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

Notes: My annual 'Soliloquy' entry for 2004. Actually, this one alternates POV from Jim to Blair kind of two soliloquies in one, I guess. This story was written in 'my dream come true', my condo on 'my' island on the Georgia coast. It took nearly my entire lifetime, but it's mine at last. If you've ever had a place that called to your soul, that made you feel more at home and at peace than any other place on the planet, you will understand the delight and the contentment I feel when I'm there. Anyway, this story's special to me for many reasons: where it was written, the lyrics around which it is based, and the images I tried to convey. I hope you'll find something special within it as well. As always, thanks so much for reading, and I hope you find your own special place where your spirit can soar.

Till I Gain Control Again

by JET

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

Just like the sun over the mountain top,
you know I'll always come again.
You know I love to spend my morning time,
like sunlight dancing on your skin.

Sandburg is a creature of the sun.

In all the years I've known him, I've never seen the sun flood the loft with light without Blair seeking its warmth like a cat. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he seems perpetually cold, but I don't think that's it. I think it's more the connection with the earth, with the universe, that comes with touching the sun. If I am an offspring of discipline, of duty, then Blair is a child of the earth. His very essence derives from the earth herbal, musky, grounded in the ancient earth, past, present, and future all in one. Yet he is not anchored to this earth at all. More than anyone I've ever known, Blair's spirit soars with the clouds, dances on sunrays.

He's a child of the earth, yes, but also a creature of the sun...

A contradiction? Definitely. But again, that's Blair. A bundle of contradictions. A living, breathing mystery that I'm convinced I will spend a lifetime trying to decipher.

This morning, like so many mornings that have come before, finds him standing before the wide windows of our rented beach house, drenched in sunshine, the sparkling ocean lying just beyond. Shirtless, fresh from the shower, the sunlight dances across his shoulders in some early morning ballet. Puttering in the kitchen, I watch him from the corner of my eye, covering up my scrutiny beneath the mundane tasks of putting breakfast on the table.

The truth is, I could watch him forever. Just watching him standing there calms me like a balm applied gently to my very soul.

It's been one hell of a year. Seems more like a decade since we were last here on this beach, in this house. A house that's become, in some strange way, a second home to us both. A place we return to each summer to renew ourselves... our partnership... our bond to each other.

Of course, all our years are... eventful. Why should the one just passed be any different?

And when did I begin marking the passing years by our summer retreat?

Sandburg would get a kick out of that. Maybe I'll tell him.

Later.

I know I'm avoiding the real issue, the real reason Blair has looked so worried the past couple of weeks. The real reason Simon let us break away from the overworked Major Crimes squad to take our yearly trip here.

So I don't want to deal with it right now. So what?

I admit it. I don't want to deal with all that has happened to me... to us... in recent weeks. We've got two weeks ahead of us, right? Plenty of time to confront the demons waiting to be acknowledged. I know Blair won't let me off the hook easily, after all.

My Sentinel senses are gone. And my Guide is bound and determined to find out why.

But there's something more important to deal with at the moment.

Right now, a hot breakfast awaits.

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

I have never gone so wrong as for telling lies to you.
What you've seen is what I've been.
There is nothing that I can hide from you.
You see me better than I can.

I can't hide from him forever. I know that. I've never been able to hide anything from him. Not for long.

I certainly cannot lie to him.

I've tried that before and remember all too well exactly what it got me.

Pain. Confusion. A deep, penetrating grief I hope never to experience again.

The problem is, Blair *knows* me. The real me. The secret part of myself I've struggled my entire life to hide from the world.

From myself.

He saw it the moment he met me, I think. Felt it. Connected with it on some spiritual, soul-deep level that I'm not sure I ever believed existed before that day.

Sandburg knows the part of me that is afraid. The dark corners of my heart that fear what will happen to me if I try to bring back my Sentinel senses, if I risk that awful lack of control even once more.

He knows it. He understands it, yet he won't let me quit. Won't let me give in to that fear.

He's watching me even now, gauging me. Taking measure of my emotions... of my fear.

Waves, warmed by the late morning summer sun, wash over our feet as we walk alongside the sea. It feels strange not to sense the waves as a Sentinel. The water is... just water. No scratching of minute particles of salt. No overwhelming scent of the sea.

Normal.

Ordinary.

Safe.

Why can't it be enough, Blair? Why can't I be enough? Just me plain old Jim Ellison? Not the throw-back, Neanderthal Sentinel. Not your 'holy grail'. Do we even have a friendship beyond that - beyond the Sentinel thing? Makes me wonder...

If I'm no longer the Sentinel, how long will you stick around, Chief? And how the hell am I supposed to let you go?

I steal a glance at Blair's face as we walk. I know that without my senses, we never would have become friends... partners. Hell, we had absolutely nothing in common when we met. Blair wouldn't have given me a second glance if not for the Sentinel thing. And if I'm honest with myself, I know that it works both ways. Nobody who knows either of us would ever have predicted that the two of us - complete and utter opposites in so many ways - would ever have become the best of friends.

It was the birth of the Sentinel that created this friendship, this partnership.

So what happens if the Sentinel is dead? Gone forever?

Will our friendship eventually die, too?

I really don't know if I could handle that.

It's not like I don't have a choice.

I do.

I can risk 'turning on' my senses again. Like Incacha said, I can choose to be the Sentinel again.

It sounds so damned easy.

But I still remember the last time I tried that. The complete lack of control... the pain... the fear.

When the bomb went off, it destroyed a hell of a lot more than just the building I was in. It took my control right along with it. Blew it to hell and back, and since that day nearly a month ago, I haven't dared summon my senses back again.

Oh, Blair tried. And so did I. Until the pain and fear got to be too much. That's when I turned them off completely. Gave up being the Sentinel.


Out on the road that lies before me now,
there are some turns where I will spin.
I only hope that you will hold me now,
til I can gain control again.


It takes a couple of strides before I realize that Blair has stopped walking. He's staring out to sea, the sunlight glowing on his bronzed skin and hair, transforming the familiar curls from their normal brown to a rich, burnished copper. If I were the Sentinel, I could probably distinguish a hundred shades of gold in Sandburg's hair right now, pinpoint hundreds of hues of red.

If...

Something about his stance bothers me. His shoulders are slightly too tight... his face darkened even in the bright morning sun with the shadows of worry.

In two steps, I'm beside him. I look out at the ocean, the sun glinting off the whitecaps, and the breeze teasing the tiny droplets of sweat on my back. I start to speak, then stop. What can I say? How can I make this right?

I can't. Not when the one thing I need to do is the single thing I simply cannot do.

Not if it means retreating back to the darkness of being out of control of my own senses. Short of losing Blair, it's the thing I fear most. I can't risk that. Not even for him.

Not even for us.

His voice rises softly above the whisper of the waves. "We have to deal with this, man. I can't stand seeing you like this. Not... "

"Not what, Chief?" I ask when he doesn't continue.

"I can't bear seeing you not being... you. You *are* the Sentinel, Jim." Earnest blue eyes rise to hold mine, even though I don't want to hear the words, I cannot break free. "You are the Sentinel. If you deny that, you're denying yourself. What you are. Who you are. That can't be good, man. It can't be healthy. I'm worried about you, man. I want to help."

God, the love reflected in Blair's eyes! In a million years I could never deserve such love... such understanding. But that's never been the point with Sandburg. He's never asked me to deserve our friendship... to earn his devotion. He's always just given it to me, unasked and at times, unrequited.

He's right, and I know it.

I hear my voice break, but the weakness doesn't embarrass me. "I'm afraid, Chief. I don't... think I can handle being that out of control again. I... I almost didn't make it back the last time we tried."

Blair's eyes glisten with gathering wetness, but behind the tears burns the certainty of hope. I see that hopeful light, and I long to run toward it, to embrace its glow, to try again, but I can't. I just... can't.

"I know it hurt right after the explosion, man, but your senses were still stunned from the shock of the blast. Then, when you tried turning them up again, the pain kicked in, and you panicked. That just made it all worse. We need to try again now that you're healed. You'll make it this time, man. You won't be alone, Jim. I'll be there. It won't be the way it was after the explosion or even before, back when your senses first came on line. Before I found you. You won't fall all the way this time, I promise. I won't let you fall, Jim. Ever. You know that. If you don't know anything else, man, you know that. I'll keep you safe, Jim. I promise."

How can I risk that pain again? But how can I not when so much is at stake? When I'm looking into those blue pools of absolute trust?

I nod once, quickly, before I can change my mind.

The delight in Blair's eyes almost offsets the tightened knot of fear in my gut.

Almost...

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

Just like a lighthouse, you must stand alone;
landmark a sailor's journey's end.
No matter what sea I've been sailing on,
I'll always roll this way again.

Sometimes, Jim seems so distant, so alone, that it scares me. I wonder if I'll ever breach those thick stone walls of his again, or if this time, he's gonna manage to shut me out completely.

Forever...

I just don't think I could stand that.

I know that being a Sentinel is, by definition, a lonely experience. A solitary life, for the most part. The ancient tribal Sentinels had to spend long hours, even long days, alone, patrolling the perimeters of their tribe's territory. Scouting for danger. Protecting the tribe. Maybe there's some inborn genetic thing that makes them suited for that life.

But Jim gives being a loner a whole new meaning. Oh, he gets along well enough with the guys around the station, and a few old friends have even popped up now and again, but I get the distinct impression that should he ever find himself marooned alone on a deserted island, Jim would cope just fine. He wouldn't even miss the companionship of others that much.

Except... maybe... for me. It may sound self-serving, but if I didn't believe I mean something to the man, I wouldn't still be around after all this time... after all this pain.

And I do. Mean something, that is. I know that, as surely as I know my own name. I've seen it in Jim's eyes, heard it in his voice, too many times to doubt that I'm important to him. Jim needs me... loves me... even though he sometimes has a hell of a hard time showing it. I've realized for a long time that I'm his weak spot - his Achilles heel - and that knowledge both thrills and frightens me.

For there isn't much that is weak about James Ellison. Not too many cracks in that tough exterior for the bad guys to take advantage of, except... for me.

In my entire life, no one - my own mother included - has ever needed me - loved me - that much. That such a tough guy can open his heart wide enough to enfold me so completely... well, that's just about the most miraculous thing I've ever known.

I admire that strength of Jim's so much. Not just the external strength - the power that the world sees in those muscles and that physical endurance. Not that it isn't impressive, but that's just surface stuff. Any guy dedicated enough to pumping iron can achieve that.

No, the strength I admire most in Jim is what he seldom lets anyone on the outside glimpse. The tenderness in his eyes and voice when he's comforting me... the gentleness in those strong hands when he touches me... the affection gleaming in those icy blue eyes when he looks at me -when he doesn't think I see.

Not to mention the things he's done in his life... with his life. Without a doubt, James Ellison is the most honorable man I've ever met. He truly believes in serving his country... protecting his tribe. Jim does the right thing, regardless of the repercussions personally or professionally. He embodies the word 'honor' each and every day. Lots of people talk about honor. Jim lives it every day of his life. There aren't many people like that left in the world, and because of knowing him, I think... I know... I am a better man.

That's why, no matter what kind of crap life throws at us, no matter how he sometimes hurts me, I'll always comes back. Like the lighthouse towering above us on the rocky cliffs, Jim shows me the path to safety.

The way back home.

And to tell the truth, it's been a long time since Jim's hurt me. I think he's at peace now about the Sentinel thing and our sometimes strange, symbiotic relationship. At least he was. Until the explosion that blew his control to hell and back.

I can't just let him give up... run away from all he's been given... because of his fear. Oh, yeah, I know that's what lies beneath it all. Jim's scared. Plain and simple. Bullets don't faze him. Bombs don't even slow him down. Jumping from airplanes or hanging from helicopters - piece of cake.

But the thought of being out of control... of losing his sanity...

That terrifies him.

But he can't give up. It would break him, leave him only a pale reflection of the man he truly is. He may not see that now, not while the memory of the last time he tried to bring back his senses is still so fresh, but I see it. Jim's just not the type to surrender... to give up at anything. Especially something this important.

I stop walking and stare out at the churning sea. Feels about like my stomach right now. It's never easy to confront Jim, to push him into something he really doesn't want to do. So I'm looking forward to this about like I would look forward to base jumping from the Empire State Building.

But I'm his Guide... his protector, just as surely as he is mine. And if I don't do this, don't find a way to make him take the next painful steps toward becoming the Sentinel once again, I will have failed. And just like Jim, I don't accept failure easily.

So it's confrontation time.

Again.

By the time he joins me at the water's edge, I'm ready. As I look up into his face while he admits his fear, my heart tightens at the trust that admission requires. I doubt that Jim would admit the things he's tellikng me to anyone else. What did I ever do to deserve this kind of trust and confidence?

God, I love this man!

I try to reassure him the only way I can - with the truth and with the promise of my support. "I know it hurt right after the explosion, man, but your senses were still stunned from the shock of the blast. Then, when you tried turning them up again, the pain kicked in, and you panicked. That just made it all worse. We need to try again now that you're healed. You'll make it this time, man. You won't be alone, Jim. I'll be there. It won't be the way it was after the explosion or even before, back when your senses first came on line. Before I found you. You won't fall all the way this time, I promise. I won't let you fall, Jim. Ever. You know that. If you don't know anything else, man, you know that. I'll keep you safe, Jim. I promise."

Even as I talk to him, I'm so afraid he'll bolt, go running back to the house with some smart-ass remark about minding my own business or letting go of my ideal of the perfect Sentinel.

He doesn't.

Instead he nods. Just once and so quickly that it might have been an illusion, but it's enough, and my heart soars.

We're going to try again.

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

Out on the road that lies before me now,
there are some turns where I will spin.
I only hope that you will hold me now,
'til I can gain control again.

One thing about Sandburg. He doesn't waste time. Less than a half-hour after agreeing to try again, we've found a quiet spot behind some rocks, out of reach of the incoming tide.

God, I feel so dependent. Vulnerable.

Not exactly images I like to associate with myself. With anyone else, I know I would clam up. Draw up those protective walls so fast they wouldn't know what hit 'em.

Not possible with Blair. He'd see through me in an instant, and even the highest, strongest walls wouldn't stand a chance against him.

So I ease down to the warm sand beside him, fighting my natural instincts to withdraw, and leave myself totally open to his guidance. "So, what now, Chief?"

Blair drops down beside me, his back to the sea. His face has that fascinated, intense look he gets sometimes, mostly when he's involved with me in some Sentinel thing. "Okay, Jim," he begins, and I can tell he's working hard to control his nervousness.

It's okay, kid. I'm scared here, too.

"We're going to work on turning up just one sense. I was thinking maybe hearing would be best. What do you think?"

Who am I to argue with the Guide? "Okay. What do you want me to do?"

There's a flash of pleasure in his eyes when I follow his lead. Ah, Chief, don't you know I always follow you? Even when you don't realize it?

"Close your eyes," he urges softly, "And lie back on the sand. You need to relax completely."

Without questioning the gentle command, I lie down. The sand is warm against my bare back, but the sensation isn't unpleasant. Without my Sentinel senses, there's no prickling, irritating sense of being bombarded by the scratching of millions of individual grains of sand. Just the warmth of the beach in the summer sun, and I close my eyes against its light.

"Now," Blair murmurs, his calming voice close to my ear.

When did he lie down beside me?

"Relax. Let your body melt into the beach... become one with the earth. There's nothing here but you and me and the sea. Nothing's gonna hurt you here. I promise. I'm with you, Jim, and it's my job... my duty... to protect you, just as you protect me. Trust me... listen to me... follow me."

Gentle hands find my shoulders, and gradually, under skillful fingers, my knotted muscles unwind. I draw long, deep breaths, and allow my body to sink deeper into the sand. The sun is warm. The sand is soft. The sea's scent is familiar and comforting. Blair's whispers rise above the sound of the surf, his breath dancing across my skin, a warm counterpoint to the rays of sunshine.

"Find the dials. Don't touch them yet. Just picture them and remember. The dials won't hurt you, man. They're there to help. You know how to use them; you just have to remember and trust them trust yourself again. Okay, Jim... slowly now, turn your hearing up just a notch. Just up a little, Jim. It won't hurt you. I'm here."

Almost asleep, I find the dial - so long unused - and click it up a single notch. The sea sounds slightly louder; Blair's whisper a little less a caress. That's all. No pain.

"Is that all right? Nod if you're okay, man. Good. You're doing great here, Jim. Let's try a little more. This time, I want you to move the dial a little more. Only as much as feels comfortable to you. Try a single click, then maybe one more. Not too much. Not too fast. I'm right here with you. Every step of the way."

As my sense of hearing strengthens, I listen to a hummingbird's wings... the bubbles of foam popping as waves break on the beach... the hum of a hundred insects... the screams of a thousand seagulls crying overhead... the whine of a jet engine a hundred miles away... my own breaths roaring through my lungs... blood rushing furiously in my veins... Blair's frightened, galloping heart merging with my own.

My moan as the pain strikes resounds like a thunderclap in my ears.

Oh, God, it's all too loud! My head is pounding, drumming with the rhythm of my heart, threatening to burst with the pain.

I roll to my side, trying to block out the sound with hands clamped over my ears. Then, one by one, my other senses betray me as well. Weakened by the pain brought on by my runaway hearing, my remaining control shrinks bit by bit to the size of a pinhead, wavers a moment, then it vanishes completely.

Even through tightly shut lids, the brightness of the summer sun cuts my eyes like a laser. The sand brutally rips at my skin, a billion knives slicing flesh at once. A flood of tastes fills my mouth, sickeningly sweet, sour, and salty all at once. The smell of the sea, of Blair, of a million unnamed scents... I cannot consciously separate each and every odor.

My senses have utterly rebelled, all at once.

Conscious thought no longer possible, there remains only pain and fear and a dull sense of dread of what is to come.

Insanity... darkness... loneliness... a lifetime of complete and utter madness.

Blair, I'm so damned sorry. It wasn't your fault, Chief. You held the madness at bay so long. I couldn't ask for more. You were right to make me try again. In the end, it was my own failure that sealed my fate. I just wasn't strong enough... good enough. Maybe I never was. There was nothing more you could do. Please don't blame yourself, Chief.

It was all an illusion, all those years I thought you'd given me control. An illusion I wanted to believe in so badly. You did your best, kid, but you just didn't have a chance in the end.

Don't blame yourself, Blair, please.

It was never your fault.

The blame is mine... completely and forever.

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

"Jim! Jim!" My hands trembling, I shake him so hard that I'm afraid his neck will snap, but there's no sign that he's with me at all. He's not in a zone, that's for sure. Whatever Jim's experiencing, it's far worse than any zone out's ever been.

He's cocooned himself in a small knot, knees drawn up to his chest, his head buried in his arms. At first, his hands were clamped over his ears in a futile effort to stop the sound, but now, he's just retreated into that primal fetal position, rocking back and forth on the hot sand and softly moaning.

"Jim!" I'm trying so hard not to shout. A hell of a lot of good that would do right now.

Oh, God, no! What did I think I was doing? Jim told me how awful the pain was right after the explosion, when I didn't think I'd ever get him back from the darkness triggered by the light and noise and smoke. I did get him back, and what do I do only a few weeks later?

I send him right back into dark hell he fears so much.

I feel the hot tears streaming down my face and angrily brush them away. "Jim?" I whisper, knowing that if he can hear me, my voice must sound like thunder. "I'm here, man. I'm here. I won't leave you. Come back, man. I'm so sorry! Please, Jim... "

My voice breaks, and I struggle for control. Jim's moans are growing softer; his rocking is slowing. But there's no sense of relief, only a heavy, black dread.

This isn't a good sign. He's falling into the void. That was his term - the void. He described it to me once years ago, that horrible blackness that comes with total loss of control. I saw the naked fear in Jim's eyes, the complete and utter dread he felt at the memory of that encroaching madness.

*Don't let me go there, Blair. Please. Whatever it takes, if you can't get me back, can't give me control again, don't let me sink into the void. You know I would never want that. If you've ever loved me, spare me that.*

At the time, I knew what he was asking, what he was pleading for me to do. We never spoke of it again, but I knew. And I knew I wouldn't allow him to descend into that madness, into that hell. Whatever it took, I would spare him that final indignity, that eternal pain.

"Jim? Please... please come back to me. Find the dial, man, please. Turn it down, Jim. Don't listen to anything but my voice, okay? You've always found me when I needed you, man, so find me now. I need you, Jim. I need you so damned much. Do it for me, Jim, okay? Find the dial. Turn it down. Come back to me, Jim. Please?"

Without thinking, I lie down beside him, curling on my side and wrapping my arms and legs around him in a desperate attempt to stay close. I tuck Jim's head beneath my chin and force his arms out away from his body and around my shoulders. They lie limp and sandy on my hot skin. I have to make contact. I have to make him hear me... feel me.

Whatever it takes, Jim. Whatever it takes...

How can his body feel so cold when the day is so warm? How can this nightmare be unfolding beneath such perfect azure, crystalline skies? It's all too unreal, too surrealistic.

"Jim! C'mon, man! Hear me!"

I pull him as tightly against me as I can, willing him to listen. "There is nothing here but us, Jim. No sea... no wind... no birds. No smells, nothing to feel. Nothing, do you hear me?"

The anger sets in next. I can't lose Jim. Not like this. I've always accepted that some day, I might lose him to a bullet or worse. But not like this! We've worked too hard, damn it! He can't succumb to his own senses now! Not after all we've been through.

I won't let the void have him!

My voice is still soft, but the anger comes through. "I will not let you do this, Ellison! Do you understand me? You can control your senses! I know it! You're stronger than they are, Jim. You're the strongest person I know."

The tears are flowing again, and with my arms around Jim, I can't wipe them away. They drip down my cheeks to fall on Jim's hair and face, baptizing him with my fear and my pain and, God help me, with my love.

"You never give up, Jim, no matter what the world throws at you. I've witnessed it. I've seen that courage and determination and that stubbornness. Do you have any idea how much I admire that, man? Yeah, even the stubbornness part. I mean, you hear all this crap about how there are no heroes left in the world today, nobody to look up to, but it's all bull. It's all a lie because you're here, Jim!"

A sob leaves me breathless for a moment, but I fight past it. "If the world just knew about you, man, all that you are, it would have its hero. But no one knows, Jim, and in so many ways, that's just damned unfair. You deserve medals, Jim! Parades and magazine covers and kids in school looking up to you!"

I'm rambling, but I mean every word. With all my heart, I mean it. Jim's body trembles in my arms and his tiny moans of pain tear at my heart. Oh, God, please, help me!

"I need you, Jim," I whisper, bringing my face down to rest against his. "You probably don't see that, but it's true. You make me more than I ever was alone, so much more than I'd be today without you. I know you don't believe that, but it's so true."

"It works both ways, man. Somehow, we fortify what's already strong in each other and make what is weak stronger." I laugh helplessly, another sob breaking through. "Maybe it's a Sentinel and Guide thing... maybe just a... Jim... and Blair... thing. I don't know, man. I just know... that what we have is the best thing I've ever had in my life, and I can't... I won't... let it go."

"You... asked me... not to ever let you sink into the madness, Jim, and I won't. But you gotta work with me here, man, 'cause I am not keeping that promise without a fight. I swear, man, I won't let you spend your life in madness, I promise you that, but you gotta trust me here, Jim. Just one more time, okay?"

Is his breathing a little calmer? The moans a little softer and less frequent? Or am I just hearing what I want to hear?

*You know where my spare piece is, Chief. Use that. Or get your hands on enough pills to do the job. I don't care. Just promise me that you won't let me spend the rest of my life in hell, Blair. If you are truly my friend, promise me.*

His words from so long ago pound in my head, a cymbal beating relentlessly, threatening to drive out all rational thought. No! I'm not giving up. It's way too soon!

"Jim! You can hear me! I know you can. So just listen to me. You can do this! You have the strength, the power and the knowledge, to bring your senses back under control. Focus on me, on my voice, on my touch. Make everything else secondary. Don't turn off the dials, man, just turn them down until you find the control you need. Don't quit now, man! Listen to me! Feel me, Jim! I'm all around you, man, and I know I'm in your head and in your heart, and I swear, I will not let you go!"

My voice is rising, but I can't help it. Nothing's more important than getting Jim out of the abyss, away from the void. Nothing. If it hurts him to do it, then at least this pain will be temporary.

The other option is way too permanent.

For both of us.

Jim shifts in my arms and moans. "C'mon, man! Hear me, Sentinel! Listen to your Guide. I know you can hear me. Control it, Jim! Find that power within you and bring your hearing under your control! Fight with me, Jim!"

I'm not sure how long I ramble on like that. My throat hurts, dry from talking so much in the salt air. The sun descends slowly, reaching down toward the sea with arms of light. Time has lost all meaning for me, but somewhere between the ebbing and flowing of the tide, I hear what I feared I would never hear again.

"B... Blair... ?"

His voice is so rough, laden with weariness, burdened with pain, but to me, it's the sweetest music the universe has to offer.

"Yeah, Jim," I whisper, hugging him even closer. "It's me... I'm here." The trembling within my arms briefly increases, then it subsides. "I'm with you, Jim. I'm here."

"What... ? What happened, Chief?" He moves to pull away from me, but he's too weak and immediately surrenders to my embrace. I just can't let him go, not just yet.

I fight back the laughter that's born of relief. "You just got your control back, man. You did it, Jim. You did it!"

I can literally feel the surge of strength flow through his body as Jim digests the news.

"How do you feel?" I need to know if the control's still there, still safely within his grasp. If Jim has been terrified since this whole thing started, my own fear factor has increased at least ten-fold.

Jim's body relaxes as he considers the question. "My head hurts," he complains, "but I guess that's not unexpected. Otherwise... I'm okay."

"What about your senses?"

He pulls back slightly, and pale blue eyes meet mine. Is there a shimmer of humor in those familiar depths? "On-line, on target, and under control, Chief. Thanks to you."

I refuse to take credit for something I didn't do. "Not me, man," I insist. "You did this. All on your own. Amazing, man... simply amazing."

"Nothing I do as a Sentinel is ever 'on my own', Blair." He pulls away, and we sit up next to each other, but Jim doesn't shrug my arm away from across his shoulders. I've noticed in the past that when Jim's gone through something scary as a Sentinel or when I've been in danger, he initiates physical contact more frequently and maintains it longer.

Okay by me.

Jim rubs his eyes, a sure sign his head really is hurting. "The control I've developed is through you - built through you... maintained through you. When I use my senses in the field, you coach me through it. Even when you're not physically there, it's your voice I hear in my head."

My heart warms. "Just can't shake me, huh, Jim?"

No smile lightens Jim's serious expression. "Wouldn't want to. You're my control, Blair. My Guide." His eyes flash upward to the lighthouse standing sentinel above us. "My light in the storm." He smiles then, a sheepish, slightly embarrassed grin. "Corny, huh?"

"Totally," I laugh, completely bowled over at the unexpected sentiment from a decidedly unsentimental guy. Or so he'd have us believe. "Very much so. But thanks, man. Really."

Jim looks up at the sun, sitting so low on the horizon. "I'm hungry. Hell, obviously, we missed lunch."

Standing up, I brush the sand off, then reach down a hand to Jim. He grasps it firmly, and I pull, exaggerating the effort of helping him up. Laughing, we both hold our clasped hands longer than necessary, neither one anxious to break the contact. We stand there for a long minute, hands clasped, looking deeply into each other's eyes.

Then, Jim says slowly. "Would you have done it, Blair? If I hadn't found my control again?"

He remembered. Should have known Jim would not have forgotten that long-ago conversation, would not have forgotten the request he'd made of me.

So there it was, the question I'd been dreading, the one I scarcely dared ask myself. Yet the answer was no longer illusive. Gazing into those trusting eyes, the eyes that mirrored the soul I loved so deeply, I knew.

"Yes. I promised you. I could never allow you to suffer that way, Jim. Not if I was absolutely sure there was no other way out."

I see the relief flood through him and seek to reinforce the vow. "You never have to worry about that again, my brother. I'll protect you from the abyss, Jim. I swear it as your Guide. As your friend and partner."

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

He really means it. Blair wouldn't say it if he hadn't resolved the issue in his mind. My greatest fear, outside of losing him, vanishes as the haunting image of the abyss recedes into my memory, becoming only a faint shadow, then disappearing completely.

The pacifist who refuses to carry a gun, who believes to the depths of his soul that killing is wrong, would spare me the horror of a lifetime spent in hell. And because of his vow, the abyss loses its power over me.

It's difficult to fathom such devotion, such love.

How can I allow such a sacrifice?

Selfishness, pure and simple.

For no other reason would I ever consider allowing Blair to take a life... asking him to take my life.

As I clasp his hand in mine and gaze into his eyes, I make a silent, solemn promise that I will do all within my power to insure that he never had to keep that vow. I'll cooperate with the tests. I'll practice shutting down my senses quickly, just in case of another emergency situation where they might get out of control. Hell, I'll do whatever it takes to keep Blair from making that sacrifice.

Knowing that - promising that - is the only way I can live with myself.

There's nothing more to say. Mere words cannot express gratitude so deep that I can barely wrap my heart around it, much less my mind.

"C'mon, Chief." I pull him close with an arm around his shoulder. "Seems I remember a couple of steaks in the refrigerator with our names on them. If you think you can splurge on some red meat, that is."

I catch the twinkle in his eyes as he jabs an elbow into my ribs. "What do you mean, splurge? I earned that steak tonight, big guy."

"You sure did, Einstein. You sure did."

There's no hurry. Nothing we have to do; no place we must be. It's enough to be exactly where we are. Who we are. The two weeks of vacation time lie ahead like a long deserted highway, stretching out before us with the promise of peace and tranquility.

At least, for the short term.

As always, Cascade awaits our return, complete with its never-ending dangers and stresses. But for now, there is only the beach, the sea, and Blair and me.

It is more than enough. More than I thought I'd ever have again only an hour ago.

Above us, as the sun sinks below the horizon, the beacon in the lighthouse flashes on, sending its powerful ray across the sea in a rhythmic cadence of light. Its light flashes above, as my own personal light pulses with such wonderful energy and life at my side.

Amazing that something as ephemeral as light can prove so enduring, so indestructible. So inspiring and uplifting.

At least, I pray that the light that his light - is enduring. That it will always be indestructible.

The sky selects its colors from a palette of intense reds, pinks, and oranges, brilliantly vivid and reflecting the promise of the peaceful night to come. Blair looks up at me and smiles, and within that smile lies all I require in my life - friendship, trust, security. He grins broadly, then without a word, takes off at a full run across the sand, heading toward the house.

I watch Blair run, so young and graceful and free, as my heart swells with gratitude. Many of the mysteries of what it means to be a Sentinel will hover forever just out of my reach. But there's one mystery I've solved, and that answer will resound in my soul forever.

Every Sentinel needs a partner. Someone to watch his back. To guard his life, his heart, and his soul.

For me, that partner is Sandburg.

That much is certain. That much of my life is etched in stone.

I take a last look at the sea and its sentinel and know that it is enough. That it is everything.

Breaking into a run, I follow my Guide up the beach.

I trust him with my back... my life... my heart and my soul.

And I am at peace.

Finis...

(TILL I GAIN CONTROL AGAIN Written by Rodney Crowell. Performed by Willie Nelson; Emmylou Harris.)

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