Disclaimer: The Characters of The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, The SciFi channel and others. No copyright infringement is intended.

Notes: It was MegaRed who first encouraged me to try my hand at writing TS fiction, and I am forever grateful to her. Not long ago, we decided to combine our resources and tackle a story together. What a thrill to get to write with the first TS author I discovered, who is still tops on my list of writers! Thanks, MR!

Breaking Bread

by JET and MegaRed

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

"C'mon, Jim! It's not like I'm suggesting that you take a two week vacation with the guy. It's just an invitation for dinner for Thanksgiving. Nothing fancy, just the turkey, some veggies, dressing, a salad, and dessert. What's so difficult about that?" Sandburg fastens those big, blue pleading eyes on me, fully aware of their power of persuasion.

But I'm not going to be a victim of his sad eyes routine that easily.

"What's so difficult, Chief?" I stir the soup again, for the third time in the past ten minutes. It doesn't need it, I know, but it keeps me from falling prey to those eyes. "My father, that's what's so difficult. C'mon, Sandburg, you know that putting my father and me in the same room is akin to mixing gunpowder and lighted matches. There's bound to be an explosion. Forget it."

I feel those eyes. I may not be able to see him with my back turned, but they're there...watching me, studying the angles, trying to deduce a path through the solid suit of protective armor I've put donned thus far.

Be strong, Ellison.

"Jim, man, you just don't know how much I wish I had some family around for the holidays. I mean, I never even knew who my dad was, much less got to spend any time with him at Thanksgiving."

"Power of Persuasion." -- Illustration By MegaRed

"Hey, Chief. I never knew my father either. Not really. And he sure as hell never knew me at all."

Blair answers quietly, "He's the one who lost the most, Jim."

Damn. How does the kid always seem to know just the right words to pierce my heart? The first chink appears in my armor. I don't know how to answer, so I focus back on his earlier words. "Thought you said you never missed knowing your father, Chief."

"Yeah, that's what I said. Sometimes I can't help wondering, though."

I hear the hesitation in his voice. Wonders never cease. I don't think the kid's obfuscating this time. He's really laying his feelings out there. This must really be important to him. I feel the second chink in my armor, and it's a big one.

I've stirred the soup enough. More than enough, actually. I turn to see Blair leaning against the counter staring at the floor. "Set the table, kiddo? Soup's about ready."

He nods and begins to put the flatware and plates on the table. He looks about a million miles away.

We begin our meal in silence. Blair eats slowly, his eyes focused on the bowl in front of him as if he's never seen vegetable soup before. If there's one thing that gets to me more than a talkative Sandburg, it's a quiet one. Kinda works its way under my skin, annoying me, worrying me, until I find out what's wrong.

When I can't stand the silence any longer, I give in and ask. "Is this thing with my father really so important to you?"

At last. Eye contact.

"Yeah, Jim, it is."

"Why, Sandburg? It's my dad, my relationship to build or not. What's your stake in this?"

He looks at me like a father looks at a child who can't seem to grasp the importance of something he's said. So young, yet so patient, so wise... "Jim, my stake is you, man. Don't you know that by now? Nothing lasts forever in this life, you know. I just hate to see you realize one day that your father's gone, and you never took the opportunity to make things right with him. You don't do regret well, man. Plus, it's our first real Thanksgiving. I mean, one year you were on duty, and I went on stake out with you, the next year we were up in Vancouver following up on that lead in the Marlow case, and then..."

"I get the picture, Sandburg." My first instinct is to get defensive, tell him that it's none of his business and to just butt out. But this is Blair. One thing I've learned in the past few years is that no matter what he does or says, he always has my best interests at heart. Always. It's virtually impossible to argue with someone like that.

Then he says softly. "It's our first real Thanksgiving, man. I just want it to be special."

The protective armor has crumbled.

"Blair..." I hate giving in. Especially when I know he's right. "Okay, I'll try." The delighted look on his face almost makes the thought of an evening with my father bearable.

Almost. "It won't work, though. We'll get in an argument. It's guaranteed."

He shakes his head in denial. "No, Jim, not if you approach this thing with the right attitude, man. Look at it as an exercise in control. You don't do regret well, but man, you've got control down to a fine art. Tell you what, why don't we ask Steven, too? He gets along okay with your father. Maybe he can run interference for you."

Steven. My long estranged brother. We've gradually come to the point where we're on speaking terms; hell, we've even gone to a Jags game or two. Thanks to Sandburg's urging, of course. When did Sandburg progress from being my friend, partner, and guide to the role of relationship counselor? True, Steven and I are getting along better than we have in years, but I don't know if I'm ready to tackle both my brother and my father in the same afternoon. On the other hand, maybe having Steven here would make it easier. One more person to carry on the conversation. It's a pretty sure bet that my father and I won't have much to say to each other.

"Sure, Chief, why not? I'll call them both tonight after dinner. Don't be surprised though, if Dad won't come. He doesn't much care for the loft."

My partner looks surprised. "The loft? Why not? When was the last time he was here, anyway? I know it's been at least four years."

I consider. It's amazing how time slips away. Hard to believe. "He was here a few years ago before you came along, I guess. Not too long after Carolyn and I married. She was kinda like you, Junior, always wanting to patch things up in the family. She learned her lesson, though, after a few of my father's zingers. Dad never approved of Carolyn, either."

I catch the funny look he gives me at the word 'either.' But he doesn't ask. I go on talking before he gets the chance. No point in sharing some of Dad's more colorful comments about my choice of roommates. "He walked into the loft, took one quick look around, and said that he shouldn't really be surprised. I'd never been normal, so why would he think I would choose a normal place to live. Then he commented that he hoped I hadn't paid too much for the place. Hated to see me throw away too much money. After those supportive words, he turned around and left, never to return." I take another sip of my soup and wait for his reaction.

Blair is silent for a time, but I can tell he isn't ready to give up the topic of conversation yet. "People change, Jim. At least give him a chance, okay?"

That's Sandburg. The eternal optimist.

I make the call after dinner. Why is it that the mere thought of talking to my own father fills my gut with this heavy feeling of dread? The truth is, I'd be much happier if I could just forget that I ever had a father, and that's probably exactly what I'd do. If not for Sandburg. But, I promised him I'd call, so I do.

Dear old Dad doesn't sound exactly thrilled to hear from me. More like suspicious, actually, as if he can't quite figure out why I'm calling. No wonder. It's been over a year since we spoke.

After we exchange a few pleasantries, such as they are, I try to get to the reason for the call. "Dad? Would you like to come over for dinner on Thursday? I thought I'd call Steven and..."

"Is something wrong? Do you need money, Jim?"

The heavy feeling in my gut grows by about a ton. Patience, I remind myself. Patience. "No. Nothing's wrong, and no, I don't need money. It's Thanksgiving. We just thought..."

"We? Do you have a girlfriend? Is she cooking?"

Oh, God. Could he possibly make this any more difficult? "No, Dad. No girlfriend at the moment. Sorry. Actually this was Blair's idea. So, will you come?" I push for the committal, unwilling to give him a chance to start in on me about my seeming lack of desire to sire his grand heirs.

For a time I think the connection's been broken, he's silent for so long. Then, he responds, the indecisiveness obvious in his voice. "All right. I assume you still live in that old warehouse?"

Patience. "The loft, Dad. Yes, I still live in my home in the loft. Be here about 3:00, okay? Real nice to talk with you, Dad. See you Thursday." I hang up the phone, wondering if the heavy dread in my gut now weighs two or three tons. Probably closer to three.

Blair's looking at me, expectation shining in his eyes. "Well?"

There's no point in popping the kid's balloon already. He'll be let down soon enough as it is. "Yeah, Chief. He's coming. I'll call Steven, and it'll all be arranged. One happy Ellison family reunion and holiday dinner coming up."

Naturally, Steven agrees. He's more than willing to meet me halfway to patch up our strained relationship. We've come a long way already, but I don't think we'll ever be truly close. Too much water under the bridge. At least, we're civil to each other now, and sometimes, it's actually pleasant to be around him. That's progress.

I start counting down the days until Thursday. Sort of my own personal countdown to the apocalypse.

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

And they think moving mountains is difficult. For months now, I've been trying to get Jim and his dad together, if only for a little while. Man, what a chore! I know Jim thinks I'm sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong, but it's only because I care. I mean, it really sucks for your dad to live only a short drive away and never see him. I know they've got a helluva history between them, but all that was so long ago. I can't help thinking that if they'd just spend some time together, if each of them would only give a little, then maybe they could heal some of those long festering hurts. At least Jim's willing to give it a try.

On Wednesday, I went to the market and bought the ingredients for dinner. Normally, I'd prepare some vegetarian lasagna, but somehow I don't think William Ellison would start salivating over vegetarian anything, especially not for Thanksgiving dinner. The man definitely impresses me as a traditionalist. So I'm pulling out all the stops to impress him - a great range fed turkey, a salad loaded with all the goodies including croutons, fresh cut veggies, and diced ham, home baked yeast rolls, rich dressing complete with gravy, a variety of fresh vegetables, and a really nice wine. A meal to impress even the most hard to please guest.

I can only hope Jim's dad approves.

I'm sure the man doesn't know what to make of me. I mean, here's his macho cop, Army Ranger, covert ops son living in a renovated loft with, well, there's no way around it, a neo hippie witch doctor punk. Jim's words, his dad's attitude.

I'm pretty sure he's over thinking we must be gay. Maybe. Still, I know he wonders why I'm around, and why Jim gets so defensive whenever his dad questions our living arrangements. Of course, Jim gets defensive over pretty much everything his father says, so that's not really so unusual.

Maybe that's part of why I wanted to do this dinner, to try to smooth things over between me and Jim's dad. After all, this sentinel/guide partnership has turned into a long term commitment. Lifetime, really. You don't get much longer term than that. So, if I'm in Jim's life for good, then I'd really prefer to get along with his father and brother. And I'd prefer that he did, too.

So, everything was going fine until this morning. Thanksgiving morning. I woke up with that scratchy, dry feeling in my throat that I only get when I'm about to come down with something. My head pounded with a dull throb, and each of my joints ached from my toes to my fingers.

This is so not cool. Certainly nothing to be thankful for.

If I mentioned anything to Jim, he'd jump at the opportunity to cancel the dinner. Then it might be another year before he spoke to his dad again. I can do this. If I put my mind to it, I won't get sick. At least, not really sick. It's merely mind over matter. So, I won't mind, and it won't matter. One thing's for sure, Jim won't notice. He's so strung out over William Ellison coming here to the loft that I don't think he'd notice if the Concorde landed in our kitchen.

It's only one day. Tomorrow, I can be sick.

Jim spends much of the day cleaning the loft. It's funny really. Jim comes across as this tough guy whose last concern is dust bunnies under the bed. Instead, here he is, bucket and sponge in hand, checking the loft from top to bottom for the smallest smudge or speck of dirt. If Jim ever decides to leave the department, he can always start his own cleaning service.

I spend most of the morning and early afternoon in my room. Everything's ready for dinner, the table is set, and Jim's certainly taking care of the cleaning. I'm just glad that I defrosted the turkey and mixed up the veggies before this thing hit. Jim likes to prepare the salad, so I'll pass that chore to him. At least I won't have to take a chance on passing it along through the food. I figure if I stay out of sight until it's time to start dinner, maybe Jim won't notice that I've joined the ranks of the living dead.

Damn, I'm sick. My scratchy throat feels like steel wool, and my head's got a brass band parading around inside. My temperature's up to 101, and right now, I'd like nothing more than to just crawl in a hole and die.

After dinner.

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

Promptly at 3:00, there's a knock at the door. They're here.

Sandburg's in the kitchen, puttering around, doing nothing as far as I can tell. He's been quiet all day, definitely not a typically way for Sandburg to behave. Maybe he's just concerned about how today's going to go. He'd certainly be justified.

I answer the doorbell, and greet Stephen and my father. Steven seems genuinely glad to be here, and he shakes my hand with enthusiasm. He makes himself at home in the loft immediately, joining Blair in the kitchen, helping to put the finishing touches on dinner. I smile slightly at the buzz of their conversation. My normally reticent brother. Sandburg could get an interesting conversation started with the Sphinx.

Then there's my father.

He walks around slowly, sizing up our home, passing judgment on my life. I can see that he's bothered by the mixed decor which has characterized the loft since Blair moved in. His face is totally expressionless as he takes in the ceremonial masks, the ancient pottery chards, and the myriad of other artifacts which are scattered throughout the loft. He reads the titles of some of the books on our shelves, some Blair's, some mine, and I read a fleeting grimace on his face. Then the grimace turns to a black scowl as he glares at our photographs on display. I never noticed before, but our friendship is evident in each one, the affection between us shining clearly through.

He turns from them with a disapproving grunt. "When's dinner?"

The words from an old Bette Davis movie spring unwillingly to mind. Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy flight. Or something like that.

The dinner is ready. That's something to be thankful for, anyway. Maybe the meal will help dissipate this incredible tension in the air. Dad and Steven sit across from Blair and me. I have an almost absurd need to laugh at the image. The two warring factions square off across the dinner table. I quickly squelch the urge. If there's anything this evening is not, it's humorous.

We spend the first few minutes passing food and serving our plates, the murmured requests punctuated with polite thank yous. Then, the smothering silence descends.

I see Sandburg sizing up the situation, glancing from Steven and Dad over to me, then back again, as if he's trying to figure out the best way to get us talking. As I take the wine bottle from him, my hand brushes his.

It feels hot. Very hot. Focusing on his vital signs, I notice that his breathing seems labored and his heart rate elevated. I shoot him an accusing stare, and his eyes immediately drop to his plate. That's when I notice the sheen on his face and how pale he is.

Damn. The kid is sick.

Leave it to Sandburg to go on with this crazy dinner when he's about to keel over with the flu, or whatever the hell it is he's come down with. But inexplicably, it's not Blair I'm angry with. It's my father.

He has yet to utter a word beyond "pass the turkey, please." Here Blair is, sick as a dog, and my father hasn't even noticed. Hasn't even had the common courtesy to make polite conversation. I've never liked my father much, but at this moment, I hate him.

Simon and Blair get a big kick out of joking about my mother hen sentinel instincts, but when it comes to Sandburg, I guess they're right. There's at least a touch of truth in any effective humor, after all. In this case, more like a truckload. I want nothing more than to escort them from the loft and take care of my partner.

After dinner. Right after dinner.

I've been so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I missed the strained conversation at the table. I force myself to focus on the my father's words.

"...happen to move in with Jim, anyway?"

Blair looks uncomfortable. Sick and uncomfortable. I open my mouth to answer for him, but he cuts me off. "My...apartment...well, it...sorta..." He stops, looks at me in despair, then struggles on. "It sorta blew up, I guess you'd say."

My father stares at him, disbelieving. "It blew up? Tell me, Mr. Sandburg, how exactly does an apartment...blow up?"

Once again, he doesn't give me time to respond. "I had some bad...neighbors, Mr. Ellison. They were drug dealers, and there was an explosion, and well, it...blew up."

My father's eyes are cold and accusing. Damn, I hated that look when I was a kid, but I hate it even more now that it's directed at Sandburg. I can feel those infamous sentinel protective instincts kicking into high gear as I glare across the table at my father. "So, you managed to worm your way into my son's home?" He tosses the merest glance over at me. "I thought I raised you better than this, Jim. We never took in strays when you were living at home."

I am too stunned to reply. Blair's gaze drops to his lap, and I can almost feel the shudder which passes through his frame. Before I can reply, my father addresses Steven. "You assured me this would be a family dinner, Steven. I wish I had known there would be outsiders in attendance. I did have other plans, you know."

I stare at my father in disbelief. How can I be the product of such a man? With a small, choked gasp, Blair bolts from the table, almost knocking over his chair in his haste to escape. I hear his racing heartbeat and the sounds of his labored breathing. Tossing my napkin beside my plate, I rise and start to follow him to the balcony where he has slammed the door behind him. Then, I look back at my brother.

Steven sits in silence, staring at his plate, his face gone pale. None of this is his fault, I know, but illogically, some dark part of me despises him. I want to blame someone, anyone else but myself for this fiasco. But, I know the blame lies squarely on my own shoulders. I knew it would come to this. The family into which I was born would come to condemn the one I'd adopted as the family of my soul.

Then I look at my father. He is watching me, calmly waiting for my reaction, gauging the impact of his heartless words. Damn his cold aloofness!

I return the stare, just as coldly, just as calmly, but beneath my gaze is the strength of determination. "Get out," I order calmly. "Get the hell out of our home." I see the spark of accusation in his eyes, and quickly move to combat it. "That's right, our home. Blair belongs here, Dad; he has for a long time now. I know what you believe about us, and it doesn't matter how often I deny it to you. You're always going to believe what you choose, and frankly, I don't care anymore. Your opinion really doesn't matter to me."

I glance out at the lonely figure of Sandburg on the balcony, his shoulders hunched against the cold November wind. I need to be out there with my friend, not in here arguing with a man whose importance in my life can never compare with his. Once more, I look at my father, then at Steven who has yet to say a word. I turn and start toward the outside door. I pause with my hand on the handle and turn back toward the table. "By the way, if anything like this ever happens again, you won't have to concern yourself with how I choose to live my life. I'll be out of your life. Permanently. Now, get out." I go outside without waiting for a reply.

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

I hear the door open behind me and try to control the shivering. This really sucks. I feel like something the cat dragged in about a week ago, Jim's father hates me, and the warm family dinner I had envisioned has turned into something just short of World War Three. When I screw up, I do it with style, that's for sure.

Jim comes up behind me. I remain still, staring blindly out at the buildings of Cascade as their lights flicker on in the twilight. It's getting colder by the minute, but I still can't make myself go back inside to face his father and brother. I suddenly wonder if anyone else out there has had a day as horrible as this one has turned out to be. If they have, I feel sorry for them.

Even worse, I feel sorry for myself, and that really sucks.

"Hey," Jim says softly. "I would ask if you're okay, Chief, but I know better." He pauses, and his voice is soft as he adds, "I am so sorry."

I shrug. "Not your fault."

Even though I'm facing away from Jim, I can almost see the small grimace and the tightening jaw muscle. Man, I know this guy too well.

"I know. But he's my father, and I guess I feel that makes me responsible in some strange way." He takes a deep breath and lets it out in a long sigh. "I'm just sorry you had to be involved in this mess."

I nod, suddenly at a loss for words. None of this is Jim's fault, so the apology really isn't necessary. But I understand why he wants to say it. "What now?"

Jim moves closer to me, and he carefully guides me around to face him. His hand on my forehead feels almost cold, so I know my fever must be pretty high. His blue eyes cloud with concern. "Why didn't you tell me you were sick, Chief? Your fever must be way over one hundred."

"I dunno. Just hated to cancel Thanksgiving dinner because of a little touch of a cold, I guess. It seemed more important that you try to patch things up with your dad. I just wanted you to have a peaceful holiday dinner with your family." Even as I say it, I know they're the wrong words.

The warm, glowing concern in those blue eyes quickly turns to a blaze. His strong hands move to clasp my shoulders, shaking me slightly. "You listen to me, Sandburg. My father can't even begin to compare to you in importance. If I never saw him again after tonight, it wouldn't matter that much to me. You, on the other hand..." Jim shrugs. "Dad's made his decision about the priorities in his life, Chief. Since he didn't speak up, I guess Steven decided to go along with him."

Something flickers across his face for a split second. Regret, maybe, tinged with a touch of loss for something that never really existed. Then he continues, "Funny thing about families, Chief. They come in all shapes, all sizes. That doesn't matter, really. The important thing is finding one that fits. Which I have. And that's a lot to be thankful for."

I look up into those intent, blue eyes and manage a smile. That's all I have time for. Suddenly, I feel a wave of dizziness sweep over me, and Jim's eyes meld with the lights of Cascade to spin and whirl before my eyes. I sway slightly on my unsteady legs. That's all it takes. Before I realize what is happening, Jim's arm is around my waist, steadying me, lending me his strength as he pulls me against him.

When we enter the loft, I keep my eyes averted from William and Steven Ellison, but Jim focuses on them immediately. "Steven," he says in a soft, dangerously calm voice, "Get him out of here. Unless you want to see him hurt, get him out. Now."

I risk a glance at William Ellison. His glaring eyes take us in, Jim's supportive arm wrapped around me, my head resting lightly against him, his protective stance as he carefully lends me his strength. My best friend's father shakes his head in disgust and turns away. Without another word, the two men depart, and Steven quietly closes the door.

I may never know the exact words that Jim said to his father and brother after I fled to the balcony, but I think I already know enough. I saw the flash of pain in his eyes when the loft door closed behind them, and I know something died deep inside my friend at that moment. I guess there's some small part within all of us, even the strongest of sentinels, that yearns for the approval of our parent, even though we may despise all that parent stands for. The realization that he will never have that approval from his father slammed into Jim full force tonight, and he's bound to be reeling from it for a long time to come.

But, as quickly as it appeared, the momentary emotion over their departure has vanished, and Jim's attention is focused entirely on me. My Blessed Protector is back. Thinking back to what must have transpired in the loft after I left them, I realize he has been here all along. I shiver, but this time it is not from the fever.

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

Aftermath

It had been one hell of an evening. The night had turned bitterly cold, with frigid air blasting down from the north. The heat from the crackling fire helped warm Jim's body, but did little for the cold knot still wrapped about his heart. Covered in the big afghan, he lay stretched out on the couch, surveying the kitchen with a critical eye.

The remnants of the ruined Thanksgiving dinner sat congealing on the table. Jim had possessed neither the energy nor the will to deal with the dirty dishes and wasted food. Somehow, the thought of facing Sandburg's dinner, so lovingly prepared and bearing with it such great hopes, was simply too much for him to face. That chore could wait until morning. A blatant disregard of his own house rules, he fully realized, but then again, they were his rules. He smiled a slightly ironic smile at the thought of how Sandburg would love that reasoning. If only he felt better.

The pained sound of coughing rang weakly from the small bedroom, rousing Jim out of his thoughts. With a sigh, he tossed the afghan aside and moved to his feet, then crossed on tiptoe to the half-closed door of Blair's room. Carefully, he opened it further and peered in, his sentinel sight providing him with a clear view in the near-blackness.

Blair was sprawled on his back, pillows scattered on the floor and one leg hanging off the side of the bed. Sweat dotted his brow, and Jim's vision zeroed in on a single, crystal drop as it rolled slowly down the smaller man's temple to soak into a sideburn. As the Sentinel watched, Blair's chest twitched, and he began to cough again, shaking the tiny bed with the force.

Sighing, Jim turned and headed into the bathroom. He opened the medicine cabinet and pawed through the meager contents, at last finding a nearly-empty bottle of NyQuil. It was incredibly old, and an emerald-like encrustation ringed the neck of the bottle from when Jim had been sick last, and too lazy to wipe off the lip. He checked the expiration date; it was still good.

Bottle in hand, Jim returned to Blair's room, sitting gently on the edge of the tiny bed. He set the bottle down and reached out a gentle hand, patting Blair's belly. He winced at the heat he could feel radiating off the slim body, even through the thin cotton of the T-shirt Sandburg wore. He scratched lightly at the smaller man's stomach until he stirred, then smiled as the fever-bright blue eyes were revealed under swollen lids.

"Hey there, buddy," Jim said gently. "Can you see well enough to take some medicine?" The curly head nodded, and Blair tried to sit up. Jim reached an arm around to support him, half cradling the young man against his chest. When he was certain Blair wouldn't collapse back onto the bed, he reached out and uncapped the bottle of NyQuil, and poured an adult dose of the thick green syrup into the little dosage cup.

"OK, here we go. Open up." The Sentinel smiled as he held the tiny cup to his partner's lips. Blair opened his mouth without complaint; a sure sign, along with the dazed look on his flushed face, that he was feeling extraordinarily bad. The younger man was bad enough when faced with taking any kind of chemicals for his ills. When it came to "The Green Death", as he called it, Blair could be especially petulant.

The NyQuil vanished into Blair's mouth without incident, even without the usual accompanying gag. Jim set the cup back on the table, then tightened his hold as Blair tried to lie back down. The older man had noticed how chilly the small room had become, and knew that it was no place for his sick friend. With gentle hands, he wrapped the deep red Navajo blanket that served as a bedspread loosely around Blair's body. Then with great care, he slipped his arms under the slim figure and gathered him against his chest.

Blair turned his face to rest his cheek against Jim's chest as the big man lifted him. He dozed as he was carried slowly from his bedroom and into the living room. When Ellison turned and lowered himself onto the couch, the anthropologist's eyes fluttered open, and he reached up to grip Jim's shoulder, startled by the sudden movement.

"It's all right," Jim soothed, meeting the uncertain young gaze with a tender smile of encouragement. "Shh, you're OK, I've got you. Go to sleep." As he settled deeper into the cushions, the Sentinel carefully shifted his partner, easing the smaller man off his lap and onto the couch. He snagged a throw pillow and placed it in his lap, then coaxed the curly head down to rest there. He drew his legs up slightly, supporting Blair's head with one thigh and curling the other under his chest, providing elevation that Jim hoped would alleviate some of the congestion.

For a few minutes, all was quiet. The Guide slept, and the Sentinel watched. Then an ambulance suddenly screamed past, the Doppler effect causing the siren to wail down a harsh chromatic scale that seemed to fill the entire room. Jim jumped, and Blair suddenly started awake. The younger man's eyes darted around fearfully, before settling on his partner's face. One hand crept up Jim's back to rest over his shoulder, the unspoken query clear in the expressive blue eyes of his Guide.

"I'm fine, Chief, I had it turned down." Ellison smiled gently, reaching down to card his fingers through a few sweat-soaked curls that had plastered themselves to Blair's rounded brow. "Really, it's OK. Go back to sleep, buddy." His heart felt warmed from within as Sandburg nodded briefly, before giving back in to the need for rest. As long as I'm all right, he's willing to rest. But if I need him, he's there, no question.

The slender hand on Jim's shoulder had gone limp, but still rested where it lay. The older man could feel the warmth as it seeped into his joint, sending a pleasurable tingle down his arm to his hand. As if in response, Ellison's hand moved to cover Blair's other hand where it rested on the big man's thigh. He just cupped the smaller fingers with his own for a moment, then began to gently run his thumb back and forth over the back of the fine-boned hand.

Anyone coming upon the scene would have been instantly entranced by the aura of trust, love and friendship that radiated from the couch. Blair lay still and contented, boneless in the lap of his dearest friend, mouth open and jaw slack with the completeness of his relaxed state. And watching over him with eyes that glowed softly with love and tender brotherly affection was his Sentinel. Protector and protected. Brothers in all but blood. A true family, blessed to have found each other. Two souls bonded, no matter what challenges were cast in their midst.

"Brothers in all but blood." -- Illustration By MegaRed

Finis...

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