DISCLAIMER - The Sentinel and its characters is the copyright of PetFly and no infringement is intended. The story, such as it is, is copyright Karen Colohan January 2000.

"And now it's time for hairy Blairy."

Strong hands clamped on his jaw, holding his head still so that mad eyes could stare deep into his own. It felt as if they were looking into his soul, taking him apart piece by piece and trying to extract the essence of who he was...

No, you can't be me, he tried to protest. I'm still here - still alive! Horrified he realised that the words had sounded only in his own head. He couldn't speak them aloud; they were blocked by the yellow scarf that gagged him. Panic rose inside him as he felt himself start to sink into the compulsion of that insane gaze - lost...

Blair Sandburg awoke with a violent start, sitting bolt upright in his bed. Wild eyes darted around the near darkness of the room as he tried to reorient himself. He was free - at home in the loft - not trapped, bound and gagged in the lair of a madman. Peripherally Blair registered the fact that sweat was pouring off of him and he was breathing hard. Another nightmare - revisiting the waking nightmare of his experience at the hands of David Lash. When was it going to end?

With a sigh Blair stumbled out of bed and into the kitchen. He found a glass and filled it with water from the tap. His hand shook a little as he slowly sipped the water and tried to calm his jangled nerves. Closing his eyes Blair held the cool glass to his forehead, rolling it across his overheated skin. How much longer was this going to keep happening? It had all happened weeks, not days ago, now. How long before the intensity of the memories began to fade?

David Lash had wanted to kill him and then become him - exactly as he had with his previous victims. And he'd come so close to succeeding.... Blair didn't care to dwell on just how close. He could still clearly see the body of the woman he and Jim had found, floating in her bath. That could have been his fate, too... The thought of it turned his stomach. In a very real sense Blair felt violated. David Lash had tried to take something so personal, so fundamental from him - not just his life, but his identity. Blair shuddered, then drained his glass of water, hoping it would settle the queasy feeling inside him.

He was about to head back to his room when he heard movement from above. Great, now he'd managed to wake Jim as well. Just a moment later Blair's friend and room-mate appeared in the kitchen, looking concerned.

"Are you OK, Chief?" Jim Ellison asked. "I just heard your heart rate go off the scale." He anxiously scanned the compact, sleep-tousled form of the younger man, looking for visual clues as to the source of the distress he'd detected.

"I'm fine, man." Blair dumped his empty glass in the sink and went to push past Jim. He didn't feel much like talking.

"You look like death," said Jim with a frown. He put out a hand, stopping Blair's escape. "Tell me, what is it?"

"It was just a nightmare, OK. Nothing for you to worry yourself about." Blair raised his hands defensively as he tried again to elude Jim, but the other man was having none of it.

"Like hell it isn't," Jim insisted.

Jim caught hold of Blair's shoulder, clamping down to stop him from twisting free of his grip. He had only intended to persuade Blair to stay and talk, so he was unprepared for the younger man's reaction. Blair tensed and paled noticeably at the pressure on his shoulder and Jim felt the shudder that ran through him. What was going on here?

"Sandburg?" he asked, confused.

Blair covered his face with his hands, trying to control his now instinctive reaction to being restrained, however tenuously. The unwanted surge of adrenaline left him torn between striking out and running away. Dammit! he railed at himself internally. This was Jim touching him, not the murderously insane David Lash! But while Blair's mind was capable of making the distinction, his body remained harder to convince.

"Jim, please... let go," said Blair finally in a small voice.

"All right," Jim agreed. He released Blair's shoulder and backed away. "As long as you sit down and tell me what this is all about."

Blair nodded his agreement and headed for the couch, Jim trailing in his wake. Sighing tiredly Blair flopped down, resting his head against the back of the couch. Jim sat beside him - maintaining a careful distance between them. His expression still showed his concern.

"It's this whole business with David Lash," said Blair finally, after a long, tense silence.

Jim nodded slowly, beginning to understand. "It wasn't an easy case," he ventured carefully. "What he did to his victims; how he tricked his way into our confidence... What he tried to do to you." Jim looked down at his hands. "I think he got under everyone's skin more than most of them do. But it's over now, Sandburg. He's dead; he can't hurt anyone any more."

"Right." Blair gave a nervous laugh. "That's what I've been telling myself. The only problem is I keep remembering... Every time I go to sleep the nightmares start and I'm right back in that chair, listening to him tell me what he was going to do - waiting to die." The words dried up and Blair shrugged helplessly, trying to convey what he couldn't find the means to say aloud.

"It's OK, Chief. I know what you mean," said Jim reassuringly. "I've been there myself once or twice. What can I say? It does get easier, with time..."

"Time - we all know how that heals everything, right," muttered Blair. He sighed. "Great..."

"You should have told me about the nightmares before." Jim's tone was faintly accusatory. "I had no idea you were still having so much of a problem with this. If I'd known... maybe we could have arranged for you to see someone."

"Perhaps, but this is my problem, Jim." Blair shook his head. "I have to find my own way to deal with it. I can deal with it." Blair caught the sceptical look the other man directed at him. "Well, I thought I could, anyway."

"Sandburg, forgive me for pointing this out, but from where I'm standing..." Jim's gaze pointedly swept the younger man, encompassing the haunted look in Blair's eyes, the tension in his muscles and the dishevelled, sweat- damp T-shirt that completed the package. All of them bore mute witness to the fact that Blair wasn't handling what had happened to him.

"I know," Blair admitted unhappily. "But I can't figure out a way to get him out of my head! Just thinking about what he did... it creeps me out, man, you know. He killed them and then he walked about trying to be them. That's sick... And he would have done the same to me. He stood there and - and mimicked me, Jim. I can't believe how close..."

Blair was clearly becoming agitated again now. Jim didn't need his heightened senses to tell him that.

"Hey, Chief, it's OK. You're safe. It didn't happen." Jim spoke softly, soothingly, trying to calm the badly spooked young man.

He laid a tentative hand on Blair's shoulder, watching for any adverse reaction. There was none, so Jim carefully slid a little closer. He moved his hand slowly across Blair's back, until his arm was fully around the younger man's shoulders. Blair seemed to relax into the touch and Jim breathed a little easier as he curved his hand around Blair's arm, completing the comforting embrace.

"Thanks, Jim," Blair murmured, allowing himself to be gathered in a little closer.

"For what?" Jim asked carefully.

"For listening... for making me feel safe." Blair tilted his head and Jim could just see the faint trace of a smile on his lips. "My Blessed Protector, right?"

"Right," agreed Jim. He found he rather liked Blair thinking of him that way. After all, he asked himself, where would he be if he didn't have Blair to help him handle this whole deal with his heightened senses? Without him he'd still be convinced he was going crazy, his senses out of control. He needed Blair around - and David Lash had nearly taken the young man from him.

Before he could think better of it, or stop to wonder at his motives, Jim bent his head and dropped a soothing kiss on Blair's sleep-tangled curls. The scent of Blair's hair immediately filled his nostrils, jolting Jim as he realised what he'd just done. He froze as he heard the sudden spike in Blair's pulse rate and then felt the younger man tense again. Jim loosened his grip on Blair, ready to let him go. He expected an abrupt withdrawal, but it didn't come. Blair merely looked up at Jim, his blue eyes wide and startled.

"Jim?" he asked hesitantly. "What? Oh man..."

"Sandburg, damn, I'm sorry!" Jim hurriedly began to withdraw his arm, but Blair reached up and caught hold of his hand, stopping him from completing the movement.

"No, Jim, I didn't mean it like that. You don't have to be," Blair finished softly.

"Then... you don't mind?" Jim asked, the worry still in his eyes.

A sudden, blinding smile graced Blair's face. "Mind? Jim, I've been trying to figure out a way to... but I just didn't think you..." His words trailed off as his expressive hands tried to find a way to fill in the gaps.

"Didn't think I what?" Jim frowned. "Sandburg?"

"You know - went for guys." Blair shrugged. He regarded Jim curiously, as if trying to reshape all his previous perceptions of his room-mate. "Looks like I was wrong."

Jim gave a short laugh. "Well, maybe not entirely," he conceded. "I wouldn't say it's something I've made a habit of, but I do make exceptions - for the right guy."

"And am I?" There was just a touch of uncertainty in Blair's voice.

"The right guy?" queried Jim.

Blair nodded, hopefulness sparkling in the clear blue of his eyes.

"Oh yeah..." There wasn't even a trace of doubt in Jim's response.

"Jim."

"Yeah?"

Blair took a deep breath before asking, "Will you kiss me again? Properly."

Jim could hear the rapid cadence of his partner's heartbeat. Was it desire or nervousness Blair was feeling? He reached out with his sense of smell as well, but the scent of the fear-sweat left over from Blair's nightmare masked anything more subtle. "If it's what you want," he agreed softly.

"Oh yeah, it is..." And there was no doubting the note of need underlying Blair's words.

Certain now, Jim carefully shifted Blair until the younger man was facing him, still held firmly in the shelter of his encircling arm. Then he leaned in and touched his lips to those of his Guide for the first time. Jim dialled up both touch and taste, wanting to experience this new sensation to the full. Blair's lips were enticingly soft and sweet and Jim felt as if he would be happy to zone out on their taste and texture alone.

But Blair's mouth did not remain passive under Jim's gentle explorations. It moved hungrily against his, awakening a host of new sensations. The moist tip of an inquisitive tongue traced sensual patterns against Jim's lips until he groaned and let them part. And the rough/soft invader darted inside, making itself at home in Jim's mouth just as its owner had, almost without him being aware of it, made himself so comfortably at home in Jim's life.

As the kiss deepened Jim reached up, tangling his fingers in Blair's tousled curls. He hadn't realised just how long he'd been wanting to do that for. The strands were warm and silky against his fingertips, somehow they felt so essentially Blair. As Jim began to catalogue all the other small but distinctive elements that together made up the responsive body in his arms the sudden barrage of sensory input threatened to overwhelm him. Jim could feel his arousal spiking off the scale and a tiny warning voice in his head cautioned, Too fast!

With an effort Jim forced himself to heed it, slowly turning down the dials until they were at a manageable level. He wanted Blair. That had become startling clear to him, but it wasn't that simple - not yet. Blair was still recovering from a highly traumatic experience. It was doubtful if he was thinking entirely clearly; so Jim had to be the voice of reason for both of them. What if Blair really only wanted something to blot out the unpleasant reality of his nightmares? If that was the case and Jim allowed this to go any further... well, it wouldn't be fair on either of them.

Blair was still kissing him with a single-minded intensity. Very carefully Jim pulled back, reluctantly allowing their mouths to separate. He kept his fingers threaded into Blair's hair, though, not wanting to withdraw completely.

Blair's lips were wet and slightly swollen from the kiss. He looked a little dazed, his eyes dark with pleasure. "Oh man!" he whispered huskily as he stared back at Jim. "That was..."

"Good?" suggested Jim tentatively, his own voice rough.

"Try incredible!" Blair gave a quick grin. "Whoaaaa...."

Jim couldn't help but return the smile, Blair's delight was infectious. "Glad you thought so, Chief. I guess it was a long time in the making." Carefully Jim tucked Blair in close against his side. The warmth from his body felt good, but conveyed less urgency than the kiss had done. Slowly Jim managed to bring his rampant hormones back under control.

"Is something wrong?" Blair asked cautiously when the silence began to stretch out.

"This..." Jim hesitated. He wanted to explain, but he didn't want to say the wrong thing. After all, it wasn't that he didn't want this. "It - it's just that everything seems to be happening a little fast here. Don't you think?"

"But I thought..." Again Blair sounded uncertain. "Do you think I'm pushing you into this? I'm sorry, Jim..."

"No, that isn't what I meant!" Jim interrupted hurriedly. "I'm saying this all wrong, aren't I. I just - I don't want you to do anything for the wrong reasons."

Blair processed this in silence for a long moment. Finally he looked up at Jim, frowning slightly. "You think this is only happening because of the nightmare, right?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah."

"So you think maybe I'm just doing this to try and block out those memories?" Blair continued, drawing out the words slowly.

"Maybe, I don't..." Jim shook his head, frustrated.

"Jim, no!" Blair insisted.

"How can you be so sure?" Jim pinned the younger man with his gaze. "Blair, until tonight I'd never even admitted to myself that I was attracted to you and you'd never given any indication that you might have feelings for me. And now... this! I don't know about you, but I think *I* need a little time here. Tempting as it is..."

Blair lowered his eyes from Jim's. "If you're not sure, then..."

"You're not listening to me." Jim gently tilted Blair's head back until their gazes locked again. "I am sure. I just don't want us to rush things; we have plenty of time. If our relationship... progresses then I don't want the shadow of David Lash hanging over us. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Blair nodded. "You're right, Jim. I hear you. All the same..." He smiled wistfully. "Well, not being on my own sounded like a nice idea. A guy can get kind of lost in his thoughts alone in the dark."

Jim watched the conflicting emotions in Blair's blue eyes for a long moment. Then, "Come to bed?" he asked softly.

Blair tensed fractionally. "But you just said..."

"To sleep, that's all. It's a big bed..." Jim shrugged his shoulders slightly. "I just thought - maybe if you weren't alone the nightmares wouldn't come back."

"You're sure?" Blair smiled as Jim nodded. "I'd like that. I think - I think that way I'd feel safe."

"Good." Carefully Jim extricated himself from the warmth of Blair's body and stood up.

He held out his hand and Blair reached for it, but at the last moment the younger man hesitated. Meeting Jim's eyes he said softly, "But soon, man, you hear me? Soon..."

A smile curved Jim's lips and he nodded his agreement, understanding.

Then Blair clasped the proffered hand, letting himself be pulled to his feet and led towards the stairs and Jim's bed.

THE END

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