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

Thanks to Danae for beta reading this one and giving her always valuable input!

Note: Listening to some Garth Brooks recently brought two stories to mind. I've put them together as a musical/literary duet. Words and music to "Shameless" are by Billy Joel. (You may notice a slight change of two words to keep this story gen oriented. Sorry, but I just couldn't resist the use of a great song...) "To Make You Feel My Love" was composed by Bob Dylan. I've had an idea in mind for a scene ever since hiking up to Owl's Head Lighthouse in Maine three years ago. I just didn't know what to do with it until I discovered TS fanfic. Glad I finally got to use it in this story.

You Are

by JET

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

Part One: Shameless

Blair's Prelude

I haven't seen Jim this upset in a long time. At least, not at me. What's strange is, I'm not sure exactly what's wrong. I mean, what I did was nothing I haven't done before. Dozens of times. I didn't wait in the truck.

I know why he does that...issues the order to stay behind in that tough cop voice of his. He wants to protect me. He needs to protect me. I know that. I see it in his eyes every time there's trouble. I've started calling it "Ellison's Hierarchy of Needs."

Not out loud, of course. I do have a survival instinct, after all.

Imagine a pyramid with the most important item in the hierarchy at the top. Here's how it works with Jim. First, make sure Sandburg's safe. Second, bust the bad guy. Third, worry about his own skin. Not quite as detailed as Maslow's Hierarchy, but every bit as structured and solid.

What he forgets is, I have my own hierarchy at work here, and it's just as important to me as his is to him. What constitutes "Sandburg's Hierarchy"? First, stay with Jim. Can't help if I'm not there, right? Second, watch his back and be sure he doesn't zone or something. Third, if I can, help with the cop stuff.

Unfortunately, sometimes our differing hierarchies create conflict. Like now...

Wait in the truck, Sandburg!

Yeah, where have I heard that one before? But I did.

At least I tried to...

For awhile...

I couldn't see Jim. He'd walked up the hill toward the lighthouse, out of sight, looking for Dawson. That was the bad guy. Mean dude, that one. He'd already threatened me. Gonna get you, Ellison! You and that pretty little hippie boy of yours. Believe me, you don't want to know what I'll do to him. But if you're nice, maybe I'll let you watch. Jim looked like one of those lions you see on National Geographic when something's after her cub. Ready to kill.

So I understood why Jim wanted me to wait in the truck. Why he was so adamant about it. Top level of the Ellison hierarchy...

So, I sat...and waited...and worried.

I could not shake this feeling I had, this intuition, that Jim needed me. Whether he knew it or not. Something was wrong. The gut level fear kept growing, getting heavier and heavier until it was almost a tangible thing. It seemed that if I reached out, I could touch my own fear. My fear for Jim.

The sentinel is genetically predisposed to protect the guide. Why can't I also be driven to protect him by that same instinctual force? Makes sense to me.

So, I listened to my instincts. I disobeyed my partner.

I left the truck.

I got shot.

But I was right. Jim needed me.

I still feel that knot of fear when I think what could have happened if I hadn't been there, if I had ignored my guide's instinct to go to Jim, to do whatever it took to protect him.

If I had stayed in the truck, I would be safe...unhurt.

But Jim would be dead, and my life would be over anyway.

So, I have no regrets.

Except that Jim's barely speaking to me. And I'm not sure what to do about it.

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

Jim's Song

^I'm shameless
When it comes to loving you.
I'll do anything you want me to,
I'll do anything at all.
I'm standing
Here for all the world to see,
Ah, that's what's left of me.
Don't have very far to fall.
You know now I'm not a man who's ever been
Insecure about the world I've been living in.
I don't break easy; I have my pride.
But if you need to be satisfied,
I'm shameless.

Why doesn't he listen to me? Here I am, in the hospital waiting room. Again. Waiting...worrying... While a team of doctors works to save my partner's life. Again.

I told him to stay in the truck. Damn it, Sandburg! What's so difficult about that?

I knew Dawson was hiding in the lighthouse. He was armed, and he hated Blair. I could see that hatred in his eyes when he looked at Sandburg, could almost smell the venom on his breath. From that tower, he would have a clear shot at us...at Blair.

I couldn't risk that. No way. So, I told him to wait in the truck.

I approached the lighthouse cautiously, keeping to the forest perimeter for cover. I heard the waves crashing on the rocks far below. It was still early morning; the heavy fog had not yet burned away. Turning up my hearing, I tracked Dawson's heartbeat, locating the source of the rapid pounding. At the top, outside, in front of the giant lens, waiting for his chance. Perfect set-up for a sniper attack.

The door to the lighthouse tower was directly ahead. I needed to reach that door, get inside, and meet Dawson on more equal footing. So I prepared to make a run for it. I'd shoot upward as I ran to provide my own cover.

I stepped out from the sanctuary of the trees, my gun raised, ready to fire the first shot.

Then it happened.

The fog horn blasted from the lighthouse tower.

With my hearing turned up, the booms struck me like a fist encased in steel. The tones continued, repeating endlessly, driving me to my knees in agony. My head was on fire, consuming me from the inside out. I could hear nothing but the horrific sound bombarding my ears. The pain shut down my sight; I only saw the blackness of an endless night. I don't know how long I lay there, curled in a fetal position, my hands clamped over my ears in an futile attempt to stop the torture.

From somewhere outside myself, outside the unimaginable pain that tormented me with unrelenting cruelty, I heard Blair's voice screaming my name.

Blair!

I tried to focus, to move, to warn Blair about Dawson up in the tower, but the pain held me captive. Then I was moving, but not of my own volition. Strong arms held me around the chest, dragging me backward toward the concealing safety of the forest.

The thunder of the lighthouse foghorn had ceased, but its reverberating echoes still rumbled in my head, blinding me, deafening me to all but Blair's voice as he tried to reassure me. But not all my senses had completely shut down.

I could feel. My acute sense of touch had never before been the damnable curse that it became at that moment. I felt the bullets whizzing by, felt the minute changes in the air around me as they cut it as a hot knife slices warm butter.

Suddenly, I felt greater agony than I ever imagined in my darkest, most powerful nightmare. I felt the bullet that tore into Blair's chest. I felt it, damn it... I felt that cold steel race by me. Felt its impact as it ripped into his soft skin. Felt his moan of pain.

And I felt him continue to move. Continue to drag me across the rocky ground until we were safely hidden in the protective shelter of the trees. Then I felt him slip away from me, and I felt my own heart tighten in fear.

The world was dark, and the only sound was the dull thunder that remained from the blasts of the foghorn. Finally, a pinprick of light emerged from the shadows, and I desperately followed it. It grew brighter and wider until I understood that it was Blair's voice I heard, his gentle touch I felt, guiding me back to the light of reality.

As the darkness lifted and the thunder faded, I realized I was lying on the ground. Rocks dug into my back, and the dampness of the earth chilled my skin where my shirt had ripped.

Blair...

He had collapsed beside me, his hand clutching mine. My returning senses were assaulted again, this time by the blood. Blair's blood, rich and red, soaking the ground on which we lay. The smell overwhelmed me; its heat tormented me.

Dial it down, Ellison. Dial it down. Blair needs you. He's dying, damn it. Dial it down.

Blair needed me to do it, so I did. Whatever he asks of me, needs from me, I will provide. Or die in the attempt.

The control returned. I looked for my gun. There... Clutched in Blair's hand. I checked it. He had fired at Dawson as he struggled to get me to safety, trying to protect us both. There was only one bullet left.

He was no longer conscious. I ran my hands over his skin. Pale...clammy. He was going into shock. I struggled to control the bleeding, to keep him alive long enough for help to arrive.

As I worked, I extended my hearing, searching for Dawson. I found him. Coming toward us, behind the trees, about twelve feet away. Stalking me. Stalking Blair.

I crouched in front of Sandburg, using my body to shield his. Concentrating on the approaching heartbeat as it grew increasingly louder, I took my stance with the gun, ready. There was no doubt that Dawson was coming to kill us. To kill Blair.

He would never get that chance.

I waited. Calmly. Certain that I would succeed. There simply was no other possibility.

Dawson was behind the final trees offering him coverage. His heart rate increased; I could hear him breathe, faster and faster. The stench of his sweat assaulted me. He was ready to make his kill.

So was I.

Dawson stepped out from behind a huge, old cedar, his gun raised, the aura of hatred flowing from him like a tide.

I shot him between the eyes, not bothering to watch his body strike the earth.

Blair...

I heard the sirens approaching. He must have called on the cell phone. When, I wasn't sure. Smart kid.

My arms ached to hold him close, to lend strength through my touch, but I didn't dare move him and risk further injury. So I satisfied myself with holding his hand, stroking his hair, touching his cheek and forehead gently with my lips. I talked to him...meaningless words... And I waited...and worried...

I don't have a prayer.
Every time I see you standing there,
I go down upon my knees.
I'm changing,
I swore I'd never compromise.
But you convinced me otherwise.
I'll do anything you please.
You see in all my life I never found
What I couldn't resist, what I couldn't turn down.
I could walk away from anyone I ever knew,
But I can't walk away from you.

One day, scientists will prove that time actually slows down inside a hospital waiting room. I know this is true through experience. When you're waiting for some doctor, a total stranger, to tell you if your world is going to continue or come screeching to an end, time definitely slows to a crawl. Others around you may not be aware of the change, but it does. Trust me. By the time they took Blair away from me in the ER, my senses were fully back on line. Enough for me to sit in the waiting area and monitor his heart beat. As long as I heard that sound, steady and strong, I knew he was still alive. We were still alive.

Sometime during the interminable hours that I waited, our friends from Major Crimes arrived. I was vaguely aware of their presence, but they existed only on the periphery of my consciousness. By then, my world consisted of only one thing...the rhythmic sound from the operating room two floors below. Nothing else existed. Nothing else mattered.

As darkness fell over the city, word finally came. Sandburg was out of surgery. He was stable. Everything looked good. The tight band of fear wrapped around my heart eased its icy grip at last.

They let me see him about an hour later. We've spent so much time at each other's bedside in hospitals...too much time. The nurses all know us. So well, in fact, that they didn't even bother reminding me of visiting hours. They knew I wouldn't be leaving. Not until my partner was awake, and I knew he would be all right without me there.

So here I am... At his bedside, waiting...and worrying...

I sit in the chair provided for visitors. There must be a hospital policy requiring visitor chairs to be as uncomfortable as possible. If so, this one definitely meets the requirement.

Taking his hand in mine, I extend my senses to audit Sandburg's condition. His heart rate is steady and calm. I pick up the lingering scent of his fear under all the antiseptic hospital smells, and even fainter, the familiar, comforting scent of Blair himself that reminds me of home.

I lower the bed rail and sit beside him, lightly running my free hand over his body. I feel the heat of his fever, the bruises from his fall after he was shot, and the angry chest incision from the surgery. It might have been so much worse.

Since my concerns about his physical condition have been relieved, my thoughts turn back back to the horror of the day's event. I look at Blair's pale face and gently touch his cheek, leaving my fingers against his too warm skin. My sensory memory kicks in... in overdrive.

Once again, I smell his blood, taste the sweaty fear on his skin, see the life slowly bleeding from him. That band around my heart constricts again, tightening so hard I fear it may cease beating all together. Tears well up behind my tightly closed lids, finally spilling down my cheeks. My thoughts swirl like leaves caught in a whirlwind of fear and guilt. Finally, I surrender and speak out loud to my friend, not sure if he can even hear me.

"Oh, God, Blair! It was so close this time. Another inch and the bullet would have hit your heart. I was only an inch away from losing you, Chief. One damn inch! An inch and you would have been taken from me forever. Forever, Blair..."

"Do you have any idea how that frightens me, Chief? If I've learned anything over the years since you came into my life, it's that I cannot lose you. I've survived a lot, but I know I could not survive that."

"What have you done to me, Sandburg? Before I met you, I didn't need anyone else in my life to survive. It was an orderly life, Chief. Safe. Until my senses kicked in, and I almost lost my mind. Then you saved me, and suddenly you're a part of my life, my home, my job...and before I realized what was happening, the biggest part of my heart. Sometimes I forget that you haven't always been here, Chief, beside me, sharing my world. Now I can't survive without you, and today I almost lost you. And that terrifies me... Damn it, Blair! Why didn't you stay in the truck?"

Suddenly, I realize I'm gripping his hand too tightly, I'm shaking, and my voice is too loud. I'm angry...angry at my best friend. For not listening to me, not obeying me. For doing exactly what he wanted, regardless of the consequences. For getting shot trying to save me and coming so very close to leaving me forever.

I feel Blair's fingers twitch against mine, and he moans quietly. His heart rate accelerates, and his respiration increases. He is waking up.

I struggle to control my emotions, forcing them down deep inside. I manage to contain my anger, barely, before his blue eyes emerge, weak and confused, from behind those thick, dark lashes.

He looks up at me sleepily and smiles. I squeeze his hand, but my own smile will not come. Not with the anger and fear still simmering just beneath the surface. "Hey, Chief," I greet him, with little warmth.

Blair looks confused. He's always been able to read my emotions too well. His eyes study mine for a moment, but I cannot hold the contact. I look down, staring at a loose thread on the blanket.

I feel a sudden pressure against my cheek, and Blair's hand is there. His voice is raspy, "What's wrong?" When I look at him, I see the concern and worry in those wide blue eyes. My best friend is lying in a hospital bed, recovering from major surgery, and he's worried about me. A sharp stab of painful guilt joins the anger and fear that consume my heart.

Struggling for a touch of control, I reach for the water pitcher and take out a few ice chips. "Here, Chief," I whisper and slip the ice between his lips. I still cannot meet his eyes.

As I pull my hand back, he catches my wrist and holds it firmly. "Talk to me...please."

I can only shake my head and answer, "I'm sorry, Sandburg, but I can't... I can't deal with this right now."

The hurt on his face cuts me deeply, but my own anger is stronger. I realize that I need to distance myself before I say something to really hurt Blair. Now is definitely not the time to discuss this problem.

I reach out and gently brush a stray curl from his face. "Rest now, Blair. I'll sit here for awhile, but you need to sleep. Okay?" I can read the confusion in his eyes, but I move away, carefully placing the hand I was holding beside him with a slight squeeze. I return to my chair and sit down, closing my eyes. After a few minutes, I open them again, only to discover that Blair is still watching me with those big, blue, hurting eyes.

I cannot control the battle raging inside me. So many conflicting emotions fighting for dominance...anger at Blair's actions, the fear of losing him, guilt for not protecting him, shame for needing his help so badly, and my overwhelming love for him... All these emotions are battering at my heart. I realize I'm on the verge of losing all control as I stare into those pain filled eyes, but I know I can't yet answer the question they hold.

I move to the door, my hands shaking. I whisper quickly, "Sorry, Chief. I need to get out of here. Get some sleep, okay? I'll be back tomorrow. I'm sorry..." Without waiting for his reply, I slip out the door.

My breathing is too fast, and I lean against the wall right outside his room. Then I hear the soft voice from inside, "Jim? What have I done? Jim...please?"

My heart is being ripped apart. I dial back my hearing and run down the corridor, past the surprised nurses, and to my truck and home.

I have never let anything have this much control over me.
I worked too hard to call my life my own.
I made myself a world, and it's worked so perfectly.
But it's your world now,
I can't refuse,
I've never had so much to lose.

Blair came home today. The days since the shooting have been difficult for us both.

My once burning anger at him for disobeying me and risking his life has turned to a slow, rolling boil. I stayed with him every day in the hospital, but the visits were strained. Every time I looked at Blair, I saw the confusion and the hurt. When he tried to talk to me about it, I cut him off. The hospital wasn't the place, and he was still too weak. But now he's home.

I'm in the kitchen, pouring Blair a cup of tea. I take it to him in his room. Stopping in the doorway, I look at my friend. He's still so pale. His eyes are closed, and his hair is feathered out around his face like a soft, mahogany frame. He opens his eyes with a sad sigh.

"Jim?"

I bring him the tea and help him sit up enough to drink it, propping pillows behind his back. As I touch him, my heart tightens in misery at his warmth. I've missed Blair, missed our closeness, our connection. But the anguish of almost losing him because he didn't listen to me is still too fresh... It still frightens me too much.

"Jim? Please... Talk to me, man," Blair pleads with desperation clouding his eyes, breaking his voice.

I look at him for a moment, then sit beside him on his bed, staring helplessly at the wall. No words will come.

Blair breaks the silence, "I can't take this, Jim, this distance between us. Please! What is wrong?" The pleading tone in his voice breaks down my resistance.

"What's wrong, Chief? You want to know want's wrong? I almost lost you, that's what's wrong! You almost died! And why?" My voice is louder, and I stand up, pacing around the tiny room. I feel the heat in my face, the shaking of my hands, but it's too late for control. "You wouldn't listen to me, Sandburg. No! You did what you always do. Ignore me and go on and do whatever it is you want." My voice drops to a whisper, "Why won't you listen to me, Chief? Why won't you let me keep you safe?" I wait for his answer, my hands at my side, clenched in tight fists of frustration.

I hear Blair take a deep breath and slowly release it. "I knew something was wrong that day, Jim. I had this feeling... I can't explain it, but I knew you were in trouble. I knew it. What should I have done?" His voice is softer, "I saved your life, Jim."

"At what cost, Blair? Your own life? No! I won't accept that kind of sacrifice from you, Chief. I can't..." I turn and leave the room, unable to continue for the tightness in my throat. At that moment, I know I'm a coward and a cold bastard, but I can't seem to stop myself. I haven't felt so out of control since the days before Sandburg entered my life.

At 1:00 in the morning, I'm lying in my bed, but sleep refuses to come. How can it when my emotions are on an uncontrolled roller coaster ride? I hate how I've treated Blair. How could I have left him alone in that hospital the first night? Hardened my heart against the one it cherishes most?

But how do I get over this anger that's tearing us apart?

I hear him shuffling slowly from his room into the living area. He eases down on the couch with a small moan of pain.

"Jim? I'm not sure, but I'm betting you're awake. Since you won't stay in the room with me long enough for us to talk this out face to face, I'm going to talk now. I just hope you'll listen. Please don't dial me out, man. Okay? Please?"

He pauses. "Okay. I'm going to believe you're listening now. Jim, I've put a lot of thought into how to explain this; I just hope it comes out right."

"I understand that your first priority is to protect me, no matter what. That's so cool, man, it really is. Nobody's ever loved me that much, Jim. But you've gotta understand... My need to protect you is just as strong. Just as instinctual."

"Try to understand, Jim, please... You can't expect me to stay behind and let you die. Not when I know you need my help. Would you be able to wait and just let me die, Jim? Just to stay safe yourself? No. Then how can you ask me to do that? It's impossible."

"I know you can control your senses most of the time now, and I'm really proud of the progress you've made. Believe me, Jim, I don't want to keep you dependent on me for your control. That's never been my goal. But, the more you use and refine your senses, the more powerful they become. You've seen that, man; you know it's true."

I hear him take a deep breath, working to control the pain he's still experiencing and trying to handle his own emotions as well. "As your senses develop, we have to keep learning. Different stimuli might begin to affect them. Things that never did before. You never know what's going to happen, Jim, and how you might react. I mean, look at what happened at the lighthouse. You didn't know about that foghorn. You couldn't predict that. I can help you cope with things like that; it's why I'm here. But I have to be with you to help you. I can't do it in the truck, Jim. I'm good, man, but I ain't that good."

I hear his soft chuckle and another deep breath before he continues.

"I know how important control is to you. It's hard for you to give up that need to be in charge of your life, of what happens to you, even in control of me. But none of us can be in control all the time...not me, not Simon, not even you, Jim, sentinel senses or not."

"I also know you trust me. I see it in your eyes, on your face, when you have problems with your senses, and I ask you to try something new that might help. Sometimes it sounds crazy, off the wall, but you never question me or wonder if I know what I'm doing, you just trust me. Like I trust you...absolutely...no questions asked. Right?"

"Anyway, here's my idea, buddy. I think it's time to take that trust a step further. I promise, Jim, that I will always trust you...to protect me at any time, under any circumstances. No big news there, right? I already do, you know that."

"All I ask is for you to do the same for me. You know I'd do anything for you, Jim. Anything you ask of me, I'll do, or die trying. Except one thing... Stand by and watch you get killed, just to protect myself. I can't do that, Jim. I won't. I'll move mountains for you, man, anything...just not that. Please don't ask me to..."

He stops for several moments, gathering his strength for the words yet to come. I wait, my jaw clenched so tightly it hurts. I try to breathe deeply, like Sandburg's taught me, to relax. Then I hear the soft voice from below again.

"I know you're mad at me because I came after you and got shot. But I won't apologize for that; I won't, because you're still here. You're alive, Jim, because I didn't wait in the truck. Believe me, I didn't count on getting shot, but if that's the price to keep you alive, I'll pay it, Jim. Just as you would do for me. It's symbiotic, man. Works in nature; why not for us?"

"I guess that's all, except for this. If you can't accept this, Jim, then I don't think this partnership can survive. I'll... I'll move out and try to move on, and let you do the same. It'll hurt like hell, and I'll always be empty inside, but I cannot promise you I won't do the same thing again. And I can't live like this, with you so angry at me. Not even able to stay in the same room with me, or meet my eyes, or talk to me. It just hurts too damn much, Jim."

"So the ball's in your court, partner. Take your time, think about it... You know where I am."

Blair's voice fades away, leaving only the sound of his heartbeat. I stare at the ceiling through the darkness.

I'm shameless.
You know it should be easy for a man who's strong to say he's sorry
Or admit that he's wrong.
I've never lost anything I ever missed,
But I've never felt a love like this.
It's out of my hands.
I'm shameless.
I don't have the power now,
And I don't want it anyhow,
So I gotta let it go.
I'm shameless, shameless as a man can be.
You could make a total fool of me;
I just wanted you to know.
I'm shameless.

There it is. Sandburg has outlined my choices very clearly. I can accept his need to stay at my side, when he feels I'm in danger or...

Or he will leave.

If I accept his terms, Blair could die. And then, so would I.

A strong man would release him. Release him to start a new life, have his career, be safe...

But I'm not that strong. There, I've admitted it. Jim Ellison, army captain and tough cop, is not that strong. I need him too much.

So all that's left is to let it go. To accept Blair's need to protect me as fully as I've always accepted my own instinctive need to protect him...and learn to live with the consequences.

Whatever it takes. I cannot lose him.

Then I realize the anger is gone. For the first time since I sat beside him in the hospital thinking about what might have been, the fiery place where the anger burned is cool. In its place is acceptance of what Blair feels...of who my guide is. If he's right about this genetic business, and Blair is always right about this sentinel stuff, then our mutual drive to protect each other is natural and preordained...how it's meant to be. He can no more eliminate that instinct than I can.

The kid's right, as usual. How can someone so young have so much insight? Must be a shaman thing. No, it's just Sandburg. My guide. My friend. My partner.

I sigh and crawl out of bed, pull on my robe, and make my way downstairs. I owe him one hell of an apology. How do I even begin? I'm reminded of the old song lyric. Sorry seems to be the hardest word.

As I take the last step, I hear his soft voice, "I'm sorry, Jim." My heart, too long frozen against him, melts.

"Blair, no..." I whisper, moving to sit beside him on the couch. He's covered up with the blanket from his bed. Only his tousled hair and his too pale face peek out at me. I reach over and snag the afghan, tucking it carefully over us both. I know he can't see me well in the darkness of the moonless night, but I see him clearly. See the tears in his eyes, the fear of what I will say, the fear of losing all we've built together.

I take his hand, threading my fingers through his. I wrap my other hand over it, encasing its coldness within the warmth of my own. I feel a slight quiver and squeeze gently. "You have nothing to apologize for, Blair. Nothing, understand me? I am so sorry, Chief. You saved my life. If you hadn't followed me, pulled me to safety, Dawson would have killed me. I know that."

"Then why..."

I interrupt before he can finish. "Hush... It's my turn now, Chief. Please, just listen, okay?" I see his nod in the darkness.

I reach out and cup his face in my hand, absorbing his warmth, the precious pulse of life throbbing just under my fingers. "When I realized just how close I'd come to losing you, I was terrified. I couldn't handle all the emotions I was feeling...the fear, the guilt... so much guilt, Blair..." Suddenly, I had to stop as the tidal wave of emotions threatened to drown me once again, just for daring to remember. Damn, I hate to lose control. Guess that is a big part of my problem...

Sandburg squeezes my hand in reassurance. I try to continue, but the tightness in my throat, in my chest, makes it difficult. "I'm not as strong as I like to believe, Chief. I have a hard time dealing with my feelings. But you already know that too well, don't you? Instead of facing up to my own guilt, I turned it into anger at you. After you were shot saving me! Damn it, Sandburg, why do you even bother with me?" That's when I lose it, and the tears flow freely.

Blair starts to speak, but I reach out and touch his face. "No," I whisper, my voice breaking, "I'm not through." Taking a deep breath, I continue, "You were right all along. It goes both ways. We both have the need to protect each other. That's the only way the sentinel/guide relationship could survive, isn't it? Each one watching out for the other. Symbiotic. Don't know why it took me so long to see it."

I see his smile. There's nothing quite as comforting as seeing that smile. "I never wanted to hurt you..." I can't finish the sentence. The tightness in my throat wins at last.

"I know," he whispers, looking down and picking at the yarn of the afghan covering us. "You were just so distant. I was afraid..." His soft voice trails off into nothingness.

I squeeze his hand now to reassure him. "I was angry, Chief, and I did a great job of convincing myself it was directed at you. But, I was really angry at myself, Blair. I knew deep down inside that you were right; you should have been beside me, where you belong. I just couldn't admit I was wrong. I couldn't give up that need to be right, to be the one in control. But no matter how I felt, there was no excuse for treating you the way I did. No excuse." Gently, my hand slides from his cheek to beneath his chin, and I carefully tilt his face up to meet my eyes. "I am so very sorry, Blair. Please forgive me."

Blair's smile lights up his entire face and with it, my heart. "Stay with me?" he softly asks.

I nod, "Always."

I settle in beside him. Blair curls on his side, being careful not to jar his healing incision, and rests his head on my lap. After tucking both covers around him to seal in the warmth, I relax. I treasure the warm, welcome weight of him against me, and his soft breath tickles my skin through the fabric of my robe. Blair's arm reaches around my back, and he pulls himself a little closer. The tension and stress evaporate from my body, replaced with the peace and contentment which always fill me when I'm close to my guide.

Leaning down close to his ear, I whisper to him, "I need you, kid. Not just as a sentinel needs his guide. I, plain old Jim Ellison, need you, Blair. So much." I kiss the side of his face before continuing, "When we're good, when we're connected, I feel complete and whole. But when something is wrong between us, it's like I'm empty inside. Hollow. I do not like that feeling, Chief."

He smiles. "We'll always have some conflicts. We are two very different people in a lot of ways. Disagreements are inevitable, man. But as long as we remember what's beneath it all, we'll be all right, Jim."

I know what he means, but somehow I need to hear the words tonight. "And what does lie beneath, Chief?" I stroke his hair, marveling at the silky feel of each curly strand.

He knows I know. But, being Sandburg, he also understands my need to hear it. "I once said it was about friendship. But it's really about a lot more. It's about being family...about loyalty...trust...commitment...about love... That's what's beneath it all, Jim."

I smile through the tears of gratitude gathering in my eyes. I can only nod and hold him a little tighter to me, thankful that the emptiness inside has been filled. I wonder once again what I ever did to deserve this friendship. But I already know the answer to that. Nothing. Blair just gave his heart, his very life, to me with no strings attached. All he asks is my friendship and to help me. Protect me as I protect him.

I'll never deserve all he's given me, all he is to me. But I'll keep trying, just the same. Imperfect, insensitive fool that I am. Please be patient with me, Chief.

After awhile, Blair drifts into sleep, his head growing heavy against me, his breathing becoming deeper, and his heartbeat calm and steady.

I don't sleep, even as the night passes into dawn. Tonight sleep isn't important to me. Tonight, all that matters is right here in my arms, safe and warm. I only want to enjoy this feeling, this sensation of completion, as long as I possibly can. There will be other nights for sleep. This is a night for understanding...for friendship...for forgiveness. That achieved, who could need anything more?

The End - Part One

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

Part Two: To Make You Feel My Love

When the rain's blowing in your face,
And the whole world is on your case,
I would offer you a warm embrace,
To make you feel my love.

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

Jim Ellison hit the enter key on his computer to save the case file he had just completed. Done. One more to go, and his backlog of paperwork would be clear at last. With a satisfied smile, Jim opened the final file and started to work.

The door to Captain Simon Banks' office flew open, and the captain emerged at a run, bellowing, "Heads up, everybody. There's been a shooting at Cascade High. We have confirmed fatalities. Everyone's on this one, people. Let's move!"

On his way to the door, Simon glanced at his best detective and saw the look of panic in Ellison's usually calm blue eyes. Only one thing could cause James Ellison such fear. Oh, God. Not Sandburg!

Simon moved to Jim's desk. "What's going on, Jim?" he asked quietly.

Ellison was already on his feet, pulling on his coat. "Sandburg's there. At Cascade High. He's talking to a senior social studies class today about anthropology. I gotta get to him, Simon!"

The captain nodded, "Okay, Jim. But you're riding with me. You're in no condition to drive."

Without argument, Jim nodded, sprinting to the bullpen door with Simon a step behind.

"Can't you go any faster?" Jim asked irritably.

Banks glanced at the detective. "Not without wrecking the car, Jim, and I don't want to infringe on your turf." His attempt at humor was rewarded by the brief flash of a smile across Ellison's tightly set features. "He'll be okay, Jim. Take it easy."

Jim's hands clenched into fists, released, then clenched again. "He has to be, Simon. I just need to find him, to make sure. If anything's happened to Sandburg..." He couldn't finish the thought, but Simon already knew the rest. If Jim Ellison lost his partner...his best friend...his guide...he would be lost as well.

In the few years they'd been together, the unlikely pair had forged a relationship that went beyond Simon's comprehension. Blair Sandburg had given Jim back his sanity after Ellison's senses erupted, uncontrolled. At first, the relationship had been based purely on Jim's need for Sandburg's guidance with his sentinel senses and Sandburg's need for a doctoral research subject. But it had quickly evolved into something much deeper. Simon had observed it, tried to analyze it, had even been included in it, at times, but he had yet to be able to understand it completely. He only knew that the commitment and love Jim and Blair felt for each other was soul deep. If anything had happened to Sandburg, if he was one of the confirmed fatalities that day at Cascade High, the shooter would have destroyed Jim Ellison as well. Thank God, Daryl doesn't attend CHS. At least, he's safe. Hang on, Jim, we're almost there.

Ellison was out of the car and running toward the school before Simon shifted into 'Park." Hurrying to catch up, the tall captain followed. A uniformed officer recognized Banks and quickly approached the two men. "What's the situation?" barked Banks.

"It's contained, sir," Officer Tyler responded. "Shooter's dead...suicide. Apparently he worked alone...no accomplices. Three other casualties, one adult and two students. We already have men on the inside..."

James Ellison broke away, heading for the front entrance at a full run. One adult... Blair? No, God, please. Please, not him.

Ducking under the yellow police tape, he flashed his gold shield and was waved through. He stopped inside the front doors and extended his hearing, sifting through the myriad of sounds as Sandburg had taught him, searching for the one sound he cherished above all others. Jim filtered out the heartrending sobs, the frantic voices, and the ringing telephones until he found it. His guide's heartbeat. Sending up a silent prayer of thanks, Jim jogged toward the rhythmic beat and entered room 307, his eyes searching for his partner.

Jim hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath until he released it in a huge sigh of relief. Blair was unhurt. No blood. No broken bones. Safe.

His friend looked up and met his eyes. Sandburg acknowledged Jim's presence with a slight nod and lift of his right hand, then he turned his attention back to the three students sitting with him. Sitting in a blue plastic chair across from two boys and a girl, Blair appeared in complete control, totally professional. He was leaning forward, listening intently. The girl and one of the boys had tears streaming down their faces; the other boy had a shell-shocked expression Jim knew all too well.

Not wanting to intrude on such a private moment, Ellison turned down his sensitive hearing to normal. Then he waited quietly beside the door and studied his friend. He's amazing. Those kids are really tuned in to him, listening and opening up to him. He's a natural listener and counselor. I should know; he's been there often enough for me. Blair doesn't just sympathize, he empathizes. Of course, that's why things like this hurt him as much as they do. He feels so deeply. I'm sorry you were here today, Chief.

At last, Sandburg stood up, patting one of the students on the shoulder. "I'll be right back," Jim heard him say gently. He came over to Jim, taking his arm and moving them both to the hall.

"Figured you'd be here soon," Blair said. His voice was steady, but lacked his usual lilt. "The kids are having a rough time..."

Jim put his hands on Blair's shoulders, "Are you okay, buddy?" Jim asked, stressing his concern for his partner.

Sandburg nodded, "Yeah, fine. It happened in the hall, right outside the room where I was talking to the class. I heard the first shot and the screams..."

Jim closed his eyes briefly at the thought of what had been happening in that hallway and at the painful look in his friend's blue eyes. I'm sorry, kid, I'm so sorry...

Blair continued, "So I told everyone to get down, and I opened to door to see what was happening."

Jim pushed down the urge to crawl Sandburg's frame for going into that hall, for putting himself in danger. Of course, that's what he did. He's a cop's partner. What did you expect, Ellison?

"What happened, Chief?" Jim kept his voice soft and massaged the tense shoulder muscles beneath his hands.

Blair went on in the unfamiliar, flat voice, "I was face to face with him, Jim. Eye to eye. He pointed the gun at me..." Blair hesitated, and Jim felt the tremor that passed through the young man. His own heart constricted at the vivid image of that gun pointed at his guide. "Then he smiled, this sad, hopeless little smile, put the gun to his temple...and fired." the younger man stopped, looking at the floor.

"Oh, God, Blair," Jim whispered. Instinctively, he reached out to draw Blair to him, to comfort his friend, but, to his dismay, Sandburg pulled back.

"No, Jim... Don't... I need to go back inside," he said, indicating the classroom. "I volunteered to help with counseling until the buses get the kids home, or they're picked up by their parents. They need all the help they can get until more counselors can get here. My psych minor, you know..." He glanced up at Jim and saw the hurt in his partner's eyes.

"But, Chief, you saw..." Jim was interrupted before he could finish.

Blair made a weak attempt to smile reassuringly. "I'm okay. Really. You go on and do your job, and let me do mine. Okay? I'll finish here, and we can go home when you're done. Or I'll meet you at the loft, if I get through first. Whatever. I'm fine, Jim, I really am." Sandburg turned back to the classroom door.

Jim blocked the entrance with his arm. "Blair..."

Sandburg ducked easily under the barrier, "Go on, Jim. Please. I have to... I need to do this, okay?" He closed the door after him, leaving a puzzled and worried Jim Ellison behind.

Simon Banks closed his notebook, put his pen in his pocket, and sighed wearily. "That does it for now. Everyone go on home. Get some rest. The uniforms will be here through the night, and we'll get back to it in the morning. Thanks, everybody. Good work." He took off his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes.

Stretching their cramped muscles, the team members of Major Crimes stood up and made their way to the doors of the school library, where their briefing had been held. Jim Ellison glanced at his watch. Almost 10:00 pm. He was anxious to get home to the loft. To find Blair.

The young man had located Jim at about 5:00 to tell him he was going home. Ellison had hoped to join him earlier, but the demands of the investigation had prevented it. In the back of his mind, he'd been worried about his partner ever since. At least at the school, he'd been helping others, and that was what Blair did best. He shouldn't be alone right now. I should be there for him.

"C'mon, Jim, I'll give you a ride to the loft, " Simon offered, coming up behind Ellison in the hall. The two men left the building and walked to Simon's car, discussing how best to handle all the witness interviews that would continue the following day.

About halfway to the loft, Simon brought up the subject he'd avoided all evening. "I know that Sandburg witnessed the suicide, Jim. I'll need his statement tomorrow. Think he's up to it?"

At Jim's silence, Simon glanced over at him, "What's wrong, Jim? Something going on with Sandburg I should know about?"

Jim shrugged in frustration. "Maybe, sir, I don't know." He explained how the student had killed himself in front of Blair, while looking in his partner's eyes. "When I tried to...to comfort him, Simon, he pulled away from me. He's not reacting as I would expect. He's too calm, too together. I'm worried, Simon."

Banks pulled the car to a stop in front of the loft, and Jim got out. Ellison leaned in through the open door to listen to his captain and friend. "I don't know what advice to give, Jim. You know the kid better than anyone." Banks lifted his hands from the wheel in helplessness. "Seeing something like that... I suppose all you can do is be there for him, try to get him to talk it out. Make an appointment with the department shrink, if you think it would help. I wish I could let you take tomorrow off to be with him, but I can't."

Jim nodded in understanding. "I know, Simon. Appreciate the thought, though. Thanks for the ride. See you in the morning." Jim closed the car door and watched his captain drive off. Then he jogged up the stairs to the third floor loft that was his home with Blair.

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

Evening shadows and the stars appear,
There is no one to dry your tears,
I would hold you for a million years,
To make you feel my love.

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

As he entered the loft, Jim automatically checked for his guide's heartbeat and was pleased to hear it thumping steadily and normally. "Hey, Chief," he called out, closing the door. No response. Jim followed the sound to its source. Sandburg was out on the balcony.

Jim gazed at his partner through the glass. Blair was leaning against the rail, his shoulders hunched over, his head down. The cool breeze off the bay blew his hair back away from his face, and Jim could see his eyes were closed. He looks so lost, like a little boy who's all alone. Well, you're not alone, Chief. Never. Jim stepped onto the balcony and stood close beside his friend.

"Hey, buddy," he said softly. Every sentinel instinct within him urged him to reach out and hold his guide, to shelter him from the pain with his strong arms, but after Blair's rebuff earlier in the day, Jim forced himself not to touch his friend.

"Hey," Blair replied, his voice still flat and unemotional. "Didn't hear you come in. There's soup on the stove and a grilled cheese sandwich ready. I didn't get very creative with dinner tonight. Sorry. Go on and eat. You've had a long day." He didn't look up, didn't move.

"Not as long as you, Sandburg. Are you okay?" The genuine concern in Jim's voice caused Blair to turn and meet his eyes at last.

"I'm fine, man. Really. Just think I'm going on to bed, all right? I'll see you in the morning." Blair moved toward the door to the loft.

Jim caught him by the shoulder. "Chief, don't you want to sit with me awhile? We haven't had time to talk..."

Blair jerked away from Jim's hand. He said roughly, "No, Jim, I don't want to sit and talk." His voice rose, shaking slightly. "There's nothing to discuss, okay? It's over! The kid shot and killed a teacher and two students. Then he shot himself. End of story!"

Jim argued, "Yes, Blair, he shot himself...right before your eyes! C'mon, Sandburg, you need to work through this!"

Blair looked at him with blazing eyes. "I am working through it, Jim. On my own, okay? I don't need to talk about it to do that. Just...just leave me alone, man! Leave me the hell alone!" He whirled around and ran into the loft, slamming the doors to his room behind him.

Jim stared after his guide in shock. Blair was shutting him out. Completely. Why? He could hear the soft, muffled sobs coming from behind the closed doors. Oh, Blair... What's going on here, buddy? I want to help you; I need to help you, but you won't let me in. Please, Chief, don't do this. Let me help.

Neither man got much sleep that night.

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

I know you haven't made your mind up yet.
I would never do you wrong.
Known it from the moment that we met,
There's no doubt in my mind where you belong.

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

By the time Jim had showered and dressed the next morning, he was alone. He found a note on the kitchen table and read it.

Jim,

I have a lot to do, so I've gone in early. Probably won't make it to the station today. Sorry. I'll be late tonight, so don't wait up.

Chief

Frustrated, Ellison crumbled the note in his fist. Oh, no, you don't, Sandburg. You aren't going to avoid the issue that easily today. The captain needs your statement, and I know just the person to take it. You are going to talk about this, one way or the other.

Simon closed his office door, looking at his best detective in confusion. "You want me to take Sandburg's statement? I'm not sure I understand, Jim. Why don't you..."

"Blair's shutting me out right now, Simon, and I don't know why. Maybe he'll open up to you, maybe you can figure out what's going on with him... I just know he has to talk about what happened sometime, with someone. Even if it's not me." The look of abandonment in Ellison's eyes was so strong that Simon knew he couldn't refuse.

"Okay, Jim," he sighed, throwing his hand up. "I'll try, although I can't imagine Sandburg telling me anything he won't tell you. But I'll give it a shot."

Jim smiled in relief. "Thanks, Simon. Don't tell Blair I asked you to do this. Right now, I don't think that would get you very far with him. I'll be helping with the witness and background interviews, but I'll touch base with you later in the day. I really appreciate this."

How can the kid find anything in this office? Simon Banks moved a stack of papers from the single chair in Sandburg's cubbyhole of an office and sat down across the desk from Blair.

"Okay, Sandburg," he said, turning on his tape recorder. "Tell me everything you remember about what happened yesterday in that hallway."

Listening to Blair retell the events of that horrible day, Simon found himself remembering Jim's description of his partner's reaction to the shooting. The young man's voice was almost monotone. No emotion reached his usually dancing blue eyes. Jim's right. He is too calm, at least on the surface. Definitely not typical Sandburg. Something's not right with the kid. Not right at all. He followed up Blair's account with a few questions, then Simon clicked off the recorder.

"Is that all?" Blair asked, looking relieved.

Simon stood up. "That's it. You did a thorough job describing the events, Sandburg. We're done." He started for the door, then turned back, his voice softening, "Blair, do you want to talk to anyone about the shooting? I've got time..."

To Banks' astonishment, Blair exploded, "No, Simon! I'm fine with this. No problem, man. Why does everyone think I need to talk?" He stood up, pacing back and forth from one side of the small room to the other. His hands cut the air with angry gestures as the words flew out, "Jim sent you here, didn't he? I wondered why he didn't come himself. Should have known! Figured if I won't talk to him, maybe I'd open up to you. I can't believe him! Well, you can just tell Detective Ellison that I am doing great. I have nothing to discuss with you, him, or anyone else. Nothing!"

Simon was stunned at the outburst. "Blair," he said carefully, "Jim's worried about you, that's all. You know how much you mean to him. He just wants to help, Sandburg. Don't shut him out."

All his energy reserves gone, Blair limply slumped back into his desk chair, shaking his head. His voice grew soft, "I know Jim means well, Simon, but I'm okay. I just want to forget what happened yesterday. Put it behind me." He looked up at Banks with a weak smile, "Sorry I blew up like that."

Simon stood in the doorway, ready to leave. "It's okay, Sandburg. But I don't think this is something you can forget so easily, and I think you know that, too. Let Jim help you. You need his help, and he needs to be able to do something for you right now. That's what friends are for, right? Think about it, Blair, before you turn your back on Jim again." Simon left without waiting for a reply.

Blair stared helplessly at the empty doorway. How can I tell anyone what I'm feeling, what I'm thinking, right now? Even Jim... He couldn't understand this... Nobody could... Suddenly feeling very tired, very alone, Blair put his head down on his desk, hating the tears that flowed, unbidden and unwelcome, down his cheeks.

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

I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue;
I'd go crawling down the avenue.
There ain't nothing that I wouldn't do,
To make you feel my love.

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

True to his words on the note he'd left that morning for Jim, Blair came home late. He opened the door quietly, hoping he would not find his partner waiting up for him. No Jim. Instead, Blair spotted a new note in the same spot on the kitchen table, picked it up and read it.

Chief,

I'm not sure what's going on with you right now. You seem to need some space, some distance, from me, so I'll try to honor that. You said not to wait up, so I've gone on up to bed. Just know that I'm here, Blair, if you need me.

Jim

Blair squeezed his eyes shut, fighting to control his tears. Ah, Jim... It's so hard, man. I don't know what to do... Choking back a sob, he ran into his room, closing the French doors behind him.

Jim Ellison lay upstairs in his bed, listening. He heard Blair come home, heard him read the note, heard the broken sob and the slamming doors of the small bedroom directly below him. He listened to the quiet sounds. Blair was crying, softly, but with heart wrenching pain. Jim's own heart was breaking for his friend. Come on, Chief, please. Come to me, buddy. Please let me help. I hate knowing you're hurting like this. Please, Blair...

The night crept slowly by.

Hours later, Jim's attention was caught by a change in the sounds from the bedroom below. Blair's sobs had ceased, but he wasn't asleep. Jim tracked him into the kitchen where he could hear Blair's preparations for a cup of tea. He listened for long minutes as his guide sipped the hot tea in the kitchen. At last, he heard the cup placed in the sink, and Blair's footsteps as he padded back toward his room. Then the footsteps hesitated, and stopped, at the foot of the stairs to Jim's room.

Jim could hear the soft breathing as Blair stood still, could hear his heart rate increase, and he could hear the soft, ragged sigh that escaped Blair's lips. Come on, Chief. Please... Jim silently begged. Come to me, Blair. Let me help.

To his great relief, Jim heard Blair slowly climb the stairs and stop at the top, unsure of what to do next. A soft voice whispered, "Jim?"

Immediately, Ellison sat up and said quietly, "Hey, Chief. C'mere." He moved over, holding up the covers.

The glow of the full moon through the loft's massive windows cast enough silver glow for Blair to see Jim's welcoming gesture. He took a deep breath, and without hesitation, climbed into the big bed, finding the warm spot Jim had vacated and settling into it gratefully.

Jim pulled the comforter back over them both, but he forced himself not to touch his guide. He was determined to follow Blair's lead on this one. The last thing he wanted to do was scare the young man away again by offering too much, too soon.

For several long minutes, they lay silently, side by side, shoulders almost, but not quite, touching. Then Jim felt Blair shift a little so that his head rested against Jim's shoulder. Blair's hand sought Jim's, and he threaded their fingers together. Jim squeezed his hand tightly in reassurance. He heard a quiet sigh and felt the warmth of his friend's breath against his shoulder. Jim waited for Blair to speak.

A soft voice whispered, "I'm sorry..."

Ellison shook his head. "No apology necessary, Blair. You're here now. That's all that matters."

He felt Blair's nod against his shoulder, the soft curls brushing his skin. "Thanks."

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

Storms are raging on a rolling sea
And down the highway of regret.
The winds of change are blowing wild and free,
But you ain't seen nothing like me yet.

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

More silence. Jim waited patiently, gently rubbing Blair's hand with his thumb...just letting his young guide be comforted by his physical nearness and his willingness to proceed as slowly as Blair needed. He rested his head against Blair's and waited.

At last, he heard a soft whisper, "I didn't think you'd understand."

"Understand what, Chief?" Jim inquired gently. "How upset you'd be over what happened? Of course, I'd understand that..."

The soft curls moved against his shoulder as Blair shook his head. "No, not about that, Jim. I was upset, and I'm still upset about seeing... About seeing that boy take his own life right in front of me. That's something I'll never forget. Never. But...that's not what's been eating at me, Jim. That's not what I'm...so afraid to tell you."

Jim turned on his side to face Blair, to see his face. At the look of complete hopelessness and despair, he reached his arm over Blair's chest to draw his friend into his embrace. Blair immediately curled up close to his sentinel. Jim lowered his head until their foreheads touched and spoke softly, "Blair, you don't ever have to be afraid to talk to me. You can tell me anything, Chief. You know that."

Blair's breath caught in a choked sob, "I was...I was too afraid that if you knew... I was afraid you'd hate me..."

Jim pulled back to look Sandburg in the face, and his voice echoed the disbelief in his eyes. "Hate you! Blair, I... You know I could never, never hate you. I can't believe..." Ellison shook his head, stunned. "Blair, I love you, surely you know that. Please, tell me what's going on here, Chief, that could make you even consider such a thing. Talk to me, Blair, please."

Blair burrowed in even closer to Jim, desperately pressing his face against Jim's broad chest. He lay still for a long time, feeling the strong arms holding him so tightly, listening to the comforting sound of Jim's heart, hearing safety and unconditional love in each reassuring beat. Is this how listening to my heart makes Jim feel? Safe...secure...peaceful? I can see now why he relies on that so much.

Taking a breath for courage, Blair finally spoke, "Everyone in Cascade is talking about that boy, Jim. The shooter. Wondering how he could have done this terrible thing. What rage could he have felt to drive him to this?" Blair hesitated, then added softly, "I don't have to wonder, Jim. I understand."

Jim chose his words with great care. Blair was so vulnerable right now. If he felt the slightest judgment in Jim's voice or words, he would hide again, maybe forever this time. Jim was determined not to let that happen. "You understand his rage? How, buddy?"

He could feel Blair gathering his courage, his entire body bracing for the task of finally saying the words he'd been holding back. "Because I've been where that kid was, Jim. I've been there. See, I did some asking around right after the shooting. Before you got to the school."

Jim asked quietly, "And what did you find out, Chief?"

"That this kid was me."

Ellison lay still, stunned. What are you saying, Chief? That kid wasn't you! You could never do such a horrible thing. Aloud, he said, "I don't... I'm not sure I'm following you here, Chief."

Blair sighed and waited a long while, gathering his thoughts. "His name was Mark. Of course, you know that. He was an outcast, a loner. Know why? Because he was too smart, Jim. He was truly gifted, especially in science and math. Mark spent his entire life trying to fit in. To belong. The other kids used him...used that need to be a part of the group. He wrote their papers, did their projects... He hoped that would win their acceptance. Of course, it didn't. They just laughed in his face, after using his work as their own."

Jim felt Blair's heart rate increase in anger as he explained. "Even his teachers rejected him, because he frightened them. He challenged their ideas, saw things from angles they'd never even dreamed existed, Jim. He was too smart; he didn't fit the mold. On top of that, he didn't have a great home life. No father in the picture, and his mother was gone a lot working two jobs."

Now it seemed Blair was talking to himself, as if he'd forgotten Jim was even there, still holding him tightly in his arms. "So the rage began young, in primary school. With the name calling...geek...nerd...freak... It built with every rejection, every cruel prank, every lonely night hearing those jeers over and over in his head... Each set-up to use his genius for their own gain, with the carrot of friendship dangling just out of reach... That rage kept building, getting hotter and hotter each year... Until he snapped. He just couldn't take the pain any more. Not another day."

Blair stopped suddenly, waiting uncertainly for a reaction from Jim. Now I'll get a patented Detective Jim Ellison lecture. For understanding the perp, the bad guy...for seeing his side...his pain. Please, Jim, don't be angry...

"You didn't get all this from asking a few questions, Blair," Jim whispered gently.

Blair was surprised at the softness of the response. "No, but I got enough to understand, to fill in the blanks for myself. See...I've been there, man. I've been where Mark was."

Jim's arms tightened protectively around Blair. "When, Chief?"

"When I was a kid." He hesitated, then continued, his voice breaking slightly. "That's how I was treated, Jim. The anger in me never built to the level of Mark's where I ever considered hurting anyone else, but..." Blair's voice faded, and he burrowed deeper into the sentinel's embrace.

Jim's eyes closed in pain for his friend. Long moments passed before he was able to ask the question he didn't want to voice but knew must be answered. "Did you ever think about hurting yourself, Blair?" Jim awaited the answer with dread.

The curly head tucked beneath his own nodded slightly. "A few times... You can't understand, Jim, what it's like to be so...so different from everyone else around you. I felt alone, like there was no place I belonged. I mean, Naomi always supported me... when she was around. But she was gone a lot, you know, and left me with friends or relatives. I felt like I didn't really matter to anyone, like if I just disappeared, nobody would even notice. It wouldn't make any difference. Maybe it would even be easier for everyone..."

Jim pulled back a little to look Blair in the eyes. The despair and pain he saw there broke his heart. He had to convince Blair...had to let him know how wrong he had been. How wrong he was, even now, all these years later.

Still holding the pain filled blue eyes with his own, Jim spoke softly, but firmly. "You're wrong, Chief. On two points...one what you thought years ago, the other what you think now. First, if something had happened to you back then, it would have made a helluva difference. To Naomi, of course. And to me, Chief. I never would have had you in my life, buddy, and that would have been disastrous for me. You've made all the difference, Blair; you've made me what I am...what I was meant to be. So don't ever think you didn't matter, even back then. Second, I can understand being different, Chief, maybe better than anyone. I'm the guy whose own father called him a 'freak,' remember."

Blair's blue eyes immediately filled with tears, "Jim, I'm so sorry. I didn't think..."

"Shhh... Hush... It's okay, Blair," Jim murmured, pulling his guide back close against him again. "Shhh... I just wanted you to know that I do understand. Maybe I never felt as desperate as you did, but I do remember the pain of being ridiculed for being who I am...what I am." He paused before continuing, "So, how did you survive, Chief? What kept you from taking that step to..." Jim couldn't finish. Just the thought of gentle, sweet Blair ending his own life overwhelmed him. His voice broke, and Jim shut his eyes tightly against the image that had formed in his mind. A young, innocent Blair...crumpled lifeless...empty blue eyes staring at nothing...no precious heartbeat...no soft breaths... He tried to hold Blair even closer against him, trying to absorb the warmth of his guide, alive and safe.

Softly, Blair pressed his lips to Jim's chest. "S'okay, Jim. I'm here. That's all in the past, remember?"

Jim opened his eyes, looking down at Blair's worried face, and smiled a little at the loving reassurance. "Right, kid. The past. So, what did stop you?"

"You did, Jim," Blair stated simply.

"Now you've really lost me, Chief. I wasn't there. I wish I had been there for you, but..."

Blair interrupted, "You were, Jim. Just when I had almost given up hope of things ever getting better, I discovered the first mention of sentinels. Something spoke to me, told me that this was it, my life's work. My purpose. I threw myself into research...nothing else mattered. Finding you became my reason for living, Jim. And, when I finally did find you, then..." Blair paused, his own voice breaking with emotion. "Then you became my life."

Jim's heart swelled with love for the friend he held in his arms. At that moment, all Jim Ellison longed to do was to hold Blair close forever, to protect him from the hurt that life seemed determined to inflict on him, to keep him safe within the protective circle of his sentinel's embrace.

Blair whispered, "I'm sorry, Jim. Sorry I'm not stronger, that I needed you tonight. It's so late, and you've got to go in early tomorrow. You should be sleeping. I'm sorry."

Jim bent his head to touch his lips to Blair's forehead. "Don't you ever apologize for needing me, Blair Sandburg. Ever. You're my life, too. Understand?" He felt Blair nod against him. "Feel a little better, now?"

"Yeah, I do," Blair replied, nestling his head even closer under Jim's chin. "It's still so sad, though. I wish..." His voice trailed off.

"What, buddy? What do you wish?" Jim asked quietly. I'll make it come true, if I can, Blair. Anything for you. Anything.

"I wish we could just hide from it all, Jim. All the pain...the hurt...I get so tired sometimes..." Blair sighed sadly.

Jim rested his face against the soft curls. He whispered, "I know, buddy, I know. But tonight you're safe, Blair, with me. I won't let anything hurt you. Nothing can touch us here tonight. I'm with you." He felt a small breath of contentment against his skin. He continued his comforting whispers, "Just for tonight, let me hold you, protect you. I'll be right here when you wake up, and everything will be better than it seems today. I promise, Chief. Do you believe me, Blair?"

He felt Blair's nod, then he heard his quiet, sleepy voice, "Thanks, Jim. I wish every kid who felt like Mark...like me...could have a Blessed Protector."

Jim stroked the long curls. "Sleep now, Blair. Rest. Shhh..." He felt the warm body in his arms relax, growing heavier against him. Blair's fingers twitched against his own, and his breathing became deep and calm.

Jim smiled and closed his eyes. He whispered, "I'm so thankful you found me, Chief. You did find where you belong at last, Blair, where we both belong. Right here...together."

Soaking in the feel of the cherished heartbeat against his ribcage, the sweet, warm breath whisper-soft on his neck, the touch of silken curls against his chest, Jim let himself slip into sleep. The bright moon glow cast its silver blanket over the loft, as sentinel and guide slept, safe and secure at last.

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

There ain't nothing that I wouldn't do,
Go to the ends of this earth for you,
Make you happy, make your dreams come true,
To make you feel my love.

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

The End

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Note: As a teacher, I have been disturbed over the growing violence in our schools. I've even been touched by it in a personal way, as a former student of mine committed suicide with her boyfriend at our high school this past year. My students are all part of our county's program for gifted and talented students. The young girl who committed suicide was a very gifted student, as have been many of the children involved in the violence around our country. Often, people fail to realize the pressure that these students are under, pressures placed on them by the system, parents, and themselves. Knowing that Blair was a gifted child made me think about what his school years must have been like, and how he would handle being involved in an act of school violence committed by a gifted student. Hence, this story. It was not my intention to use these terrible incidents as an easy basis for a plot or to justify the violence that has occurred in any way, but rather to encourage readers to consider the difficulties faced by some of our most intelligent young people. Maybe you'll find you are in a position to make a difference...

This story is for all who have lost their lives or have been wounded in acts of school violence.

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