a breath, suspecting he was about to be charged with contempt or whatever, but not really caring, Jim strode through the gate and up to the bench to face the Judge. Blair stepped down from the witness stand and moved to stand beside him.

"Detective," the Judge began, his tone surprisingly gentle, "I understand that you have suffered grievous personal injury, allegedly at the behest of the defendant."

"Yes, sir. As Blair explained, I have total, and I'm afraid, permanent amnesia. I don't remember any of my life, anything that happened before the bomb blast."

"I'm very sorry to hear that, Detective, and cannot begin to imagine how difficult that must be. Your injuries don't excuse your outburst, but they do mitigate it. You've been in my court often in the past, and you've always struck me as a scrupulously honest man." He hesitated. "I've long respected you, but never so much as I do today."

Jim's throat tightened at the approbation. "Thank you, sir."

"And you, Detective Sandburg," the Judge went on, turning his gimlet eye upon Blair. "Pretty fancy footwork to honor your oath to tell the truth. I appreciate it, but I don't encourage such games in my Court."

"No sir," Blair murmured, looking suitably chastised.

"Yes, well now, the both of you get the hell out of my courtroom, and take those reporters with you. You've created enough of a spectacle for one day." Though the words were stern, the Judge smiled and winked as he stood to leave the bench.

Jim blew a long breath. Turning, he saw Simon glaring at him. Holding out his hands as his boss approached, he said, "I couldn't just sit there."

Like Blair, Simon shook his head, but his expression softened. "Let's just say that I'm very glad we went over every one of your cases with a fine-tooth comb to make sure they'd stand up," he muttered under his breath. "And thank God I came clean with the Chief and the Commissioner months ago."

"This is still serious," Blair hissed, his demeanor once more sober, even forbidding. "Jim, do you know what you've done?!"

Before Jim could answer, Simon cut in sharply with a gesture at the hovering reporters and cameras. "Let's take this somewhere more private, shall we?" he suggested, draping his arms around their shoulders and ushering them toward the exit. "Like my office."

They both pressed their lips together and nodded sharply. Simon steered them through the crowd of clamoring reports like a battleship under a full head of steam.

********************

When they got to the office, the news had evidently preceded them. Other members of the Force and civilians openly gaped at them as they moved through the halls, up the elevator and into the bullpen. They could pretend not to notice until the MCU team crowded around them, blocking their forward momentum. Rhonda was on the phone, but she waved message slips at them as they passed her desk, which they ignored.

"Jimbo, my man!" Brown crowed, while Rafe put his palms together and bowed so obsequiously that Jim wanted to belt him.

"About bloody time," Conner jeered, but she gave Jim a radiant smile to signal her heartfelt approval.

"Are you guys okay?" Joel asked, looking worried.

"People, don't you have any work to do?" Simon bellowed as he bulled his way forward, signaling Joel to follow them. The others laughed and dispersed, but managed to clap Jim on the shoulder as he went by, as if he'd done some great thing. Disgusted, not sure who had known the truth or only guessed at it, he was angry at the lot of them for praising him when it was Sandburg who'd been doing the noble thing all along. But, mostly, he was angry with himself, with the self he couldn't remember, for ever having let it all go on so long.

Simon closed his office door and waved them to seats around the table. "Okay, Sandburg, how do you suggest we handle this?" he demanded. "You did a good job in court, keeping the focus off Jim's senses, when you explained why you repudiated your dissertation. But that's not going to be enough. The media, not to mention the DA, are going to need a few more details before they'll go away and leave us all alone."

"I know," Blair sighed as he pulled the tie from his hair and raked his fingers through it.

"What's the big deal?" Jim asked. "So I can see and hear better than other people. So what?"

Blair and the others just looked at him, their expressions flat, unreadable. "What?" he demanded.

"We wouldn't be in this position now if you'd taken that attitude years ago," Simon sighed.

"Simon, that's not fair," Blair intervened. "There have always been good reasons to be circumspect about Jim's talents. The last thing any of us needs is for the criminal element to figure out how easily Jim can be taken out by overwhelming one of his senses. That could put him and anyone of us at risk in the field."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Simon grumbled. "That's the argument you've used on me from the beginning to get me to agree to keeping a lid on everything. But now the cat is well and truly out of the bag. Still," he went on, scratching his cheek, "now that Jim can validate his senses for the DA and use them openly, we won't have any more problems like we did with the Juno case, and any number of others that would have gone a whole lot more smoothly if we could have just presented what Jim was able to detect by using them."

Blair pressed his lips together and, looking away, shook his head. "There's the whole issue of when and how Jim uses his senses," he said. "Will we need to get a search warrant or a warrant for long-range auditory or visual surveillance, like we'd need if we were using electronic equipment?" Tossing up his hands, he turned to Jim. "I know why you did this, and I appreciate it, I really do. You did it for me. But I really wish you hadn't."

"Why?" Jim challenged. "That lawyer was eating you alive and you were our only witness to that murder. If he could discredit what you said, all he'd have to do is parade a bunch of his own witnesses who'd testify we've probably been after Coppolino for years so, hey, we must've set him up and who better to tell the lie about that than you?"

Blair winced, and his gaze dropped away. "We knew that was probably going to be their strategy," he replied. "But we had your report and, if need be, we were going to submit your log book and testimony as to your credibility and integrity. You've been Cop of the Year four times, Jim. Nobody doubts your credibility."

"Oh, wonderful," Jim drawled. "I'm the one living the lie, but you're the one who doesn't have credibility. Am I the only one here who sees how twisted that is? How totally unacceptable?"

"It was necessary," Blair insisted.

"Why?" Jim challenged again. "What makes my career more important than yours, huh? From what I can see, I basically do what any and every other cop can do, with maybe an added edge. But you, you could change the lives of hundreds maybe thousands for the better with that paper you wrote, and you're the only one who can do that, Chief."

"That's not the point!" Blair shouted, shooting to his feet to pace. "I can find another way to get that information into the public domain. But you're a cop. The work is already more than dangerous enough without issuing what amounts to a challenge to the crazies to come take on the Sentinel of Cascade. And now I'm a cop, too, and I'll be standing right beside you when those crazies try to take you down. It's not safe, Jim. It was never safe to let the public know about your abilities. Not in this culture, anyway. In the past, sentinels were respected ... today, here and now, you're just a target."

Dropping his gaze, Jim shook his head. "Then maybe the time has come for us to stop being cops."

"Oh, man, being a detective is what you are," Blair said, sorrow in his voice. "It's all you ever wanted, to just be left alone to do your job. And I ... I've taken that away from you."

"You haven't taken anything away from me," Jim argued. "From all I know or can see or have experienced, you have only given to me, only made my life better. And that bit about wanting to be a cop? Well, that was him, not me."

"Jim, you're a sentinel. Protecting the tribe is what you do, who you are," Blair said with sad compassion. Jim threw up his hands in frustration.

"What a minute. Back up. What did you mean? 'Him' who?" Simon asked, staring at Jim in confusion.

"The other Jim," Jim replied with an impatient huff. "The man I used to be before I forgot who he was."

"Jim feels as if the man he used to be is dead," Blair murmured.

"Oh dear God!" Simon exclaimed. "Now I'm seriously beginning to wonder if I put you back on duty too soon. Sounds like you've still got one hell of a lot to work out before you can concentrate on the job." His expression softened and he leaned forward. "Jim ... Jim, I can't begin to understand how hard all this is for you. But I can tell you that you've just made it infinitely harder. The media are going to eat you alive. We need to come up with a story that will satisfy them, be truthful, but maybe not be the whole truth, so much truth that it could get you killed."

"Sounds to me," Joel said with extraordinary calm, "that you need time to figure out what it all means. What happened, the amnesia, where you go from here, if you even still want to be a cop. I can understand how you might feel that you're not the man you used to be, because the events that influenced your choices then have no or very little relevance to you now. I agree with Simon. I think you pushed to come back to work too soon, because you were worried about Blair and that gang being after him, more than you were worried about yourself."

Jim couldn't disagree but, when he looked up at Blair, he hated the hurt and confusion he saw in his partner's eyes. What was Blair going to do while he sat back and took his time deciding what kind of life he wanted to live? Something hot and fierce and stubbornly resistant rose up inside him when he thought about Blair being a cop without him there to make damned sure he was as safe as the job allowed. But he'd already cost Blair one career; he couldn't ask the man to stand back and wait until he made up his mind about his future. That wasn't fair. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his forehead, and wished he had some clue as to what to do.

Just then, Rhonda knocked on the door and entered. "I'm sorry to interrupt," she said, but held out the stack of message slips in her hand. "Blair, you've got calls coming in from publishers all around the world. They've already started a bidding war to get the right to publish your paper. And the Chancellor of Rainier called. She wants to talk to you as soon as possible."

When Blair took the messages with a whispered, "Thanks," she turned to Simon. "The Chief wants to know what's going on and what the official statement will be. And reporters are jamming up our lines and blocking the street outside."

"Thanks, Rhonda," Simon sighed. "I'll get back to the Chief as soon as we're finished here. As for the reporters? Right now, the line is 'no comment'."

"Yes, sir," she said and withdrew, closing the door behind her.

Blair shoved the messages in his pocket. "They'll have a long wait for any paper," he snapped. "Vultures."

"What do you mean?" Jim asked, afraid he knew. "You can't just throw away opportunities like this."

"Sure I can. Anything I write about sentinels or senses will come back and bite you on the ass," Blair grated. "Ergo, I don't write anything about sentinels."

"Because I'm a cop," Jim countered. Blair shrugged and looked away. "Well, we can fix that problem right now," Jim rasped, and tossed his badge on the table. "I resign."

"Whoa, hold on!" Simon exclaimed, holding up his hands. "Let's not do anything too hasty here." He paused for a moment of thought. "Okay, here's the way it's going to go, at least for now. The official statement will acknowledge that you are a sentinel, which simply means you have enhanced sensory abilities; we'll say the truth was suppressed for security reasons. Blair, we'll add that if anyone publishes anything that was released months ago without your permission, they will be prosecuted within the fullest extent of the law for copyright infringement and for violation of Jim's personal privacy. Jim, you're going back on sick leave until you figure out who you are now and what you want to do. I suggest you get out of town for a while, to get away from the reporters, not that they probably won't find you wherever you go. And Blair?" He hesitated. "Look, we all know you chose to accept the badge so you could be here for Jim, but you also make a fine detective and you have a career here, with or without Jim. I think you need to do some serious thinking, too, about the options you now have. Maybe there is a way to write a paper that, I don't know, wouldn't compromise everything else. Unfortunately, you don't have a lot of time credited for paid leave, so you'd have to go on an unpaid leave of absence unless ... well, unless you want to keep working. The choice is up to you."

Jim bristled at the last suggestion, but he didn't say anything. He didn't really know what to say; he just knew that the thought of Blair working there without him would drive him out of his mind.

Standing, Simon moved around his desk. "Don't get me wrong. I'm hoping the two of you will decide this is the life you want, the work you want to do. You're both damn good at your jobs and, together? You make one hell of a team. But, right now, you're both basket cases. Go on. Get out of here. Go home. Talk. Figure this out and let me know what you decide." He rifled in his desk drawer and pulled out a set of keys that he tossed to Blair. "Your car is in the underground garage."

Mutely, they both nodded. Picking up the bags they'd carried up from Simon's car, they turned to the door. But Jim paused and turned back. "I'm sorry about all this, Simon. I really am. You've been a good friend through all of it and I hate to have messed everything up like this, leaving you shorthanded."

"Jim, none of this and I mean, none of this is in any way your fault. Just do whatever you have to do to get comfortable again in your own skin. And that goes for you, too, Blair. Take whatever time you need."

********************

They avoided most of the reporters on their way out and just ignored those lingering around the garage driveway, though Blair had to be careful not to run any of them down when they darted in front of his vehicle. Once they were clear, they drove home in silence. Blair didn't seem to be particularly upset. Certainly, he was calmer than he'd been before going into court that morning, but Jim had no clue what he was thinking. Staring out the window, he tried to order his own jumbled thoughts and issues, but hadn't gotten far by the time Blair parked outside the apartment building. Jim looked up through the windshield and unconsciously sighed.

"It's really not home to you anymore, is it?" Blair asked, his tone low. He wasn't making eye contact.

"No," Jim admitted. "But I've only spent one night here. Maybe it'll grow on me."

Blair ducked his head and then slid out of the car. A small group of reporters and cameramen were gathered around the entrance, but Jim simply shouldered through them, bluntly saying, "No comment," and was glad Blair stayed tight on his heels. Inside, they carried their bags up the two flights of stairs and Blair unlocked the door. "I don't know about you, but I want to get out of this monkey suit," Blair said, heading directly to his room.

Jim went upstairs, dumped his bag and went to the closet. None of the clothing was familiar to him, but he picked out what looked like old and comfortable jeans and a soft green sweater. Downstairs, he could hear Blair making coffee in the kitchen.

He was dreading the discussion he knew they had to have because he had no idea how it was going to turn out. He knew what he wanted, in a general way, but none of the specifics; and what he most wanted, he didn't think he had the right to ask for. He felt caught between his alien past and the unknowable future, off-balance and uncertain; it left him feeling edgy.

Finally, deciding there was no point in trying to avoid the inevitable, he went back down the steps. Blair looked up at him, his expression unreadable, and then finished pouring two mugs of coffee. Jim saw the stack of message slips Rhonda had given him lying on the counter, and noticed that the phone had been unplugged. Blair handed him a mug and they wandered into the living room, but neither seemed inclined to sit down.

"I know you're mad. You think I was wrong to do what I did this morning."

Surprisingly, Blair smiled at him. "I'm not mad," he replied. "I just don't know where we go from here."

"We? Where do you think we should go? You think I should just suck it up, take it a step at a time, work my way back into the life I had?"

Blair shook his head and moved further into the living room to sit at the end of the sofa. "Yes, 'we'. But it's not up to me to say where we should go. I'm not the one who feels lost. And no, I don't think you should just 'suck it up'. Jim, I told you the other day, you have the right to take however much time you want or need to decide where you want to go from here. So, where do you want to go? What would you like to do?"

Jim sighed heavily. He looked around the room and felt trapped by the place that should feel so familiar and yet didn't, so he walked over to the windows to stare out at the water. "I wish I knew," he murmured. "It's just so complicated."

"Uh, uh, you're not going to get away with that; that's just avoidance," Blair countered.

"Avoidance, huh? Yeah, maybe. I feel like I just want to run away to someplace where nobody knows who I am, or expects me to be someone I'm not," Jim replied. "But ... but I can't."

"Why not?"

Exasperated, Jim turned to face him. "What do you mean, 'why not'?"

"I mean 'why not'?" Blair returned. "You've got the money to go anywhere you want and if you sell this place, you'll have a real bundle of cash. There's nothing to hold you here if you need to be somewhere else right now."

Frowning, Jim studied him, wondering what he was saying. Oh, not on the surface, but about them, about where Blair saw himself in the mix. "This is your home. If I sold it, where would you live?"

Blair blinked, and now he looked confused, so Jim thought they were maybe in real trouble if neither of them had a clue. "What do you mean where would I live? I'd be with you," Blair said, but sounded uncertain. "I mean wouldn't I? Or ... or are you saying you want to go alone? That you want a completely fresh start?" He turned away and raked his hand through his hair. "Geez, I knew it was a possibility that you wouldn't want me around, but I'd hoped..." he gusted, but barely above a whisper.

"No, no, you don't understand," Jim insisted, moving across the room to face him. "Dammit, Blair, I've already cost you a career at the university, and now I've screwed up what we had going at the PD. But I ... I don't even want to think about you working there without me. Makes me feel, I don't know, kinda sick. So if you want to stick with this job, then ... then that's what I'll do, too. But, but I really ... I really don't feel like I fit there anymore. I don't think I want to be a cop anymore. But even more than that, I don't want to keep screwing up your life."

"You haven't screwed up my life! You're the best part of my life!" Blair retorted, surging to his feet and throwing up his hands in exasperation. But then Blair sighed, and shook his head. "You still don't get it, do you?" He bit his lip. "But maybe that's not surprising. Jim, I love learning, so I loved my time at Rainier. But I don't need a PhD to define who I am, and I don't need to be an academic to be happy. Being a cop?" He shrugged. "Like I said the other day, there are things I like about it and things I wish ... hope I'll never have to do. Like actually shoot and kill someone. But I wanted to be your partner, so weapons' training was part of the package. But if you don't want to be a cop, then we'll do something else. That's, that's if you want me tagging along."

"What about all those offers?" Jim asked, gesturing at the pile of message slips. "Wealth and fame are sitting right there, Chief, just waiting for you to claim them. And you could help so many people, people who need the knowledge you have to offer."

"I can't write anything until I know it won't ricochet back on you," Blair insisted.

"Why the hell not?"

"Because you're my friend!" Blair exclaimed. "Because you're my family," he added, his tone softer. "Jim, I thought you said you remembered what happened when you and the spirit guides brought me back."

Taken aback by the abrupt shift in subject, Jim floundered. "I do. I see it in my dreams."

Blair frowned and then looked away. "I don't think you're remembering all of it," he said. "Because, if you did, you'd know that nothing matters to me as much as you do. You'd know that I don't live to work, I work to live; I can get a paycheck a thousand different ways. And you'd know that there isn't anything I wouldn't do for you."

Jim's throat thickened. "Chief, I don't need a dream or a memory to tell me that. Everything you do, dropping everything to get to me in Virginia, disavowing your paper everything makes it crystal clear that you put me first. But that's just not fair to you." He paused to get a grip on his emotions. "And maybe I don't remember all the specifics I wish I did because I know how important it is to you. But ... but I've felt an affinity with you from the moment I woke up. I didn't know your name, but I knew I knew I could trust you, and did trust you. And ... and right from the first moment, I cared about you more than ... more than I have words to express."

Hands on his hips, Blair bowed his head and took a deep, steadying breath. Then he nodded and, when he looked up into Jim's eyes, Jim could see peace in them, all the doubt and sorrow gone. "That means everything to me," he said, his voice husky with emotion. He took another breath and cleared his throat; a frown furrowed his brow and Jim could tell he was busy sorting out their situation in his head. "I think we're getting stuck here, going round and round. Let's leave fairness out of it for now, okay? Let's concentrate on getting a few things clear." When Jim nodded his agreement, having no better suggestion to offer, Blair continued. "Okay, first, do you or do you not want me to go with you if you run away?"

"I told you back at the Institute that I couldn't imagine a future without you in it. I still can't. You're ... you're my rock. You ground me. You help me make sense of things. But, Chief, this can't only and all be about me."

"So I'll take that as a 'yes'," Blair said with a small smile. "My only concern about picking up and going to Timbuktu is how I'd pay for it. But I've got some savings that'll last for a while, and I can find work wherever we end up."

"Didn't you hear what I just said? This can't just be about me."

"No, and it isn't. But it has to be about you first, because you're the one who's lost."

"You keep saying that but if I'm lost and you're with me, doesn't that make you lost, too?"

"No, not at all," Blair replied, and his smile widened. "I won't be lost because I'll be exactly where I want to be. Jim, wherever you are is where I want to be. I know that probably sounds crazy but I just don't care all that much about what I do or where I do it. I spent my entire childhood roaming from one place to another. At the time, 'home' was where Naomi was because she was all the family I had then. You said, weeks ago, you said that when you thought of 'home', you thought of me. Well, you're my 'home'. You're my family. Being with you has been the best time of my life, and I ... I'm not ready to split up what's been a really good partnership. So, again, I ask you, if you can do anything, go anywhere in the world you want, where do you want to go? What do you want to do?"

Jim sipped at his now cool coffee and grimaced. Setting the mug on the coffee table, he wandered back to the window. Blair's unwavering loyalty to him left him feeling humbled and unworthy of such commitment, but he was too damned glad of it to fight it anymore. He needed Blair with him. Apparently Blair understood that, maybe better than he did himself, but was kind enough not to rub his face in it generous enough to say it was what he wanted, too, and maybe it really was. Maybe, for all he knew, it was all part of being a sentinel and companion team. Certainly, those spirit animals seemed to think they were supposed to be together. And that thought gave him pause. "I'd like to learn more about what it means to be a sentinel," he said, turning the idea over in his mind and feeling it fit.

"But you've got a great handle on your senses," Blair replied, sounding puzzled.

"No, I don't mean the senses," Jim explained. "I mean I want to understand what a sentinel is." Turning back to face Blair, feeling enthusiasm rise where before there'd only been uncertainty and muddled confusion, he went on, developing the idea as he spoke. "I feel as if maybe I was cop who kinda force-fit the idea of being a sentinel into what I already was, without any thought about it. You said it earlier. Being a cop was what I always wanted to do. But ... surely sentinels aren't all law enforcement types, or to make it more general, even all warriors? Didn't you tell me that sentinels used to watch the environment, monitor the weather and game patterns, as well as provide a kind of early warning system of security when threats approached?"

"Yeah, that's right," Blair affirmed.

"Well, then, I don't have to be a cop to be a sentinel. I don't have to spend the rest of my life risking my life and yours. I could use my senses to help people, sure to protect, even. But maybe in other ways. Like, I don't know, working in search and rescue, or learning to predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, or being a park warden or ... well, you see what I'm getting at." Glancing at the stack of messages, he added, "Or maybe, for me, being a sentinel means protecting and serving other sentinels, helping you find them and then teach them what they are and how to handle their senses. Maybe they're my tribe." Looking back at Blair, he said, "I just don't know. So I think I need to start from the beginning. I need to understand what being a sentinel means. And not just in concrete terms. I want to understand the whole spirit guide thing, too."

Enthusiasm sparked and caught fire in Blair's eyes and face. "You're thinking about going back to the Temple, aren't you?"

"Yeah, yeah, I am. It feels like a good place to start," Jim admitted. "But I want to go to other places, too hell, I just want to see the world. Maybe that's irresponsible, but I think it might help me orient myself. I don't know, Blair. I honestly don't know. Maybe we'll end up back here working in Major Crime. Maybe it will turn out that that's the right place for me after all. I just don't want it to be the only thing I consider. I want to know I've got choices."

Blair laughed, and he suddenly seemed younger, happier, less weighted down. His smile was wider, brighter, carefree, and there was a sparkle in his eyes that Jim hadn't seen before. The transformation tugged at his heart and convinced him he was on the right track for both of them. "Sounds like an adventure, man. I'm in," Blair assured him. "So long as you don't mind me picking up odd jobs from time to time to pay my way."

Jim frowned, and Blair's grin faltered. "You do mind, don't you?" he murmured, and sagged a little. "Man, I just don't have the cash but I want to do this with you. I really do."

"It's not that I mind, Chief. I just think there may be other options or maybe types of work you haven't considered," Jim said, still ruminating on the issue. He knew Blair was independent and wouldn't be comfortable being offered what he'd see as a free ride. But for his part, he felt Blair had more than paid his dues and would no doubt continue to pay them as their lives unfolded. Besides, like Blair, he didn't care that much about money; it was there to be used, not hoarded. Used to get them where they wanted to go.

"Yeah, like what?" Blair asked, sounding curious.

Jim rubbed his mouth. "Well, for instance, we could make a wager. Are you a betting man, Sandburg?"

"Me? Oh, yeah. Paid most of my expenses going through school by betting on the ponies. So, what kind of wager did you have in mind?"

"Well, it's a long shot, my memory being what it is an' all," Jim drawled, warming to his idea. "But I was thinking making the journey a kind of quest might make it more interesting; in this case, a quest to find a match for a particular color. I'm going to bet there isn't a match, but my memory can't be trusted; you'll bet that we'll find a match. If I win, then I pay all the expenses of the journey. If you win, you pay them. However, because of my enhanced vision ability, my judgment on whether a color matches or not is final. Don't worry, I can offer a long-term, low-interest loan if you lose, with easy payback terms."

"So, to win is to lose. That's so twisted, man." Blair snickered and shook his head. "I like it." Walking away, he went to the fridge and pulled out two beers. "I know it's early," he called, "but we can't make a wager and then not drink to it."

"So, you'll take the bet?"

"Well, I have a few points of clarification," Blair quibbled as he returned and handed Jim a bottle. "Like, what is this color you're looking for and is there an example of it that we can carry along with us, so that I can see if something matches it or not."

"Blue. The color is blue," Jim told him. "And, yeah, we'll have definitely have two examples of it wherever we go."

"Two? But that means there already is a match," Blair countered.

"The color I'm thinking of only comes in this one matched set."

"Okay, well, if it was created as a matched set, I guess that works," Blair allowed, his curiosity evident. "So ... what is this special color? When do I get to see it?"

"You take the bet?"

"Yeah, sure, why not?" Blair agreed, and they clinked their bottles.

"You can see it right now," Jim told him, and crooked a finger. "Just follow me." Intrigued, Blair followed him to the bathroom, where Jim took him by the shoulders and turned him to face the mirror. "Your eyes, Sandburg. I never saw blue that color before, not anywhere, I'm sure of it. But that doesn't mean the color doesn't exist somewhere else. Even you couldn't be that unique, right?"

"You've got to be kidding me," Blair protested with a wild laugh.

"I'm perfectly serious, and you accepted the bet, so I consider that we have a deal."

"But the color isn't that unusual, man," Blair argued. "Jim, I appreciate it, but I can't let you pay the whole tab."

"First of all, you can't see colors like I do, and I'm telling you, that's a very unusual shade of blue," Jim riposted as he led the way back to the living room. "And secondly, okay. Tell you what. We can renegotiate if it seems appropriate at some later time, like when you write some best seller about genetically heightened senses and make a fortune. Then you can pay my way."

Jim could see Blair swallow hard, and blink fast as he looked away and then back again. "I really want your company on this journey, Blair. And I'll enjoy it all more if you're not worrying about every nickel and dime, okay?"

Blair nodded and sniffed. "Okay," he agreed, his voice hoarse, "but only because I really want to go with you. And if I do get rich, then absolutely, I insist on paying the whole deal."

Grinning, pleased they'd made such progress, Jim had another question. "This Temple can we get there on a motorcycle?"

"Sure, most of the way," Blair told him. "There'll be a fair hike through the jungle when we get there, but I'm sure we could store the bikes somewhere in Sierra Verde. And, note I said 'bikes', plural. I want my own ride, man. I'm not going to sit behind you all the way, hanging on like some girl."

Chuckling, Jim nodded. "You got it, Chief. Hey, maybe we could get personalized leather jackets."

"What?" Blair frowned, obviously thinking the idea was weird. "Like Ellison and Sandburg? I thought you didn't want people to know who you are."

"Well, not exactly," Jim agreed as he looped an arm around Blair's shoulders. "I was thinking more along the lines of something like ... Wolf, and The Jag."

Finis

Never Saw Blue

Sung by Hayley Westenra

Today, we took a walk, picked a flower
On the hill above the lake
Secret thoughts were said aloud.
We watched the faces in the clouds,
Till the clouds blew away.

Were we ever somewhere else?
You know, it's hard to say....
Never saw blue like that before
Across the sky,
Around the world, you've given me all you have
And more
When no one else was there to show me how
To see the world the way I see it now....
No, I ... I never saw blue like that before.

I can't believe, a month ago,
I didn't know you, had never seen you
Or heard your name
'And now, it's like a dream, like a rainbow
It's like the rain.
Some things are the way they are
You know, I can't explain....

Never saw blue like that before
Across the sky,
Around the world, you've given me all you have
And more
When no one else was there to show me how
To see the world the way I see it now....
No, I ... I never saw blue like that before.

It feels like now, it feels always
It feels like coming home.

No, I ... I never saw blue like that before.

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